"Urnhhhh," I groan. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. The alarm is still going. February 8. Monday. 7 AM. Awesome.
How much did I actually sleep last night? I try to roll out of bed, but fail because I'm tangled in my sheets. My pillow is near my feet, and my bed covers are on the floor. Guess I'll have to update my notion of how much of a restless sleeper I am. Again.
Getting dressed is a blur. At least my parents have already left for work. I'm so tired I can barely stand. My hair is sticking out all over the place, and I have deep shadows under my eyes. At best, I look like I'm hungover. At worst, I look like I got run over by a stampede. But whatever. It's not like anyone cares what I look like. I have no one to impress.
I sling my backpack over my shoulder and step outside. The frigid air slams into me like a wall, making me cringe inside my down jacket. One foot in front of the other, I tell myself as I begin walking to school. My feet squelch in the gray-brown slush. Cars whoosh by, spraying water.
You know that time in winter, when it first snows? When the air is crisp and the snow is a fluffy, fresh white? I love that part of winter. But February I hate. When the snow turns an ugly brown and the neighborhood snowmen melt into the ground, dry carrots the only marker of their existence.
School looms in front of me. Why is it so hard to step through the metal doors? I gather the parts of me that are unraveling, bind them together, and walk into school.
I don’t realize I’ve fallen asleep in first period until the bell rings. I jerk awake and get ready to walk out but Ms. Hill stops me.
"Avery, did you listen to anything I had to say about exponential and logarithmic functions?" she asks gently.
"Here, sit down, talk to me. I'll write you a pass for your next class."
"Uh, okay." I sit down in front of her desk and plop my backpack on the floor.
“Are you alright? You look a little…”
“Like I just went on a two-day bender? Yeah, I have indeed looked in the mirror today, and saying that I’m having a bad hair day would be the understatement of the century,” I say.
Humor is the best way to hide what’s going on underneath. Sure enough, most of the concern seeps out of Ms. Hill’s face. "It’s just that I've noticed that you've been falling asleep a lot. I asked some of your other teachers and they said the same thing. Most of your homework has been late and your current grade in my class is a D. Is something wrong?"
A lot of things. "I just have a really hard time falling asleep."
"What time did you go to bed?"
"I went to bed at ten to get nine hours of sleep since I have to wake up at seven." But I actually fell asleep at four AM so I only got 3 hours of sleep. Took me quite some calculating to figure that out. I'm not great at math, seeing as I fall asleep in first period so often.
"Well, you could try doing a calming activity before bed like journaling," Ms. Hill suggests.
Hell no. The less time spent acknowledging the thoughts floating in my brain, the better. "I might try reading a book tonight," I say. Also no. That will only give my brain more to think, wonder, worry, and stress about.
"Yes, that sounds like a good idea, Avery,” Ms. Hill looks very relieved that all she had to do to check in on me was give sleep advice. “Here's your pass," she hands me a slip of paper, "and I hope you get some sleep tonight."
"Thanks," I plaster a smile on my face and dash out the door.
I get coffee during break and manage to stay awake for the rest of the day. I'm not hungry so I spend lunch in the library, scrolling through the news on my phone.
"Breaking news: Death toll reaches 1 million in various conflicts worldwide.”
"Climate change strikes again: hundreds dead in new bouts of flooding."
"51 children dead in recent school shootings."
"Gridlock over new worldwide oil treaty. The UN calls for cooperation while delegations continue arguing on how the world's remaining fossil fuels should be distributed."
"Crops are withering. Farmers worried about harvests this season as droughts and heat waves intensify."
"Children starving in developing countries. NGOs scrambling to meet the humanitarian crisis."
"Opinion: Is this the end of democracy?"
Man, aren't I lucky to live in exciting times like these? I mean, I just feel so hopeful for the future. So hopeful.
My attention wanders to the kids socializing and laughing around me. They’re so lucky they have things to laugh about and people to laugh with.
As I watch my classmates, I wonder, would they notice if I died? Yes, I think, of course, they would. Because the school would announce it on the morning announcements and inform everyone that therapists would be available to anyone who wants to talk through the tragedy. And then a mental health survey would be sent out to make sure everyone else was fine too. The school is good about things like that.
At home, I crash on the couch and nap, making sure to brush my hair and put on makeup before my parents come home.
I pick at the food on my plate during dinner. My parents ask me how my day was. I say it was fine. They ask me how I'm doing in school. I say I'm doing fine. They ask about my grades. I say they're fine.
Every day it gets easier to lie. It's not like my parents will detect my lies anyway. Dad's too busy being a CEO and Mom's too busy getting reelected to city council.
Would my parents notice if I died? Yes, I think, of course, they would. Because they wouldn't have anyone to brag about and show off at their fancy parties.
