Reblogging so that more can see this beautiful idea.
The nightmare was about over when she laid the test face down at the front of the room, shuffling out the door shouldering a book bag that was lighter than it should have been. She knew she was failing geometry. Math was not her specialty. She cared less about school every year, as she felt her soul slipping away slowly, painfully, drifting away from its purpose.
Nothing seemed real, or important. She would watch the news at night talking about possible nuclear war, and people starving in some country across the world with the deep cynicism of one far removed from it all. She imagined the bomb going off and not having to explain to her parents her failure in geometry. It almost would be a relief, if only it was painless, and quick.
A post nuclear world seemed strangely interesting and a world that she would want to explore in a video game, or a comic book, or even a movie. In reality, perhaps not. I’m sure a resident of Nagasaki during World War II would probably love to switch with her and have a failing grade instead of all the radiation and cancer and sudden death.
What was it a friend of hers always said? First World Problems. Yeah, it makes everyone who complains about slow internet, or waiting in line to buy new shoes feel like a jerk. Some big eyed waif in some third world country someplace was doing hard labor without shoes, and here she was in ‘Ross Dress For Less’ cursing at a long wait while she buys a pair of zebra striped patent leather heels.
First world problems, indeed. Meanwhile, she would go to school, go to bed, and wake up to go to school while both her parents worked during the day and were tired in the evening. She had a younger brother that had some special issues that seemed to take their time, and she felt like an afterthought. Someone that was background noise. Until she screwed up, but that wasn’t the kind of attention she wanted. She would rather be background noise.
She had saved up for those zebra striped heels from babysitting a cousin who was in that age bracket where they are too old to be a baby but too young for real school.
It was hard work because the little guy had a ton of energy and could completely destroy a room in a matter of minutes. Plus, he put everything in his mouth, so she had to watch him carefully. Balancing that with school work and studying was hard.
School used to be easy for her, but this year she felt suddenly stupid. She couldn’t concentrate and found herself slipping from the room while the teacher’s voice became a constant drone like a hive of bees. She felt so incredibly tired.
Finally, her teacher cornered her the next day as she was attempting to sneak out. “Natalie, wait a moment will you? I want to speak to you.” She gulped and sat at the nearest desk watching the others file out the door, some looking at her blankly, most not even looking at her. She had become invisible to most.
“Okay, come here my dear, just sit down.” Mrs. Grimble got up and shut the door after the last student had left, leaving the room to just Natalie and herself. “Okay, you need to tell me what is going on with you. I see you struggling. Coming in late, not turning in homework. I can see it in your face. Is everything all right at home?”
“This is about the test, isn’t it?” She said tiredly.
Mrs. Grimble looked her in the eye, and pulled out her test from a drawer, handing it out to her.
“I think it is more than that. I looked at your records from last year, and I can see a drastic difference in your work. I hope you know I want what is best for you, and I hope you feel you can trust me. I just want to help you.”
Natalie looked down at the desk, and then eyed the wall clock ticking away. “I think I will be late for my next class, Mrs. Grimble.”
“I talked to your other teachers. We do compare notes on occasion. And, it is the same story. There is something going on. We can see it. You just aren’t really present in class. Would you like to speak with the counselor? Would that be helpful?”
“I do not know what’s wrong. I guess I feel like I have to be perfect all the time. And, no one likes me. I feel stupid this year. I just can’t think. I am just so tired. I just want to sleep and not wake up.”
Mrs. Grimble looked horrified, and concerned all at once. Natalie wanted to shove her desk over and scatter all the pens and pencils onto the floor. She suddenly felt anger toward her for all the fake sympathy, the pity.
She didn’t want sympathy, or pity. She was all alone, and everyone seemed false and fake. She didn’t trust Mrs. Grimble. She didn’t trust anyone. She did have a secret, but she wouldn’t share it here, not with anyone at the school.
“I think dear, that we should schedule you with an appointment, to see Mrs. Fenton. It can’t hurt, right?”
“You want me to reassure you, Mrs. Grimble? Or is this your way of asking my permission?” Mrs. Grimble was jotting something down on a pink slip and she slid it across the desk toward Natalie.
“Are you going to tell my parents? I don’t want them to be bothered with this.”
“Don’t you think they should know that something is bothering you?”
Natalie looked at the slip in front of her, not reaching out to take it.
“It would just make them worry about me. I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want them to fret or worry about me. They have their hands full dealing with Brian.”
“How is your brother doing, Natalie?”
“As good as can be expected for someone who is slowly dying. He takes all their time when they aren’t working, and they worry over him, and sometimes they get hopeful. Then other times things are bleak. I am tired of the roller coaster at this point. I just wish a miracle would happen, or it would be over. Sometimes I hate him. Isn’t that terrible? I am a horrible person aren’t I?”
“No, dear. You have a lot on your shoulders right now. Maybe you should just take a leave from school. It would be hard to catch up, but I can talk to the principle and the counselor, and we can explain the situation…”
“No, I don’t want to take a leave. I just want things to be easy again. I don’t want to be stuck in the house watching my brother all the time. Watching him slowly get worse. Just watching. I’d rather be bored out of my mind here.”
“Natalie, you want to graduate with your class, right?”
She said nothing. Mrs. Grimble pushed the paper a little closer to Natalie. “Take it. Go to Mrs. Fenton. It can’t hurt.”
Natalie reluctantly took it, and lifted her bag and didn’t say another word. Mrs. Grimble watched her leave and began composing an email on her computer.
