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Fifteen minutes on the clock. Nine hundred seconds. After all these years of procrastinating and wasting time, I had never reminded myself that time isn’t limitless. There’s an end to everyone’s time, a deadline, a due date, and I just tended to forget it. But now, with only fifteen minutes on the clock, I’ve realized that you never know how important something is until it’s gone. I can’t waste another precious second.
The stupid bus driver is supposed to bring me to school faster, but he’s just wasting my time; he’s slowing down at the yellow lights even when he has a chance to drive through them, he’s not reaching the speed limit, he’s stopping at each bus stop unnecessarily... I start to drum my fingers on my leg, feeling antsy, and then I impatiently ring the bell for the next stop. I guess I will just have to run the rest of the way to school. I am a faster runner than most people give me credit for.
Fourteen minutes on the clock. I exit the vehicle reeking of sweat and cigars, and I make a beeline towards my high school, which is still two bus stops away. I don’t think I’ve ever run this fast before. And it’s surprising how much energy I have when I’m literally running for my life.
I’m finally at the front of school, and I desperately look around for a certain red-headed idiot. I anxiously run toward the back field, and I spot her. Lauren is with two of her friends, talking and avoiding the soccer players and mud on the field. Sudden anger ignites in me, and I jog towards her, hands balled into fists.
Lauren’s laughing with her friends, but once I approach them, their laughter dies down. They all stop walking, and I’m face-to-face with the last person I want to waste my time with. Lauren gives me a look up and down, and I suddenly realize I probably look like such an appalling sight; hair frizzed up, nerdy glasses askew, dirt and green grass stains on my sweat pants from all the times I clumsily tripped on my way to school. Just my appearance could trigger a million insults, and when Lauren sticks up her perfect nose at me, I know just what she’s thinking. But right when she opens her mouth, I raise my hand and let it connect with her cheek. Hard.
Her friends gasp, and even everyone around us has turned to look over at us curiously. Some students look infuriated with me, but others gaze up at me with profound respect. Lauren raises her head slowly, palming the angry red mark on her cheek. I feel a sense of pride swell up in me. I don’t know where the sudden courage comes from, but it’s there. I feel confident a fiery in the heat of the moment. And I speak the words I’ve wanted to say ever since third grade.
“You know what, Lauren?” I speak loud enough for everyone to hear me, hoping to publicly humiliate her for once. “I’ve never liked you, and I never stood up against you, because I was too afraid. But I’m supposed to be afraid of people who are better than me, and everyone in this school is better than you.” At this point, everyone around us had gone silent and crowded around, watching intently. I think I even heard somebody whistle amidst the crowd. I’m starting to feel a bit claustrophobic, being in a large circle of the people I have always tried to avoid. But I continue speaking after breathing in deeply.
“You’re only popular because everyone is afraid of you. And your ‘friends’?” I nod my head towards Lauren’s so-called friends, who are gaping at me openly. “They only hang out with you because they don’t want to become your next target. But honestly, no one should be afraid of your opinion. And I shouldn’t care about a bimbo who bullies others to feel good about herself. No one should care about your worthless opinions.”
I am out of breath now. My heart is uncontrollably pounding in my ears, and somewhere in the background, I can hear people applauding and wolf-whistling, patting me on the back and giving out awkward high fives I can’t respond to. I finally look up and pay attention to Lauren’s face, and I can see her hands balled up and her eyes teared up halfway. I’m prepared for the fist she swings up at me, and I duck in time, expertly, and escape the kids yelling at Lauren and cheering for me. If it was an ordinary day, I would probably stick around and jokingly bow, maybe even further insult Lauren and make her cry, ruin her mascara-stained face even more. But the euphoria of the moment does not last, and I remember that time is still ticking away.
Twelve minutes on the clock. I spot my teacher, Ms Grady, crossing the field, heading towards us to see what the commotion is. Her face is red under her matted black hair, and she is raising her eyebrows at me. I can almost see smoke coming out of her nostrils. I wordlessly pull out some textbooks and papers from my bag and thrust them into her arms.
“I won’t need these again,” I say calmly, handing them over to her. There’s an antagonizing edge to my voice. “I will never need these again. I honestly think that everything I learned in class was pointless; the pie formula did not ever help me. The table of elements never came in handy in my life. They never will, and neither will everything else I have learned in school. In the end, I have wasted seven hours a day, five days a week, ten months a year, learning pointless things that never helped me become a better or more successful person.” I intake a deep breath to calm myself down, but I can’t hold myself back from sarcastically adding, “But thanks anyway, I guess.”
