“Nate… I don’t know how else to say this, but I’m leaving you.”
I stood there in the dull winter sun, the chilly winds of February sweeping through my shaggy brown hair, tousling it ceaselessly. After a brief pause, I shifted my weight, standing on the edge of a large, grassy field, staring at my girlfriend with a hollow gaze. In my hands, the miniscule, frigid metal chains of a necklace stung my hands like freshly snapped icicles.
My staring didn’t seem to be helping anything. She nervously lifted a hand to brush through her stylishly short blonde hair, and quietly reiterated, “Um… yeah. As in… I don’t want to date you anymore. Sorry.”
“Wow. Uh. You drove me all the way out to the soccer field at DSPC for this?”
She nodded a little hesitantly, avoiding my relentless stare. The reality hadn’t quite seemed to hit me yet. “But… it’s Valentine’s Day,” I pointed out, lifting the necklace she’d just handed back to me. At the very end of the accessory, a metal heart hung, its cold exterior not unlike my relationship with her. “Why couldn’t you just text me?”
“I’m sorry, Nathaniel,” she pleaded, growing distraught. “You don’t know how to have a girlfriend! We’ve been dating since Homecoming, and we haven’t kissed once! Every time I try, you back away! It’s just – look, I’m sorry, but I want a boyfriend. Not a pillow. I want someone that actually loves me back.”
Okay, I was keeping my temper before then, but that remark set me over the edge. “I do love you, Leni!” I yelled in defiance, eyes furious. “When have I not? Tell me what I’m doing wrong. Tell me why you’ve just given me back our necklace.”
She just sighed at me, as if she’d dealt with this issue repeatedly in the past to no avail. “Nate, I’ve tried. I’ve really tried giving this a shot with you,” she stated, wind whipping past her curt hair. “But it’s just not working. It’s been months now. All we ever do is hang out and go on ‘dates’. I want someone that can actually love me and will be good to me. You got me nothing for Valentine’s Day.”
“Oh, Jesus, Leni, is that what this is about? I’ll go out to buy you a gift. I don’t mind spending ten dollars on some stupid chocolates, or-”
“No, Nate – again, you always do this! It’s not about that! It’s the fact that you just don’t care about our relationship! I miss the Nate that asked me out to Homecoming, the Nate that would actually go out and do things with me without me dragging him everywhere and begging that he spends time with me! I mean, jeez, Nate, I figured you wanted me to break up with you to begin with.”
There was actually a bit of silence after that, as the two of us just stood there on the side of the field, cars whipping past on Dauphin Street. I stood with one hand shoved deep in my pocket, the other limply holding the metal necklace that once assured my relationship with her. The sharp Mobilian sky was awash with murky gray clouds, signaling the coming rain. Two teenagers, now unconnected, stood opposing each other in the middle of a Midtown park. This couldn’t be happening. What did I do wrong? I’ve done everything I could have possibly done for her-
“I know what you must be thinking,” she stated, narrowing her eyes at me. “That you haven’t done anything wrong. That it’s surely my fault. Nate, think back for a second. Think of everything I’ve done for you. I’ve driven you to and from school when your Mom was unable. You did nothing for me. I gave my heart out to you. I’ve known you since we were kids. I was essentially your best friend, and you-”
“Leni. Stop. I don’t need this right now.”
“You think I’m enjoying this?” she cried, gesticulating wildly with her hands. “I’m not! Nate, you’re a sweet guy, but you’re just not mature enough to handle a relationship!”
Another profound silence, save for the weak chirping of birds and monotonous passing of cars on Dauphin. I sighed, pushed my glasses a little higher up my nose, and muttered, “Well, I’m sorry for falling short of your expectations, then.”
She closed her eyes, as if she hadn’t expected anything different from me. “Yeah.”
With squinting eyes, I finally studied her one last time. Leni Wetterman. Girl from Germany, moved to what I personally consider the Armpit of the South, otherwise known as Mobile, Alabama. One of my closest friends for the last few years, having gotten me through the entirety of middle school and half of high school before it became widely known that she liked me. Not just liked me as a friend – as in, she wanted have-my-babies, let’s-live-in-Germany-forever kind of liking.
