The harsh fluorescent lights lit the cafeteria, glaring off the linoleum tile floor. I shuffled slowly, taking my place in line, the repulsively familiar aroma of mystery meat and poorly cooked vegetables permeating the room.
The line moved too quickly, speeding up the inevitable.
I avoided the hot food side and grabbed a sandwich, thankful an option existed given the stench.
Plate in hand I walked, no longer hunched over, eyes downcast and hiding like the year before. My gaze was determined, challenging anyone who dared interfere with my goal. I passed rows of the classic lunch room tables: dark brown benched ones that folded in half for storage, eight people to each side.
I reached the far corner and sat at the very end of the last table.
It was my spot, and had been for over a year.
A quick glance to the opposite end showed me the same story as every school day before.
Laughter. Whispers. Looks.
As the months sped by, the ones directed at me became fewer, as my stoic reaction no longer gave Them the thrill of drawing fresh blood.
I no longer cared…. much.
The third girl blatantly ignoring me was my secret friend. It was an unspoken rule between us: I didn’t exist when They were around, and as a reward we could hang out when the other two were busy.
The rest of the time I was alone.
As I slowly bit into the unappetizing sandwich, I counted down the minutes to escape: every lunch and recess I was a prisoner led to my weekday torture.
Everyone had someone, groups of friends formed years ago; everybody had their place.
Until last year, my place was with Them.
Then I was tossed overboard and found myself in the ocean. Floating. Lost. No one to ask for help. No one close to pull me out – all others busy with their own previously formed clique of friends.
At first, I swam with all my strength, in denial over my fate, fighting to prove I was worthy.
Then an epiphany.
I stopped and treaded water, realizing They were not worthy of Me.
I found myself alone, no life raft around. No safe haven.
But beneath me, under the waves, was a world to explore – one I had visited when little and abandoned as I grew up.
I ceased the fight to stay afloat and sank far beneath the surface.
As I drifted down, my legs transformed into a tail as the orange walls became a castle on the ocean floor. The greasy stench evaporated as I discovered the sweet scent of the brilliant coral reef before me.
I forgot the other world, full of backstabbing cruelty and isolation, as I flicked my fin and swam toward the castle.
In this world, I was never lonely.
This was where I would live during my future lunches, bus rides, and recesses – giving life to a dormant part of me: My Imagination.
They had unknowingly gifted me with the seed of a future dream: to be a writer.
The Red Dress Club: This week’s assignment is to write a short piece, either fiction or non-fiction, about something ugly – and find the beauty in it.
Word limit is 600.
This (nonfiction) story takes place about a year after Rising from the Ashes to be a Better Person, the post I did for the first remembeRED “Gift of 5 Minutes” prompt.
As always, I greatly appreciate constructive criticism – I want to improve and continue my dream.