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Not Worth It.
The bell rang, monotonous and annoying. The clattering of chairs scraping against the floor, backpacks shifting about, and the stampeding of feet as students crowded towards the door to freedom overwhelmed the preceding silence at an almost painful rate. I never understood how they could leave with such zeal, to clump into their packs and fake smile their way through a social life. It wouldn’t be worth it, in the long run.
“Hey, Lizzie. Wanna come hang out with us?” Taylor came up to me, smiling as always. Brown hair, blue eyes, and this air of sociability surrounded her – it was a wonder that she even knew my name sometimes. We’ve been friends since the dawn of time (or at least first grade), and while she accumulated more and more friends, I simply smiled and nodded, keeping to the background.
“Where to?” I asked, giving her a small excuse of a smile. I already knew I wouldn’t hang out with her today. Normally, I would consider it, but not today.
“I think we’re going with James and them to that new sushi bar.” Taylor looked up thoughtfully before looking back at me, nodding in confirmation. She was cute, I’ll give her that. I love sushi, and for a moment, I was contemplating changing my plans. My face scrunched up in a frown as I tried to find a good excuse.
“Michael’s going…” Nia tempted in a sing-song voice, as she and Taylor shared a look. My breath hitched; I’ve had a crush on Michael forever, ever since I met him freshman year in English. He had this wonderful way with words that just suffocated my heart every time he got up to read in front of the class. We’re okay friends, but he could never tell that I wanted more. Taylor and Nia did, though, and they never let me live it down.
“Really?” I allowed myself a sincere smile, giddy with this new prospect. I could already see us sitting next to each other, the smell of wasabi and vinegar rice faint in the background as we talked about the week, each other, and hanging out again afterward, just the two of us.
Maybe our shoes would kick together, and he would laugh as I stepped on his feet. Maybe our hands would brush against each other, like in the chick flicks Nia makes fun of when we watch them. The sushi bar, my awkward social ability, and the clink of silverware and chopsticks would quickly fade away. James, Taylor, and Nia would make sure of it. I looked at Taylor and Nia’s faces, so sure they had me now.
“How about I meet up with you guys later?” There, a good excuse. They’ll lose track of time, of me. They’ll never know. I brush off the schoolgirl fantasy still taunting me in my head. It wouldn’t be worth it to linger on it. “My mom wants me home to take care of some chores.”
“Come on, you should go! You have the whole weekend for chores.” Nia tugged at my arm, whining. I stared at her bright red highlights before responding.
“Yeah, but I have to get it done…” I trailed off, my mind going blank.
“We can go with you! We’re meeting up in like, an hour.” Thin wisps of hair skimmed across my face as Taylor glanced at the clock. Nia nodded enthusiastically next to her, she was always so excitable.
“Yeah, really. We can help! It’s been forever since I’ve been over anyway.” Emerald eyes blinked expectantly, that hopeful smile on her face. It was almost as if she knew, but she couldn’t have. Neither of them could ever see it coming, I’m sure of it.
“No, it’s fine. The house is a mess anyway, and I’ll be really fast. Promise!” I crossed my fingers behind my back, an old habit that refused to die, and smiled reassuringly. I picked up what little school supplies I had and waved goodbye as we took our separate ways.
As I walked down the barren hallways, I was struck by an ethereal feeling, knowing that I would never walk these halls again. It’s only been two years of high school, and yet this ever-shifting community has grown on me. It’s certainly more interesting than middle school, and in ways, more freeing. Strange, what freedom does to the student body. Girls dress in as little as they can get away with as they make out with their baggy-dressed boyfriends at the back of the school, which everyone pretends doesn’t exist. People come out of their shells, the closet, and accept themselves more, but not others. Dreams are shattered, remade, and broken once more under the judgmental view of peers.
There’s a sort of rhythm here. It’s not just me, it’s made up of everyone; we’re just lucky enough to tap into it. It’s chaotic and mesmerizing, inspired from a forced routine and changed with time and space. The foundation of it is built on heartbeats and simple whims; wanting to play music, to shape clay, to write for fun. Everyone talks about the memories we’re making everyday, how it shapes our future. I don’t think it’s worth it, all the work we do to impress teachers for grades or friends for a social life that won’t matter after each year.
Sometimes, I do wish I fit in here, like Taylor and James. Taylor knows everybody, and if there’s ever some sort of social emergency, Taylor is already three steps ahead, with a grin on her face. James became our class president last year, and every other class loves him and his confident way with crowds. Then there’s me, who would rather have four good friends for a movie night instead of four house parties of people who don’t know me. I release a sigh that I didn’t know I was holding. Before I know it, I’m free from the echoing hallways and out into the sunshine. I’m glad it’s such a nice day. I may never enjoy another.
My head is spinning. My legs know they are going home, on a trip we’ve taken a thousand times; sometimes with others, but mostly without. The wind blows, swirling the thoughts around in my head. Should I have gone with Taylor and Nia? Should I even do this? Am I sure? Am I ready? I stare down at the ground, the sidewalk specks gliding under my sight. My legs continue on, unable to stop. I have to do this. I need to.
