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I held the little round pill up to the light, examining it. “And you’re sure this will work?”
“Oh yeah, I take one whenever I’m about to fight with my mom.” Lily garbled through a mouthful of toothpaste. I shifted in my seat on the edge of her bathtub as I watched her get ready for bed. She spat in the sink, then looked back at me through the mirror, sensing my uneasiness “Really Amelia don’t be so dramatic, everyone uses these all the time. It’s totally safe, just take it a few minutes before you need it.” she said as she reached for her hairbrush.
She turned and gave me a pointed look, “Christ, Stearns, if anyone in the whole world needs this stuff - it’s you. Take it.”
All through German class the following Monday I jittered in my seat. I went over my points in my head, trying to map out how the perfect conversation would unfold - but I kept getting worked up. I am calm and collected and reasonable, I thought to myself in a desperate attempt to make it true. But I wasn’t. Already the thought of the D I got on my last test was bringing tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. I tried to focus on the worksheet we’d been assigned but my vision was clouded by unshed tears. I felt my cheeks getting hot and anxiously scanned the room to see if any of my classmate’s had noticed.
Ten minutes before the bell, I popped Lily’s sunshine yellow pill into my mouth with an unsteady hand- it was surprisingly sweet- like candy. At first I felt just as near to tears as I had before, but then a wave of nothing washed over me. I could physically feel the stress draining from my body as if I was a bathtub full of boiling water someone had pulled the plug out of. The heat dissipated from my face and the knot in my stomach unraveled. I was cool and I was flat - numb. “Mr. Tecmire?” I asked with a steady voice as I approached his desk, “I was wondering if you had a moment to talk about my last test.”
I lay in my dorm room bed, staring up at the gray speckled ceiling as I tried fruitlessly to hide from the outside world under my towering mountain of blankets. Footsteps, a microwave ding, a peel of laughter, seeped from down the hall into the little room. I squeezed my eyes shut. I didn’t want to think anymore. Perhaps if refused to move ever again the endless march of time would take pity on me and pass me by undisturbed. Ping, my phone lit up on the bedside table, its glowing white face illuminating the dim room. That would be Tim. I rolled over with a groan to face the wall, hugging my knees to my chest as I pulled my thickest blanket up over my head. Ping Ping. I constricted myself into a tighter ball. Maybe if I make myself small enough I could disappear. Ping Ping Ping.
I sat up, roughly throwing off my fortress of comfort and grabbed my phone. I was right, it’s Tim.
“We need to talk about this”
“I love you.”
“I don’t wanna give up on us”
“Im in this for the long haul we can’t throw this away”
“We can work this out, can I come see you rn?”
I felt like someone had wrenched a rusty crowbar into my gut and twisted it. Something like a sob escaped my throat, as I brought a hand to my mouth. Of course I loved him. Of course I wanted to be with him. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I stared at my phone in my hands, not bothering to wipe away the tears that spilled down my cheeks, splashing delicately onto the screen. On the floor sat my backpack - a heavy reminder that I had a half completed essay due at midnight and a Physics exam the next morning. I don’t have time for this. I took a deep breath, this needs to end “Come to my dorm.” Send.
I walked deliberately to my room’s bathroom and looked into the mirror, studying my puffy red eyes loaded down with heavy purple bags, my unkempt hair, the dribble of snot hanging from my nose.I knew what I had to do, and I knew I couldn’t do it by myself. I sifted through the vanity drawer for my package of Pralicane, I had started buying my own soon after my first taste of rationality on command. It didn’t matter that I loved him, he’s a distraction. The pills rattled in my unsteady hands as I popped the lid. I love you Tim I whispered hoarsely to myself as I swallowed, and let that love dissipate into thin air.
“But we need to break-up. Forever.” I told him, and watched passively as he pleaded with me, detached. His words were like that of a stranger shouting through in a storm, distant and garbled, twisted in the wind and lost in the rain. I shut the door.
I stepped out of the crowded elevator onto the twenty-seventh floor and marched down the endless beige hallway to our conference room. The only sound was the echoey clicking of my black suede heels on white speckled tiles as I passed silent businessmen cast in clinical fluorescent light. I could feel my knees begin to wobble beneath my navy pencil skirt. My silk blouse seemed to be growing tighter and tighter with every breath I took. I’d been giving these big presentations for years now - but this client was a whale. This pitch could set me for life, or ruin my career. My panic growing, I took a detour to the ladies room. My silver bracelet jingled on my unsteady wrist as I applied a fresh coat of lipstick at the mirror with tremulous fingers. S***. I’d slipped - a streak of Pink Python ran across my cheek. I spun around and scurried to a stall, ripping toilet paper from the roll. I wet a piece in the sink and began wiping frantically, violently, at my face. It’s just spreading. Jesus. I slung my leather purse up onto the faux marble countertop and rifled through it desperately. Mints, keys, cough drops, all important - but not what I need right now. Aha! Bobby pins went flying across the bathroom as I ripped the yellow and white box from the purse’s side compartment, holding it aloft like a trophy. My Pralicane. I pop two, just to be safe, and close my eyes. The sweet pills dissolve on my tongue as the emptiness rolls over me. I turn to the mirror and carefully dab the pink away.
“And that’s why you should bring your business to Kirkman Bonfiglio International.”
The presentation went well, and I worked to fix my face into something I hope looked like a dazzling smile. Sometimes it is hard to work up decent facial expressions so that people don’t think you’re a zombie, but I’ve had years to get good at it.
On the drive home, I could tell Pralicane hadn’t worn off yet. But that was fine, I could feel happy about the presentation later. Right then it was nice to feel nothing at all, even the good stuff. There’s a peace to it. Once in my driveway, I meandered up my steps and stuck my key in the lock. Charlie, the family golden retriever was there at the door, his tail wagging wildly. Hello Charlie.
In the living room my five-year-old son Trevor sat on the carpet in front of the TV, eating a slice of cake. Our nanny Clarice was making dinner in the kitchen. I don’t like it when Trevor eats cake before dinner. “Clarice, I don’t like it when Trevor has cake before dinner.” She turns to look at me, and gives me an odd look, I can tell she is trying to read my face. I should frown. I turn the corners of my mouth down.
She gives me an even odder look, “Oh, sorry Mrs. Stearns. He just likes it so much. It won’t happen again.”
I walk back into the living room and watch TV with Trevor. It’s a show about pirates under water. He laughs a lot. He’s finished his cake already and is covered in chocolate. He pretends his fork is a sword, and is jabbing it through the air like the pirates do. I go to the bathroom. When I come back, Trevor wants to go outside. Okay. We go to the front yard where his sidewalk chalk is. I sit on the front steps and watch. He colors all over the driveway. He’s at the end of the driveway drawing big stars. He is close to the road. “Trevor, come back here.” he either doesn’t hear or doesn't care. There are cars coming, it’s a busy road. “Trevor, you’re going to get hit.” Now he’s in the road. He’s going to get hit. “Trevor that’s not safe.” I stand up, but it is too late.
“Amelia Stearns this court has found you guilty of criminal negligence and child endangerment resulting in the death of a child. I sentence you to two years in prison”
I reach a shaking hand into my pocket, and pop a sunshine yellow pill into my mouth.