“Three Buzzes” by Nicole Zuleger

   She looks down at her phone as it buzzes three times to signal a message. It’s her boyfriend. Again. She shouldn’t be annoyed like she is, but she’s getting sick of the constant hounding from him and the rest of the world. She wants nothing more than to lie down and sleep and ignore every paper that must be written and club that begs for help and friend that demands attention. Reluctantly she unlocks her phone and stares at the message.

Hey, how are you?

   She sighs at the unoriginality of the text and how this is slowly becoming a waste of her valuable energy. Hey, how are you? How was she? Did he actually want to know? Did he want to know that she was an inch away from screaming her lungs out? That she was a second away from throwing herself onto the floor and kicking and screaming like a young child throwing a temper tantrum? That she hadn’t slept for the past week due to a mixture of school, family, and friends? She hasn’t eaten all day or had a moment to herself. She’s a week behind in reading for Sociology and has not even touched the equations she must balance into perfection for Chemistry. Three more buzzes. Another message, this time from her mother.

You haven’t called in awhile. Still remember us back at home?

   Of course she remembers you. Every time she has to make a decision about her life she turns to ask you and then remembers that she no longer needs opinions and permissions from you. But then she remembers something else:

   “Mommy?”

   “What’s wrong, Liz?”

   “I’m scared.”

   “Scared of what?”

   “I had a bad dream. I was drowning again,” she whispers, and before she can say anything else, comforting arms are hugging her and warm blankets are wrapped around her. A hand is smoothing her hair and her ears pick up on her favorite lullaby being hummed. She closes her eyes, the fear from the nightmare fading away.

   “I’m right here, Liz, everything will be alright.”

   But everything isn’t alright. Everything is falling apart around her. College is too much. Nothing is going right. And she feels like she is drowning all over again. She knows her mother doesn’t want to hear that, so she doesn’t call. It would hurt too much. She will call once the world stops crashing in.

You seem off. Is everything alright?

   She was so absorbed with her thoughts she didn’t even notice the three buzzes revealing a new message from a semi-concerned friend. Of course, the friend doesn’t care enough to come find her and ask in person. The friend is either too afraid of getting an honest answer or too busy to actually give a damn about what is going on in someone else’s life. She doesn’t want to add to the friend’s stress. Everyone is stressed. So she doesn’t answer. But why would someone ask a question like that if they didn’t really want an answer? Don’t they want to know that she is close to tears? That she is avoiding everyone so no one can add to her already-too-much work or throw their drama into her personal soap opera. Three more buzzes, another friend wanting something from her.

I have to go to the store? Wanna come?

   She glares down at the phone, as if her expression will reach the friend who never has any responsibilities and is always free. Maybe she should change her major to the same as her friend’s. At least then she’d manage to get sleep instead of staying up until mere hours before dawn so that she doesn’t fail out of college. She doesn’t even really want to take her major classes anymore. The little girl who dreamed of saving animals for the rest of her life has long ago faded away and now she clings to that memory of a dream merely out of lack of knowing what else she could possibly do with her life. As she stares down at her friend’s text, she wonders what it’d be like to have such a simple major and breeze through classes. Another three buzzes. She is very close to throwing the damn phone out the window. Why must everyone text her at once when all she wants is to be alone or to not have actual human interaction.

I’m having a bad day, can we talk?

   Not this again. This friend has kept her up late at night while she should be studying, sobbing over boys and drama that only exists in the friend’s head. She doesn’t want to talk to her friend. She doesn’t want to listen to the friend’s issues. She wants to talk about her own! About this feeling of not being able to breathe and how she feels like she’s in a glass tank that just keeps filling up with water and no matter how much she tries to scream she cannot find her voice. There is too much going on and not enough support and she can’t do this anymore. She’s going to explode. She’s not even joking at this point when she considers running into the woods and hiding away so no one can ever find her again. She wants to leave and never come back. She wants to disappear forever and make it all stop. She…

Are you there? Are you sure you’re alright? I’m worried…

   It’s her boyfriend again. He didn’t even wait for a response, and now he’s bothering her again. He demands her time. Professors demand her time. Friends demand her time. Clubs demand her time. Family demands her time. She doesn’t have any more time to give! She can’t be everywhere at once and talk to everyone at once and help with everything at once. She’s sick of all these people piling on and on and never helping her or actually seeing if she’s okay. They are always hiding behind their technology. She starts to type back a message for the sake of getting him to leave her alone. As she pauses to choose the words that will mask her true annoyance, a voice other than her own interrupts her thoughts.

   “Elizabeth? You missed dinner, so I came looking for you,” a quiet voice says and she looks up to see her best friend standing in front of her.

   “I missed dinner?” she echoes, looking at the time on her phone and shaking her head. How had she managed to sit here and waste time for so long? “I’m sorry, I lost track of time and I’ve just been so busy and…”

   “Elizabeth, relax, I know you’re stressed.” Her friend smiles and takes a seat next to her in the mostly abandoned library. No one else is here on a Friday night. They are all out partying and having fun. They don’t have the worries of families and friends and stress and school piling up and suffocating them.

   “I brought you a sandwich,” her friend says, reaching into her bag. Elizabeth smiles sadly, tears falling down her cheeks. In the middle of the world crashing down, someone is concerned about whether she has eaten dinner or not. Someone sought her out and actually made sure she was okay. Not just with a text—with actual human contact. For a moment at least, the world stops crashing.

Posted on May 2, 2014, in Short Stories Spring 2014 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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