He doesn’t understand what’s wrong with him. He knows that kind of thinking is bad, yet
he continues to remind himself of it every day. Looking in the mirror, sitting in class, talking to
friends, it all feels wrong. Well not wrong per se, but empty.
He doesn’t really know when it started, the numbness. But Wes understands that it was
catapulted by his parents’ divorce last year, or that’s what his therapist had told him at least. He
met with her weekly, but he felt as if nothing had changed. She claimed that he seemed so much
better, and she said it a little too enthusiastically most of the time. He knew there was something
wrong inside, but felt no motivation to change. Feeling nothing was comfortable, change seemed
difficult and scary, so he put up a facade for her. It didn’t matter anyway. It’s not like his parents
noticed a change, they were too busy working or trying to get back at one another. They still
lived in the same house with him, which was the worst part about the separation. It was too
expensive for one to move out, especially while trying to save up for his next four years of
university. The incessant arguing kept him in room when he wasn’t at school.
It was his senior year, but he didn’t drive. September was warm and the walk to school
was only few blocks away from his home. Wes wouldn’t call it that though, a home. Instead it
was just a temporary place until he can escape to some college dorm. Interrupting his thoughts,
he hears a loud honk followed by a bright smile and eager wave coming from the 2014 white
Toyota Camry. This happened almost every day for the past few weeks. He didn’t really know
how he felt about it. He waved back though, without hesitation.
Ivy had always been in the background of his high school experience, but it wasn’t until
his second semester of senior year that he had truly noticed her. She didn’t always make the best
decisions, quick frankly if Was wasn’t so kind he would regard most of her actions as idiotic. But
he didn’t mind her presence. She had been in his English class all four years of high school.
Sometimes they spoke and sometimes they didn’t. It only started to bother him this year when
they didn’t. He couldn’t understand why though.
“Boo,” Ivy did not scare him and he thought her attempt was pitiful, but he silently liked
it. Wes slowly and dramatically turned around in his seat to face her.
“How was your weekend, Harvard?” He called her anything except for her real name,
instead, it was usually one of the eight ivy-league schools as a substitute. She ignored the teasing
per their routine.
“Awesome, from what I can remember.” He understood what that meant. She liked to
party. A lot. He never judged her though. It did worry him, hearing all about her underaged
drinking endeavors from other students. He just told himself that they were exaggerations of the
truth. That brought him some comfort. He wanted to change the subject.
“Did you finish the reading?” They were supposed to be annotating George Orwell’s
1984, the first book of his high school career in which Wes actually didn’t hate reading. She
started to laugh a little too loudly and was corrected by the teacher. That ended their conversation
and he abruptly turned around.
Sorting emotions is exhausting. Feelings are really tough for Wes. He’s pretty sure he can
identify the basic emotions, joy, anger, sadness, and fear, but expressing them was not something
he was use to. Mildness was what was comfortable. Nothingness was safety, because feeling
something could turn into an explosion. After long periods of emotional suppression, he tended
to let it all out at once. Usually harming those around him, catching unwitting friends and family
members in the shrapnel. Stuck in an endless cycle of feeling nothing, then everything, then just
shame. He’s quite familiar with that feeling. Shame. For everything. For what he does, and what
he fails to do. For what he feels, and what he doesn’t feel. Particularly complex emotions can be
hard to discern and distractions are important. Music, podcasts, art, sports, reading, news, social
media, and everything in between are a constant necessity to fill his thoughts in order to avoid
having to do any real self-reflection.
Being around her was different. When Ivy poked tapped his shoulder and started a
conversation, the want for safety melted away. He was comfortable with the situation, and he
could allow himself to laugh or get annoyed with her stupid jokes. He didn’t exactly know what
it was, but he knew he liked it.
It was October and a month had passed with the same small daily interactions, but that
progressed into afternoon coffee sessions. Well, he didn’t like coffee, but she did, so he just went
with it. He would order a decaf and get some grief from her. One day she invited him over to her
house and he accepted. They didn’t hang out every day, but at least once or twice a week for
about a month and a half. He had never had friends who were girls. He only talked to his friends
at school or when he was playing video games with them. Well, technically he hung out with his
therapist once a week too, but that didn’t really count. Typically he just dealt with talking to the
hired professional, but now sitting in the once confining room felt natural. Almost as if he wasn’t
pretending to be feeling things, but actually was being honest. He hadn’t yet figured out that this
was because of Ivy.
He noticed the difference in their relationship. The consistency was something he craved.
The regularity of talking and hanging out was very refreshing.
“Hey, Wes can I talk to you?” It was Friday and the bell had just rang to dismiss everyone.
Ivy spoke in a voice that he was unfamiliar with. It caught him so off guard that he forgot to call
“Uh sure.” Her nervous tone unsettled him. It was now the end of November, about three
months of them being real friends. She turned and walked away, expecting him to follow. She
stopped and turned to him after leading him to the school parking lot.
“I know that we’re just friends right now, well I mean I don’t know what we are, but I
want you to know that I like you a lot.” His face was blank. He was not expecting that. Anyone
else would’ve seen this coming. She flirted with him during every single one of their
interactions, but he wasn’t capable of noticing that. He just thought she was being nice. He
thought he was being nice back. Wes could barely understand his own emotions how on Earth
was he supposed to read someone else’s? He felt stupid. After that, he felt ashamed and
embarrassed because he didn’t know how to respond. She stared at him with hope-filled eyes at
first, but after the 15 seconds of deafening silence, she walked away infuriated.
His own silence and lack of reaction made her feel embarrassed. He tried to say
something, anything, but he couldn’t get a word out before she put her car in drive.
He walked the blocks to his house. He was hurt, he knew he felt so strongly about her,
but needed time to think about what that meant. He should have just told her that, but in the
moment it felt like he couldn’t breathe. The fact that it was the weekend gave him hope that he
could gather the courage and the right words to tell her how he felt. Ivy, I like you too. Wasn’t it
obvious? For him it took time, but by Sunday he was ready, excited even.
He hadn’t bothered to text her all weekend, not wanting to upset her even more that he
already had. His plan was to just wait until Monday to see her at school and finally utter the
words with confidence. It would be the first moment in a long time since he truthfully discussed
an emotion with someone who wasn’t a professional. He woke up at 7:30, giving himself the
usual ten minutes to get ready and five to walk to school. He didn’t make it that far. He opened
his phone and checked Instagram just before walking out the door. Tapping through everyone’s
story was a routine of his, not really looking at the actual images. But today the first on he
clicked on snatched his whole being. It was Ivy’s senior portrait, reposted everywhere. His heart
pounded in his ears, he sucked in a sharp breath as, he clicked on the image to read the caption:
“Eighteen-year Ivy Williams tragically passes away from drunk driving incident, crashing into a
cement wall at 2am Monday morning.”