This girl wasn’t the same. This girl had clung to me for the last four months, wanting us to become that future couple. Looking at her, however, it becomes more obvious that was never going to happen. She was the kind of girl that had her entire future planned: what colleges she would apply to, her plans for entering the workforce, connections made in high school, all that stuff. But that wasn’t me. I’m not that kind of guy.
My name is Nathaniel Remington. I’m seventeen years old. I’m not the kind of guy that plans out his future like that. I’m the kind of guy that sits around playing video games during my free time, aggressively avoiding my homework whenever possible, all the while doing the most to avoid disturbing the flow. The indecisive, secluded dork that nobody likes, sans Leni Wetterman and a few other unfortunate souls. I’m the kind of guy that falls asleep in class and doesn’t care about how far my GPA drops, because I know it’ll never be relevant to me in the future. I follow the rhythm and the movement of life. I didn’t pick my own path. Leni picked mine for me.
The more I look back on it, the more I realize that Valentine’s Day of 2009 was a turning point in my life. Nothing would be the same after that day. All because I forgot to buy some stupid chocolates for my first and probably final girlfriend.
Since she drove me all the way out here to dump me in the park we’d spent most of our afternoons together, Leni actually did have to drive me home, though we sat in silence the entire way there. When she finally pulled up into my driveway with the sound of tires crunching on gravel, I quickly opened the door, lurched out of the vehicle, and slammed it shut, not even offering a good-bye to the girl I thought loved me. With a few more steps, I was inside the safety of my parents’ modest Midtown home, listening to the creak of Leni’s car pulling out the driveway.
For the first time in months, I was truly alone.
I didn’t even cry.
My breakup with Leni Wetterman was not a tragic one. No, I’d actually been expecting it for quite some time, somewhere in the back of my mind, a subconscious truth I’d repressed for far too long. When we split, I didn’t even feel like I’d lost anything. There was no Leni-sized hole in my gut, like I’d read from people that went through breakups before. Life returned to normal fairly quickly.
My Saturday afternoon, apart from being dumped by the most astoundingly disappointing girl to have ever graced my presence, was a pretty typical one. Immediately after returning home from the park, I plugged in my video game console and played some good old-fashioned zombie classics, doing my best to keep my mind off of Leni. It’s not like I even cared much about her, I kept telling myself as I blasted away hordes of the infected with my assault rifles. I didn’t care about her. Not at all. Nope.
Within the hour, I cursed as my teammates all found themselves pinned down by the zombies, leading me to simply catapult my wireless controller into the couch I sat upon. I stood up, and nonsensically paced the living room, as my mom was still off at work, leaving the house to myself. Since muttering foul obscenities to myself got kind of boring, I eventually just retreated over to my bedroom, across the hall from my absent sister’s room, slamming the door shut unnecessarily hard and booting up my computer. The Internet was on my side. With the Internet, I could lose myself in entertainment. No grieving ex-boyfriend in this bedroom, hah, no way.
I logged onto the IMP forums, browsing my limited number of friends and the even skimpier number of posts on my wall. The most recent post was a birthday greeting from my friend Elliot, back in early December. I scrolled with dull eyes, and eventually exited, opting to log into my IMP chat program to see if my friends were even online, limited though they were. Sure enough, the little bubbles next to the only three – no, two friends I apparently had were all red, indicating that they weren’t even at the computer. Wow. Great. Thanks, “friends”. Good to know I can count on y’all when I need you.
I grumbled something else and stood, looking around my room. The sky outside the only window showed signs of approaching rain, only serving to enhance my current mood. Otherwise, my room was rather small and uninteresting, with clothes strewn everywhere, my bed almost as unkempt as my shaggy brown hair. The room generally smelled of dirty clothes, greasy hair, and puberty. I’m not really sure how something smells like puberty, but my room sure as hell did.
I glanced down at the desk my computer sat upon, staring at the cold metal necklace Leni had given back, the one I’d gifted to her for her birthday last July, back when we were just “friends”. Scoffing at the notion, I sat down heavily on my bed, listening to the first pit-patterings of rain on my window, thinking deeply. No. We were never “just friends”. Sooner or later, we would try to date, only to face heartbreak.
That last thought stuck with me. Was I even heartbroken?
