“Wake up, and don’t make me tell you again.” My mother screams while pounding on the wall that separates our rooms.
Every day when I wake up, I would just lay in bed with my eyes close. Aware of everything around, just yearning to hang on to the little bit of control I felt I had. The darkness was calming to me, it was the only thing I could relate to these days. The way it was everything and nothing at the same time. The way it surrounded everything, leaving no room for anything but its blackness. The few seconds I got every day to just be in the darkness was the best part of being awake. It was the best part of my day.
Getting out of bed was a chore and one I didn’t get paid to do. I didn’t want to wake up, I didn’t want to see the sun shining, or my mother’s morning smile. I didn’t want to have to go school or more like hell on earth for anyone who is different. I just want to live the darkness, in the complete peace; but I knew before long I would hear mother’s voices bellowing at me to get ready for school. Slowly and with great anguish, I open my eyes to greet the day. The brightness from the sun instantly burns my eyes causing me to quickly shut them. When the tears rain over my eyes it feels like hell itself got a rain storm. After a couple of blinks, I completely open my eyes to see my mother standing in the doorway and she is not smiling.
“What are you doing? Why are you still in bed?” She barks
“I’m moving, just chill out!” I snarl back. I was moving, but at a snail pace! I always took my time when getting ready for school, if I missed the bus even better. I hated school. I take that back, I didn’t hate school; I hate the people I was force to attend school with. There was a time when school was everything to me, there wasn’t a subject or person I didn’t like. But that was in the before. Before kids realized what judgment of other was. Before they realized that we are all made differently. Before they realized I was different.
“CAN TODAY BE THE DAY?” I yell down the stairs to my mom who is cooking something in the kitchen that smells heavenly. No response. I stand at the top of the stairs with my toes curled around the lip of the step to keep me balanced. I slowly rock back and forth, anxiously awaiting her response.
“PLEASE SAY TODAY CAN BE THE DAY?” I yell inquisitively
Every day I asked my mom if she could transfer me to a new school. And every day she would tell me no. She would say “Olson, is the best school in the district. Do you know how hard I had to work to get you into that school?” “This is the school, Nalah. This is the school that will get you to Harvard.”
I knew this, but it didn’t matter to me. Did she not realize that the school she loved, was killing my soul? As I turn to stomp back down the hall towards the bathroom, very faintly I hear a “YES” echo up the stair.
“Did you say YES?” I scream with excitement fluttering my voice.
“Yes, Nalah! If you are asking to transfer schools, then yes, I said”… Before she could finish her sentence I was pulling her into an embrace.
“Thank you, Thank you, Thank You.” With every thank you I said, I roughly kissed her on the cheek. This is the best day ever I tell her while I jump around the kitchen.
“You better go get ready before you’re late for the bus and I change my mind.” She states nonchalantly. Full of pure joy, I skip my way out of the kitchen and back up the stairs.
She said yes, she finally said yes; was all I could think about as I got ready for school that day. I never expected her to say yes, I mean I’ve been asking for the last 2 years. And it was always met with a disappointing no and some lecture about how it was the best school for me. But, what now? I never thought about what “Yes” actually meant. Now sitting on my bed after getting the yes, I’ve been waiting so long for, I was nervous. The yes presented me with an unknown, and took me down a new path that was uncharted territory. This realization scared me but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from being happy.
Is this what it felt like to be happy to go to school? I couldn’t remember, it had been so long since I was happy about school. I didn’t understand this feeling I was feeling. Was it excitement, happiness or pure joy? I didn’t know but I loved it. I loved the fact that riding this bus to that school had an end date. There was light at the end of the tunnel and I could see it clear as day.
I usually hate the school bus, to me it was a tube of metal that drove me to my torment 5 days a week; but today I sat in the seat right behind the bus driver with a smile on my face. I was probably unrecognizable to people. I mean, me with a smile on my face, I don’t think these people that see me every day have ever seen such a thing on my face. But there it was, big and bright as ever. It was my prize jewel and I wanted everyone to see it, so I decided before the bus arrived at the school that everyone would see it. I would spend my last days here showing them they hadn’t won, they hadn’t beaten me; but standing in front of the big wood doors that lead into the school I could feel the fear spilling back in.