I come to my empty house. Mom’s at work until late, and Tyler is at a friend’s house. I made sure that my last words to them were that I loved them. I’ll double check my letter before I go. The door is closed, and I put my things away up in my room. Flipping on the light, my bed is somewhat made, my plain walls dotted with scribbles of writing, and the pictures at my desk seem to mock me.
Our first theme park trip in the seventh grade, with Taylor clutching onto Nia for dear life, and James’ hand is on my shoulder as I hold the camera; each of us wearing never-ending smiles, powered with adrenaline and inspired by matching light-up necklaces. Another was of Tyler’s favorite Christmas, from three years ago, when he got his first nerf gun after everyone convinced him it was a deluxe set of sweaters. I helped him unwrap the monstrosity of a toy, and our mouths were opened wide in grins when he finally saw it and held onto it as if it would disappear.
Pulling out the drawer of my desk, I gingerly dig through my things until I find my small sanctuary, a gun my father owned while he was in the police force. It’s black, and heavy, and smells like he did, before he stopped functioning when he was kicked off the force. The scent reminds me of camping trips where we would hike as far up a mountain as we could, just the two of us. He said he would never leave me lost, or alone. I was eight then, and I believed him wholeheartedly.
Until one day, he couldn’t stop apologizing, for something that wasn’t his fault. The station thought he did something, and he wouldn’t tell us, but I just knew it couldn’t have been his fault. My father would never do anything terrible to anyone. Soon, he kept apologizing to us, for being a failure, a loser, and so many things we tried to convince him he wasn’t. He drank and drank, until he couldn’t stand, and when he could stand again, he drank some more. Eventually, he simply got up and left, on a day as nice as this.
That night, Mom cried, drinking the same drinks until she fell asleep on the floor next to her own vomit and Tyler cried for the first time in years, refusing help as our family crumbled. I found the gun in his office, and slept with it under my pillow that night, my fingers tracing out every groove of it. Eventually, I looked up how to shoot it. I’ve been waiting for this day for three months. Hefting it in my hand, I hold it up to the light, as if to make sure it’s still real. My letter is wrapped around the grip, and I open it to double check once more. I have to be careful.
Hi, world. I’m sorry I couldn’t handle living anymore. No, it’s nobody’s fault, I promise. It’s a conclusion I came to a long time ago. We spend all our lives suffering… why should I? I don’t want to suffer anymore. I figure I’ll be happier now, away from stress and fear and anxiety. Don’t worry, I’ll watch over you guys. Give God a good word for you, or something. However that works. Mom, please don’t cry. Tyler, you too. I love you both so much. If I had to live for a reason, it would be you two. I’m sorry that I’m just too weak. So you guys have to be strong, okay? I’ll see you again someday, a long time from now.
Taylor, Nia, James, thanks for being the best friends a girl could ever have. Thanks for the memories, the venting movie nights, the sushi dates, everything. Thank you for putting up with me. I love you guys, too. Take care of my stuff for me, yeah? Oh, and tell Michael that I always loved him, and that I’m sorry I never got to tell him. Sorry until the day I die, huh? There are a lot of people I should thank, but I don’t have enough time. Everyone I’ve ever met, I thank you. Please don’t cry over me. If you do, anyway. Just keep living, please? For me?
Love, Lizzie Allison Bender
I feel numb again, almost as if I shouldn’t do this. Everyone will be so sad, no matter what I do. As I dot the I’s in my name with a heart, I realize that this letter isn’t good enough, but it’ll have to do. I’m not worth it anyway. Taping the note to the gun, I sit on my bed, the key to the rest of my existence lying harmlessly next to me, sinking into my baby blue comforters. I lay back, sighing. I look over at the gun, and I suddenly see Michael.
“Wha-” I blink in disbelief. He’s lying next to me, smiling that beautiful smile I’ve only ever seen from afar. “Michael?”
“Lizzie, don’t do this.” His voice is sincere, his amber eyes so sweet and warm, I could sleep in them for eternity. “You never told me you loved me.” God, that smile, that smile like he knows exactly what I’m thinking, more than anyone else would. I love that half-cocked smile of his, and how painfully attractive it is.
“I do love you.” My voice chokes as I say it, and hot tears run down my face. I can almost feel him wiping my tears away with soft fingertips, the ones he plays guitar with, that dance across the fingerboard with ease. He smiles for a moment, and I could imagine coming home to his arms forever, to bask in that smile, that scent, those eyes.
“Not enough, apparently.” He frowns now, and the whole world seems to shatter in his expression. “Not enough for you to stay alive, for me, for us, for yourself.”
“I’m not worth it.” I tell him, knowing I’ve lost him forever. “I’m not worth it!” Tears dot my blankets as I curl into a ball, sitting up on my bed. Michael disappears forever, and the gun is all that’s left.
“I’m not worth it.” I can’t stop shaking when I pick up the gun and flick off the safety, a habit I’ve developed to calm me down. “I’m not worth it. I’m not worth it.” My hands lift the gun to my head, aligning with my temple. I hope it doesn’t hurt as much as I think it will. “I’m not worth it,” I sob. “I’m sorry.” My fingers are on the trigger, losing the strength to pull it.
I close my hands into fists. Then nothing.