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There she was.
She looked worse than I’d imagined she would, despite the amount of time I’d spent preparing for this moment. It took everything in me to keep myself from running to her, from wrapping her up in my arms and promising that change was still possible. I couldn’t do that, though. She would surely ask questions, anybody would, and I didn’t know how to answer them. To make matters worse, my sixteen-year-old self was sharp, stubborn, and would most definitely be untrusting, and, therefore, unbelieving.
There was no ideal way to accomplish what I had come to do.
Her hair was a shade of blue deep enough to almost appear black, and her dark makeup was plastered on thick enough for it to be visible from where I stood. I remembered that day, the day that I’d made the decision to dye my hair. The gothic-styled makeup and clothing followed afterward, the chokers, torn black jeans, and thick eyeliner. I remembered it all.
Once the coast was clear, I hurried across the street, my eyes remaining locked on the young girl who was leaning against the brick walls of Rosewood High School.
The late afternoon’s wind was fierce and biting. I shrugged on my jacket, which unfortunately was thin enough to offer little-to-no warmth. My heart sank when I realized that her only form of protection from the cold was a cheap, thrift store t-shirt. Tears filled my eyes as I was pounded with torturous memories, all of which that poor blue-haired girl was in the midst of.
The distance between us suddenly seemed impossibly large. My stride quickened, and in the back of my mind I knew that I had to act calm, appear natural, or else my chances of her even considering listening to what I had to say would diminish.
She was yet to notice me; she sat with her back to the wall and her messenger-styled bag in her lap, shuffling through it. My pace went from a walk to a near-jog, but that wasn’t fast enough. Before long I was running, and judging by the alarmed look on her face, I knew that she had spotted me.
Please stay, please. You have to stay.
I was within ten feet of her when I finally stopped running. I was out of breath, my chest heaving, and I watched as her eyes scanned over me. With such little space between us, I had a much clearer view of my younger self. I could see her jutting elbows and collarbone, her sunken cheeks, her toothpick arms and legs. I also could see the bruises that grazed her cheek and spotted her arms.
I flinched back, as if his fists were once again hurtling at me. But for me, that was over. For her, on the other hand, it was a living nightmare.
My eyes fell lower, and I caught a glimpse of the bandages that covered her wrists, and I felt my own scars sting. It was one thing to have lived through it, but it was another thing entirely to see someone who was in the midst of it. I took a deep breath.
“Hello, Tara.” My voice was surprisingly calm. “Can we talk for a second?”
“Who are you?” There was a sharpness to her voice, and her eyes were full of distrust.
“Oddly enough, my name is Tara too.” I smiled. “Tara Alissia Ashford, to be exact.”
Her eyes widened, and she scrambled to grab her bag from the ground. I sighed, and cautiously knelt beside her on the ground.
“I know it doesn’t make sense. I know it sounds impossible, but I can prove it to you. I know you snuck out of the house to dye your hair, and I know that you hide things underneath the cracked floorboard in your bedroom.” She froze, and I could see her hands trembling. I gently took one in my own. “I know that you’re afraid, and that you feel so alone right now.”
When her eyes met mine again, and this time they were swimming with tears. “How? How is this even possible?” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “What do you want?”
“I can’t explain that now, but I will tell you this. I’m here because I have a message for you, a very important one.” I gripped her hand tightly, but my eyes didn’t leave hers. “This isn’t going to last forever. You don’t have to hurt yourself anymore, and you don’t have to let him hurt you. You can fight back, you are much stronger than you realize. And once you get out of here-” I gestured to the building behind us with my free hand. “You are going to be free. You’ll never have to come back again.”
Tears gradually began to drip down her cheeks, and before she could attempt to wipe them away I drew her against me. She didn’t resist. Instead, I felt her bony arms grasp onto me as if I were a lifeline, and her tiny figure was quivering. I lightly ran my fingers through her hair and hushed her gently.
“Promise me you aren’t going to give up, Tara. Promise that you’ll start eating again. Promise me that you’re going to live, and that you will live fully.”
At first, there was no reply, and I felt my face crumple. In that moment, I was overcome with a sorrow so crushing that I, myself, nearly began to sob, until I heard the tiny, meek voice of a shattered girl.