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Getting Burned

“What is it that they say?” I ask the dark figure in front of me, more to myself then him, “Oh right, Life’s a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel.” I laughed bitterly, taking a long breath on my cig, “Well, there’s my problem. I didn’t think enough and I felt too much.” I didn’t bother looking around, after all, everything would be the same. Just as cold. Just as foreboding…yet…somehow I felt welcomed by the nothingness in the air. “So this is it then? Is this my last time in this place?”
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I remember the air being warm in the hallway as I made my way to the principal’s office, that day, when I was thirteen. The principle and I…well…we were becoming fast friends. Without knocking I dragged my feet into the office and sat in one of the hard wood chairs. The secretary looked over her half mooned spectacles at me.

“Welcome back, Miss Helms,” she said sarcastically, her nasal
voice reminding me of the slug from Monster’s Inc, “Honestly, you just moved into town and how many times have you been in here?”
“6” I responded nonchalantly. She was right, I hadn’t been at the school for more than a month. Maybe I was bitter that my mother had up and made me move from the only home I’d ever known. We had moved three states away, to a hicktown in West Virginia. At thirteen I can honestly say, I wasn’t pleased. The secretary shook her head.
“Mr. William’s will see you now.”
I smirked at her, sticking my tongue out as she turned her back to me. Mr. William’s office was small, almost like a holding cell. Mr. William’s…was my jailor.
“Miss Helms…”
“It’s wonderful to see you again,” I said brightly sitting on the edge of his desk, “I was afraid we’d never get to spend any more time together.”
“Unfortunately, that fear never crossed my mind,” he sounded tired, “What did you do this time?”
I took my time in answering preferring to fiddle with the stress ball on his desk, “I told my teacher where she could put my unfinished homework paper.”
“And where was that?”
I grinned and looked innocently at him, “Do you really need to ask?” He sighed.
“You were out again last night…with the high school students. Is that why you didn’t do your homework?”
“I didn’t do my homework because I didn’t want to do my homework,” I said with a scowl, “What does it matter who I was out with?” My temper was flaring and if Mr. William’s knew what was good for him, he would push me just a little bit farther.
“Your mother expressed concern about you hanging out with these particular teenagers… Miss Helms, I think you should reconsider who your friends-,” I didn’t hear the rest as I promptly slammed the door behind me as I scurried out of the office. He and my mother needed to mind their own business.
The air was warm outside too, but the taste of freedom was pungent. I could have gone anywhere! I would have gone everywhere had the white car not pulled up in front of me.
“Hey Little Jess,” the teenage Kendal called from the window, “A few of us are running down to the river to smoke, you want to tag along?” Of course I didn’t hesitate to hop in the car.
These were my friends, and if my mother didn’t like them, they were all I needed and more. They were the misfits, like me, who didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Our age made no difference to us. We were a family.
The river was very high on the day that I ran from school. And we didn’t really pay any attention as we stood on the river bank, smoking and laughing.
“You told that old witch to do what with your homework?” Kendal laughed.
I repeated what I had said to the literature teacher and laughed along with the others. Our friend Allie shuttered and added as an afterthought;
“My God, think of the paper cuts!” This comment had us rolling…and I’m not sure what happened but I suspect that my foot slipped on a rock. I felt the bitter cold of the thawing river and then…it was like I blinked.
It wasn’t as though I had fallen asleep and awakened suddenly; no it was just one second I was staring through the rushing water and the next I was staring at…nothing. Now, I was freaking out.
“Hello?” Nothing moved, but an odd calm came down on me. I even smiled as he came out of the darkness. He didn’t speak he just glided through the nothing, “Am I dead?”
“Not yet.” That answer reassured me. I looked around again, it was cold…and dark…but I didn’t feel out of place.
“Am I going to die?”
“Eventually.” Wow, death was apparently a comedian.
“Am I going to die soon?”
“Perhaps.” I rolled my eyes, and felt his watching me, “You seem to be very calm about this. Usually people beg while they are waiting.”
I looked back at him, finding myself craving some snickers. I looked down where my hands where and found that one had appeared. It really wasn’t that bad here, “I’m not going to beg for something that I cannot control.”
Silence filled the area as I ate my snickers. And then he started backing away, “Try again.”
