Bailey’s eyes are a mess. They’re barely blue, like deep bathwater, and they reflect back at her in the bathroom mirror like two vitreous pools of contempt. She imagines the bloodshot creeping through the sclera in each. Red veins grow from her irises and reach out towards her trembling eyelids. Her lacrimal sacs bulge like ripening fruit before tears erupt. Mascara runs.
She wipes her palms on her cheeks with a sniffle and backs up to assess the damage. Her makeup is ruined and her eyes are puffy, but it’ll be easy to pass off as a touch of angst. The huge bathroom is empty, fifteen vacant stalls lit brightly by buzzing fluorescents. It smells like detergent. Bailey talks to herself.
“Make it through this class. Go back to the dorm and lock your door. Put on your headphones and wait for tomorrow.”
Bailey breaths in. She breaths out. She gathers her lanky black hair into a messy bun and walks out. The opening door sounds like an explosion in the quiet. Condon hall is a brick-built masterpiece that grows out of the verdant University of Oregon campus. It looks and smells like history. It’s the type of place that makes you want to know more than you already do. The wide halls and vaulted ceilings feel too empty as Bailey makes her way back to class with her books clutched to her chest like a bulletproof vest, but places that are built to hold crowds always feel a bit alien when they’re vacant. She finds her lecture hall. She opens the door and walks in. She presses her back to the wall and wills herself to be perfectly still, perfectly invisible. It doesn’t work. A handful of the hundred students in attendance turn to look, but then they turn back to the lecturing professor.
“As you know from last week, Hinduism is the oldest religion of man that’s still practiced,” the professor, doing his best to look like a cleaned up version of Indiana Jones, turns to let his intelligence wash over the crowd.
Bailey whispers, “Is there any other religion besides a religion of man?”
“But that doesn’t mean that it’s the oldest on record. For that, we’d have to look to the Egyptians. I’ve studied their religious writings extensively, as you will this semester, and we’re going to take a comparative look at their beliefs. We’re going to start with Horus.”
The professor turns his back on the class and pushes a button on his handheld remote. A picture of a falcon-headed man appears on the projection screen. It’s a cartoonish representation, and sure enough, he’s walking like an Egyptian.
“Horus and Jesus actually had quite a bit in common. They both benefited from a virgin birth. They both walked on water. They both had twelve disciples, they were both crucified, and they both arose from the dead,” the professor pauses and turns to look back over his shoulder with an arched eyebrow, “I’ve always thought that the ‘H’ in ‘Jesus H. Christ’ stood for ‘Horus’.”
The supplicants in the front row chuckle in ersatz appreciation. Bailey makes a sound of disgust. It’s too loud, and her invisibility dissolves. The professor raises his handheld remote and points it at Bailey. He pushes a button. A green laser shoots out and does it’s best to bore through Bailey’s bulletproof vest.
“You in the back. There are a few seats here up front. Come take one.”
Bailey’s breath turns to liquid and freezes in her throat. Her heart does a drum solo. Her flesh prickles and sweat floods out of her skin like a malicious tide.
Bailey turns to flee. The door doesn’t cooperate. She has to push, not pull, and muffled laughter urges her out as she gets it right. The halls blur by. There’s something about a hallway’s closeness that makes you feel like you’re running superhero fast even though you’re not. She makes it outside and down the stairs. Her shoulders go up and down as she cries. They go back and forth as she runs with her books still clutched to her chest. It’s a mess in motion.
Anxiety is a lead blanket, just like the ones in the dentist’s office, and it slows her down. She finds a shaded bench and sits. The afternoon passes by. Bailey watches it. It’s a time lapse video that excludes her. Students stop and go stop and go stop and go, always in small groups. The sun moves through the striated sky. The tree behind Bailey’s bench that gives her shade becomes a gnomon. It casts a moving umbra on the ground in front of her that Bailey tracks with her numb eyes.
Bailey’s phone buzzes in her pocket. She pulls it out to read the text. The world goes back into real time as she swipes her thumb across the glass.
“Hi honey, it’s me, mom. How’s it going?”
“Dear god mom, you don’t have to tell me that it’s you. This thing knows whose texting me. It’s a smart phone.”
“Laugh out loud!”
“Your killing me mom.”
“It’s spelled ‘you’re’ honey. Now that you’re in college, maybe you could start acting like it. Anyway, how’s it going?”
“Your right. College is great. I don’t know anybody. Everyone here is either a smelly hippy or a stuck up white girl. I love it.”
“YOU’RE going to be just fine. Have you pledged yet? Have you found the Delta Delta Delta house?”
“I’m not going to join your cult mom.”
“It’s not a cult! I’ve already called the house. Just go over and ask for Stephanie. Please!”
Bailey holds down the power button on her phone. She slides to power off. She puts her phone back in her pocket. She leans over to one side and fishes around in her back pocket. She pulls out her can of chew and opens it. The pungent tobacco smell, made riper by the heat in her back pocket, invades her mind with memories of her father. He sits in his pickup, a burly lumberjack smiling over at his princess, and spits into his empty beer bottle. New tears fall. Bailey wonders how often one has to cry before dehydration sets in. She pinches out a chew and puts it in her bottom lip. She focuses on the familiar sting to fight back the nausea. Maybe the chew will do her the same favor that it did for her father. There’d be no more tears.
