Contest #170 shortlist ⭐️

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Coming of Age Creative Nonfiction

This story contains themes or mentions of sexual violence.

I’m sitting in English class, ripping my nails apart, dizzy with grief. I had gotten a red gel manicure over fall break with my grandmother. I felt pretty, put together, more like a woman than what I am—a college girl with nothing figured out. 

Now I’m cursing my choices, as my thumb is a jagged mountain from digging under the shiny red. I need it off desperately, need my hands to be mine again. 

The red is making my eyes burn, my throat tighten, and my chest collapse. 

I’m sitting in my English class. It’s a Monday, and it’s 10:30 and I have this feeling like I’m going to crawl out of my skin. Feeling like I need to vomit, to scream, to scrub at my body until it’s red and raw, to flip over the desk in front of me and jump on it until it collapses and splinters into pieces. 

My teacher is going over an assignment in her This-Is-Important voice but I can’t hear her over the roar in my ears—a roar not like the ocean but like freight train inches from my face. I can feel everything that touches me; the seam on my sock rubbing against my toes, the tag on my sweatshirt on my neck, the cheap plastic of the black chair biting into my thighs. My body belongs to everything that touches it but never to me. 

It’s the day after halloween. I was a vampire last night, but right now I’m not anything. 

Last night it had been cold like nails on a chalkboard, cold like only late October can be, like the scraping of bone. But the party had been a warm crush of bodies dancing under flashing lights, a giggling mass of fairies, pirates, and vampires–one vampire (me) in a silk dress who slipped out to answer a phone call from a childhood friend. 

I leaned against the outside wall, the heels of my black shoes sinking into the damp earth, and my phone pressed to my ear, no idea that my whole world was about to be ripped off its axis. 

I was wearing white plastic fangs when he said I was going to hate him when he told me what he had done. I didn’t understand, and I told him that I could never hate him. I was so sure but I was wrong and he was right, and it horrifies me that he knows intimately how my brain works, how my heart works. 

He was right. 

I chew on my fingers and I wonder if my professor can see the vacancy in my eyes. If the students around me feel the inky darkness pressing around us as the past engulfs me.

I met him, the boy on the phone, when I was six years old with two braids hugging my pale, terrified face. We jumped on his trampoline together, untied shoelaces bouncing. I was the new girl and he lived down the street, in the blue house with white shutters and the mom who knew my mom. I’ve known him for fourteen years, and yet I never had a single warning. 

It’s November first and I still have the remnants of last night's mascara in my eyes, black and blinding and itching. Maybe that’s what I can tell my friends if they ask why my eyes are red. 

I look out the window at the trees, radiantly adorned in gold and scarlet. It’s all very beautiful, which feels deeply wrong. 

I want to die with the leaves, softly decomposing into the earth. 

He was my best friend Emmas’s first kiss on the bus when we were in elementary school. A soft butterfly kiss on the lips while the other girls and I watched with bated breath. I always loved discussing our shared childhood with him, trading back and forth pieces of nostalgia on long night drives. 

I look down and I’m surprised to realize my nail beds are crying blood, dark red put to shame by the polish next to it. 

All throughout my life, he was there. In the big locker next to me at our high school—I’m jealous he didn’t have to share. Next to me in my prom photos, with my arm thrown around his shoulders; I’m in shimmering white and he’s in a black suit and I had to beg him to come before he finally relented but in the photo both of us are grinning. 

I thought he would always be the person I would call when I was folding my laundry, but now he's leaving angry, blank spaces on my wall where pictures of us used to be. I ripped them down last night, knowing I wouldn’t be able to sleep with them up. My roommate watched me do it with wide eyes, looking at me like I was a ghost of someone she used to know. 

I’m still in my English class, but in my brain it’s not November 1st anymore as thick memories push their way into my reality uninvited. Him making my dad laugh over family dinner. Our pinky promises on the playground. The nights we spent breathing in the sweet summer air and singing at the top of our lungs, our sunburnt faces alight with murth. When I was seventeen, another boy with green eyes and the anger of his father didn’t listen when I said no. On the nights I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stop seeing him in my dreams and around every corner and in every tall boy with a baseball cap, I would call the boy on the phone. And he helped me learn how to trust again. 

Now I can’t bear to remember his name. I would rather sit here in English class with my head full of blood, stomach full of blood, hands stained with it, then be back in my dorm, staring at the ceiling and wishing I could fall asleep. 

