Rule of Thirds

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Words: Maelyn Dolan (She/Her)

Afterwards, she thinks that maybe she was born with violence blooming within her. By five she understood that misunderstandings were where every story began. Dissecting each conflict, she laughed and began to see the bright space where a narrative began.  

She went to bed one evening with a cut lip. Some girl with a nasty ring had given it to her. She had returned the favor twofold, writing a new story. A tiny cut on her finger from a shard of glass was the exposition. Scabbed knees was the climax. There was a bruise blooming beneath her eyes, a throbbing purple conclusion.

It felt simple, a sequence of three to follow, beginning middle end. She thought about attack dogs. The muscles of a widening jaw, the ivory of tooth, biting into skin and not stopping until blood was drawn. 

So she fought a lot, bared teeth and lashing tongue and raised voice. Sometimes her blood would boil at the right temperature and physical blows would evaporate from her. Throwing words back and forth, the energy, the pacing, a sharp slap delivered to a flushed face, the thwack and welling eyes, all of it easy. She wasn’t, at most points, entirely sure why. 

It was in the quiet spaces that the thought arose. But the frantic static of anger, of adrenaline and bruises and yanked ponytails of classmates, took up so much space within her with their noise that wondering about things like right and wrong never did her any good. She could steep in a fight like tea, she could butter it like bread, and when things were raw she would pack salt onto the wound. She was a teenager, following her vaguely twisted three step plan. 

‘You’re being really nasty.’ A friend said as she bickered with her. And she was. She knew she was, but her blood simmered within- so she shoved her, there on the sidewalk. A shove to get the ball rolling, gleefully watching it gather momentum. A beginning.

They had been walking up a hill, a steep hill, their least favorite part of the walk home. Her friend, unafraid of her, lacking a temper, was amongst the few people at their school who still wanted to talk to her. 

 That day, near the beginning of summer, the sun was incredibly hot. Everything felt itchy and sweaty, the pavement radiated heat. Both had curls plastered to their foreheads, squinted eyes. The sun glinted off of windows, light reflecting off of the two girls on a quiet street, booth unmoving and speaking rather loudly. It was the kind of argument where it seems quite necessary to stop in the middle of the street and shout.  

 It was, more precisely, three arguments in the span of their 30 minute walk home. The first two seemed trivial. But they were the sort of arguments that got stuck together, that glued themselves inside their mouths, that made the other’s opinion entirely incomprehensible.

Naturally, the first was about the Jonas Brothers. They were, like many 13 year old girls in 2013,  fans of the Jonas Brothers. They simply could not agree on who was the best out of the trio. It was resolved quickly, she believed Nick Jonas the best of the three, her friend, obviously possessing the wrong opinion, liked Frankie Jonas because she felt bad that no one else liked him. 

She did not bear her friend’s words of reconciliation well. ‘You know I find it very, very hard to agree to disagree.’

A drop of sweat grew on the tip of her friend’s nose. ’Take a deep breath, count to three,’ she said.

The next argument was about wind turbines. They were studying renewable energy in science, and she liked the idea of the three blades ceaselessly rotating when it was windy, creating energy just by moving. She felt like that sometimes too. Her friend thought they were terrible because she felt bad for all the bird-deaths they caused. 

This was, perhaps, even more ridiculous to her than Frankie Jonas. ‘Who even gives a damn if an osprey or a seagull dies?!’ 

‘Me, that’s who. And it’s a sin to swear like that, you know.’

‘Says who?’

‘I don’t know, God?’

‘That’s bullshit. God doesn’t exist.’

‘Yes, he does.’

This was the cause of the final argument. Her friend, a firm believer in the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit – prayers at the dinner table, cross around her neck – could not fathom a world in which God did not exist. She most certainly could. 

No matter how much she argued the contrary- ‘If God existed why are there still starving people in the world,’ – ‘My dad says it all just comes down to science, and that you’re ridiculous if you think otherwise,’ – ‘When has your God ever actually answered your prayers?’ – her friend remained entirely unswayed. 

She fanned herself with a notebook paper accordion, and said, ‘I just know there’s something out there that none of us can explain. God is a force. God is kind, and He, whoever He may be and whatever He may look like, believes in you. Even if you don’t believe in Him.’

This strange little sermon made her roll her eyes. ‘You’re actually really stupid, did you know that?’ 

“You’re being really nasty,” said her friend, remembering a comparison of their math test grades earlier in the day. 

And then suddenly it went past God and wind turbines. Suddenly she was nothing but resentment. 

She resented her friend for being so kind, to Frankie Jonas and Ospreys and God – for always sharing her lunch and laughing when the joke wasn’t funny and for raising her hand in class and for not having braces. She resented her friend for the drop of sweat on her nose.

And when your cup runneth over with resentment, it quickly turns to anger. 

So, then came the shove, a harsh and angry beginning.

The problem is, sometimes the rising action contains unanticipated plot twists. Her friend had stumbled and not been able to regain her footing. She was too off-balance, and she fell, backwards down the hill, arms comically pinwheeling in the air and then catching all of her body weight as she hit the pavement. 

The audible snapping of the bones in her friend’s wrists was an unwelcome climax. 

So here she is, standing on a deserted street on the hottest day of the year, listening to her friend shriek in pain. She doesn’t really care if God exists or not, or about renewable energy or even Nick Jonas. She has lost faith in the simplicity of a violent narrative. She no longer trusts the story. She wonders if the shrieking is the conclusion, or if something else is.


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