This story is by Sarina Zhao and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Clean and crisp are the walls of my room. They close in on me, surround me, burn my skin with their bright bright light.
On the northernmost wall is my window. It’s two feet by twenty-three and a quarter inches; we had to measure when we replaced the glass. One would think whoever designed this house would have made their life a whole lot simpler by making my small portal to the outer world exactly four square feet, but no. They had to make the height twenty-three and a quarter inches. It drives me insane.
Looking through my window, I can tell that summer is in full blast outside: trees are lush and green, the sky is a beautiful baby blue, and cotton candy cumulus clouds drift about.
“Late again,” Mrs. Johnston said, looking up from her copy of Macbeth.
“Sorry,” I muttered, and I looked up to the clock. 1:03 pm.
It really wasn’t my fault that I was always late to sixth period. It was just that I had model UN during lunch every day and it took a while to run from the first floor all the way up to the fourth.
Actually, it was more like a buildup of things. Last week I had a paper due, as well as two tests and a long term project. I slacked off and played piano for maybe like five minutes that week. Well, come Monday and I crammed in three hours of practicing right before my lesson. Of course, on Tuesday I had extra homework from Monday since I had spent all that time playing piano. But Tuesdays were my four-hours-of-dance-after-school days.
It was almost as if time was slipping from my fingertips like sand through a sieve; the more things I had to do, the more it seemed like my life was rushing ahead at a pace too quick to follow.
I thought all those thoughts as Mrs. Johnston rambled along about Macbeth’s guilt or something of that sort.
Sometimes, I didn’t think anyone saw how I was slowly falling apart. They didn’t see how thin I was – thin, and starting to crack like ice.
They didn’t see how watered down my eyes were, or how transparent my words felt. They didn’t see that when it rained, it poured and thundered, and liquid from the sky turned into frozen daggers in the air. Daggers that hailed down on me and lacerated my soul, my pride, my everything.
Now that I think of it, I was always looking up to “someone.” Someone, anyone, who danced past their pain and struggles: someone who lived in their own utopia. Someone I tried so fervently to be yet was always just out of my reach – someone who didn’t exist and never will exist.
It was suddenly, to quick for me to notice or take action, that the ice broke. All the cold from underneath rushed out like the moisture that was rapidly forming in my eyes. The feeling of worthlessness plunged my soul deep into the depths of my darkest fears, surfacing my flaws and insecurities like a dead body that had suddenly come afloat. It was as if everything that had welled up inside of me was finally bursting forward and breaking down into a million pieces.
It is then that all my thoughts – that I was not good enough, I was not smart enough, I was not pretty enough, I was not skinny enough, and worst of all, that I would never live up to my expectations – escaped through slow tears, and then in small gasps that threatened to interrupt Mrs. Johnston’s lesson plan.
I sniffled and tried to suppress the waves of anxiety and self-consciousness that rocked my insides. April, who sat several seats away from me, glanced in my direction. Macy, who sat next to me, poked me underneath her desk and whispered, “shhh,” into my ear.
The look on Macy’s face was forever seared into my skull, burned on the backs of my eyes, and etched into my every conscience and judgment. I can’t even describe it. But through tears, I saw the disgust and the embarrassment. The ‘what-the-fuck-why-do-I-even-know-you’ look, mixed with ‘grow-up-and-get-your-shit-together.’
I felt so lonely. I was surrounded by so many people – my parents, my friends, my teachers – yet I felt so isolated at the same time.
I’m not sure how I got through the rest of the day, but I remember hurrying away once sixth period was over, and sitting silently through seventh period and eighth.
I was still kind of crying when I got home, but I really had no intention of breaking my window. I just sort of pressed my back against it. I may have punched it then. I’m not sure. Either way, the glass of my dirty north-facing window collapsed into a million shards. There was blood dripping from my hands; blood mixed with tiny crystals of glass that glistened as the sun shone through the now empty window frame. I screamed. My parents were not home yet. I was alone.
Later, I found out that the windowpane hadn’t been placed in properly, and the glass was old and cracked in the first place. Even if I hadn’t broken it, it would have been likely to break on its own.
It was two weeks before I returned to school, but way longer to catch up on everything I had missed. It took three weeks for my broken hand to heal. A week after that, school ended, and I became officially a sophomore.
It has been three weeks since then.
Therapists and counselors asked time and time again to talk about the moment – what I was feeling, why did I do it, blah blah blah. It’s hard to answer questions that you don’t know the answer to.
Now, from my window, I can see the Walker brothers at the end of our street having water balloon fights almost every day. Holden and Nic, and even little Jamie, who I used to babysit before the incident.
I see April a lot from my window. She just started some fancy summer internship at the university hospital, the one I wasn’t smart enough to get into. She passes my house in the mornings and afternoons to get to and from the bus stop. Sometimes she visits in the evenings. She brought me flowers once – yellow tulips. I always feel awful when she comes over, like an awful sense of guilt.
Sometimes I see Macy and her boyfriend walk down Peony Ave., his arm usually around her shoulder or waist. Occasionally April tags along. I can only make out a sliver of Peony from the corner of my window, but my theory stands that they usually head for the coffee shop a block away.
Honestly, I don’t think any of them understand – even I don’t fully understand.
I was flawed.
I am flawed.
And, oh! I’m still so so lonely. But my window has since been replaced, and the glass is clear.
At least now I can see.