It was Jeff’s turn to read. He stiffened in his seat and lurched forward a few times before settling with his feet stacked on top of each other and slouching his tall frame back as far as he could in the student desk. We felt his pain; it’s not easy to read out loud to twenty people the words from the corner of your soul. Creativity, the honesty of anguish and the relentless struggle to matter seems epic when you are alone in the dark. But under the harsh fluorescent light of a college writing class, the shadows of thought appear to have shifted; fear of rejection sets in like a winter storm, freezing the writer into robotic movements and choking his voice to a whisper. We leaned in.
“We drove the truck through the heavy snow, not knowing if we would reach our destination. It was getting dark. Our gig was at ten. We had shovels in the back, just in case we got stuck, but we also had beer and equipment and not much else except potato chips. The clothes we brought were not even close to being able to keep us warm. We were ten days out of California for our first national tour and this was the road and this was our life. It was also my birthday. We were crammed in the truck on a “road-trip to stardom” but instead of being excited I felt lost. Until we reached this lonely road, I had forgotten how cold and silent the snow could be. I shivered as I watched the wiper blades groan back and forth. People come together in the cold. They huddle under the blanket to share body heat. Things happen. The only reason I’m on the planet is because my parents were cold.”
My parents were cold. I’m here because my parents were cold. I looked up at his face; there was no trace of humor or sarcasm. His eyes seemed so sad. His story continued but I didn’t follow; my mind was stuck back at his cold conception. There’s no reason for me being here; I’m just a consequence from the need to be warm. I played his words again and again.
Class dismissed and I gathered my bags and made my way to the cafeteria.
“You’d never get me driving all over the country in a van. But my parents wanted me.”
“What?” I turned my attention from the entrée choices in front of me to the voice on my right. It was the girl who sits near me in class; brown hair, glasses, talks too much. She must have intentionally followed me.
“My parents wanted me. They were trying to get pregnant.”
I stared at her, dumbfounded.
“Lasagna or pizza?” The food lady motioned to keep moving.
“Pizza.” I took the plate and put it on my tray but I was trapped between hungry students crowding the display glass. The girl was still waiting for my reply.
“Good for you,” I said. I worked my way through the crowd hoping she’d stay behind. I grabbed a milk and a chocolate cake. There wasn’t room on the tray and the bottom of the container was probably full of germs; I didn’t want it to touch the top of the pizza. That’s how you get sick. I contemplated putting it back but it was fresh out of the oven. I stuck the milk in my pocket and did my best to juggle the food as I pushed through the crowd to the cash register.
“Did your parents want you?”
Her again. I was regretting smiling at her this morning. Apparently, we were having lunch together.
“As far as I know.” I fumbled for the ten in my pocket.
“There’s a spot over there under the tree,” she said.
I crammed the change in my other pocket and followed her.
The sun alternated with shade as the leaves of the tree moved gently back and forth in the breeze. It was a warm day with blue skies. I sat facing the breeze so my hair would blow away from my face. The slice of pizza looked greasy and delicious. If I ate it with my fingers I would be a mess, but eating pizza with a knife and fork takes the fun out of it. I picked it up and took a bite, grease dripping down my chin.
“That’s good your parents wanted you, too. I feel sorry for Jeff,” she said.
I nodded. I felt bad for him too, but this girl was weird. She made me nervous.
“It’s too bad he doesn’t have a purpose.”
“What do mean,” I asked.
“He said he’s only here because his parents were cold and so there’s no purpose to his life. No point in being here. Just random happenstance.”
I squinted my eyes and dug into the moist chocolate, allowing it to melt in my mouth.
“My parents wanted me so I have a purpose,” she said.
“And what is that?” I put my fork down. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to hear this.
She took a bite of hummus and cracker. “Well, right now I’m working on a degree in communications. When I graduate I want to work in broadcast news.”
“And?” I asked eyes still squinted.
“What’s the purpose of working in news?”
“Oh, my parents thought communication would be a good degree since I talk all the time. Ha! And I love to know what’s going on. You make good money in the news if you know what you’re doing. It’s a no brainer,” she said.
“So, your purpose is to know what’s going on, make money and talk, and all because your parents wanted you.”
“Well, you know, I want to be a good person. My parents are paying the tuition and they thought communication was a good idea. I just want to make a lot of money so I can buy a nice house and travel all the time. That’s my goal.”
“It’s a goal but it’s not a purpose in life. What’s your reason for being on the planet? You said Jeff doesn’t have one but your parents had sex on purpose which gives you purpose. So what is it?” I’m not very nice around people who annoy me.
She wasn’t sure what to say. I took another bite of pizza to let the silence lengthen in the shadows. I managed three bites before she finally answered.
“I don’t know.” She gathered up her things and stood up. “I have to study for a test. See ya.”
“See ya.” She walked off toward the library with overconfident steps, swinging her hair as if flicking off our conversation.
–Tara Schiro is the author of “No Arms, No Legs, No Problem: When life happens, you can wish to die or choose to live” NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon and Barnes and Noble http://www.NoArmsNoLegsNoProblem.com