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The Girl who Couldn't Hear, and the Girl who Couldn't Care
Have you ever had a moment where you just stopped caring? A moment where you just sat there, finding out something so horrible, and just did nothing? When you would just lie down, look up, and think to yourself, “How could they let this happen? Why can a world that claims to love all just look away from this, instead of do something?”
Where you just keep thinking that yourself, over and over, and your head, once filled with the bright, bubbly thoughts of a little girl, fresh out elementary is empty? Where all that’s left is a gaping, black abyss of where once was happiness, left to just...nothing? And even when you started to feel happy again, it was never the same. Under all those happy thoughts, there’s a black cloud of apathy. It doesn’t consume you, but it’s still there, influencing, digging its smoky tendrils into your train of thought, steering it off route. Reminding you you’ll never get back what you lost...and why it was lost in the first place. And then...you stop caring. You draw yourself in. You stop talking to anyone outside your little bubble, that precious little bubble, the one you always want to keep safe. Until you completely shut yourself off. You leave all your friends, abandon all the social gatherings, spend most of your time either locked away in your home or room. You become an outcast to everyone but your closest loved ones. And all because of one, goddamn stupid moment.
Well, that got a little personal. Anyway, should probably introduce myself. So...My name is Hailee. Hailee Halmich. And as you can probably guess from that totally not-at-all awkward intro, I don’t usually do stuff like this. So, what next, what next- Oh, right, personal info. Well, I live in Chicago, suburbs to be specific. There’s this nice little house on Jericho Ave., 1947 Jericho Ave. to be precise, and it is completely normal. Nice, basic, square structure, cream coloring, two floors, a garage and driveway, two yards with the greenest grass you’ll ever see. Kitchen, dining room, living room, four bedrooms, basement, laundry machines, the works. Basically everything you expect a house to have. I have a little sister, Chloe, she’s around eight, has an extremely cute face, as most little kids do, of course. Also has a problem with her leg, when she was born her leg was all wrong, twisted and bendy, so she needed surgery from an early age to fix it. Because of that, she walks with a bit of a limp, and can’t really do anything athletic. She isn’t picked on too much, but there’s always that one asshole who goes too far. An asshole I make sure to personally acquaint myself with whenever I see Chloe come home in tears.
Well, after I comfort her, of course, which is always easy with our two little friends! There’s Drei, a male Corgi, and Yichi, a female Shiba Inu. They’re always quick to comfort us when we’re down, love a good game of catch, and are a complete pain in my ass come dinner time. There’s also my Dad, my ever dutiful Dad. He’s a public defendant, and always does his best to take care of us, even if he sometimes screws up. I have nothing but respect for that guy, especially considering he has to do all the work without my Mom around to help him. Oh, she’s not dead, she didn’t divorce him either, she’s actually serving overseas. Yeah, my family also has a long history of military service, all the way back to the Civil War, I think. I have an Uncle who’s a Commander in the Navy, an Aunt who’s a Captain in the Air Force, another Uncle who’s a Captain in the Marines. My Grandpa’s also a pretty well-known Admiral, probably better known by the not all ironically funny nickname Old Iron Wood (stop giggling). My Mom, meanwhile, is a Captain in the army, currently fighting off in Afghanistan, and she’s probably the most awesome person I know.
She’s a lot like me, well, me under the surface, anyway. She’s funny, but becomes serious when called for, is really caring of her loved ones, but becomes strict when necessary. Plus, just because she’s usually care-free when off from service, don’t think she won’t kick your ass if you cross any sort of personal boundary. She will turn into a pancake in less than five minutes. Heck, whenever she comes home, she always makes sure to bring me and Chloe presents from whatever country she was in. She’s basically the perfect Mom, and I love her...which is why it can be hard to have her gone for so long fighting the good fight. Especially with the possibility of...well, you know. And then...there’s me. Nice, little old me. I’m about sixteen years old, I was born on October 31st, I naturally love Halloween as a result, and...I used to be a bit of a shut in. Okay, scratch that, I wasn’t even that, I was just...apathetic. And I hated it. I hated not being able to join with all my former friends and share all the new trends. I hated always feeling like an outcast, and never being able to join in on the conversation. I hated that I could never make myself give a damn, for so..so long.
Of course, I didn’t spend all that time doing nothing, locked away in my room, going “oh, woe is me!” I wasn’t THAT kind of kid. I constantly interacted with my family, including the non-humanoids, I made sure to always be there when other relatives came around, especially my Grandpa. I constantly tried to help Dad out, and keep everything running smoothly, and as I pointed out earlier, I always looked out for my little sis and helped her when she needed it. Hell, I still do. I even got into learning different languages, after my Mom brought home a book about how to learn Arabic.
