Tears Are What Makes You Human
I’m the one they tell stories about.
Never more than a hushed voice, or a hurried whisper in passing, but I know. In my classes I always have at least one spot open on either side of me. In line at the cafeteria the older students look back to make sure they aren’t taking the last thing they think I might want. I know no one’s birth name, not even those I might consider a friend.
I know exactly when the change was too, in how my fellow students view me.
My dormmate had disappeared for a night before returning, pupils a little too slitted to not be like Them, but who was I to say anything? The change was not unusual at campus, and Hay had been more depressed than before anyway. Staying out late, carrying more candy than iron or salt.
No one said art majors weren’t already a little Lost.
We had never really gotten along greatly, but he had been a grounding presence for me, an easy source of chatter to draw me out of the math calculations that consumed me. I don’t know why I chose Elsewhere U as my university, seeing as I had planned on being a civil engineer, but I had been drawn into the beauty of it when I toured the campus. Our group of 15 had returned as a group of 16, but details.
After Not Hay had taken over, I noticed small things. Batteries missing from my calculators, thrown in the waste bin and covered with crumpled papers. All the fruit gone from our shared mini fridge, replaced with food that looked a little too ripe for the season. I started eating at the cafeteria more often after that. My side of the room was always left untouched, but I still left more ramen seasoning packets under my pillow and in my dresser. July had told me it was better to be safe than sorry, words that campus lived by.
Not Hay would try and help me with my homework sometimes in exchange for me playing a small tune my Nana had taught me on a fiddle that had been passed through generations, but they weren’t much help. I always told them I appreciated the effort though, a small nod of my head that could be interpreted as a bow.
But that’s not why I’m the one they tell stories about.
The finals for the first semester of the year had creeped up on me, resulting in many nights staying awake on at my desk fueled by nothing but energy drinks and cafe mochas as I worked on advanced quantum physics questions. I had just wanted to build bridges, not understand how the universe worked on a quark scale. I could tell I was upsetting Not Hay by the icy looks I felt on my back. Not that Not Hay slept.
I don’t remember how long I was in the library before, or how I got so far back in between the shelves of books whose names I couldn’t pronounce, but I had found a desk and an outlet, and honestly what more did a university student need as they crammed for their final that was worth 75% of their grade.
I had been working over the same problem for over an hour, several steps needed to find the final value but I was stuck on the very first one. I could have been muttering to myself, or maybe They had just sensed my panic. I hadn’t spoken to anyone in several days, even if I had seen Not Hay most of the time. Not Hay never seemed to speak while I was in the room, something I had been thankful for at the time.
“Are you alright?”
The voice had started me so badly I had marked up my paper with a twitch of my pen. I remember trying to find my voice, knowing it was rude to leave a question unanswered. The girl in front of me seemed to take my silence as an answer anyway. She had looked over my station of worn down pencils, crumpled up papers, and my long empty coffee mug I had taken to stabbing in distracted worry, intelligent eyes scanning my notes before looking at me again. Her freckles reminded me of constellations, the way they appeared and disappeared across her pale skin like stars.
“Are you happy?”
Her voice seemed to come from behind me, even as I was facing her. Looking back, she could have been trying to get me to make a deal with her, but at the time all I could do was cry. No one had asked me if I was happy for years, my family pushing me to follow the lineage of engineers before me and my classmates too caught up in their own studies to notice.
I didn’t answer again, instead letting my head fall to the desk as I sobbed. A cold hand was placed on the crown of my head cautiously. That was all the invitation I had needed before I had thrown myself at the girl and sobbed in her arms.
I missed my final.
Not that it would have mattered.
I had cried myself to sleep, for once not dreaming of failing out of school, but instead of a tall and spindly creature with hair as fine as spun silver and eyes as white as snow. They soothed me, the same voice as the girl from before ringing through my ears. When I woke up I was much closer to the entrance of the library than I had been before, my textbook and notebooks stacked neatly and my coffee cup gone.
I looked at my notes, unable to read anything.
I don’t know if it had been a curse for dirtying Their clothes with my tears, or a pitied gift meant to free me in exchange for my tears, but either way I grew to be grateful for it.
I switched majors after a brief conversation with a guidance counselor. I could still do everything up to basic calculus, and so decided I’d look at teaching careers instead. I had always liked children, and the small town at the bottom of the hill had opened a new primary school suddenly.
But that’s not why I am the one they tell stories about.
They tell stories about me because I had been given the Sight when the Fair One had taken my ability to cry.
I have been having lovely conversations with Not Hay lately. About riddles and dances, all smiles and twisted words as students hurry by us, pretending not to hear the hiss in our voices.