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My breaths came out raspy, labored and warm. Pain exploded from several areas of my body – a sharp ache pierced my right shoulder, searing agony engulfed my left leg, and the throbbing in my temple caused black and blue spots to swarm my vision once more.
I rather enjoyed the semi-transparent shapes that danced their way across the cracked ceiling that I had helplessly stared up at for who knew how long – sometimes I gave each spot and square a name, a personality. Sometimes I imagined each pair of shapes as couples – some happy, some unhappy, some in love, some on the cusp of a breakup. It depended on how I felt during the episode of colors and swirls that appeared before me – it all depended on the pain. Sometimes, the throb in my head would cause me to succumb to yet another bout of nausea in which I would let my head hang wearily off of the side of my unmade bed and wretch my empty guts of whatever vile fluid was left in them. Sometimes, it would leave my eyes and mind and body utterly paralyzed with unwavering discomfort. Sometimes, the throb was even welcoming – I relaxed my muscles and let it wash over me like some sort of sexual pleasure.
Although, that fantasy normally dissipated in an instant – mentally insane as I was, it was hard to mistaken this much pain for any sort of pleasure.
Even though I hated to pick favorites among each and every pang, ache, cut, bruise, sore, and wound – whom, in my delirious state, I had come to think of as my children - there was one source of pain in particular that trumped the rest by a long shot: the bloody, three-inch hole in my chest.
To think, if Fate hadn’t struck me with this final blow, I may have been able to push past it all and stand up, to call for help, to save myself or die trying to.
And, to think, it had all started with a lousy paper cut.
The events of the day that had led up to this had become jumbled together and blurred in the hours - perhaps days - that I laid in my bed, bleeding out from nowhere and everywhere. Sometimes I found myself wondering: Did I really run into a monster in the school hallway? Was the boogeyman really waiting for me on my front porch? Have I actually been kissed by Dracula himself?
Obviously, the queries were usually answered right away with a momentary vision of the correct, untainted memory.
The side of the story that actually happened.
The unfortunate series of events that were leading up to my inevitable Death.
The reference to the fantastically gothic book series as well as the unintentional rhyme was rather hilarious to me and I found myself caught in a spasm of hysterical giggles that caused new and exciting perceptions throughout my body: the bitter taste of metallic blood spewed out of my mouth, stronger aches flared out of the numerous disturbed wounds in my arms and upper body, and there was even this odd clutching sensation in my chest that left me momentarily breathless…
And not the kind of breathless one felt when swept off their feet by a loved one or the kind of breathless one became when caught up in a stolen, impossible kiss.
No, I actually meant breathless as in without breath.
I couldn’t breathe.
The surprisingly coherent thought slithered its way into my deteriorating mind in that millisecond and I abruptly sat up in alarm - or tried to anyway. My head lifted off of my blood-soaked cotton pillow ever so slightly and I felt air chill the back of my wet neck. The feeling would’ve felt refreshing in my feverous state but the only thing that consumed me in that moment was the pain that radiated out of my bullet wound, the hot-and-cold sensations thrumming their way up and over my chest, down my stomach, and around the sides of my body - I was filled to the brim with pain, pain, pain.
And it no longer felt pleasant or close-to-pleasant, no, no, no, it felt like…like…
It felt like I was going to die.
That was the moment it actually clicked with me – the fact that I was dying. I had known it since the beginning – the signs were all there – and, yet, it was still hard to stomach (and not just because I felt like my insides were being turned inside out). It was true that I hadn’t felt very alive in days, weeks, months leading up to all this and recently had begun to wonder what would happen if I were to just give up, to quit, to let go…
I guess I should have died on my own terms while I still had the chance – it was all up to Fate now.
Oh, how I hated relying on others.
Sometimes I looked back on the nightmarish day that had started it all and wondered if everything that had happened could’ve been stopped – prevented – or if it was all predestined, that “you choose your own destiny” nonsense rightfully turning out to be false.