As I reached for the door handle, I could feel my soul reducing itself to nothing. By the time, I made it through the threshold, the smile I was so proud of was nonexistent. With my eyes glued to the ground, I moved through the school. I had to think of myself as a small spec on the wall just to make it through the day. And today was going to be no different. I so badly wanted to walk these halls proud of myself, but the overwhelming fear that surrounds me with even the thought of this place consumed every part of me. I instantly went into survival mode.
Survival mode for me meant being invisible, meant drawing no attention to myself, meant making it through the day without incident. Today I was not successful in my attempts to go unnoticed. The first half of the day went by like a breeze, no problems but that’s probably because we had state wide testing. It was lunch time now.
Most days I eat lunch in the library by myself, but because of the testing I’m forced to eat with everyone else in the cafeteria. I should have skipped lunch, but with all the excitement this morning I forgot to eat breakfast so I chanced it. I made sure to wait until lunch was almost over, when most of the kids had already got and eaten their food. I sat at the table closest to the door, it was empty. I kept my head down and tried to eat fast, but before I knew it all eyes were on me.
The whole cafeteria went silent and they were all looking at me. I didn’t understand why? Was there something on my face, was there something going on behind me? Before I could turn completely around, I felt it. It was cold and mushy and gave me instant goosebumps. Whatever it was, was slowly moving down my back and into my pants. Complete embarrassment runs over my entire being, as a roar of laughter floods the room. I sat there unable to move in complete shock, all I could do was close my eyes. I just tried to escape into the darkness until it was over, before I could a small hand press the mush against my back. The girl lowers her body on to the sit next to me and with a huge smile on her face she says “You never eat lunch in here. I was surprised but so happy I decided to come join you. My mother always taught me to share with the less fortunate, and since you came so late I decided to share to my leftovers with you.”
She places her hand back on my back, causing me to jump and squeal. This reflex movement tickles her. With a hard pat to my back she departs me. Half way to her table she turns around and yells back “Hope you enjoyed.”
I bolt up from the table and run straight out the cafeteria. The laughter of my peers follow me through the hall like a ghost haunting me. I just run, causing the mystery mush to travels further down my pants. The more the mush travels down, the more the despair threatens to take over.
I don’t know when or how, but I’m in the nurse’s offices. I’m not crying but my face is wet. I’m shaking but I’m not cold.
“Nalah, Nalah? Look at me. Do you know where you are? Nalah?”
It’s Nurse Ferguson. Her eyes are all bugged and her face is red and blotchy!
“Nalah, you must say something, you’re freaking me out kid.” She states, while giving me a shake that knocks me out of my shock.
I look Nurse Ferguson straight in the eyes and burst into tears. With Nurse Ferguson I can be free, here I can let me guard down. Fighting through tears, fears and pain I gently weep “She finally said yes, she finally said I can leave this place.” As the final word escapes my mouth, she pulls me into an embrace so tight I think the mush might seep into my skin, that the mush and I would become one. With a faint whisper that releases me from my burden, Nurse Ferguson says, “let’s get you changed and into some dry clothes.”
On the bus ride home, I tried to think about how it was all coming to an end, about how I would be transferring soon but it didn’t help. The only thoughts racing though my head were facts;
I wasn’t wearing my clothes. FACT.
My favorite shirt was now in the trash. FACT.
These aren’t the shoes my mother called darling. FACT.
I spent the rest of the day hiding in the nurse’s offices. FACT.
I was a coward, who would never stand up for herself. FACT.
I deserved everything I got. FACT.
