Trigger warning: includes talk of suicide.
I stared at my reflection in Sycamore High’s bathroom mirror. Running cold water from the facet, I splashed some at my face. I glared at my face. I hated it. Flush, and white from the cold water. My pale face only made my polluted-river green eyes stand out more. My nose was narrow and pointy. My cheeks were slightly round from years of over eating. I hated my complexion. I loathed every part of it.
I glanced at the door, wanting to leave. In a few minutes, I had an appointment with the guidance counselor over my college acceptance letter. Alas, I didn’t have a choice. I was stuck here, with my hideous reflection, because I wasn’t the one who locked the door on the other side.
Five minutes before my first college class, I was hiding in the bathroom like some scared high school student. “Get it together, Ariana!” I scolded my reflection. “You can do this.”
I exhaled deeply and took a minute to examine my complexion. I had a cute button nose, high cheekbones, and a slender—almost a tad too thin—face and body that I could always fill out during Thanksgiving in a few months. Patting my cheeks, I stared into my dark green eyes and reassured myself. “Alright, Ariana. Let’s do this.” And proudly walked out of that bathroom with a certain stride to my step.
“Yel-low! I’m Ariana Dreme!” I greeted with a smile as I entered Creative Writing 101. The class and the professor stared blankly at me. Keep it cool, Ariana, I told myself. “Crazy reason why I’m just suddenly in this class. You’re gonna laugh, trust me.”
No one laughed.
I don’t know, I still think it was at least a little bit funny. What had happened was I switched from a chemistry major to writing major last minute. It was pure luck the University of Claymore even had creative writing classes—it was primarily a school of the sciences, so the major wasn’t too popular. In fact, my class only had three other students.
I decided to take my seat next to a kid with a shaggy haircut because he looked kind of familiar. A minute later, the professor walked in. “What is up, you beautiful humans?!” She called out with a wild grin on her face. Immediately, the atmosphere of the room changed from doom and gloom to a level of comfortability and happiness only alcohol could usually provide. The professor slammed her briefcase on the desk.
“Now, listen up. I know we have a new student, so I’m going to reintroduce myself and explain things, but just this once. I’m Professor Kendricks. I’m be your teacher for the next ten weeks, so I hope we can get to liking each other. With that said, we move into the creative nonfiction story I assigned last week. New girl,” She nodded at me, “I expect you to make this up before next class.”
“Right.” I slumped back in my chair. Great, first day of a new school and I was already behind.
A girl behind me poked my shoulder. “Hey,” She whispered. “I know Professor Fredricks seems tough at first, but that only became she cares. Not a lot of students take her writing classes, so she tends to hyperfixate on students sometimes. Basically, you need to be a real go-getter to survive her class. But trust me,” the girl winked. “She’s so worth it.” Extending her hand, she introduced herself. “I’m Megan by the way.”
Megan giggled. “Yeah, I know. You kinda of already said that.” She gestured to the other two students. “That’s Damien.” Damien’s face was glued to his computer screens “And that’s Max.” She pointed to the shaggy kid next to me.
I felt my stomach drop. Max. I remember him now. I just hope he doesn’t remember me.
The janitor finally came and let me out of the bathroom. I heard a cacophony of snickers as I emerged into the hallway. Exhaling a tired breath, I lowered my eyes and briskly walked away. It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened to me. It sure as hell wasn’t going to be the last.
I retreated back to my locker and made the rookie mistake of actually opening it. It then took all my will just to keep from vomiting.
It wasn’t anything that was by nature disgusting; not like fish guts or roadkill. However, to me, I would have almost preferred that because what was inside made me far sicker.
Inside the locker was a phone. My old phone. A Blackberry. It was nailed to the back of my locker with the word ‘slut’ scratched onto the screen. I slammed my locker closed and ran back to the bathroom, where I was the one to lock the door.
Eighty-two painful minutes of sitting next to Max later, the class ended. Megan invited me to a study group with Damien and Max where we would finish our next assignments. “You really can’t delay assignments for Professor Fredricks. Sometimes, she’ll take on random ones in between classes.”
“It’s only been a week,” I noted. “But you seem to really know her.”
“Oh, yeah. Professor Fredricks teaches the majority of the writing majors’ classes. I had her last year.”
“Same.” Damien commented.
“I didn’t.” Max remarked. “I’m a freshman like you.”
“Well, then I guess we’re in the same boat.” I gave an awkward chuckle.
“So, Ariana, what are you planning to write for your story? ‘A turning point in your life’.” Megan recited the prompt. “That’s gotta be pretty exciting.”
“I… I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on. You were practically spaced out in your head for the entire class. You must have been thinking of something.”
Well, it’s actually more like I was panicking over Max remembering who I was and ruining everything.