Sometimes I looked back and thought what if I didn’t get out of bed that day? What if I hadn’t missed the bus? What if I hadn’t gone back inside the cafeteria and faced those kids and-
I saw the memories – the correct ones – swirling about in front of me and I ever-so-slowly raised my aching right arm, my fingertips trembling with fatigue, and reached for them, up and up and up…
I caught one and let it sweep me into yet another fitful nightmare.
The insistent alarm wasn’t what woke me up.
Shrill screams pierced my eardrums and my vision was blurry as I sat up with a jolt. Instead of stretching across my bed to turn off the annoying beep-beep beep-beep of my alarm - as I did every morning - I concentrated on the sounds of the heated argument coming from outside my door.
“Never do anything you-“
“Lousy SON OF A-“
My mother’s sentence was cut off by the hard slam! of the front door. The sound of car tires squealing from out of our driveway could be heard not even a few seconds after and my dog, Mixie’s, barks trailed after the noise, the loveable Terrier probably perplexed by the furious screech of tires this early in the morning. I hurriedly turned off my alarm, momentarily forgetting what day it was.
My digital alarm clock said Friday, January 22nd, 9:15 AM.
I was late for school.
I flew out of bed and viciously pulled off my pajamas and yanked a sweatshirt and khaki pants onto my body. I didn’t bother with anything else as I grabbed my still-open school bag - almost spilling all of its contents out onto the floor in the process – and sprinted out of my room and down the stairway.
Only when I got to the last five steps did the realization hit me.
An empty feeling crept up my throat and I walked down the rest of the staircase slowly and hesitantly as I turned the corner of the hallway to assess the damage:
Sofa cushions littered the floor, broken glass, dead tulips and dirty water sat in a miserable puddle in the corner of the living room and our small TV had a large, spider-web-like crack splattered across the middle of the dusty screen.
I was surprised it took the sounds of my parents’ shouts – something I heard on a day-to-day basis - to wake me up rather than the sound of broken glass and a smashed television screen.
Maybe I wasn’t meant to wake up today.
“What are you doing?”, my mother’s voice hissed from the next room, as if reading my mind and confirming my trepidation. Her voice was muffled but the sound still startled me out of my thoughts and I flinched as I turned towards the award-winning scowl that was plastered across her face.
“I-“, my groggy mind combined with her fervent movements as she grabbed things – coat, shoes, keys, was that a hammer? - and stuffed them into a large bag made me slow to respond, “I’m late for school. Can you drive me?”, I knew for a fact that I had missed the bus yet again.
My furious mother didn’t seem to hear me – she fumed and muttered incoherently as she grabbed her things and absent-mindedly grumbled, “Breakfast’s in the kitchen” before yanking the front door open and slamming it with as much finality as my dad had.
I didn’t have enough time to run out there, to call out for her, to even react before another set of squealing tires sped out of our driveway and down the main road.
I was alone.
Maybe not, the thought slithered into my mind and I couldn’t help but grin from ear-to-ear at the thought of my precious puppy, Mixie.
“Mixie!”, I called out as I crouched down to pick up some fallen books, “Mixie! Come here, girl!”
I was answered with nothing but silence.
Odd, I thought, setting down two of the three books in my hands onto the dining room table, “Puppers! Where are you, girl?”, I called out once more, going from room-to-room, searching for her.
She was nowhere.
The silence was deafening.
I suddenly felt like crying – where could she have gone?
But then I recalled the barking that I had assumed was her response to the furious screech of my dad’s Jeep. After all that conflict, wouldn’t she want to see me - the only person who seemed to care about her in this household?
The realization hit me like a punch to the gut.
Dad must’ve taken her.
Any hopes I had that he would be coming back eventually were gone the instant I fell to my knees. If he wasn’t coming back then neither was Mom-
“Ouch!”, I flinched and dropped the book I had been clutching like a security blanket – Alice In Wonderland – at the burst of pain that came from my right pointer finger.
A centimeter-long red line was drawn against my fingertip, blood weakly seeping out from under the shallow cut. I dimly wondered why the pathetic paper cut had caused so much pain in that moment but I swept away the question as an even bigger one occurred to me:
How was I going to get to school?