I went to ask him what that meant when racking coughs filled my body. I couldn’t breathe and then I opened my eyes to see a paramedic standing over me, my mother crying above him. I had…lived.
I believe my hatred of hospitals began in that trip.. This hatred lasted years and years, and I usually managed to avoid getting put in one…until…
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“Hey! Little Jess!” twenty two year old Kendal called from high above me. I rolled my eyes trying very hard not to fall off of the mountain we were climbing.
“What do you want?” He smirked down at me.
“You miss the class room yet?” I grinned getting a foot hold. I had been kicked out of my old grade school but managed to keep in high school until eleventh grade. Then Kendal had convinced me that life was too short to waist in a government run facility.
“Not a chance!” I called to him. We had run together to the mountains to do some extreme sports, mountain climbing added to a very long list. We were on top of the world…literally. And then…I saw Kendal’s foot slip. He lost his grip. And I blinked again.
Coldness, darkness…nothingness…I knew where I was…and I wasn’t afraid.
“It’s wonderful to see you again,” his voice was quiet and I recognized the words I had said to my principle so long ago, “I was afraid we’d never get to spend any more time together.”
I smiled at death, which is odd to think about, and replied, “I missed you too, deathy.” I still took the time to look around before asking, “So am I really dead then?”
“Not yet.”
“Oh I forgot you can’t give a straight answer,” I was feeling uneasy as my mind tried to bring something to the front, “Shouldn’t Kendal be here too?”
Death shook his head and my metaphysical heart dropped to the bottom of my being.
“He must have caught himself,” I said, trying to convince myself. Death shook his head again. I cringed, “Well how would you know?! You’re here with me.” His smile made me sick.
“Time and place is irrelevant to me.”
“Kendal is fine!”
“Define fine.”
“Alive!” I raged at him. Anger coursing through me, “He’s alive! And going to stay alive!”
Deaths head shook slowly and I lunged at him, only to find myself at the edge of the mountain. I had a gash on the side of my head and it took a few moments for the spinning to become less, “Kendal?” I whispered my voice horse. He was lying beside me. As quickly as I could I grabbed the cell phone from his pocket, praying, for the first time in my life, for signal. I dialed 911.
“Help please! He’s hurt! Get here please!!”
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After I was released from the hospital, I went home, back to my mother in the small little hick town that I hated. I got my GED and began waitressing. I had been on the top of the world…and literally fallen into my personal H*ll.
On the morning of my twenty-third birthday, I entered the kitchen to find my mother cooking breakfast.
“Morning Jess,” she didn’t take her eyes from the eggs that she was beating.
“Morning, mom,” I sat down at the table, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong honey,” I heard the lies in her voice.
“Mom.”
She sighed, running her hand through her hair in that nervous way that I had inherited from her, “I’ve failed.”
“What?”
“I..I have failed you. Ever since Kendal-,”
“Mom!” We didn’t talk about that, and we weren’t going to start.
“You sit here and are so unhappy and maybe if I had done something different, if I’d been there more…”
“Mom stop!” I didn’t want to talk about this.
“No! Do you realize how it feels to be your mom when you are a walking dead person? When was the last time you called your friends? Or gone out of this house other then work? I cannot watch you mope anymore!” Her words struck me hard. I glared at her.
“So you want me to leave?”
“I don’t want you to leave…but if nothing is going to change…I think it would be good for you to find your own home.” We sat in silence. The next week I had my own apartment. It was wonderful…if you consider late night talk shows and tubs of ice cream wonderful. The days flew by and then…a month later I found myself standing in front of the medicine cabinet. My mother’s words ran through my hands over and over again. She was right, she was right, and I knew that. I didn’t want her to be right any more. I reached into the cupboard and poured a handful of pills into my hands. Now…I was going to inconvenience my mom any more. I took a deep breath…and blinked.

“Why are you here?” I didn’t open my eyes and I smiled wishing for a cigarette.
“What is it that they say?” I ask the dark figure in front of me, more to myself then him, “Oh right, Life’s a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel.” I laughed bitterly, taking a long breath on my cig, “Well, there’s my problem. I didn’t think enough and I felt too much.” I didn’t bother looking around, after all, everything would be the same. Just as cold. Just as foreboding…yet…somehow I felt welcomed by the nothingness in the air. “So this is it then? Is this my last time in this place?” I finally opened my eyes. He was quiet for once and this time I didn’t need his cryptic response.





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