Coming of Age Contemporary Teens & Young Adult

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

The fuzzy texture of the car ceiling always seemed odd to me. It’s a weird design choice, no? Is it an attempt to make this huge metal thing, this tube hurtling at 90km/h down a highway, (and has the potential to kill you if anyone in their own metal tubes, including yourself, makes a little mistake) seem less scary? As a kid I would spend road trips occupying myself, rubbing my fingers across the ceiling making invisible drawings in the different directions of the little hairs with my nails. But now I just wonder who decided to line the inside of a car in basically really ugly carpet; and how many people had to approve that design choice before finally deciding to put it in?? There must be a reason. Was it a marketing tactic? If you round the edges and soften the surfaces, make it tactile, easy to touch, it doesn’t seem like something only someone with experience should be handling. It seems like it’s something that even a 16 year old could drive. Just sit ‘em down in a few classes, let them have a couple supervised practices and off ya go!

The car window is cracked open, and the intense bass sound of the cold night air coming in makes for a nice auditory distraction. That, and the way my head thumps against the window, mixed with the cool numbing on only one half of my face from the wind, makes me feel like my head is in a vortex. My own little world. I don’t have to think of anything but the *right now*. I can’t. There’s too much happening to my senses. I can’t possibly focus on anything else but staring out the window to the sparse streetlamps along the country highway and the farmhouses, barely illuminated by the moon. I don’t want to think of anything else. I can’t even remember how I was feeling on our way down here. I only know how I’m feeling on our way to drop me off at the train station, and even then, I’m not really sure what this feeling’s called. I’ve never felt it before. It’s so new and low in my chest. Somewhere far, lost at sea, only a glimpse of something over the horizon. So far away it’s barely a remarkable shape, but it's something you can’t take your eyes off of. Something that makes your body freeze with curiosity and fill with a feeling of uncanniness as your brain files through all the shapes it knows trying to make one of them fit, but nothing’s just quite right.

I don’t know why I came down here in the first place. That’s not really true. I was excited to come, I think. Nervous, but excited. It’d been so long since I’d seen my hometown. I hadn’t talked to anyone in forever and I’d just changed so much.

Not to be cliché but growing up I was isolated. I was the weird kid that no one liked or wanted to be friends with. It took a long time for me to “get” how to act around people. It took moving to the city, going to CEGEP, making new friends to find myself. So, I was kind of excited to show off my “new me”. Confident, more fashionable, actually likeable (or at least I think so?), basically not a bratty know-it-all that dressed up in ratty hand-me-downs and took every opportunity to interrupt people with an “umm… actually”. Maybe I could rekindle old friendships I’d ruined with my old shitty attitude? Maybe I could meet new people I hadn’t gotten the chance to really know before. It was “Fair Weekend”, and the carnival was in town, so either way, even if I didn’t, I knew I’d have fun. The feeling of wanting to show off lingered a little, but still! I mainly just wanted to enjoy myself. Now I can’t even feel my skin without wondering what I’m feeling. Wondering why I can’t stop wondering what this is. I don’t want to think about it. I just want to stay in my comfortably uncomfortable window void. It’s like time stops there. I can let my eyes go lazy, let the tree-lined sky grow fuzzy and double up, and not have to focus on anything but my cold face growing increasingly numb, and my brain emptying with every thump against the car window.

But it’s not emptying this time.

It’s not letting me drift into my “happy car place”.

