I sit in the East Tower of the library and watch the wind push around the water in the lakefill as campus slowly darkens. I feel the same wistfulness with the setting of the sun each day: This hollow gravity in my core, the sensation of drifting slowly downwards like the descent of a feather, with none of the feather’s weightlessness. The lights remain mockingly bright in their fake fluorescence.
I didn’t mean to chain myself up here. The spell was supposed to give me sanctuary and freedom, not create a prison. Halfway through winter quarter of my junior year, when I had two midterms the next day, a paper due the day after, and I was struggling at my internship, I decided I’d had enough. I’d been at the library for five hours and I needed a respite. Just a short freeze of time so I could catch my breath.
My haste messed something up and the spell did the opposite. I froze myself while everything else continued on without me.
I nearly trip over my hair as I step back. That was another mistake. The spell was supposed to be tied to the Rock, but I missed and the spell instead fused into my hair. The extra energy makes my hair grow much faster, too – nearly six inches a month. But if I cut it, then my spell will break. So when I wander around the endless circles of the tower, now two years later, six or seven feet of golden hair trails behind me.
I should have grown used to it by now. Instead its weight seems to grow disproportionate to its length, and my neck aches with the effort of carrying it all around.
Sometimes I can convince myself that this isn’t all that bad. On the sixth floor, life is quiet. I never have to listen to half of someone’s conversation with their phone or anyone sniffling every two minutes. I meditate and I read and I watch the days and nights pass by outside.
In the movies, it’s all shown with a time lapse. A static shot from a window: the sky lightening up, clouds marching past, small people moving with comic speed below; the sky darkening, the passage of people thinning, and then disappearing altogether. But the movies have this funny way of playing with the concept of time. In reality, people walk much slower.
I can read without interruption and I’m free from the stress of life on the ground. If circles have no beginning and no end, then the circular tower has infinite space. I wander around and around and never reach any destination.
Then I think of all the nights I felt the spells buzzing inside me when I had to study instead, all the novels I left unfinished because reading my course pack had to come first. Every time I feel constrained by the patterned carpet and narrow rows of bookshelves, I remember that frustration and I am loathe to approach the scissors.
I move away from the window and into the center of the tower. I have long since moved the tables that were here. I can sit in the middle and see the rows of bookshelves radiating outward like the spokes of a wheel. This is my throne, and the floor is my kingdom.
Now that I’m watching campus awaken with spring once more I find myself missing the way a warm breeze smells like spring, and the slow progression of green shoots emerging from a newly-thawed ground. I close my eyes and draw in a deep breath of the stale air. It’s been stale for two years.
I always tell myself that I need a little bit more time here, that I’ll feel prepared to return to society in a few days. Besides, how could I return? My routine here is the reverse of how things used to be. I’ve mastered the art of sitting without a thought for hours, just to pass the time. Stress never tightens my throat. I don’t measure time in coffee cups — I don’t measure time at all. There’s no need.
My hair fans out around me, and even though I’m not standing it feels heavy. Its weight has replaced the weight of expectations. My empty mind has left me without the thrill of understanding something new. Time has ceased to hold any meaning, and thus anything I do here can have no significance.
I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want to stand on the edge of the lakefill rather than watch it from above. I want to listen to half of somebody’s conversation in the carrel next to mine. It’s not the spell that chains me here, truly. It’s myself.
And then that desire is strong enough that it pushes aside all the melancholy weight, all the serenity of meditation, all my reservations about leaving. It takes my heart hostage and floods my body with certainty.
The scissors are in my hand. This is impulsive, I know this impulsive, just like my decision to cage myself here in the first place.
But I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to feel this way anymore.
I wrap one hand around my hair and then I cut through it all. Here comes wind, direct sunlight, so many different noises that I can’t isolate any single one.
Let down your hair.