Thinking back on the event, Leni always seemed teary-eyed, but on second thought, she might have been glad to be rid of me. Maybe she already had a Plan B, a much more dedicated boy than me. I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Just as I was in the middle of brooding with my thoughts, a tiny sound chirped from my computer’s speakers, letting me know that someone had messaged me over IMP. Without wasting any time, I sat down in my desk chair, scooting forward, squinting at the screen name. XxTADxX16. Of course it’s him.
- XxTADxX16 began messaging theTermiNater91 at 15:10 - -XxTADxX16: dude are you even there
theTermiNater91: hey Tad.
XxTADxX16: your screenname makes me cringe when i read it
XxTADxX16: like way more than usual actually
XxTADxX16: its just so dorky but i guess thats fitting
theTermiNater91: I’m not really in the mood, just got dumped.
XxTADxX16: no way
XxTADxX16: wait really
XxTADxX16: by leni??? hahahaha dude its valentines day
XxTADxX16: wtf was she thinking
theTermiNater91: I don’t really want to talk about it, dude.
theTermiNater91: what are you up to?
That’s the way most of our conversations go: full of stupid, time-wasting banter. Nevertheless, it DOES take my mind off of Leni for a while, which is all I was really looking for.
XxTADxX16: laughing at how you got dumped TODAY
XxTADxX16: of all days lmao
theTermiNater91: if you were dumped, you’d probably be…
theTermiNater91: I don’t know.
theTermiNater91: bawling right now.
XxTADxX16: no way dude
XxTADxX16: i would probably be on my way to the mall NOW
XxTADxX16: probably to pick up some chicks
XxTADxX16: hop in the trunk babes
XxTADxX16: were going on a little ride
theTermiNater91: uh. trunk?
XxTADxX16: wait that sounds bad
XxTADxX16: that sounds really bad
XxTADxX16: what do you call the thing in the back of trucks
theTermiNater91: …jesus, you are an idiot sometimes, Tad.
XxTADxX16: says the guy who got dumped on valentines day lol
I didn’t really want to admit it, but goofing off with Tad that afternoon actually did help me. I guess there’s something magical associated with chatting with your best friend about possibly kidnapping girls from the mall? I’m not really sure. I do know that by the time I finally decided to sign off my computer and go do something else, the sun had apparently decided it was way past night time.
While I was sitting on the couch watching like the fourth survival island episode of the evening, eating half of a strudel, my mom opened the front door, keys jangling in her hand as she returned from work.
I waved a hand from the couch and said nothing, as is custom in my household. “Hey, sweetie, how was your date?” she sighed, clearly exhausted after the few hours of work she’d been assigned for the day. I don’t understand why her employer makes her work real estate on Saturdays. Like, come on, people, she has a life. Nobody wants to work six days a week.
Since I didn’t actually want to tell her what happened just yet, I just changed the subject. “Oh, uh, Leni can’t take me to school anymore,” I revealed somewhat cryptically, avoiding her pressing glare. “Can you take me from now on?”
I felt her stare burn through me like gamma rays through paper. “What happened? Why can’t she take you?” Mom demanded, one hand on her hip. She looked a bit like a professional supervillain with her business suit and facial expression, actually. I merely shrugged, and waved off her concerns like I usually do, looking back at the TV. “I don’t know. Family issues. I’m not particularly in the mood to talk about it.”
She wasn’t, either, so she just set down her things and took the remote from my side, flipping through the channels to reach the news. “This president is crazy…” Mom muttered, watching some “debate” about global warming between a few members of the scientific community and a couple of “experts” with just two years of college experience. To offset the stupid, I stood and just walked around the house, eventually arriving at my room again.
Something that I’ve noticed about depression is that when it comes, it’s not a gigantic tsunami of despair that slams into you. No, depression is a flood, slowly rising, inevitably filling to consume you entirely.
That night, a not-at-all-exhausted Nathaniel Remington climbed into bed at nine PM because he had nothing better to do. The steady rainfall was pretty soothing, though. When I awoke, that famous Mobilian rain continued to fall, the gentle pattering of droplets against my windowsill gradually waking me up. Sunday. No school yet again. Nothing to do.