Ms Grady furrows her eyebrows, and I can see the frown on her thin lips and confusion in her beady little eyes. If it was any normal day, she would grab my wrist with one of her uncomfortably bony hands and drag me to the office, but right now, I can tell she is too stunned to speak or move. I don’t give her a chance to speak anyway. I turn on my heel and start running out of the field.
Eleven minutes left. I am making a home run, and mid-way, I fish out my cell phone from my grass-stained pants. I pause on the sidewalk for a moment to catch my breath while I dial my mom’s number. I’m trembling like a person with Parkinson’s, but I still manage to dial the numbers on my phone that are blurring up. I begin lightly jogging again, and I wait for Mom to pick up. One ring. Two rings. Three--
“Amber? Hello?” I feel a wave of relief wash over at the sound of her voice, although it still upsets me that she sounds distracted and busy at work. I can hear voices somewhere in the background and several clicking keyboards and rustling papers. Clearly she does not have time to talk to anyone, especially her geeky daughter.
“Yeah, hi mom,” I breathe, my heart beat pacing up a little, even though I had slowed down my run to a light jog. “Listen, sorry if you’re busy or something but-”
“It’s fine. I was going to break in a second anyway. Is anything wrong?”
She sounds so brisk, so casual, like this is any normal, hasty day at the office. She has no idea that I will not even be around for too long, and it makes my heart sink. My eyes well up half way, and I breathe in shakily. “Mom, I just wanted to—well, I...” I can’t find the words to say anymore. I had rehearsed what I wanted to say in my head while I was on the bus... but now that I am in the situation, the words I wanted to say just do not sound right in the situation anymore as they did in my mind. They don’t sound sincere enough. I can hear my mom’s patient breathing on the other line, and I realize that this is probably the most serene she will feel for a long time. I suddenly feel guilt and despair overpower me.
“I guess I just wanted to say that I love you... and that I’m sorry I’m not a perfect daughter. I’m sorry about that tantrum I threw last night. And I’m sorry that you always have to nag me to do the dishes and take out the trash.” My voice is trembling now, and I suck in a deep breath. My mind goes back to the day before, when I did not do the laundry. The clothes are probably sitting in a pile right now, left for her to do instead. My mind suddenly goes back to every time I’ve been a pain, every time I have put off chores and hid my report card behind my bed to collect cobwebs. I barely notice the tear that rolls down my cheek. “I’m sorry if I have ever caused you trouble. I don’t always show you how much I love you, especially since I’m too busy with meaningless things like school and friends, or because you are not at home often enough that I can prove how much I care... but I really do love you.”
My knees suddenly give out, and I’m on my knees, silent tears soaking my shirt, fingers knotted in my unruly hair. Mom sounds anxious when she replies, making my heart pang with even more guilt.
“You ARE a perfect daughter! I wouldn’t ask for anybody else in the world to replace you. And of course I love you too... But why are you telling me this now? Are you sure you’re alright? I can come home if you need me.” She is on the verge of panicking now. I can hear it in her voice, the way her words are speeding up along with her breath. I reply as smoothly as I can manage. At least one of us should remain calm, at least for the time being. I should give her at least this one moment to feel okay.
“No, no, you don’t have to. I’m fine,” I lied. I pull my phone away from my ear and look at the screen. I’m running out of time now. “Listen, I have to go. Just...” I can’t resist my voice from cracking. “’Just wanted to remind you that I love you.” I do not give her the time to reply. I hang up, and despite my buckling knees, I still manage to run home in the speed of light, the tears never stopping. I hang on to the memory of Mom’s voice the entire way. I can already feel her slipping farther away from me with every step I take.
Nine minutes on the clock. I kick off my shoes. I run upstairs, not bothering to shut the front door. I write a quick text message to my best friend, just a casual “I love you” and “I’ll miss you”. I copy and paste the same message to all my close friends and family. I could not leave knowing that I had not given everyone a proper goodbye.
Eight minutes on the clock. I run upstairs into my room, and even in my hastiness, I pause to look around my room. It is neat on the surface, but I have all my junk crammed under the bed and behind the dresser. The walls are periwinkle. Some of my art pieces used to be hung up on the walls, but I eventually took them down, which left dented tack marks all over the clean surface. My sister will probably make my room into a land fill once I’m gone. She’ll probably leave no respect for it. I cringe at the thought. But I never know. Maybe she will clean it every day and never change the sheets I slept on. Maybe she will keep the room tidy and cherish it when I’m gone. It’s funny how when you are gone, everything you had is suddenly a hundred times more valuable and important.
