Flying with the Sun

I've never considered myself a great hero, or a knight in shining armor, or even that stupid horse that the knight rides on. I'm not the villain, the bad guy who ties the pretty girl to the train tracks and cackles like batshit because he can. I'm not the guy anyone really notices. I'm just that one kid you pass everyday on your way to work, the one who's always hanging around the weird kids.

But… There was this girl. And I know, that sounds really cheesy and you can almost think that this is some sort of angst-y, oh-she-left-me-for-a-jock-oh-woe-is-me, run-of-the-mill type story that you can find in any shit teen novel.

Anyway, there was this girl. And she was different from everyone else I knew. A nonconformist, but not like me. Because I was like every other kid trying to be different, just conforming to another set of rules, but she truly did things however the hell she wanted to do them. And in a world where every status quo is another brick in the wall and another cocked-out, wannabe hippie or goth kid who pretends to be something new every day, that really meant something.

I wasn't in love with her in any way. No puppy love, no real, deep, true love that you read about in those crap romance novels, none of it. I just knew her and I remember her, mostly because, like I said, she stuck out. Because she didn't try to stick out.

All she ever did was be herself. From the heart. Not the head, not the mind, not the eyes; the heart. That's what she listened to. I remember how she used to be nice to everyone she met, at least when she first met them, and I asked her about it once. I asked her why. I still remember what she told me.

She said that everyone deserved to have a random stranger care.

That's all she was, really. Just a random stranger I knew a few times. A random stranger who cared.

I used to get in a lot of classes with her in high school. She'd walk in, wearing her homemade patchwork skirts and painted-on converses that had to be at least three years old, and she'd always sit in the desk right next to mine. "Because I know you" she'd explain, and take out her notebooks and take disjointed notes that made sense to her but no one else could make heads or tails of them. And she'd never let me cheat off of her tests, but she'd smuggle me her worksheets and I could copy those. She'd always explain everything I couldn't get when the teacher wasn't looking. I told her I'd never get it. She just told me to try again.

Every time I told her I wouldn't get it, eventually, I'd get it.

She always did her homework five minutes before it was due, saying she never remembered to do it at home. I think she just found it more interesting to do at school. She was always dramatic like that; she'd pretend that things were cool and even inject a little fiction into stories to make them better, more fun. She always said that life is only interesting if you make it so, and if you went through it taking everything at face value your life would be bland and boring. But if you spice it up with a little adventure, a few random things here and there, then it'd taste like what you buy at El Rancho's.

Crazy metaphors, she used them all the time.

I remember once, when I got separated from my friends at the mall on a band trip, she kind of sucked me into her group, saying that I'd get in trouble if I wasn't with another part of the band. So I wandered around a mall with her and two of her friends, people I didn't really know all that well. I kind of stuck out; they were all dressed normally, I was in black with chains hanging everywhere and all the cliché emo garb, and that was ignoring the fact that I'm kind of male, even though I don't think I really looked it at the time.

My friends and I, we sort of counted her as an honorary goth. She didn't wear all the black and the vampire things we did, but she was a nonconformist and that was enough for us. And I remember, on this band trip, she went by McRae's, and she spotted a really pretty green skirt, all flowy and such, just the way she liked them. And I remember how she went in there and said she'd buy it.

I told her that this was McRae's, that was where the preps (cue disgust) shopped. She just looked at me like I was insane and said, "Who cares where I got it? I like it, I'll wear it, and if someone else thinks it's too preppy, well, they can kiss my foot."

That was when I started learning how to be myself. I started to get it. Individuality is all a ruse unless you're really happy with yourself. All the people I hung out with, those of us who called ourselves so different and "out there", we were really just hiding behind how unhappy we were, just like all the preps and jocks we so despised. The only difference was the color of our facades.

But Rachel, she didn't hide. She showed herself off in her happiness, wearing a flowy green skirt and painted-on cons.

Anyway, after that I started hanging around her a bit more. She had friends I could relate to, of the masculine variety, so I didn't feel too stupid. But I remember, sometime in our junior year, she stopped by the Special Ed class.

I never really bothered much with the Special Ed classes; they were generally just a nuisance, people you couldn't bowl over in the halls because they had Down's or Autism, and you couldn't hate them for it because it wasn't their fault. So, in general, I just sort of left them alone. I wasn't one for helping those kids out, but I didn't degrade them or anything.

At least, I didn't think I had.

But this time I was walking with her to Algebra II and she stopped by to talk to this kid, Jake. He had Down's Syndrome, and he had the mentality of about a five-year-old. Jake rushed out of that room to greet her when she stopped at the door, and I just sort of stood there like a mannequin, feeling really dumb and out of place.

They talked for a bit, nonsense really. Apparently, Jake had nearly run into her the day before, lost and on the wrong side of the school, and Rachel had walked him to his classroom and promised to stop by and see him everyday, and that was why she'd stopped by.

Me, I would have figured the kid would've forgotten about it – or I would have forgotten about it – and never bothered. But she didn't. Every day after that, she stopped by the Special Ed class, and I was usually with her. Eventually, I introduced myself to Jake and he told me, in disjointed, childish speech, that my shoes were dirty.

It had been raining and I'd stepped in mud. I remember telling him that I knew they were, I just hadn't had time to clean them off yet. He reminded me everyday after that that my shoes were dirty until I finally cleaned them off to shut him up.

I remember how big he grinned when he saw that I'd cleaned up my shoes, and I remember thinking that every second of that hour I spent scrubbing those vans clean was worth it to see that kid smile.

Then, as it was getting close to prom – a feature of the school that I never cared about – Jake started to look sadder. Eventually, Rachel asked him why. He told her that he'd never been to prom and he wanted to go, he wanted to see what everyone was so excited about.

Rachel had smiled, and she said, "Well, then, you can come with me. I need a date and you look like just the guy for me." And she did. She took that little Special Ed student with the mind of a five-year-old to prom and even danced with him. It both infuriated and shamed everyone who knew her. Infuriated the guys because they couldn't see why she'd go to such a huge event with a kid suffering from Down's, and shamed everyone because they wouldn't have considered it.

I remember the grin on his face, and I know that she was thinking that every second of those three hours she spent at the biggest dance of her lifetime with a retarded child was worth it just to that kid smile.

I also remember when she told him that she was moving. Poor Jake, he nearly cried. He asked her why, and she said that she was like a bird, she had to fly with the sun, and it was setting for now, but not to worry; it'd rise again soon enough, and then she'd be back.

Really, she didn't expect to ever come back, but she wanted to say something to make him happy, and it did. Every morning after she left, he came up to me and asked if she was coming back yet, and I'd just say "Not this sunrise, Jake. We'll see again tomorrow."

That's what Rachel always did. She flew with the sun. She'd bring brightness and joy and life to everyone when she came into the picture, but she couldn't stay. Even so, there'd always be the memory of her to remind everyone that the sun rises tomorrow. And then there's the other things she left behind: A former goth kid who finally learned to grow out of angst, a memory of a dance in the mind of a child who wouldn't have had anything like it, and a pair of painted-on converses that she gave me when she left. She said she'd buy a new pair when she got to her new home, and to give these to Jake.

He grinned when I did.