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The sun hit Bethy's hair perfectly, letting her blonde highlights shine. Her feet were up on the dashboard of the front seat. The vinyl seats were sticking to her thighs, making noise every time she shifted.
"Bethy, stop farting!" Mum said as she turned the wheel to the left.
"Mum!" Bethy laughed, throwing her head back. Bethy turned her face over the chair to face me.
"Tess, tell Mum she's being silly."
I gave her a thin smile but said nothing.
"Come on Tess!"
I tucked a chunk of my straight brown hair behind my ear and stared out the window, watching the trees go by in an incessant blur, ignoring my sister at all costs.
"Tess talk. Please." Mum said, giving me a stern look through the over head mirror.
"Mum, Bethy would like me to tell you that you are being silly." I said apathetically. "There. Happy?"
"No, you little-"
"Bethy, don't." Mum warned her.
Bethy opened her mouth to speak, but thought better of it. She leaned forward and turned on the music.
I began to chew on the sleeve of my sweater, watching my sister hum along to radio and my mother softly tap her fingers on the steering wheel. They were the most beautiful people in the world. Everything about them put people in awe. They thought I was an imperfection in their beauty. I didn't choose anything. Things just happened. I was the dark hole in their otherwise sunny lives, the runt of their perfect litter.
"How much longer till we get to Toronto, Mum?" I asked, hoping to soften the tension between us.
"I'd say a good hour and a half. Why don't you take a nap?"
I nodded and leaned my head against the window, the glass cold on my temple. My eyes felt heavy, and soon sleep embraced me, but not before I heard Bethy's soft whisper.
"Why does she have to ruin everything?"
I woke up to an intense burning feeling across my entire chest. My body felt numb, as if it was exhausted and high on adrenaline at the same time. My neck was stinging, and I felt my seatbelt partially lodged in. Seatbelt. I opened my eyes wide. My sisters arm was over the seat, purple and blue. Mum's face was lying on the airbag, but I could see her chest moving ever so slightly. The front window was shattered, and there was smoke coming from the head of the car. It was dark out, I could see the reflection of the moon from the glass. I had no idea how much time had passed. My heart beat quickened, I was too petrified to move.
"Mum?" I croaked. No answer.
"Bethy?" Again, no answer.
I closed my mind and tried to clear my thoughts. I had no idea what to do. Where to go. Who could help. My mind was blank. In the distance I began to hear a faint siren, filling me with hope. I fought to keep my eyes open, at least until someone came. At least until. Someone. Where? My thoughts became long and incomprehensible. The last thing I heard was the screeching of tires and a red flashing light in front of the car.
"Tess. Tess. You need to wake up."
I heard the deep voice from a distance, waking me up from the darkness that had enveloped me. When I could finally bring myself to open my eyes, a man was right in front me.
"She's awake." The man said to someone else in the room.
The room was a bright white, the kind that hurts your eyes.
"Tess, can you hear me? Blink twice for yes."
I dramatically squeezed my eyes shut twice and the man smiled. His teeth were a little crooked and I couldn't help but think of Bethy's smile. Her teeth were a little crooked too.
My blood went cold. Where was she? How was she? Where was Mum? Questions raced through my mind, I felt as if my brain was shaking. Memories began to flash. Our car, the smoke, Bethy's purple arm. My throat felt like I'd swallowed sand, so dry that I couldn't speak. Eventually I made out a small cough.
The man stroked my hair and flashed me another crooked toothed smile. "Tess, I'm Dr. Genson. You were in a car accident."
Anger flooded through my veins. I knew all of this. I just wanted to know about Bethy and Mum. I tried once more to speak.
Dr. Genson cocked his eyebrow at me. Crap. I couldn't believe I'd wasted the only word I could articulate on some Pop-star rendition of name morphing.
"Nurse, some water for Ms. Ruslan."
A pretty short woman with auburn hair switched places with the doctor, holding a yellow plastic cup with a white straw.
