Cloud nine arrived in a small room above a large lecture hall. Our act of rebellion during this crisp autumn day, to hang out and smoke while the room below is full of eager to learn freshmen.
“All I want is to graduate and have a badass car within a year of it. Successful businessman type, you know?” Cleveland inhaled his share, looking at the ceiling as if he were talking to himself. I reflected on the first time I saw him, wearing his skyline sweatshirt, Indian’s cap latched onto his head. He’s the one who invited me to join him, and slowly, three more people gathered around us.
Here we are a month later, still unaware of each other’s names, but like clockwork, gathering around each Wednesday at six when the sun threatens to descend, letting night spread with open arms that provided no warmth. We had made it a rule not to learn names, that way we wouldn’t creep on social media to know more about our lives outside of our little circle.
Now I call them by where they came from, to sort it out in the mess I call my head.
“I feel like I’m already supposed to have my shit together. There is all this pressure to be successful.” Columbus vented as she waited for her turn to inhale the good, exhale the bad. Cleveland passed it off to her, and she almost seemed to visibly sigh in relief.
I could understand why. This group was the only thing that kept me calm with the pressure of school and work weighing me down. I had been overwhelmed by it all when the smell reached my nose, drawing me in, only to find Cleveland sitting back in an office chair, his feet propped up on the professor’s desk. We stared for what seemed to be minutes before he beckoned for me to join.
I didn’t hesitate.
The historic building was usually always empty on the second floor, leaving little fear of getting caught. I had seen Columbus, Akron, and Pittsburgh around this area before, and realized soon after we all gathered that they must come here to get away from the noise of life too.
“I just want to travel. Forget about the pressures of it all.” Pittsburgh pushed his hair away from his face, placing it behind his ears.
Everyone went quiet, thinking of our own futures. What had started this conversation? A student attending our college recently made it big after coming up with a product different from anything on the market, causing the rest of us to feel as if we were failing life.
“Listen.” Akron sat up at the desk he occupied, looking like a giant. I wondered if that was how he felt each day having to sit on uncomfortable, seats that didn’t quite fit his height and frame justice. “We all have something we’re meant to do with our lives. We’ll get to it, but for right now, we just need to live and focus on the current tasks at hand. I’m sick of looking at social media, seeing all of these people I knew in high school thriving, and comparing myself to them. I’ll get to where I’m going when I get there. I’ll never stop trying, but we need to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else and just wanting instant success. It comes with hard work. It’s not just going to come to us. Nothing is just handed over.”
I took in each word with renewed happiness. Who the hell cared about when other’s succeeded? I just needed to focus on myself, and my own path in life. Distance me from the constant need to check up on everyone else’s lives, and keep my eye on the prize.
I looked around the group at Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, and Pittsburgh. They all had different paths to follow, and I my own. There was no pressure to be the smartest, wealthiest, or prettiest in this group. We were going to get to where we were going.
For now though? We were just going to