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Author's note: I hope people understand that depression and suicide are really important issues and more and more teens have been dealing with them. I just want to spread the message. Don't ever try to make someone feel so low that they are depressed or try to commit suicide. If you ever feel like you just want to die, just remember that you are strong and you can get through anything. Don't give up.
This is it. This is the moment before the pain ends. The moment before my mind stops reeling and my heart stops aching. I think of all the bad memories so I don’t change my mind. But somehow my mind wanders to the good, sweet memories. The memories that make me smile. They flood my brain and start to chase the bad memories away. But I can’t think about the good times. I won’t. So instead I push the good memories out. I stare at the bottle in front of me and smile while a tear runs down my face. You might think I’m crazy for smiling at a time like this. Maybe I am. But I don’t feel bitter anymore. I don’t feel depression or anger or regret. In fact, I don’t feel anything at all. All the longing to feel wanted suddenly disappears. All my memories—good and bad--fly away. And all that’s left is me.
I wonder if they’ve read the note yet. I hope they understand why I—what’s that smell? It smells like laundry detergent, and my eyes feel like they’ve been glued shut. Why can’t I open them? If I’m in heaven or wherever else I’m supposed to be, why can’t I open my eyes? The smell of clean sheets and antibiotics hits my nose. My eyes shoot open. Wow, bad idea. Pain strikes my pupils like lightning.
“She’s up! She’s up! Oh, honey. Why would you do this?”
I hear sobbing and my mother’s voice, but I can’t sit up.
“Mom?” I croak as loud as I can, but it comes out barely more than a whisper. I grunt and groan as I try to sit up, but it’s no use. It’s like I’m in a full-body cast.
“No, not yet. Just lay down for now. You’ll be able to get up in a couple hours,” an unfamiliar voice says.
I don’t listen. I still try to sit up, but it’s a fight I can’t win. So instead I close my eyes angrily and curse in my head. I’m about to ask the doctor to let me get up when I hear footsteps going in the direction opposite from me. I feel a sharp pain for a second in my left wrist, and then everything goes black.
“Do you think we should wake her up? She’s been asleep for more than two days, Doctor.”
“No, not yet. We’ll wait for her to wake up by herself.”
The soft murmurs grow louder. My eyelids flutter open and I blink a couple times to take in my surroundings. White. That’s all I see. White walls, white coats, white lights. Even white people. Surrounding me. Why? Because I tried to kill myself. Well that worked out nicely didn’t it? I can’t even swallow pills right! What is wrong with me?
“Oh, good you’re up,” says some guy in a white coat. “I’m Doctor Henderson,” he says with a cheery smile. He tells me to sit up and I push my body up slowly, feeling extremely uncomfortable. All I can feel is hurt. Pain runs through my whole body like the blood in my veins. I stare at the needle in my arm connected to the IV and look back at the man in front of me. He’s been waiting patiently, waiting for me to finish taking in my surroundings.
“Now I know that you must be a bit confused so let’s get you up to date. Four days ago you overdosed on pills and were admitted into the hospital by your mother. Fortunately she brought you in right away and we were able to save you.” He looks me over once with a sad smile before saying, “You are a very lucky girl Miss Turner. If you were admitted even an hour later, we probably couldn’t have gotten the pills out of your system.” He pauses briefly and asks, “Do you have any questions?”
I shake my head no, but inside my brain is going crazy, asking a million questions that have no answers unless I speak up and ask. All the questions bounce back and forth in my brain, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until I want to scream because I can’t hear myself think. Who found me? Was it my mom? Or was it Ben? How long exactly have I been asleep? What day is it? Does everyone know that I tried to kill myself?
No. I refuse to torture myself with all these useless thoughts. I take a deep breath and as I let it out, my mind lets go of all the unanswered questions. The only thought that stays is the one that will haunt me forever. If they had found me just an hour later, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be in this world that I don’t trust. This world that I can’t bear to take another breath in.
The doctor clears his throat and this time when I look up, a woman stands beside him.
“This is Mrs. Zimmer. She’s going to ask you a couple of questions, okay?”
I look at Doctor Henderson more closely and realize that he was the snooty man in my hospital room who wouldn’t let me sit up, as he points out a woman wearing a frumpy mess of a dress. It’s a green that looks grosser than spinach and made of wool my grandma would wear. She’s probably in her late thirties but dresses as though she’s fifty. Her bright red hair makes her more noticeable than anyone in the room. As if she needs to be more noticeable. She is quite plump and has black glasses that cover half of her face.
She smiles like she can see right through me. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to listen. I just want to sleep until forever. So I don’t smile back. Instead I give a blank face as if I’ve never learned anything my whole life. It works. Her smile quivers just a bit, but she’s a professional. She goes back to smiling, but now it is a cold smile. One that doesn’t reach her eyes. She knows that I’m not going to cooperate. But that won’t stop her. So she tells Doctor Henderson and the nurses that they can leave now, and she crosses her arms. She comes over to my bed and sits on a chair to the right of me with a notebook in her hand.
“Leia. What a pretty name! I wish my name was that pretty. My name is Norma,” says Mrs. Zimmer excitedly, no doubt trying with connect to her new teen patient.
I snort. Norma. What an awful name! God, if I were her I wouldn’t just change my last name when I got married. She drops her fake smile the second she hears my outburst. She figures out she’s never going to smile in a conversation with me, and gives up.
“Okay, I’m just going to ask you a couple questions and I need you to answer them honestly. Can you do that for me?”
“Sure.” That’s all I say. One word because I know if I say more, I’ll end up swearing. I don’t want anger issues being added to my list of things wrong with me.
“First of all I want to let you know that this is not confidential. But I need you to tell me everything, okay?”
In reply, I simply nod like the bobble head I got from my grandpa for Christmas. It was Snoopy dressed up like a sailor. God knows why he gave that to me.
“Okay Honey, is this the first time you’ve ever overdosed on pills?”
“Yes.” I’m just going to reply yes, no, or maybe so. Maybe if I just stick to that, this will be over soon.
“Why did you overdose?”
“A lot of different reasons.” So much for my game plan.
“Okay, were you depressed or angry about something?”
“Yes.” I’m back on track. Woohoo.
“Honey, you’re going to need to explain more. What were you depressed about?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say depressed. I guess I just couldn’t take it anymore. Sometimes life is just too much for a person.” I surprise myself with this sentence. I never knew how to put what I felt into words until now.
“And why were you feeling like that?”