I read through it, constantly amazed by the language, namely because it looked really pretty, and asked my Mom to help me learn as much as I could. I grew to really enjoy doing so, not just because we were learning a new language, but because we also ended digging more into the culture itself. I became so well versed by the end, I could probably lead a sermon in a Mosque if I wanted to. I also ended up really enjoying learning a lot about Arabic culture, like the common practices, fascinating history, and all the cool creatures. It didn’t end there, though, my Mom noticed how much fun I had during the learning process with her, and soon did the same with Chinese. Then it was Japanese, German, Russian, French, Dutch, Indian, Turkish, Hebrew, Persian, Greek, Babylonian, Italian, Swahili, Middle English, Old English, Ancient Nordic, Sign, learned all the languages, and all of their cultures. Well, obviously except for sign. Hell, it got to the point where I decided to learn Latin and explore the Roman culture. Yes, I was that into it. Still am, actually, Mom and I do this thing where she tries to chat with me over a stream and we can learn the language together. It allows her to stay close with me, and it keeps me calm to know she managed to live through one more day. We’ve also gotten Chloe into it, and she’s really enjoying herself.
All of that is great, and I function really well in there. However, the reason I was so outgoing there was because I was in my bubble. Outside my bubble, I’m basically Katniss Everdeen. I avoid everyone, hardly ever talk, always sit in the back of the class, that kind of stuff. I wasn’t always, though, I was actually really outgoing, I talked with everyone and always had a bright smile on my face. Until...Until…..I used to have a brother. Brent. He was eighteen...and he was sick. Really, really sick, up in the head. He was constantly depressed, and nobody besides my parents tried to do anything about it. The only times I ever saw him smile were when I was with him, always there to help keep him stuck to this world. Then he went away to college, without me to or my family to help him out. I was twelve. Chloe was four. And I could remember my Mom was bawling her eyes out when she got the call. Brent had hanged himself, right in the middle of his dorm, less than a month after school began. And I just snapped. The entire world felt like it was going to end, and I had no idea what to do. So, I went up to my room...and for nearly a year I never came out. Oh, I came out to eat, or to go to school, but besides that, it was all room all the time.
I went online, searched through all the suicide rates, mental illness rates, and I was just baffled. There were so many people who needed help like Brent did, yet no one helped, always going about how “Oh, they’re just looking for attention, leave them be, it’ll be fine”. And I found myself drifting farther and farther away from reality. I felt myself diving deeper and deeper into the recesses of my mind, refusing to come back. I only got out of it when Mom took an entire day off just for me and her. The Halloween that I turned thirteen on. I felt better than I had in months, and finally came back to reality. But it wasn’t perfect. I never reconnected with my friends. I just stopped caring about everything: the world, the news, all those stupid assholes that could have saved him...and I became alone, lost in a sea, so obsessed with protecting my bubble, and ensuring nothing bad ever happened to it. My friends all tried to get me back, of course, good friends they were. But, like I guessed they would, they all gave up eventually. All except for one girl.
I was sitting in the library, studying up on Native American culture (our sessions were focusing on Cherokee at the time) when I saw her. Sasha Alrick. Sasha was probably the happiest girl I knew, she was always smiling, never saw her frown once. I mean, I’m pretty sure she did frown, she does seemed to never do it in public. She was basically like any other normal girl you could hear of, good fashion sense, pretty face, nice personality. However, there was one little detail that caused people to avoid here. She was deaf. Had been her entire life, and constantly mocked for it, just because she wasn’t like everyone else. She was sitting at a table, reading Outlander of all things but I could tell she was occasionally looking at me. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised, she had kept trying to get past my shell for over a year.
I never understood why, though, she wasn’t a close friend of mine. Hell, I even made fun of her when I was a kid, like so many others. Yet, even when all my friends gave up on me, she never did. She wasn’t a stalker or anything, but she always tried to get through my shell and right to me. Almost as if she could see what was beyond that blank look, and wanted it to come back out. There was also that weird look she always had, whenever she was around me. Extremely awkward, almost as if she wanted to look at me, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. The way she constantly rubbed her hands whenever she was close to me was kind of odd too. She never acted this way around anyone else, it was almost around me. Almost as if she wanted to something to me, something she wanted to get off her chest for so long, but was deathly afraid of the consequences that could erupt. Almost as if she feared everyone ridiculing her more than they already did.
I’ll admit, though, her efforts seemed to be working. I had kept listening to Chloe’s stories about having fun with her friends and it caused me to reflect on the fun I used to have. Thinking of that, and seeing Sasha there...It made me think that maybe, yeah, I should try to talk to someone, try to get over this. Try to find someone who would understand why I was the way I was. Then Harvey Berris walked in. Berris was a bully. Yeah, you’re probably imagining him right now, stereotypical doofus from those movies, right? Oh, God no, Harvey was anything but that. I even wished he was like that. Harvey wasn’t a cliche, he wasn’t some run of the mill jerk who pushed people around, he was a psycho. The stuff he did, probably still does, isn’t run of mill, it’s actually pretty messed up. Like, stick a knife in you just for looking at him funny messed up. And now he was approaching Sasha.
