The Three Phases of Twilight
The Blue and White continues its short fiction series with a story from a recent graduate from Columbia College.
Around the time the second boy I ever had sex with stopped texting me, I was prescribed Adderall. The school psychiatrist said maybe the reason I was so unhappy was because I couldn’t focus. However, instead of using my new hyper attention on the mountains of work piling up on my to-do list, I directed my energy towards that boy. My thoughts turned repetitive and constant and only about him. About him not texting me. About whether or not he would text me. And, most viciously, about the many reasons he wasn’t texting me.
On my 19th birthday, I kept refreshing my Facebook timeline to see if he had posted. I ignored the five calls my mom left.
“Llamáme,” she would text. I wouldn’t answer.
My mother, the school teacher, always attempted to make my mistakes into lessons. Anecdotes I’d share quickly turned into advice so at some point I stopped sharing altogether. However, I tried again when I started freshman year, calling home with stories of the people I’ve met and what I was doing. But I’d still be met mostly with frustration. I’d explain on the phone that no, mom, I haven’t been going on dates because that’s not what people do in college. And no, mom, I don’t know if I feel at home here because I don’t know what’s going on in school. I soon stopped calling.
After I got the prescription, the sun began to set at four and I’d swallow another blue pill to feel a spark of energy that my brain was incapable of producing naturally. The soaring buildings that surrounded the campus on Broadway and Amsterdam created shadows that made everything seem colder within them–they sucked up sunlight even faster.
While I sat in my dorm hallway far into the early hours of the morning, waiting for the Adderall to come down so I could fall asleep, I would overhear conversations of my peers discussing their achievements as I would be struggling to finish an overdue paper. They would talk about their internship plans and I would search through my murky thoughts as to how to contribute to the conversation.
Maybe that’s why he didn’t want me; I couldn’t even form a coherent thought in my head without those blue pills.
After my last final, I stepped onto the plane home twenty pounds lighter than when I had arrived. Trapped in my seat for this twelve hour flight from JFK to Honolulu, I went over every single moment of how I screwed up my freshman year. How he had first flashed a smile that was so bright in his dark room during that party in December. How the twinkle lights, strung up along the walls, had reflected onto his face and how his blue eyes would stare at me so intently when he looked down to talk to me. I thought on how I decided to have sex with him even though I knew it was really just sex and nothing more, even though in the cloudy recesses of my mind I wanted it to be more, and I knew I would get attached but I wanted him to want me and the words that I wanted to say — like “I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with this” — were stuck in my throat while I was under him on his Twin XL mattress less than three weeks later. Again, in his darkened room with twinkle lights.
And then I remembered my attempts to make plans following that night. And how quickly his responses slowed down until one day they stopped all together.
I thought about how I was now bringing back a 2.8 GPA along with my luggage because it was easier for me to analyze our interactions and make a chronology of what went wrong than to focus on my schoolwork.
Among my murky thoughts, a resounding piece of logic I played over and over was him being the key to my success in all other fields. Maybe with him I’d finally be happy.
His Venmo account showed that he paid a girl named Jess for Sweetgreen twice this week and for a ghost emoji last week. I couldn’t figure out what she looked like because her Instagram was private and she didn’t have a Venmo profile picture. She wasn’t on Facebook.
My plane touched down and my mom came to pick me up. That summer it was just me and her in our tiny grey house with six palm trees in the front yard. My dad and my brother had gone to Alabama to care for my sick grandmother, leaving the house with a deafening silence because my parents could no longer argue with each other. It was only broken by the soft noise of our dogs’ tiny paws on the hardwood floors.
“Hola! Hola!” Her hair was greyer than before and her eyes tired from long nights grading papers. She was wearing her signature orange shirt, matching her loud accented voice. Her presence was always out of place—a Dominican in Hawai’i, an islander on the wrong island.
The day I returned, I slept for 16 hours—held captive under the sheets of my bed attempting to dream away the past year. I decided I’d stay there until all the mistakes and all the missteps and all the people seemed like a dream that I could forget upon waking. I eventually rose to the sound of rain hitting the pavement outside and grey clouds obscuring the mountains.
I posted Snapchat stories of the beach, my dogs, and those same towering mountains behind my house to see if he would view them. He didn’t.
My mom and I would, for the most part, co-exist in silence in those initial weeks. Apart from occasional conversations on whose turn it was to feed the dogs and what was for dinner, I didn’t want to answer her questions.
I would go to the community pool for my shifts as a lifeguard, sometimes taking an Adderall beforehand so my thoughts wouldn’t wander. I didn’t want to think about him anymore. When the notion of returning to school–meaning more work and more mistakes I’d inevitably make–would infiltrate my thoughts, I’d quickly suppress it.
I unfollowed him on Instagram in June because I didn’t have the self-control to stop looking at his profile daily.
Around midsummer, when the Hawaiian humidity reaches its zenith and time moves slowly, my mother came out of my bathroom with the tiny orange bottle filled with the blue pills.
“What is this?” She asked.
“I was prescribed it. They think I have ADHD. That’s why I get bad grades.”
“You never told me that. But you did so well in high school? Why is this happening now?”
“You don’t know how hard it is there.”
I snatched the bottle from her hand and walked back to my room. The dogs scratched at my closed door.
Three days later, she asked me to come walk our dogs on the beach with her.
In one of the classes I had gotten a C in that past year, I learned that twilight is separated into three phases: civil, nautical, and astronomical. By the time we made it to the beach it was civil twilight, a point when the sun just dips below the horizon and the stars creep out. Every moving thing seemed quieter now. The moon reflected on to the soft waves that inched up onto the shore. We sat on a bench next to the tangled naupaka leaves and I could hear nesting birds in the bushes.
“You know it’s okay, right? You’re doing more than okay. Do you know that?” She said.
I didn’t respond immediately because I didn’t want to initiate a lesson.
“Yeah, I know.” I finally answered.
It was now nautical twilight and the sky had become so dark that only the wisps of her grey and black hair were visible, swirling with the trade winds.
“You’re doing it. That’s all that matters.”
She added a beat later: “And I’m proud of you.”
My sight adjusted to the black sky of astronomical twilight and I could see the shape of her brown eyes that I had inherited. Mine began to feel heavy with water and I started digging my toes into the sand.
That night, I crawled into her bed—my tiny summer body wrapped tightly into hers. These were the moments that I wanted to keep unfolding.
A couple weeks later, my taxi from JFK to campus hit at least an hour of traffic. The city was facing a midAugust heatwave when I moved into a sophomore dorm that reeked of weed and BO. I realized that he was living in the same building when we saw each other in the lobby.
He quickly looked down at his phone, pretending not to notice me while I stared straight on.
I texted my mom, “Todo está bien.”
Summer ended, school started, and my attention problems continued. After class, I went into my dorm’s bathroom and felt for the orange bottle with the blue pills. My thumb ran over the container’s top before opening it and swallowing one of them. I had homework that was already late, but maybe I’d go sit on the campus lawns with my friends first.