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Loud Echoes, Glaring Reflection
The people who knew me well—and that in itself was very few—knew all about my tendency to quote. It could be a famous line from a movie, an iconic snippet from a book or something I’d heard on the streets. I played around with quotes all the time, borrowing words from Dr. Seuss, Gandhi, even Tupac.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken,” I muttered sourly to myself. Oh, Oscar Wilde, if only it was that easy. Being in high school, one of the things everyone wanted to do was fit in with the cool crowd. I was already a senior and had kissed that dream goodbye a long time ago.
“Who are you quoting today, Danni?” my friend, Erika, asked as she threaded her long legs through the narrow gap between the table and bench.
“Oscar Wilde,” I replied, not looking up from my tray. I had no idea why Erika had even befriended me. We had absolutely nothing in common and she was high on the popularity totem pole. With shiny platinum blonde hair and bright celery-green eyes, she was my total opposite. My hair was stick-straight, raven black and my eyes were a disquieting shade of electric blue. While she radiated a certain I’m-a-peppy-cheerleader-YAY! aura, mine screamed leave-me-alone-so-I-can-die-by-myself-with-my-books.
“Who is he?” Erika asked. “The name sounds familiar but my mind’s drawing a blank.”
My voice was deadened as I replied. “Oscar Wilde is a nineteenth century poet and author. His works are a bit morbid for my taste, but The Picture of Dorian Gray is pretty good. It reminds me of the opera Faust by Goethe.”
“Interesting . . .” I could instantly tell she was bored. Erika was a good student, but the finer points of literature and history were lost on her. I sighed to myself and picked apart at my meager lunch, which consisted of a soggy ham and cheese sub and a ruby-red apple. I picked up the apple and twirled it around in my slim-fingered hands.
The apple was an interesting symbol, if you think about it. It has both good and bad connotations. This, supposedly, was the fruit that the devil tempted Adam and Eve to eat. It was also a sign of springtime, a sign of fertility. Just thinking about that made a song surface in my head. I smiled to myself and hummed along to its jazzy rhythm. Erika, as usual, stared at me with a confused expression. “Lissssten clossssely . . . let me fill you in about the rich, ripe, rosssy applesss they call forbidden fruit . . .” It was “Forbidden Fruit” from the obscure musical aptly named The Apple Tree.
“What song was that?” Erika’s voice held some curiosity in it but I knew from experience that she didn’t care at all.
“‘Forbidden Fruit,’” I replied, knowing all too well she was already shutting me out. Her thumbs glided across her iPhone, no doubt texting one of her other friends. Translation—the popular kids. The rest of lunch was quiet and I practically jumped off the bench when the bell rang. Erika was good for company but I knew that her patience with my manic behaviors was quickly ebbing.
I wallowed in my aloneness as I walked to my next class. I liked to quote things because I always felt a certain rush as the words passed my lips. It was borderline addiction, but like most addicts out there, I denied that I had a problem. As I dodged the haphazard bodies in the hallway, another quote popped into my head uninvited. I still think that the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one. It was from Mother Teresa.
Suddenly, someone shoved me and I went sprawling. My body hit the cheap linoleum hard and my teeth rattled in my head. As I lay there, embarrassed out of my mind, no one dared to even help me up. In fact, one person even got the nerve to step on my hand. I rose on my elbows and knees, and then started to put my books back into my backpack.
“Hey, you need some help?” a voice asked in front me. I looked up from my backpack and I swore my heart skipped a beat.
It was Alix Light. Alix (pronounced Alex) was the newest senior here, having moved from California four months ago. He had tan skin that hadn’t paled yet, even though it was the middle of January. Alix was drawn in all sharp angles—lithe and lanky like a cat. He had blue eyes that seemed to change colors in certain light. His dirty blonde hair, like his eyes, could never decide whether it was brown or blonde. Every girl in a ten-mile radius instantly swooned in his presence. Some said he looked like Justin Beiber while others said he looked like Brad Pitt. But, personally, I thought he looked like himself. Alix was Alix.
I shook my head. “Nah, I’m good.”
He waited for me as I slowly got to my feet, sore muscles screaming in protest. No doubt I would have some bruises. “So, what class are you going to?”
