The Physics of Long Sleeve Shirts

I have been trying to figure out how to describe what happened to me freshmen year for a while now. But when there’s something you never planned on telling anyone, let alone write down and publish in a magazine, you never take the time to piece everything together and put it in order. It’s just a blur of stuff. Sticky, messy, tangled stuff. I happened to shove all this stuff under my bed along with my middle school band shirts and teenage dystopian novels. But it’s time to let it breathe.
I was shit at physics. Pardon my French. When my teacher spoke, explaining the way a vector and a force were related through an apparently simple mathematic equation, I just head that muffled trumpet noise Charlie Brown’s teacher used to make. I have never struggled so hard to understand a simple concept than during that one class. Every night, I would sit down with my textbook, my tutor, and my latest test, a 60 scrawled messily on top. And I would absolutely hate myself.
It didn’t help that my school wasn’t the most welcoming place freshman year. I’m naturally quiet in class, and a god-awful public speaker–public meaning any more than six people–but in middle school that didn’t matter. Here, being quiet meant being a loser, a bitch, an idiot, or something in between. I still remember my first day of school, a boy who will be unnamed (you lucky bastard) asked our English teacher if he could switch partners to be with someone more on his “level” of creativity. How did he know after 20 minutes that I wasn’t on his “level”? My guess is as good as yours. But I absolutely hated myself. I hated that I was quiet and I hated that I never stood up to him and I hated that he will probably forget ever saying the phrase that caused me to cry in a bathroom stall during lunch.

But mostly, I hated that I couldn’t find the velocity of a ball falling from a 30 foot building on Mars.

I really don’t know how to explain anything from this point, but I’ll try my best. I guess I just wanted control. I wanted to think about anything, anything, other than school. The first time, I vowed never to do it again. The second, I told myself “just before big tests”. The third, I asked myself “how can this be bad? It’s working.” The fourth was a blur. The fifth was during class, with my nail, before having to do a speech.

Soon, I was walking around with stripes hidden under my long sleeve shirts.

I wish I could say that right away I realized I had a problem, that I got help from the people I trusted, that I hid anything sharp from my room–I wish I could say I did what I should have done. After a while, I did seek out a friend. And she was my rock. She kept my head on straight. She stopped me from justifying, ignoring, and avoiding myself. But after the twenty-fifth time, I wasn’t thinking about what I should do. I was thinking about what I had to do. I will never forget that moment–the moment where my choice turned into an obligation.

It took a simple date with a too-nice-to-make-a-move boy before everything stopped.

The date wasn’t especially extraordinary. I didn’t stop because I fell in love or realized there was someone special out there for me–none of that nonsense. I watched a movie with a boy who was too scared to hold my hand, then went home and told my mom all about it. But it was that night that I took everything sharp from my room and threw it away. I remember telling myself, “don’t regret it, and just move on”. I’ve heard so many terms for what I went through: the technical term, the slang term, the rude term, and the I-don’t-want-to-offend-anyone term. But whatever it was, I learned who I was and I learned who will always be there for me and who won’t. For that, I will never regret a single moment.
In the end, the stripes come from perspective. When you’re stuck in your own skin, when you can’t escape your own thoughts and judgments, you just sink in deeper. You become numb. Nothing feels real anymore, and nothing matters. It’s that first: the first date, the first kiss, the first friend you can call your “best friend”, that make being stuck inside yourself seem…silly. It’s what makes you stay up all night texting a boy about alternative endings to the terrible movie you just saw. It’s a whole new stripe. A stripe you would never hide with sleeves.

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