In the Meadow – the Making of a Memory

I sat in the meadow, smiling to myself. For the first time in a while, I felt comfortable being completely alone. My whole life, I thought that going somewhere where my spirits were lifted was something I should do in the company of others, of people I could trust. By the time I was a teenager, ‘trust’ had changed to ‘treat like family’.

And perhaps, the word family had been romanticized to mean something better than friendship, something that would be around forever. It meant I could trust them to be courteous and to have those same feelings about me.

Maybe it was the idea of good company that made the trip better, made it feel less lonely; but now I could see that being alone wasn’t a bad thing, and being in good company didn’t have to make a great place better. I had good memories of being here in company, but surely I could make nice memories on my own.

 

In the meadow, the grass was tall. There are some green meadows with pretty flowers and trees surrounding it, but not this one. The particular meadow was filled with tall yellowing grass, hardly any flowers in sight. I sighed to myself, reaching for my left ear. I closed my eyes as the noise level dropped. There, I thought, that makes being here even better.

The weight of the aid was something I got used to quickly, but the noise was different. Everything felt louder. Too loud, even. The echo eventually stopped, and it felt better, but I didn’t get used to the clarity and loudness until later. Sometimes even now, I felt better when it was out. I couldn’t hear the world, and I was okay. I often felt like nature, the city, and almost everything really, would be more peaceful if I couldn’t hear it. I couldn’t hear my five siblings bickering in the background, or the cars rumbling past as I sat at my desk. Silence was something to appreciate. I felt that way before I got the aid, so one could only imagine how much more strongly I felt about the idea afterward. Sometimes, the aid was around my ear, but not connected. That way I could feel the silence, appreciate my surroundings more.

 

The meadow was quieter now without the ‘artificial hearing,’ and there wasn’t the loudness of the wind around me. When I first got the aid, background noise was almost all I heard, shooting directly at my ear. I got frustrated with the lack of control I had between background and foreground noises. As everything else, I got used to it – tuned it out even.

The lack of noise almost made me sleepy as I closed my eyes again. The sun shone, and every once in a while, it passed over my closed eyes, brightening my black vision. Around me, almost all I hear is the rustling of grass wisp of wind and the birds. When the nearby flap of wings shattered my thoughts, I opened my eyes. The sky was greyer, but the sun shone from behind the clouds. Everything looked darker, but I could see just as clearly. A few meters away, a bird whose species I didn’t know watched me. I sat up, breathing in deeply. My hand comes up to touch the grass and I felt it shift under the wind. I resisted the urge to laugh as it tickled my palm.

 

I wondered what this would be like if the city was nearby. Whether airplanes would interrupt the quietness of the wind and birds, whether there’d be more people in the clearing. I imagined being completely deaf, without birds to listen to or buzzing bugs to hear. I watched the grass shift under the wind’s the current, shivering as the chill hit my back. Wind picked up for a minute and I lay down to watch the sky, ignoring my hair as it obscured my vision whenever the wind hit. Memories of getting used to the aid filled my mind.

My first time in public, downtown. It was far too loud.

My first time at a family gathering, while it was still very echoey. That was disorienting.

My first time at a restaurant. Also very loud.

My first time in a meadow. There were a lot of chirping birds.

Conclusion: it was damn loud and weird.

I remember, everyone thought my hearing was normal with a hearing aid, but it was still weaker. Especially at the beginning, where it was mostly echo anyway. (“What was that,” I’d ask. “I don’t know, you’re the one with the hearing aid,” they’d answer.) It wasn’t normal, just better – more compatible. Instead of thirty and eighty percent, it was eighty in both. Sure, I could hear a conversation that wasn’t in the same room a bit more clearly, but so could everyone else. Sure, I could hear someone approaching me, so I wasn’t as jumpy, but everyone could too. Sure, I could hear music coming from a different floor, but I’d never been able to beforehand, while everyone else could.

