Cold, salty, and sticky. The adjectives that described so much. So much time wasted, so much energy given up, so much emotion forced out of her young body that numbed her mind into a paralyzed state. All she could do was sit on her blue bed sheets- brown stains littering the fabric from where she tried to wash away the evidence- staring blankly at the cold floor. Her blue eyes doused in the cold, the salty, the sticky: the very function that separated her from the rest of the college students.
How come they could walk around the browning campus, boots crunching in the falling leaves and windbreakers blocking the harsh autumn air from their not-so-fragile bodies, heads held high, daring misfortune to come at them full force? How could they be so calm, cool, and collected around any one person they met, even if slurs and obscenities were hurled towards them one after another and their very pride being but to the test? How come she couldn’t?
Her roommate was never around. Usually the other girl was off doing some sort of homework in the café, pulling all-nighters and sleeping during the day, often missing classes due to the off-kilter sleep schedule. This left her a solitary sanctuary, one she could run to and cry every night- her tears staining her face and making it look like she was permanently sunburnt from the deepening red. Her eyes hurt. She began to lose sleep. The situation was too much.
At first, she blamed it all on stress. She was unused to the workload and had never learned how to manage her time in high school. It had been difficult, but she pushed forward. Then she entered her classes and got to know her classmates. She felt inadequate, stupid, and all around idiotic when placed with her peers. Her answers were never right. She couldn’t sing the right notes. She was awkward. The others sounded so much more intelligent. This was her breaking point. Something was wrong, and she couldn’t figure out what.
It was never like this in high school. She was top of her class. The smartest kid. She had never made a B on a report card in her life, nor did she come home to a “parent note” waiting on the answering machine from her principal. She was a model student. So why did it all change here?
The evening pressed on, and, once again, she was loaded down with homework. As she lay on her stomach on her navy blue quilt, she typed furiously on her keyboard, erasing her work and rewriting it over and over again. Her paper for her Communications class was due at midnight, and she was nowhere near finished with it. If only she could concentrate long enough, but all that consumed her depleting thoughts were the events from her chorus class early that evening. The same story: she sang the wrong notes, trying to hit the second soprano notes and coming off as either sharp or flat, and being rudely told the fact by her neighbor.
She lay her head down on the pillow, burying her face in the cool fabric. Ice settled in her mind, freezing the cognitive clockwork and slowing down the gears that allowed her brain to run. She wanted sleep. That’s all she wanted. Just one hour, maybe two. Something to catch her up on slumber. Considering she only was able to manage an average of nineteen hours of sleep over the entire week, she felt groggy, and her icy eyes began to glaze over with sleep.
Just a minute. That’s all I need. I’ll wake myself up in a minute and then finish the assignment.
About thirty minutes after midnight, the student woke up hearing a pounding on her dorm room door. She jolted up, startled, eyesight blurry and wavering from just waking up. With her heart rate speeding like a freight train, she stared at the door, waiting for the pounding to stop.
She couldn't remember. Was her dorm room locked? She glanced over at her roommates desk, pondering whether her friend had taken her key with her or not, and if she needed to let the raven-haired girl in. rubbing her pale blue eyes, she found that the key was indeed with her roommate and not in the room. This sparked her curiosity even more. Who could be pounding so loudly?
Her mind quickly detailed the ghost stories she heard from the older students on campus. The Ghost Runner, they called him, which paraded the third and fourth floors of her dorm first and foremost on her mind. She snatched her phone from atop the small refrigerator she brought from home, turning it on and unlocking it. Twelve-thirty. The Ghost Runner ran across the hallways from midnight to three, so it could possibly-
Her homework was due.
Scrambling up, the young student dashed to her computer and stared at the screen. She had to at least finish it and turn it in. Even if it was late. Even if she failed the assignment she had to. Just had to-
Here they came again. The tears. This time, they were hot and angry. Why couldn’t she just do one thing right?! Just one damn thing!? She stood up, returning to her bed, grabbing the thin pillow, and smashing her face to it. She didn’t care about her neighbors now. The pounding should’ve waken them up anyway. She screamed as loud as she could. She could feel her vocal chords cracking and tearing under the pressure she was putting on them.
Once her distress left her body, leaving her with the after-burn of anger, she stood there in her pajamas, listening to the silence. Silence? Yes, the pounding had stopped, and of that she was glad for. Whoever was being the pest must’ve been scared off by her screams.