I stood at my front door staring at nothing for an hour before I attempted to enter. How was I going to explain this to my mum, when I couldn’t explain it to myself? I told myself I was trying to figure out ways to explain it to my mum but what I was really trying to do was explain this to myself. Explain why I just sat there. Explain why I didn’t scream, fight or something. Explain why I was a pathetic, weak and small. I was trying to figure out what to even say. Everything around me was spiraling and spinning. Reaching for the knob to my front door felt like I was putting my hand over a direct flame. Every instinct in my body was telling me danger. I closed my eyes trying to focus myself. I close my eyes to enter the darkness and seep in the calm. I reach and my hand finally touches the knob, before I can turn it the door swings open; dragging me with it.
Followed by my mother’s voice. “Where have you been? The school called, said you had an allergic reaction.” She said with a quiver in her voice.
I could tell she was nervous. The unknown made her nervous.
“Nalah, who’s clothes are you wearing?” she demanded.
I stood frozen staring through her. She grabs me, grounding me. I finally register her. I fall into her. I weep, I try to explain but the words don’t form. In her arms, I feel home. My mother’s embrace is my safest place other than the darkness. In her arms, I stay for the rest of the night. We spend the night intertwined. Her prodding for information and me trying to find my words. After what seems like hours of silence, I find my voice. From the depths of my soul I muster.
“They poured some chocolate food mush down my back.”
Before she can ask any more question I bury my face into her chest and just weep into her warm bosom. I never told my mom what really went on during my day at school. My mom is one of those angry momma bears, who would probably tear the school down over me. Most days, that’s what I want her to do but the shame of my weakness won’t let me let her help me. The misery is all I know now. The misery is all I deserve. I just weep from my shame, I weep for my misery and before long I wasn’t the one weeping anymore. I don’t know when the switch happened but now it was my mum weeping. The longer she wept for me, the tighter her embrace around me got. It felt as if she was trying to will the sadness out of me and into her. Her gentle weeps slowly rocks my body to sleep. Before the darkness completely takes over I whisper,
“Just make sure Monday is my last day.”
On this morning, I didn’t lay in the darkness. On this morning, I didn’t need to keep my eyes shut tight. On this morning, I was already wake. The excitement of this day would not let me sleep, it would not the darkness take over.
Boom, Boom, Boom!!
“TODAY IS THE DAY!” I shout while pounding on the wall that separates our bedrooms.
“I hope you’re awake, because I am ready to start the day.” I state while I bounce off the bed and head to my closet.
“If I would have known that allowing you to transfer school, would cause this; I would have let you transfer a long time ago. I haven’t seen this Nalah for years now.” My mother states with glee in her voice.
She was standing in the doorway of my room, admiring me. For the first time in a long time she was seeing me. For the first in a long time she could see the light within. She still didn’t know the whole story and I was thankful for the space she was giving me. That night she promised that today would be my last day. She told me I never had to step foot in that place again if I didn’t want too. But I did. I wanted to say goodbye to the few friends I had. Nurse Ferguson, my English teacher and my only real friend Janelle. I owed them goodbyes, for everything they ever did to help my situation. I owed myself a proper goodbye.
“You know you don’t have to go. We can stay home and watch 90’s chick flicks” I’ll straighten you’re hair the way you like.” My mother pleaded with me.
“Me, skip school? You, suggesting me skip school?” I state with a mischief look on my face.
“Mom, its one day and it was one incident. I’ll be ok”. I promised. I say trying to convince myself more than her. The look in her eyes told me everything, they told me she knew. She knew everything. I look away from her pleading eyes and head for the door. Before I completely leave the house, I turn back and with one last look at my mom I tell her
“We’ll talk more tonight, I promise.”
Today I wore that smile again. I sat on the bus and told myself I would walk tall. I told myself that I would walk through those doors the girl my mother saw this morning. I would walk through those halls proud. Every day I hated going to school. Everyday my mind and body were under attack. But today was different. Today was a new beginning for me. The sun was finally shining in my direction. It was my last day at this school. For the first time in ever, I walked into that building that had beaten me to the bone with my head held high. Today nothing any of these people say or do is going to get to me.
