cold hard bleachers

a short story

Often she found herself sitting alone, in the darkness of her bedroom before the sun came up, or along the edge of a park bench with the chill of the night filling her body, unable to see past the dimly lit sidewalk in front of, no matter the place, or time of day, she always seemed to let the silence get too loud, let the darkness persist too long, and as a result, let the cavernous, empty space inside of her grow even deeper, even wider, further beyond repair.

To say she’d spent her whole life misunderstood would be a gross understatement, a painfully trite banality, feigning even remotely to attempt to acknowledge the depth of her isolation. She’d seen a macabre of therapists to no avail; prescriptions for every antidepressant and antianxiety medication had been prescribed, and still, her insides felt empty.

There was another world inside of her mind, a world even she had only begun to access, but it was that world that kept her from feeling any sense of belonging in reality; it was that world that kept her from relating to others, from forging deep connections with her peers. She knew that world wasn’t real, and yet somehow, she also knew it would overtake her if she weren’t careful.

As a result, she tried even harder to feel the empty abyss in her heart, so deeply void of intimacy or understanding. She forced herself into the social scene around her; she took all she’d discovered from years lingering in the corner, and applied it to fitting in quickly. Rather than some level of happiness, she found only the distance she felt from others heightened. In the most crowded room, amidst a pulsing dance floor, or a buzzing coffee shop, the world still felt cold and quiet.

It made her too tired to pretend she wasn’t lonely in all those crowded rooms and public spaces, and so again, she found herself seeking out the world’s empty spaces, those which matched her insides.

She sat atop the cold hard bleachers looking out at her school’s football field, long after the sun had sunk behind the gray winter clouds. She watched her warm breath turn into smoke against the frigid air, floating up towards a night sky she felt was too crowded with stars.

He sat down, not quite next to her, not quite away from her. He looked up at the sky. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched a look of disappointment wash across his face. He sighed, and shifted his gaze out past the football field, into the muddled darkness that in the daytime was a line of trees at the edge of a forest. She turned her attention to the same shadowy abyss; but now, her thoughts no longer centered on her feelings of isolation, instead she thought of him.

The night ticked on; the darkness set in and became comfortable, as did the silence between them. Finally, the chill of winter cut too deeply through her bones. She stood to leave.

“You’re not going to say anything at all?” he questioned, strangely casually, as if they’d been friends for years.

She was simultaneously taken aback by his boldness and relieved that she could now talk to him without feeling as if she’d broken some unspoken code.

“What do you want me to say?” she questioned, hugging her arms around her body to keep warm.

“I don’t know; I’ve just never seen you out here before,” he replied, an obvious line of questioning in mind.

She cut him off before he could continue, not even attempting to conceal her shock. “You mean you come out here a lot? Like all alone, at night?”

“Yeah,” he said, hesitant to share too much with her. “I guess, I just sort of feel more like myself when I’m alone in the dark.”

“And the rest of the world is silent,” she interjected. “Like, being alone, away from all the fake people, in the dark, where they can’t see how broken you are, it feels like that’s the only way to coexist between this world and the world going on inside of you, right?”

She spoke candidly, fervently even, eager to have found another person like her.

This time, the silence between them felt painful as she waited for his response. She bit her lip, beginning to regret how quickly she’d opened up to a complete stranger.

“Wow,” he started, his own nervousness quickly building into excitement. “That’s exactly why I come out here. I mean, I don’t even know if I could have explained it to anyone like that, but when you said it, I knew that was exactly why I was here.”

Her entire body relaxed. She sat back down next to him.

Their shoulders brushed and he could feel the heat of her body in stark contrast to the icy atmosphere around them. He looked into her eyes, and he saw in them the same whirlwind of emotion he constantly felt inside of himself. Something clicked inside of him, and he knew it was safe to share with her, to tell her everything, even his inner most thoughts.

His smile made her feel like nothing ever before. There was a deep sense of sincerity to the way he looked at her, and it made her certain that she had found someone made from the same cloth, wired the same way. She wanted to share every detail of her life with him; she felt as if he needed to know every part of her, as if her every experience had been made for him to understand.

They talked until the sun came up. He walked her home; they exchanged numbers. They became almost inseparable, having found a piece of the world that existed in their brains, on the outside, in reality. They shared their lonely places with one another; they absorbed the darkness and the empty spaces that only nighttime provided.

He started to feel less lonely; the hole inside of him began to fill up, and as it did, he began to feel more like a part of the real world.

They began doing normal couple things: parties, group dinners, all the things they’d once both felt so uncomfortable in.

He began to open up more in general; no longer was she his exclusive confidant, the one person he could be himself around. He was fully flourishing, becoming a social necessity, essential to those around him. His reputation went from moody and brooding to charismatic and intriguing, and all of it, he knew, he owed to her.

A year had passed since that first winter night on the bleachers. This particular night, snow flurried around her face as she made her way from inside the school, where she’d sat amongst a group of his friends, watching their school’s basketball team, back out to the empty football field and the hard metal stands.

She ran her fingers absentmindedly through a strand of hair and watched the tiny snowflakes melt when they hit her jeans. She allowed herself to breathe for what felt like the first time all evening, and as she contemplated all that had changed in the last year, she felt the warm sting of tears on her cheeks.

He climbed the steps of the bleachers up to where she sat, and wrapped his arms around her.

“What’s wrong? What happened to you? Why’d you leave the game?” he peppered her with questions, his concern palpable, which only made her tears fall harder.

She took a deep breath, steadying her voice. “I just needed to feel something, to feel like I used to feel.”

She looked into his eyes, searching for that same feeling inside of him.

“Why would you wanna feel like that again?” he asked, shock and confusion apparent in his expression. “We were all alone and broken, now we’re not. We’re not sitting on the outside anymore; we’re not isolated in the corner. We can feel like we belong now.”

His words hurt. Somewhere during his monologue he’d stood up, incredulous, incapable of comprehending her.

“No, you feel like you belong now; and I am so happy I could be a part of making you feel that way. I, on the other hand, feel exactly how I felt a year ago, trapped in a world in which I do not fit and unable to exist in a world that makes sense,” now tears streamed uncontrollably from her eyes. She stood as she gestured around them, “This empty blankness is the only thing that makes me feel okay now, and it used to make you feel okay, too. Can’t we just feel like we used to feel, at least for a little while?” She was desperately broken as the words came out of her mouth.

Tears stung in his eyes now too. He shifted uncomfortably, pulling his body further away from hers. “I just,” he was nervous again, hesitant to share openly with her in a way he’d not been at all since that first night. “I can’t go back to that. I don’t want to, and I don’t understand why anyone would.”

“I think that means we’re breaking up,” she said, trying her best not to fall apart.

“But, I love you,” he responded, a mix of disbelief and desperation.

She nodded her head, and with a sad smile replied, “Then sit with me.”

He stood there, and again, the silence between them was no longer confortable.

She knew better than to truly want him to stay; she knew they were no longer the same person, somehow, their innermost fibers no longer matched up, and she couldn’t really want him to give up a part of who he now was just for her.

He knew the same thing. He knew no matter how much he loved and cared for her, they weren’t the match they’d once been. In only a short year, their paths had shifted into such different directions, something that now seemed irreparable and inevitable.

She looked up at the sky, and although the flurrying flakes cluttered the black expanse a bit, tonight, she thought, the stars were not overcrowded. She imagined they shined brighter that way, with less in the sky to encroach upon each other. She imagined they breathed easier somehow, and when she looked back down, he was gone, and she breathed easier too.

for literally no one in particular

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