There are only two things to be certain of in this life: the fact that it ends, and that it is not nearly long enough.
We like to think that we know a lot. It's our nature to flaunt our prideful knowledge and one up each other continuously. But sometimes, it's nice to know that there are other people out there that, like you, believe in the truth.
* * *
There was a joke that circulated on the Internet a few years ago: What's 9+10? If you ask any primary school student, they'll say 19. If you ask most other people though, they'll laugh and say 21. Personally, you agree with the primary school students, and the basics of math. But you don't say anything about it; it's not worth the explanation why. Some things aren't meant to be said that way.
* * *
You listened to music on the bus today, watching the leaves, sky and sun blur together outside the window, one pearly white earbud in, the other looped over the curved shell of your other ear. You had hit shuffle on the playlist, but didn't remember what song was playing. All you knew was that the guitars were screaming, and the voices were singing for someone, something that they've lost, masked in a false bravado of confidence to hide the wavering in their voice. It occurred to you that sharing pain often makes the passing of it easier. It was then that you renounced your dreams to sing, because you didn't want to weave yourself thin through music and ink on paper.
* * *
Math is a universal language. Instead of spelling out sentences in carefully scripted letters, you scrawl down sharply angled numbers onto your paper. You can write anywhere you care to, whether scribbled in jumbled thoughts or precise ink blots that slide out of the printer still warm, like a baby, because that's what writing is; you're sharing a part of yourself, like giving blood. You can always give, but you can never receive, at least, not in the same way that you share. And never the same thing. But there are no distinctions in math - there is always a right answer, unless it is unsolved; even if, it's plausible in the end. There are rules to follow, and a reason for everything. It's a roadmap for a town yet to remain untraveled. And you always have to use a pencil. Always.
* * *
There's something inexplicably disconcerting about that thin red line running underneath your words on the computer screen late at night. It might be the harsh light of the flimsy desk lamp hanging over the top of your monitor or the unwavering fatigue that you've come to embrace with a tired smile, your defeat evident in the darkening crescents under your bloodshot eyes. You can't stop though - your fingers tap the keys with a satisfying clack each time you lift your hand over the keyboard, and it's intoxicating, hypnotic almost. You couldn't stop if you wanted to, lost in the world of black and white type and words that you'll never say aloud. Only the sharp tinge of red brings you back to reality, making you wonder if you're really meant to write this late, offering an obscure hint that you need a dictionary, as well as a second thought about your life and the choices you've made. You look in the darkened computer screen and see the whole of you, laid out and unfurled for the words to carry you away from reality. It's hard not to wonder what you've done wrong when there are no suggestions that they can offer to change your mistake for the better.
* * *
Reading books for school isn't so bad. Sometimes it's easy, almost impossible not to just read ahead by the dim light of the desk lamp at night. And sometimes, it's harder to pick it up and entertain the thought of actually reading it than not. It depends on the book, really. But no matter what it be, there is never any delight when reading becomes a chore and the words on the page are shoved down your throat only for you to spit them back out again, only with less emotion and meaning than the author intended.
* * *
How can a person fall apart if they were never together in the first place?
That is a question you ponder and repeat in endless thoughts at night when you can't sleep. It's valid to ask what others won't, isn't it?
People like to believe that what they know to be true, for everyone, even if it isn't really. Sometimes you want to wonder why they think so, and sometimes you want to tell them what you believe to be true, how nothing is always as it seems and that you can't put words into someone's mouth, not without their consent or with it, either.
But you stay silent, because this you know: life isn't something to print in still-warm, black ink that slides out of the printer late at night after you've ignored the red indications of misspelled words they suggested you replace so that you can fit in, and neither is it a roadmap of a town yet to remain unmarked like the sharp angled numbers that you count with because you can't sleep at night or stand to drown in the misery of others' as the screaming guitars are all you hear and the words of old authors are misinterpreted in your mouth with your own voice muffled and suppressed in frustration; after all, you're human, and nothing more. We are all creations of our mistakes, and that's life, a non-tangible concept we learn to live with, because some things, like the number 19, can't be explained out loud, no matter how much you want to put them into words. That much you know is true.
STEPHANIE TOM is a Chinese-American high school student living in New York. She is the managing editor of her school newspaper and an executive editor of her school literary magazine. Her writing has previously been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the American Association of Teachers of French, the National Society of High School Scholars, and the Save the Earth Poetry Contest. Her poetry has either appeared or is forthcoming in The Rising Phoenix Review, The Blueshift Journal, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, among other places.