I snap out of my thoughts and lie on my belly, sliding under my bed and fishing out all of my money. I do a rough estimation of how much money I have. There are four wrinkled twenty-dollar bills. A five dollar bill. Two loonies... How much is that? Almost ninety dollars? I have been trying to save up money for a new phone, but of course it is not nearly enough money.
Even though there really is not enough time, I take a moment to dig around my stuff until I find a journal that I keep under my bed. I pull it out and flip through it in one fast gesture. The pages are crowded, messy and loud. All of my thoughts are stored away here. Thoughts that no one bothered listening to, or thoughts I would rather store away under the bed. I know that once I am gone, my respected privacy will not be respected anymore. It really is dispiriting how no one tries to find out what goes on in my head, but when I am gone, everyone will start desperately listening. Everyone will want to dig into my journal, into my haven that no one has the right to enter. if I am leaving, I am taking my privacy and respect with me.
I scoop up all my money as well as my journal and sprint downstairs. I jog into the kitchen and without a second thought, I tear up a handful of pages from my journal, right down the spine, and stuff everything at the bottom of the garbage bin, as deep as I can shove them in. I put the money I earned on the counter, leaving the responsibility to my mom of choosing who to give it to. I have been saving up money for so long, oblivious to the fact that I would never get to spend it at all. I guess sometimes people can be too washed up in work and earning money to realize that they will probably never get to spend all their money. They’ll never get to buy what they’ve always wanted. All of the value and importance I held toward my earnings has seemed to vanish because I know I do not need it anymore. It does not matter to me anymore.
I shake myself out of my thoughts and check the time. Six minutes on the clock. Only three-hundred sixty seconds left. This is it. I’m not ready for this. I open the fridge and look around in haste, grabbing whatever that comes in my reach; a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, a handful of Hershey chocolates, and the last slice of pizza. Why did I ever waste time working out and staying on a strict diet? Why did I waste years avoiding junk food in the fear of gaining weight? Who knew that in the end, it wouldn’t have mattered how I look or how much I have eaten? Does it matter right now? I feel sudden regret as I look down at the food I have been craving for weeks.
I don’t bother heating up the pizza. I just make run back upstairs, two stairs at a time. I run into my room, one hand holding the sweets while I use my other hand to clear my bed. As I sit down and pig out on my junk food, I go out of my way to delete all my embarrassing selfies from my phone, just in case. As I eat half the slice of pizza in one monstrous bite, I sprint to my younger sister’s room and leave my phone on her frilly pink bed, checking to make sure I had removed the passcode. It was odd how my possessiveness over my phone just diminished all of a sudden. It is ironic how usually I would get angry at my sister for sneaking onto my phone and leaving grimy fingerprints on it. Now I’m giving it to her to keep. It’s true that time changes everyone.
Three minutes. Everything around me is a blur now, even as I slide back into my bed and pull up the covers to my neck. I’m trembling like a flame blown by the wind, and I know that I’m within death’s reach now. It’s so close... I’m starting to feel weaker and weaker, as if I am aging by every second. The pain is so real now, so close. I close my eyes and try to concentrate and look back on my short, tedious life in a matter of seconds, even though my heart feels like it is crippling, wilting. Sure, I may have not lived a perfect, long, ideal life. Sure, I am not dying the way I would have preferred to die; an old woman in my eighties, dying peacefully and having lived a long life full of adventure and opportunities. I may only be seventeen years old, and I may not have always lived life to the extreme, but I’m dying in a peaceful, quiet place, with a melting Hershey in my mouth and no more regrets left.
Two minutes. I squeeze my eyes until my eyelids hurt. They say that when you’re about to die, life flashes before your eyes... but nothing’s flashing before my eyes, except for these last fifteen minutes. But that’s all I need. At least I have done everything I needed to do.
One minute on the clock. I feel the wind being knocked out of me, just as my thoughts begin to blur and subside. But even through the searing pain tugging at every part of my body, shredding me apart, I can feel an abrupt smile creep onto my face, because I’m thankful that I have done everything I had to do. I’ve done my job of leaving with no regrets, no words unsaid. And that is all that I need.