Leniyah, Wellklike, and AK-47s

Submitted into Contest #20 in response to: Write a story about a character experiencing anxiety.... view prompt

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General

Clunk. The first step into my new school. Clunk. The second step into my new school. Clunk. The third step into my new school. My steps echo all around me, filling the vast area the principal had called the "Gathering Space." I suck in a deep breath, relishing the way the cool air collects on my lip. The Gathering Space is enormous. It splits into a dozen hallways, and each twist and turn in multiple directions. I am amazingly, utterly lost.

Despite the tour the principal gave me the other day, my brain was so lost trying to size up the place that I managed to pay no attention at all to where we were.

Dejected, I lean against a depressingly gray locker as streams of students pass me by. I'm preparing to wander the halls alone, but before I step away from my spot, I hear a voice behind me. It's deep but also feminine, in a relaxing sort of way. I take a hasty breath and turn to confront it.

"Hi... um, are you lost?"

It's a girl about my age, a sophomore maybe. The gleam in her eyes tells me that she's energetic and peppy.

"Yes. I think so at least," I stutter awkwardly. "That's alright. I'm Leniyah. You new here?" She responds, not seeming to care that I have no confidence whatsoever.

"Uh huh. I'm Bren. Do you know where B hallway is? My homeroom is down there. And my locker. Yeah..." I glance down at my schedule, displayed on the school app on my phone. "Yeah, locker 2698."

"Oh I know where that is! Follow me. You know, my homeroom is next to yours. You sure are lucky you have Ms. Blakely for homeroom. She's a nice teacher." I nod absentmindedly, watching a herd of girls in expensive clothing pass us by.

I say nothing as Leniyah leads me down B hallway. I am aware of everything- a group of kids yelling and teasing each other in one corner, a girl fumbling to pick up a mechanical pencil she's dropped on the floor. With each step, I'm feeling more uncomfortable. That's not a good sign.

After what seems like ages of walking, Leniyah leads me up to the door of a classroom. I glance inside hesitantly. Sitting at a desk to the door's right is a lady sitting in a large, padded chair. She's wearing blue glasses, and her faded brown hair is swept high up into a loose knot.

"That's Ms. Blakely. As I said, you'll like her." Leniyah stands beside me, peering into the classroom along with me. I think she expects a response. When it's clear I won't give her one, she turns to leave. "Well, I hope your days here at Wellklike High are, um... enjoyable, I guess." I feel a pang of relief as she walks away. Phew. I take my left foot, swing it upward and plant my foot on the floor of my new homeroom. And then it happens. I hear a shot, like the one before all this. Before Wellklike High School. A shot that makes everything around me go blurry. A shot that brings me to my knees. A shot that takes me back to my old school. Back to the memories, the memories of the shooting.

Shots. I hear them in the classroom nearby, the one next to us. So it’s not a drill. My eyes seek out my classmates, huddled in a corner of the room. Most of us are sobbing, including me. More shots. And even- I catch my breath. Screams. I’m weeping now. Every limb is trembling. I’m so caught up in my fear that I barely recognize the intruder, pounding at the door and struggling to get inside. My tears blur what I see next- a rough senior plowing his way into the room, an AK-47 in his hands. His face is hidden behind a bandanna. I sob as he peppers bullets into our midst. Friends of mine fall, screaming before they hit the floor. By the time they meet the cool tiles, their screams are gone. So are their lives. Barely managing to take note of what I’m doing, I shove myself under a warm body. I don’t have the gall to wonder if my shelter is dead or alive. I’m quaking, panting, and every emotion in my body is screaming, crying to be done. Let him shoot me. I want this to end.

I awaken on the floor, curled up against a gray locker. I am sobbing uncontrollably, letting hot tears stream down my face. My body is shaking, the weight of a million memories bearing down on me like a backpack full of cement. Through the veil of tears, I see Ms. Blakely, Leniyah, and another person who I assume is a teacher trying to touch me. Against my will, I swat their hands away. I want them to hold me, to comfort me, to take me away from the shooting. But all I can see are intruders with AK- 47s bearing down on me.

“Bren. Bren, honey. Stop! Sweetie. I need you to look at me. We are okay. You are okay. You’re having an anxiety attack, Look at me.”

The words “we are okay” and “you are okay” bring me back to reality. I stop bawling and let a woman in scrubs, whom I assume is the school nurse, clutch my wrist. I pant heavily. Her hand is on my upper back, moving in cool, gentle rubs.

“That’s okay, Bren. That’s okay. Come on. Let’s call your mom.” As she turns me away from the locker, I catch Leniyah glancing back at me. To my surprise, her stare is not full of confusion or pity, or even disgust. She almost looks like- like she understands.

I let them lead me through the Gathering Space to the school office. In moments, I am on a couch in the guidance counselor’s office with a cup of water. The nurse came back a moment later to bring me a thin, navy blue blanket. I am silent the whole time. I can’t bring myself to speak, not even when mom comes to pick me up. On my first day. It’s so annoying it’s almost funny.

Later on, after a few trips to my psychiatrist, we figure out what happened. Some kid in the hallway outside my homeroom dropped a binder on the floor. Because of my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, my brain automatically associates this loud noise with a gunshot. And the memory of the gunshot, well... it triggers old memories, which then trigger an anxiety attack. So you can imagine how embarrassed I am when I walk back into school after nearly a week of recovery. The thought of facing a whole class of students that have seen me when I’m dealing with an attack is utterly humiliating.

Walking into homeroom is something out of a nightmare. I can feel my classmates’ eyes on me, judging my every move. I am intent on staring down at the floor of the classroom when I hear a voice. A voice that is feminine, deep, and relaxing. Leniyah. Oh no.

“Um, Bren?”

“Leniyah, hi.” I turn to face her, feeling the tension between us grow substantially. “How are you?” She smiles, glad to see that I’m actually talking to her now. “Look, let’s cut the small talk, Bren. I know what happened to you. And I can help. Believe me, I can.” Her words process in my brain, smooth like honey. “O-okay.” I take a seat beside her, an eagerness tugging at my insides. Help me? Leniyah? How?

“A long time ago, my mom was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer. I was six. Small. Immature. And seeing what that disease did to her, it- it tore me apart. I watched her die. I watched her hair fall out, and her health fail, and her life drain away. I know what it’s like, Bren, seeing someone die. And I know what life is like living with those memories. That anxiety. But you and me, Bren, we can get through it all. Together. As friends. I’ve had those anxiety attacks ever since mom died. And I know. But you have to confide in me, Bren. It’ll get better. It always does.” I look at her through a sheen of tears. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who understands it the way I do. Anxiety, I mean. Not even my psychiatrist could really understand my emotions. But Leniyah... looking deeper into her eyes, I see a broken part. The same broken part of me I see whenever I look in a mirror. And she’s right. I can heal. Not immediately, maybe not even soon. But together, having a friend who really understands me, I might be able to live again. Without memories on my back. Without fear.

December 14, 2019 02:55

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