Contemporary Drama Coming of Age

This story contains sensitive content

TW: Bullying

I can't remember the exact moment I made the decision to go after all. But that's life, isn't it? Decisions rarely seem to come with a dramatic turning point. It wasn't a single instance that tipped the scales, but a slow accumulation of reasons, feelings, conversations, and subtle realisations that, over time, gave me the clarity I needed. The decision to go, once shrouded in uncertainty and anxiety, eventually emerged as the only way forward, as if it had been the answer all along.

I discussed it with Nicola last week. And perhaps that was the turning point; who knows? I wasn't even planning to bring it up. But then she did, kind of.

"How about we talk about your high school years today, Mia?"

I was startled. I thought we would discuss my parents again, continuing from earlier sessions. "Uhm, why? Not sure I need to."

"Well, because it's helpful to look at our past and see what we can learn from it. And to process any unresolved trauma."

High school was the last thing I wanted to talk about, but Nicola can be quite persistent, and she kept probing. Eventually I cracked and told her about the reunion invitation I received the previous week. I immediately knew it was somehow related to the school, as it had the blue logo with the lighthouse at the back. It made my stomach turn. As I opened the envelope, my heart was racing in my chest, and my fingers had gone sweaty.

"Dear Class of 2003!" it screamed at me, and I threw the invitation down.

At first, it wasn't even a question of whether I would go; of course, I wouldn't. I had no desire whatsoever to see any of those people again. And yet, I didn't throw the invitation away. It kept gnawing at me. And then Nicola talked about how therapeutic it could be.

And so, eventually, I decided to go.  

* * *

But then the night of the reunion came, and when I parked my Toyota Prius at the school, I couldn't remember why I had decided to come. How on earth did this happen? I had promised myself when I walked out of here 10 years ago that I would never be back, not for all the money in the world. Yet, here I was, returning without any coercion, ironically having parted with my own money for the dubious privilege.

The fact that I had already paid (there were few things I hated as much as wasting money) was perhaps the only reason that I decided to get out of the car at all. But when I got out and was suddenly standing face-to-face with this monstrous, ugly building, I started to feel faint. Memories came rushing back, and I fought hard to keep them at bay. If I were to survive this evening, I had to stay in the present. But that was easier said than done. I smelled something; I didn't know what exactly, perhaps some kind of flower, and it immediately prompted my brain to put on a horror show for me, one where I was wandering the corridors alone, always pretending to be on my way somewhere but never arriving anywhere, until at last the bell rang. While others were disappointed that the break was over, for me it was a welcome, though temporary and imperfect, reprieve, an opportunity to once again hide in the anonymity of the classroom.

 The distant hum of voices from inside stirred the turmoil within me. Could I muster the strength to face what awaited beyond those doors? The people that would be there, and even worse, the one person that certainly wouldn't be there. Nicola said I could, but what did she know, really? Didn't I pay her $150 an hour to reassure me? Money. Right, I already paid. Might as well make the most of my investment, even if it's just to try the appetisers I inadvertently financed.

 When I walked into the hall, I was immediately overwhelmed. A buzz of conversation and laughter, bright lights revealing décor too cheery for a place filled with so many painful memories. The unmistakable ‘Seven Nation Army’ riff cut through the noise over the speakers, its energetic beat contrasting with my inner turmoil.

I went to the food tables and started filling a plate. I concentrated all my thoughts on the food I was getting to distract me from my discomfort: a few chicken wings, a meat skewer, a few small triangle sandwiches, some cheese, crackers, and salami. Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice close to me.

"Mia! Is that you?"

 I froze, the voice triggering a flood of memories. Turning, I faced Kayla. Kayla, who used to call me terrible names. Kayla, who once advised me, solemnly, that I should dip my colouring pens in vinegar, as it would make them last longer. And I, the naive fool that I was, believed her, thinking that she wanted to put our differences aside and really help me, to be my friend. Kayla, who once tripped me, causing me to fall and hurt my ankle, resulting in me having a limp for weeks.

"Yeah. Kayla, right?"

"Yes, oh my god, it's so good to see you! Remember all the shenanigans we got up to?" she laughed.

Did she not remember how she treated me? Or was she purposely ignoring it?

"No, I just remember you bullying me." I couldn't believe I had the guts to say that. To her face. Perhaps I really was stronger than I thought, just as Nicola had been telling me ad nauseam.

She seemed too stunned to speak for a while. "Uh, what? No! That was all just in jest. You knew that, right?"

"Maybe it was fun for you, but it definitely wasn't for me."

"Oh jeez, cheer up, man!"

"Bye, Kayla." I turned to go without giving her the opportunity to respond, putting as much space between us as possible, hoping I never had to see her again.

My encounter with Kayla had shaken me, leaving me to grapple with a complex mix of emotions: pride for standing my ground, disappointment at her lack of remorse, and yet a strange sense of closure, albeit not the kind I had anticipated. It turns out I didn't really need her apology; it wouldn't change anything that had happened. It seemed to me that she was still exactly the same person she was in high school. And rather than feeling anger at her lack of repentance, I felt sorry for her.

 My thoughts were interrupted as I spotted Jessica by the drinks table, another architect of my high school misery, though a subtler one. Compelled by a newfound assertiveness, I approached her. "Hi, Jessica. How have you been? It's Mia."

 Her response was instant; as recognition dawned, her expression transformed. Her smile wavered, and her eyes expanded a touch, revealing a momentary flash of unease - perhaps guilt - betraying a silent concession to the history we shared.

 "Mia, hi! Wow, it's really been forever, hasn't it? I'm doing alright. I'm an auditor. What about you? You look fantastic, by the way."