The day passed by slowly, as I remained trapped in the house, no job, no car, and no life. I took to messaging random people on IMP, but the conversations went nowhere, since most of the randoms I contacted either didn’t message me back or just wanted to cyber. No, I thought, I don’t want to engage in Internet sex with you. What’s even the point of that? It’s essentially just co-writing a poorly written story about two strangers spontaneously having a sexual encounter and then proceeding to never speak again. I messaged Tad a little more, asked why Elliot was still offline (to which I received the vague answer of “reasons”), and stared at the little green dot beside Leniolio2. I felt like Jay Gatsby, watching that green light beside the girl I was no longer allowed to really even contact. I really did like her quite a lot, but I was just really terrible at being a boyfriend. Apparently you’re supposed to do things for them, too?
Of course, my life had to continue no matter what. That much I’ve always understood. And there was evening, and there was morning – the third day. Monday. School.
Okay, so, I seriously don’t understand people that actually enjoy school. Some people like it for their friends, others for the “interesting classes”, but I honestly hate it. I have a max of three people I sort of kind of know. That’s it. I’m not the friendliest of people. I don’t run around saying “hi” to everybody I meet. Sure, some people might think I’m secluded, and maybe that’s true, but I quite like it that way.
At around 7:20 in the morning, Mom dropped me off on the west end of the school, now that Leni wasn’t there to drive me. She gave a somewhat preoccupied wave at me, and shouted through the open window, “Make sure you ride the bus home from school!”
And she drove off. No good-byes. With a slightly self-depreciating sigh, I glanced up at the high school before me. Midtown Preparatory School, the source of almost all of my recent fortunes and woes. One of the largest student bodies in the entirety of Alabama, which isn’t saying much, but still. One and a half more years to go.
The thing about MPS is that there’s no popularity caste. There’s so many people that it just doesn’t even exist. Either you know people, or you don’t. I fit into the latter category.
On the way to my locker, I stopped by the counselor’s office, picking up a bus pass to take me straight to Florence Place, the small middle-class neighborhood north of Old Shell Road in a slightly more residential part of town. Bus 2006-112. I could remember that, easy. The counselor, Mrs. Agatha, paid me no mind as I filled out the forms, the early morning rays of sunlight filtering in through her office’s window.
Walking down the long, poorly-lit hallways of Midtown Preparatory School feels a lot like driving along a mine-covered racetrack. You have to walk speedily to get to your classes, but there’s just so many people everywhere that you have to take twists and turns to dodge everyone. When I reached my locker, I felt a knuckle rap against the back of my head, and I turned, facing none other than Tad.
“’Sup, Nate?” he said, peering into my locker with those tiny, pressing eyes. Tad was short, but what he lacked in height he made up for in strength and extraversion. He crossed his arms, and asked, “Dude, you don’t clean out your locker at all, do you? I see pizza.”
Without responding, I just turned to look at the contents. “Oh,” I said after a moment. “That? Yeah, that’s from the Christmas party. You can eat it, if you’d like, Tad. I know you’d probably be fine with that.”
“I might just do that,” he replied, and I don’t even think he was kidding. “But anyways. Nate. You’re comin’ to Ultimate Frisbee Wednesday afternoon.”
“I dunno, I’ve gotta get home…” I muttered. Tad just laughed at that, and immediately countered, “Nate, you got no girlfriend, no life, nothin’ to do. You’re not even in AP. C’mon. It’s just me an’ Elliot an’ that fat freshman kid. You’re not doin’ anythin’, anyways.”
I was about to retort something witty, but as usual I just stood there for a second and he rolled his eyes at me, patting me on the shoulder as if he understood. “Just come, alright?” he insisted, and prompted to make a heart with his fingers. “We miss you.”
With a slam of my locker door, I sighed, and said, “Fine. I’ll come. But only because I have nothing better to do.”
“Hmm,” Tad sighed, looking up into the ceiling and counting off his fingers as we walked to our first period class. “Let’s think. Nate’s to-do list! Go to school. Go home. Cry. Sleep. Repeat. Yeah, you got tons other stuff to do.”
Since Tad wasn’t entirely incorrect, I simply followed him to first period Physics, taught by the fantastic Dr. Dalton.
Our Physics teacher, Dr. Dalton, is the kind of teacher you only see in coming-of-age movies, the kind of old guy who takes you under his wing as you grow up to become some kind of prime example of self-actualization. He sponsors the Ultimate Frisbee Club, except his only role in the club is taking attendance.
