High school- a memorable place for some, and an embarrassment for others. My name is Harlow Williams, and I am just like everyone else. I’m just like every student who is simply trying to survive and get through this hell hole of a building. However, a single difference separates me from the rest of the entire student body. I lost my ability to speak at age two, and since then, I have never uttered a single word. Naturally, I do feel this invisible barrier that has been put upon me, which is understandable. Nobody wants to hang out with “that mute girl.” I have been called many names, but “that mute girl” pains me the most. I used to envy those who had what I didn’t. They had social lives, friends, family, beauty, and happiness… or so I thought. Every student has a secret they want to hide, and they all have flaws. No student wants their image in society ruined, even if it means hiding who they are because society is a cruel thing. The day I started noticing these flaws was the day when my perspective changed altogether.
I tend to go around by myself, especially since my family isn’t around. My parents are divorced, and my mother was never here when I was growing up. I always told myself that I will only have myself, which pushed me to keep going because I knew no one else would care. In all honesty, I was never the innocent, doe-eyed girl. Despite my conditions, I never let myself become that vulnerable girl who needs a man, or even a family for comfort or love. I have myself and that’s enough, I told myself. I knew that I was extremely average, but if I didn’t fight for myself, nobody would. Stay alive, I kept saying.
I got on the bus at the station to get to school. I hated that bus; it was always smelly and crowded, and worst of all, everyone on that bus had a friend. Since I was mute, I was alone because no one tried to talk to me. However, I am very observant and was able to quietly notice many things people didn’t want to be noticed. Everybody has a vibe that radiates off of their fake face, bleached hair, and cruel being. I noticed one girl on the bus, who radiated a bright but unhappy vibe. Her eyes hid sorrow and misery behind her masking smile. I have noticed many people like her who tend to hide their pain. But I am never able to help them and nor can I help them, since vulnerability is seen as an open wound the sharks would take advantage of.
The bus lurched forward, and I looked out the window. I sighed, “Another day, same shit.” I put in my earbuds and walked towards Wilson High.
The bell rang loud and clear. I headed to the assembly, where our student body president was screeching the announcements. God, she’s perfect, I thought with sheer jealousy. In fact, Serena was the epitome of perfection. Something I learned was if you aren’t perfect according to the harsh beauty standards of today, you must be perfect in something else which is just as difficult to achieve. However, Serena had it all. She was able to pull off natural looks because the entirety of her was an absolute beauty. Along with her beauty, she was the student body president, so everybody considered her a goddess. She was ethereal, and also intelligent, especially since she never seemed to study but got amazing grades. I envied her life and how she always seemed to have everything under control. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The fact is, nobody is what they portray themselves as. Everyone is flawed in one way or another. I had just finished lunch and was heading to the bathroom to wash my hands when I saw something I shouldn’t have. It was Serena, but she looked different. Instead of her usual, brilliant smile, there was melancholy and angst poisoning her face. I waited and watched as she entered a stall, and I heard a sickening noise. Was she...gagging? The realization hit me, and I understood what was going on. I heard the sobs coming from inside, and I was frozen with confusion. Why is Serena, of all people, doing this? She was as beautiful and perfect as winter jasmine in the snow. She walked out and noticed me, looking me up and down as if I was not important enough to judge her. I flinched as she approached me like a predator approaching its prey.
“Look mute girl, you didn’t see anything!” she practically yelled. I flinched and nodded as she shoved me to the side. Was that even Serena? I was in shock. This was the first time I realized that not everything is as it seems. I always idolized her, but I never stopped to think about what she might be going through. I shrugged off the cold feeling of realization and walked to my theatre class.
Everyone was surprised when they first saw “the mute girl” in the theatre. I would probably be surprised too. People still stare, and I can’t help but feel awkward and on edge. However, I didn’t let my disability stop me from being in a place where I feel the happiest. I was always into theatrical arts, but my disability was a setback. I decided to stop letting that be an obstacle, so I joined the backstage crew. Painting sets, fixing lights, and doing makeup make me feel like I am part of a family that I never had. It makes me feel so euphoric and blissful to be in that bustling scene, especially right before opening night.
I entered the classroom and put my stuff away to go get ready to paint the set. I was in such a hurry that I dropped my binder, and papers scattered in a mess around me. It was so embarrassing, and I hesitated and looked around before deciding to pick them up. I bent down, but to my surprise, my hands met others. Startled, I looked up and saw a smile so bright, it was blinding.
“Hey Harlow, let me help you!” Darwin excitedly said. I slowly met his eyes. They were blue with gorgeous ripples of emerald green and amber. However, today something was different. The ripples in his eyes looked stilled and shunned. The life in them looked stifled. I awkwardly smiled and nodded in thanks. He smiled just as bright and left to rehearse. I wonder if he’s okay, I thought as I stared at his back. I shrugged it off; it was Darwin after all, and he’s always full of joy.