The answer to that question was a miserable 5-mile hike through the pouring rain (because, of course it started to rain just as I got out the front door). I had spent about 20 minutes pacing the first floor of our house on the verge of tears, my backpack limply dragging behind me, as I frantically tried to come up with a solution that didn’t involve arriving at school sweaty and ravenous from a 5-mile jog. Unfortunately, there were no other options: I couldn’t take a taxi or call up an Uber - I didn’t have enough money in my wallet – and I couldn’t call a friend or relative - I didn’t have any friends and the only two semi-reliable relatives in my life with functioning vehicles had just abandoned me.
The idea of skipping school had in fact crossed my mind once or twice or three thousand times as my weary arms tried to shield my face from the onslaught of rain – to no avail, of course - but something about the thought of skipping just didn’t sit well with me, much like the overcooked omelet and stale muffin that was churning inside my stomach as I ran up and down hills, across streets and through puddles of mud.
The only thought that I found mild comfort in was maybe the day will get better once I get to school.
Little did I know, I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
My heart skipped a beat and heat rose to my cheeks as dozens of pairs of eyes stared at the dripping wet, panting teenager in the doorway of English classroom. I expected the professor, Mr. Mariano, to say something sarcastic to, probably, the only late student that he’s had all school year - 20 minutes late at that - but, instead, he only looked at me with this odd mixture of disappointment, resentment and…was that pity?
Somehow the glares that drilled their way into the back of my head as I walked to my seat deep inside the classroom felt worse than anything he could’ve said.
After a few seconds had passed once I took my seat, he finally broke the suffocating eye contact with me and continued with the lesson, “We’ll move on to the metaphors present in Chapter 3 of Alice in Wonderland…”, he said as he wrote a few columns on the blackboard behind him.
He went on to review the different types of figurative language and how they could be used in certain types of writing but, at some point, his words began to blur and fade into one another. My eyes were as heavy as lead and I could feel the adrenaline rush that had consumed me from the moment I had woken up that morning start to catch up to me…
“Hey!” I was snapped awake by a sharp voice – Mr. Mariano’s. His face – red and scornfully pinched in anger – was directly above me and I hesitantly raised my previously-bowed head, like a dog waiting to be punished.
Thoughts of poor Mixie flowed through my mind as he spoke:
“You’d think you got enough sleep, seeing as how you’ve missed almost half a day’s worth of classes!”, he exclaimed, the comment bringing an even larger rush of heat to my cheeks and causing a few snickers throughout the classroom.
He didn’t say much more after that, just gave me another one of those laser-like glares and a scowl that could match my mother’s as he made his way back to his desk.
Needless to say, my mother ended up being the only thing on my mind as Mr. Mariano finished the lesson and we were all dismissed.
Lunch started off normal enough: I got in line at the cafeteria to get what I normally bought when I forgot to bring my own lunch (which happened to be the case more often than not) and slipped past the dirty looks and giggles of my classmates as I sat at the table in the corner of the mess hall.
However, as I slumped into the metal chair and forlornly nibbled on a poorly-prepared ham sandwich, two things stood out to me as odd:
The cafeteria had suddenly become quiet…eerily quiet and almost everyone had their eyes on me.
The attention brought a fresh wave of heat throughout my face and a prickling sensation ran up my hand. I angrily sat up and fled the cafeteria, momentarily abandoning my lunch as I walked to nowhere in particular.
Before I knew it, I had collided with none other than Mr. Mariano.
I rubbed my right hand nervously as I surveyed the damage, a bit of coffee had spilled onto his blazer and his face was tightly pinched together for the second time that day.
Although it wasn’t pinched so much with anger… more so with mild annoyance.
“Oh my god, sir I am so sorry, I’ll pay for your dry cleaning and-“ I stuttered, not knowing how I could prevent his inevitable outburst.
Miraculously, he didn’t snap. Instead, he cut off my ramblings with a somewhat-placid raise of his hand and said, “It’s alright. I was actually hoping to run into you, although not like this”, he said, motioning to his ruined jacket with a small smile; “I wanted to apologize for earlier. And I wanted to ask you a question.”
