Oh high school, how I don’t miss you.
What I Mean
I climb the stairs slowly. Snow, dragged in on my boots, leaves the steps slippery. Three…two… I reach the top. My backpack weighs down on my shoulders, only adding to the burden this day brings. It had seemed easier last night.
I grip the door handle and pull it open. The heavy door moves slowly, dragging on the carpet. I take a deep breath and step into the hallway. She’s at her locker. She doesn’t see me. I could wait; I could call her tonight, I think. Coward.
She sees me and smiles.
“Hi.” She’s always so full of energy.
“Hey.” I can’t compete.
“How was your Speech and Debate?”
I shrug and nod, as if that answers the question.
She looks at me strangely, sensing something is wrong. But she says nothing on the subject, and I hate her for it.
Instead, she says, “So. How’s it going?”
She makes me want to smile.
“Pretty good,” I lie.
She pulls out another notebook and closes her locker. Swiftly, she hooks the lock, and with a final tug, it is secure. We walk slowly down the hall, toward my locker. My watch rattles on my wrist. I am strangely aware of this.
“Are you okay?”
I look at her before answering. Her eyes, they’re pretty. They match her shirt. Her hair frames her face, falling in soft waves. But I like it better straight. Though her lips are chapped, they always feel soft when brushed against mine. She has a good face, I decide.
“Well… I was thinking,” I say and try to hide the tremble in my voice, “about what you said.”
She says nothing. I look at her, but her eyes are cast to the floor. She holds her notebook against her chest, a shield. She’s holding it in the wrong place, I think. Earmuffs would be a better choice. I try not to smile at my joke—it really isn’t funny.
“And, I mean, you were right,” I continue. “Why are we dating if it makes you so un—“
“—obviously can’t communicate well—“
“Ryan,” she says. I stop speaking, and we both stop walking. Her eyes meet mine, and I know she knows.
“You’re just critical sometimes. I just wanted you to watch what you say, and I’ll try to take things less seriously.”
I start walking again. The hall is relatively empty. It’s hardly a quarter past seven. She keeps pace with me—she always does.
“We’re a lot more different than I thought we were.”
I feel uncomfortable and worry someone may overhear our conversation. I question breaking the news in school, but it is too late. There’s no going back now.
She still does not speak. She is making this both easy and difficult. We arrive at my locker, and I talk as I enter the combination. 22-7-22. It does not open. I try again as I talk.
“We have a different sense of humor.”
Please don’t beg.
“—your jokes aren’t funny. They’re just mean.” She looks at me, on the edge of disbelief. I know what she’s thinking: We already discussed this.
“You just don’t take them right,” I argue. Good, no tears.
“How is ‘your picture looks scary’ a joke?”
She’s angry. Better angry than sad.
I shrug. “It was just a baby picture.”
She doesn’t say anything, but her eyebrows come together. She questions me. Though she doesn’t speak, I hear her in my mind: So? I wouldn’t tell you your baby pictures were ugly.
She has a point—er, I have a point.
“See,” I say, “we can’t communicate. We were just raised differently or something.”
She is silent now, and I know she won’t argue anymore. She will pretend she doesn’t care. Does she realize I’m pretending, too?
“We might as well end it now, you know, instead of dragging it out.”
“So we’re breaking up.” It was a statement but at the same time, a question.
“If that’s what you want…”
“I don’t care.” She shakes her head and shrugs, and I wonder what she’s really thinking.
I look into my empty locker. A note looks back at me. I love you, it reads. It’s from her. I look away, hoping she won’t see it. She doesn’t.
“Well… it’s just…” Why is this so difficult?
She picks at her fingernails and tries to act normal, to act like we aren’t over, to act like she doesn’t care. It’s for the best, I think, but inside, I’m not so sure.
“It’s my seni—“
She looks up at me.
“It’s my senior year,” I explain. I keep my eyes on the note—it doesn’t make it any easier, but I don’t move them. “If this is going to be this much trouble, then…”
This isn’t coming out right.
“I mean, I’m leaving in a year… so why spend all this time on a relationship and… I mean, we can try…What I mean is…” I don’t know what I mean.
“We can still hang out,” I finish. “You’re still fun.”
What a consolation.
“Yah, definitely.” She doesn’t mean it.
“I’m glad we talked.”
“Yah.” Can she say anything else?
“All right. Well, then…” How awkward.
“Yah.” She nods. “Well, I’ll see you around.”
She smiles and leaves. I see her turn down the nearest stairway. That went well, I think. I close my locker loudly. I feel like crap.