Darkness Into Light

March 9, 2013
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I peer through the dark strands of my hair at the person staring back at me. He is a vision in black, wearing dark jeans, boots, and a plain black T-shirt. A couple of wristbands hug his wrists. He doesn't care much about his appearance, although he only ever seems to lean toward clothes that aren't too bright or overly cheerful. He has no desire to stand out, to be the popular one, or to be very noticed at all. Usually he just wants to be left alone.
Of course it is myself I am looking at. I’m briefly checking myself in the mirror before beginning the half-hour trudge to school—it’s not that I want to look good, or that I really care how I look at all, but I just want to make sure there isn't anything that will draw any kind of attention.
I sigh. Shrugging my backpack onto my shoulders, ignoring the painful weight mainly caused by two textbooks, I head for the door. My parents aren’t home when I leave for school, which I am grateful for; I can hardly tolerate their overly (fake) concerned attitudes toward me.
The sharply cold October air attacks me before I even step onto our porch. I should’ve grabbed a jacket, but I’m already on my way out. I don’t care much. I’m used to the cold, anyway; I’ve lived in Washington my whole life. I walk down the street, passing the huge houses in this wealthy part of town and regarding them with disdain, like always.
This morning, as I do every morning, I think about dropping out. I don’t know why I make myself go through with it all—walking in the freezing morning air to that stupid wealthy school where they care more about grades, test scores, and how they appear to others than people themselves. Seriously, I’ve flunked so many tests and all they’ll say to me is how I can improve. I mean, the other schools I’ve been to, at least once they’d ask you if everything was okay at home, or if you were having trouble with friends or something like that. I don’t know.
I guess I haven’t dropped out yet because I’d feel bad if I did. My parents really tried hard to get me into this school (it made them look good), and I’d pretty much be throwing it all away if I left. But that was back when I cared. Now, I’m done caring. I’ve had enough with my parents, their arguments and their forcing me to “do my best.” I’m tired of high school and its unnecessary drama and pointless work. I think that one of these days, I may just leave.
But here I am. Again. Ready to be ignored.
I step through the wide double doors into the always-sickeningly-fresh-smelling building, where a bunch of other rich kids infest the shiny, impeccable halls. At least they don’t make us all wear uniforms. They’re almost that fancy here at West Valley High. And yes, my parents are wealthy. That’s how I go to such a place like this. It’d all be great, if I cared anymore.
I make my way to first period math, trying to ignore the whispers I hear about me. It happens in lots of schools. They’re all nasty things coming from nasty people, and I’ve learned to tune them out. It’s funny—by simply doing nothing, I have made more enemies than allies. Go figure.
As I sit and half-listen to my math teacher go on about trigonometry, I look outside. Maybe I’ll leave at lunch and not come back. I do it a lot.
I feel something small hit the back of my neck. A piece of crumpled up paper. I don’t move an inch, but inside I seethe with anger at the unintelligent, childlike giggles that follow.
I hear one whisper, “Hey, don’t be mean to the emo kid,” but I know they don’t mean it because it’s spoken through more giggling. Stupid girl. Stupid people with their judgmental labels for others. They ought to shut up.
“He won’t do anything about it, though. Watch.” I feel two more small objects hit me in the head, the shoulder. I can feel it growing inside me, the anger, and I know what’s coming. I don’t want to do this again, but it’s happening. I envision something painful happening to that person. Nothing too bad—they’re not that mean—but something just to get back at their rudeness. And they won’t know it’s me.
The bell rings. I slowly stand up, half the speed as everyone else, and take my backpack. As I turn, I see the guy who threw stuff at me stand as well. Then, I feel a shift in the air, a change in the course of events, and I know I am the cause of it.
The guy’s foot catches on a chair leg. His balance is lost, and I watch him tumble down to the floor. I don’t really see it, but I think his ankle twisted underneath him. It’s not too bad. He cries out in pain and grabs his ankle. Everyone surrounds him, freaking out and asking if he’s okay.
Man, he’s making a fuss. It’s only a twisted ankle.
Anyway. That took care of that. I slowly pass it all and walk out of the classroom, unnoticed as usual.