I wasn’t sure whether I was more stunned by his calm demeanor or the apology but, nonetheless, I could feel my jaw hanging slightly open in shock as he bent down to my height, placed a firm grip on my shoulder and asked in his sincerest tone of voice, “Are you okay?”
I felt heat rise up in me yet again that day although it wasn’t from a rush of embarrassment or shame into my cheeks, but a red-hot flame that ignited deep inside my chest.
So what I saw in his expression earlier was pity, I thought bitterly.
“Yeah, sure”, I answered, not caring whether or not he would pick up on my obvious sarcasm: I suddenly just wanted to get away from there.
He nodded serenely and took the palm of his hand off of my shoulder, “Alright. I just wanted to make sure because you were so late and from your appearance it looked like you had walked all the way-“
I didn’t let him finish his (correct) assumption, “Well, I’m fine, Mr. Mariano. And I actually left my lunch back at the cafeteria so I’ll see you next week, okay?”, I said, not really feeling or meaning anything I was saying. He nodded understandingly once more but I only caught a glimpse of it as I turned on my heels and not-so-subtly speed-walked down the way I came, back to the mess hall.
Despite my apprehension at going back into that room of taunts and stares, only one thought went through my mind as I burst through those doors:
I don’t need your pity.
“Get away from my table, guys”, I said to the crowd of giggling teenagers surrounding my usually-empty table.
“Or what?”, challenged one of the popular girls at school – Tammy - who looked like she had orchestrated this entire attack on my lunch. Her lip was upturned into a taunting sneer and she had an air of confidence that floated around her, making me feel both insecure and like I wanted to punch her in the face.
“Or I’ll…”, I trailed off lamely, not knowing what to say without sounding like a complete idiot. I could see my barely-touched ham sandwich behind a few of Tammy’s friends and my stomach rumbled in protest at the thought of what I was about to do.
I turned on my heels and walked back out of the cafeteria.
However, just as the doors swung closed, I heard Tammy’s mocking voice:
“See? I told you. Such a weakling.”
Laughter promptly exploded throughout the mess hall and I felt boiling rage fill my chest for the second time in those past ten minutes.
Only this time, it wasn’t just a bitter flame of annoyance for being pitied - it was a rage that filled me, blinded me, consumed me.
My legs felt like they were walking of their own accord and all of a sudden I was back inside the cafeteria as laughter continued to echo off of its walls. Before I knew it, I was twenty steps, ten steps, five steps away from my table and-
My knees skidded against the tiled floor, Tammy having shoved me to the ground as another bout of laughter filled the room. My cheeks felt hot and I was breathing heavily but it wasn’t from the leftover adrenaline or the force of Tammy’s push, it was from the pain that suddenly exploded from out of my right hand.
“Ouch!”, I cried, although I doubted anyone could hear me over the noise. I was still dizzy from the abrupt fall and the receding anger in my lungs, so it took me a second longer to process what I was seeing as I lifted my right hand up:
My hand was consumed and wrapped up in cuts and bruises. Streams of blood trickled down my wrist and I could actually see some of my fingers start to throb and swell.
“What the hell?”, I muttered to myself, my heart pounding in my chest at the sight of my maimed limb. I stumbled to my feet and started running out of the cafeteria for the thousandth time that afternoon, no longer caring about my lunch or Tammy and her friends.
I sprinted all the way down the hall – right before the doors that led out of the school - where the nurse’s office stood, my feet occasionally tripping and skidding on the tiled floors as I rushed into the doorway.
Nurse Thurgood stood in the back of the white room, slipping on her raincoat as she mumbled to herself and I had a momentary flashback to my mother making almost the exact same motions only a few hours earlier.
I shook my head to clear my dazed thoughts and spoke up, “Um, Miss? Could you please help me? There was a scuffle in the cafeteria and I got injured pretty badly”, I refrained from adding somehow as I stared at my hand in horror – seriously, how could a simple shove do this much damage?
She turned around swiftly, probably startled by the panicked teenager in her office. She put down her purse and sighed – actually sighed – as she moved to grab a pair of disposable latex gloves from the cabinet.
A moment later she faced me again – gloves on, sleeves rolled up – and I held out my right hand, expecting her to recoil in shock, to fumble around for gauze and bandages, to ask me in a panicked tone of voice, how did this happen!?
