My Experience Of Living On My Own, Far From Home

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Leaving home two years ago was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m in my second year of university now, studying law at Trent University in Peterborough. Though the city of Guelph had been my home for seventeen years, a city which is three hours away from my new home, it feels like I’ve lived in Peterborough my entire life. I am currently standing at the edge of the Otonabee river on one of the many hiking trails on campus. The brisk morning air whistles through the leaves of the towering trees around me, the smell of sap from the maple trees sweet and strong. I look out over the river, breathing in the cool air, listening to the rustling trees and the sounds of students canoeing in the distance. The clear water dances in the morning sun. My shoes in my left hand, I step forward into the icy water, but the cold doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s always cold here – at least it is during the school year. The snow melted recently and the ground is still frozen. After a few icy moments, I step back from the water and walk to a nearby rock on the edge of the river, sitting down and crossing my legs. I place my shoes beside me and look out over the river.

Today was my last exam day, so now I’m just enjoying the river one last time before going home to the city for the next four months. After soaking up the beauty of the river and the trees for a few minutes, I slip my shoes back on and begin the short hike back to my res to finish packing my bags. Walking into the apartment that I had called home for the last year, I make my way into my room, which I share with a girl named Gemma. She and I have known each other since the second grade and I am always grateful for her constant presence in my life. After the eleventh grade, she was practically the only person I trusted. From the beginning of elementary school Gemma’s had an extreme interest in English. In fourth grade, she decided she wanted to be a high school English teacher by day and published and well-known author by night. She’s the only thing that’s remained consistent in my life since we met. As of today, she has published countless poems, a few short stories and is even working with an editor on a possible full length novel. She’s not even twenty yet.

When I enter our quaint room, I see Gemma sitting on her bed, staring intently at a Shakespeare play, silently talking to herself as her eyes dance back and forth across the pages. I wave at her and she looks up, blinking twice, looking like she was seeing light for the first time. I smile sideways at her as I grab the last of my belongings and shove them into the duffle on my bed. “You look like you haven’t moved in hours.” I say to her, focusing on folding the last few pairs of jeans I have on my bed. “I haven’t” I shift sideways so that I can see her but also continue packing. She moves to sit on the edge of her bed so that her feet dangle off the side. She rubs her eyes. “Have you ever tried to analyze Julius Caesar? It’s so dumb. Like really, I want to be a high school teacher. Why must I study Caesar? We didn’t study it in high school so am I ever going to need it again? I better not need it ever again.” “You literally look like you’re ready to drop dead.” She lays down backwards, not caring that she’s lying on the playbook and her notes. “I am.” She begins to say something else, but the doorbell rings. “You expecting anyone?” I ask. She shakes her head, sitting up again. “Anyone else home?” Again, she shakes her head. I shrug and walk towards the door. What I see when I open the door surprises me to the point that I just slam the door again immediately. I turn around and briskly pace back to my room. Gemma is laying down again, her arm over her face.

She sits up once again, looking confused at my worry. “You remember,” I begin pacing back and forth. “Those two friends I used to have – Reece and Sylvester? The nerds that we’ve known since elementary school?” She nods slowly, still confused. “You mean your ex-boyfriend and your ex-best friend? Yes they do ring a bell.” Gemma was my closest friend after they became my exes. “They’re both standing right outside our front door!” I squeal. “What?” she jumps off the bed and runs to the hall, opening the door. They’re both still standing there, hands in their pockets. Reece’s eyes are wide, nervous. Sylvester’s are dark, tired. Both of them look quite winded, messy hair and red cheeks. Reece begins to say something, but Gemma holds up a finger. “Hold on.” she says, slamming the door in their faces again. “How are they even here? I thought they lived three hours away!” I shrug, still pacing. “What are you going to do?” I stare at her with wide eyes, shake my head in bewilderment and throw up my arms. I glance towards the window above our armchair. “We’re only three floors up. If I jump, think I can make a run for it?” She shrugs. “I don’t know, man, but please, try something else first. You’re supposed to pay a quarter of the rent of our shared apartment next year and you can’t do that if you’re dead.” She pats my left arm twice. “I wish you all the best, it was nice knowing you, and I’ll see you in the afterlife.” She pushes me towards the door and runs to our room. Guess that answers the question of what I’m going to do. I take a deep breath and open the door again.

Looking a little less winded, Reece is leaning against the wall opposite my door and Sylvester is standing to his right. They both look exactly like I remember. Reece’s dark hair, slicked to the side, is filled with blonde highlights, which honestly looks a little ridiculous against his dark skin. I guess no one has gotten through to him about that yet. His eyes are still wide and seemingly innocent, though when I knew him, I was the one of the few people who knew just how wrong that impression was. He’s still a small toothpick of a human, but at least now he seems to have a bit of muscle tone. Sylvester is practically the opposite of Reece. His skin is pale and covered with freckles. He’s tall and lean, with more muscle than Reece has. His hair is blond and soft, gelled slightly to keep his hair out of his eyes. His eyes are bright colours, a swirl of blue, green and hazel. Usually they’re illuminated and full of happiness, but today, they’re dark, tired, and he seems to be avoiding eye contact with me, though that doesn’t surprise me. It makes sense that he doesn’t want to be here. He’s never really enjoyed confrontation with his emotions.