“Hello there! My name is Melissa, and I was wondering if you’d like to come to an Alpha Chi Omega mixer!”
Bailey looks up. There’s a blonde in front of her. She must’ve just appeared like a bubbly apparition. Maybe spontaneous generation really does happen, and maybe sorority girls just crop up out of the grass from time to time in Oregon. They make eye contact. Melissa’s smile melts. Bailey pictures herself, tear covered with a bulging lower lip, and knows why. Melissa takes a step back.
“Um… ew. Gross. Never mind.”
Anger is a firebrand. Bailey throws off her lead jacket. She’s on her feet now, but her rejoinder is stillborn; Melissa runs away before Bailey’s thoughts can turn into words. Bailey screams her frustration. Brown spittle flies out of her mouth. Melissa shrinks in the distance as she scurries back toward whatever white girl copy machine made her. Bailey starts the trek back to her dorm room. The trip is a blur.
Bailey calms down and finds herself in front of her computer. Her mouth is empty, which is weird because she has no recollection of losing her chew. I hope I didn’t eat it. Her dorm room is dark, but the glow from Bailey’s monitor is bright enough to reach her door. It’s locked. She must’ve done it already. Weird. Microsoft Word is open to a blank page. I wish Melissa would’ve stuck around to hear this. She centers the first line. “The Beginning.” She starts to type.
“I don’t have a father. I never did. My mom woke up pregnant after a dream that I’ll tell you about later. I was born knowing everything that I know right now. You see, in the beginning, there was nothing, but nothing is something. This dichotomy caused a schism. It made a force. This force is God, and she is our mother. She never corrects me, and she loves me like she loves us all. Now listen to my words!”
Bailey types on and on. The words come from someplace else, like a touch from above. They feel true and right and hallowed. Bailey makes her own rules, her own commandments. Thou shall not be a smelly hippy. Thou shall not be a Starbucks drinking white girl. Thou shall only wear loose sweaters. Thou shall not call Bailey gross because she is the one, the Alpha, the Omega, but not the Delta Delta Delta.
Bailey finishes and clicks “save as.” Her work is stored on her desktop under “Manifesto.” It’s eight pages long, double spaced with one inch borders. She prints out as many copies as she can. She only has one ream of paper. That comes out to sixty-two copies, but it’ll have to do. She looks over at her locked door. Light comes in underneath from the hall outside. It’s darkened occasionally by moving shadows. The real world is out there. They’re out there, the people who make her cry, and trepidation wells up in Bailey’s soul like a tangible thing. But then she thinks about Melissa’s “ew” and makes a decision. Apprehension is replaced by acrimonious rage that demands action.
Bailey takes her manifestos in hand and leaves her dorm room. Walking down the hall, she passes door after door. She hears people living and loving behind those doors. It’s like she’s walking past boxes full of life. She hurries down the stairs into the common room. It’s wide open and walled by windows on two sides. There’s wood furniture and worn brown carpet; the room smells exactly like it looks. There’s a table against one wall with a large corkboard above it. There’s a bucket of rape whistles on the table, and the board is covered with a smattering of announcements. Bailey steals a thumb tack and pins a copy of her manifesto over a “Feel the Bern” poster. She takes a rape whistle and leaves.
The cool air outside smells like rotting vegetation and marijuana. It’s autumn in Eugene. Bailey swims through it and goes from dorm to dorm blowing her rape whistle like a boy crying wolf. Her manifestos find places everywhere she goes. Now the people who live in Caswell and Wilcox and all the others will know the truth. When the corkboards are full, Bailey leaves her work on park benches or on the ground or simply throws it at passersby. They look at her with open-mouthed astonishment. She runs out of paper and walks back to her dorm with a smile on her face. It feels like she’s wearing a stranger.
Each door she passes in her hall has a small dry-erase board hanging at head height. They’re all written on in red or blue or green or black. There are hearts and smiley faces. Bailey comes to her door and stops; there’s a dry erase board here, too, which her mom hung on that embarrassing first day when Bailey moved in. It says “good luck!” in her mother’s hand. There’s nothing else. Bailey doesn’t have a dorm mate. She wipes away the good luck and writes “I shall arise in the morning.” Bailey walks into her room, locks the door, pops an Ambien, and then falls into bed.
Morning feels like a backhanded pimp slap. Bailey wakes suddenly. Her eyes hurt. Her head is throbbing. She’s still dressed and she smells like yesterday’s frustration. There’s a pain on her chest just above her boobs. Her whistle is still hanging around her neck; she must’ve slept on it. Oh well.
She grabs her robe and her shower basket and her flip-flops. She opens the door and freezes. The hallway outside her door is packed with girls. They’re all sitting crisscross-applesauce on the floor and looking up at her expectantly with beatific smiles. A collective sigh of bliss washes out from the crowd as Bailey leavens their smiles with her own. They’re all wearing loose knitted shirts of some sort. It looks like an ugly sweater party gone wrong. Bailey breaths in. She breaths out. She addresses her children.
“Hello. Thank you all for coming. I’m not sure how you found me, but from now on, you’ll all be known as Bailey’s friends.”