Instead, she took a split-second look at my hand and gave me the most pissed-off expression I had ever seen an adult make at me (which was saying a lot considering who my parents were).
“Do you think this is funny? I work my ass off for this school and get five sick days a year and this is how I’m thanked?”, her pale face was suddenly red with anger and she was nearly shouting. I turned my head slightly and saw a few students lingering outside the office, probably amused by the unexpected drama.
“Ma’am, what do you mean? These kids shoved me in the cafeteria and I looked up and saw blood-“, even as I spoke, my thumb was beginning to turn an ugly shade of purple and blood was beginning to drip off of my arm and onto the polished floor, “If you would just look-“, I stepped closer to her as she moved away to take her gloves off.
But she wouldn’t even look at me, she only rolled her sleeves back down and grabbed her purse, muttering furiously, “Honestly, kids these days…I happen to have a date this afternoon and I’ll be damned if I’m late because of some wannabe class clown…”
At this point, I was near tears which was not good timing considering the large crowd that was beginning to form outside of the nurse’s office – I could even spot Tammy and some of her posse staring at me with the wildest of grins, some of them with their phones out, probably recording the whole thing.
Nurse Thurgood was almost out the door - about to scream at the kids lined up outside to let her through – when, out of desperation, I pulled on her jacket with my good hand and pleaded, “Please, Miss. My hand is swelling and I don’t know what to do-“
She slapped my hand away and I tripped and fell to the floor from the utterly disgusted look on her face as she spat, “I am reporting you to the dean as soon as I get home from my date and, I swear to God, if you ever pull a stunt like this again I will have you expelled before you can so much as lift a finger!” With that, she spun out of the doorway, pushing her way past the growing crowd of kids.
Everyone suddenly began to laugh; some began to chant “Baby! Baby!” and made crying motions with their hands and probably half the school had their phones out, recording the utter look of misery on my face as I sat on the floor, gazing helplessly at my mutilated hand – the palm had grown to the size of a grapefruit and had quickly become the color of a plum.
I ached for anger to fill me once more, to give me the strength to push past the crowd of jeering kids, to yell at them, to do something.
But, instead, I was only filled with depression and an odd sense of dread, as a sudden realization played over and over in my mind, drowning out the high-pitched sounds of the school’s laughter:
She couldn’t see my injury.
None of them can see it.
Only I can see the damage that’s been done.
At some point, the bell rang and people slowly shuffled off to class, snickering and throwing scraps of food at me in their wake. I waited until the halls were empty and all that could be heard was the sound of my raspy breaths before I moved to make my escape.
Like the coward I was.
Protectively clutching my right hand in the other, I bolted down the rest of the hallway and out the doors of the school. I rummaged in my bag for my phone and barely got a glimpse of the time – 1:45 PM – before the screen went black and I distantly realized I hadn’t packed my charger.
Great, I thought bitterly, no charger and the bus drivers won’t be here for another hour.
Guess I’m walking again.
The good news was: the rain had let up since that morning so at least I wouldn’t be hiking five miles in a storm again.
The bad news was: the pain in my hand was getting close to unbearable. You’d think that, after a certain point, I would simply lose feeling and go numb to the swelling, throbbing and sting of the cuts and bruises but, somehow, the pain only heightened until it felt like someone had taken a hacksaw to the nerves in my fingers and wrist. Worse yet, the pain seemed to be climbing up my body: at one point, I stopped in the middle of an intersection and rolled up my sleeve to find faint bruises and shallow cuts along my elbow and upper arm.
It was spreading.
I picked up the pace, fixing my mind on something else – anything else - to take my attention away from the agony.
But it seemed like, no matter where I turned inside my head, there was only pain, pain, pain.
Eventually, I stumbled up the wooden steps to my house, the keys rattling in my trembling left hand as I awkwardly made my way inside. The pain was seizing control of my right limb and I shouted and tripped on the carpeted floor, half-hoping someone would come downstairs and help me.
Of course no one did – I was alone.