I grit my teeth, not wanting to admit anything to this nosy lady. “Problems,” I respond, glaring at her. If she thinks I’m going to just run and tell a stranger all my secrets, then she’s crazy.
She glares right back before flipping to a new page in her notebook, smoothing it out with her right palm.
“Was there anything in your family life that could have prompted you?” she says in an icy tone.
Her coldness doesn’t bother me, but only fuels my rage. I don’t need to tell this stupid woman anything.
“No.” I’m lying straight through my teeth, but I don’t care. Because she already knows that I am.
“Your dad has been arrested quite a few times for alcohol abuse. Was he a part of why you attempted suicide, Leia?” she asks in her knowing voice.
I can’t look at her anymore. I know that she’ll have that I-knew-it-all-along look to match her I-know-I’m-right voice. I don’t want to face that. So instead I say, “You know, I’m really tired. Um, do you think you could come back tomorrow?” all the while looking at my ever so interesting IV bag.
She is silent, but my eyes remain trained on everything but her, and I don’t notice her eyes softening and her hands tightening their hold on her notebook. She finally ends the quiet with a, “Sure, honey.” Her unexpectedly soft spoken voice makes me look at her. She’s sorry for me, and I can tell by the pity in her eyes. She gets up and slowly walks to the door, where she quickly waves goodbye. She opens my room’s door and leaves, with me staring at the space where she just sat.
I make an attempt to get comfortable in my lumpy hospital bed and close my eyes, dreading the next day. Maybe it will be better. Maybe I won’t want to throw something at the frumpy lady. Maybe I won’t want to cry. Maybe I won’t want to die.
“Wake up, sleepyhead!” someone says before they chuckle softly.
Somehow this voice haunts me and my eyes snap open. In front of me stands a girl with dyed, bright red hair and matching lipstick. Her mouth curls into a smile.
“Hey,” she says huskily. I sit up so I can see all of her. She’s wearing a “Panic! At the Disco” T-shirt and black tattered jeans I could never pull off. I look at her heavily made up green eyes as they bore into me. A chill travels down my spine and the feeling of guilt takes over.
“Hi,” I reply weakly. She looks unnaturally beautiful with her shocking green eyes and choppy red hair. Her slouch tells you she doesn’t care about anything, while the sparkle in her eyes proves you wrong.
“I got your note,” she says as she tries to give me a reassuring smile. But this does quite the opposite of reassurance.
“Note? The note… Oh my god!” the realization hits me like a block of cement. I sit there with my mouth gaping while she looks at me uncomfortably.
“I—I’m sorry. Was I—should I not have mentioned it?” she asks, as she completely loses her laid-back quality with her nervous banter.
“No—no I just… I forgot about the note. Sorry for freaking out like that,” I say with a nervous laugh.
“That’s okay. Um… so did you not mean what you said in the note? Is that why you… look green?” She looks embarrassed and hurt, all the while trying to hide it with humor, and I feel horrible.
“What? No! I mean, yes. I meant every word I said to you. It’s just… now everyone will read it and know what I think about them…god, my life is so over!” I say, slapping a palm to my forehead. “Ironic, right? My life is over now, and not because I swallowed those pills.” I shake my head feeling scared and nervous, wondering what people will say after they read the note.
Her eyes soften as she says, “No, I get it. You feel like no one cares about you. I’ve felt that way before.”
Guilt is no stranger to me now. I can’t even look at her; I’m so ashamed of myself.
“And I know you meant the note to be read when you were dead, but I guess that’s how that worked out,” she says with a twinge of sarcastic humor.
My faint smile wears away when I think about what else was in that note. But right now this is about Lucia. Not me. “Look Lucia, I’m really sorry of how everyone’s treated you and what they’ve said about you. For years, and years, and years, and you just stood there and took it. I should’ve done something. We were—we were friends and I ditched you because everyone else followed what Melinda said. I’m sorry. I’m an idiot,” I say as I attempt to stay in eye contact with her. It doesn’t work. She can’t help but look away, but not before showing me her broken face. She looks at me after what seems like hours, but it’s only been a few minutes.
“It’s okay,” she says. “Don’t worry about the note. Melinda finally got put in her place, and at least now everyone knows the truth of what you think about them. Everything’s for the better, you know?”
“Yeah, I know. I can handle Analea and even Melinda. I just don’t know what to do about… Hunter,” I say as a blush creeps up on my cheeks.
“Well, I don’t know what you’re going to do about that, but I’m sure everything will work out for the better,” she says with a playful smile. Her mocking cheerfulness is contagious. A smile slowly works its way up on my face. “Now that I’ve got you smiling, I better go. But thank you. For what you said. In the note and today. I hope we could try being friends—again,” she says uncertainly.
I smile and say, “Yeah, and I’m sorry—again.”
Lucia actually smiles with her teeth this time, which is very rare for her, and she walks over to my room’s door. Before leaving, she turns and adds, “You know, you’re not so bad Leia Turner.”
“Neither are you,” I say.
The doorknob turns and the door slams shut with a soft thud, while I’m left there. Just smiling like an idiot. I collapse into my warm hospital bed. I feel happier in these small minutes than I have in months. I fall asleep with a smile plastered onto my face.
I wake up to find my mother sitting to the left of me. Her eyes look red and tired, and she looks much older, as if she’d aged to become someone who had lived through everything. She glances at me for a few short seconds before her eyes flit to something else. She looks back at me, just realizing I’m awake.
“Oh, Honey,” she says with a sad look in her eyes, as she grabs my hand. She holds onto it and sobs quietly into her other hand. I can’t bear to look at her. Instead, I look at my brother who just walks into the room. He has the dark brown hair I used to have, before I dyed my hair black. My old hair was so dark, that it was nearly black, and dyeing it didn’t change much. I like it black though. It’s different from everyone else.
“Hey,” Ben says softly.
“Hey,” I reply identically. Somehow I feel calmer with him around. I feel like he’s gone through the same feelings I have. A glance at his wrist reminds me that we dealt with them in separate ways. My eyes skim over his face and I see a flicker of guilt. He looks away, but not at Mom. She has two children, ashamed of themselves, not able to look her.
“We’ve been so worried about you, Hon,” she says.
I stare at her worn out face until I can work up the courage to answer her. I take a big gulp and say, “I’m sorry, Mom. I shouldn’t have gone through with it.” But I so wanted to. Still, I wanted to. But seeing my mom like this—I couldn’t do this to her again.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she says, clearly hurt.