After lunch, I decide to stay at school, for some reason. I walk past the blue lockers, up the polished staircase to my English class. A bunch of preppy girls stare at me as I walk by and whisper as I pass them about how “cute” I am. They continue to dare one another to talk to me, but they’re all too scared.
It’s how a lot of girls here are. It takes all I’ve got not to puke. You’d think that being surrounded by this every day, I’d get used to it. But I’m not, and that’s how it is. There are people like them, and there are people who are intimidated by me for no good reason.
And then there are the ones who are just plain jerks. Some girl pushes me hard. She’s obviously not one of the ones who thinks I’m cute, because when I lose my balance and fall, she walks on and laughs. “Why don’t ya do somethin’ about that, Emo Boy?”
You know, it sure is annoying being called that. I pick myself up, look at the back of her stupid blonde head, and imagine a force pushing her. Once again, I feel that change in the air that’s my fault, and I watch her slip. Her backpack weighs her down and I watch her lean forward, trying to hold onto the banister. But she takes a tumble partly down the staircase, and some things fall out of her backpack. The other girls rush over to her, making sure she’s all right. Oh, she is. I didn’t make it that bad.
The rest of the day breezes past me. It’s as if life flows right in front of me, waiting for my grasp and my eagerness to learn that I used to have. Ugh. Learning. I no longer have that drive, and I don’t look forward to class. I watch opportunities pass in front of my eyes and disappear. There are no more “incidences”, which I’m glad for, I guess. Or maybe I’m disappointed I couldn’t give anyone else what they deserved. I don’t know.
Home again. I throw my backpack on the living room floor and turn on the television, my two-hour escape until my parents get home. An escape before the lectures and the yelling and the anger. Every night is the same. But I don’t care much; like the rude whispers at school, I’ve learned to tune it all out, to not let it affect me as deeply as it once did. Now it’s just another part of my daily routine, and it’s changed from a distressing event to a mildly annoying one.

Oh, school. Very soon, it’s going to be my last day here. Really. I’m done with school and the opportunities that, like almost all the people in my life, ignore me. I guess I don’t want to go quite yet so I can give the awful people what they deserve. Just maybe so they’ll learn their lesson, and so that someone else doesn’t have to go through what I do. I’m not sure if it’s all working, though. Oh well.
I listen to my English teacher, remembering the joy I once felt in studying this subject. Grammar, writing style, voice, word choice… I loved it. Once. But that’s all forgotten. Sometimes I try and see if I’ve somehow recovered that yearning to learn, by actually paying attention, but I feel a wave of irritated gloominess that sits in the pit of my stomach, and I go back to ignoring everything again.
“My son is an incredibly intelligent young man, but he seems to have trouble…applying himself to things. He seems to have lost his love of knowledge. If he continues to fail to do so I’ll be sending him to an alternative high school.” My father’s despondent voice rings in my ears every now and then, memories of conferences and meetings resurfacing again and again. Hopefully one day I’ll have succeeded in pushing them so far back in my memory that I will have forgotten about it all.
