It’s the same debate every morning. Like a court case happening in my head. When I wake up and there’s a weight on my chest, like I’m trapped under a fallen shelf and I can’t move, like every breath is an effort against it, it’s the same tired old argument again.
You need to get up, says the lawyer for the plaintiff, and the defense lawyer begs, stay under the covers, just this once.
I’m tired of it. In so infinitely many ways, I’m tired. I lie flat on my back and stare up at the ceiling, examining the hairline cracks just barely visible against the white. I wonder if I could will it to collapse, to bury me in chunks of plaster; I wonder if that would get me out of having to go to school. Maybe if it broke one of my arms. Or my legs. Can’t get to the bus stop with a pair of broken legs, can I? Or maybe some particularly heavy chunk will snap my neck.
Nelly, you’re not allowed to think that anymore, scolds the lawyer for the plaintiff, and I squeeze my eyes shut. Stupid. She’s right, yes, Dr. Birch and I have talked at length about getting rid of those thoughts, but she’s still annoying. I still hate her stupid rational lawyer voice.
The lawyer for the defense kicks his feet up on the table. Aw, let the girl think what she wants. What ever happened to free speech?
There are limits to every right, snaps the plaintiff lawyer, and speech that causes danger -
“Ugh,” I say aloud, to shut them up. “I didn’t even mean it.”
It’s like a bear is lying on top of me. I carried it around all of yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, but I can’t fathom finding the energy to pick it up again. It’s a little lighter, since I started taking the anti-depressants - my knees don’t always buckle when I try to stand anymore, which is an improvement, certainly - but it’s still endless. It’s still a weight I have to drag around for the rest of my life.
Dr. Birch would say that’s a little fatalistic. That I’m sixteen and have no idea what “the rest of my life” is going to look like. But Dr. Birch is annoying and also he doesn’t know. No one actually knows anything.
You need to get up, the plaintiff lawyer says, adjusting her papers firmly.
Come on, Nelly, says the defense lawyer. What in the world is out there worth getting up for?
It’s like this every morning. The sky’s still dark out there. The air is going to be freezing when it touches my bare arms. Breakfast is going to be tasteless and school is going to be exhausting - there’s a test I haven’t studied for, there’s an essay on some subject I don’t care about, there’s the never-flagging battle to keep my eyes open and keep my pencil scratching out words in my notebook. There’s hours and hours of watching the clock, waiting for some sort of relief that won’t come, that never comes, except in the form of cut-short sleep and then the ordeal of waking up again.
If you’re late for school one more time, it’s detention, says the lawyer for the plaintiff. You don’t want detention, do you?
Ugh. No, I don’t. I try to let that thought motivate me, try to let it push me up toward the cold, but the weight on my chest, on my ribs, is still too heavy. It feels like I’m sinking down into my mattress like quicksand.
The defense lawyer leans his chair back and puts his hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. It’s not like you have anything better to do than go to detention.
An excellent point.
Well, says the plaintiff lawyer desperately, you at least have to get to school eventually, or you’ll need to make up the test and the essay and -
Screw the test and the essay. The defense lawyer is picking dirt out from under his nails with a pencil tip. What does it matter how well you do in school?
The plaintiff lawyer slams her hands down on her desk, disrupting stacks of paper. Her face is red. She’s applying to college next year!
It’s always college and jobs and the future with you! He waves a hand dismissively at her and then lights a cigarette, taking a drag like we’re all boring him, like a speaking role in my own imagination is so utterly beneath him. None of it’s worth the energy. None of it’s worth fighting this damn hard. Just give up already.
God, I hate how much I agree with him.
It’s like this every morning, and I want a break. My eyes are already closed again. I’m already blocking out what I can imagine the plaintiff lawyer saying, and I’m blocking out the vestiges of Dr. Birch’s voice I hear, and I’m blocking out all those motivational quotes and the encouragements on those bright-colored pamphlets and the quick, glib truisms I’ve heard people spout at me day and night since my diagnosis. It’s not worth it. I’m going back to sleep, and damn the world.
Then my phone buzzes.
I groan as I roll over. The phone’s perched right there on my nightstand, half-off and in optimal position to be grabbed. I was on it until three in the morning, scrolling through social media, unable to make myself relax. Now its battery is low, but I can still see the text message I just received.
Some part of my mind clears a little. It’s from Clara.
Hey, Nelly, when are you getting to school this morning? Grab coffee before homeroom if you’re not busy?
Oh, of course. My eyes shut again and I sigh.
The plaintiff lawyer sits primly in her chair, hands clasped neatly together. There’s a self-satisfied smile on her face. So. Your friend’s thinking of you.
And I can see the defense lawyer take his feet off the desk. I can see him put out the cigarette, paying attention fully for the first time - and as he realizes what’s happened, I see his shoulders slump, his head lower in resignation.
You still think there’s nothing worth getting up for? the plaintiff lawyer challenges.
When I breathe in again, the weight hasn’t gone. It hasn’t lightened. But I feel a little more awake than before, a little more alive, and I think I might be strong enough to face it again.
I sit up and text Clara back. Be there in 30.
Dr. Birch would say the hard days are all about finding one reason at a time. There’s a battle every morning, and every morning I’ve got to bring my case for staying alive. At least today, I think with a tiny smile, I’ve got a friend.
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This was a great story. Do you have any advice for young writers?
I'm flattered! My advice to young writers is usually something along the lines of, write and read as much as you possibly can, and don't hold yourself to other people's standards. Write and read the kind of stuff that makes you happy and that expresses your thoughts and feelings, rather than wondering what the "right" or "good" kind of writing is. I hope that helps!
Thank you so much! It does.
Also, if you don't mind me asking, how do you personally come up with names for your characters? I always struggle with that.
Ahhh that's one of the secret hardest parts of writing. Google really thinks I'm a mom because I'm always searching up baby name lists for my characters. I usually find writers discover a signature method that works best for them in terms of names. Personally, I just look up name lists and pick one that sounds nice; I'll have a general idea of what kind of name I want, that it'll be something ordinary-sounding, or something a little old-fashioned, or something with an unusual spelling, etc. but there's no more depth to it than that.
Okay, thanks for all the advice and your time!
Fantastically done!!!!! I’m so glad Nelly got up ♥️
thank you! I'm glad too :)
I love the personalities of both lawyers! It works really well with this story!
That was the part of the story I liked best too :) thank you so much for commenting!
Hi Phoebe! I think the courtroom model you utilized is really creative and effective in capturing the character's internal struggle in an engaging way. I also liked the optimistic note it ended on. Great job!
Thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
Beautifully written, Phoebe!
This is so well written and true, it feels like that doesn't it? The lawyers descriptions, the struggle she faces.