The Rock Collector -- creative nonfiction by Shrihan Yadav
My past self was an idiot. He and I don’t see eye to eye on some ideas and arguments. Sure, there are some similarities; we both like to collect rocks, as an example. That’s about as far as the similarities go. He looked for rocks that felt nice in his hand and instilled memories in his head; I now look for rocks that I think would look cool in the corner of my desk. There are some moments in life where we have conflicting views on correct responses. There was this girl that had come along his path in life one time. She wasn’t anything special to him at the time. They just knew each other because they shared common friends. I think he shouldn’t have been such an asshole to her when she wronged him. He thinks he was justified in doing whatever he wanted to her. However, it’s ignorant to attribute his actions to a completely different person. It’s as if I don’t want to own up to the fact that I ever did such a thing. In reality, I was an asshole, and I needed to own up to it.
The salty scent of the primordial sea pervaded throughout the cove. That along with the smell of the wilderness thousands of years in the making, unearthed by the now subsided storm, stirred together in the atmosphere and still did not manage to attract the boy’s attention. The vast expanse of the ocean, teeming with billions of lifeforms, possibilities, and treasures. Pine trees, maple trees, oak trees, shrubs, bushes, and ferns, dotted with an occasional darting bird or insect. Mountains lined with ridges and rock dating back to as far as the Ice Age. The entirety of it stood no chance against the boy’s excitement, as he instead ran to the shoreline looking down at his feet in search of pebbles as souvenirs. He was a rock collector; rocks were his everything.
The girl with the rock collection would’ve only thought about the flight she was about to make and the trip she was about to undergo. The excitement she held, formed by three years of anticipation for this journey, soon would be unleashed in forms of hyperactivity and joy. Lying down in bed she would've been unable to sleep, calculating all the possibilities of how the trip would go down, and pondering on the treasure trove of memories she would soon have of one of the greatest times of her life. Flurries of messages with friends and family would leap out from her phone, and in her feverish state she would only be able to reply with numerous typos and little to no grammar.
She might have been excited to one day reflect upon it. She would think to herself about what an euphoric time it had been, touring the new city with all her friends, staring at the historical attractions in awe. She might have looked back to the journey and thought to herself how much simpler life was when she was carefree, young, and jovial. Even with the astronomical proportions of the entirety of her youthful excitement, it stood no chance against the primal insanity she had caused within me. I ignored all her emotions, instead seeing it fit to pick apart and ruin her whole journey for what she had done to me.
The boy found that the pebbles underneath the water’s surface felt fresher to him. Smoothed by the timeless sway of waves, the pebbles were as comforting to the touch as a newborn baby’s cheeks. He paced back and forth along the water’s edge, examining each rock not for its appearance, but for the perfect feeling it would give him in his hand. Rocks with magnificent brown-gray colors, combined with soothing stripings of black, brown, and silver were nothing to him if they did not bend to the figure of his hand. The rocks he would choose wouldn’t just be “pretty,” they would be perfectly tailored to him. His long fingers would have to fall upon their edges just perfectly to accommodate the finger’s length and bending capabilities. He hurled the vast majority of the precious agates, which did not conform to this rule, back into the sea which had sculpted them over millennia. And he would continue in his search, pacing back and forth along the water’s edge, until he had found as many rocks as he wanted to his satisfaction.
I live now remembering that I had lost control on that plane flight. Control I had lost because of certain details which had been leaked out by the girl with the rock collection. Details that the girl had no right to share about me. Details that were supposed to be mine and mine alone, not hers. Details that once spread beyond containment, drove me to despise her. Details which I would never tell a soul about, as the damage that was done by releasing it sparked my insanity.
So I dove deeper into the insanity. On that initial plane flight I shoved the girl’s flimsy chair back and forth mercilessly. I rattled that filthy excuse of a seat with the force of an earthquake maxing out on the Richter Scale, damn near ripping it off of the ground. I poked her, prodded her, yelped and yelled and laughed like a hyena, listening to the anger in voice rise and rise. Through her stern yet desperate commands for me to stop, I made sure there wasn’t a position in which she could escape from the relentless hell I was making. She tried and tried and tried to make me stop but I was too far gone. I was in a high of some sort; a high from the joy in her pain. And I kept going, hammering her chair back and forth in a vicious cycle until I finally felt satisfied. It wasn’t a satisfaction of completion. It was the satisfaction only a predator would feel after hunting down its prey: pure excitement.
