Walk Down Misery Street

I remember Sylvia’s wide-open eyes when we did our first assignment together, and I brought up famous writers and philosophers, even mentioning something about the United Nations. The longer I spoke, recalling such “weird” names and references that were as distant to her as faraway planets, the wider Sylvia’s eyes got. Then it hit her! She finally understood who was sitting next to her. A bookworm! But a principled one—with firm beliefs.

Upon her realization, Sylvia decided to correct her error without delay. She had wasted a whole week on someone she thought was only playing around, pretending to be a “goody-two-shoes.” But he really was one!

The next day Sylvia fluttered away, like a butterfly, to another desk, to another male student. I had thought of her as a lioness, and this comparison remained accurate. Soon she had this other guy wrapped around her finger.

All the students and teachers observed the growth of their sweet romance for several months—how they helped each other cheat on the exams, how they walked to the café together during breaks, and how after classes she would get in his car and theatrically slam the door shut.

They’d talk about how crazy happy they were since they met each other, and thanked God for bringing them together in this auditorium!

Soon enough, they began to skip classes together. After one particularly long absence, Sylvia finally reappeared. Her face was very pale and her eyes were cloudy and glazed. Sylvia barely found the strength to sit. She’d prop up her chin with her hands all the time, drooping forward, almost resting on the desk. She seemed about to break into pieces. Cliché as it sounds, she looked . . . like death. Her black, uncombed hair contrasted with her porcelain-white face. She had on a worn jacket. She stared blankly at the board, where the teacher was writing something.

Only now I can imagine how she was struggling. Poor Sylvia, whose joints were aching, leg muscles wrenching, stomach churning. In addition to attending school, she also attended an outpatient clinic. Staying clean from all drugs was a condition for her schooling. This meant she was facing problems at her clinic, too. Here at school, she had to hide her cloudy, doped-up eyes from the students and teachers. But they all knew: Sylvia had relapsed!