I left to paint the set. I was greeted by the scent of paint and bristles, which wrapped around me and engulfed me in a hug. Not many people liked the smell of paint, but that fact that I did let me work backstage peacefully. I looked at the set we had been working on, which was green fields with beautiful hyacinths smiling at the world. They beamed in the sunlight at the peaceful sky.
“Oh, Harlow! Come join me,” greets Rani. I walk over and smile back at her hazel eyes. Rani was the first person who acknowledged me as a human being and not a piece of irrelevant trash. She was just like Darwin; she had a bright personality and a voice that was as calm and clear as a millpond. Rani is the type of person who doesn’t care about what others think, and she does what she wants. I envy her in a way since she always seems so carefree. We paint the beautiful set, my wrists cracking as they get used to the movement of the brush.
A little while later, Rani whispers, “well done,” as she analyzes our work. I nod in agreement and let out a small giggle.
“Dude, come on!” yelled Lucas. Startled, Rani and I turned to see Lucas complaining about something. “This is the second time you are leaving early!” Lucas whines.
“Sorry, man,” Darwin said apologetically. He walked out so abruptly that both Rani and I were shocked. We looked at each other and shrugged. Darwin was probably busy with something else going on in that fast-paced mine of his.
“Wanna get ice cream?” Rani asked. I nodded, grabbed my jacket, and left with her. A car ride and a short conversation later, I had toffee ice-cream in my hand. While we ate, my mind kept wandering back to Darwin. He was such a sweet guy, but his eyes looked so dull and lifeless earlier today. I am just being paranoid, I convinced myself as I let the toffee bits melt onto my tongue.
I got home to find my dad missing, which was not a surprise. He always works late at the call center, but I couldn’t help but feel lonely. I grabbed a soda from the fridge and tried to relax, ignoring the homework piling up in my backpack. What else is everyone hiding? I wondered as the carbonated drink went down my throat, quenching my racing nerves.
Half an hour later, I decided to finish up my homework. I went to bed, as calm as ever. Based on today, I had no idea what was going to happen tomorrow, but something told me I didn’t want to know. I tossed and turned for some reason, not being able to fall asleep easily.
The next morning, when the bus reached school, pure dread and sorrow were seeping from the walls. A grey wreath of pain seemed to be surrounding everything. I cautiously walked into my homeroom, when I realized something was definitely not right.
Mr. Heartsworth, my homeroom teacher, trudged slowly to the front, and slowly said “I am very sorry to inform you that Darwin Kingsley passed away last night.”
My heart dropped so low, and I couldn’t hear the beat anymore because my ears started to slightly ring. My thoughts glazed over, and I had no sense of what was going on. I could vaguely hear the cries and sobs of the fellow students who were close to him. My vision blurred, and I felt nauseous. Time felt like it had paused.
Darwin was an innocent soul. He had an amazing personality, and he was quite witty too. He was the guy who lit up everybody's lives, and he only had kind words to say. He was the sun of so many people’s worlds. Darwin was the guy that teachers and students loved. He even used to attempt to make conversation with me to make me feel included.
I couldn’t believe my instinct had told me that there was something wrong, but I chose to ignore it because I didn’t know how right I was. I felt my heart become heavy with regret. December 23, 2019 was the day that Darwin jumped off the school roof, to his death. Nobody ever asked how he was, and nobody expected him to do something like this.
The funeral was packed with people who loved him. Turned out, he was suffering from clinical depression, which he had not told anyone about. Nobody was there for the ray of light that supported the entire student population. Nobody was there for the one person who gave us warmth on the cold days of winter. Nobody saw the signs, the stress, or the pressure that was put on him.
Children have asked me, what is high school? Today, I have found the answer. High school is a moon, with a hidden dark side. It is a place where nobody truly feels freedom or joy. It is a dystopia in the disguise of a happy and beautiful society. We see gorgeous girls and handsome guys, who hide their sorrows with smiles. We see groups of friends laughing and chatting, despite the pain they hide inside. Nobody truly sees the things the students hold in their hearts and their minds. The darkness that radiates off them goes unnoticed. Truthfully, we are just broken souls trying to survive the pressure. The pressure to be beautiful, smart, funny, happy, and perfect overwhelms us. Why do I have to be that image? Why do I have to be what society tells me to be? Am I not a person if I am not perfect? People say, be smart, but don’t study too much. Be skinny, but don’t diet. If you study, you’re a nerd, and if you fail, you’re dumb. Nobody questions the physical things society asks of us, but they question us for feeling normal, human emotions. We deserve happiness. But right now, I am trying to survive this dystopian world. I have to go. Goodbye.