NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT EXCERPT!
“My name’s Lily and James Naismith ruined high school for me,” I offer.
It’s too hot in this room. The window fan is blowing nothing but heat over us, along with some old dust or dirt from the window. It makes the noise of plastic that is being asked to do more than plastic can do; the fan’s cheapness makes it too weak to be a fan and it groans with its own failure.
I’m not good with social events. This is some kind of mandated floor meeting for all new students and I’m sitting in the middle of my RA’s room with ten other girls, all of us in pajama pants, and trying to sound interesting.
“I mean, he didn’t personally. I think he died almost a hundred years ago,” I stutter.
“So why don’t you explain how the inventor of basketball did ruin high school then?” one girl asks. She’s angry, but I don’t know her. I don’t know anyone, except my roommate Kristen and so far all I know about her is that she’s majoring in education, she brought the fridge, and she’s decorated her side of our dorm room to look like the inside of a Pepto-Bismol bottle. This girl doesn’t want to hear my story. She doesn’t want to be here, but I don’t, either, and now that I’m here, I was the one dumb enough to open my mouth.
“It was gym class,” I try to explain. “I don’t know. Something about ed reform. We had homework and tests and all that in gym now and I’d been up all night writing an essay about James Naismith. I hadn’t slept and I was in a rush trying to make the bus that morning.”
It had been cold, the rushing towards winter that mirrors the years that aren’t like this one. This is one where summer lingers and it resists every attempt to make it yield to fall. I remember the leaves were already falling that year, even though it was only early September. Some years it seemed like they were in a greater rush to die. In the moments between life, each leaf took its suicidal leap and fell slowly while no one noticed. We always only notice when they’re all dead and suddenly the sky hangs on us and we crave shade.
The bus was about to pull away from the curb near my house and I cried out for it, running faster and slipping on a clump of leaves. The entire patch was squishy. I wondered as I fell if I had taken out a small family of worms in my descent. My outfit was ruined, but it wasn’t the clothes that scared me…
“I tripped on leaves and fell on the driveway hard. The gravel left a slash along my cheek and it looked like someone had punched me. That was the day of school pictures, which we used for the yearbook and our IDs. Not to mention the fact that my mom…” I can’t finish. I don’t want to take about my mother. I certainly don’t feel like confiding in these girls about how disappointed she was that I had ruined everything. It wasn’t my fault that fall had come early, but I ruined the pictures and in her album of school photos, my freshman year still remains a giant, empty black page. A constant reminder that I will never be whole, never be perfect, never be what she wanted.
“What about your mom?” someone else asks.
“Nothing.” I don’t want to tell my story anymore. I want the fan to stop trying. I want it to be tomorrow and the day after and any day when I can start in the morning and get through to night without making a mistake.
It’s dropped, though, anyway, because Ellie, the RA, turns to someone else who is pocketing a handful of condoms. “You don’t need to take them all,” she barks. “I have plenty, but other people practice safe sex, too. Unless you’re planning on having a massive orgy tonight, you can probably come back and get some later.”
The condom hoarder blushes and returns half her pile and the floor meeting turns back to pointless small talk and ice breakers that no one wants to be a part of. The fan clicks another meaningless rotation. I’ve been a college student for six hours now and I’ve never been so lonely in my entire life.