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They say you have the power to direct your own future. They say you make your own choices. They failed to mention that some choices choose you. No matter how much you’ve resented it in the past, when the time comes, there’s no stopping it. It embraces you and eats you alive, eventually becoming a part of you like a second skin, a sixth sense. Now here I was, wishing I could reverse time and undo the purpose that was set for my life. Except this wasn’t my life, this was her life, the other voice that lives inside of my head. She is my alter ego. She was the one conditioning my fatigued legs to keep running, making my adrenaline pump through my veins. I could feel my calves cramping and my forearms straining. Pain vibrated through my weary breath and ventilated through my aching throat. Dark strands of my curly hair flew out in wisps, clouding my peripheral vision like snakes, callusing around my bare neck and threatening to end my life, something that now happened on a daily basis.
His evoking whispers were the only thing keeping me going. “Don’t stop. You’re almost there”. The light of the thin forest began to get thinner. Canopies of trees swathed the sunlight and the heavy clops of footsteps still followed close behind. Scenes of my past played across my mind, and tears fell from my eyes. Seeing my destination below, I took a graceful leap. Despite my heart beat pulsating in my ears, my breath cut short, my eyes wide with fear and my body drifting into unconsciousness, I knew this was what I was born to do. Even my alter ego agreed. Sometimes we became what neither of us thought possible…
The sun was just starting to kiss the hilltops as I looked up at the resilient clouds and wished I was anyone else but myself.
“Are you ready for this?” Kelly asked from the driver’s side. I shook my head as I looked up at the trees swaying in the breeze and she turned down the radio. As long as I could remember, I’ve always hated change. I constantly desired to live in the past, since change was almost a daily routine for me.
“I’m really going to miss you, but your new family will be great. I can feel it” she said. I didn’t look at her even though I could feel her looking at me, longing for me to look back. I already knew she was going to give me that same look I’ve been given my whole life. It was ‘the look’ that was a combination of sympathy and sadness that included a slight turn of the head, pat on the shoulder and a “poor baby”. Whenever anyone knew my story they’d always soften up their faces, glaze their eyes and say “I’m sorry”, even though they have nothing to do with it and aren’t even at fault.
They always treat me like I’m some fragile little kid with a problem that mankind can’t solve. This is why I avoid telling my story, just to get away from that look of forged pity or the pats on my back and most of all, the I’m sorry’s. Kelly pulled into a breakfast place and we got out of the car. She stuck her sunglasses in her purse, tousled her dirty blonde hair and locked the car behind us. The breakfast place had a splash of colors along the wall in a way that made it look overwhelming and red booths lined along the windows with round tables in the middle.
A girl with cropped, layered hair and blue eyes led us to one of the booths, her apron swishing between her legs as she asked us what we wanted to drink. We both ordered an orange juice before she wrote it down on a sticky note and walked off.
“You ok?” Kelly asked, ‘the look’ on the verge of appearing on her flawless face.
“I’m fine” I spouted in a frustrated tone. I picked up my menu to distract myself from her gaze and decided on hash browns and scrambled eggs. Kelly Ferguson was my mentor at Lenford Academy- “the place for exceptional orphans”, where I’d lived for almost four years. Now here I was, getting adopted by a couple that lived a few hours away, and desired to have me the minute they saw me.
“You seemed awfully quiet the way up here” she said in a way that made me divert my eyes to the window.
“I said I’m fine” I repeated. Ever since I met Kelly when I was thirteen and new to Lenford, she’d become like a sister to me. She was a little younger than thirty and never really gave me “the look” up until recently. In fact, it was ever since I found out that I was getting adopted by two strangers, forcing me to leave everything I’ve known behind me just to start all over again. I scanned around at the near empty breakfast place that was almost in the middle of nowhere just to avoid Kelly’s gaze once again, something I’ve had to do often nowadays.
“Okay, if you say so. Anyway, the Cordova’s house is only about twenty minutes from here so we don’t have much of a drive left. This is just what I consider one last thank you” she said.
“Thank you for what?” I asked.
“Well, having you as my student and me as your mentor at the Academy was a pleasure and I’m sure that you think of me as one of your friends so I hope we can keep in touch”
“Or” I started. “We can just turn around and go back to the academy. We can just consider those last few hours a long joyride”
“No way” she said smiling. “I’ve already talked to the Cordova’s and they’re in love you already. Plus I’d get in a lot of trouble”
I rolled my eyes as the waiter returned, brought our orange juices, and took our orders. As I looked back out the window, my mind skittered back to the day my life completely changed. I was only 12 at the time. It was on a hazy Monday morning when the roads were foggy and a light rain accompanied it to make it even worse. Mom and dad were taking me to school and as we pulled up, my friends waved my way from the lawn and waited anxiously for me to join them.