“I couldn’t,” I say, my voice breaking. I look back to Ben. He still isn’t looking at me or Mom. His eyes are closed, his hands on the bridge of his nose, like he has a headache.
Mrs. Zimmer walks in, notebook in hand, shutting the door with a thud. Ben looks over at her and then to me. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I don’t mean to disturb you, but this is the only time I’m available to see Leia.”
“Of course,” my mom says. She gets up and leaves the room quietly. Ben gives me a look that I know means that he’s worried, but doesn’t want to show it, and follows Mom.
Mrs. Zimmer takes the chair my mom was sitting in and smiles weakly.
“And so, we meet again,” she says.
“Yup,” I reply, meeting her with a blank stare. A stare that I’m hoping will be read as “Don’t mess with me, but I don’t care anyway”.
“Sorry, I would have come yesterday but I got caught up at home. My daughter got sick.” She says it like I must have been so sad yesterday when she didn’t come. Yeah, I really did miss the person I just met two days ago, who is trying to dig through my life and feelings.
“No probs,” I say nonchalantly, like I don’t have a care in the world.
She looks at me intently for a while, trying to figure me out. My story, my attitude, my personality. I don’t want her to know these things. I keep my mouth shut because if I tell her, it’ll be like I’m giving them up. A part of me going into her notebook, and never coming back.
Her sigh is full of resignation and weariness before she begins to lecture me. “Look Leia, I want to work with you. I’m trying to make your life better, and I can only help you if you cooperate. Put down your walls, and I can listen to you and get help for you.” She pauses, hoping that I might intervene, agreeing with her. But this only makes me build my wall higher. Higher and higher until she can’t climb over to find what’s behind it.
Another sigh escapes from her mouth, this time with a hint of irritation. “Leia, if you don’t tell me now, I will just have to keep visiting you. Every day if I have to.”
This does the trick. I don’t want her nose in my business every single day. “Fine,” I say, “I was feeling depressed partly because of my dad.”
After jotting this down in her notebook, she holds her pen on the next line, waiting for me to continue. “The other part was my friends. Well, they’re definitely not my friends anymore, but I don’t think they ever treated me like one. I guess it’s just been building up over time.”
“I see, I see,” she mumbles as she writes more in her notebook. “Alcoholic parents have caused many children to become depressed, and I’m not surprised this was the reason you were feeling suicidal.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I reply, just wanting this to be over as soon as possible.
“Well, this is going to have an effect on the amount of time your dad gets to spend with you. And you’re going to have to go to one of the therapists I have recommended to your mom. You’ll have to keep going to them until they write a report saying that you are no longer having suicidal thoughts or feeling depressed.” She touches my hand and says, “Now, you feel better okay?” Then she gets up and walks out, taking her purple notebook with all the information about me, and who knows how many other people.
I slump down in my bed, gazing at the ceiling, wishing I was anyone but me. I think about the note and I know once I go back to school, everything is going to change. Everyone is going to act different around me. Melinda is probably going to get the entire population of Woodbridge, California to hate me. Well, I bet she doesn’t have to waste her energy on Analea. I’m sure she already hates me for saying that she follows Melinda around like a puppy dog in the note. And Hunter…I really don’t know what Hunter’s going to do. And I don’t want to think about it. I don’t even want to make a guess because I will either expect the very worst, or hope for too much.
So I’ll just lie here, staring at the ceiling. I won’t fall asleep because then it will be tomorrow. And I’m dreading tomorrow because I know that I’ll have to talk to Mom again. And Ben. Despite my efforts to stay awake, my eyes slowly drift asleep. And I dream that tomorrow will be okay. I hope I won’t have to wake up from this dream. Because I know dreams can never be reality.
So far the day’s been good. Well, good for a day in a hospital where everyone suffocates you, while they watch your every move. But, hey, I haven’t gotten a visit from Mrs. Zimmer, I’ve gotten to watch TV all day, and I got a second Jell-O cup for lunch—score! Usually all they have is the nasty Snack Pack pudding. I mean, who likes Tapioca? No offense to you weirdos who do, but it’s like mushy rice covered in wet slime. So yeah, I was pretty excited about the Jell-O. It’s the first thing that’s gotten my heart to pound all day in this bleak hospital.
After I eat my lime Jell-O while watching a Project Runway marathon, I decide this day couldn’t get any better. Now all I need is to have the best nap of my life. So I lean back in my tiny hospital bed and close my eyes. It’s been around ten minutes when I hear someone clear their throat. Great. It’s probably Ben, and I can’t talk to him. You know, about the suicide thing. He’ll go crazy and do something to hurt himself. So I pretend to be asleep.
It’s been a minute or two and I still haven’t heard any footsteps. I wonder if he’s waiting for me to wake up. Well, I can’t pretend to snore. He knows I don’t do that. Thankfully, I’m saved. I hear him walk away and the feeling of relief washes over me. I know I’ll have to talk to him sometime. I want to, I’m just afraid of what he’ll say. I miss my big brother who yells at me when I go into his room, and tells me shut up when I won’t stop talking to him. I hear the low sound of footsteps against the squeaky hospital floor again. The same sound travels to the right. It moves to the left and back to the right again. I realize he’s pacing and sigh. In my head of course, or else he’d know that I’m awake.
I hear him whisper, “You can do this, you can do this, you can do this. She’s your friend—or I don’t know what she is—but you like her. So you have to do this. C’mon, you got this.” He ends his silent chant of “You can do this” with a sigh. From what he whisper-chanted, I know that he’s not my brother. I hear the stranger’s pacing, once again creating the only sound in the room. I slowly open my eyes, hoping he won’t notice, and take a peek at him. I recognize him immediately; he’s no stranger. I sit up as fast as I can, but not as fast as I wanted to since I’m completely enfolded by blankets.
“Hunter?” I ask anxiously. He looks up at me, hearing my raspy voice.
“Leia,” he says, with a look of surprise on his face. He walks closer to my bed. “Hey,” he says, clearly feeling awkward. I look at his piercing sea blue eyes and familiar tousled brown hair, and a bolt of electricity shoots through me.
“Hi,” I say lamely. God, could I be any lamer? Why’d he have to come? He could’ve just ignored me when I got to school, or even made fun of me behind my back. But instead, he’s being nice and came to visit me in the hospital after reading my suicide note. The one that says that I wish I could have told him I started to like him as more than a friend. And to add on to this humiliation, he doesn’t know what to say. He stands by my bed, uneasily shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“I—um… How’ve you been doing?” he asks.
