Pocket of Peace
Being a college junior in NYC wasn’t easy for Iris. The pandemic made it worse. But no matter how stressed she may get, she remembers that loving herself is the solution to all her problems.
She didn’t hear anything from outside the front door, but it wouldn’t have made sense for the window to be open with such cold air outside. Hoping there was no chaos inside, Iris pulled her keys from her pocket. They felt like ice between her fingers, but she gripped them tightly and turned the key to pull the door forward.
The living room was just as dark as it was outside, except for the glow from the TV. Her father looked up at her from the couch, where he laid down, waiting in expectation. She slowly kicked off her boots and picked them up by her fingers, hoping her father would take an opportunity to make the first move for once, but he just laid there, staring blankly. So, she made her way to the staircase.
“Hello,” Iris said to her father, keeping her eyes fixed on the floor.
“Hello,” he replied, dryly.
Iris started up the dark staircase and from the second step she saw light from her mom’s room flooding out into the hallway. When she was halfway to the top, she could hear her Mom’s laughter. Iris grinned. She’s either watching TV or scrolling through Instagram videos on her iPad, she thought.
Sure enough, there was her mom, leaning on the bed, iPad in hand, smiling at the screen.
“Hi Ma,” Iris said, raising a hand to wave.
Her mom looked up cheerfully. “Hey! How was your day? Oh boy. You look exhausted.”
“It’s freezing outside!” Iris whined. All she wanted was to plop down on the floor and sit, but that would be uncomfortable in the black, rockstar skinny jeans she bought just a week ago and her oversized jacket that was still swallowing her. It would take even more effort just to get back up to her feet if she did.
“Go on and take a bath,” her mom suggested. “Do you want me to run it for you?”
“No, that’s okay. I got it. Thank you,” she whimpered, shuffling on her feet. “How was your day?”
“I felt the same as you, but I’ll talk to you later. I made dinner. It’s downstairs on the table. You can eat it when you get out if you’re hungry,” her mom offered before shooing Iris away. “For now, just go and relax. You can tell me all about it later”
Iris sludged to the next room over. She didn’t even bother flicking on the light. She dropped her boots in the middle of the room and let the straps of her corduroy tote slip off her shoulder and plop on the floor, despite her laptop being inside. It was dark in her room, but she didn’t need light to strip to her underwear or grab whatever house clothes were in her pajama drawer.
It may have been messy, but it was her only space to be. When she finished taking her bath, her room would be in the same state of entropy as it usually was, but she’d deal with that later. At least, that’s what she always told herself.
The darkness concealed it, but if someone were to go into her room they’d most likely step on a few paintbrushes with glops of wet, oil paint left on the bristles. Someone might trip over her boots or even a pair of twenty-pound dumbbells she left out in hopes of it reminding her to work out. The only place to sit for unannounced guests was either her bed or the floor, since a heap of clothes were occupying her computer chair.
But she wasn’t focused on the mess in her room. She was more focused on the mess in her mind. Hurriedly, Iris went into the bathroom and locked herself away again. She leaned over the tub to draw the hot water that gushed from the faucet to fill the tub. When a decent amount was filled, she added a quick burst of cold water, so that her skin didn’t burn when she eased in, toes first, before sliding down against the porcelain.
She pulled the shower curtain across, blocking the light and confining herself even further. Despite living in a big house in a big city, she still sought to stick to her little world at the end of the day.
The water slid up her spine to lap at the back of her neck as she leaned back into a reclined position and let her eyelids fall. Air drew into her lungs from her flared nostrils and she held it there for a moment. It seemed endless, as if she couldn’t get enough. A thunderous cloud was building inside the center of her chest, a swirling storm of anger, frustration, annoyance, sadness, regret, envy, disappointment and punishment. She stuffed every moment and feeling from the day in, until her lungs felt like they’d explode.
And then, she released it all. It would drag her down and consume her if she let it stay. So she let go of everything from the parting between her lips, that turned into a smile.
This story is inspired by a memory I recalled while reminiscing over high school with my best friend. I remembered how I’d been so stressed and exhausted after coming home, and I didn’t wind down in the way that I do now. Nowadays, it involves reading a book in a bathtub with a candle or two lit. Like my own pocket of peace. This story was written in honor of my younger self and all other young girls and women.
May this be a reminder to always take time out of your day to love yourself by letting yourself go and relax. You deserve it.
My mentor, Jesse, helped me build the characters through interactions and diction and helped me with some last minute edits. Many thanks to her!
Elena Johnson is a journalist and creative storyteller from the Bronx. She loves to be near nature and listen to neo-soul music while painting. As an avid movie-goer, Elena enjoys mind-bending, thought-provoking movies as well as stories about everyday life. She also enjoys reading novels by women of color for the representation and inspiration it provides, which wasn't as common as it is now when she was growing up, and hopes to one day provide the same for others.