A Thought Neatly Tucked Away
Helina Li | Art by Elizabeth Cheng
There is laughter, high-pitched and wild so that it sounds like shrieking, charged with all the youthful recklessness that I never got to possess—high school and all its weight personified in a single sound. There is talking, there is shouting, there is the music pounding through the air so loud that it reverberates in my chest as a second heartbeat, drowning itself out until the lyrics become indistinguishable. And then there is the sound of a hundred bodies moving in different directions, unified as one, directed by the beat.
My second heart pulls on my head and limbs, a puppet master, a compelling spell, and for a split second, I actually consider dancing along. Then my brain explodes in panic, rational thoughts scattering, and my muscles lock, flesh and bone pressing inwards. I stand stockstill, allowing just one finger to tap, whipping my head around, searching. It is only when I catch sight of my friend making her way towards me under golden streamers and floating balloons do I relax.
She takes up a spot by my side, and we don’t say anything for a minute. I blink at the crowd, at the bodies colored in streaks of light, simultaneously trying to think and not think. If I were thinking, if my reasoning were sound, if I just refused to believe in my crazy, unfounded hope that this evening will turn around somehow, I would call my mom and get away from this horribly loud music that is giving me a headache. If I weren’t thinking at all, I would be in that crowd too, dancing with everyone else, free of self-imposed judgement and responsibility. But of course, I am awkwardly stuck in limbo, as I most often am, so I decide to just evade the question altogether and get something from the counter.
“We’re at a school dance to just stand around for three hours and not dance,” my friend muses to me as we wait for our water.
I grin. “I guess this is more exercise than having my butt in a chair and studying.”
As we walk around, sticking close together so we don’t truly end up being the losers here, we take sips of our water and admire the decorations and shout over the music to each other until we don’t feel like doing it anymore. But most of all, we watch the people.
I survey the floor and then the light-up white platforms in the middle, not sure what I was looking for. My eyes finally land on a girl, her hair in varying shades of pink and purple. Eva. I know her from class; she is intelligent and friendly, although I never talk to her because the thought of boring her or seeming weird in conversation is too overwhelming. But as I watch her interact with everyone around her, I wonder what it would be like to create those kinds of memories, to have that big of a group of friends, to enjoy all that youth offered us instead of fearing it.
Alas, those wonders stay mere wonders, and the end finally rolls around, putting me on the way home. The music is still alive in my veins, the energy I never got to use making me jittery and unable to sleep. I end up staring at the swirling multicolor light dots in the dark, imagining myself into a girl who might get pink streaks and turquoise nails, who could trust herself not to break under other people’s scrutiny.
She is the person I aspired to be two years ago, the one I made resolutions about last year, and the one I was supposed to start being this year.
I just failed again tonight.
I close my eyes, then open them again.
When will I stop failing?
A million promises, a million goals rush through my head to make up for this broken one: I’m going to go to school tomorrow, and I’m going to speak up in class, and I’m going to talk to people and not shy away while doing so, and I’m going to participate, and I’m going to… I’m going to… I’m going to… to… t…
Slowly, slowly, the pink hair evaporates into a dream, a thought neatly tucked away.