“Are you hungry?” Taking a hand off the wheel, my brother hands me a bag of chips we got at the depanneur a few towns back. It jolts me out of my bubble and it’s kind of frustrating because I really like my bubble, y’know? The bubble makes me feel like an angsty teen in a music video. But I’m not. I’m a 22 year old adult. I need to act like a 22 year old adult, right? At least that’s what I’ve been working on since I left home at 17. Leaving all that childish high school crap behind and teaching myself how to be a grown up. How to "adult" and do the adult things like paying rent and making my own doctor’s appointments. So, I take the chips with a “thank you”. But between you and me, I really wanted to do the whole dramatic “I’m not hungry *sniff* *sniff*… I’m too emotional right now!” thing. But… I’m not even that emotional... It’s not like there’s a ton of emotions swimming around. There’s only just the one, sinking, emotion. One that feels so tiny but so explosive. I don’t even want to attempt to touch it, like it’ll crack, burst and spill out into the rest of me. There’s so much potential energy like a match in a dry forest. It’s almost overwhelming how confusing this thing is. Almost. I won’t let it overwhelm me. At least not for the rest of this car drive. For the rest of this 4-hour car drive. Fuck.

             Over the next few days, I’ve been able to drift back into my routine. Get up, go to work, come home, eat, sleep, rinse repeat. But then the weekend rolls around.

This is honestly the first time in my life that I’m fully alone. My whole life I’ve always lived with someone, whether it be family or roommates, I always had someone there. But now I’m alone. It’s an odd feeling. There are people out there in the world that I used to spend every second of every day with, laughing, acting like idiots from the moment I got up to 2 AM, went to bed, just to do it all again the next day; and now, I can’t even convince my fingers to open up the conversation with them to WRITE out a text, let alone send it. All because I don’t want to bother them. I don’t want to take up too much space. It’s isolating, y’know. And now I have this, this ball of… SOMETHING in my throat? My chest? My stomach? It’s everywhere. It’s kind of starting to feel like maybe I’ve always had it. But I didn’t. I remember exactly when I caught this… this thing.

The town fair was fun, a little disorienting, but fun! I saw so many people that I hadn’t seen in so long. People I hadn’t seen since I was 16-17. People I wished I’d stayed in contact with, people I was glad I hadn’t. I grew up in a small farming county so, I basically knew everyone or knew of everyone within a 6-town radius. But I was alone this year. My friends that had followed me out to the city were all busy and couldn’t come down, so I was affronting this whole thing by myself. Which would’ve been scary if I weren’t so confident. Totally confident and totally not scared of looking weird or stupid and making a bad first impression on the debut of this “new me”.

I B-lined for the beer tent.

I downed my three drink tickets worth of shots, and set out for rides and games and fair-food. Deep-fried Oreos sound disgusting, are horribly overpriced, but literally taste like heaven in your mouth.

Something to note, when I was 7, I’d had a traumatic experience at one of the games. The cow-race game. And, to this day, couldn’t even think of it without getting a knot in my stomach. I remember sitting there, giving my 5 dollar bill, practicing a few throws, then being so horribly confused watching the wrong little metal cow speed across the “field” that when I thought I won, and in fact, didn’t, threw the most *intense* tantrum I think the carney running the game had ever seen. Security needed to be called and my dad had to cut the weekend short, drive us all home and I was made fun of at school for YEARS after. God it was so embarrassing looking back. Unfortunately for me, to get to those mouth watering, brain exploding, angel kissed, deep-fried Oreos, I had to walk passed that dreaded cow game. I sucked it up, completely ignored the flashing lights, ignored the little stuffed animals, ignored all the carnies yelling out to every passer-by to come play, and locked in to my target.

“Woah Ho Ho! Hey Gorgeous!” His mic-ed up voice pierced loudly through the carnival noise. It was such a sweet playful tone I’d never heard before. Almost like the surprised sound that bubbles up when you literally bump into someone you haven’t seen in forever. I was curious who had enchanted a carney *so dearly* that he broke professionalism (what little professionalism they have) to rouse that tone of surprise and joy(?) out of him. I turned around.

“I have an open seat with your name on it! Why don’t you give it try?”

