An Ache, Instead of a Heart

It was 5:47 in the afternoon. Not an ominous time, not even an interesting one. It was just an afternoon, almost evening sort of time. How could her heart turn from a solid presence in her chest to a throbbing mass, almost a tumor, in just a few short minutes?

It had started because of curiosity. Maybe that wasn’t right, though. Maybe it had started because she’d listened to their music the night before, and it made her think of them again. Her end-all-be-all of music. The men she fell in love with desperately at sixteen and tried feverishly to convince everyone else of their immense power and force. She’d gotten over that, though. She’d found her ken online, through forums and fan-sites – the usual place teenage girls congregate to fantasize, and avid fans come together to worship and respect. She was both – a teenage girl and an avid, serious, dedicated fan.

That was then. This was now. She’d continued adoring them, continued falling in love with the music over and over again. But eventually, her love of the men faded and became respect, admiration, adoration of a different kind. She didn’t want to kiss them anymore – now she wanted to have a conversation with them, be a friend. She’d gotten less and less involved in the online scene. She couldn’t help it that there were other things taking up her time – real friendships, real lovers, real life. So now, three years later, she still considered them the best, her favorites, the all-encompassing musicians for her, and she still listened to them.

In fact, she’d listened to them the night before. Maybe that was why, at 5:47, she’d found herself wondering about a silly detail – a cosmetic feature of one of the men that had disappeared – and through her curiosity, she stumbled back into the websites. She gaped, open-mouthed, at the changes made in her absence. She rejoiced that steps were being made, that there were new people around, that her beloved musicians were still respected.

But it turned her heart into an ache. A dull, stuttering, spluttering ache. It felt like something was pouring out of her heart, dripping on to the floor… Drip-drip-dropping, some essential liquid the heart needed. It felt like a lifetime since she’d fallen in love with stars in a vast sky, and now, rediscovering her fellow worshipers, she felt so lost.

2. Amanda [3]

Amanda sat in the back of the auditorium, ready to spring up the moment the last speaker was finished. She was wearing a dark red t-shirt two sizes too big for her, bearing the legend “Valley Camp Leader” in bright pink letters. Once again, she felt that although she loved her college, their sense of humor was often a bit stilted. Not many of the first years liked the joke of being at camp – they, like Amanda had felt just a year before, wanted to be reassured that they were free from their families and from their old towns and homes and were embarking on some sort of independent life.

As the lights came on, Amanda got up with the other three orientation-leaders, and they all blew their whistles half-heatedly – more for the benefit of the overenthusiastic Office of Admissions employees then for the new students. Leaving off the piercing sounds, they just yelled instead for their respective groups.

She was leading the new Oakwood students to the day’s activities that were supposed to acquaint them with the campus and the school. Her group was rather feeble, stretching and yawning and rubbing their eyes. She gave them what she hoped was a sly smile, and told them that before they were going to go on their in-depth tour of the campus, they’d go back to Oakwood and bang on the doors and wake all the lazy butts who hadn’t shown up for the morning talk.

This won her a few smiles, and she led them down to Oakwood. A gangly boy, with a mop of blond curls adorning his head, came up to her.

“Your name’s Amanda, right?”

“Mhmm, it’s right on my sticker,” she pointed at the big tag on her t-shirt with her name on it.

“I know this is like, totally weird and all, but are you by any chance Jake’s twin?” the boy’s face was open and honest, and Amanda stared at him for a moment, wondering how on earth he knew her brother. Then the pieces clicked into place.

“Bo, right?”

He grinned at her and ran his fingers through his hair, making them unrulier than ever.

“Yeah, I work with Jake at Lila’s. I was working full time over the summer, but I’m thinking that at twenty-three, I’d better finally use that fund my grandparents left me for college. Plus, this way, I get to stay in a dorm instead of with my Aunt Tanya.”

Amanda couldn’t help but smile. She could see what Jake saw in this boy’s – young man’s, she corrected herself – guiless face and long limbs flying every which way as he walked.

“Well, I’m glad you came here. It’s kind of weird for me to be your-” she made air-quotes with her fingers, “Camp Leader and all. I’m only nineteen, you know.”

“Yeah, I know I’m starting college late, but heck, I figure I’ll be really popular what with having a real ID stating I’m over twenty-one and all,” he grinned at her as she waved a finger at him and walked back to join the group trailing after her like tired little ducklings.

Amanda’s mood took a definite upward swing. Jake had mentioned in his rambling and confused way that Bo was coming to Valley U, but Amanda hadn’t realized he’d be living on campus. She hoped this would mean she’d get to see Jake more often, as well as in a better mood. Good start to the year, she thought.

Dramatic Scene…?

“I know what you’re thinking,” shot Max at Deirdre. “You’re always thinking the same damn thing. You’re thinking that I shouldn’t go. You’re thinking that I’m being stupid. Just say it already!”

Deirdre looked coolly back at Max’s angry expression. She could have scratched her face off, for plainly showing her thoughts and emotions as it so clearly was. It was too late to fix the expression that had jumped unwillingly to it when Max had told her he was going out. She settled for pretending innocence instead.

“I’m not thinking a blessed thing, boy.”

“The hell you’re not,” Max spat back.

“Well, I’ve got nothing to say to you when you’re in such a foul mood,” Deirdre didn’t give up her act, but gave Max a bland look before turning her back to him. He knew everything she could say to deter him already. It was true that she thought him a fool for going, yet again, and there was no point in having another argument on the subject. Max would do what he wanted, and that was that.

