Never let yourself need anything. When you’re sitting on the floor, mouth itchy from the ear of your stuffed rabbit, and about to keel over from sleepiness, wait for your parents to haul you up to bed. If they don’t, keep mumbling to your rabbit until your cheek presses against the fleecy carpet without anyone noticing and your brother trips over you.
When Mina asks you to play dress up with her and Elise, don’t complain about being the maid, even though that’s the only thing you’ve been for the past twenty-seven days. Never answer questions with a direct yes or no. People won’t like you if you reject their ideas, but they’ll say you don’t have a mind of your own if you agree with them.
When your teacher tells everyone to get into groups for a coloring map, don’t scramble around to find Mina and Elise, who will have long since abandoned you for Matthew, for the soft hair that flops into his eyes. Wait until the last group realizes that they need one more classmate, and when Sharon wades towards you, choppy braids bouncing, and asks you if you want to join her group, shrug and say sure, as if you have another choice.
Let Sharon find you in the corner with the marble track every day, even after you finish the map. She’s clingy, and not much more than that, so don’t tell her to go away. While she rakes her fingers through your already wind-tangled hair, listen to her ramble, my cat ran away three days ago, my sister fell off her bike and hit her head, why are people so mean. Give a soft hum once every forty seconds so she doesn’t complain that you’re ignoring her. Don’t let yourself grow attached.
Your teacher will tell your parents that you’re uncooperative. When your parents get called for a meeting on a Saturday, don’t whine about having to go to school. Don’t fidget in the small wooden chair next to your parents, and let your eyes glaze over until your parents tug your hand to go back home. When they tell you what the teacher said, you need to speak up, you need to pay attention, you need more friends, don’t let a protest slip out.
When Sharon transfers to a different school, don’t let yourself feel the empty spaces where she used to cling. Forget the stories that she told when she refused to leave your side— one of my fish ate all the others with an arm slung around your neck, I’m having the same bad dream every night with her face pressed into your hair, I might not see you ever again with her elbow linked with yours. Nod and say okay when she promises that you’ll keep in touch, even though you’ve never responded to a single email or text. She won’t notice that you don’t hug her back on her last day.
Study, no matter how much you loathe the subject. The only people who don’t study are people who try to make a point about studying, and it shouldn’t bother you that much anyway. You’ll gain a reputation; smart, lucky, hardo, insane, but you won’t even notice. As soon as everyone recognizes that they’ll gain more from someone who actually knows how to explain the answer to question 72, you’ll be long forgotten.
When Mina talks to you for the first time in five years, don’t tell her that she’s a bad friend. Let her spill totally-true-rumors about Elise and Matthew’s hand-holding and expect you to run wild with gossip. Offer a few phrases of consolation before you erase the concern for another few years.
More people will start hovering around you. Entertain their questions until they get bored, but don’t bother telling them any more than they ask for. Soon, questions about school will evolve into questions about people. Do you know Elise’s boyfriend, does she really have two, is it true that she— Go through the rest of middle school as the girl who never knew anything.
When the boy who sits two seats behind you in math class asks you out, pretend not to hear him. If he continues to pester you, tell him that the girl to your right would suit him better. It doesn’t matter that you think they’re equally dull people, since you’ll catch kisses exchanged around every corner of the hallway. At this point, you shouldn’t even expect to have learned either of their names.
Don’t cry when you find out that your brother died in an accident. You’ll hear something about a drunk driver two weeks after, and you won’t even know who the drunk one was. During the funeral, listen to your parents talk about him until it’s your turn to stand in front of the podium. Don’t be surprised when you realize that you don’t really miss him that much at all.
Let okay and sure blur into I don’t know, maybe, I don’t care, and when you’re in that mood, I don’t give a s***. When people ask you questions, what’s the homework, do you want to go study in the library with me, and oh yeah, sorry about your brother, make sure you have an answer for all of them.
Watch people become cruel, sneering at each other and themselves and even you. Suppress any hiccups of laughter that boil out whenever they think you’re too much of a wallflower to exist. Keep your thoughts to yourself when Mina circulates her opinion of how awful of a friend you are, no matter how many people squint and try to prove it for themselves. Definitely don’t let anyone know that you stopped considering her your friend on your twenty-eighth day of dress up.
Stop talking to people entirely. Either they’ll catch on soon enough, or they won’t.
By the time people start to leave you alone, Sharon will have called you eight times and left three voicemails. Even though your phone rings twice when you’re reading the same sentence of your book over and over without understanding any of the words, don’t check until two hours later. Delete the messages without responding, but only after listening to hope drain from her voice in each voicemail. While you’re at it, delete Sharon’s number from your phone too.
When someone jostles your desk on his way back from handing in his essay and cripples the word you’re in the middle of writing, you’ll have to dig out a bottle of white-out to patch the scribble, but it’ll look awful either way. Crumple up your paper and let yourself, just for a minute, imagine your brother telling you to do something about it, and even though it’s all so silly because he hasn’t said anything to you in years, indulge yourself and imagine what it would feel like to stab your pen into his hand. Let yourself hear the wet squelch of blood and flesh under the deafening scribbles of pen on paper from your classmates, and the boy will remain achingly oblivious, but who even gives a s***?