“I’m, uh, okay. I guess.” Wow, just got lamer. I wish I could slap my hand to my forehead.
“That’s good,” he says with a faint smile. He looks away, and I know what’s coming next. “I got your, uh, note.” He looks at me briefly, sees the blush creeping up on my cheeks, and looks away. His face starts to resemble a tomato as well.
“I—look, I didn’t mean…” I don’t know how to tell him that it’s okay. It’s okay that he doesn’t think of me like that. It’s okay that he’s completely embarrassed that the whole school probably knows. It’s okay if he’s come to tell me that he can’t talk to me anymore because I’m such a loser. I stare at the floor, waiting to hear his next words. My hand starts picking at the string that’s coming loose on my blanket.
“No, it’s okay,” he says. I’m hoping what he’ll say next is, “It’s okay because I like you back. Hey, here’s an idea! Will you be my girlfriend?” Okay, so I guess that’s pretty unrealistic, but hey, it’s worth a shot.
“I just—I don’t really know how I feel about that,” he says, running a hand through his hair. “But I like you Leia, and I’m so glad you’re still alive,” he says, his voice breaking on the last word.
This makes me look up at him, even though I don’t want to. I can’t help it. He’s the first person to actually tell me that, and it takes me by surprise. His face is completely serious and his mouth is in a thin line.
“What?” I ask, my voice shaking even though I try so hard not to.
“I mean it,” he says looking in my eyes. I look away as a lump forms in my throat. I go back to picking at the loose string on my blanket. “I just wanted you to know that.” I still haven’t said anything, and he finally gets the clue that I’m not going to. I feel something being placed on the foot of my bed, and I hear him slowly walk out of the room.
I sit there for maybe twenty minutes, just staring at the end of my bed. A big envelope with a bright orange Post-It note on it sits there, taunting me. “Open me. You know you want to. Come on, just one quick peek,” it says. I give in and take it in my hands. I read the sticky note on the front. “To Leia. From someone who cares about you. Don’t ever forget that.”
I run my thumb along the opening of the envelope. I wonder what’s inside, but another part of me doesn’t want to find out what’s waiting for me. I close my eyes, taking a deep breath. I carefully open the envelope, making sure I don’t rip it. I slowly take out what’s inside. I stare at it for a while, confused. It’s a light blue journal with pink flowers all over it. I flip it open to the first page, where I see Hunter’s familiar handwriting:
For when you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to.
Something that resembles a smile sneaks up on my face. I close the journal and place it under my pillow. The envelope flutters to the ground, as I fall into my bed. I guess it sort of turned out to be the best day in the hospital after all.
It’s been more than a week since I’ve been at this too-clean hospital, and I desperately want to be in my slightly messy home. I’ll finally get to be in my own warm bed, and I’ll get my Ti-Vo back. Oh, how I have missed you, Ti-Vo. But the thing is, is getting to use my precious Ti-Vo worth having to talk to my mom and Ben? At least in the hospital I could avoid them by not “feeling good.” So what would I do at home, where my room is right across from Ben’s, and when my mom will feel obligated to watch me like a hawk? Well, I can’t just avoid them forever; I have to talk to them sometime. They’re like homework. You can ignore it as long as you want, but soon it will be the due date. You’re going to have to finish it, or else you’ll get in trouble.
So this morning, when Doctor Snooty Pants came and told me that I could go home tomorrow, I didn’t know how to react. Should I have cried, “YES!”, and pumped my fist in the air? Or should I have said, “Great”, with my famous sarcastic humor? Which one is the way I reacted, you ask? Well, here’s a surprise for you: I didn’t do either. I just sat there staring at Dr. Snobby, as he asked repeatedly if I was okay.
First of all, let me clarify something for you. My doctor isn’t actually a snotty old man. I’m just mad he didn’t let me sit up on my first day in the hospital. Hey, I need someone to take my feelings out on! But anyway, I realize that’s kind of unfair since he’s actually pretty nice. He was the one who let me get that extra Jell-O cup two days ago. And we all know how much I praised that Jell-O, so I’ve decided I’m going to stop calling him names. The thing is, I totally forgot his name. So I’m just going to call him, “my doctor.” Just wanted to let you know or else you’d think I have two doctors.
Anyway, after five minutes of staring at my doctor, he starts asking me if I’m having mental trauma. I finally reply with a delayed, “Okay.”
“Okay? Usually most patients are pretty psyched about going home,” he says.
“Yeah, I am. I’m, uh, just in shock,” I say, wanting him to leave.
“Oh, well that’s perfectly fine! Just rest for today and tomorrow we’ll have you out of here!” he says with his cheerful voice. He grabs his clipboard, which has been resting on one of the chairs in my room, and he leaves.
I sit there for about ten minutes, thinking about tomorrow. I slump down on my pillow, when I remember the journal Hunter gave me. I take it out and look at the extravagant pink flowers on it. They’re so beautiful and lifelike that I want to touch them, stroke the fragile petals, and pick them off. He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not. Well, I should say, “like me” not “love me.” I am only in tenth grade. I sigh, thinking of how it will be when I go back to school. Hunter will probably ignore me. Analea will never talk to me again, Melinda will try to make my life as miserable as she can, and it will be so awkward with everyone else. I try to push all my wandering thoughts away and bring my focus back to the journal.
I flip it open to the page after Hunter’s note. The straight, blue lines of the paper are beckoning me. “Write, write, write,” they chant. I quickly scan the room for a pen or a pencil and find nothing. I bend under my low hospital bed and search for a pen that has been left behind, long forgotten by its careless owner. A plastic Paper mate pen catches my eye, and I grab it. I sit more comfortably and begin moving the inky pen smoothly across the page. I try to write everything I think before I forget, my hand gliding with a fluid motion, line after line. I get to the very bottom of the page, the part where your hand cramps and your handwriting looks like chicken scrawl, and finish my last sentence. I read over it slowly, taking my time, not wanting to miss a single word that came from my own thoughts and emotions. I’m almost done reading when I hear a knock on the door.
“Come in,” I say, wondering who it is. I see the doorknob turn slowly, as if the person on the other side is feeling slightly hesitant about their visit. The door creaks open and in my room stands Ben, dressed in a long sleeved grey shirt and black skinny jeans. His hair is slightly rustled, as if he had run his hand through his hair a million times and his light blue eyes that match mine are unreadable. I can’t tell if they are worried, sad, angry, or pained. They are just eyes, dead of emotion. His hands cradle a small white box. The box looks familiar and the minute I notice it, I smile.