Now I see a girl standing in the doorway. I don’t recognize her. She stands shyly, biting her lower lip, and my teacher notices her and invites her in. The girl is introduced as Mellie, new to the school from another state. I didn’t hear where. Raven-black hair frames her face, and she has these big, observant brown eyes. She scans the room with a faint smile as she tries to look friendly. I’m sure she’ll find some group of new BFFs soon. But what I do know is she’ll be given a lot of attention. It’s certainly coming. Her and someone else, some new friend.
Shocked, I squeeze my eyes shut and open them, making myself stop seeing her future. Huh. It’s weird; I stopped doing that months ago, because I didn’t want to care about others anymore. But for some reason, I automatically did it with this girl.
I smell faint, throat-burning perfume as she walks by me. I wrinkle my nose at her, already annoyed. She’ll probably be with the preppy kids. The ones who dare each other to talk to me, the ones I really hate. I glance at her, to my right.
She is staring right back at me. I react internally, startled. It’s not the “He’s cute” kind of look I get, but a real, studying stare. Like she’s trying to figure me out. It’s weird, but not weird enough for me to care much. I turn away, shrugging. Just something else for me to ignore.
On my way to my next class, someone sticks a foot out in front of me. Oh, that old joke. Never gets old for idiots. I’m unable to right myself due to the shoulder-crushing weight of my backpack, and I brace myself as I skip a step and tumble down. And everybody laughs. I make a mental note to stop carrying so much useless stuff in my bag, much of which has fallen out now.
Ow. I landed on my knees. That really hurts. It’s the eye-watering kind of pain, too. Jeez. I sit there for a moment, rubbing my knees, quite obviously hurt, and the guy who tripped me looks at me with a grin. “And again, he just takes it,” he says.
But I won’t. I’ll take care of it as soon as the throbbing in my knees dulls.
There is one person not laughing. It’s that new girl. She doesn’t yell at the guy, or tell people to stop laughing, or overreact and ask if I’m okay. But she pays attention to me. She picks up one of my books that slid away and hands it over. It’s almost like she’s actually concerned about me.
That’s stupid. No one cares about me anymore. Why should she, someone I don’t even know?
I’m suddenly bothered by her. I yank the book out of her hand and shove it in my bag with the rest of my things. She continues to watch me. Oh, gimme a break. Don’t pretend to care. Like my parents, I think. I look away, focusing on the guy’s head. He likes to trip me often, now that I think about it. Me and some other people. And he doesn’t care if they get hurt.
Well, okay, then. He doesn’t seem to mind if others are in pain, unacknowledged, so I guess I’ll see what he thinks of it. I focus, watching him talk to some friend of his. I frown in concentration. Boy, do I dislike him. So much. I feel a wave of anger toward him, and there’s the shift in the air again. Satisfied, I relax and slowly stand, turning my back on him. Behind me, I hear a clatter, someone say, “Whoa!” and then a thud. The guy yells out in pain. I think I made him fall, like he did to me. Some people stifle snickers, but—just like I wanted—no one is really worried about him. He’ll get over it.
I glance over my shoulder, and only barely see him on the ground, because that girl is looking at me again. She shifts her gaze to the other guy, then to me, then back and forth again. It almost seems as though she…suspects something.
I give her a dirty look. How would she know? She looks about ready to follow me, but I turn again and disappear into the sea of teenagers, losing her.

