Rachel was staring into the sky through an expressionless glass window, her eyes locked on something on the horizon. An intimidating blanket of dark gray was suspended over her university campus, almost as if the sky consciously wanted to warn everyone of an incoming storm before it could happen. Yet to her, it didn’t look like it was foreshadowing the weather. She saw herself in each patch of dark-gray clouds, curled up in the center of a million unsympathetic witnesses to her pain. Her pain. “I’m not doing that great. And I know it’s totally okay to … ” she murmured to herself as she slowly tore her eyes away from the window.
Rachel was sitting in classroom 432 of the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. She had come here seeking a quiet place where she could have some alone time, something her freshman double couldn’t give her. So she left all of the lights off and pulled down every window blind except for the one farthest away from the door. She had chosen to sit at the desk right next to that window.
Minutes that felt like years had passed since she had sat down. And she could feel her body easing up. Ever since she had failed to make a close friendship by the end of her first week on campus, Rachel’s muscles were always tense because her heart always sang the same rhythm of despair, its incessant beat vibrating uncomfortably throughout her body. But when she sat in the dark for a while, with no one around her to see or think about, Rachel usually felt more level-headed and comfortable with herself.
Nine weeks into her first semester at her university, she was still agonizing over her lack of friends. She frequently tried to make calls to her family members back in her small hometown, but all she remembered from those conversations was the sporadic bursts of static that took them over. It wasn’t enough. She wanted someone to share real conversation with, see their moving mouths and the occasional flash of interest light up their eyes.
She pulled out her phone and opened up app after app. She was scanning all of her social media conversations, desperately hoping to find one with the notification that another person had finally texted her. Instead, Rachel saw only empty conversations that ended with her first text. She sighed as her phone went back into her pocket.
Cradling her head in her arms as she slumped onto the desk, Rachel’s eyes stared listlessly out of the window. She stopped thinking as her self-consciousness began to seep sluggishly out of her and into the surrounding darkness.
Unexpectedly, the sound of the classroom door creaking open reached out to Rachel from the other side of the room. Rachel was a little apprehensive but didn’t make a sound. Then, slowly lifting her head, she saw the silhouette of someone taking their first steps into the classroom as they gently closed the door. What did they want? And why were they sniffling so frequently? She strained in the darkness to see what they were doing before being shaken out of her daze by the sudden flash of the classroom’s lights.
The lights overhead revealed a girl leaning on the wall with her back to Rachel, her face buried in her hands. She was sniffling a lot, and Rachel could hear her frenzied breaths. She didn’t know for sure why the girl was sniffling so hard, but having cried a lot from her troubles on campus so far, she knew the signs of crying all too well.
Remembering how hard it had been for her whenever she broke down, her first thought was to ask if the girl wanted to be left alone. She was about to ask that before the girl suddenly felt Rachel’s presence and spun around to face her.
The girl immediately registered Rachel’s figure sitting at the other end of the brightly-lit classroom, and an expression of shock passed through her face at light speed. At that moment, Rachel noticed the bright scarlet hue of her face. And the drying tears splaying out from under her puffy, veined-out eyes. Yet, in this stranger’s eyes, Rachel saw a reflection of herself bawling her heart out on the bench three weeks ago outside Classroom 432. The same classroom she was now standing in.
Neither of them said anything for a couple of seconds.
She spoke first to escape the awkward tension enveloping the both of them. “Sorry, sorry, I know this is really awkward for both of us … Do you just want me to leave?”
“What the hell is your stupid a** doing here?!” the other girl shouted unexpectedly.
“I was already here, I swear!” Rachel replied, unconsciously holding her hands up like she was about to be accused of a crime.
“Get the f*ck outta here!”
Rachel’s head exploded with indignation. “Hey, why are you being so mean?! I literally just offered to leave, yet you’re cursing me out before I can actually leave the room?” she fired back, pushing herself up off the desk with her hands and standing to the side of it.