"Like to try to speak again, Tess?" Dr. Genson asked, after I'd finished downing a cup and a half.
I took a deep breath and swallowed, terrified of asking.
"My sister and Mum?"
Relief filled me, and exhaustion did too a few seconds later. I felt sleeps sharp claws dig into me, but not before I caught a grim glance between the Nurse and Dr. Genson. Darkness encased me before I could ask them anything else.
"Ma says that if the sky is red, someone's being tortured."
"I don't believe that." I said.
Justin stuck his tongue out at me and winked. "You never believe anything."
"What do you believe in then?"
I scratched my elbow and pondered for moment. What did I believe in?
Justin scrunched up his nose like Mum did when she smelled blue cheese.
"At least mine doesn't involve torture."
"At least mine isn't stupid."
Me and Justin sat in silence for a while, enjoying the wheat fields in front of us. The wooden fence we were sitting on was still wet from the storm the night before, so my jeans were getting a bit wet. I stared down at my red boots and wished I'd bought the yellow ones so they'd match the wheat.
Justin turned to look at me and put his small grimy hand on my arm.
My eyes flew open to see Mum's hand on my arm.
"Well hello there sleepy head." She smiled but it didn't reach her eyes.
"I saw Justin."
"Justin?" Mum gave me a worried look. "You haven't talked about him in ages."
"We were at Uncle Berry's farm. It was about ten years ago, we were around seven." I closed my eyes, trying to recall more accurate details, but my dream was slipping away.
Mum put her fingers to my cheek, and I forgot all about my dream.
"Can I see Bethy?"
Tears began to roll down her cheeks. Not hysterical ones, but big slow drops that fell all the way to her chin. It was the prettiest way anyone could cry, and it almost distracted me long enough before I remembered why she could be crying. My heart burst into my throat and I began to convulse. Not Bethy. No. No. No. No. No. No.
"No..." I began.
Mum shook her head. "She's alive Tess."
The nurse with the auburn hair came in with a wheel chair and gave me a sunny smile. I liked her brightness. I knew hospitals had to be sad a lot of the time, but somehow she seemed shiny, like a brand new penny that no one had dropped or spoiled yet. She seemed unharmed by any awfulness that life could have thrown at her. I didn't know if she was resilient or just very, very lucky. I didn't want to know. I didn't want her shininess ruined with details. She helped me into the wheelchair and pushed me into the hallway, Mum following close behind. One of the walls was made up of mirrors, and it was the first time I'd seen myself since the accident. I looked awful. I had deep dark circles around my eyes and I was so pale. My hair looked greasy and dark, much darker than before. My lips were thin and cracked.
"Mum, how long has it been?"
The nurse turned into a small room with only one window and one bed. The curtains were closed around the bed, and all I could hear was the continuous beep of one of the many hospital machines.
The nurse opened the curtains and I saw my sister, lying on the bed in the ugly gown, with a thin blanket that was tucked in around her.
I rolled myself right up close to her, so I could hold her hand and look at her face.
Somehow even with through the bandages and the small burnt patch of hair, Bethy still looked beautiful. Her eyelashes were still long and full, her nose still cute and perfectly curved, and somehow she'd avoided the crusty cracked lips that I had gotten.
I turned to see my Mum sniffling in the back of the room.
She quickly wiped her tears away and gave me another smile that didn't reach her eyes.
"What's wrong with her?"
"She's perfect." Mum swallowed and closed her eyes.
I gave my Mum a sad smile and let her believe, at least for a moment, that I couldn't see through her words. I lay my head on her stomach and gave my sleeping sister an awkward hug. I went to reach for her hand on the other side, patting the cover trying to find it. My heart sank deep in my stomach. I closed my eyes, letting myself breathe in my sisters perfection.
I was laughing so hard that my stomach was aching. I couldn't breath and the room began to spin. I tried to stop, but I just couldn't. It was all too funny.
I put my face in my hands and tried to calm down. I rocked back and forth and tried to think of something else. Anything. Dead puppies. Crying babies. Nothing worked. It was just too hilarious.
