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Jackie Walling


I close the laptop for the night reluctant, but knowing my brain is roasted and curl up next to my cats. They gave up on me and went to bed. My friends ask me if I’ll take a break after I finish this infamous paper. I tell them I don’t know how to take a break because it’s true. They say it’s the bane of our friendship. It’s a joke, but it’s not.

My dad tells me his desk is set up next to the table at home. He eats breakfast and then commutes to work by turning his chair to the left. I get it from him.

I allow myself to catch up with a friend from home. He tells me it must come from the horse industry and if I keep it up, I’ll die at 29. Learn some yoga and chill the fuck out. With that timeline, I’ve only got two years left to get everything done and I’m still deciding what “everything” means. When I part my hair off center I wonder if he’s right. I have two gray hairs poking up from my scalp.

I’ve always struggled to “people.” I used to hide behind a life of horses, trusting them more than humans. But I don’t have that right now so I walk around exposed—you know, bed to desk, desk to bed, mad dash to the grocery store—trying to hide behind work, whether it’s essential or not, but laptops are way smaller than horses and I keep getting hit by things. My friend tells me these things are “feelings” and “emotions.” I’m informed that I am human. It’s okay to take a break, that I should take a break. A professor suggests I take a break. Perhaps that’s a sign.

I worry my cats might jump the fence, but I let them outside anyway. One rolls in the sun, the other hunts ants. Why have I kept them in so long, sheltered from my fears? I’m the bane of my own existence, and theirs.

My friend from afar lets me rant about everything I’m not getting done, the one that tells me I have two years left. A dance partner reminds me what it’s like to laugh harder and longer than I have in a while, only ceasing practice after four hours. I think that’s fair, I’m likely to drop dead too, but I won’t admit it. I want to hold a grudge because it’s easier to block someone out than experience the pain of mending a broken friendship, but both of us need it. I’m packing to move in with the group of close friends who prod me about my paper, my fourth move in three years, but the first time I’ll actually know who I’m living with. One of them calls to check on me because she’s worried. It’s one of the first times I break down in front of her and admit I’m overwhelmed. She says it’s okay, I’m not alone, they’re going to take care of me—and I believe her.

The world may feel like it’s ending, but it’s what I needed to finally start living.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020