“I just wasn’t… hit by the inspiration stick yet. That’s all.”
Megan frowned. “What did you write about?” I asked, trying to change the topic.
Instantly perking up, Megan began to ramble on and on about her story. “My story happened to me one, no two years ago. I had woken up, maybe three in the morning with a killer headache and a really scratchy throat. There was a guy next to me, no idea who he was. I went to the bathroom, but when I looked in the mirror, my face was red and splotchy. Turns out, I was having an allergic reaction to some cannabis and went into shock until I passed out. A minute or two later, I woke up. And the guy next to me? A drug dealer.
“Anyway, I went to tell him what was happening and he shoved me out of his apartment—didn’t want to get tied up in it. So there I was, in the hallway of a building I didn’t know, having a mild allergic reaction to cannabis, when I realized it. I didn’t know where to go or who to call. I just stood there, staring at my reflection on my phone, thinking: What was I doing there? I was twenty-one years old and alone. So, I decided to change. Reinvent myself, ya know. And before you know it, Megan the Party Girl, the Drug Addict, has become Megan the Writer.”
“Wow, Megan. That’s amazing.”
“So did you get any new ideas?”
I shook my head. “Alright.” She said. “Damien, you’re up.”
“Wait, you guys don’t have keep telling me your personal stories. I can figure this out my on.”
Megan cupped a hand over my shoulder. “Awe, kiddo. Don’t worry about it. You’re one of us now. You’re a part of this cult. Forever.”
“I kid. I kid. There is no cult. We’re just a small group of people with a lot of devotion to one particular thing: writing!”
“That is the exact definition of a cult.”
“Damien!” Megan announced, ignoring my comment. “Your turn!”
By the second time I left that bathroom, there was the overpowering taste of stomach acid and last night’s dinner on my tongue. I grabbed my books and bag and headed to the roof. I needed some air. Something to take my mind off it.
As I approached the stairwell, two shadows cornered me. I cursed under my breath and avoided their gaze. “Hey, Ariel.” One breathed, closing in on my personal space. “Did you get my text message?”
I sucked in a breath and remained silent. “Because everyone got yours.” The other one remarked. “Slut.”
My eyes stung as I tried to hold back tears. Pushing through their blockade, I dashed upstairs, a tear falling on every other step. I burst through the roof doors just as a sob burst from my throat. Sniffling, I hugged myself tightly and let the tears and snot stream down my face. It wasn’t pretty.
Much like those nude pictures I sent to my ex-boyfriend last year that got leaked.
I dug my nails into my arms as my mind dug deeper into the putrid memory. A sharp wind blew across my face, freezing my stuffy nose.
The wind pushed at my back. Drawing me to the edge. I gazed down. Would it really be so bad? To just forget it all? I was maybe three stories up. Would that be enough?
I crept over the chain fence. My toes pointed forward, hovering a little over the edge. I peered down. It didn’t seem too far. I bit my lip and pressed by back against the fence, twining my fingers with it.
I looked down once more and smiled. I glanced up at the sky, like it had just taken a weight off my shoulders and I was free. Because I had already decided.
I stepped forward.
“Ah, how to begin…” Damien hummed to himself. “Oh, hour about at the beginning. Around age eighteen, I was in an abusive romantic relationship. I know there are a lot of people who doubt that this thing can even happen—and for a while I didn’t believe it either.”
Damien paused. “Then one day, we had a fight. There was nothing particularly special about it, it was just like all the others. She would get angry, get violent. Start throwing vases and lamps—often at my face. And I would just… stand there and take it. Because, I loved her—or thought I did at least. Then it was over. She had stormed off somewhere. I went to pick up my phone, she had thrown it at the wall during the fight.
“The screen was cracked pretty bad, but I could still read the message I had got that started the fight. She had thought it was from another girl, and she was partly right. It was a text from my mother, telling me ‘Happy Birthday, sweetie’. Then I looked up from my phone and I came face to face with they antique mirror in the hallway. For the first time in a while, I saw myself. I mean really saw myself. I saw the cuts, scraps, bruises, bad eyes—all caused by my supposed ‘loving’ girlfriend. After that, I broke it off with her and just got in my car and drove. And I never looked bad.”
Megan turned to me. “Any ideas now?”
I shook my head and Megan sighed. “Alrighty. Max your turn. And make it a good one.”
Nodding, Max inhaled a deep breath. My body tensed as I briefly worried about his story subconsciously mentioning me. “My story begins with the death of a girl named Ariel. She has commited suicide—and it was partly my fault. Mostly actually.”
My eyes went wide with shock. Max glanced around at Megan and Damien, searching their faces for hatred in his confession. However, there was none to be found. They just sat there, listening.
