And Then I Cried
Author's note: The idea for this story actually came from a dream. I dreamed about a girl who couldn't talk and... Show full author's note »
Crisis PreventionWhen my alarm rings the next morning (five thirty, time to wake up), I open my eyes and shut it off. Why should I go to choir? My parents mother is pissed when I don’t come down for breakfast until seven thirty, though. She’s sitting at the counter, drinking a cup of highly sweetened coffee when I finally come down, and she is surprised.
“Anna? Why didn’t’ you wake up early to go to choir?” I slept great, Mom, thanks for asking. But I don’t say that, just shrug and get a day-old muffin sitting on the counter and a hard-boiled egg. She scowls at me. “Just because Mr. Forrester told the guidance counselor abou—” I hear Nicole coming down the stairs.
“Just—stop,” I say, quietly. It shuts her up because I never talk, and when I do it’s a real treat. Nicole is too crusty-eyed to notice anything. She puts a piece of bread into the toaster and takes the jam I am about to spread on my muffin. It’s not worth it to tell her how rude that is.
My father is long gone, halfway to Salem by now. I take a bite of the muffin while my mother reminds my sister to bring her trumpet to school. It tastes like sugar-less pie crust. I get up, throw it away and un-shell my egg over the garbage. Then I take my bag from the hook next to the door and leave, and I’m already on the sidewalk when my mom yells goodbye.
I know my teachers have been given my secrets because their eyes are soft and they keep looking at me during class. I can feel the treadmills in their minds turning, thinking should I talk to her? Should I show my support? Is she okay?
At lunch, I can’t face sitting at another busy table, trying to breathe when all I can do is clench the bench and try not to act weird. I hike cross-country to the piano on the other side of the school and start playing. I can’t figure out why it makes me feel so much better.
The night after I met Mr. Forrester, he called my parents and told them about his request for me to be the accompanist. My parents were so excited. My dad, apparently, had sung in a choir in high school. I think my mother was more interested in it because it meant my grades would go up.
Nobody asked if I wanted to do it. Nobody said anything about how good at piano Mr. Forrester said I was, or that I’d have to get up at the crack of dawn.
And then, the next morning, I was pushed onto the sidewalk at six fifteen to walk to choir. Mr. Forrester put me on the piano bench the minute I got there and played through the songs the choir was working on. It didn’t take me long to master them. But the prospect of playing them in front of the entire choir made my stomach throb.
The choir kids slowly filtered in. They arranged themselves in what I recalled to be “sopranos”, “altos”, “tenors”, and “basses”. I kept to the bench, counting the keys on the piano over and over again.
But six forty-five came, and Mr. Forrester told me to stand up and introduce myself. I got the standing up part. But then the nerves hit me, clouds of tiny whispers in my head getting louder and louder and my stomach collapsing in on top of itself. They were all looking at me. They were watching me and waiting for me to mess up. Mr. Forrester’s eyes kept flashing between the choir and me.
I licked my lips and pulled my hair behind my ear. Took a breath. Another. But my mouth was dry and my throat hurt, and I couldn’t get the words to form on my tongue: My name is Anna. That was all I had to say. But my knees felt like they were about to buckle.
“We have an accompanist!” Mr. Forrester said, rescuing me. I moved back toward the piano bench. Mr. Forrester looked at me questionably. I pointed at the door, like I needed to go to the bathroom, but he shook his head. “We have to start rehearsal. Everybody, this is Anna.” And I sat down and played the music, relieved.
After rehearsal, once the choir had filed out, Mr. Forrester came over. “Good job today,” he said. “I’ve never seen someone master music so quickly.” I curved smiled, but couldn’t let thanks escape from my lips. I picked up my bag and left. But I knew that Mr. Forrester had noticed what so many others had passed off as laziness, or shyness. I knew he could see the anxiety in my eyes, the fear and the sadness in the way I stared at the piano. He could see it more than I could.
I should have known that he would find me here. Mr. Forrester comes up and stands next to the bench, and I stop playing. He kind-of smiles at me and tilts his head, looking at my hands. My heart starts racing again. The butterflies are back, too. Damn it.
“Hi Anna,” he says. “How’re you doing?” I can’t look at him. I stare at the ground this time. He waits another second.
“F-fine,” I whisper. I pull the sleeve down further. He looks back at me.
“You didn’t come to choir,” he says. It’s meant as a question, but I don’t answer. He sighs. “We need you.”
I keep my eyes on my hands folded on my lap. I get halfway through counting the keys when he speaks again.
“How did the meeting go?”
I clench my teeth. Like hell.
“Look. Anna.” He takes a deep breath. “I didn’t promise I wouldn’t tell anyone about it.”
I shake my head. “But I t-trusted you.”
“I know you did. That’s why I asked about the scars. Because I knew that, if you were going to talk to anyone about them, you would talk to me.” He takes a breath. “I’m a teacher, and when a student is struggling, I have an obligation to help. And you’re struggling.”
“I’m fine.” A beat.
“Sarah doesn’t think so.”
I close the piano, loudly. But I still whisper, can’t be too loud. “What do you mean?”
“Well, she put you on Crisis Prevention.” I look up and stare into his face.
“What are you talking about?”
“Crisis Prevention. CP for short. It’s just a way for staff to know when students are struggling and at risk for hurting themselves. They established it after multiple suicides over a couple of years.”
“That’s…ridiculous,” I say, looking back down. So everyone thinks I’m a suicide risk? The throbs in my stomach are increasing, thoughts ripping me apart. “I’m not trying to kill myself.”
