First Things First This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

     The first thing you did, I think, was ask me how it felt. Which was stupid of you, you have to admit. I hadn’t seen you in such a long time; I had expected at least a hello.

Actually, the first thing you did when you showed up on my doorstep was ask me how I felt, and there’s a world of difference between me and it.

Because I felt horrible and it felt unreal and talking about either wasn’t preferred front-door conversation. I swiped at my nose, sniffling slightly, and let you in, saying something, I’m sure. I think I told you to come in, actually, and you smiled that horrible, I’m-so-sorry-for-you smile that made me want to hit you.

I didn’t hit you. I asked if you were okay, and you said that it was the wrong question to ask. But, yes, you were okay, hotels just weren’t your thing.

Funerals weren’t really your thing, either, especially funerals of old best friends’ boyfriends, but you came anyway. I didn’t remember seeing you at the wake the day before, but I probably would have remembered not seeing you, so that was that.

We stood for a few seconds, awkwardly, until I stopped fidgeting and settled for sitting halfway up the stairs. You sat down behind me, and I wasn’t sure exactly what you wanted, coming around the day after a funeral. I think you did it on purpose, hugging me from behind, because I never expected contact, not from anyone, not when I couldn’t see it coming. So I just rested my head in the crook of your elbow and thanked you for showing up, that it meant a lot to me.

You said it didn’t. You said all I needed was someone to talk to, and quite honestly, you couldn’t think of anyone who could do the job better. Because you wouldn’t judge me or feel sorry for me, not really, and that was all I needed, and even if I didn’t know it, you did. I didn’t answer, but you knew you were right.

So you asked again how I felt.

And I said something, something stupidly symbolic; I think I told you that it was stupidly symbolic, too.

You told me to go on.

I said I felt like a shell: an empty former-hermit-crab’s-home shell that was pretty to look at, all spider-line cracked, beautifully flawed and colorful, but still empty. Empty, empty, empty.

You asked, with a wry smile that wasn’t really funny, why I didn’t feel like a shattered mirror.

And I said the reason I didn’t feel like a shattered mirror was because an empty shell still remembers what it was like to have a hermit crab inside it. It still remembers what life felt like.

You sighed and whispered something I couldn’t hear. I think you said, “Oh, God.” But then you drummed your fingers against my shoulders, and maybe you didn’t whisper anything after all, you were just thinking about what I said.

You called it deep. You called it intense.

And I sat there, resting against you, thinking about how deep and intense I felt. I said no. I admitted it wasn’t deep or intense. It was just something that my delirious mind came up with last night when I realized that people would be asking me how I felt. It was just something stupidly symbolic, and now I felt like a fool for saying it.

You assured me, at least I didn’t say a shattered mirror.

So we sat a little longer, looking out the window at the gray sky. You mentioned how cliché it was that the sky was gray on a day like this.

I told you it was going to rain, as it always did on days like these. You didn’t say anything, just rested your chin on top of my head and kept drumming your fingers, and it was comforting, for a little while, and then it began drilling into my brain.

I asked you to remind me later that you were a horrible confidant and comforter.

You replied, telling me that you were a horrible confidant and comforter, but admit it, I didn’t want a confidant or a comforter, I just wanted someone near me who would observe how cliché the sky was.

And you were right. I never wanted to admit it, but you were right, because I didn’t want comfort and I didn’t want closure, I just wanted someone who could function around a broken, traumatized, empty-hermit-crab-shell person like me.

We moped for a few more minutes, until you raised your head and I raised mine in response to the sudden shift.

I asked you what it was. You told me to listen.

If I knew what a rattlesnake sounded like, I might have said that I heard a rattlesnake. But I didn’t, so I just said I heard rustling.

You said it was the rain. It was the rain, and we listened as the sound drew closer, a faint heartbeat growing into thundering hooves around us, huge droplets exploding on the sidewalk.

You stood up, stepped below me and pulled me to my feet. I didn’t question you, but you frowned and answered anyway, knowing already that I would ask. It was your turn to do something stupidly symbolic, and I had to go with you, because I put you through that horrible hermit-crab shell simile. You threw open the front door, pushed me into that cold shower, slammed the door shut, and screamed over the hailstorm of watery bullets.

You screamed that this was your symbolism. That all my grief was going to wash away in this storm, that I would let him go with the rivulets of ice flowing off my skin, that he would drain out of my head and when I went back inside, it would be better.

You screamed at me to scream, too. I did. I screamed and screamed, my throat straining, feeling sandpapery rough, burning against the water falling in my mouth. I spun in the rain, spinning so fast I got dizzy and fell in the grass, newly cut pieces clinging to my skin, and you fell with me.

You called it “scream therapy,” though you didn’t really believe in it, it just seemed suitably stupid and symbolic at the time. You asked if I still felt like a hermit-crab shell.

I took a few minutes to catch my breath, probably too many, but you let that pass. I said yes. I did still feel like a hermit-crab shell, only a little light-headed.

I apologized for ruining your stupidly symbolic moment, and you said it was okay. You didn’t really think it was symbolic, anyway, it just sounded good. You helped me up and tried, unsuccessfully, to brush off the grass. You said it was good that I knew I still felt like a hermit-crab shell. I wasn’t as bad as you thought I would be.

We went back inside and I offered you the guest room. You didn’t answer, and I didn’t push it.

You said you lied. I asked what you were talking about. You explained I was just as bad as you thought I would be. I knew I wasn’t any different for running in the rain, and you expected no less. After knowing me for ten years, you knew these things.

You knew I wanted to cry, and you told me to cry.

For once, you were wrong. I didn’t want to cry. I wanted you to stay. I wanted someone who wasn’t afraid of talking about Vince. I wanted someone who didn’t sound like she was avoiding the subject of Vince when she was talking about anything else. I wanted you to stay and be brave for me, be brave over the death of someone you’d met twice, and I didn’t want to cry, didn’t want to guilt you into staying.

I just asked you if you wanted to spend the night. You shook your head and explained you were going back to New York.

You knew, right then, that it was the wrong thing to say, because then I realized that I would have no one left to hang onto when you left that afternoon, and then I did cry.

You didn’t apologize, but you did comfort me in your own horrible little way, brushed the now-dry pieces of grass from my hair, whispered that you loved me. You whispered that I wasn’t going to be fine, not for a long time, and that I wasn’t allowed to use the word “Fine” until I did feel fine.

The last thing you did, I think, was tell me that you would call the following week. Which was stupid of you, you have to admit, giving me hope like that.

I knew you wouldn’t call, and maybe that was the best thing you could have done, instilling the certainty of disappointment in me.

So now, a long time past that day, I’m going to show up on your doorstep and I’m going to show you that I’m not a hermit-crab shell anymore. But I’m not going to tell you that I’m fine, because I’m not.

And I’m not going to ask you how it feels, because I already know. I’ve already screamed in the rain, and now you have, too.

Actually, the first thing that I’m going to do, I think, is tell you that hotels aren’t my thing, and then, in a stupidly symbolic display, I’m going to bring you out into the sunshine.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 4 comments. Post your own now!

Lily">This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Jan. 8 at 3:29 am
i love this !
wishingtheskywasbluer This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 23, 2012 at 2:51 am
i just loved every sentence of this:)
the_Horsegirl This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 21, 2010 at 3:09 pm
I really like this, very realistic and touching.
Rebecca P. said...
Jul. 30, 2009 at 6:33 pm
I love the honesty and the dishonesty between the friends. I also love how they use symbols while thinking they are stupid.
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