One of the things that kept me going as I painfully trekked my way back home was the thought of my parents: how they would greet me once I was home, how they would hug me and kiss me and tell me how worried they’d been when they got a call from the school principal saying I was absent.
How they would tell me that they love me with all of their hearts and that everything would be okay.
But, once I saw the sad, empty driveway, I knew it was just a pathetic, fruitless dream.
Hot tears blurred my vision before I could stop them, the feeling of never seeing my parents again creating a lump of emotion in my throat. Suddenly, the skin in my legs and other arm was sliced open, large gashes causing trickles of blood to soak into the carpet beneath me. I screamed in agony – the pent-up rage, sadness, fear and confusion forming a violent harmony that I let out to the world. A sound that resembled that of a wounded animal rang in my ears and I dimly wondered whether the neighbors would end up calling the police.
The hallucinations must’ve started then – the only neighbors we had were a mopey drunk and a depressed divorcee, I doubt they would’ve cared enough to raise an eyebrow at the strange noises coming from next door.
After I had screamed my throat raw – which could’ve been anywhere from ten seconds to ten minutes – I growled angrily and yanked myself onto my feet, stumbling and twisting before steadying myself at the foot of the staircase.
The sight brought fresh tears to my eyes - pain tore through me and my legs throbbed as I weakly raised one foot up onto the first step.
Every step caused fresh waves of anguish to resonate throughout my body and I could feel new cuts – some small, some large - start to form along my shoulders, back and neck.
Finally, I reached the top, gasping at the feat. I dropped to my knees, suddenly faint and dizzy and started to cough and hack up blood, the mess dripping down my chin and onto the hard-wood floor. I tried to sit up and stand - tipping back and almost falling back down the stairs in the process - and used the last ounce of common sense I had left in me to resolve to crawl the rest of the way.
I pushed open my bedroom door with my better hand and almost burst out crying at the sight of my sweet, sweet bed. My eyes hungrily darted to my desk – where I always kept my phone charger – and I felt my heart plummet as I realized my fatal mistake.
The charger must’ve fallen out of my backpack on the way to school that morning.
My phone charger was downstairs.
I leaned against my bed, trying to stand up once more, as the thump-thump-thump of blood pounded in my ears. My breaths were shallow and quick - a strange sort of hyperventilation – and my brain raced to think of alternative solutions:
I’ll make my way to the emergency house phone in my parent’s bedroom.
I’ll rest here for a few minutes and crawl back downstairs to get my charger.
BANG! Pain ripped through my chest, tore through my stomach, careened down my legs and pierced my spine. I cried out as yet another excruciating sob lodged in my throat and fell to the floor, my legs going out from under me awkwardly. Blood was everywhere: soaked into the polyester sweatshirt and khaki pants that I had put on a lifetime ago, pumping out of my wounds and onto the hardwood floor as well as splattered against my bedpost and the white wall nearby, making my bedroom look like some sort of crime scene.
Maybe when the police retrieved my body, they would tell my parents and Mixie that it was a murder alright.
But I had done it to myself.
I started to giggle uncontrollably, hysterically. A mix of salty tears and bitter blood came together on my tongue and lips and I felt like some sort of vampire after its first feeding – it certainly would’ve explained the magnitude of blood that flooded my mouth like a dam about-to-burst and poured out of my nose like a runny faucet.
For a few minutes, there was only an odd sort of bliss as I laid there in a puddle of my own warm blood, waiting for Death to take me.
But, when He refused to come, I realized with a start that I didn’t want to die.
Before the doubt could fully manifest in my mind, however, I was already yanking myself onto my feet, almost biting my tongue off and grinding my teeth to smithereens as I did my best to push past the agony that washed over me in violent waves. My arms trembled as I lifted my body up and I almost slipped once or twice or three thousand times on the decently-sized pool of blood beneath me.
During this process, I couldn't help but think maybe I can do this, maybe I can stand up and get to a phone and call for help and-
The thought couldn’t even be finished before the world spun and darkness embraced me like an old friend.
Images flashed before me.
A once-happy child.
Blown-out candles under the moonlight.
My mom and dad smiling at one another like this – us – was all they’d ever need.
For a time, we were enough.
