Two Steps Behind

Staircases: A place where you can go in either direction and no one would think less of you for it.

Unless, of course, you chose to just sit there. Yeah, we liked to sit there.

It wasn’t so long ago that I had entered college. All the new experiences that awaited me at every corner left me in a complete state of awe for the first few weeks. Similar to the way one becomes infatuated with something they really like and have come to own very recently.I would walk the full length of every hallway on every floor of every building (that my classes were in) and then descended a level to do it all over again. Teachers and peers all ambushed me left and right with new names for simple things. I’ll never understand why they did that — simple things should be easy to say and understand.

But I didn’t mind it, because everything was new and I reveled in it.

It wasn’t until the adrenaline died off that I realized I had a wee bit too much time on my hands. Sure, friends, clubs, part-time jobs and even option classes were ripe-for-the-picking but…I just didn’t want to do what everybody else did. I wanted something interesting, and normal was the farthest thing from it.

In the fall of my first year in college, I happened to stumble upon a staircase that ascended some ways before ending abruptly on the third floor of a faculty building. It was strange, to say the least, and it piqued my curiosity all the more. What was even more bizarre was the fact that there was a boy sitting at the very top of the flight of steps, completely absorbed in his own little bubble.

At first, I thought about approaching him. However, he seemed much too invested with his smartphone to notice me looking at him from the bottom of the staircase. He really looked like someone that lived in his own little world…

Instinctively, I pulled my phone from my pocket and took an upshot picture of him at an angle. His eyes lifted suspiciously from his device as soon as I had taken the picture and immediately locked his gaze with my own. The first thing I noticed was the glimmer in his eyes that reflected the light of the screen from his smartphone. The second thing that I noted was his smooth and refined facial features that mismatched with his loose and comfortable clothing.

*Ahem*

“…Can I help you…?”

His voice broke the silence between us, ending my moment of quiet analysis.

“Hi, I’m.. well,– a freshman. I was just wondering what you were doing in a place like this?”

“Oh, I’m in my last year. Just hanging out.”

“Ah. I see.”

The silence ensued once more, until:

 

“Why did you take a picture of me?”

“It seemed like a good shot. Here, let me show you.”

I walked up to him and handed him my phone. The silence came back.

“Haha, it’s not bad…I’m Matthew by the way. Would you like to join me?”

And that was how we met.

I made it a habit to spend time with him on the staircase every other day. We didn’t do much in our time atop the stairwell at first. In fact, we made it a point to never do much when we were together. Our activities ranged from simply shuffling through social media on our devices to some quiet reading that was assigned from our lessons. He told me that he was studying to become a lawyer at first, but soon decided that he’d rather become a technician for a software company. I shared with him my desire to become a professional photographer, but was currently pursuing a teaching degree in case things didn’t turn out in my favor.

“Hey, why do I never see you take pictures with a professional camera?”

That was a good question. A question I could have answered, but instead I shrugged it off. It’s hard to tell others where your confidence is lacking — but it’s even worse to receive encouragement for something you don’t feel you deserve. Complex emotions kept me from sharing my thoughts, and eventually I learned to just shrug and laugh them away.

The days soon blurred into months and the end of fall semester was fast approaching. Snow began to dust the rooftops of every building on campus and the temperature shifted noticeably from the moderate coolness of fall to the bone-chilling cold of winter. My workload got larger and my days got busier. We ended up seeing each other less as the winter semester went by. The few times I did see him, we spent our brief meetings simply catching up on the little things and never quite moving past them before we had to part ways.
When April came, Matthew invited me to attend his convocation ceremony. It felt odd to attend, but I figured this might be the last time I could really see him. The day of the ceremony was grudgingly long and unbearable. Professors, administration, and alumni speakers droned on and on about how these fresh graduates would pave the way for the future and would make a difference in their field whether it be big or small. It felt unreal to me, I felt so detached from this world.
Finally, when it came time for the student representative to give a speech to the graduating class, I saw him approach the podium. My jaw dropped as I saw him shuffle his papers on the stand before clearing his throat. Then he started speaking:
“Good day to all the friends, family, professors, and supporters alike that have gathered here today. It brings me immense pride to be giving this speech on behalf of the graduating class….”
He went on a for a bit, emphasizing the highlights of his four years here on this campus. He laughed, the audience laughed and somewhere in the auditorium you could hear someone sobbing from the memory of it all.
“But if there’s one thing I’ve learned to cherish during my time here, I honestly think it had to be the times I was simply lounging in an isolated corner of a faculty building. My hiding spot was the one place I thought I could unwind and just be myself. I was content in my solitude, never believing for a second that I could do better than this.
However, in my last year I met someone and they changed the way I understood myself. All this time I thought that being on my own during these times was what I needed to keep myself grounded. I was wrong though. Just having met someone who was perfectly content being there too, to share a comfortable silence with them — that was the highlight of my last year. This person made me feel like I belonged somewhere despite myself, and I couldn’t have imagined the impact it would have on my outlook and attitude towards myself and others.
So thank you, my good friend, for sharing those brief quiet times with me in the corner that very few stumbled upon. I hope one day you’ll be able to find strength within yourself and be confident enough in your abilities to pursue what you truly want to do.”
I smiled at him amidst the crowd and balled my fists in my lap.
Thank you as well, for being my reprieve and for believing in me. I’ll give my best these next few years and see where they will take me.
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