"Ms. Ruslan. Care to say what's so funny?"
I lowered my hands and stared directly into the eyes of the woman in front of me. She had a snooty aura about her, with her salt and pepper hair and taunting blue eyes. She seemed pretentious and overrated.
"The fact that I'm sitting here in this goddamn therapist chair." I swallowed, trying to hold back more laughter from erupting.
"Why is that so amusing?"
Oh god. This woman. She drew out every word like snob. Why would I tell this woman anything?
"See Miss." I clapped my hands together, trying to be as condescending as possible. "I'm sitting here, in this god forsaken therapist chair. It's like one from the movies."
I laughed as I lay down and let my back curve with the chair.
"Ms. Ruslan, we're not here to talk about the chair."
I got back into a sitting position and gave her a big fake smile.
"Fine. What shall we talk about?"
"How are you feeling?"
"This chair," I said while pointing down. "It's freaking amazing."
The old hag rolled her eyes at me. "Why do you like this chair so much Ms. Ruslan?"
I pondered that for a moment. "I love this chair, because it'll never change."
"I don't mean this specific chair. I mean that no matter what, there will be lunatics sitting in these offices, talking to doctors like you, who don't really care about what the hell your patients are saying just as long as you get your absurd pay check at the end of each hour." I took a deep breath and continued. "No matter what, there will be chairs like this in the world that will appear in every bad movie and will signify that the people in these rooms need serious help."
It was silent for a good century before the dinosaur spoke.
"Do you think you need serious help, Ms. Ruslan?"
I shrugged. "No more than anyone else."
My favourite time of the day had become around two or three in the morning. The hospital would turn into my castle. Fair enough, it lacked tall stone towers and ancient tapestries lining the walls, but it was mine nonetheless. It was silent at night, at least on my new floor. My mum had been cleared to go a few days earlier, but she still practically lived at the hospital. Bethy had some surgeries booked, something about nerve rehabilitation. I stopped listening whenever the doctors went all medical. I hated seeing my sister as a patient, a victim. Listening to the things they needed to do to fix her was admitting that something was wrong with her in the first place. There was nothing wrong with her. Nothing. I hated myself for ever feeling imperfect compared to her.
I felt a cool breeze up my hospital gown as I skipped down the empty hallways. I wasn't really sure why they hadn't cleared me to go yet. All I know is they kept sending me to see that goddamn therapist every other day. The psyche ward was pretty much the same as the one Bethy was on, just closer to the therapy offices. I saw a flickering light at the end of the hall and I slowed down, hoping that no one was there. At the corner of the flickering light was a big dimmed hallway. I ambled down it, not recognising it on any of my other nightly escapades before. It led to a big room, with vending machines and scratchy red chairs. A waiting room. The room was shivering with the ghosts of its past, doctors bearing mostly sad news, families breaking from the tension of the waiting. But the view was absolutely beautiful.
Big glass windows lined the entire opposite wall. Floor to ceiling, you could see all of Toronto. The sky was twinkling with stars. I suppose we were far enough outside the city that the light pollution hadn't completely blinded our view. I sat on the floor and got lost in the world that didn't feel like it was mine anymore. I used to feel unstoppable, especially with Justin. Him and I were best friends. Nothing could separate us, or so I had thought.
"You can't stay awake forever." I said while ripping apart bit of grass.
"Sure you can." Justin said giving me his famous lopsided smirk.
"Justin, you are just being silly." I rolled my eyes at him. Justin was never serious.
"Just think about it, Tess." Justin stood up, his eyes wide with excitement. "What if we never slept? What if the only time we ever closed our eyes, is when we wanted to die."
"Then every time we got tired we'd die."
Justin smiled broadly, flashing big front teeth. "Exactly. Every time we fall asleep, we die. The difference is, we wake up."
I looked up from my pile of shredded grass, kicking it with my red boot. "Justin, sleeping isn't dying."