The first rock the boy fit in his hand was dark gray with a creamy coloration on its top half, almost like a cap. Its flat base correlated with the thumb pad of his right palm as he placed it there instinctively. His index, middle, and ring fingers effortlessly wrapped over the bulk of it, while his thumb traced along its side. With his pinky he laid it onto the cream cap curving out.
The first rock he fit in his hand brought back memories of the plane flight. Its flat base instinctively rested on top of his thumb pad, greatly different from the paper he had once held, uncomfortably rolling around back and forth on his thumb pad. His index, middle, and ring fingers forcefully had gripped around the rough cylindrical shape he had made with the paper. With his pinky he clasped harder around the paper, believing the harder held it the more force he could exert with it. Now, the agate’s smooth surface provided his savage hand with a sanctuary to rest and recover. Maybe, just maybe, he thought, he could carry it without reliving the crimes of his past.
She told a teacher about the incident; her efforts were in vain. The teacher neither had the heart to yell at me, nor did he understand the magnitude of what I had done to her. So all I received was a small warning, which I effortlessly laughed off. The next few days after the flight, I walked with a skip in my step and a smile on my face. Locking thumbs with my significant other, we walked back and forth along an unconcerned stretch of water without a single speck of guilt or regret in my mind.
Fast forward a couple months and the very girl with the rock collection inexplicably was now my friend. For whatever reason, she had moved on from the incident, leaving behind her hatred towards me. Perhaps she was just a great person, having the ability to forgive even the lowest of creatures. It was only then did I hear of her experiences of the aftermath of the incident. I learned what she had felt after the plane flight was a stark opposite to the euphoria she had wanted. With that it finally started to sink in; the result of my actions, the consequences of my hunt, and the outcome of the path I had taken. I looked at the girl everyday, contemplating the hatred which she carried for me at one point, and how it seemed to have vanished entirely.
It didn’t make any sense to me. We weren’t supposed to be friends. I had set up our relationship to be a failure. I shouldn't have been able to sit next to her in class, laughing about a teacher’s habits as we took turns pointing out his actions. Nor should I have been able to look at her across a room, exchanging a quick smile and leaving it there on our faces knowing we had made each other’s day. We could laugh as we told jokes to each other, smile as we retold old stories of the past, and ponder on the darkest of thoughts we shared with each other. We could do all the things which labeled us as close companions, yet it all didn’t add up as to how she had forgotten about the monster I had once been. Where was my punishment for wronging her? Why was I able to get away with it?
It was at that point I knew I owed her. She didn’t deserve the treatment I gave her. She was pure of heart. Innocent. She was a deer amongst a forest of lynx. Just by looking at her skin you could tell it was as smooth as a newborn baby’s cheek. I had shot the deer in the leg. You can’t un-shoot a deer but you can nurse it back to full health as an apology. How was I to do that? So I searched for any link, any solution, any answer. Within my mind, a prominent image of a jagged gray stone suddenly took hold. Almost instinctively I knew that this rock would be my redemption; once given to the girl would lift all the guilt I had carried off of my shoulders. The solution was plain and simple. She had a rock collection. I was a rock collector.
The second rock the boy found was his favorite out of all eight. He could hold the jagged gray stone with just 2 fingers. Its outer edge glided along and traced the bends and bows of his entire left thumb. It was the same thumb he had locked once with his significant other. The same thumb he had used to incessantly jab an innocent person seated in front of him. The other side fell flat and straight with the exact length of his index finger. What was left uncovered by his fingers was a flat surface, light gray in color with two tan brown ribbons in the rock almost parallel. He gazed longingly at the surface, which reminded him of good times when he and his love moved together in harmony along a stretch of water and without considering the pain of others.