A few minutes passed. Deirdre sat at her vanity, staring blindly at her own reflection. Finally, she heard the sound that she’d been expecting. The front door slammed with a force to shake the very panes of glass in it. She shut her eyes tightly for a moment, screwing her face up in pain.

 

Max waited outside the front door, wondering if this time Deirdre would come after him. But no, the minutes passed and still there was no sound of footsteps inside the large, boring suburban box of a house. He sighed and ran a hand over his face. Taking his car keys out of his pocket, he strode off down to the curb and unlocked, with an unobtrusive beep, the luxurious car parked in front of the closed garage door. He climbed into the front seat, put the key in the ignition, and turned it.

The effect was immediate. His seat bent down all the way back, several contraptions started moving around and making metallic noises, and the car began to pull out of the driveway and zoom down the street on its own.

When Max’s seat came back up, he was dressed in a black, skintight outfit, with a white mask covering his entire face except for a slit for his eyes.

Off to save… someone, Max thought, tiredly. Damn it.

He thought of Deirdre, her shimmering blonde hair running down her back in dripping strands as she took yet another hot shower. She always took showers when he went out on jobs. She seemed to like the sensation of heat when she was upset. Max took cold showers when he was upset. It was one of the many ways in which they differed. Another, rather crucial, point of difference, was that Deirdre wasn’t a superhero. Max was. He was really very tired of it.

Leaving

Exactly a week from now, I’ll be on an airplane somewhere over the ocean, just a couple hours away from the shores of New York, my new home-state. My orientation week will begin on August 29th, move-in day, and my classes begin on September 7th. The new experiences that are looming in front of me are overwhelming but exciting and enticing nonetheless. I’ll be able to study again – bury my nose in books, strain my brain and hopefully become passionate about the new things I’ll be learning.

But as the time to go draws nearer and the free moments I have grow few and far between, I realize just how much I’m going to miss about living here. First, of course, is the simple physical aspect of my home – the apartment my mother and I live in and have lived in for thirteen years; the bookcases lining our walls and the messy lived-in atmosphere that permeates each and every room; the cats perching on the counters or sprawling on the beds, tummies up to catch the nonexistent breezes of late August.

Next, the people – my mother, my boyfriend and my friends. These are people who I care about and who care about me, people for whom I have great respect and with whom I enjoy spending my time. I know, of course, that I’ll be meeting new people and forming new friendships, but they won’t be able to replace my friends here, most of whom I’ve known for at least three years, and the rest of whom I’ve known since I was a tiny tot.

Finally, and this is the thing that shocks me most, I’m going to miss Israel. Yes, this place I bitch and complain about constantly – the rude people, the bad drivers, the unbearable heat and humidity of Tel Aviv, the pathetic winters – all this, I’m going to miss. Most of all, I’m going to miss the Hebrew language. Last night, when I couldn’t sleep and my mind was racing with the thoughts and worries that are forever nagging at me at this stressful time, I began reading a book that I’d bought at the Israeli book fair last year. It’s wonderful, absolutely amazing, and I realized that the roots of my love of writing come from writing in Hebrew. The first creative writing piece I did was in a seventh grade literature class – I wrote, basically on my own, a thirty page story for a big end of year assignment. A few years after that, I began writing poetry in Hebrew. I still have a page on a well known Israeli creative writing site with my poetry and a few short stories on it – all in Hebrew. My father, who wrote a book in Hebrew and was a gifted writer both in Hebrew and in English and who, incidentally, was very Israeli in so many little ways, was the first who told me that I had a gift for writing.

So yes. Despite everything I can say about this place, this country full of drama and upheaval and stupid religious wars, I will miss it. I’m glad that I’ll be able to come back here for my vacations.

The Teacher

The Teacher heaved a deep sigh as she clasped her worn brown bag. Her hands, no longer slender and delicate, were riddled with swollen veins. Her wedding ring couldn’t come off her finger even if she’d wanted it to. Thankfully, she didn’t. Her marriage was the one thing that still made sense in her life.

The Teacher’s hair had been dyed red so many times that it had taken on a slightly metallic orange tint. She knew she looked like a joke, and she definitely knew the various nicknames she was known by throughout the student body, but white hair meant being a grandmother to her. That word hurt her too much. Grandmother. She had almost been one, and if the loss hurt her, she could only imagine how much it had hurt her daughter. Hurt enough that she had cut herself off from her parents because, in her words, it had been too difficult to see their eyes wander to her barren stomach and then fill with tears.

The Teacher picked up her case and walked slowly down through the empty halls, littered with crumpled paper and the occasional forgotten textbook. She sighed again as she walked. teaching didn’t make sense anymore, and for the last few years, this simple fact threw her whole life out of skew.

Her students weren’t different. Perhaps there were more cellphones in class, more kids copying essays off the internet, but all in all, high-school hadn’t changed all that much since she herself had been a twelfth-grader. No, it was some general something that irked her. Maybe it was the fact that so many parents didn’t seem to care what or how the teachers taught anymore. Maybe it was the fact that Bobby Jones and Nora Lessinger kept showing up to school with no text books because the funding for students like them who came from very low-income families had run dry. Maybe it was the fact that her daughter wasn’t speaking to her, and every teenager she looked at in her class seemed to somehow remind her of her personal life.

The Teacher exited the school building, and the sun flooded down from between a few grey clouds. In the parking lot, as always, was her husband in their old dark green Fiat. She could faintly hear the first Led Zeppelin album playing inside. She smiled at him, gave a little wave, and walked over. At least something still made sense in the world.