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Sometimes, I would tuck my head under my pillow and I would scream. I would scream so loudly, everyone should have been able to hear me. Everyone. My next store neighbor, my chemistry teacher across town, my grandma in Florida. They all should have heard me.
Except, no one ever heard me. And, if they did, they didn’t save me.
The thing was…the thing was, George Daniels was in love with me.
No one saw it until I pointed it out. When they finally saw it, they thought it was cute. They said I should be honored. It didn’t make their skin crawl. It didn’t make them feel completely exposed, like everyone could see right into their soul. That was me. That’s how it made me feel.
He stared at me. I always knew when he was around. I could feel his eyes. I would be laughing, casually glancing about as I did so, and I would meet his eyes across the crowded cafeteria. A chill would run through my bones, the laugh disappearing from my mouth forever.
It was wrong. All wrong.
I would feel his eyes at the movies. I would feel them at the mall, at school, at the aquarium. I would be with anyone—Jessalyn, my parents, even Bradley—and he was always there. Watching.
No one understood. If I even mentioned how it made me feel, people would look at me, their lips pressed together, and tell me that was a rude thing to say. They would say it was just George. He didn’t mean any harm.
They didn’t hear a thing I said. They never heard me.
I couldn’t escape him. No matter where I went, I could feel him. Sometimes, he wasn’t even there. Sometimes, I knew he couldn’t be there. Like when I went to Florida to visit my grandparents, yet still felt exposed lying on the beach. He wasn’t there—couldn’t have been there—but I felt his eyes. Watching.
I felt like a soldier at war, constantly surrounded by enemies. Except, I was constantly surrounded by him. He was on all sides, all angles, and all edges. No matter where I was, I had to be ready for an attack. He was my Big Brother, and I was too weak to fight back.
One day, however, I wasn’t too weak. One day, the pit in my stomach lapsed, and I was able to retaliate.
We were in Civics, and Mr. Winters was lecturing us on panopticons. And I turned around to whisper something to Bradley, a smile on my lips, and I saw George watching me.
I lost it.
To me, he was disgusting. His expression was always blank, his eyes dead. His mouth was always slightly open, his buck teeth protruding the slightest bit. His skin was flaky and filled with acne. His nose perpetually stuffy and his ears filled with wax. His stomach flopped over the edge of his belt, and his pants were too tight. He wore Dickeys, shoes even my grandpa had enough couth to avoid.
I grabbed my stomach, nausea overtaking me. No, no. I couldn’t go on. I couldn’t do this anymore. I could no longer be weak, letting him control my life. I could no longer exist in the panopticon I called my life. I turned back around, and he was still staring.
“No,” I whispered. Bradley stared at me, confused. “No!” I said louder. I stood up. Mr. Winters stopped in midsentence, dumbfounded. I turned to face George, pointing at him. “Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!”
“Are you okay?” Bradley whispered to me, tugging at my hand. But I couldn’t answer, could hardly see him, acknowledge him, understand him. It was just George and me, standing in a dark room with a single spotlight between us. Him staring at me with those dead eyes, breathing heavily and snuffling. Me dying inside.
“Just stop,” I pleaded with George. “Please stop.” Tears were filling my eyes, and I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t do it any longer. “Please just leave me alone. Please. I can’t do this anymore.” I whispered, “Please leave me alone.”
I fell back in my seat, and put my head down. I cried.
By the end of the day, everyone had heard about my meltdown. Bradley and Jessalyn tried to play it off as a joke, but everyone knew it wasn’t. People kept throwing George sidelong looks, wondering what he had done to me. None of them saw it.
I didn’t try to explain to anyone, not even Bradley and Jessalyn. I had tried before, and they hadn’t understood. They had deaf ears and judgmental eyes. They saw what they wanted, not what was actually there.
Blind to my pain.
After that explosion, I knew I couldn’t do it. Even if he did stop—which I knew he wouldn’t, couldn’t—I would always feel him. I would always get that feeling on the back of my neck, like someone was breathing on me slowly, but heavily. I couldn’t do it.
I cried because I knew. I knew I couldn’t escape my panopticon. Once you were in, there was no escaping. I was trapped.
I would never get rid that feeling. Never be able to walk by people and not feel as though they had just viewed the movie of my life. Anytime I would meet a new person, I would feel as though they already knew me and had spent time studying me. Even my old friends would look at me with a new look in their eyes: a look of realization.
Sometimes, I felt that if I would just tuck my head under my pillow with a revolver and slowly pull back on that last bit of fleeting hope, everything would be okay. Except, I knew it wouldn’t be okay. Because they wouldn’t hear. All of those people who had turned away when I had screamed for a savior would once again be deaf to my pleadings.
I did it anyway. I was right. No one heard.
At least in hell they hear your screams.