This story is by Ashley and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“To live is to feel happiness.” She spoke, her voice I’ve never once listened to. Even through all of this she had it in her to say, “I am not living.” And I didn’t know what to do, I wanted to run away, her problems were not my own. I declared they were not my own, and now the price, I owe. I owe her everything I could possibly offer in this life, but I’m worth nothing. I am nothing. I am no one, no one to have the right to this guilt, it had zero to do with me. I was only a factor, I didn’t ruin her, I didn’t take away the most of importance to her. I did nothing, and it killed her. She’s gone, I keep telling myself I don’t care, but they are telling me, telling me I deserve to live the life she never got to live, to live for her, and not myself. These voices that I hear from a distance, are the only reason I feel remorse. I should have done this, I should have done that, but none of it matters, if it can no longer be done.
Words that once held meaning, were now filled with emptiness, in less than time itself, in a mere instance. As if they were the last seven seconds of my life, the seven seconds in which those who have experienced near death see their life flash before their eyes. A life that I am alive in, because to live is different from being alive. Because to live, is to experience happiness, which I cannot say I am feeling. Sometimes we go from living, to being alive, right? That’s what you would have told me. Like a broken record you sound, you sounded. Every action of yours described in past tense from here on out.
Why? This god of yours you so heavily admired, your lit up eyes whenever you’d preach about this entity. This entity no one, not even you, could prove the existence of. But even so, I wondered if this belief that someone was watching over you, gave you the peace you needed, the comfort you longed for. I no longer wonder because it didn’t, or you’d be here right now, and I would be going about my day without appreciating everything you’ve done for me. Now I’m here, feeling nothing else, but resentment. I was lied to, I was made into a fool to think there could be more to life, to think happiness existed. You were the only one who knew I was withering my life away; you were the only one who had ever told me life had a purpose, and my own held worth. If my life, your life, was truly worthy, then why am I listening to this bullshit? Why is he saying you’re dead?
The auditorium was full of hundreds of students, listening closely to the sudden news. I felt, so alone, even within a crowd of other people who knew you. There was no one there to share this undescribed feeling with, there was no one who could understand what you’ve put me through. There was no one else here who thought it was fucking hilarious that you hung yourself last night in the kitchen of your apartment. I wanted to laugh, because I was the only one, the only one that didn’t feel sorry for you. And these feelings no one in this world reciprocated.
And I did laugh, I let out a small laugh, a laugh that could be heard through the silence. A laugh even I, had never heard. Eyes turned, and their heads followed, but no one wanted to question it. In such a situation, wouldn’t it be inappropriate if all the attention were to be on me? But this attention you did not deserve, your death, as irrelevant as your words. The only thing I felt sorry for was my foolishness, not for you. Selfish, you’d say I am, but you didn’t deserve a droplet of my pity.
Last year, around this time in the fall, was the first time I cared to listen to you. You were boring in every aspect; you were uninterested in what you did. Drained, like every other teacher in this good for nothing school. I longed for your class to be over, every single day. Your assignments were too complicated and time-consuming, as if none of us had lives outside of school. School, none of it mattered to me. You thought my life revolved around that shit, didn’t you?
No, you didn’t, because you noticed and started intervening when it benefited you in no way. Your annoying remarks about how I never turned in your stupid assignments, how I always showed up late, or didn’t show up at all. How I’d constantly talk in class with people I can no longer say are my friends, or how I’d respond to you with an “attitude”. I became your target, which was something I never thought someone like you could have. You seemed hopeless. It would have made sense if you suddenly committed suicide then.
But not right now, not now.
No one else had ever asked me what I wanted to do with this thing called life that I owned. This thing called life that no one else but me could control. You were the only one who listened to me, as if what I had to say was important, even if you irritated me so. Even if I irritated you so. I had felt the comfort you felt from your god, from you. I knew there was someone I could go to for problems a youth like me couldn’t face, I knew there was someone to watch over me.
That life was beautiful, and everything one could ever want it to be. That we are in control.
In control, two words without a precise definition. If I were in control, if you were in control, would it be this way?
You never told me there was a limit to how much we could control.
I turned into this unrecognizable person, into a character, that you singlehandedly created. Because I believed it’d save me.
And I didn’t want to break that character. Because in doing so, this unrealistic reality would shatter, and all the wrong-doings I’ll never admit to would be in vain.
“I hope you can all pay your respects to Ms. Ortiz.”
Respect, something you’ve completely lost. I admired the will you had, the determination towards a goal unknown to me. I wanted to understand why you felt the need to tell me all of these things. These things that, till your end, held no significance. And now the only thing I want the answer for, is why?
I meant nothing in particular, I wanted to know it all, why you thought I was the person out of all your students you felt the need to help, why you even wanted to help me in the first place, why you lied to me, why you decided to rid yourself of everything, of me. Why?
But I’d never know.
“That is all.” The man, the head of this school, breathed into the mic. I didn’t appreciate the way he went about this topic, the way he brushed it off as if someone hadn’t just lost their life. Only I had the right to, did she ever harm you? Did she ever lie to you, like she lied to me? She’s fucking dead, was all you said she was, all you asked of us was to pay our respects, is that all that the lifeless receive?
She deserved nothing, but even so, you wouldn’t have known that.
Those who cared about this announcement felt it was wrong to simply just leave, but those who didn’t know of your existence exited impatiently in an unorderly manner. They bumped into each other like frightened animals in a stampede, and the room that was once so very quiet became full of noise from all the shoving, the walking, and the talking.
I couldn’t move, not because I wasn’t aware enough to, but because I didn’t want to. If I walked away, it would be as if I was walking away from you. And if I walked away, though I’d never get my answer, it meant I had to let go of this idea of happiness. Seconds passed, and nearly everyone was gone. I had to live in this reality that you set up for me, I had to be this character. I was obligated to leave, for you. And so, I reluctantly stepped my foot backward, I was forced to accept the fact that I’d live with a false ending, forced to accept that only you have found your peace.
To accept that in your death, waiting for you was true happiness.
And in the living world, nothing left for me.