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Surviving what? Surviving who?
In a world where everything is so fragile, we try our best just to survive. Our hearts get broken, our dreams get smashed, and we live in a world where everything comes to an end. So, what can we do? We can survive.
It was rainy, and the clouds loomed over me like a gray reminder that the day wouldn’t go as I had hoped. As I walked through the hallway I heard squeak after squeak from slippery shoes and noticed small pools of water gathering on the linoleum. I kept my head down, occasionally glancing at my phone to look like I was doing something; the way teenagers nowadays think they always have to be doing something. My mom told me stories of when she was young, how she played tag or hide and go seek with the kids on her street when she got bored, or the way she read books because they didn’t have televisions. I vaguely remember building snow forts and playing flashlight tag, but the idea of entertaining myself sounded simply foreign to me.
I cross-checked my map and schedule twice to make sure I was at “108 – Chemistry Honors” before I slipped quietly in the door. The teacher stood at her desk, shuffling papers for a moment, before continuing the half-written sentence on her white board. I cleared my throat as I walked to her.
“Excuse me, is there anywhere in particular I need to sit?” I asked politely, making sure to keep eye contact with her as I spoke, the way my dad taught me to during my shy phase in fourth grade.
“We will be having assigned seating, but I’m going to wait until everyone arrives. Go ahead and take any seat you like now.” She answered with a smile.
I took a seat at one of the many lab tables in the room, making a mental note not to unpack anything, the way I usually do, because we would be moving seats. Kids were shuffling in, a girl chatted loudly about going on a cruise that summer and a boy talking excitedly about football tryouts to his friends, and I sat there watching the clock and counting off how many minutes were left until the end of the day.
“Can I sit here?” A girl with mousy brown hair asked quietly while motioning to the seat next to me.
“Yeah, sure.” I said distracted by the boy that had just walked in the door. He stood there for a second, assessing the room before taking a seat next to one of the jocks. I sighed, one more guy I wouldn’t have the guts to talk to this year. He introduced himself to the boy as “Shawn”, and they shared one of the many confusing handshakes that it seems all boys are born knowing. I pulled my eyes away as the teacher closed the door and strode to the front of the class.
“Hi everyone, my name is Mrs. Jenkins. Welcome to chemistry honors. Today we will be getting our assigned seats and going over the syllabus. Any questions? No? Good, alright then, let’s get to it. If the seat you’re sitting in is assigned to someone else go ahead and stand over there by that wall. Seems simple, yes? Well I always have at least one kid who seems to have no idea where he’s going.”
She started rattling off names, when she came to my seat I went and stood by the wall with half a dozen other students waiting to be called.
“Shawn Adams, right there.” She called, pointing to the table I was standing near. “And his partner will be… Miley Matlin” I could feel my face turning red as I walked towards the desk. All I could think is that I would be sitting next to Shawn. Miley and Shawn. Alone. All semester. I tried my best to regain control, and I must have done alright because when he sat down he said, “Hi, I’m Shawn.” I smiled up at him and introduced myself as Miley. His eyes were crystal blue and his brown shaggy hair hung loosely from his face. “Are you new here?” I asked as Mrs. Jenkins called out more names dully behind us.
He hesitated before saying, “I just moved here this summer.”
“Alaska” He answered quietly.
“Alaska, wow that’s gotta’ be a pretty big change to a little town in Alabama, huh?”
“Well… It’s a lot warmer here, that’s for sure.”
“I bet,” I said nodding. “Tell me more.” He spent the next few minutes tentatively describing the light changes from season to season, and the way he had moose in his front yard instead of deer, how his dog is a husky and how she isn’t adjusting too well, he finished it off with a story about how the only time he’d ever seen the northern lights was from the window of an airplane; but how even though it wasn’t the way he imagined seeing it for the first time, it was still the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
I thought about what he said for a minute before offering, “Wow…It sounds incredible there.” He seemed to be studying me, his eyes bore into me questioningly until I asked, “What? Is there something on my face, or what?” I looked away shyly.
“No, no…It’s just that…You listened. You know, most people ask me about Alaska, and they pretend to care but they zone out before I even start…I don’t know, you just seemed legitimately interested, I liked it.” He said, looking at me appreciatively.
Now I knew I was blushing, but for the life of me I couldn’t stop myself. “I guess I like hearing other people’s opinions about it…” I said quietly.
“Other people?” He asked.
I looked down at my lap, “Well, you see, I haven’t been completely honest with you… I kinda used to live there too…” I said slowly lifting my head to look at him.
“Well, why didn’t you say anything?” He didn’t look mad, so I continued cautiously.
“I just…” I started, searching for the right words. “It’s like you said, people ask about it and then they don’t really care. I loved Alaska, it was my home, it feels wrong to tell people about it when they don’t really care.”
“I understand” He said, after a second.
“Of course... I probably would have done the same thing.”
“Why didn’t you?” I asked, confused.
It was his turn to blush as he said, “Well, I don’t know, I like you. I- I mean you seem like a cool girl...”
“Well you seem pretty cool yourself,” I said, bumping him softly. “Now we better stop talking before she makes us switch partners”
Months swept by with simple conversations like the day we met. Shawn told me about his life, playing football, writing in his spare time, and asked me questions as well. I often think back to those first months when I’m feeling sad or lonely. Our wedding is tonight, after the ceremony we will take a plane all the way up to Alaska for our honeymoon, Shawn and I couldn’t think of anywhere better in the world.
Maybe sometimes, if you find the right person, life is about more than just surviving. Or maybe, just maybe, you can find someone willing to survive it with you.