I wanted to spend the rest of my life going grocery shopping with him, making puns out of the brand names and catching up on the gossip about people we knew in high school. I would have dreamed his nightmares for him if he had asked me to. And now the thought of him slices me open, and I’m spilling out onto the linoleum floor of my classroom, drenching my white tennis sneakers in blood. 

It was October 31st. The wall I was leaning on was the only thing separating me from a room full of laughter and dancing. I was on the phone with my childhood friend who told me that he helped himself to the female body the way children help themselves to candy. That she wasn’t dressed up but she was Sleeping Beauty, frozen under his hands. 

When I was a child, my mother used to sing my sister and I to sleep. She is a clear sky, and she thinks I have to forgive him, told me so on the phone last night as I leaned my head against my bedroom door. She believes in God, and has known this boy for as long as I have.

She tells me that God will forgive him, that I should too. That is enough for me. I hang up on her, too filled with rage to speak. I throw my cell phone across the room, hard enough to leave a dent in the wall and shatter the screen. I don’t care.  

What my mother doesn’t understand is that I am so bitter that the blood running through my veins is contaminated with salt. That somedays I wish I was Medusa, turning every man who looks at me into cold stone.

When I had finally realized what he had done, I yelled at him until I lost my voice. “How could you do this?” I screamed down at my phone, again and again, a chant ripped from my raw throat. “I don’t understand! What is wrong with you?” 

I’m in English class but when I close my eyes, I’m in an endless cornfield and it’s burning and it feels good to lay down in the fire. Give in, give up, give down. I don’t want to be Jesus. I don’t want to be held hostage by the mistakes of men anymore. They should pay for their own sins. 

Trusting the wrong men was a lesson I learned the hard way, learned it when I was chewed up in the metal teeth of God and spit out trembling. I don’t believe in God, not with a capital G, but if I did I would put up my hair and go up to wherever he is and demand he answer me. Demand he tells me why. 

I’m in English class but I’m not here. I'm a silent observer, trapped in my body, dreaming of being a blank slate but cursed to remember. I know the way he trips on his words when he’s anxious, his favorite line in our favorite book, how he would rank all the star wars movies, his opinions on lemonade–how do I erase him? My brother broke his arm and it never healed right; how do I heal from this? 

Nature versus nurture. Who do I blame? His parents? The circumstances we both grew up in, the little coastal town at the end of the train line? The air we both breathed, the water we both drank, the friends we both had–what if whatever is broken inside of him is broken in me too? Will I snap someday, do something unforgivable?

No. I won’t.

I don’t blame nature or nurture. 

“I blame you.” I murmur under my breath, alone in my corner of the classroom, ripping chunks of my hands off. 

November 02, 2022 18:08

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9 comments

Corey E. Gleason
02:44 Dec 13, 2022

Lots of emotion, beautiful imagery, beautifully written. Well Done!!!

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Amanda Lieser
15:37 Nov 19, 2022

Hey Eloise, Wow! This piece was brilliant. I thought you captured the grief of your MC while contrasting it sharply with the move that they lost. I was entranced by the image of their hands and I also, as a former English major, enjoyed your setting. I wish I could hold that MC and help them grieve. Nice job creating such a beautiful character and for getting shortlisted!

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Story Time
17:14 Nov 15, 2022

I like that you chose the submission that involved going in without a plan, because I think that gave the story this raw quality that's sometimes lost when things are overly planned out. Well done.

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Philip Ebuluofor
17:05 Nov 15, 2022

Congrats Eloise. the first submission first hit. Congrats once more.

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Jennifer Cameron
14:02 Nov 15, 2022

This was really well written, and I was drawn in from the beginning. A haunting portrayal, you should be very proud.

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Daniel Allen
12:33 Nov 12, 2022

Wow. This is really powerful stuff. You conveyed such a range of emotions brilliantly. Congratulations on making the shortlist, fully deserved.

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Susan Catucci
20:19 Nov 11, 2022

Heavy-duty emotion well laid out here. It's a powerhouse of angst and frustration. By the end, I wondered two things: What was her "friend's" reason for "coming clean" with her - and - which is the harder part, anger at those who betray a trust, or being left with the feeling that your trust is simply not trustworthy? Tough subject well done.

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Helen A Smith
18:10 Nov 11, 2022

The story felt very real with a strong sense of betrayal

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Eileen Turner
23:26 Nov 06, 2022

A good description of inner turmoil, of emotional scars forming.

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