 

Comfortable on the yellow grass, I felt like I should fall asleep. Like I should forget everything. Like shutting off my brain would be best at the moment. At least I wasn’t bored, I figured as I got up. I plugged the aid back in, closing my eyes to welcome the more prominent sound of birds and crickets. Stretching, I looked around; the meadow was calmer, less windy. The sky was darker, but it didn’t look like it was going to rain. I walked around, breathing in the fresh air. At least there was fresh air, nothing that would cause a claustrophobic panic attack. I scoffed, sighing – even with the fresh air; this place is still way too open. I didn’t like large spaces either, especially not when I was alone.

I kept walking, looking back from the sky to the yellow grass moving beneath my feet. Far away, as if I was in the center, I could see the entrance to a forest on both sides, but behind me and at the, horizon was open space. I suddenly felt like running until I regretted, it lungs burning. Here goes, I thought, sighing. I’m going to stay in this meadow for as long as I can. I will not think, but I will run. I am free.

Freedom was best served warm.

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Speak Up: the Arrangement and its Aftermath

Philip smiled at me from across the chessboard, “We haven’t done this in a while.” I nodded, unsure of what to say. Ever since I’d spoken up, we’d only seen each other in the company of others. The game was almost finished; I was wining at this point. I scanned the board, making sure my plan was still doable.

“This is nice,” I agreed eventually, making my turn on the board. About two months ago, I’d done something seemingly reckless. Now, after seeing his reaction, and eventually sorting it out, everything was back to normal. Well, on my side it was. Who knew what he thought.

 

It had been two years ago that all went downhill. Some tiny part of me had denied it for a while but unfortunately, I had developed feelings for Phillip. The big issue by the end was that I didn’t like liking him. I saw him more as a close friend than as a petty crush. As the year anniversary of my annoyingly impractical discovery passed, I decided to act on my irritation. That is, for the next year, I argued with myself about whether I liked him or not. Let’s just say that when I was in the strictly friends mentality, I was much happier.

As the second year came to an end, I was truly sick of it. I wanted out, I wanted better. I wanted to be able to spend time with Philip without wondering why I felt the way I did, or without being aware of every little thing. I set out this neat conversation, spent weeks rendering and changing the internal dialogue. I seized the chance on some risky day not long after we’d seen each other for the first time in a month.

The conversation ended short when I panicked. He was still processing it when I fled. We didn’t speak for a week. The next time we spoke, the subject was only briefly brought up. All was seemingly forgiven. A couple weeks past until I brought it up again. That conversation was slightly longer, and made me feel much more comfortable about speaking up.

The whole point of the arrangement was to make him realize. And to make me come to my senses, but at this point I hardly remembered what I was supposed to think in order not to like him. So, mission accomplished, I felt both relieved and terrified. All that confusion evaporated once we’d properly settled it, which was great for me.

All I knew now was that most (all except two) of my friends thought I still liked him. The other downside was that no matter how much I tired, I still got these annoying bits of insecurity regarding him. These bits of insecurity ensured I took every one of his thoughts and actions personally.

Now that all was well, the only thing I could do was attempt not to question what he thought of it all, and hope that even if I took it personally, I’d eventually realize that it was stupid to freak out about everything. Philip had gotten far enough that every once in a while, he’d bring up topics that he only talked about prior to speaking up. He’d even introduced me to his girlfriend. (Admittedly, she’d been the one to chaperone most our evenings together. She was busy today.)

 

I sat calmly in front of him – and him alone – for the first time in some time, and it felt great. We continued to play chess quietly for awhile, but he eventually cracked, laughing. “Why are we playing chess?”

I smiled, “Good thing you ask now,” I said, placing my queen in a position of total power over his king, “checkmate.”

He laughed, scanning the board for any mistakes, any chance to redeem his loss. “Aw, damn,” he muttered with a smile.

I chuckled. “Yes, how sad.”

Tossing the pieces into the box, he looked at me. “Get Jenga. You’re dead,” he threatened.

I shrugged. With my unsteady hands and impatience, I didn’t stand a chance. “Whatever floats your boat, hon.”

