“Starry Night”

Starry Night

Chloe Selavka, Contributor

Evie sits and listens to people tell her what to do to feel better often. Evie does not like the phrase “feel better”. She learned a while ago that feelings aren’t really something she can control, so how was she supposed to believe that some deep breathing exercises would give her super control over her emotions? Not that she wasn’t willing to try it. Any control, even in the form of something she can’t see, was nice. Evie wonders a lot about that. What else is she breathing in that she can’t see? Is it still called breathing if it’s not oxygen? Is it still called breathing if she feels like she can barely breathe half the time? Also, Evie wonders what “feel better” even means. Is she feeling wrong?

So she sits and she listens to people telling her she is feeling wrong, hoping they’ll tell her what exactly is wrong with what she’s feeling, but usually they just tell her that she is the one in charge of her emotions, even though she knows for a fact she is not the one in charge of her emotions. But, she still sits in an uncomfortable chair in a stuffy office and she listens to Clara tell her that she needs to take a risk or two if she wants to feel like she can breathe. She sits at the kitchen table as she plays with her dinner and she listens to her father tell her that taking the bus is a necessary step to take if she wants to be more socialized. And she sits on the steps outside the front door of her school and she listens to Sierra tell her that she needs to tell her teachers because they will understand, because her grades will improve, and then she’ll get into college and have a future just like Sierra. Sierra never actually says the future part, but Evie always adds it because she knows that’s what Sierra means. It’s not that easy for Evie, though.

Clara can read as many case studies as she wants, and her dad can read as many specialized parenting books as he wants, and Sierra can read the wikipedia page as many times as she wants, but really, Evie knows that none of them will ever realize how hard it is for her to do the simple things they’re telling her to do to feel right. Because, yes, she would love to take a risk every once in a while but messing with her daily schedule makes Evie’s palms itch like she has localized Poison Ivy. And yes, she thinks taking the bus is a good idea too, but not really because the way it’s constantly rattling makes Evie feel like a bomb, or like she’s a bean in a tin can and someone’s shaking it, so she doesn’t let her feet touch the floor because that helps but really she’d rather just avoid the bus because she already feels like she’s going to explode every other moment of the day. And yes, of course, she thinks she should tell her teachers too, but for some reason, the less people that know, the more Evie can pretend she’s not actually who she is. If she could be just a teenage girl in even one more person’s mind, she would feel much better. Plus, she doesn’t even want to go to college. Because when Evie tries to talk to new people she becomes a monsoon in a paper cup. She drowns.

Of course, none of the things people tell her are ever cruel. All of the people who tell her how to “feel better” just want what’s best for her. Evie knows that, which is a common misconception. Kids at school think that she can’t tell when someone is being mocking her so they do it, for kicks she thinks, and Evie always knows. Honestly, she would much rather exist and be a freak than not exist at all, so she doesn’t react. Also, because she’s not convinced they would stop if she said anything. She doesn’t have much faith in humans. They tend to be disappointing. They don’t listen and they don’t like change. Evie wishes she wasn’t human. She wishes she was a house fly. They’re erratic and that’s normal and Evie thinks it would be nice to fly. Her mind is always at a constant buzz anyways, and sometimes when too many people are talking she feels her eyes turn into kaleidoscopes. She would fit right in.

But anyways, Evie spends a lot of time sitting and listening and doesn’t actually spend a lot of her time sitting and having an actual conversation, so when Gabe waltzed into the art room, pulled up a stool, plopped down right next to Evie and asked her how her day was, Evie was very surprised. The question wasn’t the shocking part. People asked her how she was, a lot, and she learned that the correct response is always good, even if she’s not good, even if she doesn’t know how to feel correctly, so the question and the answer were not the problem. It was more because people always tended to ask her how her day was right after asking if she had had any episodes that day. She didn’t like the word “episodes”. It made her sound like a sitcom.

Evie remembers saying good, quietly, and being surprised when Gabe understood her and didn’t walk away or anything. He just sat and watched her paint. It got quiet again and then suddenly he took a fast breath in and started talking, which made Evie drop her paintbrush and her guard in surprise.

“So, Evie, I really like your painting, it’s all blue and texturey like how that one guy paints, Monet. It reminds me of that one- swirly night,” Gabe spoke, except he put the T on the end of Monet. She wanted to laugh but she was afraid he’d think she was making fun of him.

“Thank you,” she said. She had picked up her brush and started painting again. “It’s “Starry night”. By Van Gogh. Not Monet,” she added, seriously, as she focused. Evie didn’t see, but Gabe cracked a smile, blushed in embarrassment, and paused for a moment, looking at her.

“Oh, sorry. I don’t speak French, so I wouldn’t know,” Gabe continued, laughing at his own joke. His laugh rumbled through the air and made Evie feel like she was in a thunderstorm.

 Evie shook her head and crinkled her brow, finally looking up. “That’s just common knowle- Oh.” She paused as she saw his smile, realizing it was a joke. Evie allowed a slight blush to cross her cheeks but then looked back at her painting, focusing. It was silent. Evie liked how she didn’t feel like she needed to fill it. She liked just sitting in it with this strange boy, who she didn’t think she had ever talked to before in her life. She wanted to become saturated in that silence.