He walked right on up to her, had his goons surround her, Sasha giving him a confused look that quickly turned to fear. Then, he took out a pocket knife, flicked it out and drove it right into her hand. She winced at first, before he slowly twisted it, crimson red blood leaking out from the wound. As Sasha squealed, I briefly turned away. I hated people like him. Ever since what happened to my brother, I hated people who picked on others just because they were slightly unusual. I especially hated it the assholes who took pleasure in it. And it was thinking back to that horrible day, plus hearing Harvey’s sadistic laughter as Sasha mewled in pain, that got me to get up. I walked on over to Harvey, and almost as if he could predict the future, pulled the knife out and pointed it at me. Then he tried to stab me.
Fun fact about my Mom, she’s really protective of her family, and even bothered to teach me how to defend myself. So all those hand-to-hand techniques she learned in boot camp? Yeah, I know them too, and needless to say, Harvey and all his goons went down in less than five minutes. I knocked them all down quickly, but made sure that they wouldn’t forget this moment for a very, very long time. I then took Sasha’s hand, that awkward look appearing on her face once more, looked it over, then took her to the nurse. Once she was all patched up, I decided to walk back home, only for her to follow me. She kept following me for several blocks, until I finally turned around and signed her a question, (Why are you still following me?)
She stopped for a moment, still looking at me strangely, took a deep breath, and signed back, (Because I wanted to thank you.)
I stood there for a moment, realizing that of course this girl would want to thank the person who took care of those bullies. I signed back to her, (Of course, right, sorry, I was being stupid. Have a good day.)
Just as I began to step away, though, she put her hand on my shoulder and turned me back. She nervously stood in front of me, head leaning to the sidewalk, and signed (I want to help you.)
(...The reason why I keep trying to get talk to you. I recognized the look on your face back there. Wondering why I keep trying to break your shell. It’s...it’s because I can see the sorrow in your eyes.)
…(Why? Why ME of all people? My life isn’t completely broken, I’m perfectly fine, hell, I used to BULLY you-)
(You’re not fine. You may think you’re fine, but you aren’t.)
We both stood there quietly, waiting for the other to move, before she finally began signing, (I know how it feels. Feeling like you’re cut off from the world. Like, you want to say something to make it all feel better but you have no idea how to. How you wonder why people can push so hard against anything they don’t recognize, and treat someone with contempt simply for being different. That was my life for a long while...okay, STILL is my life, in some regards.)
(...I just want to be left alone, that’s all.)
(I know that’s all you want, but have you ever considered it could be hurting more than helping. That it may have gone to the point where you’re starting to become obsessed?)
“I don’t need you tell me how to live my life!”
She winced back at that, as if she could tell exactly what I was thinking, a hurt look on her face. God, I felt like such a jerk. Here I was, the social outcast nobody cared for, taking her personal problems out on the innocent deaf girl. There was no way I could spin this in a positive light. I turned away, took a deep breath, and turned back, signing, (How do you do that? How you can tell exactly what a person is feeling simply by looking at them?)
She shrugged, (I couldn’t listen to people speak, so I tried to learn by reading their faces. It took a while, and a lot of weird looks, but I eventually got the hang of it. I learned how to look beyond what they wanted to show me, and to see what really lay beneath.)
Okay, that was somewhat creepy-
(You think its creepy. Don’t worry, I understand.)
(Sorry, force of habit. Anyway, by doing this, I finally began to feel like I was opening up to the world. Yes, I knew sign language and could properly communicate with it. That was only physical, though, I still felt cut of emotionally. Something that made my early years of school...challenging. It was like being on a lone island in a ocean, where you can see the boats...but the boats are so far away, they don’t even bother to notice you. It was hard, really, really hard, and eventually got to the point where I felt like nothing. After all, how can you claim to be someone’s friend if you can’t even tell how they feel. But after I learned to read faces...it felt like a ton of weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt like I could truly understand someone, could truly connect to them, not just wave my hands in front of their faces.)
(...Okay, interesting story, but that still doesn’t answer my question. Why do you keep trying to talk to me?)
(...Because I saw you change. One day, you were the happiest girl in the school. The next day, I saw only sorrow in your eyes. Even after you that sorrow left, though, I could still feel something was off. You became blank, like a robot, but I could see the look in your eyes. The look of someone who felt separate from everyone else. The look of someone who couldn’t bring themselves to connect to anyone. You appeared as someone who was simply introverted, but behind those eyes, I saw an emptiness even my own couldn’t match.)
I stepped back and looked down to avoid her. This was getting too personal for me.
(...I know what that’s like, Hailee. To feel like you’re alone in a wave of faceless strangers. Like nobody understands you. But I do! I can help you! I can try and aid you in moving on from this...whatever it is! I won’t pry into your past, won’t force you into anything. But please...at least consider it.)
She put down her hands, wrapped her arms around herself, and walked away. I looked back at her, holding back the tears that were building up. Maybe she was right. Maybe I needed to talk to someone...to find someone that I could just dump all of this emotional baggage on. Someone who could truly understand me. And as I turned away, and walked back home...I could tell this was going to be far from the last time we talked together.