My high school teacher asked the class, with a sly smile, what the center of the universe was. The whole class was puzzled, but quickly enough, we got back our wits and started answering. Immediately, we realized the right answer was said when we saw the shift in the teacher’s expression from a sly smile to a genuinely proud one; the answer included all what we said: the sun, the earth and no center at all.
But this time, there was a new addition.
“The evidence? The mere fact that you all forgot to mention yourselves as centers and focused on your surroundings instead, taking your own existence for granted,” the teacher jokingly explained.
While most of the class pondered on the answer, I felt confused and frightened thinking about being in the center and feeling that something was expected out of me. These expectations resulted in a haunting mental pressure.
As I thought more, I felt like I have always had this idea at the back of my mind. That it wasn’t me in the center, someone else was. She was the center of my nascent world.
She continued to elaborate on her answer while gazing at us with her dreamy eyes as she always did.
That’s when it clicked.
I was reminded of the day my mom insisted on me joining the school’s football team. The reason being that I was so “fit.” But as physically “fit” as I was, I still wasn’t “fitting in”. I dreaded every single time the ball would touch my feet and panicked when people’s eyes were on me waiting for my next move. Ever since, my mom stopped pressuring me about anything, not even our fixed dinner time.
My father, on the other hand, totally missed the point and his justification was that football is not really my kind of sport. I tried telling him that all sports are not my kind of “sport” because of the extra pressure they cause me. He responded with a lecture about growing up and adapting to pressure as a fact of life.
“I already know that, but encountering pressure is not the same as willingly going towards things that make you pressured and stressed,” I said.
But he stopped listening. He does that when he believes himself to be right, which according to him, is always.
After school, I wondered all day if I was the center of my universe or if she was. Then it struck me that this is the last semester in high school, making her a temporary center in my world. When she leaves, there would be no one to fill this place but myself, whether I liked it or not.
The blue curtains absorbed the sun rays and bathed my bedroom in a neon blue light. I lay on my bed where the light didn’t reach me. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon except for the chirping of birds and the rustling of autumn leaves.
My mind kept repeating the word “center” and it bothered me that I was giving it that amount of importance. I was searching for someone else to fill the center, to take my place.
My mind found it hard to fathom how I can be more important than the burning warm morning sun or the deep dark infinite blue sea. I thought of all the animals and insects that I find outstandingly beautiful and fascinating. If my thoughts were a person, they would have laughed at me for considering, even for a mere second, to count the interesting things about me.
The next time in class she would quote Descartes, “I think, therefore I am”, I will coldly raise my hand and ask her “I am, therefore what?” and she better have an answer.
She is smart and I know she would find a deep meaning within my question. She knows I like her; but she probably has a secret code of “a student likes me; therefore, I choose to ignore it”.
Two weeks after the “centers” class, I invited her to my birthday. She politely excused herself. However, a few days later, she gave me a present and I wished that eye contact didn’t exist. I won’t even try to jog my memory and remember if I blushed or not.
It was a mix tape; I listened to it daily before and after school. She added only 14 songs to the mixtape; but she managed to find songs that express most of human emotions.
I can almost swear she did that on purpose, but I didn’t have the courage to ask her if she did. To some extreme extent, I felt that every song was a reflection of one of her classes. For the center of the Universe class, there was this song called Sinking Man by the band “Of Monsters and Men”.
I imagined a world of monsters and men together, narrating the story of some desperate man in ancient times. It is the one I always listen to immediately when I return from school. I lie on my bed and close my eyes; my nose is filled with the smell of dust, pencils and mixed with light sweat and fumes. My ears listen to lyric after lyric:
At that moment, it all made sense.
How I can really be the center of things. Of these smells I smell, these words I listen to, this room I’m in, the bed I’m lying on top of… maybe even something bigger.
I find the center. It’s a peaceful quiet place with no fuss or fright. As the song ends, I want to get up, find my parents and tell them how growing up is not about adapting to pressure, but rather about finding as many ways as possible to not let those pressures get to the center of your own world.
But I don’t.