If even possible, Justin's smile grew. He loved it when I didn't understand his point.
"When we wake up, its because our human souls had enough will left in us to pull it together and wake up from our death. We only never wake up when we lose our will to live."
"So what about people who die when they're awake? Like in accidents and stuff?"
Justin sat really close to me, so close that I could count the freckles on his nose. I could see the green specks in his eyes and smell the husky morning on his breath.
"Maybe those people were never really awake in the first place."
That was the first time he kissed me.
I woke up to the smell of cleaning alcohol and the musky scent of sick people. The lingering image of red boots was in my mind, but the smell was strong enough to make the memories of my dreams fade. It was the same smell I had woken up to for the last two weeks. I began to crawl out of bed for my morning pee when I heard my mums voice in the hallway. I clambered back into bed to commit myself to some class-A eves dropping.
"Doctor, Bethy is fine. Please let her go."
"Ms. Ruslan, we can't do that. While her other injuries are healing up nicely, she's still refusing to even move the joints in her shoulder. If we can't get her accepting what's happened, I'm afraid of the damage it could cause. Psychological wounds are much harder to heal and can easily affect any progression we've made so far. We need to get her started on a prosthetic, but she needs to do physical therapy of which she refuses to participate in."
I heard my mum give an exasperated sigh. "Well, what about Tess? Her injuries are fine aren't they?"
"Ms. Ruslan, Tess is mentally unstable and a danger to herself..."
I chose this moment to loudly stomp to the bathroom. I didn't want to know why they were refusing to discharge me. I didn't feel like anything was wrong with me. If it was, I didn't want to know. Not yet, anyway.
They stopped talking and came into the room, my mum giving me her perfected fake smile.
"Hey Sweetie, sleep well?"
I nodded and shut the door to the bathroom. I didn't want her small talk, or anyone's for that matter.
I took my time, washing my face and hands. Fiddling with every small detail of the bathroom, straightening the random pictures of sail boats and flowers, breathing on the mirror and drawing fading messages. I waited until I was sure they had left my room, leaving me to be alone, something that was becoming more and more appealing.
I peeked out the doorway, reassuring myself that no one would catch me. This may earn me an extra time slot in the dinosaurs room, but I felt that it was worth it.
I tiptoed down a few doors until I saw the pink feet of my sister as she lay motionless in her bed. I had barely spoken to her since the first day she had woken up. She didn't really speak to anyone anymore.
She turned her head to look at me and her face showed no change in expression.
I ambled in, not totally sure what to do next. I knew what I wanted Bethy to do, but I had to provoke her in order to get it. I saw a small foam physical therapy ball on the bedside table, and grabbed it. I stood at the end of her bed, making no effort to draw attention to myself.
I began to slowly throw the ball back and forth between each palm, waiting patiently.
I watched Bethy's face, waiting.
Time began to slow down, from all the waiting.
Bethy opened her mouth, but spoke so softly I couldn't even hear her.
She spoke a little bit louder. "Please stop that."
I controlled myself from smirking. "Stop what?"
Bethy looked straight at me, her nostrils flaring a bit.
"Stop throwing that ball."
"Tess. I'm serious."
"Why do you want me to stop?" I began to throw the ball faster.
The ball began to move faster.
"TESS!" Bethy screamed. She couldn't contain it any longer.
"Stop throwing that stupid freaking ball before I break your damn face in."
The short auburn-haired nurse came in, her face bewildered.
"Tess, shall I get Dr. Genson?"
I shrugged. "Get whoever you want. I don't care."
The nurse rushed out. I was still throwing the ball.
"Tess. Tess. Stop. Please." Bethy was almost hyperventilating now, Tears streaming down her face.
Bethy began to breathe short and fast, her eyes showing emotion for the first time in two weeks. They flashed fear.
I asked her again. "Why, Bethy?"
Bethy clenched her fist and closed her eyes, trying to control the beast that had been disturbed deep inside her brain.