It was the cow-race guy! Well not THE cow-race guy, that guy would’ve been OLD by now. This was a new cow-race guy. And he was looking straight at me. Like right at me. I genuinely had no idea how to react. No one had cat-called me before! Was this cat calling? I could feel my face turning bright red. I BOOKED IT outta there. No man had ever been so forward. And he was a MAN. OOF! Copper red hair, black framed glasses, and arms that looked like they could LAUNCH hay bales like they were nothing. I don’t know what they put in the carnival water, but it obviously agreed with him. But why me? Did he do this to all the lonely women to try to make an extra buck? Ugh. My stomach sank. That’s so scummy. What a dick. I just want my Oreos.

But now I had to walk past him again to go back!

Y’know what? I’d just ignore him. I’d pretend I didn’t even know he existed. That’s what confident women do. That’s what women trying to rebrand themselves did. So that’s what I did.

“You sure you don’t want to try? It’s lots of fun!”

Nope. You can’t even tell that I heard you. You can’t even tell I’m thinking of you. How pretty and gross you are. Nope! I just kept walking.

“You sure? No?”

Did I say that out loud? What? No I didn’t. What? “Uh no! I-I don’t have any fives!” I yelled back. Why did I say anything?? Oh my god.

“That’s ok! I have change!”

His voice was so cute and bubbly and… No! This sweet talking red-head was just desperate for a buck. I just kept walking.

A few hours went by, and that Oreo craving had set in about as soon as I finished the first bag. I’d spent the hours since debating on whether or not I should satisfy that craving, and risk passing by that carney jerk. But alas, the craving was too strong and I just had to get my hands on that greasy, melty, doughy, powdered-sugar covered drug. It’d been hours! He definitely forgot about me by now. And I deserve Oreos! I’d spent the whole day anxiously talking to people I knew, trying desperately to show everyone how cool I was now. I needed this. I started making the trek back to the food truck. My heart started pounding. Why was I shaky? I hate confrontation and not knowing what to expect. My nerves were on edge the closer I got to the blinky lights. It was dark now, so surely, he wouldn’t be able to see me THAT well past the glow of his carney game. Either way, this is a gimmick, he just took advantage of the moment. Saw a woman alone and thought he could flirt his way to an extra 5 dollars. I calmed down. And started passing the taunting faces of the smiling metal cows.

“Hey hey hey! You came back! I thought you were gone! Wanna sit down? All the seats are free! You get your pick of the lot!”

I hesitated. He seemed so genuine.

“C’mon, just one game. And the first one’s on me.”

“It’s free?” I tentatively walked over. I’ll be honest, it caught me off guard. Got my attention. And, weirdly enough, walking towards the game, I wasn’t anxious anymore. The soft cadence of his voice completely cutting through the cow-game knot I’d held tight for years. I was nervous. But not for the game. Nervous… for him? Maybe it was his sharp green eyes. Or maybe because HE hadn’t been the one to see me as a bratty, screaming 7 year old. Whose to say!

“Yeah! No one’s playing anyway, just hang out and chat while you wait for other people to sit down.”

Ok, maybe he wasn’t trying to make an extra buck? Maybe he really wanted to talk? And he was so cute. UGH! Fuck it.

We spent hours chatting. Talking about our lives. I spent the entire time practicing and actually managed to win a few games! We didn’t stop laughing the entire time. I’d never been so interested by someone before. I’d never been so interesting to someone before. He was sweet and funny, and vulnerable. We dug deep. Spoke about our hopes and dreams, our failures and how we sometimes wished we could turn back time. But what really impressed me was how he could suddenly switch from telling me about his deepest memories, to putting on a show as soon as people sat down to play, and then go right back into deep vulnerability as soon as they left. There was nothing that we weren’t talking about, and there wasn’t a moment of silence between us. It was the first moment in my life where I understood what people meant when talking about their partner, saying that they had just “clicked”. We just. Clicked.

That night I didn’t go home. I told my brother I was just staying at a friend’s house, so he didn’t need to worry that I wouldn’t be back until morning.