First class of the day, English. My safe zone. There no one can touch me, but the way I’m feeling right now I don’t need a safe zone. I’ve never felt this feeling before, it’s overwhelming but calming. It was like being in the darkness, but in the light. I can’t wait for this day to be over, but I fear it’s going to take forever. Everything is in slow motion, in this slow motion I feel them coming at me like a pack of wild dogs. In the corner of my ear I hear one say,
“So, we hear today is your last day here?”
With every word, out of her mouth my body gets smaller and smaller. She continues by getting closer to my ear and says,
“I hope it’s not because I shared my lunch with you.” She proceeded to laugh and says, “I was just trying to be nice, you’re so ungrateful.”
I lower my head trying not to be seen, when another girl position herself right in front of me, looking me straight in my eyes and says,
“Well than we just have to make it a good last day, won’t we ladies.” The chuckles that flowed through the room made my soul crumble. I wanted to run and hide but it was like my feet were stuck to the ground. In that moment, my body became cement. Defeated I slowly lowered my head.
It was the same for these girls; every day they would find innovative ways to torment me. I don’t really know why they hate me, or what I have done to deserve this type of abuse from them, but it’s become our everyday dance. I’d avoid them at all cost, they seek me out like a dog looking for its bone. Instead of focusing on schoolwork, these girls who had once been my friends now only focused on me. Instead of studying about Martin Luther King and Malcom X, they were learning the limits they could push me to. “A good last day!” What does that even mean I thought. In a slow panic, I begin to sweat thinking of all the possible ways that they could make this a good last day. Before I knew what, I was doing I said,
“You could leave me alone, that would make it a good day.”
“She speaks, she sounds like the mouse rodent she is but she finally spoke” one of the girls says tightly.
In unison, all three girls walk away whispering and laughing.
We had gym class next, the worst class period of the day. This class was supervised by a lazy teacher who was only here to collect a check. Knowing this and knowing what these girls are capable of, I fear that the attempts on my life in the past will come true today. Something about the way they moved on this day, made the hairs on my body stand straight up. Walking into the locker room I could feel the fear dripping off me. I knew they could smell it a mile away, like they were the loins and I the prey.
I hated being in this room. The chlorine smell was so overpowering it made my insides burn. Changing into my bathing suit, I had to make myself take a moment to refocus, to help calm the spinning room. With the noise and the smell, it was hard to escape into the darkness and find peace. Anyways I had to hurry before they saw me. The locker room is where they got in most of their jabs at me. I quickly locked my locker back up, and before anyone could see I ran to the back of the locker room and out the door into the pool area.
It’s quiet in here. The water seems asleep, giving me a sense of secured hope. Without warning I slip into the darkness and let it cradle me like being wrapped in my mother’s arms. A blinding light wakes me from my day-dream. I jump into the pool, I can feel every inch of the water and the water can feel every inch of me. I love the water. The water can be like the darkness. Everything and nothing. Water can surround everything, leaving no room for anything. If it wanted too. The teacher yells I’ll be right back and tell us to continue with free swim.
In that moment, I knew that something was going to happen to me. I closed my eyes and wait. Within seconds I could hear the waves of the water hitting me. Suddenly cold small hands begin to cover my body. I don’t fight them; I just let whatever is going to happen, happen. They’re pulling me farther and farther into the pool. They’re really going to kill me this time. I could feel it; they had been trying to kill me for the last 2 weeks, and now it was going to happen.
Soon the water has swallowed my whole body. My body begins to jerk and thrash around, it begins to fight for me, when I refused to fight for myself. Everything is peaceful and silent. Everything feels right and safe. In this moment, darkness fills every corner of me. In this moment, I am nothing and everything. I am full. I am centered. I am free. In this darkness, I am everything I will ever be. As the darkness threaten to take over, I now understand. I understand me.
I come to with people all around me, and a fire in my chest. I can’t feel my body, but I can feel the cold and the pain. Everything hurts. My body feel like it is one heavy lump of nothing trapping my soul in a place of misery. I close my eyes trying to embrace the darkness but I can’t. There are people all around me moving and screaming, but I can’t hear them. Their faces tell me everything that’s happened. In their eyes, I can tell I’m alive. Smiles ran over their faces, you can see that their relieved I’m alive.