On the floor, surrounded by board games and card sets, we played for hours. To Philip’s satisfaction, he did win Jenga more than half the times we played it. Even then, I was good at card games. I watched him suffer as we played Set, sat through his pleading as I beat him every time. Even with all the frustration I faced, nothing would beat the fact that he enjoyed board games as much as I did.

In the Forest Alone with You

As we walk, Cam kicks pebbles around, chasing after them every once in a while. “Look, I know you’re really confused that the moment, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.” She tells me.

I sigh as she looks at me expectantly. “Baby steps, I know.” Scowling, I pick up a twig and snap it in quarters. “Sometimes I just wish I wasn’t known as Riley’s sister.”

“I keep telling you, you’re not,” Cam argues, jogging back to my side from where she had kicked a pebble into a tree.

I roll my eyes. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like I am,” I mutter. “I just wish I could move away. Get away from the people that know us both. Make an identity as someone who isn’t under the constraint of siblings. You know, where I’m Ash and people treat me for me.”

Cam chuckles. “You’re not alone on that thought, trust me. And like I said, you just need to figure out who treats you best. Who treats you regularly and shows full respect or attention.”

I roll my shoulders back, sighing again. “Yeah, well it would be much less complicated if people treated everyone the same way. You know, same level of emotions, thought, and personality for everyone. But nobody works that way – hell, sometimes I don’t.”

 

We reach a rocky path, and Cam stops kicking pebbles. She picks up a stick, uses it as a staff. “Riley doesn’t get that different of treatment,” Cam murmurs unconvincingly.

I laugh, “From you, maybe. It’s funny how I feel like I know the whole lot so much better, but I really don’t.” Cam stays quiet as if to know I’m in the middle of a thought. “You know how I always said I wished I was Dumbledore in that end scene of Order of The Phoenix, and other were Harry?”

Cam smiles, “I do recall that, yes.” She chuckles, twisting the staff in her hand as I stop walking to wipe my hands on my pants.

“I seemed to have forgotten that most often, I’m Harry and they are Dumbledore.” I mutter, kicking a piece of wood and watching fly off the path.

Cam grins again. “Why’s that?”

I shrug. “Because talking to most people reminds me of yelling nonsensically, where I feel like I’m sort of getting my point across, and they refuse to make theirs if and when I ask for it.” I laugh humorlessly. “It’s like everyone I know refuses to show me the side of them that they show everyone else.”

“I thought Dumbledore did make his point across,” Cam says with a frown.

I smile, shoving her playfully. “Yeah, but it’s manipulative, not really that explanatory. Plus, Harry’s satisfied with it for the time being, but he spends most of the summer wondering what the hell was happening, so.”

“You say you related to that temporary satisfaction?” Cam repeats.

I nod, “Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of the same thing. They give me stuff every once in a while so that I stop wondering why I’m the only one left in the dark, and then they don’t talk about if for ages. Refuse to, even.”

 

Cam sighs, “Look, this idea that they give you a slice of their true personality might be realistic, but I don’t really know why it would have anything to do with Riley. You just need to figure out who out of the lot of them actually helps you think through your stuff, who makes you feel better.

“I got that. And for the record, it has everything to do with Riley. He’s the reason they think I’m some uptight dramatic weirdo, self-centered enough to constantly talk about themselves and think everything is personal. They find him trustworthy and logical enough that he gets what I ask for.” I say, running a hand through my hair in irritation.

“But why does it matter that much?” Cam wonders, wincing at the insensitivity of the question. We’re almost at the end of the trail. The trees are looking more climbable than ever.

I shrug, sighing again. “I don’t know. I guess it’s because it’s Riley and I. Everything about the two of us makes me question everything else. It’s like some endless competition that I know I’m going to loose. I’m a pushover, remember? I let everything get under my skin.”

Cam laughs. “You might be a pushover, and they might take advantage of you, but nobody does it as much as Riley.”

