Index…Middle…Ring…Pinky. You’re pinching the tips of your fingers. It’s like a subconscious trigger warning. You feel your fight or flight response creeping in— your cue to prepare yourself for the moment when it’s only you and them.
You pick a seat in the middle of the class so you have a good view of what is going on around you. You’re regretting it. You have no fucking way out, no escape route. No way of making a quick exit. You’re trapped. The pit of your stomach is swelling with anxiety.
Pinky…Ring…Middle…Index. You’re pinching your fingertips harder now. The door opens and you look up with hope. You see straight light brown hair. Your brown eyes lock with their hazel ones. You look down as your hope fades…because it’s still only you. You mindlessly look at your phone to distract yourself. It doesn’t work.
Index…Index…Thumb…Thumb…Thumb. You start remembering how you spent so much time worrying about the professor and forgot all about the students. You researched your classes and who was teaching them because you refused to sit in another class where the professor gets away with spewing out the n-word like it’s a free gift for everyone. Then trying to justify it for the sake of the author’s intention. Or whatever other excuse they use. Despite the fact we all know what the fuck the author intended. Why didn’t you think about this before? Why didn’t you mentally prepare to be the only one here?
The door opens…shuts, still only you. You really think you’re safe in a sea of faces that look nothing like yours?
Middle……Middle…… Middle……door opens…You’re pinching slowly now. You look up quickly…nope…shut. You make eye contact with someone across the room and wonder if they’re thinking the same thing as you. You wonder if they see that one of these things—you—is not like the others—them.
The door opens again…and shuts…nope…Ring…Pinky…Ring…Pinky. The tickle in your throat turns into a lump. It’s still only you. This is when the anger sets in. The disbelief that it can’t just be you…right?
You tried to find safety only to end up alone. Only to still feel unsafe. Open…Open…Open…shut…still only you. The tips of your fingers are sore now. The seats fill, but the emptiness of the room weighs heavy on your mind.
Open……shut. Something pulls you to look up one last time. Thumb…Thumb…Thumb. And fin-a-fucking-lly!!! Someone walks in, and you lock eyes. This time you’re holding each other's gaze. Your throat starts to clear as your environment slowly begins to feel safer. You’ve become part of a pair even if you are strangers.
Relief washes over you as they sit one chair away. The relief you feel is small, because you’re still outnumbered. You’re still the minority. It’s only you two.
This article originally appeared in Volume 43, Issue 13, published March 7, 2023.