This trip was definitely Reece’s idea. Every time we did something impulsive throughout our teenage years, you could always trace the source of our actions back to Reece. Despite the waves of joyous childhood memories threatening to knock me over, I fold my arms and glare between them. “Why are you here?” I ask, my glare as cold as ice. Neither of them say anything immediately. They look at each other then back to me. After a few moments, Reece speaks. “Because we miss our best friend.” Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I can hear the sound of a game show buzzer going off. “Wrong answer. Try again.” I say, not moving a muscle. I can’t believe the guts these guys have. I haven’t seen them for almost three years! There is a very good reason for that. People don’t just stop being best friends. No, no, that’s not what happened. “Can we please just talk?” Sylvester pleads. The buzzer stops going off. In its place, I hear a wave of memories.

The three of us playing with blocks in our grade two-three split classroom; Sylvester chasing Reese and I through the playground; Crying to our teachers whenever they tried to separate us; The hundreds of days spent at each other’s houses after school during the year that that Reece and Sylvester were in high school and I was still in elementary; Reece squealing as he tried to tell me how Sylvester felt about me; Sylvester showing up at my soccer game that night with a bouquet of roses waiting after we won our game, Reece recording the whole thing; Spending weeks living at each other’s houses when we got bored of our own; Reece jumping for joy as Sylvester asked me to homecoming; Years later, Sylvester and I on the bus, my legs resting across his, placing bets on who we thought Reece would take to his prom; Me, sitting in my basement, giving Reece a guide on how to ask a girl out, even though we were seventeen and eighteen years old; recording his promposal to the same girl and posting it everywhere, proud of my best friend; Sylvester buying me dinner because I had won the bet then asking me to prom then; and finally, blurs of the three of us laughing, talking, each just enjoying having each other in our lives and for a moment I almost crack. They were my best friends, my ride or dies, my brothers in arms. We did everything together. We never went more than twenty minutes without speaking to each other. It seemed impossible to us. I told them everything. I trusted them more than the Earth trusts the sun to keep it in orbit. I just didn’t know how badly out of orbit I would fall from losing my sun.

I sigh, staring between the two boys that I hadn’t seen in years “Fine,” I say. Their faces light up and Reece starts jumping around like a hyperactive poodle. “But I’m leaving within the hour.” He stops jumping and they both nod in agreement. I pause again, realizing something. “You know that I’m leaving for home in an hour, right?” Sylvester blinks a couple times, then turns to Reece, crossing his arms, coming to the same realization. They still live in Guelph, both of them less than three minutes away from my mom’s house. “Oh” Reece says. I shake my head, walking down the hall in front of them. I can hear Sylvester quietly chewing him out for not thinking ahead and wasting $60 on gas and six hours of their lives in driving. Guess Reece is still as impulsive as I remember. But that also means that Sylvester still just follows him around like a lost puppy. I lead them down to the same trail by the river where I had been standing a few minutes before. Sylvester looks around, amazed. “This place is beautiful. I get why you wanted to go here so much.” I hear him sigh. They’re both still trailing behind me. Without looking back, I shrug. “I didn’t come here just because it’s beautiful. The law program here is better than Guelph’s. and you two aren’t here. Honestly, I think that’s the best part.” Okay, I’ll admit that was petty, but I mean, they both kind of deserve it. “Okay, that’s fair, I’ll take that.” Reece says. “But We’re not here just so you can say horrible things about me and my best friend.” I roll my eyes until they hurt. “We’re here to tell you that you were wrong to leave us like you did.” I stop in my tracks and turn on my heel. He gulps and kicks the dirt, meeting my eyes only once. Sylvester sees my expression and recoils slightly, saying nothing.

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The wave of memories rushes forward in my head once again. This wave only held memories from my grade eleven year. It started when Reece met a new girl. He fell for this new girl, though Sylvester and I believed that she wasn’t as trustworthy as she could be. Nonetheless, he was our best friend, we would support him. I even helped him ask her to prom. But then she began starting arguments between our group. Reece constantly supported her in arguments with Sylvester and I. We had never fought before we met her. Ever. Then the randomly snide comments started; First she had been the only one making them, but then Reece started, then eventually, Sylvester. This girl had turned them against me, telling them lies about me or just snubbing me whenever we were all together. When I finally addressed the issue to Sylvester, he told me to grow up, that nothing was wrong and I was overreacting, as per usual. That being the last straw, I broke up with him. Then, upset and in need of my best friend, I cried to Reece, telling him what his girlfriend had done and what she had caused. Reece once again took her side, saying that she was making him pick between me or her and picking me wasn’t worth losing his girlfriend. So just like that, I had lost both of my best friends in one day, just because of some random girl who broke up with Reece two and a half weeks later – the day after their prom. They apologized profusely for weeks, but, as much as it hurt, I couldn’t see past what they had done to me. They finally gave up and Reece and Sylvester stayed friends, yet nothing went back to how it was. The only person I had left was Gemma, my only constant since that day.

