These Things Don’t Help

Airports are so anonymous. People crisscrossing everywhere from all over the globe in this one miniature city in this sprawling campus. Somewhere among this mill of ants are the hundred or so people you’ll spend eight— ten— twelve hours of your life with, but for now they’re grabbing an eighteen dollar burger at the burger stand or pursuing the book spines at Hudson News.

My sister sits next to me, and her knee pumps up and down beside my own. Every third pump her jeans swoosh against mine. I put my hand on her knee after five minutes of this and try to hold her steady. I can feel the tension in her muscles, a trembling friction against my hand.

We sit near the gate, alone. Our fellow passengers are munching their burgers or buying their books somewhere deep in the midsection of this beastly airport.

I can feel the dread roll off my sister like a cloud of scent.

“I don’t want to go back,” she whispers, too stoic to scream and shout.

“You’ll be all right.” I squeeze her knee. “Just get through this one semester, and it’ll get better I promise.” But I can’t bring myself to look at her profile, which will be as stony as the pharaohs’. A mask to hide the stain of homesickness.

I take a deep breath, as my body remembers that same emotion. “You want some coffee?”

Rigid profile. Silence.

“I’ll get us some coffee.”

The shop is deserted. The barista is a humorless blur. I order us both something with lots of sweetness and cream, and as I stand staring at the chalkboard menu, the memories overwhelm me. The tightness in my chest— the heaviness in all my limbs— the perpetual rain-fog coating each day as I forced myself to class. It’s a gauntlet no one can explain to you.

I feel sadistic for being the one to put her through this.

“That’s $12.75,” says the humorless barista with a frown and cold eyes.

I snap from my reminiscence. “What—? Oh.”

Two coffees with sweetness and cream. How many times are our bandages inadequate? 

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