FIFTEEN MONTHS LATER

I duck my head lower and brace myself against the wind blowing too harshly against my face. Everything seems like a blur--getting my GED, signing a work contract, enrolling at the local university, and stuffing my schedule with so many things to do that I don't even have time to miss anyone from my old life. At this point, I take things one day at a time, trying not to get so stressed that I crack. More and more, I find that I'm giving myself simple and direct directions as I go through the day--head back to your dorm as quickly as possible, left, right, left right; lift the fork up to your mouth. Chew. Swallow. Repeat; pretend that you actually pay attention to the girls in your class even though you haven't actually looked at one of them. Since...her.

Taking classes in ASL is practically worthless. The meager amount of students that actually attend the class only know the most basic vocab and no grammar whatsoever. This past stretch of time has been nothing but cheap microwave noodles, endless hours at the asylum doing mind-numbing work, and answering countless questions about my "condition".

I had forgotten how dead ASL really is. Not many are associated with it; no one wants to be lowered to the level of a blank. People here wear their words like badges of honor.

Maybe I need a break from constant studying and work. Maybe I should go to the library--yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Maybe see some people other than Ben--who you are forced to see--and your professors. You could maybe even find a cute girl worth checking out. Are you kidding me? This is a university. There is an unlimited supply of intelligent, beautiful, mature girls here that you really should go after. But don't think like that--you're not one of those boys that think of being with females as a some sort of warped sport. But maybe you should stop talking to yourself now.

I make a conscious effort to actually keep my head up and make eye contact as I'm walking down the sidewalk. My history professor does that smile-and-nod that everyone here seems to have mastered. But I'm not expecting to be stopped by this weird girl named Levvy; she's always in our room because she's dating Ben. He always says, Yeah, man. We've been dating all through high school and it's awesome. You don't mind that she's here all day, do you? I didn't think so. I mean, why would you? It's just your personal space and things that she's constantly invading.

Her hair is so blond that it's almost blinding--like she sets off this strange otherworldly glow from her head. "Hey, John. I know that you can't respond, but I wanted to say hey."

And she's already gone. Why, exactly, did she stop me for that? I shake my head and mutter something about freshman girls being a joke.

The mile walk to the library is a refreshing change from always being cramped behind a microscopic desk. There is no chance that I'll actually have time to read for pleasure so I'm not sure why I'm even here. Maybe because I like the smell--old books, black coffee, and too many people trying to finish too many essays too late.

I take my time making whatever tea they have out. I don't care if people think that I'm pretentious for drinking it but I'm not taking coffee. I hate it.

I'm not sure of the exact day when I became so bitter. It kind of seems like I've been this way forever now even though I haven't. I remember that at one point my personality was completely different and I wasn't so internally miserable, but it feels more like a dream or a book I read about someone else's life. I need to be at the asylum way too early tomorrow and I really should be getting back and to sleep soon, but I stay. Grab the first novel that I see and start reading even though the words don't register.

I only last sixteen minutes before I barrel out of there and back for my dorm. Even though there's nothing I want less than to be a witness to Levvy and Ben's daily makeout session. I was spared this hour at lunch and my luck can't be too good apparently or I'll combust.

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