High School was one tremendous, unending heart beat of stereotypes and bullshit, like the snake that moves in an incessant circle, forever eating its own tail. There were food chains and a well defined life cycle. The Cheerleaders, Athletes and Rich Bitches were at the top, followed by Student Senate and the little Neo Nazi Dweebies who were passionate about school fascism and spirit. Then came the Instrumental Fanatics, and then the Artsy Weirdo's. At the bottom of this tragic mountain of clichés and false identity were the Burnouts and finally, the Brains.
I didn't belong anywhere. I used to be stuck somewhere right in the middle of the Artsy Weirdo's because of my "eccentricity", and the Burnouts because of Raini. But lately I had sort of drifted into the widely renowned and respected position known as the Loner Stoner. The idea of me being a stoner was almost laughable, but I let the title become me anyways.
What was so seductive about popularity anyways? To me it was like the wolf in Norse mythology, Fenris. Starving Fenris perpetually chased the sun around and around until it finally caught it and ate it. But the heat from the sun would be so enormous that Fenris would be forced to regurgitate it and continue hunting it through time. The masses were Fenris, and fame was the sun. Popularity was a fake diamond on the other side of a one thousand foot glass wall. I'd never been there and didn't plan on it.
It had been about a month after Tommy's funeral, and I had not spoken a word. I couldn't tell whether I just didn't have anything to say, or the tears in my throat blocked my voice like a salmon dam. Most people had given up trying to talk to me. All people ever asked me about was Tommy. He was none of their business. Without my voice, I was starting to disappear at Blue Harbor High. I was becoming an eclipse. Raini seemed to understand my muteness. Dad had lost his rag and yelled at me a couple times; unable to comprehend why I was doing this to him. He was the one who couldn't see that it had nothing in the world to do with him.
The day of the first snow, I was walking tediously down the hallway to 5th hour. My boots scuffled along the dirty marble, and my head was bent so low, a black waterfall of hair made a curtain around my face. The bell rang; a brain splattering squeal that made most cringe and scatter into the classrooms. My pace didn't quicken and I didn't flinch. I had figured out that I wouldn't be marked tarde if I was late. The teachers felt sorry for me. The perfect attendance they gave me was pity points.
Whatever. I couldn't fight the diarrhea of sympathy society insisted on shitting all over me. Just like they couldn't battle my ability to take a sharp right at the cafeteria hallway and float my way right out the exit doors into the back parking lot. I wouldn't be marked absent.
I didn't bother waiting to feel the icy November air to light a cigarette. Crispy winter air and harsh smoke poured into my lungs and leaked slowly out of my nose. I shivered in my thin sweatshirt and folded my arms across my chest. The sky was pale and empty, hanging over me like a vague nightmare. Wind whistled around the corners of the old school and bit into my arms and face. The weather seemed sickeningly appropriate.
Groaning, I started across the parking lot, the cigarette slanted sideways across my chin. Behind me, white puffs of breath danced with the grey smoke. I felt completely exhausted. I barely had enough energy to make it to my bike. My brain was vacant, just a dead organ in my skull.
Just as I reached the lopsided bike, I heard a muffled laugh and turned. That's when I saw her.
The Pine Cone reeked of sadness. It was the rusty metal of the stools and the musty seats; the French vanilla coffee and the bags under the waitresses' eyes. I usually sat there every day after school, drowning in the desperation of the true-blue truck stop, which sat perched on the side of Highway 12. Teardrop eyes and distant license plates taught me how to know people. Every day was the same; every person was smeared together in the same black fairytale of broken relationships and insomnia.
I analyzed from my stool in the back of the smoking section, my combat boots thumping cheerlessly against the counter, and my mouth always still. I knew I appeared dead to the world with my frozen stoic expression, but I was the exact opposite. I saw and soaked in everything around me in smoke-filled silence. The sob stories were behind every cup of coffee and cancer stick; every glance and sad smile. I read the tragedy of middle-aged truckers who bought glossy-eyed dolls from the glass cases; an endless apology to the daughters in Ohio they only see three times a year passing through.
It was always different and it was always the same.
In the Pine Cone, reason and past were completely irrelevant. The customers sat staring with longing, hats tilted to hide them from everything they didn't want to recognize. They disappeared behind coffee mugs and last years newspapers, hoping that when they resurfaced, something would have changed. It never did.
But today I couldn't concentrate on their misery; an insipid attempt to soften my own. Today I couldn't stop thinking about her. She was a flurry of pink hair, scarlet bra straps and the faint, dizzying scent of peaches. The moment I laid my eyes on her in the parking lot, I was drifting dreaming along the edges of her existence, seeping through the syrup of my avidity only from a distance.
She had been standing near the dumpsters, speaking quietly with Jenna M'Lain, a girl from my chemistry class. Neither of them had noticed me staring. I watched her as others had started to watch me after the funeral. I constantly felt the burn of a dozen eyes on my skin, but now mine were tattooed to the pattern of her world. She was no less beautiful than teardrops carved from the ruins of the moon, and I… I was faceless. She was as poisonous as the name Jenna had called her, and I felt her presence like tinder in the pit of my stomach.
She was Kiska. And I had never been knocked sideways so hard by anything in my life.
Endlessly lonely thoughts sloshed drowsily around my skull and dropped like glass bullets onto the tip of my tongue. I wanted to speak to her, ramble on for an infinite journey about how gorgeous she was. But Voiceless was there, glued between my chapped lips, shoving the aching words back down my constricting throat. Instead, I merely got on my bike, and sped away, my eyes wide against the spray of the falling snow.
I had never before believed in love at first sight. In my mind the line between love and infatuation had been quite clear. But now the two were starting to flirt with each other menacingly. Kiska's laugh pounded in my head, over and over, until I had my forehead pressed against the dark blue counter top.
I had never seen her before. Was she new? Transferred? My thoughts whirled and tripped over each other. Stop it, I ordered myself. You've gone slow, just stop. I tried to concentrate on the 300 pound biker in front of me, who was stitching Jesus embroidery, but my mind wandered right back to tender strawberry hair and magnetic eyes.
"Would you like another milkshake?" Anna, the bleached blonde, gum smacking, thirty two year old waitress asked me. She smiled at me from across the counter. Every day I ordered the same thing, a chocolate milkshake. She knew I wouldn't have anything else.
I shook my head and Anna nodded. She hesitated, and then tilted her head, resting her fingertips on the table. "Who're you watching today?"
She peered at me. She seemed uneasy.
"Why have you been so quiet lately?" she asked, this time putting her hand over mine. I instinctively jerked it away, horrified. Who the hell did she think she was, sticking her plastic boobs and bleached head in my face?
I glowered at her and she hurriedly moved away, sniffing and sighing out silent judgment. I gazed out the window, watching featureless people drift by. To me, no one had a face; an independent identity. It was just one drowning world of identical strangers.
I mused about my mysterious absence. The only parts of my personality that were really there were the sorrow and the anger. And I had always possessed an addictive personality. I didn't get addicted to drugs or alcohol. I got addicted to people. But, there was nothing else there inside of me anymore. Why couldn't I cry or sympathize? Laugh or Socialize? I wanted to. I didn't want to. I had no reason to. I was indifferent. I was furious. No one likes having no control over their own mind. It's our only link to true freedom. Without mentality, what else is there?
Grabbing my backpack, I threw a five next to the milkshake and left, feeling the sting of Anna's eyes on my back, even after I was flying away on my bike, a mile down the road.