Our world is one ruled by numbers and percentages and letter grades, and we know it is through this that we are defined in one dimension, the one that will get us into college, push us through the professional world, make our lives easy and good. We memorize this, are indoctrinated into believing it, and, worst of all, it works.
But no one can live in one dimension. We try to press our hearts into scantrons and essays, but the majority of the heart, the better majority, does not fit on test papers. So where does it all go? Or rather, where can we let it go? Because even outside grades, this is a world of competition, in extracurriculars, volunteer hours, awards, and clubs. We must invest in clothing, social media, the perfect tousle of hair; we need to be better. And to do so, it is necessary that we do not trust unrequitedly, for we have been told again and again that unconditional trust is the way to ruin and heartbreak.
We need to be better. And the easiest way to reach the height of better is to throw someone underneath your feet. We know this. We know, worst of all, it works. It is with this knowledge that the teenager constructs his or her first deception, a layer of frost which conceals the eyes and webs the mouth, until the human is so sealed that nothing can harm the soul further. Every word spoken is barbed in ice, cunning and sharp. Others feed off it. They admire the sharpness, the beauty of the dry insult, the unyielding and frigid confidence. They imitate it, like how ice molds around the brambles of an evergreen, smooth and glassy.
And frost layers upon frost as we adapt into the forms that best guarantee immediate social acceptance without the risk of true rejection. We protect ourselves as individuals. We can no longer touch the hearts of others, only lay a hand against the thick walls of ice until our flesh burns with cold.
So where does it all go? Into throwing and hurling and tossing more than trampling. “To be better” is trumped by “To degrade others and, on occasion, myself.” It is the easiest to critique frozen passion, the loves, clubs, and hobbies taken up to fill the blank spots on college applications. It is the easiest to critique the first clumsy layers of frost, the player out of step, the tremulous forgery. Being cynical is to be respected more than loved. But it is the safest way. We know this. (Worst of all, it works.)
Now we find unbridled passion suspicious because it is easy to fake for repute, but we find it terrifying if it seems genuine, because attitudes are so easy to manufacture that we do not know how to deal with authenticity anymore without feeling horribly uncomfortable.
And I don’t know how to feel about this. I think the right emotion is sad, but I might lean closer to nothing. A chilly, gaping chasm where frustration and outrage might have lived once. That’s the wrong answer. I know it.
But sometimes, and these are very short times when I hang in between dreams and wakefulness, I must clench my eyes and stretch my toes, and I want. I want to be better, the best, and I want to succeed, and I want to love and be loved in return. But I also want to help people, even though I'm a small heart in a big world and everyone around me seems to be shielded in ice. And I wonder if I can’t have all these things, just because the world is not able to bend itself that way.
But perhaps that is the reason why, because people spend so much time being what they are not, the only time they can simply be is at a place where hardly anything can be known for certain. Because it’s safe, in that if someone does hurt you, at least no one will see you cry.
So I can be sure that oases exist, and the kids around me are good people who have simply gone cold. Except I don’t think the cure is heat.
Someday, I think I’ll take those close to me in a place where we can sit in the sunlight together and talk a little, maybe. It’ll be safe. And someday, when we all shiver away our outer shells, that’s where it will all go. The heart, I mean.
And it might not be now, since we send half ourselves into a dimension of numbers to compare and sigh and shake our heads, because what would we have if we couldn’t ascertain a position in some sort of hierarchy for ourselves? Here we can cling to the hope that what we are doing has worth, that it won’t result in a home in the cold and nothing. But if I can’t believe in the certainty of a brighter (and happier and better) future, I might as well let my whole soul freeze over.