The Woods

The fear hung in the air like the smell of rain in late October. Too subtle to cripple his purpose and yet too apparent to ignore.

Jamie’s hair grew wild like African vines. It complimented his dark skin and scruff sprinkled along his jawline. In these past weeks he had become a wild tiger, a toxic beauty. The type that’s best enjoyed from afar.

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He’d only looked this way for 2 months now. It was his junior year at NYU and Jamie was “in the woods”. The wilderness oozed out of every pore on his face and clung to his posture and countenance.

He held eye contact with women on the subway for so long and with such intensity that they thought about him on their walks home, often times aroused.

He stopped going out, he stopped drinking. He read philosophy, he sat in Central Park and listened to podcasts and spirituals for 78 minutes.

He wasn’t in a period of darkness, per say, but he rarely rewarded anything with a smile. Lightheartedness to him felt lazy, too passive. He would laugh on occasion, but ironically, because he felt many of his convictions and those of his peers were weak and unjustified. He was lost inside himself and in this place he did not want to be reached.

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Sandrine was tired of playing it cool. She was bothered by Jamie’s changes in behavior. Jamie stopped texting her to come over after leaving the gym late in the evenings, when the testosterone usually coerced him to devour everything. The most taxing result of his appetite, of course, being Sandrine’s fondness of him.

He was going to meet her that evening at Birch Coffee on 21 E and 27th St. He was going to cut her free tonight. There were places he was reaching within himself that he did want to share. Sandrine was lovely, but she filled in the distance from the world he was now embracing. She brought him down to earth, calmed his wild spirit.

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When he got out of the subway, the gravity of the situation washed over him with the chilly October wind. He closed his eyes as it hugged him with sharp edges.

He began to rehearse his lines. He was going to tell her with grace and eloquence that he needed to be alone here, in this part of his life. He was distancing himself from tugging forces, regret, self-consciousness, expectation, and especially relevant to tonight, loneliness. Washing himself clean so to speak. He wanted to claim his figurative moment in front of the bathroom mirror. To stare at himself naked, unabashed, collecting himself before he stepped back into the public. The public served as the grand audience of his performance stage, the spotlight of his existence. He wanted some time away from playing the burdened role of the beautiful scholar, with the world on his shoulders, the back of an athlete, the diction of a poet and the rhetoric of a scientist.  

He would set her free with poetry.

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Conversation started off as usual this evening. Jamie found a natural break in between talks about inflation and Donald Trump, then looked down at the N on his sneakers to collect himself before cutting her loose. Sandrine began to feel uneasy after noting Jamie’s nervous shift.

Sandrine took a deep breath mustering up the strength to bear what was next, but nothing is as small as you imagine nor as short, when it comes to matters of the heart.

After what felt like ages, she finished hearing him out and said with a bitter calm and a tingling in the throat,

“Jamie, I know that you’re just going through that existential crisis thing, life feels strange sometimes, I even felt that way when I did that study abroad in Italy last year. It’s usually when I start getting heavy into art.”

He hated the way she said art. Like some whimsical remark, as if it wasn’t really hers. A subject she might have come across one time, but only revisited in memory.

“That’s my issue right there Sandrine. Diminishing my experience by relating it to everyone else’s. As if all human experience is relatable, or should be shared. Depersonalizing me. I’m just really tired of that way of thinking.”

He took a moment.

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“Urbanization of culture, it’s all this sheep mentality of being like everyone else. This is how they keep us small. I’m seeing the walls to the cave, Sandrine. All these moments I’m spending alone are like placing lanterns around this strange place. I’ve been reading a lot. Getting knowledge highs. Like unlocking secrets to the universe… I’m in the woods,” he said.

“Jamie, I get where you… I know what you’re saying, “she answered with no real aim other than to the fill the silence.

“But you don’t Sandrine. When’s the last time you had a thought that was truly your own? You were told that you can’t do this thing alone, none of us can. Do any of us even deserve to use the pronoun ‘I’? Don’t we just live as version of everybody else?  What version of you, or of me even, are you getting if it’s not the version that knows how to be alone? It’s like incomplete, you know? Pieced together under the false light of normalcy.”

The silence grew in weight, and Jamie feared that he might have said too much.

He lowered his voice. “I don’t even mean alone in the sense of spatial orientation. I mean like without the influences, without social pressures, a chance to be with yourself.”

“We’re closing in 10 minutes’ guys,” The barista interrupted.

Jamie got up and brought the mugs to the cashier. Sandrine got up moments later. He walked her to her car. She got in, he closed the door for her.

She rolled down the window and said, “Send me a text when you find what you’re looking for.”

 

by Stephan Ledain // Featuring photography from Mayuri Paranthahan

 

 

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