So now, staring into the eyes of these people who used to be my best friends, who I would have died for in an instant, who I had spent more than half of my time on this planet with, I couldn’t help but think – wow. People really don’t change. I’m dumbstruck as Reece’s words replay in my head. “I’m not here just so you can say horrible things about me and my best friend. I’m here to tell you that you were wrong to leave us like you did.” “Me say horrible things about you? Did eleventh grade just not happen?” Reece’s face forms an expression that clearly depicts the emotion “uh oh.” His eyes are wide, cheeks pale and the corners of his mouth turned down slightly, his lips parted. Sylvester takes a step back and stares at the ground. He doesn’t dare interrupt me.“I needed you. And all you could say was that consoling me wasn’t worth losing your girlfriend?” I turn on Sylvester. “And you.” His eyes are wider than Reece’s as he brings them to meet mine. “Why would you even turn against me for her? She wasn’t your girlfriend! I was! We were supposed to be a team! There wasn’t anything in it for you! You got nothing out of turning against me! Less than nothing, actually. You lost something! I can’t believe the nerve that the two of you have! And really, ‘you were wrong to leave us’? That’s your apology? And you know what? I wasn’t wrong to leave you! My life did not need a boyfriend who treated me like a child or a best friend who loved his girlfriend of two weeks more than his best friend of ten years!

Honestly, do you ever even think before words come out of your mouth?” I wait for a reaction, but neither of them even dare to blink. I throw my arms up in exasperation, walking towards the edge of the river. In anger I stoop, picking up a large rock. I throw it as far as I can, clearing at least 50 feet before the rock lands in the water with a crash. I sit down on the same rock that I had been sitting on earlier that day. Reece walks up beside me as though he’s going to sit down. I shoot a glare at him and he stops. No one moves for at least two minutes. Finally, when my hands stop shaking, I try again, quieter. “How, after all these years, could you possibly think that this would just go away? That after everything you said, I could forget it happened and we would just drive off into the sunset together? Nothing has changed since that day. Nothing will ever change about that day, about what you did. You gave up your best friend of ten years for some fling. And you gave up your girlfriend of four years for someone you didn’t even know. And you think that’s something I could just move past? Once you crumple a piece of paper, it doesn’t lay flat ever again.” I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Sylvester kneels beside me. “Look,” He starts, strain in his voice. “I can’t make up for the lost years, or the horrible things I said to you, or the absolutely horrible way I treated you but I want my best friend back. I miss her.” I don’t look at him, though I can feel his gaze burning a hole into the side of my face. If he had said this to me even just last year, I probably would have melted like an ice cube in a hot tub. I would have broken down crying, forgiving him immediately.

But now, today, I couldn’t even imagine it. If someone treats you like you’re disposable once, why try again? They did it once, what’s to stop them from doing it again? They’re the same people they once were, I’m the same that I once was. If they were that bothered by me back then, what could have changed? Nothing. That’s what. When I’m calm, I stand, turning to face them. Sylvester stands with me and Reece still hasn’t moved. “Yeah well,” I say, shrugging and crossing my arms. “That ship has sailed. You can’t take back anything you said to me, or the way you treated me.” I look at Reese. “You can’t undo the fact that you failed as a best friend,” Then at Sylvester. “that you failed as a boyfriend,” Then between the both of them. “that you both left me when I needed you most. Syl, you and I dated for four and a half years and the three of us were best friends for ten years. Even after spending almost our entire lives together, you tossed me aside like a child tossing aside an old toy after he gets a new one. And if you could do that to me once you know as well as I do that people never change. I’m still the same me as I always was. I haven’t changed.” “But that’s thing,” Sylvester interrupts. “You have changed.” I glance up at his distressed expression briefly, then back out to the calm of the river. “I don’t remember a single time when you ever stood up for yourself. Our entire lives, you would just smile and nod like nothing ever bothered you. Now on the other hand you’ve never yelled at me. Not in the 13 years I’ve known you, not even in grade eleven.” I shake my head slowly, frustrated. “That doesn’t mean I have changed.” I begin to trek further along the trail, carefully considering my next words. I stop in the middle of a heavily forested area of the trail.