Holding it brought back his memories of learning to ride a bike, his brother’s birth, and seeing his entire extended family sitting together under one large roof. It foretold his near future in which he resided in a tight knit circle of friends, received success beyond anything he could have hoped for, and underwent a revival of courage in his heart. The rock drew all the joy and excitement from the boy’s heart and concentrated it within its infinitesimally microscopic atoms. The little boy looked down at the rock with a gentle smile, overjoyed at his finding of such a personal treasure. He held it to his chest as he continued on his search for more, though he had already been satisfied beyond his hopes and dreams.
I sat at my desk playing around with a pendulum I made. The weight I had chosen to put on the pendulum was my dark gray rock with the creamy cap. I watched as it swayed back and forth on its own, demonstrating what my physics teacher told me was simple harmonic motion. Simple, I assumed, because it could be predicted with an equation. Yet the equation was imperfect. There were too many variables it overlooked as it tried to piece together the reason and predicted outcome of the rock’s path. It didn’t account for the twirling of the agate as it oscillated. It didn’t calculate for the different tensile force of the string, as at the peak of its swing the string would fall limp as it let gravity take over. There was nothing simple about this motion.
I hypnotized myself by watching the rock twirl around, with each swing showing a different side to its figure. One moment it would show the dark gray base, the next it would show its creamy curvy cap.
As I snapped out of my trance, my eyes shifted to look at my most cherished rock on the corner of my desk. I picked it up, examining the feather-like weight of it, accompanied by its light gray shade and the tan ribbons wrapping around it. I fidgeted around with it in my hand, struggling to find the sweet spot in which it used to fit effortlessly in my palm. My hand had grown too large to ever accommodate the rock again. The rock was eons away from the current time period, too far from its original location, and currently being held by a person too different from his past self.
The next moment I remember was when I gave the rock to her. The girl with the rock collection. I told her how the rock would probably fit into her hands nicely. The outer edge could trace the bends and bows of her entire left thumb. I told her the other side fell flat and straight, where her index finger could be laid down. She could stare at the flat gray face, laced with the two almost parallel tan brown ribbons, just as I had done. In it maybe she would’ve seen the little girl she once was; young, carefree, oblivious, and jovial. She would’ve seen her mother grab her arms, scolding her for smearing peanut butter all over the walls; her dog, tearing up her parents’ pillows as she hopped around gleefully under the shower of feathers; her and her friends outside in the yard chasing each other with bubble making wands. If she traced along the sharp edges of the gray rock, she might have been able to see her future: taking the subway home at two in the morning after a long night of studying in the university’s library; reading Goodnight Moon to her sleepy twin sons in her lap under dim yellow lighting; walking hand in hand with her significant other down the Yellowstone river. Maybe, just maybe, the joy of mine which the rock had channeled within each and every atom would then transfer to her, finding itself a home where it could seed, grow, and flourish. Only then could I live with my past mistake, knowing she had received the excitement from anticipating for three years that one plane flight, which I had denied her to have. She thanked me for the rock. I like to think she thanked me for the years of friendship which soon would follow. We then left each other with smiles.
I went home that day with a skip in my step and a smile on my face. The entirety of the situation finally felt resolved. I took down the pendulum I had set up and tossed the dark gray rock into my closet. Digging through the remaining seven agates I had taken from the cove, I found an orange and gray speckled rock. Millions of possibilities, treasures, and emotions all concentrated into each of the millions of spots, either orange or gray, dotted the rock's surface in each of its speckles. It unearthed the scent of the salty sea it held, along with the smell of a wilderness thousands of years in the making. It all stirred together in my room, filling my nose, head, and heart. Having felt the rock’s infinity pass through each and every cell of my body, I placed it on the corner of my desk, and sat down in my chair, knowing that the story of the girl—the one with the rock collection—was now complete.
Shrihan Yadav is a sophomore who loves pool related activities such as being a lifeguard and swimming. He also enjoys long, isolated walks in nature settings. He plans to remain in the state of Massachusetts for as long as he can.