You were out with your friends and family to celebrate the beginning of the New Year when it happened. Everyone - your mom and dad, your sister and brother, as well as your three friends – hopped on the next bus that was headed downtown. The busy streets were crowded and loud with the hustle and bustle of the immense amount of people who were shopping, eating and otherwise milling about on the cool and airy night. You could hear the thin, but hard, layer of snow beneath you crunch under your snow boots as you and the group made their way to you and your friends’ favorite restaurant. The familiar smells and sounds of the eatery took you back to those hot, nostalgic summer days when you and your friends would hang out literally from dusk ‘til dawn, eating, chatting, playing games and messing around on social media. Like normal teenagers.
The clatter of plates as the waitress set down everyone’s food brought you back to the present and you hungrily wolfed down your late-night dinner as everyone talked amongst themselves about what the new year would bring, what everyone’s resolutions were, etc. You glanced to your left and saw your brother and sister locked in an intense battle of thumb war, reminding you fondly of how the two never seemed to have changed, as you always found them goofing around together. You glanced in front of you and saw your mother and father across from you talking normally about their newfound joys of retirement and their plans for the weekend to come, their warm smiles as radiant as the fluorescent lights of the restaurant’s interior that reflected brightly against your mother’s beautiful wedding ring as she reached out and clasped her husband’s right hand - in which he gladly took her hand - reminding you of how strong your mother and father’s love was for each other. You turned your head to the right and saw your three friends smiling and laughing, their faces turned upward towards their phones where they were on Snapchat, letting all their friends and followers know about what they were doing for New Years, your closest friend pushing her way into the view of the camera as they recounted their plans for the New Year. You could hear the sounds of talking and laughter from all around you, and you could smell that night’s specialty dishes cooking in the kitchen. The taste and smell of warm coffee filled your senses with short-lived adrenaline and everywhere you turned you could see happy, smiling faces. Everyone seemed so lively and hopeful and happy.
Everyone but you, the sinister voice in the back of your mind seemed to have whispered.
Your eyebrows furrowed in temporary confusion as you pondered why your anxious mind was telling you that you weren’t as happy to be here as everyone else. You were happy to see your family after so many months away from them. You were happy to be here at your favorite place to hang out. You were happy to see all the people you loved and cared for the most in one spot, laughing and enjoying themselves together. You were happy.
The doubt reverberated against your anxious and suddenly tired mind, and you took another sip of coffee as you gazed around the table at your friends’ and family’s smiling faces. They were happy… so why weren’t you? The familiar lump in your throat was back, and you again questioned why you were suddenly feeling this way. Why all this doubt and confusion and sadness? Or was it loneliness? You could never differentiate the feeling of either emotion as they both seemed interchangeable these days. Lonely days led to sadness and sad days led to a dark, bleak feeling of loneliness. Today felt different, at first at least. You felt as if - with all of the new and exciting changes in you and your friends’ and family’s lives – maybe these feelings of loneliness and despair were finally starting to go away. But now it seemed as if they had never left.
You glanced around again to see if taking in your friend’s or family’s smiling, laughing faces might cheer your up. It didn’t. In fact, it did the opposite. Your friends’ faces no longer just looked cheerful and excited, but also distracted. And your family’s faces no longer just looked happy and hopeful, but preoccupied as well. They were still doing what they were doing seconds before, laughing and talking with each other about plans and such, but something seemed to have changed in your mind. It suddenly seemed that you were watching them as if you were watching a slowed-down film, as if you weren’t apart of their evening at all, just a spectator in a series of events. You watched them as they talked to one another and laughed as if they didn’t have a care in the world. On the one hand, it was nice to see everyone enjoying themselves so immensely.
But on the other hand, it was utterly and bitterly depressing.
Depressing that it seemed that they were enjoying the night without you. As if they couldn’t even see you, let alone notice how much you were essentially crumbling as everyone around you laughed and talked about their plans for the New Year. Like normal people. Why couldn’t you be normal like them, and enjoy the night, instead of sitting there, your hand’s trembling, a droplet of sweat rolling down the back of your neck – sending chills up your spine? Why did it feel as if you were choking on a misshapen ball of loneliness, despair and anger, the lump in your throat getting bigger and bigger until it felt as if you were drowning? Why did your eyes suddenly feel so wet, as if you might’ve started crying amidst all the joy and hopefulness that radiated off of your friends’ and family’s smiles and giggles?
Your father suddenly spoke, pointing towards the window, saying something about seeing a spark of color in the night sky and that how everyone should step outside so they could see the fireworks to celebrate. You got up as everyone did in a daze, your mind still a mess of angry questions and pathetic answers, your throat still full of a jumble of negative emotions, and your heart feeling ever so light, empty and…hollow.
The cool air blasted you in the face as you looked up towards the night sky, as everyone else did, to eagerly await the fireworks to be set off above you. You stole a glance at the people around you and they still seemed to not have noticed how distraught and utterly miserable you looked and felt. How could they not notice?
Unless, of course, they simply couldn’t see you.
As if you were some sort of ghost watching from the grave. You could seem them, smiling faces and all, but they couldn’t see you or notice how miserable you were.
The loneliness engulfed you and it took all of your effort not to break down and cry right there outside the restaurant in front of everyone. Questions from the vicious and depressive side of your mind started reverberating inside your head, the hopelessness and despair emphasized as the inquiries echoed again and again:
Why are you like this? Why can’t you be normal?
Your sister ruffled your brother’s hair affectionately, causing your brother to laugh.
Why can’t they see you? Why can’t you be seen?
Your mother and father leaned in to each other as they gazed thoughtfully and peacefully towards the night sky.
Why do you feel this way? Why do you feel at all?
Your friends counted down dramatically from 10 as they eagerly awaited the start of a brand new year.
What’s the point?
Your friends shouted “1!”.
Why can’t you be happy?
A spark of red and pink was seen in the night air for about 5 seconds and soon more colors – green and purple and orange and blue – could be seen from the civilians of the city below.
The crowd gathered in the streets cheered and clapped, whistled and laughed, hugged and kissed as they celebrated the official start of the New Year.
At that exact moment, a single tear traced its way down the side of your right cheek as you gazed desperately towards the flashes of color in the sky, as if, if you looked at the fireworks hard enough, the happiness would return to you.
But at that moment, happiness seemed like some far-off dream, some foreign emotion that you had never and would never experience.
And then it was gone.
Those dreadful feelings, the questions, the ball of emotion, all of it was just gone. Your eyes no longer felt wet, your hands ceased to tremble, your lungs started to work properly and your heart no longer felt hollow inside.
You looked around once more and everyone was still laughing and gazing upon the fireworks as they gradually started to become scarcer and scarcer in the night sky. But everyone still seemed normal.
It was as if those feelings never existed. As if those questions had never popped into your head. As if the entire ordeal had never happened.
But it did happen, you told yourself.
But did it really happen if no one was affected? Your siblings weren’t affected, your parents weren’t affected, and your friends weren’t affected. No one was affected.
Nobody but you.