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Dr. Sholm says that mental peace is knowing who you are and coming to terms with it. I think he’s lying. I know exactly who I am. I am Harlie Lynn Dennison. I’m seventeen years old and I have short hair. That’s who I am, and I’ve come to terms with all of it. So how come I feel so turbulent? I have not known peace a day in my life, and I am beginning to wonder if it exists at all.
I’ve been introduced to a lot of new words lately, words like Dual Psychosis, Manic Depression, and Bipolar disorder. The doctors mix those words in with more familiar terms, words that I feel boarder on harassment. I’m delusional, I hallucinate, and from their record I don’t know who I am. I disagree completely. I’m Harlie Lynn Dennison. I am seventeen years old and I have short hair. I’m Harlie Lynn Dennison and I have a father but no mother. I’m Harlie, and there is a small village living inside of me.
The floor of the A west wing is an awful light green linoleum. It feels like waterlogged rocks covered in moss. Sometimes I can’t remember where I am, so I am told that instead I should list exactly what I feel, and right now I feel like the linoleum is rocks. That can’t possibly be proper grammar, mutters one of the villagers. Consult your dictionary, you nitwit. I always speak clearly so I can be heard. Ignoring the other patients and nurses I tell the voice loud and clear that I haven’t got a dictionary, sir, and please go away now. A nurse, Ms. Creek, turns to me
“Harlie, dear? Why don’t we get you back to your room, huh? I think you need a nap.”
I stumble away from her, still fixed on the rude villager in my head who is now telling me, in rather insulting terms, how stupid I am.
“I am not stupid! I simply haven’t got a dictionary! I’m sure it was fine grammar! Why are you such an a**, Mr. Polk!?”
Nurse Creek grabs my arm firmly and leads me back to my room. Once I’m in bed she tells me to try to keep quiet, my roommate (A total nutcase named Warren) is asleep. I agree with Nurse Creek while simultaneously telling that b*****d villager that he needs to keep it down so Warren can sleep. Do you hear that Mr. Polk? You have to be quiet. I’ll find a dictionary later if it will shut you up. Nurse Creek leaves the room, stopping to talk to another nurse in the hall. From her reflection in the glass of the door I can see her sigh heavily and lean against a cart of toilet paper.
“God, Ginny,” she says “I hate seeing that poor girl. It damn near breaks my heart every time.” She looks sadly at the other nurse, Nurse Rush
“Why’s that, Ellen? She’s much more obedient that a lot of the other patients. She is a bit young though.” Nurse Rush continues unloading toilet paper from the cart and stacking it in the hall closet.
“Don’t you know why she’s here, Ginny? She… she cut open her hands and smeared blood all over the high school one night. The cops got the alarm and found her curled up under a desk crying her eyes out and covered in blood.” Nurse Creek whispers with urgency. I can feel myself wanting to scream out, but some of the villagers have gathered and shush me. They want to hear what else Nurse Creek has to say.
“Oh, Ellen! How terrible! Does she… does she know what she did?” nurse Rush has turned the same color as the floor. One of the villagers agrees that it is not her color, or anyone’s for that matter.
“We’re not sure. She won’t talk about it, or even really acknowledge it. Her father comes to visit her sometimes, nice man, Lewis Dennison. Do you know him?”
“I’ve been to his corner store once or twice. That’s such a shame. She’s so young, too young for her mind to go if you ask me.”
“She’s been diagnosed with nearly the whole book. We don’t know what to do with her.”
“No, she isn’t criminal, just very confused. However she keeps screaming about some boy. Someone named Jeremy. We don’t know who he is, but for her first week here she kept shouting for Jeremy to come put the fire out.” Nurse Rush now backs against the wall, clutching her chest.
The Nurses turn down the hallway, still mumbling to each other. I look out the window, ignoring the uproar of the villagers. Jeremy. Jeremy Kemp. He is seventeen and he has short hair. Jeremy Kemp loved me. Jeremy Kemp thinks I’m… I’m… crazy? I see a swing on a playground covered in snow. The white crystal patterns float from the sky and scrape at my nose and ears. A few feet away a very tall blonde boy is throwing snowballs in the air and laughing as the fall in random places around us. I’m laughing too; such beautiful chaos can only be amusing. He smiles and runs toward me with a snowball, and I, the picture of bravery, scream and cover my face. What are you so afraid of? He asks me. Getting hurt, I reply. He blinks for a second then laughs again Harlie Dennison afraid? No way! My self-consciousness dissolves in his laughter. It’s true, I whine. Well, he says, the only way to beat your fear is to take it on. Show it whose boss. I laugh again, running after him with a snowball I’m taking on you first!