That night in his arms, I felt home. His heart beating so loudly I could feel it reverberating through my chest. The heavy bass drowning out everything else around us. His hands felt strong. Sturdy, unwavering, but gentle. Holding me with a tenderness I hadn’t known existed before. His body melted into mine in a way that felt like there was more than just us in that motel room. We were creating something. An energy I’d never felt before. I couldn’t tell where my skin stopped and his started. His breath so cool against my sweat, it sent shivers down my spine. Our lips brushing against each other in ways that stopped the spinning of the earth, and contained it within us. We were creating space in time. A void that only we were gods of. Moments of silence between us where words couldn’t even be imagined. Silence so deafening, it felt like the last thing we would know before we died.

And when it was over, it didn’t feel over. Pulling me into him, the world went calm and silent. The weight of his limbs wrapped around me, the scent of him soaked into my pores, his heart now so calm I could barely feel it. I felt wrapped up in a sea of amniotic fluid. Drowning in a cloud that lifted every weight off my chest. It was the first time in years I’d breathed and filled my lungs to the brim.

             Now I’m here. I'm not really handling this. This adult life. This experience that everyone has to go through. Is it this hard for everyone? Does everyone just go around pretending that they’re doing ok? Is everyone just a fucking liar? What do I do now? I’d had sex before. It had always been good. One-night stands, partners, people I’d been dating. I’d never had this feeling. This thing that makes me want to sink into my bed and never come back up for air. This thing that makes me so much more aware of how utterly alone I really am. I have no one. I’m so... lonely.

I bought flowers today to decorate my apartment. Kind of feels like a band aid. Something to come home to, something pretty. Something that covers the fact that my life is filled with me. Just me. Kind of softens the edges? Makes this life thing not so scary. Makes me forget that one mistake could cost me my life. You hear about it every day; someone getting hit by a car. Had they waited just 30 seconds, maybe not stopped to tie their shoe, taken a different route to work, they’d still be here. But the flowers smell nice, so I focus on that. I focus on the soft petals. One day at a time. Maybe eventually I’ll be ok with just me. I don’t really know.

May 23, 2023 03:42

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Ace Baker
04:29 Jun 01, 2023

What I love about your story is that it deals with a situation very relatable to readers. We’ve all experienced that moment when we change and then see the world a bit differently. I also like that the character feels real, especially the range of emotions experienced and the detailed imagery that draws that out. What I might consider taking another look at is fluency. LONG paragraphs slow it down; remember to paragraph every time something changes—new setting, new action, new speaker, new anything. The raw feelings are here; a look at f...


22:09 Jun 01, 2023

Thank you! I'm glad you liked the story! I appreciate your comments and compliments! It's interesting that you bring up the fluency and the paragraph length because that was something I probably spent the most time editing, but I'm not really a short story writer so it's evidently something I still need to work on. I mainly write poetry, and when it comes to poems, "paragraph spacing" comes a lot more intuitively to me. if you don't mind me asking, and if it isn't too much trouble, where are some places where you would've suggested I start a...


Ace Baker
04:55 Jun 02, 2023

The fuzzy texture of the car ceiling always seemed odd to me. It’s a weird design choice, no? Is it an attempt to make this huge metal thing, this tube hurtling at 90km/h down a highway, (and has the potential to kill you if anyone in their own metal tubes, including yourself, makes a little mistake) seem less scary? As a kid I would spend road trips occupying myself, rubbing my fingers across the ceiling making invisible drawings in the different directions of the little hairs with my nails. But now I just wonder who decided to line the...


14:19 Jun 02, 2023

Thank you! That's actually really helpful in distinguishing what each new idea is. I thought paragraph changes needed to happen every time there was a new overarching subject brought in, or a new development in feeling. I was just kind of winging it honestly lol! But thank you for the mini lesson in paragraph spacing! It's very helpful!


Ace Baker
17:19 Jun 02, 2023

All good. Remember, YOU are the writer, so ultimately, you decide. This is just ONE person's opinion...


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Ace Baker
17:19 Jun 02, 2023

All good. Remember, YOU are the writer, so ultimately, you decide. This is just ONE person's opinion...


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