When people ask about your summer, you remain tight-lipped.
You don’t want to talk about those first few sleepless nights in your pristine apartment, the days spent inventorying your clothing and the kitchenware your mother so painstakingly stacked in the stark white cabinets. Or how you would have Your Boyfriend over so you could play house all day and pretend to enjoy it; how you’d cook and clean and read the paper and then act out your midlife crisis by chain smoking Marlboro Lights on the roof of the parking garage in front of the No Smoking sign.
You won’t say a word about the people you met on the city bus, the quiet camaraderie you’ve formed with them. All of you in transition; all on the same trajectory for a few cacophonous moments before someone’s journey comes to an end. There are those you know and love, the regulars: the man who says to his mom on the phone, “if you look at a forest you see individual trees but you’re not seeing what’s underneath. You know what that is, huh? Have a guess!” [brief pause to allow his mom to take a stab at it] “ROOTS! The trees stand alone but they’re all connected at their cores, just like us, just like people. Genius!” He twitches and wipes a bit of white powder from underneath his nose. The fat woman who slaps snack food out of her fat daughter’s fingers. The elderly man who taps his cane against the seat in front of him and is eyed with annoyance by the other elderly man, whoseoxygen tank hisses and clicks redundantly. The two tween-y girls who sit in the back, giggling excitedly over the outfits they’ve just shoplifted. Then there are the others, the ones who ride only on occasion and avoid eye contact, boarding and exiting the bus as silently and clandestinely as extras on a movie set. You’d like to classify yourself as one of them, but in reality you are the girl with the headphones who always sits on the right side of the aisle and looks like she needs a nap.
You don’t want to talk about all the time you spent in cars with strangers, especially the cab driver who tells you he once drove Jerry Seinfeld and his wife to the airport and Jerry Seinfeld was a complete dick because the cab driver had gone to the same high school as Jerry Seinfeld’
s wife and fucked her a few times in his car. Or how he tells you he’s fucked a lot of girls in cars and throws a quick sideways glance in your direction, and with sweating palms you pull your coat a little tighter around you. Or how more often than not your destination is a brick apartment building with few windows, and waiting for you outside is Not-Your-Boyfriend. He’s tall and dangerous-looking and exactly who your mother would warn you away from, so you allow him to lead you inside and upstairs, where you and Not-Your-Boyfriend do things that you’re really only supposed to do with Your Boyfriend. When you’re finished, you walk yourself out and call a taxi.
When people ask about your summer, you have to stop yourself from drawing blood from your palms with your fingernails.
You don’t want to talk about the time you didn’t eat for three days and it wasn’t like the last time when you wanted to look better in your body-con dress. Or how the lady at the food stamp bureau cried seeing the look on your face when she told you she couldn’t help you and gave you $20 out of her own wallet. You won’t mention going to Starbucks and ordering a venti ice water just to stop your stomach from caving in on itself, from swallowing you whole from the inside out. How eventually you just stopped feeling hungry; how sometimes you still don’t.
It’s in remembering these moments that you feel the enormousness of your independence. A cab driver once told you you’ll spend two weeks of your life waiting for a light to change, but there aren’t nearly enough lights in this town. Maybe if you could have spent some time sitting at a red light instead of hurtling through the season like a stray asteroid you might’ve had time to figure out some of your shit.
When people ask you about your summer your mind jumps to the very end, where etched behind your eyes as clear as day is Not-Your-Boyfriend, standing beside the bed in his windowless room in his sweatpants with his shirt off. He is so thin you could fold him in half. Where you’ve scratched him it looks like some type of creature is preparing to burst out between the fragile bones of his spinal column. He is so beautiful it hurts you to look at him; you want to go to him and cover his skin and your scratches with kisses but he does not like to be touched, and you are growing out of the notion that you are the only one who is damaged. You are growing into the notion that damage is something you can cause. You are extracting yourself from the cocoon of your childhood, and summer is over and this is Your Life, and already you have made a mess of it all but That Is Growing Up, they tell you. And you will figure it out. You will. You will.
Emily Wilner is a typical college student in nearly every way. She likes coffee, smoking where she’s not supposed to, oriental ramen noodles, and starting essays with famous quotes. She works a shitty retail job and really enjoys it.