There are trees in all directions, no buildings in sight. The trees block the sun, the leaves block the wind. I find a fallen log in the middle of a particularly thick patch of trees and easily climb through the woods to sit on it. Reece and Sylvester loosely follow, struggling to keep up. Sylvester has no problem, but Reece trips over a few branches He never really was good at the whole “nature” thing. When they reach my makeshift chair, Reece grabs hold of a nearby tree to catch his breath and Sylvester sits, waiting for an explanation. “I haven’t changed,” I repeat, mostly just to Sylvester. “I’ve just learned.” He raises his eyebrow in a question. “I’m still the same me that you once knew, Syl. I have the same likes and dislikes, the same beliefs, the same ideas, thoughts, hopes, wishes. I have the same heart and brain, the same past, 6 the same experiences. The only difference is that I’ve adapted to a new situation. I’ve gained new experiences, added new thoughts and hopes, tweaked my ideas and wishes. I haven’t changed at all. I’ve just learned how to be a better me, how to be a better person.” I pause for a beat, staring at my hands, folded in my lap. I take a deep breath and look between the two of them. “People don’t change, guys.” Both of their face fall as they each connect the dots. I haven’t changed and neither have they. Reece knows it, Sylvester knows it, I even know it, and I haven’t seen them in three years. Reece has always been impulsive, he never thought about the implications of his words or actions.

Sylvester has always been quieter, more thoughtful, sensitive to my words. It’s why I never yelled at him. From what I’ve seen today, my point stands. They haven’t changed. Reece looks at me one last time, sadness in his eyes. He turns and begins his long trek back to his car. In the back of my mind, I wonder if he even knows how to get there or if it was just another impulsive decision. I watch him go, my stomach in a knotted mess. Sylvester, still beside me, sighs. “For what it’s worth, I am sorry.” I nod, trying not to look at him. I don’t want to risk it and break down into tears now. “At least I know for a fact that you’re still as strong and sure of yourself as you once were.” Now I look up at him. He looks close to tears, which doesn’t surprise me. “Now Reece” He smiles to himself, shaking his head sadly and watching Reece struggle his way through the trees. I smile slightly from the corner of my mouth. “I do not want to be driving home with him in the passenger seat, that’s for sure. We’ll be okay, and it seems like you’ll be more than okay. I really am sorry.” With that, Sylvester stands and sighs. He looks at me one last time and turns to leave without another word. He catches up to Reece within moments and helps him through the foliage. When they’re both well out of sight, I find my way back to the river, sitting down and clearing my head.

That’s the fact though. People don’t change. Their circumstances do. The truth is, I’m not about to look for a friend in the exact same place where I lost my best ones. They might be giving me the illusion of change by putting in so much effort to come see me three hours from home – which they wouldn’t have done three years ago – but neither of them have really changed. Grand gestures like this have always been Reece’s way of proving his feelings. Sylvester just follows him around, trying to clean the messes that Reece leaves behind. Reece used to act as if his gestures made up for every bad thing he’s ever done, while Sylvester just follows along, not willing to think of an alternative solution but just as willing to go through with Reece’s plans, and obviously, with this surprising and ‘touching’ gesture, they thought it could make up for treating me like a disposable napkin. But you know what? Old memories don’t make new ones. And that’s all they are to me. This entire conversation, I’ve just been sucked into a sea of memories, trying to find a way to justify making new ones with the same old ones. No people don’t change. So what? Change isn’t always good. So instead, grow. Learn. Experience. Do everything you can to make yourself a better version of you. You can’t change who you are, so improve who you are. I pick up one last rock, tossing it into the river. The ripples get smaller and smaller until they disappear. After the last ripple breaks against the rock at my feet, I turn my back to the river and to the last conversation I’ll ever have with my childhood best friends.

Theme and why?

I chose the theme “People don’t change, they learn.” It is my personal belief that people don’t change. One cannot just close their eyes and will themselves to become a better person, they teach themselves, learn from others, practice. People grow, they don’t change, and I feel like I showed that very well in the (not so) short story that I wrote. Were you successful at incorporating a theme while still developing a fascinating story? I think that the storyline is quite fascinating, especially to younger readers because it’s a relatable topic. I have imagined myself in a similar situation more than once, and I can promise that I’m not the only teenager who wonders what it would be like if an old friend or an ex apologized to you for something that they did. I tried to be quite subtle about my theme near the beginning so that it would only be apparent at the end. Throughout the story, I made comments about how the characters haven’t changed or how they’re the same person they used to be, trying to subtly incorporate my theme as much as I could. I do think that my story is laid out a bit awkwardly and is definitely way too long. I am not sure why, but it seems choppy to me, a bit confusing even and trying to take out any parts to shorten it made the choppiness worse. Even so, I think the story turned out somewhat fascinating and my theme does become apparent by the end.

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