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A Swimmer's Conscience and A Hurting Soul
In annoyance, I flicked my dripping wet hair out of my face as I concentrated on switching from first gear to second in my car. I gripped the steering wheel as I breathed in and out. Today’s practice was extremely hard; coach wanted us to be in tip top shape for our big meet with Abraham High. My back was sore and my arms and legs complained as I eased my car into traffic to begin driving back home. I still smell the faint hint of chlorine drifting from my skin into the seats of my car. Chlorine is my perfume I thought. I slid a C.D into the player and relaxed as a piano played softly over the speakers. Most teens I know would die if they had to listen to my classical music; but it was a relaxing, soothing remedy to my aching head from the grueling drills I swam that day.
I stopped at a red light- traffic was piling up earlier than usual which was frustrating me since I had to get home to start on the glorious amount of homework my generous teachers bestowed me and my fellow classmates that day. I turned the car heat on and looked into the rear view mirror to see if I still had traces of mascara smeared on my face when I saw him. He walks down the street everyday at this exact time. I notice him because of his clothes; Black, all black. The kind of black clothing that just screams at life’s colorfulness. Death black.
I know him because he is in three of my classes and he sits next to me. Our last names are the same. Jackson. His name is Eric Jackson. I almost never pay attention to him; always chatting to my friends. I never invite him in. He is forbidding. You pass him in the hall and you see right through him or see too much of him and become frightened. In English class he passes the time with gruesome detailed pictures of horror and death. I sometimes wonder why he tries so hard to make himself invisible. What his life is like at home? These questions I never ask for at our school it’s different to act different. You follow the crowd; the cool crowd, and never talk to loners.
I’m afraid of being shunned by my friends. Yet I wonder. He walks past my car; his head always faced toward the ground as if he is scared of human eyes. I want to call out to him; and give him a ride; but i decide not to. Too many questions would need to be answered by my overly-inquisitive friends, as well as my reputation being tainted for driving a nobody home. As the light turned green; I notice a group of teenage guys walking down the road to the 7/11 store. I groan as I realize those boys are the boys who are well known from bullying. Since the light is green I’m forced to continue but as I drive away my eyes remain fixed upon the poor soul, who for once, looks up and stares right into my eyes as the guys close in around him and begin badgering him.
Trying to concentrate on homework was an epic fail. My mind kept returning to the boy on the street. Eric Jackson. I felt guilt for not stopping to ask him even if he wanted to accept my offer of a ride. I felt guilt for leaving him at the mercy of those guys. I let my hair down from the towel I had wrapped it in and begin brushing out the long locks of brown. I tried to ease myself from the guilt I felt and think about the day.
Today was one week from the big homecoming game and dance. I had been asked to go to the dance that day by my crush: Jorden Ames; the star quarterback for the Meadowview Panthers and all around hottie of the Junior Class. I was trying very hard to not let this go to my head, but it was hard. I winced when I remembered the group of boys who closed in on Eric Jackson that day. Jorden was among them. I slammed my hair brush onto my desk. Why, oh why did I let that kid gnaw at my conscience? I hardly knew him yet his deep brown eyes cried out for respite when he looked at me. It reminded me of a wounded animal. Eric had not a hope left.
As I slipped into bed at night I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t think of Eric anymore.
The day was cloudy and gloomy as I walked up the steps to school. I was running late to class and practically sprinted down the halls to English. I made it just before the bell rang. Sighing in relief, I slid into my chair and took out my homework. Mr. Gibb called out roll: “Ellie Himmer?” “Here.” “Eric Jackson?” No answer. I looked to my left and saw that Eric was indeed sitting there; he was staring out the window into the gray world. Mr. Gibb rolled his eyes and continued to call out. “Bethany Jackson?” I said “here” and continued to look at Eric. His black long sleeve shirt was mused as if he slept in it. His left arm sleeve was slightly rolled up and I saw red. Naturally, I thought it was bracelet so curious, I leaned in closer to see. As my eyes focused in I saw it was not a bracelet; only rivulets of dried blood. I saw white scars and newly opened wounds. I gasped quietly and look up at him. To my horror, Eric was staring at me. He eyes were void of emotion until he figured out why I had gasped. His eyes turned darker than I could ever imagine them to be and he angrily jerked his sleeve down to conceal his cuts on his wrists.
“A-are you ok?” I whispered. “You need help.”
“Mind your own business, Bethany. Since when did you start to care?” He stood up abruptly and stalked out of the classroom slamming the door. Everyone looked up and then looked at me, questionably. I shrugged and looked back at my book made myself forget about what I had seen.
The next day Eric isn’t there, nor the next, nor the next. I found myself strangely worried and scared for him. Three weeks pass and I forget. After a weekend, and everyone is gathered back to school and strange assembly is called. As we sat there, our principal gave the news that one of our students has taken his life. The whole school is dead silent. I stare in shock at my principle as he revealed the name and picture of the young student. Tears filled up my eyes and huge amounts of shame built up within me. I left the gym; I don’t want people to see me crying.
I wonder if I could have prevented the death of a young man named Eric Jackson. I wonder if I had said hi everyone and then it would have made a difference in his life. Every day from that day I think about Eric Jackson and his story. I wonder how many others are like him. I wonder if death can be prevented by a kind word or a ride home. Eric did not do anything to deserve the treatment he got. Now I live my life, impacted by Eric’s life; not viewing people how I used to view them; saying hello, sitting with people who never had a friend, giving kids rides to and from school so that they could stay away from the buses.It is what I was meant to do.
I live so Eric could live once again.