Clench

by Jo Cunningham
Clench

“He carries urgent reminders that are easily forgotten. Notes to self that are underlined and circled and highlighted. During class he sits upright, brainstorming a highbrow comment to share while small-talking his peers with a pretense of confidence.”

He carries the illusion of being prepared in the form of neatly compiled notebooks and folders. His bloated backpack is a precautionary tale to himself. Extra pockets to hold his insecurities and other insignificant items. A book on philosophy and mathematics weighs down an already heavy load, acting as verification of his intelligence.

He carries urgent reminders that are easily forgotten. Notes to self that are underlined and circled and highlighted. During class he sits upright, brainstorming a highbrow comment to share while small-talking his peers with a pretense of confidence. He methodically wipes his thin brimmed glasses with microfiber eyeglass cleaner in his spare time. But these mundane activities can only distract him for so long.

Fiddling his fingers, he aches for a squeeze. He has self-diagnosed himself as being prone to boredom as well as having a bad case of ADHD. A disposable and newly acquired therapist has prescribed a stress ball for his “illness”. Hesitant of drawing unwanted attention to himself by squeezing the ball in the midst of class, he opts for subtly pressing his palms together under the desk. He holds eye contact with the teacher and his classmates as a sign of respect and attentiveness, but all he hears is the soft hollow noises created by his moist palms coming together. In between classes, he sits on the toilet elated and relieved to squeeze in private.

He starts off with soft squeezes affectionately looking at his red ball. Then it intensifies. His stubby nails deepen inside of the ball and his squeezing rate quickens. “Yes, yes, yes,” he thinks. The bell will ring soon, but for now, he is squeezing. He counts down from ten. Ten last squeezes and then he’ll go. In these moments of privacy, he is most content. When around others he is most alone.

The heaviest weight is the one felt perpetually. An inexplicable sense of inadequacy. He files his nails and cleans his glasses and makes sure his fly is zipped, but he feels a mess. At night when he can’t focus on the silence, he feels parts of himself itch unexplainably. He tears away at his skin wishing the sensation would subside, only to wake up to a wounded body.

 

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