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In This Darkness

This submission entails the fear of growing up. Addressing the 2023 Winter Writing and Art competition, In This Darkness, observe a college student's first night away from home and the consequent isolation of doing so. The truth of adulthood presents itself in various forms; newfound independence, freedom, as well as the unexplainable loneliness many people face in the new world. By addressing this fear, the story captures a brief example of what it means to be an adult - how scary it is to leave home, knowing your childhood is far behind you.


It was getting dark when I realized I had nowhere to go. Within the Midwestern darkness, I walked along the wet sidewalk. It was the last day of August, and it was killing me. The hours had whittled down until Autumn seeped into the stale-beer air, the sound of children echoing into a lovely little memory. The end of summer comes the birth of a new season, and with that, the arrival of strange darkness- the kind that lingers after 6 o’clock, only to leave half a year later with the coming of a new Spring.

I promise you; I’m not morbid. I really don’t like the dark. Or the rain. Or empty university towns, or the loneliness that links to turning 18 and being on your own.

With a shaky hand, I wiped my face; it was raining, and everything I ever loved was in my family home, 283 miles away. I was wet, and August was over. And my mother never called.

I felt heavy, walking along the street, shop lights flickering in the forthcoming night. Perhaps it was the corduroy jacket my mother made me bring or the weight of 17 perfect years, perfect report cards, extracurriculars, and a full ride to the University of Chicago. I don’t mean to brag; I mean, college is college. It really is a place full of homesick young people... the ones that disappear into college bars or their own dispositions.

I was walking when it began to rain, dark water pouring into my sticky, unwashed hair. I couldn’t bring myself to shower properly because the dormitory bathroom was always crowded, filled with mouths that never stopped talking, moving, brushing their teeth, or sharing unasked information. The rain made me feel clean. My shoes hit the pavement, water spraying with every step.

Someone leaned against a street light and said, “Let’s get going. We got class at 8.”

“What possessed us,” a girl mentioned. “Signing up for sociology that early in the morning. God, this place is gonna kill me.”

She said it, but she was smiling. I mean, she really, really, really was smiling - in the flickering darkness. I could see her teeth, guarded by two pink lips and a tan face. She said this place would kill her. Does the act of leaving home not kill us all?

Do we all die a little when we leave our lives in pursuit of better ones?

Is the fear of death the same as for growing up?

I wiped my face with the back of my sleeve. I promise you; I’m not depressing - usually - but something about the evening darkness stirred me. I wasn’t walking along the street; each step aligned with my conscience, my abandoned childhood, and the memories I feared giving up. I missed home, but I was afraid of forgetting it. Of walking into my bedroom in Detroit, only to realize that the bed was gone and those years covered in new paint.

It was getting late, must’ve been 9. All the young people strolling around on this Thursday, arms linked because they were all they had. Really, that’s how it is with young people. We hold onto whatever we can. That way, when a few watered-down years pass - high school, proms, summers - we get sick of each other and choose to leave. We decide to go without understanding the fear of being alone.

Walking quietly, I realized I could not remember the last time I held my mother’s hand. And with that, I wondered if I should call her, even though it would never be the same. The act of leaving cannot be reversed. A phone call will not erase the permanent mark of adulthood because leaving home means saying half a goodbye. More of a, see you later, but you’ll be different, and I’ll have changed.

I want to tell you that after walking on the street, I reached my dorm, said goodnight to my roommate, brushed my teeth, and journaled for some crap. I did no such thing. I smoked a cigarette.

She was lingering outside a 7/11. In the empty darkness, I could tell she was the sort of girl who never belonged, with her trembling cigarette radiating an orange hue painting her jaw. I saw her, and I remembered my father. Of him coming home from work, pulling out a lighter, saying he’ll be back in 10 minutes, appearing after 20, smelling horrible, smelling like the man I loved. And he would tell me about work. About getting an education someday, about doing better than he ever could have. I’d pinch my nose, and he’d tell me about his ‘university friends.’ Then he would cough. Mom would yell at him; I’d tell my father to quit smoking, but not in a way that showed how much I cared - my voice would go shrill, and I’d say to him, dad, I’m not going to take care of you when you’re old and dying…

I was never scared of death, but I’ve always been afraid of saying goodbye… not to him, or my mother, or that old house, or the bedroom I’ve loved... but the warm grasp of dad’s smoky breath, summer in our old neighborhood, when I was young enough not to appreciate the things I loved and get away with it too.