When we entered that Monday morning, Dr. Dalton was filling the whiteboard with a broad number of formulas and theorems, thankfully paying no attention to neither Tad nor I. We filed in, some of the first people in the classroom, and cracked open our notebooks. Tad glanced at his fancy new smartphone. “Elliot says he’s sick ‘til lunch,” he muttered, as if disapprovingly, “Pfft. I don’t see why he’s comin’ to school at all, if he’s gonna miss half the day.”
Elliot was the third friend in our group. He’s kind of the quieter kid to the bunch, even more so than me, though it feels like every single time he says anything, it’s like words from a pariah or something. I think he made, like, a 35 on the ACT. Half of the time, though, he’s off on vacations or studying for his generic Upcoming Test. Without him, though, it did feel a little weird for Tad to only have me by his side.
The late bell rang – well, it’s not actually a bell, more like a monotone beep – and Dr. Dalton promptly walked over to shut the door. He ran a hand through his balding, almost pure white hair, and adjusted the glasses perched upon his nose. “Good morning, hope none of you died over the weekend, et cetera, et cetera,” our Physics professor muttered, turning to address the twenty-something kids in the classroom. “This week, we’re going to be finishing up momentum. Your test is on Friday, before Mardi Gras break. Meaning you can’t skip on that day.”
The entire class collectively groaned, and I rolled my eyes at them all, including Tad. I’d be going to school anyway. It’s not like I was even planning to skip on Friday. “However!” Dr. Dalton interrupted, in the middle of our groaning. “If you are planning to suddenly have a strange disease diagnosed by your mother on Friday, then there will be an option to take the test on Thursday!”
Muffled words of approval spread throughout the classroom, to which Dr. Dalton grinned. Even though he’s sometimes a bit of an egghead, and occasionally a control freak about getting homework done on time, he’s still well-liked by most students on campus.
I spent the period battling slumber while half-assing my notes and sketching little doodles in the margins of my paper. In fact, I was in the middle of drawing an adorable little kitten wielding a katana when Dr. Dalton suddenly called my name. My head snapped up.
He just smiled at me, knowing that I’d lost my focus. Teachers have a way of knowing when you don’t really care about what they’re talking about. I don’t know how. “Nate is a prime example of what I was talking about!” the teacher proclaimed, addressing the rest of the class. I noticed Tad, in my peripherals, slightly scooting away from me, as though that would dissociate him from me. Dr. Dalton just continued on, crying, “Momentum is the product of mass and velocity. If you have no velocity, you have no momentum! Take Nate, for example.”
I froze, having no idea where he was going with this. “Nate is content with staying right where he is with his grades!” Dr. Dalton said to the class, a distant twinkle in his bespectacled eyes. “Currently, he has a less-than-desirable 72 in here! He’s not going anywhere. He has no velocity, and therefore no momentum. While he may have mass – brain mass, Nate, I’m not calling you overweight – he doesn’t use that brain mass. No momentum. If he doesn’t try harder, he’s not going anywhere.”
Tad was just silently giggling at me like a second grader while my cheeks were flushed in shame. “Y-yes, Sir,” I stammered, trying to glare at him as hard as my mom did to me, though it didn’t feel like it was working. Dr. Dalton just grinned at me, and continued lecturing the class about the momentum formula. The guy really knows how to make you feel like crap at eight o’clock in the morning.
My supposed best friend Tad was still chortling with laughter as we made our way through the downstairs hallway to second period. “Dude, you got roasted,” he gasped, employing his favorite word once again. “Professor Dalton is the best. I felt so bad for you.”
“I feel like he does it because of Ultimate Frisbee,” I explained, taking things way too seriously as I typically do. “Like he’s trying to offset the class since he knows me better than everyone else, and so he has to tease me.”
I just received a shrug from Tad in response, and we parted, each having different second periods. Normally, Elliot would follow me to History, but the guy was still missing. The day droned on like a broken air conditioner.
It wasn’t until lunch that Elliot returned, not even in our school uniform of blue Oxfords and brown pants. The tasteless, skimpy, partially eaten remains of a ham-and-cheese cafeteria sandwich was nearly in my mouth when I spotted him marching towards us. Tad exaggeratedly threw his fork into the air upon seeing him, and shouted, “Elliot! Where you been, young man? Your mother an’ I’ve been worried sick!”