I nod. “I know that. You’d think I didn’t, though, by the way I go about it.” I stop to look around, smiling. “I’m going to climb that,” I say, pointing to a tree with low branches.

 

Cam nods, considering whether to join me as I grab onto the nearest branch. The tree isn’t that big, and the view is a bit obscured by branches and leaves, but it’s nice. Not that many bugs either. “I’m just sick of feeling liked the failed copy – or like the shitty alternate universe.” I tell Cam as she grabs onto the branch that I’d used.

“Well,” She says with a huff as she joins me, “you aren’t. You know, Riley’s confused about being in the position he stands in as well.”

I snort. “Not that I would know. Not that I care that much. I mean, in this type of situation, I welcome his confusion. I deserve better than the way he treats me, the way our friends treat me. I hope he realizes he’s somewhat of a dick.”

Cam nods. “You do deserve better, and yeah, he should see that you do those things genuinely, until he tries to take advantage of it. They all should.”

I laugh, shifting positions to avoid the branches from digging into my back. “I almost put Em to the test yesterday. They made plans, and I was wondering if she’d accept my offer over Riley’s if I made plans for the same day. Last month, I’d made plans with her and she made up a story and an excuse so that she could run off with him instead.”

“So did you wind up testing it?” Cam wonders with a smile. When I shake my head, she glares. “Why not,” she exclaims. A leaf falls into my lap, and I stare at it.

“Cause I’m not a manipulative asshole. I’m not one of them.” I reply, tearing the leaf apart.

Cam laughs, smiling. She takes my hand, stares at it. “I know.” I sigh, and she looks past the leaves into the trees around us.

“If you ever leave, remember that certain people treat the two of you differently.” She mutters.

I laugh. “I’d never lose contact with you. I have a list, but it needs to be narrowed down.”

Cam smiles. “I’ll help you get that done.”

“I know. People like us stick together.” I say, ruffling her hair.

Cam leans into the playful touch, and I laugh. “You’re such a cat.”

She laughs, “Sue me, your hands are soft.”

I chuckle, fiddling with her fingers. “Thanks for bringing me here.”

“Anytime, Ash.”

I look into the forest, hoping to stay here for as long as possible.

Girl in the Uniform : Chapter Thirteen

I drove with Andy in the car, where I parked downtown so we could wait for Tina and Cassie. In the car, we sat with the windows open. It was a bit hot, but both of us preferred it to the crowd. I smiled as Andy received a text, followed by a call. He chuckled, and I nodded to reassure him taking it was fine. I sent Angie a text, wondering how the ride was going.

Eventually, she got more nervous. It was over keyboard, but I could still tell. Andy had finished his conversation by then, and was staring at me in confusion. “What’s wrong?”

“She’s about to have a panic attack. I gotta call her.” I explained.

He nodded. “Yeah, do that.”

“Thanks.” I said, sighing. “Angie,” I murmured when she picked up. She huffed, and I clenched my fist to keep from sighing. “Angie, baby. Talk to me.” Her voice was small, wavering and shaky.

I huffed a laugh at her attempt to sound better than she was. I ran through the checklist of things to say when someone is undergoing a panic attack, making my voice more reassuring and quiet. “Baby, listen to me. Focus on the sound of my voice,” I said slowly, coherently. “Breath, Angie. Everything is fine. You’re going to be fine. In and out, breath.” I told her, “Count with me, okay?” I said encouragingly. She counted slowly, voice wavering as if it slipped in and out of her control. “That’s it, baby. Stay calm. Listen to my voice, everything will be okay. I’m right here, I’m not going anywhere, baby.” I told her calmly.

She started to squirm, mumbling about the people on the train. “Don’t think about them, Angie. Think about me. About you. When you get to your room, Skype me, okay, baby? Think about that, it’s just four more hours, and I’ll be with you the whole time.” I interrupted. She questioned my position with the group. Thankfully, the girls hadn’t arrived yet. “They won’t mind, baby. Don’t worry, okay? You’re my priority, alright?”