Something wet is sliding down my face and pooling at my chin. Startled, I wipe vigorously at the liquid. I’m panicking. I’m dying. No, you idiot. You’re crying One of the villagers’ growls. I stare at the liquid I have wiped on my hands. Oh. Crying. I guess I do that again. I run my fingers through my hair, stopping at a bald spot I’m suddenly aware I pulled out myself. My dad noticed the bald spots before I did.
I’m sitting at a kitchen table in early winter. My father walks in from the living room, early morning light touching his hair gently. Harlie, I’m working late at the store tonight. Will you be able to cook yourself dinner? He hardly looks at me as he asks, but turns just as I open my mouth to answer. Oh, Harlie, what… what happened to your hair? He stares at me, his face breaking its usual mask of indifference for concern. Nothing, dad. I keep my reply short. I keep everything short lately. Harlie, he begins again, I’ve noticed some… changes… in you lately. Sweetheart, if you need help then you need to tell me. I know things haven’t been easy since your mom died, and now you have this new boy… friend, but I’m here for you, Harlie. Really. I stop chewing my breakfast and feel a lump rising in my throat. I want more than anything to tell my dad everything. That I hate school, that I miss mom, that I wasn’t good enough for Jeremy. I wasn’t good enough for anyone. I can’t seem to put the words together. Instead I stare at him and feel a wall construct itself around my heart and mouth. I feel it pull from that scary place and build around my soul. It’s a wall that everyone develops as the grow, and it isn’t healthy for anyone. I know that now.
You should have died, a villager whispers to me. You should have let yourself go. I shake my head to avoid the thought, another scene pulling itself from within me. The dust from the back shelf swirls in the late afternoon sunlight. It spills in from the window in its usual sparkling dance. I don’t have the mind to watch it. Today I am riveted to something else. I’m worried, Dana. Harlie hasn’t been the same since Lorie died. And then there was that boy… I just… I’ve seen it before. My father chokes these words out to his elderly cashier friend. I know Lewis. I’m sure she’ll be alright. She’s a strong girl. I listen for my father’s reply but none comes. Instead I hear him shuffling back to his office and shutting the door quietly. Leaning back against the shelf I had started to cry. I lean my head against my bed post and cry. Then and now are so similar, and yet so very different.
I hear Warren stir from across the room. He sits up and stares at me, blinking in the light. Say something to him, a villager hisses. There’s no point, I answer, he never says anything. Warren lays back down as I finish my sentence and turns his body toward the opposite wall. I stare out the window counting slowly in my head. That’s another thing that helps, counting. The villagers love numbers and usually stop talking while I’m reciting them, but as I reach seven hundred and sixty two I begin to doze off.
I’m standing in my high school hallway. Jeremy has his arm slung across my shoulder in a clearly casual way that announces to the world: she’s mine. And I’m sure of it. I don’t think I had ever smiled so brightly or laughed so loudly in all my life. Every envious glance and sly wink was like sunlight to plants. I soaked it up and radiated. I stopped suddenly and grabbed Jeremy’s hand. Jer, look! There’s someone I want you to meet! I rushed forward and embraced Rachael. Rachael Barnes was my best friend, and had been through all of middle school. As I approached her she tossed a main of shiny blonde hair over her shoulder and shooed off the group of sophomore boys that helped her carry her second period books. So, she smiled like a game show host, this must be… James? She winked at me knowing that her little name flub was slightly humiliating. I’m only joking. Jeremy, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Rachael. Had I not been in such a fog of unadulterated bliss I might have noticed the overly coy smile Rachael was giving him. I might also have noticed that his grip on my hand loosened ever so slightly as he took her in for a bit too long. Had I been any less ecstatic I might have seen everything I had slipping from my grasp.
I woke suddenly, shaking all over. The sun had faded from the sky outside and everything in the room was quiet and still. Across the room Warren had his glow in the dark Batman nightie on and was sound asleep and sedated.
“Mom!” I scream it loud enough that it echoes off the floor and walls. “Mom!” I can almost see the word bouncing from the ceiling to the wall to the floor tiles and out of the room. “MOM! MOM! MOM, PLEASE!” Suddenly I feel moisture in my eyes; my breathing becomes rugged and broken. By the time Nurse Rush enters I’m on the floor sobbing.