“Look, I’m s … I … I just really don’t want to talk to anyone right now,” the other girl stuttered, with a defeated tone bleeding from every word. As she said that, her eyes dashed away from Rachel and rested on the open window, her head turning so Rachel couldn’t see her face anymore.
The steaming magma inside Rachel suddenly evaporated when the girl’s spiritless voice reached her ears. The heat in her body dissipated into the air as she remembered what she had seen on the girl’s face. Redness. Puffy eyes dry from crying. The eyes of someone whose loneliness left them with no choice but to seek their own meaning from it.
“I get it,” Rachel reassured her softly as she began to walk towards the closed door that the other girl was standing next to. The other girl had pressed her head into her hands and buried them both into the wall behind her. Rachel said nothing more.
Arriving in front of the door, Rachel opened it and was about to take her first step out of Classroom 432 before she just stopped. She couldn’t resist taking a quick glance back at the other girl.
The girl had walked over to the gray-tinted window, her back to Rachel as the dark gray skies outside cast a melancholy cloak on her figure.
Looking at her inert form, Rachel couldn’t explain why she suddenly felt like someone had taken her heart out of her body and was about to pitch it out the window. That sensation expanded and contracted in the blink of an eye, leaving a kind of warm and light wholeness around where her heart should be. Rachel hadn’t felt anything similar for a while.
“What’s your name?” she inquired.
The other girl’s stiff back said nothing.
“I do want to know your name, if that’s okay.”
The same guarded silence greeted her words.
“Okay,” she said quietly under her breath as she turned around to walk into the hallway, its brilliant porcelain floor and marble-encrusted exterior a stark contrast to the dark-gray atmosphere swirling inside Classroom 432. “I don’t know if we’ll meet again, seeing how big our university is, but I wish you the best with your personal situation,” she added out loud as she walked out of the classroom.
She had only taken three steps away from the door before that girl, Rose, made her stop in her tracks with the sound of her unexpectedly firm voice. “My name’s Rose. And I already know your name.”
Rachel jumped as she felt a rush of excitement race up her spine, telling her that Rose might actually want someone to talk to right now. And Rachel herself wanted to get to know Rose better.
However, as Rachel swiftly spun around and her muscles prepared to bound back into Classroom 432, her delirium gave way to an unsettled calm as she noticed that the door was closed. Looking closer, Rachel observed that Rose had turned off the lights as well.
“She needs time alone. I should know that,” she reminded herself out loud. With a new surge of disappointment suddenly threatening to overwhelm her, Rachel inhaled deeply for a few seconds. She felt herself becoming more aware of her body as she exhaled just as slowly.
Finally, Rachel tore her gaze away from the door and began walking down the fancy hallway, the warm orange of the evening LED lights on the walls on either side of her lighting her way. As she walked, she tried to distract herself from thinking about what had just happened, but her thoughts always led her back to her unplanned meeting with Rose.
She recalled how she had been scrolling through her social media right before Rose came into the classroom, and the disappointment when there was no notification next to any of her conversations. She had sought refuge in sleep and was murmuring to herself, “I guess I’m just not interesting enough for anyone to want to hang out with me,” when Rose slipped into the room.
However, as Rachel’s feet led her away from Classroom 432 step after step, she began asking herself the most unusual questions.
“Wait, I’m not the only one who cries in the dark?”
“So, wait, I might not be the only person who feels so guilty for struggling inside that they’d rather hide their pain than show it?”
“Feeling this, all this, is … normal?!”
Her mind had never considered that these questions could even be questions, but she actually felt comfortable accepting these revelations … somehow. She noticed she felt less lonely, so it was possible that her having these kinds of thoughts was a good thing.
Rachel knew that she still wanted to get to know Rose better, but realized the chances of running into her were minuscule. Still, she knew that, as one of her favorite video game characters once said, “Statistically speaking, there’s always a chance for unlikely events to take place.”
“Who knows?” Rachel thought as she began to steadily walk down the wooden stairs, taking care to have a firm grip on the handrail. “Maybe I’ll run into her again.”
*To read Part 1 of this series, please go to this link.