“What is life? Why are we here? I mean, what’s it all for anyhow?” The curious red head asked her Uncle in all seriousness, her eyes squinting to avoid the glare of the campfire as the flames toyed with each other in a never ending battle for supremacy. He laughed a deep, carefree laugh. She asked so many questions that he shook his head after awhile. She was a born inquisitor, and was tireless in her examinations. She wouldn’t quit, even after the rest of the children grew tired and went to sleep in their tents.
“Life,” began her Uncle choosing his words slowly, “is complicated. It can’t really be summed up in one word, nor can I explain it in a one night. It is one of those things that we do year after year. We search for the why’s and the what for’s. It wouldn’t be any fun if we started with all the answers, would it?”
She looked solemn a moment, her face puzzled, the words settling into the niches of her young brain. “Well, what if I want all the answers?” Her Uncle shook his head again, and chuckled. “Well, one of the first things you’ve got to learn, and this is a big secret. In fact, come closer.” He motioned with his hand gently for her to crane her head as near to him as she could conspiratorially.
“The secret?” She whispered hopefully when she deemed she was close enough. The fire warmed them both, and the crackling of the wood was soothing in its own way.
“Awh, yes, the secret. First, you must promise me something, then I will share the secret with you.” The red head gave a frown, unsure of the new conditions of this secret.
“All right, I promise.”
“Well, then. You promise? You promise this will be the last question tonight? Your Uncle is getting tired, and must get some sleep, too.”
She frowned, she didn’t like this promise, but since she had all ready agreed, she could do nothing but nod. “The secret is…,” he began again, watching her face light up in anticipation, “No one has all the answers, and the world doesn’t give you what you want, but dishes out what it has.”
“That can’t be the secret!” she shouted. Her Uncle laughed again.
“See? Not everything is as you would want it. Better to discover this now, then later. And, since you promised, you must go to bed. And, I can get some sleep.”
“But I didn’t promise to go to bed!” She cried, horrified at the thought.
“Well, I am tired, and I can’t stay up to watch you, so you must sleep like the others. Your mother is all ready asleep. It is only fair that I get to sleep too.”
She grudgingly agreed, and walked slowly to her tent with her little face turned toward the ground in disappointment. Her Uncle watched her in silence, as the fire started to die down. He absently added one more log, thinking. Who would be there to answer his questions when the time came? He got up stiffly, and made his way to his tent, contemplating life and its meaning.
He watched her die slowly in his mind’s eye. Imagining the temperature of the water, of the look on her face. Was it windy? Was she tired?
Everyone else stared blankly, avoiding the pain and confusion within his eyes. Instead, they studied the wood grain of the floor boards, or the unfinished knitting of the caretaker. How did she come to die so young, he heard someone say. Who was she, and why should it matter you might ask?
She had hair of the softest yellow melting into a warm golden cinnamon at the tips. Her eyes were the blue of the tide rushing onto the beach. Not a true blue, but a blue with a hint of a cloudy grey. Her hair lay in damp curls, framing an oval face while a few strands got in the way of her apparent serenity.
In death she appeared to be an angel, in life she had been more of a demon, he knew. Her laugh cut through the miles of his memory like a hot knife cuts through a pat of butter, efficiently, and ruthlessly accurate.
For all her sharpness and uncontrollable anger, he found himself missing her. She was the sea that kept life from becoming an endless horizon with nothing to look forward to.
She was life, in all its irony and bitterness. In death, she was like a forgery. She was somehow fake; unreal like a child’s life size doll. This wasn’t her. This was a mannequin dressed in her clothes, wearing her make up, wearing her knowing, sly smile.
Everyone else in the room had known her, or thought they did at any rate. They knew of her, surely, knew she loved orange sherbet ice cream, and that she hoped to get a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and that her favorite color was purple. You know, just like a million other girls’ her age.
No one knew her quite like he did. They saw an innocent friendly smile, not the sly mischievous smile of one who knew they knew, and loved the fact that you didn’t. But they didn’t really see what was behind that. The forced nature of it, the fact that it actually meant, “I know nothing. I wish I knew what you know, but know that I can’t.”
Her coldness wasn’t cool. It was hot, tempestuous; interesting. It wasn’t coldness. Not really. It was passion. She was very lonely, this girl. She thrived on her imagination. Everyone else came and went around her, but she had her own reality which stayed the same, until the end, of course.
At the end, it must have all come crashing down, the blue skies, the white Christmases, the rose colored glasses and the yellow walls of sunshine. It all came crashing down, and it took her with it.
Life without her isn’t life, but the xerox copy of a copy of a copy of what it once was and never would be again. He sighed. Everyone else shifted uncomfortably at the ongoing silence. A cough was heard, and a quiet murmur. Perhaps a prayer for one who never prayed?
The water of the sea near the lighthouse was cold. It must have made her cold as ice when she dived off the rocks into the brutish water below. It invaded her nose, her mouth, her body, until it turned her a sickly pale blue green color. They called him then, after pulling her ashore when the lighthouse attendant who happened to take a late night stroll on the beach saw her.
The local ambulance was called immediately of course, but it would be a while before they arrived. Family was called and she was carried into the lighthouse, seeming heavy and blue. Her mother would ask why, but no one answered. Why? Why not?
She had so much to look forward to, someone said. The line was a tired one, and didn’t much alter the mood in the small circular room. The rocks had scraped some skin off her shins someone noted. A kid’s injury, not the injury of the dead, he thought.
Despite the hand wringing and solemnity, she was just another lost soul, another person who gave up before they even started.