Angie apologized and I sighed, expecting it. “Hey, hey, listen to me. Don’t apologize. You’re not doing anything wrong. I want to do this. Andy never minds. Everything is good.” She described her surroundings and I resisted the urge to swear. “Is the bathroom small?” I grunted when she confirmed. “If you go out, I’ll still be on. Alright?” I replied, knowing she would take the chance. I thought of ways to get her away from a claustrophobic panic. “Open the window, okay, breath.” She chose the moment to be selfless and aware of the public. “Too bad.” I replied, jokingly harsh. She seemed more relaxed. Angie asked about Tina, whether they had arrived. “No. Neither is Cassie.”

She assured me she was okay, thanking me multiple times. “Good,” I said, glad to have her feeling better.

 

I sighed when the line clicked. Orlando glanced at me. “Alright?” He asked. I nodded. “Did she ask about Tina and Cassie?” I nodded again, running a hand through my hair. “Did she apologize more than once?” I scowled and nodded. “Was she worried about other passengers?” I mumbled in agreement, running a hand down my face. Andy nodded. “Very standard.”

I sighed, suddenly exhausted. “How do you know so much about it?”

He laughed bitterly. “Two of the three girls I’ve dated, and Sef had and still have severe anxiety, plus I talked to Angie every day for two years. You get to know the tricks.”

I nodded. “Yeah. You seem to have a knack for that.”

“No, it’s just more common than you’d expect. You just learn what works best, and what the ticks are for each. Easy.”

“How many times a week would Angie have an attack?” I asked. We had stopped talking daily in grade ten, sometimes we would go weeks without it.

“Three times, at least.” He said, frowning slightly. I raised an eyebrow, trying to remember how many times she had come to me in a time of panic through our years. “She often mentioned bothering other people instead of me. Sometimes she would ask me whether it was a good idea if she spoke to you. She often didn’t, for fear of intruding or whatever. Needless to say, with every conversation came at least a dozen thank yous and I’m sorrys and you really don’t have to do this.” He muttered, sensing my tension and confusion.

“Did she?” I frowned, wondering about the way she had asked about me. We had had a couple falling outs during our time, and a few of them lasted what felt like ages, but what I remembered to be a few weeks at most. “What was it like?”

“Tiring. Good practice. Sad. Worrying. Very repetitive. Mostly confusing. Too hear that someone hated themselves so much. To see that there was so much misery and confusion. So much denial and struggle. It was hard. But, someone had to do it.”

“Why you?” I asked, referring to why he stuck around.

“Because I cared for her. I still do. I needed her to see that she wasn’t as alone as she felt. That there was hope. That despite her falling out with three friends at once, my girlfriend of the time included, I would still be there. Every night. Waiting, helping, encouraging. When she didn’t show up, I was worried. Hell, I resisted the urge to chain message a string of worries. But, the next morning, as usual, came a string of apologies along with an I hope I didn’t keep you up and a repetitive flow of Shit, sorry Andy.”

“Did she ever try to explain it?”

“Only everyday. She wouldn’t always get to it, though. Most often, she would spend a while trying to make sure I was okay with this or not busy or not tired yet and sometimes I was, but I full on knew that she was too, so I stayed there. Even if I told her I really wasn’t the best at it, she still came to me. I don’t know why. Maybe because she felt comfort, or because I lighten up a room and that was a good refresher. Her being there, and endlessly thanking me, and assuring herself that I was okay, was her way of saying she cared for me. Her way of showing how much my presence made a difference. Her excuse for openly complimenting me fifty times a day to make both of us feel better. She felt better reassuring me, thanking me, apologizing, saying the ramble that was her thoughts, giving me clues as to when to say what, and I ran with it for her sake, and because despite the way it was bittersweet, it still made me feel better about myself, every time.”

“Was she aware you sometimes struggled with it?” I asked quietly, fiddling with the hem of my jacket.