“So where do you get your inspiration?” Gabe said after another minute of watching Evie paint. Evie set down her brush and palette and looked near him. Not at him. She hates eye contact. It makes her feel like she’s being interrogated.

“Why are you talking to me?”

“What?” Gabe asked, tilting his head. His feet were hanging aimlessly off the stool, kicking at the metal bar.

“I have no idea who you are, and you’re asking me where I get my inspiration. I don’t know your name. I don’t know how you know mine.”

They sat in silence again. Evie’s hands fidgeted with whatever they could find. Evie begged them not to start ticking. Now that she had gone all Evie on him, the silence was not as comfortable. She was drowning in it. She picked up her paintbrush again.

“We’re in Pre-Calc together. And, I’m Gabe. Want to go to breakfast with me?”

Evie looked at him, shocked.

“It’s 4 PM. No.” It slipped out of her mouth before she could stop it, and Evie felt her monsoon begin. But Gabe didn’t look upset. In fact he was doing his thunder laugh again.

“Ok. Maybe another time. At the appropriate time, I guess. And maybe I’ll learn how to pronounce some really complicated painters’ name, just to impress you.” And with that, he stood, put the stool back in it’s spot, and began walking back out of the room, with what Evie thought was Musetta’s Waltz in his step. He suddenly stopped and turned around, though, making direct eye contact with Evie. She tried her best not to squirm, to hold his gaze, but her hands and will had always been shaky, so she couldn’t hold onto it for long. She looked back at her painting, mainly so she would just have something to look at to prevent herself from looking at the ceiling and wondering why she couldn’t have one single normal conversation.

Gabe spoke again. “You know, you should really…” Gabe trailed off as Evie looked at him with a slight disdain in her gaze because she knew exactly which word was going to be at the end of his sentence. “Relax”. “You should relax”. People who don’t know about her autism tell her to relax a lot. People who do know about her autism tell her to relax a lot. It was cliche, really. And hopeless, like most cliche things are. Evie could try breathing, meditating, going on walks, but she really couldn’t reach “relaxed”. Her most relaxed was other people’s sugar high. The only time when she got anywhere close to what relaxed was supposed to be was painting. That made the whole situation rather ironic, she thought. Here she was, at her most calm state, and this boy was about to tell her she needed to “relax”.

“You should really became a professional painter. You’d be good at that,” Gabe finished with a little shy smile, and walked out of the art room. Evie suddenly found herself wishing she was a sitcom so she could relive that moment whenever she wanted to. She wanted that little smile DVR’d forever. She wanted it to play in every single one of her recaps. 

She felt like a Georgia O’Keeffe. All pretty flowers and flowy lines and bursting out of her canvas with color. This was a sharp contrast to her usual black and white and red and messy Jackson Pollock. She knew that in this situation her heart was supposed to be racing but she felt a lot calmer than she had in awhile. The anvil on her chest had lifted for just a second. Her legs walked her to the doorway of the art room, and her eyes scanned the hallway, hoping. Her hands didn’t fidget or tick like normal. 

Gabe was down the hallway, looking at a bulletin board for the spring musical. Evie’s heartbeat kicked back up as she walked, and she told it to shut up. It didn’t and continued drumming what could only be described as a subpar and erratic rhythm. Evie’s band teacher would have been ashamed. She stopped right next to Gabe, some would argue too close, but Evie wouldn’t know, and cleared her throat. He looked up and smiled as soon as he saw her. Evie said “action” in her mind. This was going to be her season finale, she knew it.

“Are you auditioning?” She asked. Gabe’s laugh tumbled through the air, past her guard, and slowed her heartbeat. The anvil lifted, slightly.

“No. I can’t sing for shit,” Gabe responded. Evie tilted her head.

“Then why are you looking at the signup list?” She asked. Gabe blushed and another one of his laughs somersaulted through the air. 

“I was kinda hoping you’d change your mind about breakfast,” he spoke, and made eye contact with Evie, smiling at the velocity of 900 watts. If he wasn’t careful, Evie’s heart rate was going to sink so low she slipped into a coma. Somewhere in the conversation, the anvil was replaced with a gym weight. Now all Evie had to do was lift a little, and she might finally be able to breathe. 

Evie wanted to be normal. It was all she had wanted since she was eight and officially diagnosed as a high functioning little girl with autism, but she didn’t have any experience with normal. She wanted it more than anything, though, so why was she so afraid to take a risk, Evie wonndered. When was she going to realize that normal isn’t going to do all the work for her? Every once in a while, she was going to have to say “yes” to normal. Evie looked at Gabe. Gabe looked at Evie. And Evie lifted.

“I did. I changed my mind. Let’s have breakfast,” Evie spoke. 

“At 4 PM,” She added.

Gabe smiled so bright that Evie felt like she was looking into high beams, but decided she would rather go blind than stop. 

“Great! Great. That’s great.” Gabe said. Evie thought he looked pretty happy, if she was reading the situation correctly.

“Ok. Let me go get my bag.”

Evie began to turn around, but then turned back. She stuck out her hand. For a second Gabe just looked at it, the smile still on his face. A hint of confusion danced in his eyes, but then he shrugged, and shook her hand with another laugh that tumbled and flipped and twisted through the air and won the gold for Evie. 

Evie nodded curtly, smiling a tad, and turned and walked back to the art room, breathing.