“I brought you some cookies from Anne’s Bakery,” he says, with a strained smile on his face. “I bought all your favorites. Double Chocolate Chunk, Rocky Road Madness—”
“—and Chocolate Chip,” I finish for him. His smile is no longer forced, but nostalgic, thinking about the times when we used to bike to Anne’s Bakery together when we were younger. A time of youth and innocence, when just a shiny quarter would make us beam with excitement.
He walks over to me and gently places the box of cookies on top of my blanket. I smile, opening it and finding it full of cookies that could last me a lifetime. I take two Chocolate Chip ones, keeping one for myself and handing the other to him. He chuckles softly as he takes it and drags a chair closer so he can sit by me.
“I knew you’d love it, you pig,” he says jokingly. “I don’t know how you don’t get fat, you eat like a trucker,” he says, making me laugh with him. I love to finally hear his laugh. I haven’t heard it in so long that I’ve forgotten the low sound of it, making it sound like a ringing church bell. He sits there with his goofy grin and takes another cookie. Well, I should say, another one of my cookies.
Anyway, after a while only a quarter of the box is empty, and I notice that only my hands are rifling through the box, trying to find a cookie with the most chocolate chips. Ben’s hands are laced together tightly in his lap, as if holding on will bring everything back to normal. I look up at him, but his eyes are not on me. They are scanning the room, the IV that is no longer connected to me, the journal Hunter gave me, and then his eyes land on me. They no longer are lacking emotion. In fact there is so much emotion, so much worry and pain that I can’t stand to look at him any longer. I stare at the cookie in my hand as he clears his throat.
“So how’ve you been doing Leia?” he asks quietly, and I can feel his eyes on me, grim and hopeful all at the same time.
“I’m doing…okay, I guess,” I reply, my voice sounding as meek as a mouse.
“That’s good,” he says, nodding his head slowly. “You know I want you to be happy, right? I don’t ever want you to feel like that again.”
“I know, Ben. I know,” I say, and I can’t help but look at him and feel bad that I caused him pain.
“Good,” he says with finality.
We sit there for a while in the silence, letting it take over us. He runs a hand through his hair, a sure sign that he is feeling awkward, and his left sleeve falls from his wrist to his elbow. I let out a small gasp as I notice the tiny red marks all along the inside of his arm. Some are a little faded, while some are slightly red, as if they were recent.
“Ben, what’s on your wrist?” I ask, even though I already know what it is. He puts his hand down, as if he is just noticing it is there, by his head. He glances at me, but only for a brief second, not wanting to show the guilt in his eyes.
“It’s nothing,” he says, keeping his eyes on his black Converse shoes. “It’s nothing for you to worry about, okay? I can take care of myself.”
“Ben, you promised me you would never do it again,” I say, my voice shaking a little from the theory forming in my head.
“I know. I didn’t until—” he breaks off, and his gaze strays from his shoes and wanders over to me. His eyes tell me everything I need to know. They are begging, pleading, hoping that I understand. I do. And all hope that I was wrong is shattered. Of course it’s my fault. I knew why he had done it again, but I didn’t want to admit it.
“Ben, please tell me you didn’t do this because of me,” I say, as tears threaten to spill down my cheeks. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but decides better of it and closes his mouth to form an emotionless line. He puts his head in his hands and stares down at the floor. He drags his hands down his face so tensely; it is as if they are leaving a trail of marks. His chin gently rests on his hands, and a blanket of sweat covers his forehead.
My eyes do not leave his scarred arm as a single teardrop slides down my cheek. I do not wipe it away. I let it dry, and it stains my face, a reminder of the guilt I feel right now. My eyes burn from trying not to cry, and I search each individual scar on his tan arm, wondering why. Why he invites the pain again and again, and why he has given up. The scarlet marks along his arm are like chalk on a board, marking each time he has felt alone. I want to reach out to him and let him know that he is not alone, but he is already on his feet, dragging them across the room to the door.
He has a dazed look on his face when he says, “I’ll see you at home, okay?” with a withered voice.
“Okay,” I say so softly, I wonder if he even heard me. But I know he has because he nods his head solemnly before leaving the room. Now that he is gone, the room feels so much bigger. It is empty, except for the bed, the chairs, and me. And the journal. I see it strewn across the bottom of my bed, forgotten, while I was distracted by Ben’s presence. I pick it up and read my first entry again, this time skimming it instead of fully taking the words in. The words are no longer my emotional splurge, they are just random symbols written on a page. My eyes blur as they stare at the page, trying to comprehend the meaningless words I’ve written. I cross out the last sentence before I set it under my plush pillow, already trying to forget it. I lie down and let them drift from my memory and float into the air. Even as they evaporate from my conscience, I can still hear my voice saying the etched out words, over and over again.
“It will get better.”
I am finally in my own bed. In my own room. In my own house. I am no longer stuck in that suffocating hospital room, waiting for something interesting to happen. Mom checked me out of the hospital and brought me home this morning. We drove home in silence, just watching the trees pass in a blur through the window. She only talked when we drove into the driveway. “We’re home,” she said bleakly.
I turned the knob of my purple front door and found Ben waiting for us inside. All he said was, “Hi,” before he went upstairs and locked himself in his room. I didn’t know what to say to him after yesterday. My mouth was sealed shut. So I just walked up the stairs, taking in the familiar surroundings. The creamy white carpet, the chipped wooden doors, the paint slightly fading on the walls. And then I was in my room.
I don’t know what I expected. For it to be empty maybe. Empty except for my bed and my closet. But everything is still there, just as I had left it. It’s like I haven’t been gone at all. All the clothes are still in disarray, a piled heap in every corner. My blankets are still pushed off the bed, strewn across the floor as if I had just woken up. The only neat part of my room is the books I treasure so much. They are still neatly placed on shelves, all across the wall.
I slide my favorite book, Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, out gently, not wanting it to rip as it brushes against the other books, all tightly packed together. I smile remembering the first time I read it, and how I couldn’t wait to read the next one. I stroke the edge of the cover lightly, thinking of how I could just jump into a book, forgetting my whole life. It was like I could live a thousand different ones, and never have to live my own. I place it on my bed and take a look around. And now I know what I expected. I expected it to be different. I expected to feel different. But everything is still the same as I left it. Nothing’s changed.
