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Glass Refractions

The first time I looked out a car window, I peeked into another person’s life.

 

*****

 

My best friend dresses and undresses in the common room of her freshmen dorm room, partly because she has a wishy-washy roommate and mainly because she likes the tingly thrill of her body eating up empty space. Each morning, she plans how she will swagger through the streets in an absurd halloo of color and leaves the laces of her black boots loose to nod at fellow street walkers. At night, she strips down to her one pair of tights: ripped up the thigh and holey in the knee, the biggest hole just a little left of center.

 

Halfway through the year, my friend realizes people can see clear into the room. There are no curtains. I cringe in sympathy and ask what she plans to do.

 

“Give them a show.”

 

She is rolling her eyes. This should have been obvious.

 

*****

 

When someone is driving you in a car at sunrise, nestle deep into the seat and angle out towards the landscape. Feel cool glass against your temple. Drink the soft light with your eyes and let others watch you become beautiful.

 

*****

 

The first time I looked out a train window, I felt the earth expand for miles.

 

*****

 

The curtains are usually drawn in our living room, transforming the cocoa brown walls into the outer limits of an undiscovered cave. My mother keeps her favorite chair by the window. Always she sits sideways: face to the window, legs draped over the left armrest, left cheek wrinkling deeper the heavier she sinks against the textured seat back. She falls asleep like this. When she dreams, it is of writing and of Paris and other places that ask for passports. We are always sharing our dreams, my mother and me, but my mother’s dreams are bolder and more demanding. In this way we are different.

 

Most days the curtains are drawn, but some days — warm and not hot days in May and June — the curtain shifts so that a sun shard stripes my mother’s face and the corners of her lips cannot help themselves. On these days she does not mind letting the world in a little bit. On these days she is young and busy with her dreaming.

 

*****

 

There is nothing better than having a window entirely to oneself.

 

*****

 

I keep track of where I’ve lived by remembering the windows. In the summers, I return to my childhood. My mother barges in and shuts the windows (loudly), muttering all the while about lurking thieves (someone did recently steal dad’s bike) and our peeping-tom neighbors. At school, though, I defy her and leave windows gaping during blizzards. The freezing air is dangerous and therefore satisfying.

 

*****

 

There is nothing worse than a window that does not open.

 

*****

 

Mae’s laptop was always overheating during history class. When whipped out the dredges of her muddy Jansport, the clunky machine would hum with violent intensity until the screen lit up (suddenly!) and Mae found herself in control again. There were two explanations for this: she hadn’t shut her laptop down properly in three years and she never closed a window. Each time a mouse click conjured up the browser, it also dragged up Google searches and expired pages. When we became friends, I learned she needed to keep old windows open to feel the world could still be big enough.

 

*****

 

When someone is driving you in a car at noon, nestle deep into the seat and angle out towards the landscape. Feel warm glass against your temple. Steel your gaze and bake in the slow heat.

 

*****

 

The first time I looked out a plane window, I learned that above the clouds there is eternal blue.

 

*****

 

Some weekends, my parents packed us in the car and drove us out to open houses in neighborhoods nearby. The realtors walked us through the rooms—a nice master for mom and dad, a playroom for the kids, a kitchen with an island for meal prep or entertaining, if that’s your sort of thing ha ha. Then they would position us in front of a window, sometimes a large one leading onto a balcony if the house was that kind of fancy. 

 

I’ll leave you to enjoy the view. A polite smile. And then they drifted off to that couple that had just arrived and was already whispering conspiratorially to each other about crown molding.

 

For the rest of the week, we would imagine what it must be like to live in a house like that, and in passing we’d remind each other of the view.

 

*****

 

When someone is driving you in a car at midnight, nestle deep into the seat and angle out towards the landscape. Feel chilled glass against your temple. Rest your eyes, redraw the stars, and revel in your dream world.

 

*****

 

A window separates inside and outside, but a window is not a wall. It is glass. When light hits glass, it refracts into color and the colors collage into feeling. There is probably always one more way of living in a window.

Gabrielle Coloma is a fourth year English major at Yale. An on-and-off-again minimalist, she spends quite a bit of her time puzzling through the impulse to collect. She likes thinking in collage. This is her first time submitting work for publication.