That remark led me to just stare at Tad, while Elliot sat down at our table, muttering, “Yeah, sorry, guys. I had one heck of a fever this morning, Mom wouldn’t even let me go to school.”
“Pffft. Your mom is way over-protective of you, Elliot,” Tad muttered, jabbing his fork into his Styrofoam lunch tray. “Hey. You should’a been there this mornin’, though. Dr. Dalton completely wrecked Nate, bein’ all intellectual, gettin’ up on his case about his grades. I was ‘fraid he was gonna target me next.”
Elliot chuckled, and ran a hand through his short, strikingly red hair, a habit he’d picked up since middle school. “Dalton’s a nice teacher,” he mentioned, having nothing else to really talk about. Tad just rolled his eyes for approximately the tenth time that day, and rebutted, “Yeah, only ‘cause you’re like Einstein in Physics. You should’a gone up to AP, dude.”
Now, that I strongly agreed with. “Uh, yeah, AP classes are way better than Honors,” I informed Elliot. “And you’re basically a child prodigy or something.”
“I’m not a child prodigy-”
“You won twelfth place in the National Spellin’ Bee when you were ten!” Tad cried as loudly as he could, reminding the surrounding people that there was a celebrity in their presence. “You got in all the gifted classes. Hell, you should just go to Briggs and take IB classes. I would if I was as smart as Stephen Hawkin’s left nut.”
I winced at the thought of that, and countered, “Well, okay, don’t go that far. It would get boring without our favorite pariah around here to shower our affection towards.”
Tad nodded in agreement while Elliot just seemed to grow more and more uncomfortable. “Your mother an’ I are very proud of you and your accomplishments,” Tad repeated, smirking at Elliot, leading me to recoil a little. Tad’s always so blunt in everything he says. It’s a little off-putting sometimes.
Lunch ended not much longer, giving way to the second lunch wave, making us return to our classes. While the sky threatened rain again, I experienced the deadly bores of Pre-Calculus, relieved only by Tad poking me with his pencil and acting like it was an original thing to do, despite him having done it for the last month and a half. After that, English 11 on my own, in which we typically have an essay assignment each and every day, in order to prepare us for the Big Exam, to take place sometime at the end of the school year. I’ve always heard references to the Big Exams, and seen nothing come of it.
But the end of the day arrived, bringing with it a few lingering raindrops from the storm we’d recently experienced. Hundreds of students flooded out the front doors to the buses, which always managed to leave just two minutes after the bells let everyone out. For the first time in my life, I was one of those students rushing towards the buses.
“2006-112… come on, 2006-112, it’s gotta be around here somewhere…” I muttered to myself, jogging along the edge of campuses where dozens of ugly yellow buses admitted students on. Eventually, I spotted it, at the very end of the line – and filtered in, one of the first on board.
The bus was a filthy, cramped, swelteringly humid vehicle, with apparent mood lighting and suspicious stains on every seat. I, being one of the first to board, traveled to the very back, where I knew seats would be in high demand. I sighed, sitting down on the hard rubber, letting my backpack fall to the floor beside me.
Within minutes, however, it became clear that I wasn’t one of the first people on the bus – rather, this bus simply had almost nobody on it. By the time it looked like the crowd outside was going to thin, only six people had gotten on. And this was a Monday, mind you.
One freshman-looking kid approached – or, at least, I think he was approaching me. He gave me a curious little look, as though he wasn’t expecting to find me here. Nevertheless, the boy sat down on the row across from me, curling up against the metal wall and sticking in some headphones connected to an old iPod.
The kid had wavy blonde hair, swooping down almost in front of his eyes, which seemed to be a bright green. I realized that I was staring, and promptly turned my head to look out the window as the bus lurched forward, nearly displacing me out of my seat. The boy next to me seemed to have no problems with the sudden movement, and close his eyes, evidently listening to his music.
Again, I found myself staring again, so I just looked ahead over the bus’s many seats. Only a few other heads poked up, bouncing along with the ride, spread out from each other, never even one seat near each other. I briefly wondered if I was on the right bus, and considered getting up to ask the driver, but I figured I could just ride it out and avoid disturbing the flow.In just ten minutes, the bus stopped at my neighborhood of Florence Place, prompting me to get up, leave the kid behind, and climb off the school bus. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.