I plop down on my bed and stare up at the ceiling. I remember when I was younger, and how I would try to jump as high as I could to get the little flakes on the ceiling to fall, trying to make a snowstorm in my room. I could never quite reach it; it seemed so high up and now, if I stand on my bed and reach up, my fingers easily brush across the rough surface. I do that now, collecting bits of the ceiling in my cupped hands like a small child. I toss the pieces upwards, sending a hail of white flying through the air and landing softly on my bed. I brush them off, but a smile still lingers on my face.
I get up to walk downstairs when I feel paper crunch under my right foot. I pick up the slightly crumpled piece of paper I have stumbled upon and a shock goes through me. I freeze, scanning it even though I already know what it is. It’s the note. That’s right, the note. I want to sit down to read it, even though the words play in my mind everyday like a never-ending loop, but I’m paralyzed. It’s like my feet are glued to the floor. All I can do is move my eyes back and forth, from line to line.
I don’t know how to start this off. So I’ll just tell you right away that tomorrow I won’t exist. I’m going to end it. I need to end it. But I want you all to know why. Why I’m doing this. Why I did this. I want to let all my secrets go in this letter.
First of all I need to say sorry to Lucia. Sorry for the mean words and the rumors. Sorry for isolating you from the rest of us like you were a disease. You’re not. And that’s why I feel so bad. You were always the friend I could count on, and I was the one that stabbed you in the back. You don’t deserve the way you’ve been treated, and I wish I could have stood up for you. I may not have been the one spreading rumors, but I stood there and watched it happen like it was nothing. But it was everything. Everything that hurt you. I hope you forgive me when I’m gone, but I won’t ask you to. I don’t deserve it.
I wrench my eyes away from the note when I hear a noise come from Ben’s room. I run over to his room, my hand still clutching the note like my life depends on it. I burst into his room without knocking, bracing myself, expecting a knife to be in his hand and a wash of red on his other, but I am wrong. The wobbly desk in his room had toppled over, just as it had practically every other day. It is on the floor, sideways, too old to use. But Ben doesn’t care. He never wants to create problems. Even when they aren’t his fault.
“Hey, what are you doing in here?” he asks, and I flush with guilt, knowing that I hadn’t trusted him. But how could I when he had just done it again? And because of what? Me. It was my fault, my own stupid fault.
“I—I thought you had—you… I…,” I ramble on, my brain scrambling and my words tripping over each other. I take a deep breath and start over.
“I heard a sound come from your room, and I thought you were trying to hurt yourself again,” I say in one big slur. The minute I say it, I wish I hadn’t because his face is no longer irritated or angry. It is completely impassive, closed off from the rest of the world. And I long to see his face wrinkled with emotion. Anything, anything than this dead character who is nothing but a stranger to me. Anything to be able to have Ben, my Ben, back to normal, back to when I was eight and he was ten. When he would tell me that everything was okay when Dad would come home drunk, and lull me to sleep in my little pink bed, acting like a parent when he was only just a child.
“Get out of my room,” he says angrily, and kicks his fallen desk with a hard thud that makes me wince. “I’m busy.”
These two sentences shatter my heart into a million pieces, but I know he is hurt, too. Hurt that I didn’t trust him. Hurt that I worry about him when I should be worrying about myself. Hurt that I almost left him when I tried to kill myself. I understand his pain. So I just swallow the lump in my throat and shut the door, leaving my hurt brother on the other side of the wooden barrier between us. I walk slowly back to my room, fighting tears, and crawl into my bed as streaks of salt slide down my cheeks. I bury my face in a pillow and sit there, being comforted by its warm plushness. I lift my head momentarily, looking down at the tear-stained surface of my pillow. Just another thing I’ve ruined.
I sit up and set my back against the headboard when I notice that I still have the note in my hand. It’s the original that I used to make copies on the printer and give to everyone. Everyone that mattered or ruined my life. But I guess technology makes everything easier, huh? I didn’t have to re-write all those letters and cry each time. Just once. But reading is similar to writing. I don’t want to cry anymore. I don’t want to cry about Ben, about Mom, about Dad. About Hunter, Lucia, or Analea. So I fold the note as neat as I can and set it under my pillow. My soggy, wet, purple pillow in which my tears are embedded in.
I look around my disastrously messy room and realize that in a couple days I will be back at school, ready to learn and ready to be shunned by the rest of the judgmental school. But I don’t want to sit here and wallow any more. So I grab my Maximum Ride book, hidden by the thick folds of my blanket, and start reading. There’s no point. I already have half the words memorized. But somehow the written words on the slightly crinkled pages entice me. I want to be with something familiar and warm. So I lie on my familiar bed, in my familiar room, and read my familiar book. I read until my lazy eyes blur the words, and drift into a dreamless sleep.
Today is the day. The day I finally see all the faces that mistreated me, the hands that scarred me, the eyes that sent daggers through me. Am I excited? No. Am I nervous? Yes. Do I feel like I’m going to throw up? Definitely. You know the saying, “butterflies in my stomach”? Well, for me it’s more like a hornets’ nest being kicked by a bear while an elephant stampede goes on. The closer it gets to the time I have to be at school, the harder the elephants stomp in my stomach. It’s six o’ clock. Only fifty minutes until I have to be at school.
I get up, brush my teeth, and take a warm shower. I let the steam enfold me so I’m hidden under a layer of fog. The hot droplets prickle my skin and the lathering soap covers me in bubbles. I walk out of the shower, refreshed, and look in my closet. It looks mostly empty. Most of my clothes are thrown across the floor, leaving clusters of empty hangers in my closet. I grab a grey hoodie and a black t-shirt as part of my plan to remain inconspicuous. I’ll try to fade into the groups of kids that crowd the hallways, and lurk in the background without looking too much like a creeper. I run my hands through my snarly black hair to comb it out and rush downstairs for breakfast. Maybe eating something will make my stomach feel better.
I walk into our all-white kitchen and open our old fridge, which is now crème-colored from all the years of dust and mold. Just like the rest of our kitchen, white and pure, under all those layers of grease and grime. The inside of the fridge radiates a coolness that suddenly envelops me, causing the sweat on my palms to evaporate. I skim the contents of the fridge, looking for something to eat. I grab a peach from the bottom drawer and shut the fridge, just as Ben strolls into the kitchen. I level my eyes with the ground, and take a bite of the peach. It’s sour and bitter and disgusting. I spit it out into the trash and throw it away.