“Trig,” Alix replied, brushing a strand of hair out of his eye. “You?”
“Chorus.” I like singing, especially because of the stories songs told. They could be cheerless, exultant, eerie. No two songs were alike and it was as if they were their own people.
Alix nodded. “Cool.” He waved goodbye to me as I entered the classroom and I hesitantly waved back. No doubt he’d blab to his friends about how crazy I seemed.
I sighed to myself. That was the story of my life—being talked about behind my back. It got really old, really fast and I wanted to change it somehow. Problem is . . . I didn’t want to change my ways. Not in a million years.
Things didn’t start getting weird until the mirrors exploded.
No, I seriously mean exploded. Every mirror in the entire school shattered at the same time like the sound barrier had been broken in the confines of our school. It was 10:39, I remember, because I had glanced down at my watch just before the mirror in the second-floor bathroom near the Spanish hallway burst into a thousand pieces.
Gladly, I wasn’t hurt, but others were worse for wear. Girls who had been putting on makeup or fixing up their hair had gotten pieces of shrapnel embedded in their bodies. One girl even had to have one eye removed because the shrapnel had damaged that eye beyond repair. But no one was killed, thank God.
“That was so weird, wasn’t it? That whole mirror thing, I mean,” Alix commented one day in Ancient History. Ancient History was a new class this year, focusing on ancient civilizations such as the Mayans, Egyptians, Romans and so on. Long story short—I loved it.
Instead of replying, I quoted again. “Mirrors are never to be trusted.”
Alix jerked back as if he’d been hit. His eyes seemed to flash, turning scarlet red for an instant. I frowned. That was strange. “What did you just say?” he asked in a low voice.
“It’s from Coraline,” I replied. “A book.”
Alix nodded, finally getting it. “Oh, so what they say is true about you. You borrow other people’s words.”
My mouth practically hit my desk. He’d been so nice a few minutes ago, so why the sudden iciness? “What did you just say?”
Alix shrugged one lean shoulder. “I’m just saying, if you like to quote like that, then you don’t have anything original to say.”
I had nothing to come back at him that wasn’t a quote, so I just muttered, “The nerve of some people.”
Again, his eyes flashed, this time an intense green. His hair seemed to get darker and lengthen to his shoulders. “Are you quoting again?”
I pursed my lips. “Those were my own words.” I stood my ground but something in Alix’s eyes made me want to run away as fast as my legs could take me. And why did they keep changing colors? And what was with the hair altering all of a sudden? I had more questions than there were answers and it left me both irritated and confused.
Life continued on as usual. Tests were taken and retaken, parties were hosted and students got drunk, fights were fought. But the strange occurrence between Alix and I always seemed to hover in the back of my mind. I watched Alix constantly, searching for any changes in his appearance.
And, surprisingly, I found that it happened more often than I had previously thought. Infinitesimally, he changed. It wasn’t much—the arch of his brows, the lengthening of his nose, the change of color in his eyes. Another thing I noticed was that it seemed to change whenever he was with different groups of people. Alix’s mouth would fold down at the corners when he was near the emo kids or the blue in his eyes would lighten when he was hanging with the cheerleaders. It made absolutely no sense.
“Oh my God, Danni, stop staring!” Erika snapped one day when Alix was sitting at the table next to us.
“Was I staring?” I put on a blank expression.
She gave me a ‘no duh’ look. “Uh, yeah. And, okay, he’s hot and all but you stare at him as if he’s some kind of science experiment. It’s really creepy.”
I didn’t reply. Erika sighed in frustration and then launched into a story which included a party at the quarterback’s house, a hideous amount of booze, and seeing her boyfriend making out with a cheerleader. She seemed unaffected. “So, anyways, I’m better off without Justin. But for a while there, it seemed like we were destined to be with each other.”
Like always, another quote bubbled up in my mind. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” As I said this, my voice changed. No, it didn’t crack; it just sounded like someone else. The voice that had come out of my throat was raspy and low, speaking of years of hidden malice.
“What was that . . . ?” Erika looked as freaked out as I did confused.
“One of Cassius’s famous lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar,” I replied automatically. God, what was wrong with me? I’d never done that before. I don’t know how or why, but all I knew was that the voice that had just come out of my throat hadn’t been my own.
