Backed in the corner of the hall, I try not to accidentally knock the crimson fire extinguisher off the wall. It’s intentional, placing myself in corners these days. I sit in a corner desk in each of my classrooms, choose the corner seat at restaurants; I wake up each morning, back pressed against the wall, yearning for the upper corner where it meets the bed.
I’m not sure why I do this.
Maybe for the sense of feeling secure, surrounded by stationary walls instead of moving people. Or because it is easier to minimize sensory stimulation this way.
This morning, it may be a bit of both. The hall is swimming, so I focus on one sense.
My ear buds are inserted firmly in my ears like usual when I am on campus, walking alone. Ear buds or head phones in/on a person serve a specific purpose: to tell other people not to approach. This is why when I am most anxious about walking in public, I put them in my ears. Sometimes, I don’t even have music playing.
But this morning I am listening to my favorite album, the one that calms my anxiety most, the singer’s voice like a friend telling me it’ll be alright, keep going. Or, if not alright, it’ll at least go…time will pass, breaths will be breathed and you will be home sooner than you think.
His face isn’t anything special. Nothing extraordinary or attention-grabbing. Fair skin, bushy eyebrows, messy light brown hair, average height amongst the students bustling past.
To put it simply, he’s no Harry Styles.
Unfortunately, he’s not wearing a neon jacket and he’s not followed by cartoon arrows pointing down at his head, with bubble-letters between reading, “WARNING,” like they always do when I imagine running into him.
But suddenly, hazel eyes catch mine; my field of vision expands and the rest of his face comes into view. Damn turnip nose.
It’s a look of recognition, mischievousness, and arrogance. Like someone inflated a balloon and stuck it up his butt and he’s just floating above all us peasants. I’m nauseated.
The first time I met this boy, we sat in a meditation room for three hours, talking. Those eyes stared at me unwavering, as he asked more and more personal questions and I answered them, desperate for closeness. Forgetting the consequences.
In the hall, the fluorescent lights reveal a sheen to his skin, like he forgot to shower or nervously ran out of class. But his face reveals no agitation, forehead, cheeks, and lips relaxed. His eyes, however, are not. They’re still probing.
“I still have your book,” he recites as though a line from a play we’ve been rehearsing.
“I know.” I play along; I know this act very well. I pull one ear bud out. “You have to read it.”
“I’m about halfway through.”
This is shocking. I leant him this book last week, the night before my first day of class. I was whimpering, crying about not wanting to go back to school, to have this life, to be alive in general, for missing him, for guilt about missing him. Because I know he is not good for me. I should have been better than that.
But today, I am.
He likes the book so far. Recognizes other Highly Sensitive People (of which I am one). He admits he is not.
I look him dead in the eye, unafraid. “I know.” Then I laugh, say, “Not in a bad way!” But we both know I am not kidding. We both know his insensitivity has caused me incredible pain.
“Well, I’ll give it back to you,” he pauses as he gets caught in the crowd, “…sometime.” And he’s gone.
This is also one of his tricks. Leaving a trail of mystery behind him. Or, to be blunt, leaving me in a place of powerlessness, while he determines the next move.
Power imbalance was what broke us last year. He wanted it all, and as much as I can stick up for myself and prove that I’m just as smart as him (perhaps smarter (definitely smarter)), power battles are not my expertise and I finally gave up, ending a relationship with a boy I just said I love you to two weeks before.
As I cross the hall and enter class, my chest struggles to expand and contract evenly. The elephant of anxiety is stomping on my rib cage. My eyelashes are losing a battle against my tears.
Four minutes before class starts, I walk to the bathroom. Both ear buds in. It takes three tries to find a sink that will actually run water, and it feels like pins on my cheeks. Two girls walk by, lock themselves in two vacant stalls. I keep splashing the water.
Back in class, my professor doesn’t acknowledge I’m late, instead says, “Hello, how are you?”
I smile. “Great!”