 "I've been good, thanks. I'm working on climate change research, focusing on mathematical modeling and simulations to understand how human actions are affecting Earth's climate systems and exploring potential adaptation strategies. It's been quite the journey since high school."

"That sounds amazing! Wow, you're really changing the world, huh? And do you have a husband, kids? Dave and I have three of them; they sure are a handful!"

"No husband or kids. I do have a girlfriend."

"Oh, cool! You know, one of my best friends is actually a lesbian."

"That's nice. I'm pansexual, though..."

"Oh, shit, sorry! I put my mouth in it again."

"That's all good, Jessica; no worries. It's good to have a diverse friend group, I have a few straight friends myself."

She laughed heartily, then hesitated before continuing, "Actually, Mia. I'm so glad you came to the reunion. I've been wanting to talk to you."

 "Oh? About what?"

 Her next words caught me off guard. "The way I treated you back then... it was inexcusable. I've always regretted it. I shouldn't have excluded you like that. I don't know... I felt threatened, you know? Before you came to the school, I was always in the top 3 students, but then you took my spot. I... didn't handle it well. I wish I could take it all back, but of course I can't. I just wanted to say that I'm sorry. I hope you can forgive me?"

 The sincerity in her voice was palpable. For a moment, I was speechless, processing the unexpected admission and the weight it lifted off my shoulders. "Thank you, Jessica. Hearing that... it does mean a lot. And of course, I forgive you."

 I could see genuine relief wash over her face, as if my words had given her a long-sought peace. She stepped forward, closing the distance between us, and we embraced in a long hug before we parted ways.

I had only spoken to two people at the reunion so far, but I was already emotionally drained. I wanted to be alone for a while and reflect on my feelings in peace. That's when my gaze landed on an elderly man, a solitary figure in a sea of youthful faces, nestled in a dimly lit corner of the hall. He stood out starkly among the 28-year-olds, his demeanour etched with lines of solitude and perhaps sorrow.

 Intrigued and compelled by a sense of kinship in our isolation, I approached him. "Good evening, mind if I sit?"

 He welcomed me with a nod, his eyes briefly scanning my face with an intensity that stirred a flutter of discomfort within me. Just as I reconsidered my decision, he broke the silence. "You probably don't know who I am?"

"Can't say that I do. My apologies, but you seem... out of place here. Were you perhaps a teacher?"

 A soft chuckle escaped him, dispelling the tension. "Far from it. No, I felt a pull to be here tonight. How has the evening been treating you, Mia?"

"You know me? I'm sorry, but who are you?"

"Yes, I know you, but I don't expect that you'd know me. Freddie talked about you so much. I wanted to come here today, for him. They probably just used the enrolment lists from the beginning of the year for the invitations."

"You're Freddie's dad? I'm so sorry about... what happened."

"Thanks, Mia. It was a prolonged battle, one he faced with so much bravery and grace. It's peculiar, knowing the end is near yet never being prepared for it."

"I never even knew he was sick. His death came as such a shock."

 "It's a strange comfort, knowing he left an impression. But it doesn't dull the loss."

"I wish he could have been here with us today."

 His eyes, a mirror of his son's kindness, met mine with a warmth that bridged the gap of years and unspoken grief. "That makes two of us. Your company is a solace, Mia. This is why I came - to keep him alive in my mind. It's heartening to know Freddie had a friend like you. He wasn't one for crowds, but in you, he found a kindred spirit."

 In that moment, the reunion faded into the background, leaving just the two of us, connected by the memory of a soul gone too soon. "He was my first friend here," I whispered, "and then he was gone."

* * *

The key turned with a soft click, and I stepped into the quiet of my Airbnb, a stark contrast to the buzz of the reunion. Not ready for sleep, I drifted towards the kitchenette, finding solace in the familiar and soothing routine of preparing a cup of tea.

As I sifted through the encounters in my mind, I found something unexpected: a lightness beginning to take root within me. Nicola's words echoed in my mind, that confronting your past can be a step toward healing. She was right. Damn it, why was she always right? This journey back had been more than a reunion; it was a confrontation with my ghosts, an opportunity to see them in a new light. And it seemed they had lost their power over me.

My existence suddenly felt more meaningful. Imperfect, yes, but deeply personal and a reflection of the path I've walked and the person I've become. The memory of Freddie and the opportunities he was unjustly stripped of instilled a new-found resolve in me.

I took a deep, cleansing breath and felt a profound sense of closure. I had a good life out there waiting for me, away from this horrid place, filled with new possibilities and challenges every day. And I was ready to face all of them, one step at a time.

February 07, 2024 01:05

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Tracy Phillips
02:16 Feb 12, 2024

What an interesting character you created and took us with her to step back and see who she was before she grew into who she is now. I really enjoyed her story and how you tied it all together.


02:58 Feb 12, 2024

Thank you so much, Tracy! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
14:52 Feb 08, 2024

Glad she was able to find some closures that open new doors. Thanks for liking my 'Another Brick in the Wall '.


Show 0 replies
Michał Przywara
21:42 Feb 07, 2024

There's a believable journey here, for the narrator. I particularly like her reticence at the beginning, and the realization at the end, “She was right. Damn it, why was she always right?” It can be hard to visualize how something could possibly help, especially when we're in the midst of it, but that's why we pay professionals. The narrator took a leap of faith here, and it ended up paying off tremendously. By the end, we do believe she's on her way to a better, more meaningful life, and more importantly, that she learned something about ad...


04:27 Feb 08, 2024

Thank you very much for reading and commenting, Michał! I greatly appreciate it :)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Trudy Jas
16:41 Feb 07, 2024

Beautifully written, as usual. The past influences, but doesn't have to shape us. Great message.


04:25 Feb 08, 2024

Thanks so much, Trudy :)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.