Ben looks up at me, searching my eyes for guilt. I quickly walk out of the kitchen, attempting to avoid eye contact, but I think the slump in my shoulders and the constant habit of biting my lip has already given my guilt away. I grab my purple Jansport backpack and sling it across my shoulders, letting the straps dig in to my shoulders. Maybe some pain will do me good. Maybe it will keep me from saying stupid things to Ben. Maybe it will—I stop my self-hating list right there. I don’t want to think about hurting myself. I don’t want to be like Ben, killing myself slowly with cuts and scars. I adjust the straps of my backpack to fit me better, and sneak a glance at Ben, hoping he isn’t looking at me. He isn’t. He is staring blankly at the kitchen wall, eyes boring into the white paint. I wonder what he is thinking about. But I don’t have that much time to wonder because Mom rushes me into the garage and into our blue Honda mini-van, without so much as saying, “Good morning.”
“Ben! Ben, get in here! We have to leave now!” she says impatiently, stressing on the “now”.
We back out of the driveway and head straight to the place that kills me inside. High school. I stare out the fogged windows from the back seat, trying not to think of what will happen fifteen minutes from now. I concentrate on the little smears that blur the outside shapes, distorting them until I can no longer recognize a simple pine tree or a furry, rambunctious squirrel. I think about all the homework I’ll have to catch up on instead of thinking about Analea. I think of how sore my muscles will be with aching pain after I go back to track practice, instead of thinking of Melinda. I think about the Van Gogh art project I was supposed to turn in last week if I had been at school, instead of Hunter.
The car stops abruptly and the tires squeal on the rough pavement. We’re here. Woodbridge High School. I can no longer avoid my thoughts when they stare at me, point at me, whisper about me. I can’t avoid all those faces that will judge me. But I suck it up, grab my backpack, and stumble out of the car. I watch it drive away until it is only a small speck, and only wrench my eyes away when it has completely disappeared from my vision. I feel a light tap on my shoulder and turn around. Ben is carrying a yellow Post-it note in his hand and holds it out to me.
“Give it to the office,” he says, and I grab it as he makes a quick escape.
I watch him dash through the parking lot and onto the sidewalk by the road, the way we came here. I shake my head and open the neatly folded note with Ben’s curly writing. It’s a doctor’s note, an excuse to get him out of school. Except he doesn’t have strep throat and it’s not from our doctor. I sigh and turn to the front doors of the school. I can’t believe it’s been four weeks since I’ve seen these old blue doors, the metal handles edged with rust and leftover fingerprints. I push through the doors and enter, feeling a rush of anxiety.
A smell of sweat and stale air enters my nose, bringing me back to the memories of getting squished into the lockers and dying of boredom in the classrooms. The usually packed hallways are empty and unnatural looking, without bustling students crowding each other and rushing to their classes. I turn to my left and head to the Office.
“Hi Leia! It’s nice to see you again,” greets the woman at the front desk. Her bright red lips emphasize the plastic smile on her face. It’s the kind of smile that you throw on because you have to, not because happiness is bubbling up inside of you, waving away all the anger and sorrow from your soul. So that’s what she does like so many other people. Just faking through the day, with that cheap smile. Not letting the world see her true self. Not letting us see her purse her lips in anger or hold her head in fatigue. It’s just her dead eyes and signature smile.
I hand her my brother’s “Doctor’s Note” without saying hello, without smiling, without all the fakeness that’s everywhere in this world, and stand there as she reads it.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” she says furrowing her eyebrows, skimming over the note once more, “Hopefully he feels better soon. He was sick yesterday too.” She glances up at me with a look of concern that lasts about ten seconds. “So Leia,” she starts uncomfortably, holding her hands together in a tight embrace, “Mrs. Grisholm wants to see you before you go to class so she can check up on you and catch you up in school, okay?” She pauses, seeing if I will react to this new bit of information. I knew that I’d probably have to talk to the guidance counselor sometime, but I didn’t think it would be so soon. I hide my surprise and shrug an okay as I wait for her to continue. “She’s in Room 329, okay?” she says cautiously, as if I’m some wounded animal she’s trying to coax.
“Sure,” I say carelessly and walk out of the office, wondering what Ben is up to. But I don’t have much time to conjure up theories because before I know it, I’m in front of Room 329. I stare at the wood-chipped door for a while before I walk in, already irritated by the ache from the straps of my backpack tugging on my shoulders. I take a deep breath, and turn the doorknob knowing that on the other side awaits Mrs.Grisholm, probably itching to dig into my personal life and be the savior to a hopeless lost cause.
Ten minutes have passed in this grey, monochromatic room, and I’m still sitting in this cheap plastic chair. Sitting and watching the clock behind Mrs. Grisholm tick in agonizing slow motion, mocking me without words. Mrs. Grisholm sits in front of me, in her desk chair, speaking words that have no meaning to me. All that comes out of her mouth is white noise that fades into the walls, as her lips move in a blur. Even if I tried, I couldn’t hear what she was saying over the loud hammering of my heart, drumming a steady beat inside of me. So I just sit there, pretending I’m listening until I realize her lips have stopped moving. I open my mouth to respond to whatever question she’s asked me but she cuts me off.
“Leia, I know it’s hard to listen to me right now. You’ve been through a very rough situation and it’s going to be really difficult to get you back on track. But the most important thing is for you to be happy again. It’s not about catching up on homework, or re-training for track. It’s about making you feel comfortable and safe. And most importantly, happy that you are alive,” she says with surprising sincerity. But it’s probably just another thing they teach in “shrink college”, along with the “and how does that make you feel?” question.
I sit there with a blank face, and stare at the clock again, tuning her out and blurring her face into the grey room. In the distance, I hear her voice call my name over and over again, trying to get me to say at least one word in reply. It’s then that I notice the strands of grey in her nest of brown hair and her tired eyes lined with crinkles. It’s then that I notice that she isn’t full of time like the clock that hangs above her. And neither am I.
As my eyes meet hers, she stops talking. She takes a deep breath and lets it out before starting again. By now she’s beginning to get frustrated with me, and the sincerity is gone from her voice. It is replaced by a formality that tells me that she means business.
“Talk to all your teachers and see what you need to catch up on. Try to do well in school but don’t push yourself too hard. We’ll be having counseling sessions to talk about your progress in school and your behavior every Tuesday and Thursday twenty minutes before school. If you ever need to talk to me at a different time, just knock on the door and I’ll be sitting here. Any questions?”
Her eyebrows are raised, wondering if I’ll finally say a word to her.
