Sometimes I swear there’s a rock in my stomach.
It shakes a little when I lie on my back at night, staring up at the starburst-textured cement ceiling of my bedroom. The rock is always there, but there’s something about the time I take to fall asleep that makes it want to be known, like it’s waving to me from my very core. Just to say hi, I guess.
It bounces against the gummy lining of my stomach sometimes, too, like when my room gets too dark and all I can do is push my face into the pillow that once belonged to a different head than mine and gasp from the lack of light. Something about that pillow makes my rock crash against me, leaving invisible marks within.
It’s hard to say when I first noticed it. Maybe it was when I reached that point in childhood when I was too smart to think the lightness and freedom would last forever but too dumb to know to enjoy what remained of those illuminated years. I remember feeling the rock grow each morning in high school, waking up to my radio alarm clock, a DJ telling me it was 25 degrees outside with a wind chill bad enough to make it feel more like 10.
There were always things that made the rock seem bearable. Like my first kiss, where the moment before my lips touched his I was convinced some phoenix was born from the very rock I’d been carrying. I could’ve sworn when he kissed me that phoenix took flight and my rock was obliterated.
Those days were some of the few I could remember since those breezy childhood ones that I didn’t feel the weight of my fellow inhabitant inside me, when it had decreased to maybe the size of a piece of sand that only cropped up when sixteen-year-old insecurities pointed it out to me. Still, it was ignorable.
Still, it was there.
Over time it became not smaller, exactly, but easier to carry. It was always around, sometimes making its presence known on particularly lonely nights, but also sometimes shuffling off to the side, like when I smoked a cigar too fast and ended up throwing up my entire stomach into a grocery bag in the self-checkout section of Kroger’s.
I don’t know too much about geology, but I do know that rocks are pretty much here to stay. So I guess it wasn’t too much of a surprise when the rock started growing soon after my kissing boy left. It filled up the confines of my stomach so much that I couldn’t eat. Food did little in the way of sustenance when the rock just ate it all, anyway, and every bone-chilling 6:30 wakeup just added another layer of calcium deposit to my ever-worsening misery.
One of the strangest parts of the stone is that it did get better. Over time it became not smaller, exactly, but easier to carry. It was always around, sometimes making its presence known on particularly lonely nights, but also sometimes shuffling off to the side, like when I smoked a cigar too fast and ended up throwing up my entire stomach into a grocery bag in the self-checkout section of Kroger’s. Somehow the rock was one of the few things that didn’t make it into the bag.
Things were relatively okay by the time I met Evan. This time when we kissed it was not a rising feeling; I’d long lost the blinded belief that some extraordinary bird was bursting from me in a swell of bravado whenever I kissed a boy. But it was enough to make the rock minimize itself to pebble proportions, at least.
There was always something missing, though, like the serenity wasn’t enough. I wanted to be thrown around by my life and feel myself drowning in the adventure of it all. I wanted to smell a boy and have the visceral, hungry feeling inflate me. I craved someone who would awaken all those things poets and writers and musicians talk about. I thought maybe it was something only the abysmal pitfalls and soaring climaxes of first love could supply to teenaged hormones, and, at twenty, scientific accuracy was favored over the wilds left behind in childhood.
There’s a thing in the science world called entropy, the idea of disorder within confined systems. One of the best examples of this is with molecules of water, which increase in chaos when ice is melted, causing hydrogens and oxygens to run around, bouncing off each other. All hell has broken lose, shit has hit the fan. That’s when you know entropy has increased. Science says entropy is always increasing; the world is always going to shit, and there’s nothing you can do about it because science says so.
My own version of entropy came to me in the form of Matt.
Where I was light, he was dark. His skin, the color of coffee, was sprinkled with small moles that I sometimes imagined were constellations or connect-the-dots puzzles. Hershey-hued hair flopped on his forehead, hiding the faintest of childhood scars that garnered Harry Potter references whenever he pushed the mop off his face when he was buried deep in an engineering problem. Sometimes little indentations made appearances on his cheeks when he laughed, and I liked to think they were even more noticeable when he was laughing at me.
I noticed these things, but it was Matt’s rock and my rock who were really the first to meet one another, exchanging a knowing nod the first time I spoke to him when I was 17. Maybe those pebbles had some magnetic stuff in them because gravity pushed us together repeatedly for the next three years.
Perhaps it was there all along, or maybe it only happened the first time I felt the rock shrink when he said something that rang true to me in a way few had ever vocalized. Entropy was increasing, I could feel it, but when Matt and Laura, his long-term girlfriend, ended, I felt nothing. I had Evan, and as uneventful as that relationship was it was at least comfortable, and I cared about him as much as I always had. I was content, convinced these romanticized trysts with boys with rocks were saved for young adult fiction novels.