Andy nodded, chuckling to himself. “Very much. It was one of the reasons she spent so much time making sure I was fine, reiterating that fact that it was nice to have an ally, but that she worried about my worrying. And worried that I would spend too much time on her. And worried that I wouldn’t always be on board, because she saw herself so poorly. It was an impasse. I was strong on getting her to like herself, and she was strong on getting me not to dislike her. But there was always this wall, where we would both want to make each other feel better, and in the end we did it together. It was hard, but it was also be very heartfelt.”

“Thank you.” I said. I had always felt bad about the times when we had stopped talking. I thought of her endlessly. Once, we went a month without so much as glancing at each other. I spent the entire time wondering what had gone wrong, how I could fix it.

Orlando nodded, smiling slightly. “My pleasure. I would say she’s like the sister I never wanted, but I do want her in my life, and she’s better than a sister. She’s my family. The best anyone could ask for.”

 

“Did she give you a letter every Christmas since grade nine?” I wondered. She had said that she only gave them to specific people.

“Yes. I still have them all to this day. They’re the finest and most heartfelt pieces of writing that were ever addressed to me. No girlfriend will ever beat that.”

I smiled. “I know. Although, the first one was partially controversial and created a one month fall out. I still read them. She’s written me other letters, the non-holiday ones. They are great as well. I can hear her talking to me when I read them.”

“I read them when I’m having bad day.” Andy said with a laugh.

 

I smiled. “She’s wonderful.” I laughed freely. “I worry about her so much.” We both sighed, nodding. “Sometimes, I wish I could have been in BC with her. I wish we, or I, hadn’t waited so long.”

“What made you realize?” He asked.

I shrugged. “I had been thinking over and over about what she had said, what had happened in the few days before she left. It made me go through all the memories I could remember, just so I could attempt to take her point of view. I realized how sweet and patient and selfless she was. Of course, I’d always known she was kindhearted, but it gave me a new way to look at it.” I sighed, “I don’t know. I think, ever since she confessed, I realized I might have been lying to myself. I mean, the only other relationships I had lasted a few months at most. And I wasn’t as happy as I ever was with Angie. I denied it though, after figuring it out. I knew that if I didn’t, I would do just as she had.” I laughed, “It was so obvious, when she came back. Every time she did, I almost cracked, but I managed to stay true to it. She was back, and I had this small opportunity. I was sick of it. Sick of waiting, denying. We had both realized that something was different, unsaid, but neither said anything until after I received the call for my boss confirming my move to Victoria.”

 

Andy laughed then. “What about your girlfriends? You dated through most of University, didn’t you?”

“Not really. I had a booty call for the first couple years, but I knew it was odd. I wind up dating her for a couple months, and we decided it was better to remain friends. I dated this one girl after that, and we got on well, but she moved at the end of semester. And I attempted a relationship with this one girl, but it only lasted like two weeks. Apparently, I had a luck for hooking up with girls that moved in and out of cities a lot.”

Laughing slightly, he said, “I started dating early, I suppose. It lasted about six months, and then, almost a year later, I dated this girl for a while. We broke up mutually, though. My girlfriends and I often stayed friends afterward. And then I dated this girl a few months after the start of grade eleven and we broke up during the summer, so. But, in Uni, I hardly dated. I was busy with school, and I didn’t really care for it. In year one, I dated this girl, and we hooked up again in year three, but yeah. So that’s five relationships, but four girls.”

“Wasn’t that mutual break up your entire grade ten experience?” I asked, laughing to myself.

Andy chuckled. “People had been teasing me, saying she would break up with me to hook up with my friend, who pretty much instantly became her best friend. She talked to me about it, and we ended it. It was all right. I didn’t exactly mind.”

“Isn’t it a thing that people don’t hook up with their friend’s exes?” I asked teasingly.

Orlando laughed. “Apparently not. I’m dating two of my exes friend, also known as your girlfriend’s sister.”

I chuckled. “Point taken.”

We joked around a bit to let off the tension and ease away from serious topics, and so that the girls wouldn’t suspect anything when they arrived.