“Mom! Oh, Mom! No! Mom! Help me! MOM!”
I feel Nurse Rush wrap her arms around me and lift me from the floor. For such a small woman, she has acquired a great bit of upper body strength working here.
“Hush, Harlie. It’s ok. Just a bit of medicine and off to sleep, yes?” Nurse Rush pats my hair down and hands me a tissue.
I wait and listen for the villagers, but hear no sound. Maybe they’re gone. I’ve never cried about mom before. I’ve never woken up wanted a hug, or love. I had never considered before that what I really needed when Jeremy left was my mother. I needed her advice and wisdom. I needed something that was as hard to obtain as the wind. I never wanted this. I never wanted to feel any of this. The pain and the loss of my mother, my best friend, and my first love. I couldn’t take it all at once, so I had decided to never take it at all. And now here it was, rushing at me with power, drowning me in my own ignorance and fear.
There’s a strong wind whipping at my face. I push my hair out of my eyes and walk dutifully up the front steps of 16 Old View Drive. I push the front door open because it’s never locked. Mr. and Mrs. Barnes have always just let me come right in. as I take off my sneakers I check my phone. I had texted Jeremy 6 times since he had promised to pick me up at 4. It was now 7. I figured in a time like this what I needed was some girl talk. I’ve never been good at the girl talk thing, but my best friend is a legend. She knows more about boys than they do. I pad my way up the carpeted steps and into the upstairs hallway. Rachael’s room is on the left, second door. Had I known then that that would be the last time I’d ever open that door, maybe I would have prolonged the moment. But instead I threw it open, waking both my best friend and my boyfriend with the action. Rachael sat up looking like she had expected her sister Samantha to be standing there. She opened her mouth with anger, but shut it with frantic shock. I didn’t yell or scold. I didn’t scream or cry or even say anything. Instead I shut the door quietly and walked back down the stairs, slow as a funeral march. I left my bike on the front lawn, where it would remain until Mr. Barnes dropped it off on my front porch two weeks later. I walked the entire 8 blocks home feeling the wind slap my face. It wasn’t until I reached my own lawn that I noticed I was barefoot. I don’t think I ever cared.
Sunlight streams into the window and spills across the linoleum floor. I look over the foot board of my bed at the horrible green color around me. I wait patiently for the villagers to comment, but the only sound I hear is my own steady breathing. I walk down the hall toward the women’s bathroom not feeling the urge to count anything, yell at anyone, or state the obvious. I wonder about death, about how it feels to breathe your last. I wonder about silence. Is silence the honesty of the world, or is it the prelude to some hidden danger? I know what every horror movie ever made would suggest, but I cannot believe it until I’ve discovered it myself.
I’m in a darkened hallway, hearing only the sound of my shoes scraping the floor. I know I’m crying, and I know it isn’t going to stop any time soon. I’ve emptied my house of its knives and razors, decorating them all with my own blood and throwing the evidence away. Now I feel two sources of liquid, One from my eyes and the other from my hands. There is a sick satisfaction in the feeling. I laugh as I trail my hand across the wall, watching the red pool with the blue paint. My laughter echoes around me, catching my ears again. Suddenly the sound is all too familiar. I’m taking you on first. The sound dissolves into another, a more frantic sound. Terrified of myself, I focus on the red again, leaving a steady pattern of handprints on the wall. I will myself to focus on nothing but the pattern. I beg myself not to cry anymore. Then I see a new red, also mixed with blue, only coming from outside. I think of the broken window, I think of the shattered glass down the hall and begin to run. My breath goes short, my legs fail me, and I dive into a room and hide. Trying to cover my face does not good. I can feel the red on my cheeks and hair. It’s scary. It’s sick. It is not right. I think to scream. Dad? No. Jeremy? Not anymore. Mom? Never. Instead I cry, because my pretty pattern was not finished.
Splashing cool water into my eyes, I lift my head from the sink and gaze at my reflection. In my own eyes I see everything I had longed to hide for so long. My pain at losing my mother, the fear of losing others, and the realization of that fear in losing Jeremy and Rachael. I see my father, his quiet strength and wisdom. I also see the terrible pain I must have cause him. All the things I don’t want, everything that was too sick to be true is staring me in the face, and for the first time I let myself feel it. Peace is knowing who you are and coming to terms with it. I am Harlie Dennison, and I’m working on that.