Then Matt confessed he wanted more than our summer night car rides and sitting on train tracks, wanted more than playful conversations and invisible walls between us.
My life had reached its precipice; the climax of my story was occurring. Two boys loved me, I was a successful student and I worked incessantly at two different jobs. In my spare time I relished my secret like a modern gothic romance. Soon I stomped out my relationship, battering down the foundations Evan and I had built with a simple “I don’t see us together in the future.” Truthfully, I never did see him standing at the end of the aisle, never saw him laying eyes on our first child or at the breakfast table reading a newspaper before work.
For three years, the forbidden fruit of Matt was something I had actively strayed from. He’d had Laura, a pale blonde with a soft face, for two of them, and I had Evan. But, just like my rock, these things never truly go away. I spent boring lectures picturing how the inevitable would happen, when and where this feeling would burst over.
And burst it did. My roommates had miraculously given us the entire living room to ourselves to watch The Cosby Show. It didn’t take long before Matt was on my end of the couch, his warm hand searching for mine. Matt’s softness touched my cheek; the lightest of feelings that made me want to grab him and push his lips against me harder, to feel more of him against me. The fluttering moved its way down to my neck, vibrating against the translucently thin skin there and traveling back up, dangerously close to my lips that wanted nothing more than a taste themselves. Instead, my brain attempted to maintain some decorum of composure, tried to quell the burning one last time.
“Matt,” I warned, but my voice came out low heavy, betraying any insistence I’d half-heartedly intended. The smell of cedar and leather and musk filled my lungs. I drank it up in the pause before he breathed a simple, guttural, “Molly.”
I could feel it; the phoenix or the love or the lust or whatever was rising and entropy was spinning wildly out of control as I pressed my lips against his. We forgot about my roommates, sleeping a wall away. Forgot about the Huxtables, a laugh track playing as Matt leaned back against the speckled couch. Forgot everything as he pulled me down with him, like he was afraid the weight of our rocks wasn’t doing the job already.
Where I once absorbed darkness I now breathed him, the essential Matt-ness I’d come to recognize when I rolled over and smelled him on the pillow on his designated half of the bed. We danced around parties, feigning casual acquaintance before heading back to the same apartment to whisper to one another before sleep fell on us. We held hands. We went to movies. We loved.
But entropy hadn’t finished increasing. It couldn’t, not with what I’d done to Evan. Just like animals can detect natural disasters days before they occur, I too could sense a change in the air. An increase in entropy. My rock rumbled in anticipation of the landslide.
Everything was ripped apart in 48 hours.
In a randomized run-in with Laura, he was gone. He attempted to turn to me for support over his rekindled feelings for a girl who left him over a year before. He told me he didn’t want to feel this way about her anymore, that he had been happy before with me.
“I don’t want to be with her,” he tried. I turned away from him. “I’m so sorry, Molly. My feelings for you haven’t changed. I didn’t know I still felt this way about Laura, is all.”
The rock moved its way up into my throat, hard and warm from all the layers being added to it, one for each time Matt said her name. Laura.
“Leave,” I croaked, wiping at my damp eyes, shallow enough to worry about the state of my mascara. “Go away. Go be with her.” I’m still not sure if I actually meant this.
“Molly,” he pleaded. “Just a few days. Give me a few days to swallow all of this. To be alone. I swear, that’s it.”
I shook my head. The rock was rising through my system and it forced a sob up and through me, an awkward thing that made me feel as dirty as if I’d burped at a polite get-together. He pulled me to him, my face leaking against his jacket.
“I’m not leaving you,” he insisted, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m coming back.”
I pulled away, wiping at the remains of my dignity, forgetting all the bullshit of mascara and ugly crying and mussed up hair that fell into my wet face.
“Leave. I don’t care.” I’m still not sure if I meant this, either.
“Not until you talk to me,” he said. “It’s just a few days, Molly. I’m not leaving you.”
“You already did,” I said, glaring at him. The face I’d once had the honor of touching, the soft cheeks and square jaw, stared back at me, confused. I swallowed the rock down to its usual home, feeling it stretch out inside of me. “You left as soon as you saw her.”
He tried a few more times to fix what he knew he’d broken. He begged for a parting embrace and was met with the cold pillar I had become. His warmth didn’t even make a crack in my dull exterior.
“I’m not leaving,” he said as he left, shutting my bedroom door behind him. I waited until I heard him exit through my front door before I rolled over and stared at my old friends, those familiar starbursts on my cement ceiling.
The stone inside was silent; it knew I was now more rock than anything else.
Molly Robinson is a senior biology student at West Virginia University. She has been published in WVU’s undergraduate literary magazine The Calliope and is an opinion columnist for WVU’s student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum. When not writing, she can be found buried beneath medical school applications in the campus library or looking at pictures of cats online.