The girl on the street said nothing as I joined her. I guess that was fine; I mean, I had no reason to intrude. But then she spoke.

“Are you lookin’ for something?”

She breathed out, and I breathed in. God, she smelled terrible; really, she did. Up close, her eyes glinted brown in the streetlights. I felt stupid standing there, but I did not move.

“No. Just hanging out.”

“Hanging out…” she smiled to himself, taking another drag.

The world fell quiet.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Have a nice night.”

“I was about to ask you about that college stuff,” she said, sounding younger than I was. That cigarette stayed at her side, its amber afterglow lighting the dark brick wall. “You know, if you were with that group over there, those academics and all.”

For no reason at all, I laughed. “That’s what everyone wants to talk about nowadays. Especially here,” I leaned against the wall. “I swear if someone asks about my major one more time….”

“I get it,” she said. “What’re you minoring in then?”

And I laughed again.

“It must be nice,” she exhaled, smoke billowing around us. “With classes starting up and all. This time of year’s fun, isn’t it?”

“It should be,” I stared at the ground.

“Is it not?”

“I mean,” I huffed. “I’m not complaining, sure, this place is great. The people are nice, and the dorms don’t have rats - but it’s bittersweet, you know? I’m not from here. It’s silly, but I miss the way things were.”

“So you’re homesick,” she said. “Most of us are.”

“I don’t know if it’s that,” I mentioned as I shuffled my feet, trying to explain the shaky feeling inside my chest, sliding underneath my ribs and into my throat. It was the same feeling I had in my guidance counselor’s office, talking about the future and the possibilities beyond college. I felt it when my parents stood in the dormitory doorframe, looking so small and fragile within the gateway to the real world. They said, see you later, and that was that. Sitting on that twin-sized mattress, I felt scared, staring at the printed pictures on the wall. I missed my parents and my friends and my silly little life. Of the faded memory of childhood, melting away into adolescence, into whatever the hell this was. More than that, I was afraid of letting it go, of letting it turn into 4 years at college, a corporate job, the lingering precipice of life on my own with no hand to hold onto.

I explained it to her messily, and by the end of those four minutes, she was standing closer to me.

“Detroit’s not that far,” she mentioned. “You can visit. I’m sure your friends will too. And let me tell you, you’ll meet so many new people. I promise you. This place is great for that.”

“It’s not that,” I told her as she handed me a rolled cigarette. “It’s about visiting home and realizing I don’t remember all the details. Home won’t be the same.”

She lit my cigarette, and for a moment, it seemed she was thinking really hard. “So you’re afraid of letting go?”

I smiled a bit sadly.

“And you’re afraid of growing up.”

She took a drag, and I did the same. Coughing up, she said something, but I did not hear her.

“It sucks, kinda,” I said. “Look at them all. It’s like there’s nothing to be scared of, and nothing has changed. Like our parents are going to pick us all up when it’s over.”

She laughed, and that was that. She smoked a little more, as did I, and by the time her cigarette snubbed out, a short lifetime had passed. Blackness was sweltering around us, and as the final flicker of the dart died beneath my heel, what took the shape of an awkward silence. Until she spoke.

"So, I’m Abby… and I miss home.”

I turned to look at her; in the evening darkness, her straw-colored hair blended into the brick wall. She was smiling softly, and the moment was nice- the way she leaned against the mortar, faint store lights against her silhouette. Despite the dark nightscape, I could make out the expression on her face; it looked a lot like myself in a dormitory mirror, thinking of home and my childhood.

“And I’m Reva,” I returned. She went to pull out another cigarette, but I stopped her, saying, “It’s not good for you. It really isn’t." Abby looked at the ground, smiling, fidgeting with that lighter. The flame lit the darkness, its warmth settling between us. “It’s the first night of college, and we’re lingering in a dark alley.”

“Then let’s get out of here,” I said, and I meant it. “Are you hungry?”

We stood around for a few moments, and then, she tucked the lighter into a pocket. Abby began talking about this Italian place down the street, how she dined there with her mother this morning, and how spaghetti is not a good meal for brunch. I begged to differ, and we talked about that. We disappeared into the Midwestern darkness, talking about our parents, memories, and the classes we had tomorrow.

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