“No. Can I leave now?” I ask, praying she’ll let me out of her grasp. She nods her head to the door and resumes the paperwork piled on her desk. As I get up to leave, I hear her say in a low voice, “Good luck Leia,” without looking up.
“Thanks,” I say, “I’ll be fine.”
I shut the door feeling relieved, and head to my first class thinking that my torture has just begun.
Walking through the hallways feels weird without my friends. We always walked as a group, our talk and laughter bouncing off the lockers, filling up the narrow spaces. We’d exchange compliments and make snide remarks about the people we didn’t like, just like every other group of girls on the planet. But I never truly understood them. Why they hated certain people or why they talked about each other and then acted like they were all best friends. I would leave my confusions aside because they accepted me as their friend, and who else was there for me to talk to? Until one day I was struggling to catch up with them, my mind wandering somewhere else. They continued in front of me, not one girl in that clump of so-called friends looking back, and I realized that they wouldn’t miss me if I was gone. I’d soon be replaced by a funnier, smarter, cooler girl. My strengths would be stronger in someone else. So why try to catch up to them like a weak deer running to its herd? In the end it will always stumble and fall down, too tired to continue, and too tired to fight.
Now I’m standing in front of the door of my first class, late as usual, and I can’t bring myself to turn the doorknob. Analea is in this class. I don’t want to see the expression on her face when I walk in, and I can only hope that I reach my seat before our eyes meet. I hold my breath and open the door, expecting shocked faces and loud whispers, eyes that send daggers and ones that hold pity. But I’m wrong. I’m faced with an empty classroom and Mrs. Kwan in her desk, doing something on the computer. She looks up as I shut the door and greets me with a big smile.
“Leia! I’m so glad to have you back. Are you feeling better?”
I open my mouth to reply, but this is only the start of her interrogation.
“I’m sure you haven’t done any homework, but we can talk about that after class, alright? You have a lot to catch up on but I’m sure you’ll do fine! Oh!” she exclaims as she looks around the classroom. “You must be wondering where everyone is. They’re doing a lab outside. Why don’t I get you the papers and you can get started, too. Is that alright with you? Or would you like to take a break today? Maybe I should give you the homework you missed now instead.”
Before she can get another word out, I quickly say that I’ll do the lab. After all, it’s beautiful outside and I can easily separate myself from others instead of being trapped with them in a classroom. Mrs. Kwan searches her desk for the lab directions and worksheet while humming the tune to “Girl, Put Your Records On”. Her dress is teal with little yellow flowers that remind me of summer. Ah, summer, how I long for you. I wish you would come sooner so I could escape this prison.
She hands me my work, and I head outside through the side door, glancing at the lab. It’s about the classification of flowers. I hate that word. Classification. Scientifically it is defined as the act of grouping organisms together based on the relationships between them. But what most people don’t know is that science labs aren’t the only place where classification takes place. In every country, every city, every school—it’s the same. People find their own groups, narrowing down the people in them, separating from others again and again until someone is left out. It’s not much different with flowers. The lilies and daisies of course will be in their own superior category, with their gorgeous long petals and bright colors. The rest of the flowers will just have to follow behind, not nearly beautiful enough to compare to those tall flowers that stand out. The wallflowers bunched in the corner however, are left unnoticed, stooping behind the parade of petals, too short to see beyond them.
I notice my class fragmented throughout the small field behind our school as they observe different plants and flowers. The cocky jerks in my grade, or as I like to call them, “The Idiots”, are off in one area hooting and cheering as one of their members makes an attempt at asking a pretty girl out. She grimaces and walks away with her friend and the hooting shifts to teasing and jeering laughter as the rejected boy’s face flushes with red.
This makes me want to roll my eyes but I don’t, not wanting to retract from my search for an isolated area. A tree enclosed by an array of daffodils catches my eye, and I walk over to it noticing that the field of yellow is interrupted by short bursts of white petals and even some purple. Squatting down on the damp grass, I stroke a band of flowers with the back of my hand, the soft tips brushing against my skin with water and fresh dew and life. I pick up the tallest flower by the stem and bring it to eye level, scrutinizing its golden petals and rotating it with my fingers. My eyes squint to catch the details, us humans always missing the most beautiful ones, and sketch it as best as I can on my lab sheet. It looks more like the sun on a stick, but I recall my past art projects and decide that it succeeds them all. I draw a white flower and a tiny purple one that I find, and stand back up once I am satisfied with the collection of multicolored suns on my paper.
I turn away from the tree and back to the field of students when I see him. Hunter. Laughing and walking with his friend Danny. And suddenly I feel sick and this feels completely and utterly wrong. Me being here at school, studying flowers and doodling them like a child when inside a knot is tightening in my stomach, making loopholes and twisting continuously like the ones the counselor at Girls’ Scout camp taught us to make to help us in the wild. Well I’m out in the wild here, just a broken animal waiting to be preyed on, and I only want to undo this knot. It is growing thick around my body, tightening its grip and lacing up to reach my throat and I feel as if I am being strangled. Choking as no words come out of my stupid mouth because he sees me and stops his walk midstride. Looks at me in disbelief as if it’s crazy that I’m here. It is crazy that I’m here. I’m not ready to be back here.
He gives me a little wave in the air in recognition of me as he conjures up a smile to welcome me back. I manage a feeble smile and give him a short wave in return, but my feet are already inching towards the classroom door. The classroom door that is only a few feet away but feels like miles as his face turns into a confused frown when he realizes that I’m going to leave without even talking. I feel bad. He’s being nice to me and I won’t even go near to have a conversation. It’s unfortunate that Analea is in my field of vision, even though she’s well behind Hunter. I can still see her picking off bright flowers and inserting them in her hair as her other friends, my old ones, do the same. Hunter follows my eyesight as if he knows that I’m only leaving because something is bothering me, and his eyes set on Analea just as she picks all the flowers in her hair out, one by one. I can see Hunter’s face turned on mine again, but this time my eyes connect with his through a barrier of glass. I’m back inside the classroom, peering through the window at him, as Mrs. Kwan rambles on, giving me tips (more like the answers) to finish the lab sheet. I pay no attention to her birdlike chattering, only focusing on the world that I used to be a part of. With girls and boys, and drama, and sports, and frantic studying for school, and all the mania that takes place in high school. It used to be inside me, a part of me, but as Hunter turns away from me and catches up to his friends, I realize that I was always on the outside.
I just had to be inside to see it.