I close my eyes, trying to regain that sense of peace that made me feel so safe. I close my eyes, wishing the girls had done their job, wishing they had killed me. Suddenly I’m yanked to my feet, and carried off to the nurse’s office. They poke and ask many question, but I stay frozen staring at the walls. I feel nothing, but this yearning in the pit of my stomach that calls me back to the water. I want to feel alive again.
The rest of day went on like any other day, but everything was different. I was different. I now walked the halls like a zombie. My body is still alive but my soul feels disconnected, out of place. My soul felt trapped, like it was forced back into a jail cell; like it was being punished for a crime that wasn’t hers. My view of the world now were different. Everything I saw was different. I’m different.
The bus ride home proved that to me. Sitting on that bus facing my best friend, I could tell she knew I was different. She wanted to know what happened but all I could explain was the feeling I got from being in that pool. The feeling of being alive and at peace with myself. How could I explain that I now understood who I was, when I didn’t even understand what was happening? I just knew whatever it was, it was right. I tried to explain but she didn’t understand and I didn’t expect her to. Looking into her eyes, I could see she was looking right through me. I could see the fear on her face, the fear she had for me. Before I knew it, she grabbed me into an embrace I wasn’t ready for. Like every other day, she told me everything was going to be okay, that tomorrow would be better. Today for the first time I actually believed her.
Later that night when I got home from school, my mom was waiting at the door for me again. The minute she saw me she started with the question, asking me this, telling me that. I knew deep down inside she loved me and was worried. But all I could think about was that pool and that feeling and how I was going to experience it again. Without a word, I brush pass her trying to reach the stairs but she stops me.
“You promised Nalah, you promised you would explain to me what is going on.” She begs wobbly.
“Please let me in.”
I stand frozen, unable to move or register the activity around me.
“First I get a call last week about you getting bullied and now today they say you almost drowned.”
She grabs my arms so rough, she causes a burning sensation to pierce through my entire upper body. Looking me square in the eyes and with a tremor in her voice she states
“They said it might not have been an accident. You may be a victim of bullying again today”
When those words escaped her mouth, I crumbled to the ground. She knew. She knew I was weak and pathetic. She knew I was a coward. I could no longer live in the shadows of my misery. I could no longer lie to her face. I had to let the momma bear roar.
There was no escaping my mum. She had questions and she demanded answers. For the most part my mum was always gentle and understanding with me, but right now she was hurt, confused and angry. She didn’t understand why she didn’t know, why no one had told her. Why I hadn’t told her. Why she didn’t see it. Like me, my mum was blaming herself. She paced up and down the kitchen, asking question after question just trying to understand. But she didn’t understand, because I didn’t understand.
“Make me understand. I need to know why?” She demands
Understand what, Mom? I snap back. Understand that I’m a coward that let all this stuff happen to me and I never stopped it. Is that what you want to understand?
How could I make her understand something I myself didn’t understand? I didn’t know why I just sat there and let them mentally and physically abuse me. I didn’t know why I stop reporting it to the teachers. I didn’t know why I didn’t want her to know. I didn’t know why I was so weak but I was.
“Baby, I can’t help if you don’t make sense of all this.” She pleads
“I’M WEAK” I scream
“I’m weak, ok. Not everyone is strong, not everyone is you.” I state as I run out the room and up the stairs.
Once away from my mother pleading eyes, I rushed to the bathroom, turned on the water with the intent of taking a bath to get the chlorine off me, but once my body hit the water I knew what I had to do to get that feeling back. I knew I had to finish what they started. I slowly lowered my body into the bath tub until my entire body was under the water. I opened my eyes as the peace covered my body and the darkness filed my head. For the first time ever, I was awake in the darkness. In this moment, I’m alive. In this moment, I knew I had to die.