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she sat alone
She sat alone at lunch. One of the few people in the school who preferred to eat alone, she knew that she drew attention to herself sometimes. Did people honestly think that she didn’t see the looks they gave her? The sideways glances cast her way, as if they looked too long they would catch whatever it was that had made her a social outcast.
She hadn’t always been that way. Sometimes, when it was just her, she would allow herself to go back in time. Back to when she was only thirteen or fourteen, when her life was so simple. Before she moved and had to start all over with a world that was broken.
She used to be fun. But then again she used to be a lot of things. But she hated thinking about that now. She didn’t like remembering anything about her old life in Illinois, before the move. She didn’t like thinking about who she used to be either.
So she preferred not to think. She never let her mind wander to the past, her old friends, her family, her sister. It was all in her past, and she wasn’t going to go back there. Ever.
Maybe that’s what had made her this new person at her school. Someone who nobody dared talked to, and usually never looked at. Someone who teachers never bothered to learn the name of, or take notice in even. Maybe she had brought this all on herself.
People were friendly enough when she had arrived, asking the appropriate questions, inviting her to lunch. But she refused it all, realizing that if she started talking, she’d probably say too much, and besides…she didn’t want to think.
So, she sat alone.
She wore baggy clothes and fixed her dyed black hair in a way so that it would fall over her face. She had to admit; sometimes she didn’t even recognize herself as the same person anymore. She wasn’t the Elizabeth Taylor that had tried so hard to create a good image for herself. That’s the thing about building up an image…an imposter can quickly fill in the gaps and take over.
She wasn’t the upbeat Lizzie her old friends had come to love. She wasn’t the preppy-giggly girl with the bright red hair that fell in light waves down her back. Sometimes it was hard to even conjure up an idea of who that girl even was.
When she’d moved, she dyed her hair, got a new wardrobe straight from her older brother’s closet and didn’t look back.
Sometimes when she would sit alone, looking around the lunchroom, she would begin thinking about how life was such an odd thing. The way they became intertwined with one another and the way it just kept building up. She marveled at the way every student so obviously believed in the same thing. That this was it-the good years, and how it could only go up from here. Elizabeth knew the truth though. This wasn’t it, not at all. All of these people were pathetic, putting all their faith into a life that gave them nothing.
She had seen the ugly side of life though. Maybe even the ugliest side. She saw how everything was connected, and how no matter what people thought, there were unimaginable consequences to every action. Life, to her, really had no meaning at all. And it hadn’t in a long time.
She tried to remember the whole sequence, start to finish. Sometimes when she talked to her therapist, they would talk whole sessions, going passed their hour max, just to find the beginning of everything. And I guess it started with a love story.
Her sister’s love story actually. Her sister fell, head over heels, into a dangerous addiction. Crystal meth, crank, glass, the monster, whatever you want to call it.
They had been the perfect family at one time …her brother Mike, an all star athlete in High School and college. Her sister Madelyn, who was everything a parent could ask for, straight A’s, popular, cheerleader. And then there was Elizabeth, who had inherited the best of both of her older siblings. Their parents were in love and owned a popular restaurant in downtown Chicago. Unfortunately, it was also close by the city’s notorious drug scene. Fate.
Madelyn’s fall was quick and hard. And painful beyond words, although Elizabeth had always put on the tough face for the family. She had to be the strong one for everybody else.
It was obvious that if she didn’t get help, Madelyn would die. She stole from the family, somehow dipped into Elizabeth’s college fund, cleaning it out. She screamed at everyone. She was hardly ever home but when she was it was worse than anyone could ever imagine. No matter how many times Elizabeth talked to her therapist, there were some things no one could ever fully understand.
Some images could never be undone, and the things Elizabeth saw, could never be spoken of.
Like the night her mother found out that Elizabeth no longer had a college fund.
It replayed in her mind a lot no matter how many times she tried to shut it out; The picture of her mother screaming, the punch that would change everything, and Mike, trying to pry Madelyn off of their mother, while her father stood in the background sobbing.
Elizabeth, tired of playing the super hero had run away. She shut herself in her room, and the next time she had come out, Madelyn was gone, and she never saw her again.
After that, things went from bad to worse. Mike went back to college, and Elizabeth was an only child for the first time in her life, striving now more than ever to make her parents proud of her. Her parents had their own way of coping with the issues, and although she never asked, Elizabeth soon realized that they had sold their business so they could afford to put and keep Madelyn in rehab. With no work, her mother turned to drinking and her father turned to women, and Elizabeth learned quickly that no matter how perfect she was, no matter how many perfect report cards she brought home, no matter how many friends she made, or how many sports team’s she made, how many awards she one, how much weight she lost…she would always pale in comparison to her older sister. For all the wrong reasons…
The Summer of her sixteenth birthday, Elizabeth’s mother committed suicide, and Elizabeth began cutting.
With just her father left, home became a jail to Elizabeth. She shut herself out from him and everyone else.
She kept cutting, and knew that she’d never get caught. Her father, after all, had his own secrets to cover up.
The night she had had enough, is the worst memory for her to shake. The thought of how awful she must have looked, after passing out in the shower, slicing through a vein, bleeding out quickly. She can still remember how she felt when she heard banging on the door, and saw her dad come in.
Mortified when she realized that he was seeing her naked and then angry and satisfied all at once when he began crying. But worse then everything else were the words she can remember hearing, when her dad thought she was already gone.
“Why? Lizzie, I need you, I can’t lose my other daughter too. It hurts so much. We need each other. Please, please come back to me. I’m so sorry I wasn’t here for you, baby. Please just come back to me, and I promise we can do all the things we used to. I’ll get you help, just come back to me. You’re the last thing that’s holding me together…”
These thoughts ran through her mind as she held the gun to her head, pulled the trigger, and left behind the words that she was never brave enough to say out loud.
I’m so sorry that I couldn’t find another way. I tried I really did. The therapy sessions, the time spent in the clinic…I poured my heart into those long hours and tried to help myself. I wanted you to be proud of me daddy, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.
I’m not blaming you, and I pray that you won’t either, although I know you will. You did everything you could, and I wish with all my heart that it had been enough. But something that I’ve learned, daddy, is that…we can’t control everything. I tried for so long to do just that, and I came up short always. The truth is, it wasn’t our fault that Madelyn chose the life she did, it wasn’t our fault that mommy killed herself, it wasn’t my fault that you had an affair, and this isn’t your fault either.
I just couldn’t play the hero anymore; I never wanted to be the strong little girl. I wasn’t ready for it.
Please don’t hate me daddy. The way I hate Madelyn and mommy, it breaks my heart that the feelings I have for them, you might have for me when this is all over.
I know you tried to help me, you got me into a place that could give me the treatment that I needed, you moved me here so that I could get better. But daddy, I didn’t want to get better. I want to be free. Something I could never find here.
If I can ask one thing, it’s that you don’t remember how this ended…but how it started. Remember what used to be, but don’t get lost in the past, because it is the past after all, and life is made for the living. You have a future daddy, and I just ask that you accept that this was mine.
So let yourself think back sometimes… to a time when we were all happy. When Mike was still at home, and before Madelyn fell. I’m sure you have lots of memories to pick from. Like our annual Christmas card photos, or the summers spent at the lake. The times you sang me to sleep when the thunderstorms kept me awake.
Remember me as that girl, daddy. Get lost in the love that used to be so evident in our lives. The way we were invincible.
But then pull back into reality, accept what it is…and keep going.
I love you so much, I’m sorry.