The week drags on. The same stuff happens. I daydream, some people ignore me, others bully me, I get them back for it…Sometimes I wonder what the point of everything is. Flashback-dreams of explosive arguments among my family members keep resurfacing and haunting my waking mind every day, reminding me why I’ve chosen to be the way I am, and why I no longer choose to care about things.
And that girl. Jeez, she’s annoying. Watching me every five seconds, with those stupid, big brown eyes. I try to ignore her, I really do, but…she just looks at me, and thinks about who exactly I could be. It’s bothersome, it really is. I wish I didn’t care. And I keep looking into her thoughts and her future—what’s with that? I stopped that long ago.
Another strange thing: whenever I try and get someone back for something they did to me, their payback isn’t as hurtful as I had intended. The falls are softer, the pain is lessened. It’s like they’re being protected from me. What’s with that? It’s…distressing. I like to close myself from emotions, and these new occurrences are bringing them back. I do not like it.

Friday. Last day. Probably my last day at school, for good. I don’t even bring my backpack, because I am so ready to get out of this place. I walk through the halls, my head a bit less droopy than normal. Maybe because I am glad (ew) that I’ll no longer have to go through with all this. I’m in a sort of daze, walking to Trigonometry. Why am I here, anyway? I think it’s because I want to say goodbye to all this. Goodbye to the countless opportunities that sail by me every day. Goodbye to repaying people for what they do to me. Goodbye to being around people my age. It’s sad, really. But I don’t let myself be sad. As has been the norm with me of late, I hate emotion.
I nearly jump out of my skin when someone grabs my arm. I pull myself out of my daze—not without effort—and turn. It’s that girl. Maddie? Mellie. Blinking, I ask what she wants, my first time talking to another teenager in a while.
“I just—I wanted to talk to you.” Her voice is soft but strong.
I wrinkle my nose at her, pulling my arm away. What is this?
She bats her long eyelashes annoyingly. “Look. I know. About you.”
I frown, tilting my head. “What are you talking about? No one knows about me. No one cares enough.”
“No, listen.” She grabs my arm and pulls me aside, against the lockers as the bell rings. We’re given curious glances from others with raised eyebrows. I’m detesting this. “I do know. Because I’m like you. Special.”
I scoff, turning away. This is stupid, really pointless. I admit, I say something rude to her with some coarse language, basically telling her to go away.
“Alder. Listen to me. I know.”
I freeze. Something in her voice was intriguingly commanding. I slowly turn around again. She’s biting her lower lip, staring again, her head lowered. “How do you know my name?”
“I just told you. I’m like you. Now, you need to stand here and listen, for goodness’ sake.”
I sniff, crossing my arms tightly and looking away. But I don’t leave. “You’re late. To class.”
“Neither of us care.” She shakes her head. “Okay, look. Basically what I want to tell you is: you can’t keep doing this to people. Hurting them like that. You know?”
“I don’t know what you’re talk—”
“Yes you do know, now shut up. I can see that I know how to use my…talent better than you. Even though we’ve both had it our whole lives, I’ve been able to find peace with others and show them kindness, even if they’re jerks. You, though…you’ve gone through some rough times—don’t worry, I haven’t looked far enough into you to know what exactly happened—and you’ve forgotten what it’s like to care. To love. To feel.” She walked a little closer, her eyes kind of pleading. “To forgive.”
I’m appalled at the fact that my hands are shaking. I knew there were others like me in the world, but I never thought I’d actually meet them. “I, uh—” I inhale deeply, calming myself. I keep my tone mellow and controlled. “Who are you to tell me what to do?”
“Look. I’m the one who’s been helping those people you’ve been trying to hurt. And you’re right, in a way: they have no right to do those things to you. But paying them back with pain isn’t the way to handle it. There are better ways.”
I am furious. She has no right to read me like a freaking book. I wish she’d leave. And I tell her that. “You. Need. To. Go. Leave me alone. I’m done with this.”
To my surprise, she smiles. She looks strangely peaceful. “I can help you. That’s what I’ll do, I’ll help you.” A small laugh escapes her mouth. “And it’s going to be wonderful. Just wait.” She bounces off, taking her eyes off of me at the last second. “Just wait!”
I am left blinking, staring, and nonplussed.

After she left me standing like that, I took off to the bleachers outside by the track. A few people are hanging around, skipping class and joking with each other, but I hide behind the bleachers and sit down. I hug my knees to my chest, gripping my legs so that my knuckles are white. As I stare at the ever-fraying edges of my gloves that are missing some fingers, I am appalled again, this time to realize my face is wet.
Shoot. I’m being emotional. All because of stupid Mellie, some kid who knows all about me.
But the scary thing is, she’s right about everything. It’s like the voice that’s been shoved to the back of my head all these years has materialized and formed into a living, breathing person. All the things she said are true: I have forgotten about caring, and forgiving. I have gone through times—family-centered, which she doesn’t know—that made me this way. I have been handling my pain by putting it on others. And there are better ways to handle it all, which I’m ignoring.
I remember her happily saying she’d help me. Psh. Help. I don’t need any.
What if I let her?
I mean, hey, I’ve kinda given up on everything else in my life. Why not just…let it happen? Seriously, I have nothing to lose. I have nothing at all. Maybe I’ll let her help me out. See what it’s like. Worst thing that can happen, I start having too much emotion, and when that happens, I’ll stop. Simple. But why can’t I make myself do it?
“Because you just need a little push.”
This time, I don’t jump. I turn calmly and regard her smiling face, peering at me through the seats. We hardly need to speak, but we both know that I’m accepting her help.

