I sat, slouching in my chair. English class was the bane of my existence. My teacher, Mr. Andrews, was really cool, however, my fellow classmates were not. I had a real issue with one kid, in particular. I did my best to ignore him but sometimes I had to leave the room to keep from getting angry at his stupid comments and wisenheimer attitude. I couldn’t wait for class to be over so I could book it to the art building.
My next class would be Ceramics, my favorite. It took a lot of energy that I didn’t have to move so quickly, dodging between oblivious teenagers straggling at their own pace. I had to get from the top floor of the main building across the street to the Unified Arts building. By the time I arrived at my seat along the studio bench, I was completely wiped out. I took a moment to catch my breath with my head down in my hands. My concerned teacher approached me, requesting confirmation of my current state of well being.
“I’m fine, just tired; need to catch my breath.” I let out between gasps of air.
“Alright, dear, just relax.” He said, soothingly. His genuine concern for students was endearing, but I was eager to brush him off — lest he should figure out what’s been going on.
He walked away and I did my best to heed his instructions and breathe. Air came out, but getting the air to go in was proving more difficult. Eventually my breathing steadied and I was able to join the class in creating masterpieces from within our souls, as Dr. S would have described it.
I was smoothing over a form that was intended to resemble a giraffe, but I just couldn’t get the feet right. The legs were too skinny to hold up the heavy body. I imagined real giraffes might experience similar issues due to gravity. I was getting lost in my thoughts when the room fell silent. I hadn’t noticed the scenery change, but the busy bodies around me slowed down and the sounds of their chatter drowned out.
I looked up from my half-giraffe and peered around the room, unsure if what I was experiencing was really happening. In a flash, almost like the blink of an eye, everything returned to its normal state. Sound returned to the vocal chords of the many students around me and all movement appeared in real time. I was confused but reassured myself that I was just tired. With that in mind, I began to relax a little bit. I looked away from everyone, towards the storage shelves. No one was usually over there. I often found myself gazing out the window on that side of the room.
I noticed something moving in the corner. I adjusted my position to see around the ceramic sculptures blocking my view to reveal a bizarre sight. In the corner of the room, beyond anyone else’s recognition, there was a young girl, drenched, wearing a soggy sundress, rocking back and forth in the corner of the room. She sat in the fetal position with a bewildered look on her face.
I stared onward with a stone face. I knew that what was happening was not real. I knew that I was the only one who was seeing this girl and I knew she wasn’t really there. I swallowed every ounce of fear I had and I looked the girl straight in the eye.
I was shocked to see her lift her gaze to meet mine. She locked eyes with me, not saying a word, just rocking back and forth. Her eyes were sad, icy and glazed over. Strands of her wet, dark hair fell alongside them. She was afraid or angry, or both. She stared at me until I couldn’t take it anymore and I looked away.
Staring back down at my hands, fiddling with the giraffe-like form, I assured myself that I was not insane. While I may be seeing things that are not happening in reality, this does not indicate insanity. In the back of my head, though, I felt like I was lying to myself. I didn’t dare look around to see if anyone else noticed how out of it I was.
I glanced back toward the corner, where the little girl had been sitting, to find her standing by the window. She stood with her back to me, peering out at the world that hurried by. It seemed that her presence evoked a stillness. When our eyes locked the first time, moments turned to days.
She stood, frozen in time while I sat, frozen by fear. The girl turned once more to face me and I braced myself. I don’t know what it was I expected her to do, but she simply reached out her left hand towards me. I looked from side to side; surely someone else was seeing this…
No one else saw. The little girl’s gaze never strayed from my eyes while she waited patiently for me to take her hand. Instead, I quickly reached for my backpack under the bench and turned my back to the little girl. I ran out of that room as fast as I could and out into the fresh air.
Deep breaths, I tried to shorten the panicked huffs of air into long, drawn out breaths. Pacing up and down the road, I eventually regained composure. When my breathing was steady once again, I checked my cell phone for the time. I had spent the entirety of class starring in the corner. I returned to the classroom to clean up after myself.
Without making any progress on my giraffe, I spritzed him with water, wrapped him in plastic to be stored until next class. I turned to face the storage shelves, afraid of who I might find. When the coast appeared to be clear, I made my way over towards that window, next to which was a shelf with my name printed on masking tape.
My shelf was adorned with half-finished works of art. I would begin each project as it was assigned, but somehow fail to finish them in the set time frame. Dr. S didn’t really mind how much time we spent on each piece, he just wanted us to do our best work.
Without saying a word to anyone, I placed my giraffe on my shelf and made a quick exit. I never told anyone about the little girl. I never confessed to feeling guilty for leaving her behind. I never even took the time to think about why she was there or what she was symbolizing, if anything.
In a therapy session, several years later, I was prompted to consider this experience and its possible implications.
I thought about how the little girl looked a lot like me. She was in a physical state that somehow mirrored my mental state. She was an external projection of how I was feeling internally. She was the vital message that I needed to recognize my suffering. If I never noticed how bad things were getting, I never would have taken the steps to make things better for myself.
If that little girl never came to me for help, I would still be that little girl.