“Um, I gotta go.” Erika stood quickly and rushed over to her other friends, leaving me at an empty table. I stared down at the swirling patterns on the wooden table and tried to control my breathing. I had no idea exactly why, but the thought of having different voices coming out of my vocal chords truly scared me.
Maybe because it was something that could get you put in a mental hospital. I couldn’t bring myself to question my mental state. Call me a coward, but whatever this was, it scared me to the core.
After that first startling experience, I experimented with my voice, trying to do a repeat of the incident. I hid myself in a remote place and quoted different people, characters and so on. It happened every time. Whoever’s quote I said, I said it in that person’s voice or the voice of the character who said it.
But as the days wore on, I found that most of the things I said became more quotes and less of my own words. And now, with the whole not-my-voice thing, I got a lot strange looks whenever I quoted and I knew all too well that the people around me—whether it was my relatives, suspicious classmates at school, or even a common bystander on the streets—were really starting to question my mental health.
And, to add more salt into the wound, the quotes got longer and included more than one voice. I’d recite entire passages from books and plays, not stopping until that part was over. Whenever those happened, I tried to clamp my mouth shut, but I could never stop. I felt like a prisoner in my own body, subject to all its sick games. Interestingly enough, the littlest things would trigger these long bouts of words that were not my own.
One day in late April, I had one of my worst. Erika was complaining. Again. And this time, it was about me and my sudden retraction from society. “You’re really scaring me, Danni. It’s not normal. Maybe you should go see a psychiatrist.”
“I don’t need to see a psychiatrist,” I mumbled, sounded like a sullen child.
She put a hand on my shoulder. “You don’t have to be ashamed to get help. A lot of people have mental disabilities. Hell, my brother Mikey is so smart and he has autism. These things do happen.”
My vision tunneled and I knew that I was going to quote again. It was as if Erika had pulled the pin out of the grenade, those four words sent off a long round of me quoting.
For a moment, my voice failed me but it came back. When I regained my voice, it was thick with a heavy Italian accent. “‘These things do ‘appen . . . ?’ You ‘ave been ‘ere FIVE MINUTES! What do you know? Si, these things ‘appen, all the time.” I pointed an accusing finger at the empty air. “And did you stop them? NO!” The finger returned to Erika, who shied away from me. “And you . . . you’re as bad as ‘im. ‘These things do ‘appen.’ Well, until you stop these things from ‘appening, this thing does not ‘appen! Ubaldo, andiamo!” It seemed like my mind wasn’t content enough with just Carlotta’s tirade from Phantom of the Opera—noooo, it wanted to the entire scene. So, as people stared at me as if I were inane. My voice fluctuated for each character; the irritation of Firmin, the iciness of Madame Giry, the wistfulness of Raoul. All the while, the sane part of my mind banged against my skull, begging to please stop. Sadly, that part never won.
When the last high note died in my throat, I was finally relieved and my voice and mind became mine again. My breath came in rapid bursts and I realized everyone in the cafeteria was staring straight at me.
Over two hundred pairs of eyes met mine. Some were confused, others creeped out, others somehow fearful. My heart constricted and sudden, all-consuming fear raced up and down throughout my veins. Without looking back, I ran out of the cafeteria. I didn’t care where I was going; I just wanted to get away. I soon found myself rushing into a deserted bathroom and locking the stall behind me. I leaned against the door and slid to the floor.
Sudden thoughts invaded my mind. But there was one that stood out glaringly from the rest. Was I going insane? I had no idea. I didn’t see things or switch moods with the flip of a switch. I went over the major types of mental diseases. I quickly ruled out schizophrenia; everyone could hear me and it wasn’t like voices in my head were telling me to do things. My mind just did it itself. I definitely didn’t have ADHD or autism, mostly because the symptoms didn’t match up. Multiple personalities could explain it but why would the personalities be people who already existed?
“Danni?” a voice asked, bringing me out of my thoughts. I knew that voice.
“Alix?” I asked weakly.
“Yeah,” he said. “What happened back there? Can you unlock the door first? It’s kind of weird having a conversation with you in a bathroom stall.”
