By Valeria Salas Ibarra, Skyline contributor
I sat at my desk with my head buried in my arms, brushing off every single Are you okay? that was thrown my way by replying, “Yeah, I´m just sleepy.” Eventually, I was unable to hold the tears back and tried to cry with the utmost discretion. From the other corner of the classroom, I heard laughter and some quiet demands for an apology, but I didn´t care about that. The scene I had pulled not five minutes earlier kept playing in my head. It was stuck, and I didn´t know how to fix it. And it was such a little thing, too. A small, meaningless detail that completely shattered the confidence that I carried as I stood in front of the classroom: A cocky smile and mocking laughter.
“What´s wrong with me?” I couldn´t help but wonder as I cried. I had spent the last few years trying to build up my character, to be braver, more outgoing, more happy-go-lucky and less awkward, less of an introvert, to become more like the person I wished I was and less like… well, less like the person I was at that moment: small, afraid, and crying on her seat, praying that no one noticed.
I looked down at my legs and there they were. Those stupid pamphlets I had poured a week´s effort into. They were bad. The colors didn´t complement each other, the drawing of a hand holding up a pen was all crooked and plain ugly, and the concept, itself, was stupid. Those last words echoed in my head: Stupid. I felt like the weight of the whole world was on that word. “I´m so stupid” was the start of what would become a session of me putting myself down. I read the information from the pamphlet: “Writers/readers wanted: dead alive or alive.” My heart sank to the floor as every single toxic, insecure thought hit me, a never-ending cycle—until the bell rang.
I picked up my stuff and left, not for the freedom of home like the rest of my classmates, but for another classroom. The windows were tinted a dark shade, the door squeaked, opening and closing with the wind, an AC unit stuck out of the roof, dripping water that smelled of sewage. Upon entering the classroom, I was greeted by a sticky floor, dirty white walls, unorganized desks, and the smell of teenagers who didn´t know deodorant was a thing. This place was a second home to me.
The classroom was almost empty; only one person and the teacher sat at their desks, both minding their own business. The rest of the group, I assumed, was buying some instant ramen from the store in front of the school (we called it cancer soup since the cashiers always microwaved it for us). I started moving the available desks to form a small semi-circle around the teacher’s desk, as the club´s tradition demanded. The soft pressure in my chest grew harder as I debated with myself over telling them what happened: What was the point? Would they laugh at me? I knew it wouldn’t be the case, but my mind still spiraled into that endless space.
I decided to stay quiet and sat at the desk closest to the door, started some insignificant small talk with my teacher over the new Star Wars trilogy. People arrived during the conversation, some giving us their opinion, others barging in with loud announcements such as, “The one you were crying for has arrived!” Eventually, the semi-circle filled up and the chit-chat was brought to a cease by the teacher, asking if anyone had written any stories for the week. Just a few raised their hands, myself included. The girl who had first raised her hand pulled out a crumbled piece of paper from her bag and started reading, her hands shaking, her voice on the verge of cracking, shoulders rising up with every breath and never coming back down . . . an almost palpable insecurity.
“Sam,” I called her from across the room, “Take your time. Don´t worry about it.” She nodded, looked down at her paper and then back up at me.
“Could you read it for me? Please?”
I shook my head. “It´s your story, and no one is going to tell it better than you. You´re our Stephen Queen! You got this.”
“Alright,” she sighed and sat up straight, sliding her fingertips through the paper. She turned to the girl next to her, “What about you? Want to read this for me?” The girl looked at her dead in the eye and gave a soft smack to Sam´s head. It was only after that that Sam read her story.
That day, we heard the tale of a little girl who had to take care of her garden, until a wolf asked her if he could have her flower, and, despite the girl´s confusion and reluctance, he still took it. Another story was that of a loaf of bread, who was in love with milk, even though milk made him soggy. There was also a tale of fire and words, the forges for the greatest stories ever told. And then there was my story, that of a couple of dragon-borns chilling on a rooftop, looking back on life, and finally becoming nothing more than dust in the wind. There was no story of my mental breakdown earlier that day.
The comfort that this second home brought to me in the form of a small, smelly, deteriorated, and shabby but safe space for self-proclaimed “word artisans” was enough to let me know that I was okay. I didn´t have to worry about anything that threatened that space for me, because it was something that would forever stay with me.