I find myself back at school the following Monday. Stupid me, I should’ve stayed home. Gotten some more sleep. But there’s Mellie, waiting for me. Feels strange, having someone actually want to see me every day.
As well as being outgoing and social on her own time, ignoring the looks people give her when they see her hanging out with me, she teaches me how to do nice things. Like, when I’m about to blindly walk past a lonely kid sitting by themselves at lunch again, she’s there by my side, ready to tell me to sit with them. I do, and they scoot away, scared. Naturally. “Give it time,” she whispers to me. “They’re scared of you now, but just wait. For now, they can be glad they’re not completely alone.”
I don’t respond.
Next day, when I’m tripped once again, I feel the anger rising up in me. But before I can do anything about it, Mellie is there. She tells me to calm down, and guides me away. This is the first time I’ve actually let someone get away with that sort of thing, and I listen to them guffawing down the hall. I don’t know what I think of it. I’m not mad. I’m not glad. I’m just…confused. I don’t know how to feel.
When she forced me to stop doing that, I became accustomed to the confused feeling, but I’ve also gotten a lot of pent-up anger and power in me. I have to let it out, and the only way I know how is to make something unfortunate happen to someone. But Mellie is there again, and she tells me to do something different. “Think about something good happening to her.” She nods to a random girl. “To get that energy out of you. Make something positive happen to her, and maybe her friends, too.”
I pucker my lips; the thought is very much like a bad taste in my mouth, one that I’m not used to. But I do it: the girl’s having trouble with her locker, and I make it unlock with more ease. And she has me do things like it again and again. At first, I don’t know what else to imagine—I draw a blank—but Mellie has some suggestions. She tells them to me, and eventually I come up with my own. And the good things do happen. The energy flows out of me, no longer in a jarring sort of way, but in a steady wave.
This goes on for weeks. I’ve notice something odd and foreign within me, something that takes the place of my beloved emotional numbness. I don’t know what it is yet, but it reminds me of the feeling of unclenching a fist, of relaxing my shoulders. Only, it’s happening in my mind. With Mellie’s help, I’ve been able to grasp this feeling and turn it into yet another positive wish for a stranger. Now, when I walk the halls of West Valley High, I don’t feel as…disgusted as I used to. It’s odd, because I thought I’d never be able to feel this again, that it was slowly atrophying.
And strangely enough, the lectures at home have slowly gotten less and less intense. My mother’s voice softens, my dad relaxes his face. Eventually, the lectures don’t happen much anymore. It’s really weird. My parents talk about the weirdest stuff—like, how their days were, and the weather, and what’s on TV, and casual things like that. Sometimes they even ask me how it’s going. I just shrug and say, “All right.” It’s all very new to me.

Weeks fly by. I actually start doing stuff in class again. I’m surprised to realize it’s been a month. Since, you know, Mellie started making me do all that nice stuff. One Wednesday, I surprise myself by puling out a light blue shirt from the depths of my closet. It smells musty, of brighter days gone by. I throw it on. Whoa. I’m wearing a color.
I’ve completely stopped making bad things happen to people. At first I missed that. It was like an old friend that left me. No—a form of escapism that left. Then I just forgot about it. A few other people have dared to look into my eyes. Like, they’re not scared to now. They’re just curious. I return their look not with a scowl, for once, but just a calm expression. I don’t grin, of course. Also, some people have started talking to me, including some of Mellie’s new friends. At first, it was things like asking me to pass them a pencil, but now it’s grown into, “Can you help me with this math problem?” Or, “Uh, here, you dropped this.” Little stuff like that. And sometimes, I respond. Politely.
The satisfaction I felt when I made people hurt has started seeping into the better things I do for others. Now, that satisfaction feels more pure. In one class, I feel so satisfied (not at anything in particular) that I find myself being interested in something my teacher says. It’s during English. Just like the old days. She’s talking about poetry, and the meaning that one famous poem might have. When she opens it up for discussion, asking what we all think, I hear Mellie blurt something out. It’s one of the rare times I hear her engage in class, and I get the feeling she’s showing off. Because she words it all nicely, and sounds really smart. When the teacher praises her, she looks over at me with a playfully smug grin on her face.
It’s like she’s challenging me. To say something better. Oh, yeah? Well, here ya go, Mellie. I don’t raise my hand, but I lift my head, which alone seems to get the attention of pretty much everyone in class. Then, I give my opinion on what the poem means, in a short, concise sentence, but it gets the idea across. My teacher is taken aback by my insight—and the fact that I actually speak—and she says well done, after being shocked into silence for a moment. The others stare at me for a few seconds, and then turn back around. Something’s growing in me. I can feel it. I don’t know what it is, but it’s been a long, long time since I’ve felt this. I sense Mellie silently giggling.
My face suddenly feels weird. I haven’t felt this in a while.
I think I’m smiling.

Zaji Cox © 2012

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