I try to study for my biology test after dinner even though I'm not internalizing any of the words I wrote down in my notebook. Oh well. Here comes another F.
At ten, I get in bed and flick off the lights.
"Sleep tight," mom calls through the door. Yeah right.
Darkness falls. I've been nodding off all day but now I'm wide awake. The quiet is unbearable. There's nothing to distract me from the noise in my head. I'll probably fail my test tomorrow. My grades are really flagging. Not good for my college applications. I should work on those but I can't bear to reflect on myself and write an essay about how amazing I am. Because I'm not. I have a 1.5 GPA. I haven't participated in after-school activities since middle school. I have no friends. My only hobby is napping. I can't even climb a flight of stairs without getting out of breath. But I'm sure all the colleges I apply to will be tossing me scholarships and begging me to attend there.
I shouldn't have thought about college. Because now I'm thinking about the future. I have no idea what to do with my life. I'll probably end up homeless, working $10 per hour at Giant or Kroger. My parents will be disappointed. Then they'll die. I'll go to their funeral and make some lame-ass speech about what great parents they were. And then I'll die, alone, having accomplished nothing in life. I can already imagine my tombstone: “Avery Weston. Unloving daughter, wife to no one, mother to no one”.
The darkness presses in, in, in. You’re a failure, it hisses, a waste of life.
AAAAHHHHHHHH! CAN ANYBODY HEAR ME? No, no one can hear me. It’s all in my head.
I can’t take it anymore. Flicking on the lights, I calm down immediately, now that the darkness is gone. I curl up into a ball on my bed, sobbing. I'm only 17. I don't deserve this. Or maybe I do. For a second, I feel like my mom will come in with a cup of hot cocoa to comfort me as she used to. But she can’t hear me. I got her noise-cancellation headphones last Christmas after all.
Perhaps doing mindless tasks will help me sleep. I pick up the dirty clothes scattered around my room and half-heartedly fold the shirt stuffed in my drawers. I log in to my parents' email accounts and delete the newest batch of emails they got sent from my teachers with subject lines like “Avery’s Grades” or “Worrying about Avery”.
By the time I get back in bed, it’s 3:50 AM. Darkness falls, but the biological need to sleep takes over and I drift off.
"Urnhhhh," I groan. My whole body is stiff. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. The alarm is still going. February 9. Tuesday. 7 AM. Awesome. I force myself out of bed and the day begins.
Finally, Saturday comes. I decide to take a bath before bed to try to relax. The hot water is very comforting and slowly, the energy ebbs from my body. The bathwater looks red through my half-lidded eyes.
It's so good to finally sleep. So good.
The Daily Herald:
On the morning of Sunday, February 14, seventeen-year-old Avery Weston was found dead in her bathtub after she had committed suicide the night before. Our hearts go out to her parents, John and Mary, who are mourning the loss of their only daughter. Therapists will be available at Avery's high school for any student that needs to talk through this tragedy and the school asks that all students be truthful when answering the upcoming mental health survey. A funeral will be held at the City Graveyard and all are welcome to attend.
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Oof, that ending hit hard - great, tragic twist. I didn't expect it, even though there was quite a bit of "if I died" thinking going on. The narrator is believable. She's mired in terrible doubts about the future, and has basically lost hope. Considering the types of topics she was reading about, it's not hard to see why. Likewise, her use of humour to hide things, the ease with which the lies come, feeling disconnected from others, and her focus on performing and meeting expectations. All these things increase the danger. A believable, ...
I'm glad the story was believable and the twist worked! You are so right; an alternative opening would have been much more interesting. Thanks so much for the feedback, especially the critique! I always enjoy reading your analysis, Michal.
This is a powerful story, Sophia. As a former high school teacher, I can tell you that this all rings true. Nice work!
Oh, Delbert, your comment means so much! I'm glad it resonated with you and felt true. I can definitely relate to Avery in many ways so maybe that's why. Any suggestions for improvement?
I've read your story three times and I can say this: It flows well. The voice of the protagonist is distinct and clear. The ending is stellar. I'm sure a professional editor could pick it apart because, well, that's what they do. I thin it's a terrific story and worded well.
Thank you, thank you! I'm smiling so hard right now it hurts :) I love reading your comments and knowing that at least one person read my story.
You write well, Sophia; the number of people who read your writing cannot change that. Still, I understand what you're saying. It's nice to know that your writing has merit. Non-authors have no idea how difficult it is to write something that is engaging to the reader. It's an almost magical process to them. Keep on writing and dreaming, Sophia. You have talent and ability. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
I will take your kind words to heart! A magical process indeed! Writing some of these stories feels cathartic.