I threw an urgent glance at the wall clock above the wide chalkboard while jotting down the last few words on my answer sheet. Right on time I thought, both satisfied and exhausted as I finished the test and let the pen fall from my now aching right hand. I stretched my fingers out and slumped in my seat, scanning my work one last time before hopping off my chair, handing it in and exiting the classroom. As if on autopilot, my feet dragged me towards the back of the stony building and halted when my eyes beheld the view of the large grassy expanse where we would assemble from time to time.
I took a second to myself, just standing there and breathing in the air that smelled of dewy, lush grass and ancient architecture, the commotion of students and teachers fading away. The huge, sprawling field seemed to end where a creepy forest began, one which we were forbidden from wandering off to, and I couldn’t help but make sinister plans in my head of roaming the uncharted territory on the last day of school. I mean apart from the occasional snakes and scorpions, it wasn’t like the eerie place housed the principal’s own personal yeti, right? The relief of a well-done test and amusement of my childish thoughts lasted for mere seconds before a feeling of dread took over me. I had a math test the next day, and for a girl who couldn’t prove to herself that life was worth living, thinking about proving theorems was… well, quite enervating.
It had hardly been ten days since the funeral and my poor mind seemed to have crashed with all the different thoughts and emotions lunging at me in the span of a few days, turning my sixteen years of existence upside down. Here I was, giving tests and worrying about my future and college, as if my heart had not just been ripped to shreds without warning. Nothing had prepared me for such a detour, my life which was once heading healthily, steadily in a proper direction had now suddenly switched lanes to speed off into a dreary abyss, a free fall into seemingly never-ending darkness and constant anxiety. Was this how stressful the transition into adulthood felt for every girl? Probably not, not every girl faced what I did, nevertheless, everyone’s journey was different.
“There you are, Patience!”
I jumped at the rich, fruity voice that interrupted my thoughts and pierced the peaceful silence of the empty lawn, belonging to none other than my best friend Melanie.
I turned around to be met with caramel orbs that looked like pools of honey as the gleam of the blazing afternoon sun hit her round, pale face, her short, silky auburn hair blowing slightly in the gentle breeze that came in our direction.
“The test was good, yeah? Urgh, but we have math now.” She said animatedly.
“As if you should be bothered, you’re an ace” I retorted.
“For one, I’m no ace, and number two, I haven’t studied the chapters that are coming.” She replied, dismissing me.
“Well that makes the two of us, sister.”
I readjusted my bag over my shoulders and began walking through the chaotic hallway with Melanie by my side, the two of us blending into a stream of plaid skirts and navy-blue blazers, before heading home.
The baby pink walls adorned with fairy lights and large stickers of butterfly wings and disco balls no longer comforted me as the silence flooding my room sent a chill down my spine. Icy hands seem to grip my heart as I felt more alone than ever sitting on my bed, even though I had thrived in this very room for years now.
But things had changed, and something inside of me had shifted, as the house I was so familiar with and fond of began to feel alien to me. It had become hard to fall asleep at night, an ominous feeling would loom over me reminiscent of a grey cloud and heighten my senses, as if something bad would happen in the middle of the night, again. I couldn’t focus on the textbook in front of me, and I had a test to pass.
I was doomed.
I was too agitated, too distracted to be doing this right now. I let out an exasperated sigh and dialed the only number I could think of in this sort of situation.
“Patience?” her choppy voice calmed me instantly, but my name stung more than ever now. Patience is a virtue people said, but right now, my patience was wearing thin with everything in life.
“I…um…I’m feeling really scared right now Melanie…can I sleep over at your place?” I asked, voice brittle, clammy hands clutching the phone.
“Sure thing, come right now.” She said before even a second could pass, free of any hesitation. I was both relieved and touched, she didn’t have to do this a day before the test, but that’s just the way she was, her unrestrained kindness never ceased to captivate me, providing me comfort whenever I needed it.
“Thanks so much…I tried really hard but…”
“Don’t you dare worry about it, and what’s with the thanks!” she reprimanded, warding off any remaining reluctance from my side.
“Alright, I’ll be right there.” I said through a smile and hung up.
My fingers traced the neat line-up of novels standing squeezed next to each other and filling up the shelves of Melanie’s tall, rustic wooden bookcase. The sight was oddly satisfying.
“Who’s your favorite author?” I asked without averting my gaze from the shelves, even though the twelve novels in her collection written by the same author gave me a hint.
