You walk across an expanse of tired cement at midday. Your feet ache at the peak of their arches, and you find shade only in pixilated spots from faraway, overhanging leaves. The time is uncertain. There, above you, the liquid sun lolls past a blurry zenith. In the bag over your shoulder is a folder of inked pages, a battered paperback, and a granola bar. You’re pushing against the vapor of sleep. You seek a kind of rest that mimics the feeling of reading that poem in your bedroom last night, the one that made you stare at a wall for fifteen minutes. Was it shock? No, something more like a discovery of solid truth, an event that has only happened three or four times in your brief life. When you turned out the light after closing the book, its last words bounced from one corner of your skull to another. The echo was dimly there when you woke and walked down a carpeted hallway.
Look. Over there is a sweaty park where the grass curls over itself and treetops weave together. A timid wrought iron fence surrounds it, but it only hits the middle of your knee cap. As you fling your leg over, entering the place of pause, two squirrels bound in straight lines away from you at a 90-degree angle. Here you tumble to your knees, bruising and folding countless blades, and you find a cloud of gnats that begins to call you its sun.
Gnats are foreign where you come from. There, juniper-covered mountains block all blue Pacific exhales. Inside the cloud, the spaces between each buzzing point seem enormous, cacophonous, cathedral-like. Some kind of solid block is being built around your head that wobbles on your limp neck. The gnats try to help you understand the importance of gaps. You have been learning about gaps all week.
Remember when life seemed as straight as the squirrels’ paths? You were in third grade when driving fast enough would get you to high school, college campus, your own dog, “Dr.” and death. All of those things were gnats pummeling into your forehead. Living was a series of points logically connected.
Here, though, in Iowa, beside 65 people with the same things in their shoulder bags, you are off the map. In some kind of timeline elevator. Wherever real life isn’t. Three days ago your heart broke after a poem about a suburban lawn by a blonde girl from Long Island. Yesterday you ate falafel on a searing, black metal bench with people who all had poems to write. Today your teacher, Margaret, showed you how cranberries could be described with: “Could there not be a sudden date, could there not be in the present settlement of old age pensions, could there not be by a witness, could there be.” Somehow your class understood. Somehow, you’re living in the gaps, where linear living splits open for a small, sacred while.
Later, though, you will be home on some anonymous couch, wishing that gap of Iowa City could be what you know as the everyday. You will feel a magnetic pull towards any coffee shop but will deflate when it lacks a layer of pens running on journal lines. You will rise from a crumpled bed with aching muscles. Mysteriously, you will search for nights of bad karaoke and places to dance in vaguely Amish dress. You will try to find Gorky Park. You will want someone like Margaret to tell you that what we need is to accept what we don’t understand, and you will reach out your hands as far as they’ll go just to find these people who make the future right in front of you, this now.
You will want more of all of this.
You’re holding a book above your head in the park, blocking the sun that spews past tanned pages. You’re falling asleep. Now you’re waking up, blurry, and here comes your friend Rachel flinging her legs over the fence, walking towards you. You sit up. You open your eyes.
–Elena Saavedra Buckley
Elena Saavedra Buckley is a rising senior at Sandia Preparatory School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She attended Session 2 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.