“I had been… relentless in tormenting her. Along with everyone else at my old high school. We bonded over tearing her down. Looking back… we were nothing short of horrible. When she jumped, I was there. At the bottom. I had dropped by wallet in some puddle and was searching for it when her body smashed against the sidewalk—maybe ten feet from me. I was horrified at what I had done. Of course, I immediately called the police, but it was too late. All I could do was stare helplessly at my reflection in the sidewalk. I had to change. I couldn't stand to be this kind of person anymore.” Max looked up. “So I left. Now, I became a writer and I volunteer for the suicide hotline on weekends.”
I stood up. “I have to go.”
“To Professor Fredericks. I have my story.” Lie.
“Wait a minute, what are you gonna do? Write it while you run to her office?!”
Already halfway out the door I replied. “Sure, why not.”
Megan smirked. “Would you look at that. A real go-getter.”
“A go-getter who forgot her bag.” Max remarked. “I’ll be back in a second, I just need to give this to her.”
I woke up in pitch black. There were small, moving frames around me; each playing a different scene. Looking closer at them, I realized they were from my life. Every moment since the time I was born—to the time I ended my life.
“It’s pathetic, isn’t it?” I whispered to myself. “How I just caved so easily at their words?”
Fresh tears striked my cheeks. “I’m pathetic!” A new wave of sobs came over me. “What good does any of this do?! What’s the point?! Why I did I even try?” I inhaled deeply, trying to regulate my breathing. “Why did I stop?”
“Do you regret it?” A voice called out.
“Regret it? Regret the torture, the harsssment?”
“Regret the outcome?” They clarified.
It just suddenly became too much. I threw it all away. All my plans for the future. My dreams I harbored deep within. My mom.
She never left me. I left her. All alone.
Did I regret the outcome? “Yes.” I found myself saying before even knowing why. I couldn’t put it into words, but I didn’t want it to end this way.
“So don’t let it.” The voice answered like it was reading my thoughts.
“How?” I asked.
The voice didn’t reply because by then…
I woke up.
“Ariana, wait!” Max called out to me on the stairwell outside the library, but I wasn’t paying attention to him. “You forget your bag—”
And forgot how to walk. Before he could finish, I skipped a step and nearly tumbled forward when Max snagged my elbow. “Hey! Be careful.” As he pulled me up, Max got a good long look at my face. In my eyes. The same eyes I’ve always had and can never change.
“You’re… but you’re…”
I thought of a million ways to finish that sentence. I’m… moving on. Different. Stronger. Better. “I’m Ariana.” And with that I walked off, because now I really did have a story for Professor Kendricks.
My head was woozy.
My lips were chapped.
My mouth was dry.
And I was alive.
I was alive and resting in a plain white hospital room. With a face covered in bandages, a body encaged in a cast, my mother silently beside me, and harsh fluorescent lights squinting down.
“Hey, mom.” I said with a cracked voice.
Her neck snapped in my direction. “Ariel?” She spoke with an unsure voice, almost struggling to comprehend I was finally awake. “You’re awake!”She squealed as she threw her arms around me. “I was so worried!”
Slowly, pulling away from me, my mom asked. “Baby, what happened? What aren’t you telling me?”
I bit my lip. The pain was too fresh, too new, too raw for me to suddenly open up to her. After all, I had kept this to myself for the past four months. And that’s what I told her.
My mother quietly nodded beside me and nodded. “I understand. I don’t like it, but I understand.” She encased her hand around me. “And Whatever you need to get through this, talking, writing, therapy… I will get it for you.”
Suddenly, the door opened and the doctor came through. “Now, Ariel. It seems that your fall has resulted in several broken ribs, a broken femur, a splintered ula, some mild damage to your zygomatic, along with other facial regions. We already set the casts, but we had to do some facial reconstruction and skin grafting. However, your body seems to be responding well to the surgery. You got really lucky. It looks like you’ll be up and about in two to three months, just in time for college.”
The doctor pulled something out of their coat pocket. “Which reminds me, this letter came for you.”
He handed me a letter stamped with the emblem of the University of Claymore. “Wait,” my mom said. “I already have your college acceptance letter. You were accepted for a chemistry major.”
The doctor shrugged. “It’s your personal business,” was all they said before they left to check on another patient.
I fiddled with the letter in my hand. It was something about a creative writing program.
“Mom, I think I want to start over.”
“Professor Kendricks?” I called out in the empty lecture room. “Are you in here?”
“Over here, darling.” She replied at the front desk, typing something on the computer.
“I… um… have my story.”
“Oh?” She glared down on her laptop. “Read it to me, darling.”
“Just like… out loud?”
“Yes, that’s why I said read it to me.”
I took a deep breath. Here goes nothing. “I stared at my reflection in the Sycamore High’s bathroom mirror…”
Author’s note: please know that suicide is never the answer. You are loved and perfect the way you are.