Phillip Kim was forced to go to Boston University. He studies English Education because he wants to be a drill sergeant but he doesn’t want to join the military. He is a preschool teacher and mocks his students regularly. He writes videogame plots, slam poetry, short stories and likes cheese.
Lauren said she’d kill herself if I didn’t come over right away. I went over, like I always did when she called me crying. I told her that she needed to find help. She said she had help and that I shouldn’t worry; she got overwhelmed for a little. But everything was better after I got there. I told her that she shouldn’t joke about this and that the next time I would have to call the police because I wouldn’t take it anymore. I had said that once before and she called my bluff.
She said “no really, this is the last time I’m talking to someone about my issues and I’m getting better.” I nodded, hugged her, and kissed her hard. I told her I had to leave; my mom would worry if I stayed out too late. She said she understood and told me I was the best boyfriend ever. I smiled and walked out.
I stumbled into school the next day. I hadn’t slept much. My bones ached. Football practice was going to suck. I liked to show up early to school since Lauren slept in a lot. She always had a doctor’s note from a family friend. The school was mostly empty. I said hi to Tim, the janitor. He grunted back, which meant his wife wasn’t doing well that day. The hallways smelled musty. Tim tried to get rid of the smell, but the school building was old. A few other students wandered around. Parents who worked early shifts dropped off most of them, but a few kids got dropped off early because their parents wanted to get rid of them as soon as possible. They walked about in a silent daze. Tim huffed as he mopped the floor. He spilled his bucket and I helped him clean it up. We soaked up the dirty water and when we finished, he nodded and shook my hand.
I went to my locker, picked up my beat-up books, and went to homeroom. My friend sat in the back and read a book she didn’t have to read. Her back was hunched over the book and she gripped the sides hard, as I could tell since her knuckles were white. The air felt soggy: a heat wave in the first month of school. Emily wore a baby blue cardigan; I think that’s what they’re called, she told me before. It was buttoned up to the top. She developed early. The other girls resented her for that. My girlfriend never grew past an A. Emily and I used to be neighbors but my family moved to a better neighborhood. I couldn’t recall the last time I hung out with her outside of school. Her hair looked different that day. She had it brushed to the right side and had her bangs set by a bobby pin. Her hair shined like fresh ink. It smelled flowery, and I could tell she changed her shampoo. Her skin was pale; I knew she didn’t go out much over the summer. My secret nickname for her was ‘dumpling’ due to her fluffy cheeks. She said she’d kill me if I ever told anyone. I used to poke them when I was a kid. She’d puff up her cheeks and I’d poke the air out. I don’t know why that memory came up but I smiled. I sat down next to her. Her shoulders tensed. She sniffled. She closed the book.
“Another sad story?” I asked her. She said yes. I asked her why she reads stories like those since she always got so affected by them. She said she felt more human when she read those stories. I didn’t reply. She said “It’s the only way I know how to feel anymore.” I told her I understood, but I didn’t. She told me the story was about a young boy who ran away from home because his parents beat him. It was winter and he was too young, too lost, and he froze to death. I said, “That must be a terrible way to die, completely numb and alone.” Emily thought it would be very peaceful.
She looked at me and her eyes shimmered. She told me I had huge bags under my eyes. I felt my skin and it felt soft and loose. She said, “It’s Lauren again, isn’t it?”
I exhaled. I looked worse than I did last week when Lauren called me in the middle of the night. She said, “Look, I’m not going to tell you what to do. But, I’ve said this before, you should break up with her.” I said I loved her and couldn’t break up with her because it wouldn’t be right. Emily asked me if I knew what love was. I told her it’s when you care about someone more than you care about yourself. I read that somewhere I couldn’t recall. I had dated Lauren for a year; isn’t that what you are supposed to say after a while? She replied that’s not what love is. I said you haven’t had a boyfriend how would you know. She said she knew.
[To be continued next Saturday.]