This was once a valley of shadow. It was once a big, scary place with horrifying phantasms that clawed at my skin and scathed my soul. But now I see everything differently.
Six months ago that I first met Angela here. In that time I’ve met my whole group of friends, I even found myself a wonderful girlfriend. I now can map out this university grounds, and I’ve even taken up playing a sport. I’d never have pictured myself playing a sport, especially something like basketball. But it’s good fun, and it keeps me fit.
I’m walking through the campus on my own. I’ve been doing this about once a week. I keep passing people who I’ve interacted with over the last semester, wondering if they realise how much their small interactions affected me. There is where I met Dame. The other side of that building is where the sports fields are, which is where I met Jason. Under that tree is where I kissed Carlie.
Instead of phantasms I now see people, surrounded by dancing lights that move and morph with their behaviour. Some fast, some slow. Some lapping around heads like hyperactive halos. Some just hover like complacent moons. The balls give an array of colours, bright and dark, rich and pale, morphing and moving as peoples’ moods change.
How could I have ever been scared of these little things? How could I have ever been scared of these people.
I turn off the footpath and onto the grass, sit down and take my shoes off. The grass is soft. I lay down and stare at the beautiful blue sky, framed by buildings and animated by the clouds. I can hear people, birds and the wind. I now have trouble imagining this place as something scary, or foreign, or anything other than the new home I made for myself.
The warmth of the day is uncommon at this time of year and I feel my eyelids droop as my body slackens. I have nothing on until tonight, so there’s no reason I can’t lay here for hours. My head lolls to the side and through my half-open eyes I see a light. A few seconds staring and I realise it’s not a light. It’s the opposite. It’s a void, an empty space. It’s a dark.
A dark is hovering around some guy who looks about my age. He’s sitting on a bench, shoulders hunched, bag on his feet, cap covering his face. He seems lost… and sad.
I imagine this is what I looked like to Angela.
Then someone walks past and he physically flinches. It wasn’t a big movement… but I noticed it. I grabbed my shoes and walked over.
‘Hey, is this seat taken?’
‘N-no. Go ahead.’
As I sit he angles his shoulders away from me.
‘Are you new here?’
‘Uh, yeah. Is it obvious?’
‘Of course it is. Most people can see the new people because they were all new once. You’re doing better than I was.’
‘How long you been here?’
‘Six months now. It’s been great.’ I try to smile at him but he still looks at the ground. I hold out my hand. ‘Hi, I’m Jordan.’
He hesitates and I worry that he may just get up and leave. But then he reaches out, shakes my hand, and looks up. ‘Brock.’
‘Nice to meet you Brock.’
‘You too, I guess.’
‘You seem nervous.’
‘I don’t know many people here.’
‘Well, on my first day I knew no one. Then I met a friend. It all just picked up from there.’
‘You make it sound so easy.’
‘It isn’t easy, Brock. But it’s inevitable. You’ll meet people. Think of university like its own community. You’ll find friends easier than you think. All you got to do is look them in the eye and say hello.’
Brock realises we’re still shaking hands, he lets go and tucks his hands under his arms. ‘Easy to say.’
‘Well, look at me. I’m now your friend. One down.’
I think about how difficult I was with Angela. I wonder if she was ever this way, and who saved her? Was it Harry? Or Dame? Or is she just amazing the way she is?
It’s been a few weeks since I invited Brock to watch a basketball game, and introduced him to Angela and the gang. I even got him to shoot a few hoops. He’s pretty good. He’s now mostly comfortable with the people he knows, although I don’t think we’re going to get him up for karaoke anytime soon.
Most importantly, his dark is now a light. It’s a washed out yellow colour, but it’s still there. It bobs around him like a dandelion on the wind. He never gets too excited about anything, but that’s okay. Angela more than makes up for him.
‘Tell me something, Brock.’ Angela seems intent on making him as uncomfortable as she made me. ‘Got a girl in your life?’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘Oh. A boy, maybe?’
‘No, no. I’m straight. It’s just, you know.’
‘Know what?’ Angela has invaded his personal space, Jess not far behind. I picture them already running through potential partners for him. They should open a matchmaking business.
‘Well, I’m not, really, I don’t know, manly?’
‘Pfft, so what?’
‘Yeah,’ Jess is fully on board now, ‘manly guys can be a drawl. Some girls like sensitive guys.’
‘Okay, but, I still have my teddy bear from when I was a kid. I don’t sleep with it or anything, but it’s just nice to have. Still, think any girls would honestly date a guy with his baby teddy on the shelf?’
I’m overwhelmed with pride in myself as I whip out my phone. ‘Hey Angela, Jess. Leave the guy alone.’
‘What, you don’t think sensitive guys should be happy.’ I glance up to see Carlie walking over from the carpark. Perfect timing.
‘Oh believe me, we sensitive guys definitely should be happy. But how about you leave this one to me.’ I walk through the fence and part way to Carlie before she answers. ‘Hey Isabelle.’
‘Oh, hey Jordan. What’s up?’
‘Are you busy later?’
‘No. You guys heading out?’
‘Sort of. We’re showing a new friend a night on the town, and we’d love you to join us.’
‘Okay. What should I dress for?’
‘Whatever it is, make sure your shoulder tattoo is showing.’
‘My teddy bear tattoo? Really?’