“Murakami.” She stated proudly, while rummaging through her large, cluttered study desk.
“Why is that?” I faced her and asked, curious as I was still discovering new things about her as we navigated the tedium of high school together. That, and it was intriguing how a sixteen-year old was more fixated on metaphorical writing rather than other typical, girly, teenage things. I loved that about her.
She paused and stood in silence for a few seconds, staring into space before answering, “His protagonists don’t necessarily find their happy ending, in fact, they’re still somewhat unhappy, yet they reach a place of calm. Life may be strange, but nightmares do end, that’s what I seem to learn from his books.”
She continued to scurry about her room while I took in both her words and the Japanese quotations scribbled on the cream walls, dazed yet again by her wisdom.
“Who’s up for some snacks?” Mrs. Reed came in, her petite frame holding up a large tray containing bowls of popcorn, chips and candy. She was fairly youthful for her age, having the same auburn hair and light complexion that her daughter inherited.
“Thanks mom, love you, now bye!” Melanie said cheekily while snatching the tray and almost pushing her mom out the door, who was glaring daggers at her. I snickered at the sight.
“How are you dear? Mrs. Reed asked me, ignoring her daughter’s petulant attempts to get her out.
“I’m…okay.” I answered, lowering my eyes from her face, not knowing what more to say without making it brutally obvious that I was in fact, falling apart as the days passed. I didn’t want to turn into an object of pity anymore. Thankfully, Melanie and her family never made me feel that way. They would help me feel better, happier, no questions asked, no person judged. It was a serene, safe haven whenever I needed one.
Mrs. Reed gave me a reassuring little smile that slightly soothed my heart, then she comically shot a disapproving look at Melanie and headed out. The remainder of the night was spent studying and talking, Melanie doing the studying with me doing the talking, as I still wasn’t able to concentrate much and kept zoning out.
-Around one year later-
I lay curled up in my bed, the embodiment of a deflated balloon, a wilted flower. The entirety of the previous night was spent crying until I bitterly accepted the catastrophic nature of my reality and the people around me, the ones I was supposed to trust. The same people who left no stone unturned to put me down, their words cutting through my soul like a sharp blade, one which I was tempted to press into my own wrist at times. Maybe the resentment and misery that flowed through my veins would drain out along with the blood.
Who knows, it might take away the pain.
School was officially over with, and we had merely days remaining to give out college entrance tests, and here I was, romanticizing the idea of death, as if it was the only way I could get a sense of peace, by descending into its dark void.
A dark void I’d much rather be in, as long as I was unbothered, away from everything.
Please don’t say anything, my being begged what seemed to be the universe as I was tired of hearing the awful things people around me had to spout.
I didn’t even go downstairs to have breakfast, I didn’t want to run into anybody, I didn’t want to even see their horrid faces.
I need you mum… I thought, heart aching, threatening to combust any second now.
I can’t take this anymore. It hurts so bad. I’m incapable of facing this, I’m not strong enough.
I should have been studying for crying out loud.
I flinched as my EDM ringtone blared through the bedroom, and if it was telesales again, they were going to be in for an earful.
However, the caller ID read ‘Celine’, a good friend of mine and Melanie’s, and I cursed internally as I got reminded what day it was. I received the call, a wave of guilt and annoyance with my own self rushing through me.
“You had ONE job and that was to bring snacks” she chastised me, her high-pitched voice ringing in my ears.
“Good afternoon to you too, Celine.” I said in a monotone, even though I was pretty much trembling on the inside upon hearing my dear friend’s voice amidst the twisted chaos brewing in my mind.
“What do you mean good afternoon?! How could you forget her birthday!” she exclaimed.
I sighed wearily and pinched the bridge of my nose before replying, “I didn’t forget it, I wished Melanie through text at twelve AM. I just thought we wouldn’t go through with the plans since everyone is busy studying these days.”
The truth was, I had originally wanted to surprise Melanie and celebrate the day, despite the fact that she despised the idea of birthdays, but my intentions seemed to go down the drain after the heated arguments last night that made me forget about every other thing. The bellows filtered through my memory, playing over and over again, lingering like a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from.
“Is that Patience?” I could hear Melanie’s muffled voice through the phone, and that was all it took for me to crumble and break down.
A gut-wrenching sob escaped my throat, and the mask had fallen off, shattering to pieces.