She gasped for breath. The screaming left her lungs empty. Her head stuffed up, leaving her unable to catch a good quality breath. Coughing the mucus loose from her lungs, she hugged the pillow for some sort of comfort. As she rested her eyes, she heard the door creak open. Blinking, she glanced in that direction, finding the door standing wide open, the darkness glaring at her through the doorway. A chill danced up her spine violently, she gulped the wad of saliva in the back of her throat.
“Ana?” she called. She expected to hear a responding,
“Yeah? I’m here Holly.” But there was none.
Confused, she cautiously tiptoed towards the door, dropping her pillow. She sniffed, her nose clogged, and she flinched at the loud snort it made.
Peering slowly out of the room, cocking her head to each side, scanning the area, Holly found herself alone in the dorm. At least, alone in being awake. No figure posed itself in the dark hallway. A red light illuminated the hall on each side, the “Exit” signs creating the foreboding light.
Stepping into the hallway, Holly made the decision to make a trip to the communal restroom. She might as well before she headed off to bed. The lights in the hallway flickered on, but she was used to that by now. The school had gone green and most lights were motion-censored, even the ones in the individual rooms.
Which are a pain, Holly admitted to herself. As she opened the door, the light switched on. Stepping in, the girl caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror.
Her cheeks were heavily tear-stained and red. Her lips were chapped from all the times she bit them in frustration. Her eyes were a deep ocean blue in the iris- something that happened only when she cried- and the whites were bloodshot and red from the pressure in her head. Holly chuckled at her matted hair, which remarkably looked like a rats’ nest with its dark, dirty blonde stands making up a wad on the top of her head. She was pathetic, and Holly would be the first to admit it.
Pathetic, yes. She couldn't do her homework on time. She could never reach to the upperclassmen status. Why was she here again? Oh yes.
“Holly you need to do something with your life. You can’t just sit around writing stories all day.”
Holly this, Holly that. That was all she heard at home. She grew sick of it all. She grew sick of her name.
But what can she do? One thing was to wash her face and get back to work. That was a must. Sauntering up to the sink, brushing away the leftover hair from one of her neighbors, she thrust her hand under the automatic sink and wet her hands. After she felt she had accumulated enough water on her hands, Holly rubbed her face, her eyes, her cheeks, even her neck. The cool water calmed her heated skin and relieved a hint of stress. But that wasn’t enough. Her head still ached from the congestion of crying and the workload.
Turning the small dial on the faucet to hot, Holly cupped her hands under the scorching water, hoping the steam from it being on her face would alleviate her sinuses. Splashing her face with the water, she stood straight and attempted to breathe. It worked somewhat, but it wasn’t enough. She needed more steam. More hot water.
An idea formed in her head, and Holly ran back to her room to grab a washcloth. When she returned, she took the dark blue cloth and dampened it. She laid it on her face for a few minutes, but found that, after removing it, she needed more. Placing it over the drain, she ran the hot water in the sink until it was almost filled.
Holly gazed at the pristine water. Slight heat resonated off its surface. Smiling slightly, she leaned over it, gazing into its shallow depths. The heat was comforting, and she could almost feel clear again. However, Holly noticed the ripples forming along its surface and the light plopping sounds. Raising a hand to her face, she felt the godforsaken tears falling again. She sniffed, her chest tightening up this time. No air went in. Loudly groaning in frustration, she gave the water one last look, its clear surface shadowing over.
Dawn was peeking over the mountainous horizon as Ana approached the elevator in her dorm. Stretching and shifting her backpack on her shoulders, she decided, as she stepped into the elevator and pressed the 3 for the third floor, that it was time for sleep. When the elevator dinged and the doors opened, she stepped out and waltzed towards her room, a yawn forming on her lips. She wasn’t able to exude that yawn, however, by the sight of her neighbors and the Hall Monitor standing at the door to the communal bathroom, faces pale and in shock.
“Macy, Isis? What’s up?” Ana approached the three, tilting her head in question at the oldest of the three, the Hall Monitor.
“Jes, what’s wrong?”
Jes gulped and turned to Ana. Her eyes were tearing up. “I’m sorry,” she muttered.
“Sorry for what?” Ana peeked around tall door into the grey bathroom. She gasped and stepped back, nearly bumping into Macy, who was fiddling with her jacket pocket, trying to grab her phone.
Ana couldn’t believe her eyes. There in the bathroom was her once jovial roommate, face down with her head in the sink, body limp. On the mirror, written in the fog created by the steam were words she would never forget.
I Can’t Breathe.