Dr. Genson chose this moment to walk in, grabbing the ball out of my hand.
"Tess, I think you should leave now."
I shrugged and gave one last look at my sister. Her face was red and contorted into an awkward expression, her fist clenched into a small ball.
I walked out proudly, my head held high.
I looked down at my hands and was surprised to see how much my nails had grown. I used to have this terrible habit of biting them until my skin would bleed. My mother hated it. She put paste on the tips of my fingers so that it would taste bad, she'd have weekly check ups to see if I had made progress in my nail-growth. She gave up eventually though, because no matter what she did my habit pursued. I didn't mean to keep it up, but old habits die hard. I guess all I needed was a life-altering car accident and daily therapeutic visits to make the habitually nail-biting process seem mundane.
I rolled my eyes before glancing up at that pruned face I'd had the unfortunate pleasure of becoming accustomed to. I had been right, my little stint in my sisters room had earned me every-day therapy. Lucky me.
"Yes?" I said sweetly, pushing down the urge to call her a hateful old b****.
"What would you like to talk about today?"
This took me by surprise. She never asked me what I wanted to talk about. She would just ask me priding questions which I hedged around as much as possible.
"Why am I still here?"
"Ms. Ruslan, you have been through a traumatic-."
"I know why I'm here." I said, cutting her off. "I want to why I've been here for 17 days. I want to know why I have no real physical injuries left and yet, I am still here."
"Ms. Ruslan, you..."
"Tess. My name is Tess."
The woman gave me a small smile and continued. "Tess then. You are still here because you have shown symptoms of a mental illness that...."
I sighed knowing she was just going to hedge around my question. That getting a direct answer would be impossible.
"Please. Just stop." I said, cutting her off.
She paused and gave me a small smile. "You are progressing, if that makes you feel better."
It didn't make me feel any better. Or worse, for that matter. Nothing really made me feel anything nowadays.
"Am I on medication?"
"No." The witch said bluntly.
A little shiver ran down my spine. No medication? I was subconsciously blaming my mood swings and behaviour on med side-effects.
"When can I go home?"
Her blue eyes stared through me, her face unchanging.
"You people with your white coats and high degrees. There's nothing wrong with me. You just want money and figure hey, my sisters is in here going through hell why don't you go for a double deal." My hands began to tremble. I hated this. I hated these people.
The stoic b**** was still completely unnerved by my outburst. Her indifference infuriated me.
"If you are so capable with yourself Tess, then could you please tell me about Justin?"
My blood ran cold. I felt as if ice has just been showered all over my body. Justin. How dare her ostentatious lips say his name.
"Justin is none of your business."
We spent the rest of the session in a haunting silence.
I feel a small nudge in my thigh and jolt awake, feeling the urge to scream. A warm breath brushes my neck and a soft shush in my ear calms my nerves.
"Are you awake?" Bethy says in my ear.
"Thanks to you, yeah."
Bethy gave a small snort. "You're welcome."
We lay in silence for who knows how long. It was nice being sisterly again. I couldn't even be mad- she was my crippled older sister, and we hadn't had a normal moment in a long time. There was no indicator of the time until the elevator made a loud groan from the down the hall. Morning rounds.
"Its about 4 am." I said.
"I'm getting a prosthetic arm soon."
I turned on my side so are noses were only about a centimetre apart.
"Yeah. Dr. Genson told me yesterday."
I felt a tinge of anger that Dr. Genson hadn't even bothered to let me know about my own sister, but given the last time Bethy and I had seen each other, I could see his point.
"I'm not sorry you know." I whispered.
Beth gave a soft laugh. "Oh god I know you aren't. I'm not angry."
We gave each other a little smile, a knowing smile. A smile that said absolutely everything that needed to be said.
"I should go."
I watched her creep out of the room, her hair looking a little bouncier and her highlights shining ever so slightly in the dim hallway lights.