“Oh my God, Patience are you okay?!” Celine shouted into the phone, but I couldn’t reply, I had become a bawling mess upon hearing the voices of the people I cherished, who were the only rays of sunshine that penetrated my cursed grey cloud, the only reasons I could smile lately.
“Patience?” It was Melanie whom I heard now, her voice was soft and carried concern.
“No, it’s nothing. I just…I’m emotional since it’s your eighteenth birthday and I love you so much.” I sniffled, trying my best to gain some composure and cover up the mess I created. I had already decided that I would get to her house immediately, I needed to see them, I needed to be around their positivity. “I’m really sorry for not being there…I was caught up with something, I’ll come over now.”
“You better! Did you actually think I was going to cut my cake without you, you loser!” she said jokingly in an attempt to placate me, and I felt like sobbing even more now. Gosh, I adored her. I hung up the phone and dashed towards my closet, picking out a baby pink, oversized jersey and black skinny jeans to wear before hastily putting my vans on and escaping to her place.
The large oak wood door opened revealing the birthday girl standing next to a frantic Celine who wasted no time in engulfing me into a bear hug, knocking the air out of my lungs.
“Are you okay?!”
“Celine, I’m fine!” I whined.
“You’re going to kill her, woman!” Melanie said, chuckling as Celine pouted and pulled away, after which Melanie hugged me herself, even though it wasn’t something we would usually do.
On another day, I would find it lame and awkward, but right now, I didn’t mind, I needed this, plus it was her birthday. We could be cheesy for a day.
We made our way inside and there wasn’t any up-in-your-face, out-of-this-world party going on. It was a regular, sunny Sunday afternoon with Melanie’s parents at home, quietly lounging in the living room. Melanie looked comfortably at-home, yet pretty as ever, donning a grey cashmere sweater over acid washed jeans, hair tied up in a tiny ponytail. Celine’s long, wavy blonde locks cascaded down her shoulders and complimented her tan skin, dark chocolate irises and olive- green sundress. I got conscious and caught a fleeting glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror, my own simple outfit looking surprisingly pleasant along with my cropped, onyx hair, but you could tell from my pasty face and the dark circles under my pewter grey eyes that something was wrong.
I wasn’t surprised though, my face seemed to be marred lately with a permanent gloom and fatigue that stemmed from my circumstances. If nothing, you could always catch it in my eyes, they unfortunately gave me away, but my friends knew better than to torment me with questions and remind me of home, so we waltzed through the chaos of our teenage years in oblivion when we were together, enjoying each other’s presence and creating happy memories while we could.
The three Reeds now sat gathered around the coffee table along with me and Celine, savoring the spongy chocolate cake in a blissful silence which was occasionally broken with some small talk by Mr. Reed, a lean, tall History professor who was loved by his students as a result of his jovial nature, something that Melanie had taken after.
If only I had such nice people around.
Bur right now, in this moment I did, and as I looked around the living room, my gaze shifting from one cheerful face to another, time seemed to slow down and my vision seemed to become foggy as my mind sunk deep into thought. At this moment, I felt like the Murakami protagonists that my best friend would go on about, as I began to come to terms with the tragedy of my existence, and the tiny moments such as these that stood out like blooming roses amidst bushes of thorns. I felt my surroundings blur into slow motion as I realized that nothing could change in my life apart from my attitude, and I could feel a new resolve, a fresh determination being born inside of me.
I had worked hard for years on myself, and I couldn’t let it all go when I was this close to the goal, to college. It would be hard, people wouldn’t change, they’d still say things that would hurt me, but alas, I would have to live through that storm, while still aiming for victory, and hoping for better days. I would have to cry at night, then wake up and smile as if nothing happened, pick myself up and work towards a greater life.
The word hit me hard this time. Not death, life.
My vision wasn’t blurry anymore now and I could suddenly hear the buzz of everyone around me, as if time had frozen but now resumed, and I looked at Melanie, who had caught me zoning out. She smiled at me adoringly, as if she had read my thoughts and understood that I was feeling better, comforted, and I smiled back, now taken to a place far away from the darkness of my mind. Somehow, whenever I was sad, she always found me and raised my spirits up. I was ungrateful about a hundred things, loathsome people, their nasty actions, their wounding words, the trials and tribulations of life, but I was also grateful for a few things, like my best friend, who I knew by now, would always be there. She’d be a trustworthy companion as I would stand tall and face the afflictions of my life, not cower away from them or abandon everything and give up the fight.