“But.” Mr. Forrester slips his hand to my arm and pulls the sleeve back. And I yank it down again, cross my fingers that he didn’t notice. But of course he did. He takes another deep breath.
“Anna.” He looks up at my face. “One of those cuts wasn’t there the day before yesterday.” Get away from me.
“This is why you’re on CP,” he says. “I’ll be right back.” He shuffles into the music room and comes out with a bandage. (My God. Does he keep them in his office?) I don’t say anything when he puts it on the new cut.
“What did you use to make that cut?” he asks.
“What did you use?”
Shake my head.
But his face gets tense. “Listen to me. Either you tell me how you cut yourself, or I’m going to take you to the Sarah’s office right now, and you can tell her.”
Please no. And I realize that this must be “CP” protocol, and he’s supposed to collect the weapon and… report it. So I open my mouth, ruin myself all over again. Because there is no way for me to lie.
“A razor,” I say.
“Where is it?”
I reach into my bag sitting next to me on the bench and pull it out, pressing it into my thumb as I do it. Relief spreads up my arm.
He nods as he takes it from me. “Thank you.” He puts it into his pocket and looks back at me.
“I can’t force you to, because I’m not quite sure that you did this at school, but I really want you to go see Mrs. Jackson.”
At first, I don’t want to go. But then I realize it’s better to go now than be called out of class. I nod at him. He follows me to the unfamiliar office and makes me wait outside while he’s talking to her. I sit on that stupid plastic bench again, waiting to be punished.
The throbs are increasing. I wish I were in class—anything would be better than this.
I hear something loud reverberate from inside the doorway. Mr. Forrester’s voice. Loud, like he’s yelling. I know it’s wrong, but I want to know. So I press my ear against the door.
“You don’t know that I’m not.” Female voice. Sarah Jackson.
“She cut herself again. That’s not supposed to be happening. You’re supposed to be monitoring her, or something.”
“What’s going on between Anna and me is confidential. But I can assure you steps are being taken. Both her parents know what is going on, and she’s already been put on CP.”
Why are they making such a big deal about this?
“Well, okay. That’s good. Do you want me to file an incident report?” Oh, great. An incident report.
“That’s all right.” Thank God. “I’d like to talk to her, though. Thank you for making sure she was okay.” Oh my God. Are they serious?
“No problem. Anytime.” I hear footsteps.
I scramble back to my seat in time for Mr. Forrester to emerge from the door. He holds the door open and watches me step in and sit in the stiff-backed chair. The door slams behind him, and I’m alone with Sarah Jackson.
She holds up the razor. “Mr. Forrester told me about what happened.” I bite my lip. “I don’t know if you know why he took the razor and bandaged the cut, but it’s because I’ve put you on Crisis Prevention.”
I nod quickly and stare at the desk. “Do you know if your parents have made an appointment with a therapist yet?”
I shake my head. I keep forgetting about the whole therapist thing.
“May I see the cut?” she asks. I shrug, and she pulls my sleeve down and looks at the bandage, ugly dark blood seeping through, even though Mr. Forrester wrapped it five times around. “Wow. That’s pretty deep, Anna.” I shrug again, start chewing my nails. We sit in silence for a minute.
“So… you feel comfortable talking to Mr. Forrester?” I consider this for a moment. I guess I do. Kind of weird, that I chose him to talk to. But somehow, he doesn’t make me as nervous as other people. He understands. Or understood, I guess.
“Did you talk about… why you hurt yourself with him?” I think back. The sensory things, yes, the emptiness, the control. The pressing thoughts that have grown immune to any other attempts to chase them away.
Not the other things, though. Not that face, the inklings squirming just beneath my ribs, memories ripping my lungs apart, pushing my teeth together and binding my jaw—
But I will not go there. I will not think.
I shake my head. She nods. “Okay.” She checks her watch. “Listen, I’m sorry, but I have someone else I’m seeing in just a couple minutes. You can go to class.” She digs in her front desk drawer and hands me a hall pass.
As I’m leaving, she speaks: “You can come in anytime to talk to me. If you’re feeling… sad. Or anxious. If you feel like you need to hurt yourself, try coming here. I might be able to help.” I nod. But no way am I ever coming in here voluntarily.
Thank God is pounding in my head as I walk back to class.
When I get home, my mother tells me I have to clean my room. I’m standing with one of my feet on the first stair with a knife held between my arm and ribs, beneath my shirt, and I stop in mid step and make a face.
“Why?” I am a good, good girl today because I have talked twice, so she ignores the face I’m making.
“A party planner is coming tomorrow to check out the house.” What party? I want to ask, We’re having a party? But she answers me: “And you’ll need it cleaned for the family reunion, too.” A pause.
And then I’m careening up the stairs and into my room because something beneath my ribcage is stirring. I have to get out of my mother’s gaze before I turn myself inside out.
Family reunion means my mother’s side, smiling relatives asking questions about college because they’ve forgotten I’m only a freshman, aunts and second cousins once removed clutching babies to their hips, and–
I take the knife I brought upstairs from under my shirt in my sweaty fingers. No time for breath. I clench the handle until my hand hurts. Then I graze the knife across my left hip and dig it in far enough to make my mind scream.
This is real. This is control. This is letting the pain seep out in one two fivemilliondrops of blood. I grab a towel and apply pressure on the cuts, three sweet straight lines kissing my bones.
This is forgetting.