My room was the sixth room on the left side of the hallway. It was the ugliest view, in comparison to the waiting room that overlooked the city. My view faced a brick wall that was about 40 metres away. I still didn't know what the building was for, even though I'd asked the auburn-haired nurse about one hundred times. The coffee on the floor above me was better than the coffee on our floor, although the vending machine on our floor had more chocolate options. If you were peckish for chips or a granola bar, your best option was the vending machine outside the cafeteria. I didn't understand why they would have a vending machine outside the cafeteria, until I tasted the cafeteria food on a bad day and realised that not even the managers had faith in their own food. The only good days to eat from the cafeteria are Tuesdays and every other Sunday, because on Tuesdays they have this amazing carrot soup and every other Sunday they serve these chocolate chip cookies that are to die for. Ironic, considering many people within the building are in fact, dying.
I slowly turned my head to see Mum's beaming face.
"Tess, are you listening?"
I hadn't even known Mum was in the room.
"Beth is getting discharged in a few days!"
I pursed my lips together and gave my mum a thin smile. I was happy. Beth was better. Beth would go back to her life before. Her care-free university life. Everything would be perfect. For them, anyways.
Mum took a step closer and began playing with the too-long fringe that was swept to the side of my forehead.
"You need a hair cut."
"Yeah, I know."
We sat in a wondering silence.
"I love you, you know."
"Yeah Mum, me too."
I nodded slightly, waiting for the almighty ruler of thoughts to continue. She never truly shut up. To my surprise, she stayed quiet. She was different today. Less pretentious and more filled with intent.
"Um, yeah. Hi."
"How did you sleep?"
I shrugged. "Dreams, I guess."
"What did you dream about?"
The hag cocked an eyebrow at me, her MD not giving her a whole lot of aid here.
"Red boots? Is this a joke?"
I gave a snicker because it was actually the truth. Red boots were my nightmares.
"No Miss. Red boots."
"Do you often dream of red boots?"
"I do, actually."
"Why do you think that is?"
I froze. That was too far. Too deep. I couldn't tell her that. No way.
I couldn't breathe. Why did she want to know? Why?
"Tess? Are you alright?"
I could feel my chest get tight. The back of my throat got dry. I wanted to run away but my feet were frozen to the floor. I tried to hold it together, but I just couldn't. I felt my nose begin to drip, my eyes become blinded by tears. I blinked but it only made it worse. I fell to the floor, gasping for breath between sobs.
The next thing I knew I was leaving tear stains on the bitches pale blue t-shirt, as she held me to her chest. She kept rubbing my back and whispering shhhh. The comfort cloaked me, I couldn't help but relax a little in her arms.
"Tess, if you never talk about what's bothering you, you'll never be able to move on."
I pulled away from her chest and stared right into her blue eyes.
"Ms, I don't really think I can move on."
Justin and I had been sitting in his car for about an hour. The lights were off at my house, so I knew there would be no real curfew punishments if I stayed out just a bit later.
Justin was thumbing the bottom of his sweatshirt. His face was nervous, an image of him I never really was used to.
"I really thought you wanted to."
We both looked down at our palms, awkwardly grasping for the right words.
"You know..." I started, not really sure what to say next.
"I just... I had to say no. I'm sorry. It felt wrong."
Justin looked at me with eyes that broke my heart.
"I love you though, Tess."
"I love you too."
"Isn't love supposed to make it good?"
"I thought so."
I rubbed my hands together, getting a little chilly without the car on.
"I'll see you tomorrow?" I asked, putting my hand on the door handle.
Justin nodded and gave me a little smile.
I hopped out of the car and watched his red civic ride away.
I silently walked into my house, avoiding all creaks in the floor boards. My hand reached the closet, and I saw my old red boots. I hadn't worn them since I was about 13 years old, and memories began to flood my mind. Justin and I at the farm, at the park. I stopped wearing them when Justin and I grew up, and I realised my red boots couldn't be worn forever.
The next morning I woke up and sauntered into the living room, groggily collapsing on the couch and switching on the TV. That was when Justin's face flashed up on the screen.