“Okay.” I stood up and unlocked the door and saw Alix standing near the sinks, his blue eyes somehow darker, the shade of lapis lazuli. Even though we didn’t get along most of the time, he opened his arms and I fell against his chest.
With a sob, I told him all that had happened. I revealed every single detail, even my fears of what truly caused it. “I can’t explain it,” I finished sort of lamely. “It’s just like my mind turns on a switch and then I’m repeating someone else’s words. I think I’m going insane.”
Alix rubbed my back in small circles, instantly calming me. “Shhhh, it’s okay. I can assure you, you’re not insane.”
I pulled away and stared at him with bleak eyes. “But do you think they’ll believe me?”
In the end, I was “diagnosed” with dissociative fugue, a disorder in which I would go into a state of amnesia where I would have no recollection of what I was doing and therefore adopt a different personality. The doctors said this explained why I kept quoting and they ignored the fact that I said that I remembered the entire thing whenever it happened. The thing the doctors couldn’t explain was the voices. It was a medical mystery.
My parents had me committed to a mental hospital because—supposedly—I was a flight risk whenever I was in a fugue. It was heartbreaking to me and I refused to talk to them. To me, this was the worst betrayal ever, almost as bad as Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus.
Since I didn’t have many friends at school, I got barely any visitors. I guess that being put in an insane asylum didn’t award you the adoring fans you would’ve had if you were in the hospital. Erika visited here and there but since she wasn’t obligated to have a freak as a friend, our relationship became strained and soon faded into nothing. But there was one person that always visited me, every other Saturday.
I was curled in a ball on my cot when Alix came in. He was late today and I suspected it had to do with the book in his hand. Before he came in, I had been thinking about how lonely I was. A few song lyrics bubbled in my mind and, as usual, they resurfaced. “It's easier to run, replacing this pain with something numb. It's so much easier to go than face all this pain here all alone . . .” It was by Linkin Park.
Alix blinked as he sat down. “You don’t really think that, do you, Danni?”
I sighed. “I don’t know. They still don’t believe me when I say I can remember all my fugues.” I spat out the word ‘fugues’ with venom. This diagnosis was going to be death of me; of that I was sure.
Alix looked straight at me, his eyes somber. Lately, I’d noticed that the strange changes I’d seen once seemed to progress faster. His form constantly flickered, always forming and reforming to create different combinations. “I was looking around the bookshop downtown and I saw something you might like.” He held out the book and I took it with shaky hands. On the cover was an old man in white robes holding a lightning bolt. I smiled as I recognized the figure—Zeus, the king of the gods. The bottom of the book said: ANCIENT GREEK MYTHS.
I smiled. This was the best present I’d gotten here. “Aw, thanks. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
“I can imagine.” He bit his lip. “I hate to cut this short, but I have to go. My shift starts in half an hour. I’m sorry I couldn’t spend more time with you.”
“It’s fine.” I waved him off. “Besides, I wouldn’t be much company. This book looks really interesting.” And, to make a point, I opened it to a random page and bowed my head. I heard Alix chuckling as he got up and went out the door.
With a jolt, I realized I’d open up to the myth of Echo and Narcissus. It was your usual Greek myth: Echo gets on Hera’s bad side and is forced to repeat everything she hears and then she falls in love with a guy who can’t even look up from his reflection. In the end, no one wins; Narcissus stabs himself because he can’t get to the beautiful reflection and Echo fades so much that only her voice is left. This was one of the few myths that didn’t have a happy ending.
The days passed in a monotonic blur. I soon lost track of the days and the months and eventually the year. I had a feeling it was a mix of my isolation and the small pink pills they stuffed down my throat at mealtimes. Even though my parents had been somewhat protective of me, they suddenly seemed like the most carefree parents in the entire world compared to the nurses and doctors in this asylum. I probably would’ve lost my mind . . . if it weren’t for Alix. He was like sudden, chaotic noise after being in a soundproof room. Every time he came around, I couldn’t stop smiling and I knew I looked like an idiot. But did I care? Not really.
As the days and months wore on, I got worse. Less and less of my words were my own and my thoughts were soon plagued. I remember the last words I said were “I’ll miss you” to Alix. I had a double meaning. I would miss him . . . and myself as well.