Mom leaned in to give me a kiss goodbye and so did daddy, but I quickly pushed them away. I was afraid what my friends would think if I had to get a kiss from both my parents before starting off my day. I was in that phase where you’re on the verge of high school life and you don’t want to seem like you’re still a kindergartener doing childish things like being tucked in, having a bed time, and kissing your parents goodbye. They looked confused when I refused and glanced back at my friend’s faces, before rushing to get out of the car. I got onto the sidewalk and turned toward them to say a quick goodbye before rushing past a group of kids on the sidewalk and climbing the concrete steps to catch up with my friends.
I didn’t look back at them as they pulled away because I didn’t want to see those surprised glances. Little did I know how that would’ve been my last glance, my last look, and my last goodbye. During lunch time, they called me into the principal’s office. The announcement over the intercom sent kids twisting their heads to look at me from my lunch table in the back with my friends. I left my plate of cardboard pizza and half drunken chocolate milk to walk along the aisles. Kids looked at me surprised, since being called to the principal’s office came with the assumption that you were in trouble, and I had always been considered a goody-two shoes.
I dodged my eyes between kids that called me teacher’s pet behind my back and went down the unusually quiet halls. The last hallway toward the office seemed extra elongated and each step seemed smaller and smaller. When I got in, my face flushed, because I expected the stern look of the principal glaring back at me. Instead, I was met with the look I only saw on puppies who wanted food and the one mommy taught me to make when I saw the poor people on the street. I never saw it directed to me. The counselors sat in the corner, as well as one of my teachers.
I sat down in the brown vinyl chair in the middle, feeling like I was a suspect in a serious crime and the principal, with his hands folded firmly in front of him let me say “what’s going on?” before he explained slowly what happened. They all watched as my face crumbled after each detail of the story. My parents were on the way to work when the fogginess of the road, combined with the rain caused a deranged driver to ram into them and send them spinning, previously before another driver, blinded by the fog sent them toppling in the opposite direction. The paramedics did all they could to bring them back, but nothing worked. They were gone the instant they were both thrown from the car after the second collision.
After he let it all out, all of the adults waited, silently, for me to react. I felt as if I was frozen in time. I was waiting for them to yell out “gotcha” or to tell me what I did wrong. I preferred to be expelled, I preferred to get detentions for the rest of the year, and I preferred to be exiled to a different country instead of this. This was too much for me at my age. Tears fell silently and I couldn’t blink. Maybe I thought if I didn’t, something lethal would plunge into it and I’d die along with them. Either way, I heard a piercing scream and I didn’t know I was the one that did it until everyone reacted.
“I’m so sorry” the principal said before he suggested that I talk to the counselors one by one. At this point, I didn’t want to talk about it and I didn’t want sympathy. I couldn’t help but think how I acted this morning. I refused to receive their love just because I cared what my stupid friends thought and what the rest of the world thought of me. I pushed them away even though I wanted to give them kisses, but somewhere where no one would see. I was embarrassed, selfish, stupid, and I could never fix it. Their last thought about me was why I neglected them when they dropped me off at school.
The tears didn’t stop…not that day, not the day after that, and not even months after that. I no longer cared what people thought about me after that day because it was suddenly bad luck to me, a death sentence, and an eternal curse. Day after day, I expected mom and dad to return, say it was all a misunderstanding, it was some other kid’s parent, but it never happened. I didn’t say goodbye to my friends before I was transferred to Lenford Academy on my birthday, because just like caring what other people thought, saying goodbye was an eternal curse as well. It was simply a “see you later” or “see you soon” instead because once you said goodbye, they were gone forever.
I learned too young that life is short. My old friends tried to stay in contact with me, but once they never got responses from me, they eventually stopped trying. I never told them my story, just lied to cover up the bruises, the hurt and the pain. They didn’t need to know, or else they’d give me that same look the principal, my teacher and counselors did that day. That fake look of empathy, as If they knew what it felt like and knew how much it hurt, even though deep down they hoped it never happened to them.
Of course, no one wanted it to happen to them. At Lenford, I never got “the look” since everyone at the academy shared my story or something like it. They too also hated seeing “the look” and practically winced when they saw it. I fit in there and felt everyone there was just a part of one big happy family, but suddenly a new family decided they needed to ruin my life and thrust me back into the cruel world I’ve been trying to avoid since I was 12.
I was back into the world of “the look”, which Kelly reminded me of. To them, it was something natural, something we desired to have: pity, but unfortunately it’s the exact opposite of what I needed. All I ever wanted was acceptance, something I was going to have to fight for.