Today, I do not feel good. My stomach feels swollen and pushes against my insides. My knees ache and I am overheated. My throat feels full of cotton balls. I’m sitting here, looking out at the Writing Center and seeing everyone.
A group of five has been working together for at least an hour. Among their books lie empty water and soda bottles. Behind them, a girl absently chews on her fingernails while her partner highlights the pages of a chemistry book. There are orange smears from the highlighter on the side of her hand. At a table by herself, another student has three textbooks opened. At the top of her table are three pens lined parallel to each other. The pens are all different colors: red, black, and blue. She marks occasionally and with purpose. A man with a blue shirt and a red tie leans against a pillar towards the back. His knot is fat and wrinkled. One of the men at the table with the empty bottles laughs loudly, his face turning red.
Back by the man with the fat tie, Sister Morgan’s office door is open, and the lights inside are on. Her chair sits in the window of the doorway, spun away from her computer. Portraits of her children line the window—some smiling, some serious. There is snow filtering outside her window, falling in flakes like the shavings of clouds.
From the front desk, Tyler walks through the grid of tables towards the open door. A red lanyard with his name tag swings across his chest. He carries On Writing Well in his hand, his thumb marking his place. I watch his eyes sweep Sister Morgan’s office. Realizing it’s empty, his forehead creases and he turns, walking back to the front desk.
He’s new, and I wonder if he’s handling the Writing Center alright. He made it through the first party, so I assume he’s doing alright. Still though, we can be overwhelming with our talks of abstract things like honesty, masks, and blood essays. I hope he feels like he belongs here; I hope this for everyone who works here.
Looking back at the tables, the man who once surveyed from the back has retired to an office somewhere. The group is gone too, taking with them their graveyard of plastics. The girl who had three books open, now only has one. Her pens are put away, but now she marks the words with her finger.
A girl with blonde hair leans against the desk, her elbows resting on the counter. Her legs are locked and stiff as she talks to Tyler.
“…and what class is this for?” Tyler says. She talks low and quiet, and I can’t hear her from where I’m sitting.
“…and the teacher? Do you know his first name?”
I walk to the bookshelf by the desk to get a mint, but mostly to stretch out my legs—to work out the aches and tightness. I pause there, holding a pencil between my fingers and tracing long, shaky curves through the Zen garden. In my head, I run through some of the “lessons” Sister Morgan gave me when we first got the garden at the Writing Center.
Tyler, now free of the girl, walks again back towards Sister Morgan’s open door. His training binder substitutes the book he carried earlier. He walks feet from the open door and stretches his neck, barely able to see past the door jamb. Meeting only the swivel chair, he walks back to the front desk, looking over my shoulder at the sand.
“It’s all about balance,” I say. “No one part should draw attention to itself.”
He moves to sit at the desk, and I still draw the lines that follow the curves of other lines that follow the curves of rocks.
Watching the groups at the tables and seeing Tyler moving from the front desk to Sister Morgan’s office, back to front desk, and finally stopping again at the desk makes me think about when I first came to school—when I first started working here.
It’s s how many times a day I hear the sentence, “I’m looking for the Writing Center,” and it never means what it did when I said the same words almost a year ago. When I got hired, I wasn’t looking for help with commas or for a place to work on thesis statements. I was looking for a place to belong to—a place where I could be accepted for Skyler and not anyone I was trying to be. I was moving from reality to numbness, back into reality, and then to numbness again, hoping to find someone along the way to keep me in a permanent state of living.
While pulling long lines through the Zen garden, I realize something. If I look close enough at the lines I’m drawing, I can see the sand spill around the tip of the pencil and then form long threads of rows and rows. I never change the sand into something else; I never change the rocks or the container either. I’m always working with what I started with—chaos to order.
Setting the pencil down beside the Zen garden, I laugh to myself.
“Ha,” I say. “Metaphors.”