I was left to my own devices in the hours following my math class. Knowing that Brad was likely to be preoccupied with his own schoolwork and obligations, I made my way through the day without so much as a second thought as to what might happen come time I returned to the dorms, and found myself actually enjoying my time on campus.
By the time I finally got home, I was fulfilled, but exhausted.
“Thank God,” I breathed as I settled atop my bed.
The urge to sleep was beyond measure. My body was tired, my skin flush with warmth, my head swimming from the dying excitement of my first day’s worth of work and nerves. Most of all, though, I was happy—and beyond thrilled, I could say, to finally be out on my own.
This isn’t so bad, I thought.
A new world. A new home. A new life.
A new friend.
This last thought left me feeling swimmy—not only because I had truly, and genuinely, connected with someone, but because I had done so without fear of repercussion from either of my parents. There was no need to worry about what they would do, what they would say, what they would think, how they would act. In the end, I could interact with Brad as I saw fit, and no one, absolutely no one, would be able to stop me.
In the moments following that thought, I drew my phone from my pocket and considered the blank text panel with Brad’s name at the top.
Do I text him? I thought. Do I not?
I didn’t see any reason not to. I mean, he had given me his number, and offering my thanks for his earlier assistance wouldn’t be seen as intrusive—at least, it wouldn’t be to me.
But would it to him?
As I thought about what I would do—lying there, phone in hand, brows furrowed, lips pursed—I tried to decipher what was keeping me from texting him without a second thought. He seemed nice enough, and as a result, wasn’t likely to react badly. So why was I so afraid?
It took several moments for me to finally piece it together, but when I did, I was met with a stunning revelation.
It was my parents.
My parents were the ones keeping me from texting Brad my thanks, but not in the physical sense. No. It was because, like a machine previously coded to follow only certain commands, I had been conditioned to believe that I was a burden upon people: that my thoughts, my feelings, my desires, were all inconsequential to those around me, even to the people who wanted to know things about me, who wanted to be my friend.
This… this was one them.
It was a horrifying thought to behold, a terrible thing to even begin to fathom, and for that reason, I trembled, long and hard. Filled with fright over what my thoughts would inspire, I allowed the phone to slide out of my grasp and onto the mattress beside my head.
I could only pray that my thoughts would not assault me.
Still, they did; and still, I thought of that last night at home—when, as a plate was thrown, and as it barely missed my head, I had become fully immersed in the violence of a chaotic home.
WHY? my mother had demanded. WHY are you leaving? WHY aren’t you staying here?
Because, I’d started. I don’t want this anymore!
My voice, small as it normally was, had triggered an instinctual defense mechanism within my mother, causing tears to run down her face and a horrible, ugly snarl to appear on her mouth. She looked like a beast, then, all snot and tears and rage and pain. Its image—scarred in my mind as it happened to be—would not leave, no matter how hard I tried.
Stop, I thought. Just… stop.
Yet the images still came.
My mother, crying.
My father, screaming.
And me? What could I do but tremble? For in the face of utmost danger, of hate incarnate, of greed malicious, what could I have done but simply stand there and face down the two people who were supposed to give, but took so much?
The episode seemed to last forever, but was likely only several moments.
When it finally came to a screeching halt, it was only because of a group of rowdy men were passing outside my door—whooping, cheering, and proclaiming that their team had won.
The shock to my conscience was enough to dispel all but the hint of feelings from my brain.
I looked down at my phone, only to find a message had appeared from Brad.
Hey, it simply said. How was your first day?
Could I have been seeing things? Had he really messaged me?
I closed my eyes in an effort to clear the haze of doubt from my vision, then grabbed my phone and leaned forward to view the touchscreen.
Sure enough: Brad had texted to ask how my day was.
A smile curved my lips. A flicker of hesitation filled my mind. My heart, though, sung.
Someone actually cared enough to ask me how my day had gone—and this someone was someone I had just met.
It went fine, I typed. Great, actually. Why?
A string of ellipses appeared on my screen, prompting me to wait for his response.
When it finally came, it simply said: You want to come tell me about it?
His response, unexpected as it happened to be at the time, was enough to jar my senses, and make me feel smaller than I already felt. On one hand, a part of me did want to go see him—because after the emotional assault I’d experienced, I wanted nothing more than to be in the company of another. On the other hand, I doubted his intentions, and questioned the authenticity.
What’s wrong with you? I thought. He wants to be your friend. Why aren’t you responding?
I knew why. I knew I did. Yet, at the time, it was hard to admit—because in the forefront of my mind, my conscience was yelling me to go get him: to claim the friendship that was rightfully being extended to me. What occurred to me then, however, was that I was completely, utterly, and undeniably scared out of my mind.
I didn’t to screw up. I didn’t want to let him down. I didn’t want him to think I was weird, or clingy, or even something that I was not. And yet…
Something told me that he wouldn’t think that—that Brad, so seemingly calm and collected but also kind, would not care if I seemed a little off. I mean, I had just moved into a new environment, and I imagined he understood that I would be nervous, that I would be afraid.
Because of that, I lifted my phone, stared at his message long and hard, and waited for inspiration to strike me.
When finally it did, I typed only three simple words:
Yeah. I do.
Little did I know that those three words would start something extraordinary.