Maybe one day, she thought, I’ll grow up to be forty years old. She sat, crisscrossed, on paper blue bed sheets, brow-furrowed and looking at her palms. White, cartoon-daisies covered her pillowcases and the cushions were stuffed between the wall and her mattress. She sat, still in thought. Her spine curved beneath her cotton training-bra, stained from wearing it every day, and her soft belly hung over ill-fitting undies.
Her cheeks were pink and her lips were plump from crying. She thought she looked the prettiest when she cried. The TV in the corner of her bedroom flashed in intervals, and it was left on mute. The sun finally started to dim. Her favorite part of the day was late afternoon when everything was softer when the sun looked like it had white gauze hung in front of it.
Her mom and dad were in the hallway outside her bedroom door. When your parents yell, it doesn’t matter what they actually say, it’s the feeling the words leave behind that is what stays hot.
Your birthday makes you feel like the only person on the planet. Even though there are plenty of other people that were born on the same day, the anniversary strips you and puts you under a microscope. It was her twelfth birthday when this feeling first arrived. The feeling of being stranded even when your parents are right outside your bedroom door.
She counted minutes between breaths. This is the first time she realized that time goes by quickly, quicker than whatever feels comfortable.
Maybe one day, she thought, I’ll make it to thirty and I’ll have a family, and they’ll love me like they need me. She sat, ankles together, on the bus to a high school a half an hour away. The sun struggled to come up that morning, she could tell by the way the fog laid low on the street. January is the longest month, at least that’s what everyone says. And three o’clock in the morning is the longest hour, everyone knows it, but three o’clock was three hours ago and it ended, she got past it, so that must mean something.
She pressed her cheek against the cold bus window, letting her breath form storm clouds against the glass. It was her sixteenth birthday, and she hoped that this year would feel more like a city than a deserted island.
This was the second time she felt it. Felt how time runs at a pace that isn’t decided by us. She knew that it would keep going, and going, and she would just have to quicken her stride.
Maybe, I hope, I’ll make it to twenty-one, and I can sit in a cafe, far away from here, and drink wine like it’s medicine. She sat on her bed, her sheets white instead of blue, applying to places far away from that moment. In college, I’ll find my place, and my birthday will feel like a cottage instead of the island I know too well. It was her seventeenth birthday, which only felt like a Tuesday, and she researched universities like she was looking for treatment centers. She figured, the farther she went, the less alone she would feel.
She couldn’t help but think about the first time she realized that time worked against her. She tried to push the thought away until she felt out of breath, but finally, she gave in. She could not do anything but remember herself, alone in a room a lot like the one she was in now, looking at life like a countdown for the first time.
Maybe, I’ll make it to tomorrow, and it’ll be more of an exhale than the start of a new chapter. It was her twentieth birthday, and she didn’t want to search for her house in the woods anymore, and she didn’t want to leave time’s island. She didn’t want to have a ship sail by and save her, and she didn’t care that one day it would all be over. It was her twentieth birthday, and all she wanted, more than anything, was for time to stop ticking so incessantly, so loudly that she could hardly hear herself think. It could run as fast as it wanted, as long as it gave her space to breathe.
Time could make her feel as helpless as it wanted, as long as it let her get to tomorrow morning.