Part 2 of Eyrnn Besse’s award winning short story!
Click here for part 1!
I pull my backpack off my shoulders and lean it against my legs. With the simple, efficient organization system I use, it is easy enough to pull out a single sheet of graph paper. This graph paper I drew myself, some years ago. I started from a single line then I added parallel lines on either side, five to an inch. No one I know is capable of drawing these lines to such perfection; not even the machines can create perfectly straight lines. The lines are all perpendicular to more lines; lines which cut across the page in neat, organized lines.
Perpendicular [per-puhn-dik-yuh-ler] adjective: meeting a given line or surface at a right angle.
Life would be so much simpler if people functioned under the rules of parallel and perpendicular. I sit down in the middle of the foyer, equidistant from the four walls. I slip the sheet of graph paper into its proper place. Eight blank sheets of paper are tucked between my math notebook and my science folder. I pull out a sheet of paper and make a mental note to refill the supply when I arrive at my father’s house. Each piece of paper has to be replaced; eight is infinite and symmetrical. I pull out a perfectly sharpened pencil and prepare to draw the lines.
It is a simple enough process: smooth out the paper, draw a line, draw a line 1/5 inches away from the base line, continue, fill up the paper with perfectly drawn lines, rotate paper, draw a line perpendicular to all previously drawn lines, draw a line 1/5 of aninch away from the perpendicular base line, and repeat. It does not matter if the edges of the paper line up with my drawing. Everyone else is only human, they make mistakes. Machines are only programmed by the humans that make mistakes. Nothing is ever perfect besides my lines.
The school social worker interrupts me after five perpendicular lines. She stops when she stands by the top of my piece of paper. I know it is Miss Derringer because her two-inch, four buttoned, expertly polished, black high heels tell me so. Her soft, falsely kind voice is less distinctive than her shoes. “Essie, didn’t we talk about this?” I ignore her. She adds an i to my name, which everyone does, even if I hate it. My name is Esse.
“Essie,” Miss Derringer continues, “you can’t leave class like this. You’ve got to learn to overcome your urges.” I draw another line. It faltered. I never faltered! Forcing myself to take a calm breath, I reach into my backpack for an eraser. Miss Derringer spreads her feet apart, her blue and white skirt flutters, and I do not look up at her. Erasing lines is a travesty. I would have to go back and redraw some of these lines because Miss Derringer made me mess up. She complicated my lines! She complicated my life!
“Essie, look at me.”
Her order is simple enough to obey. A stray splatter of mud clings to the shiny surface of her otherwise pristine boots. “I am looking at you,” little eraser droppings cover my paper. “I am, to be precise, looking at your shoes.”
There is a slight pause. Her weight shifts. When next she speaks, her voice is sharp and irate.
I return to my lines. It is not worth it, letting Miss Derringer force my lines to converge and diverge. I need to stay on track; I cannot let her distract me.
“Essie, put the pencil down, stand up, and look me in the face.” This is another complication, yet if I refuse to obey, even further complications will arise. I put the pencil down, stand, and look Miss Derringer in the face. Her eyebrows draw together, her mouth-line tightens, and her eyes are already cold and hard. Miss Derringer’s job consists of attempting to untangle the mess of other students’ lives. From what I have seen, she is mostly unsuccessful. Miss Derringer does not understand me because she thrives on the mess of other peoples’ lives. She cannot handle my life because it is perfectly straight, perfectly organized, and perfectly parallel.
“I think it’s time we talk with your father about seeking further treatment,” Miss Derringer said. We both know what she means: hospitalization, psychiatrists, and tests after tests after tests to establish what I already knew; everyone else was a mess, and I was organized and neat. “You’re being disruptive to the educational system here, Essie.”
She simply reaches into my life, plucks at a line, and pulls everything out of alignment. It is not fair. I swallow. My throat is dry; it is an unnatural feeling, as I am not dehydrated.
Emotion was bad. Emotion complicates my lines.
“No.” There is nothing simpler than no. They do not see it; they see “no” as a difficult, complex word. Miss Derringer does not even know what it means.
“Essie, you’re barely avoiding hospitalization as it is. Your lifestyle is dangerous to you.” I sit down.
I pick up my pencil.
I put the pencil against the paper and push down. I yank. A deep, heavy mark crisscrosses my paper. It messes up my lines. I draw another scribble, and then another and another. I do not bother to keep the lines straight. Miss Derringer stares. Graphite scrapes over my paper, leaving behind a twisted, horrid mess of lines. I scribble to the point that you could see nothing of my perfect, parallel and perpendicular lines.
When the paper is sufficiently covered with a web of graphite lines, I lay down the pencil, stand, and stare down at the piece of paper. That was life for everyone else. That was life for the people who could not understand the infinite properties of parallels. They could not be unraveled. They could not be helped. How could they even think they could be helped? I shake with exhaustion. It takes too much energy to continue the parallels. It takes too much energy to continue to resist the lies. I could just give in. I could end the lines, and then the lies would cease to exist for me, even if the lies would still pose a problem for every other person in the world.
“Essie,” Miss Derringer says, “I know you don’t understand other people. That’s okay. Most of the time, I don’t understand people myself, and I spend all day trying. Life wouldn’t work the way you try to live it.” She could not know that, my mind tries to protest, but I could not speak. I have no energy. “You’ve got to let go, Essie, you’ve got to know that the complicated, twisted lines that you see is life. It’s necessary. It’s the world, Essie, and it couldn’t be any other way. You can’t force the world into your particular box. Don’t you understand that?”
I find my voice. “Yes,” I cannot control the shaking. “I cannot force the world into a box, but the world can force me to become a tangled mess.” Miss Derringer’s expression shifts and she tries to interrupt me, but I cannot let her. “You see, Miss Derringer, one of the reasons why the world is so messed up? It is full of hypocrites!” The last word comes out as a scream.
Miss Derringer grasps my elbow. I know that she plans on escorting me to her office, calling my
father, and insisting he institutionalize me. With those three actions, she will take away all semblance of my identity. I will no longer have my parallels and my perpendiculars, because the world will see fit to condemn them. I will no longer be able to exist as myself. And today, this is the day that I have given up my energy to fight the lies. Miss Derringer leads me to her office. My backpack is left in the middle of the foyer; it’s not like it matters, I won’t need it anymore.
This messed up world will make sure of that.