Then the arguments came. Screaming. Insults. Upside-down furniture. Broken glass. Bruises. Tears. Whiskey. The smell of smoke and blood.
“Please don’t let me die!”, I begged the Void.
The Cheshire Cat materialized before me.
“We’re all mad here”, he giggled.
Mad. Mad. Mad. Mad. Mad.
The rest of my vision was taking over by the sight of my bloody hand holding that book, Alice in Wonderland.
The only thought that circled my mind was, it all started with a paper cut…
I woke up gasping for air, blood gurgling in my dry throat. Everything that had happened came back to me all at once and I abruptly cried out with a raw, broken voice - that momentary, instinctual desire to live tearing me apart.
Then, suddenly, I heard something. Something other than my desperate breaths or my pathetic cries for help or the pumping of blood in my head.
And it sounded like it was coming from downstairs.
I shouted, screamed, and kicked, my limbs feeling like they would detach themselves from my body and be flung against the bedroom wall any minute now. I threw a bloody tantrum – both literally and figuratively speaking – and, before I knew what was happening, I was falling, falling, falling…
I landed on the cold, hardwood floor with a thump!, tangled up in my blood-soaked, disheveled bedsheets. Sporadic puffs of air surged out of me as I tried to regulate my breathing, all in vain.
I heard yet another, more distinct crash! from downstairs and hope gushed from me as profusely as the blood in my veins:
Mommy’s home! Daddy’s home! They’ll know what to do – they’ll save me and hug me and tell me they love me with all of their-
I found myself sitting up excitedly with the thought and, all of the sudden, my minimal vision was overrun with familiar black and blue spots and I was pulled back down, flat on my back, as I choked on a dreaded - but anticipated - bout of nausea.
The dizzying array of dots that permeated my line of sight did nothing to stop the rush of acid from pooling in my mouth and dripping down my chin. As much as I yearned to close my eyes, one comforting thought kept them open in eagerness.
My parents are coming.
While I didn’t have a reliable sense of time in my delirious state, it felt like I had stiffly laid there for thirty minutes, at the very least, before my hopes started to dwindle and I felt my heart sink deeper and deeper into my mutilated gut.
They aren’t coming.
They’re never coming back.
The colorful shapes were suddenly blurred by a flood of tears that traced their own paths down my face. Mercifully, I wasn’t overcome by an episode of racking sobs, as I had no strength left and, honestly, did I really expect them to come and save me? Bitterness towards my parents’ lack of concern and care as well as towards my own naïveté formed a hard lump in the back of my ravaged throat and, for the first time since this whole thing began, I finally felt ready.
Ready to die.
Ready to face whatever Death had in store for me.
My eyes closed, seemingly of their own accord, and I was sinking further and further into darkness…
Something brushed my right hand, and I felt a tingling where that initial paper cut had first pierced my skin and poisoned my soul. My eyelids felt like iron as I wearily lifted them up and caught a glimpse of familiar, golden fur.
There she was in all of her adorable glory. Leaves, twigs and what looked suspiciously like broken-off pieces of ceramics were entangled in her gorgeous pelt. She sat next to me – panting - her paws drenched in my blood, although she didn’t seem to notice nor mind. Instead of backing up, she came closer and poked my stomach with her right paw, a delightfully curious glint in her eyes as she seemed to say, is this a new game?
Yes!, I wanted to shout to her, Yes, this is a game. A game I’m playing all for you, my sweet. Because you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me and you came, you actually came and-
I made a fatal mistake and tried to sit up, only to feebly gasp as I fell back down, as that was all I could muster.
Mixie - sensing something was wrong, that this wasn’t a game, that I was actually dying - sat back on her hind legs and started howling, desperate as me to call for help.
While I mentally applauded her spirit, I knew all-too-well that help was not on its way, no one was coming.
I was alone. Alone with Mixie.
Honestly, it wasn’t a bad way to go.
As if on cue, my chest tightened and I felt like whatever breath I had left in me was being sucked out of me.
Mixie was whimpering and another tear slipped down my cheek as the guilt of leaving her alone filled my blood-starved heart.
It was too late to worry now, though. I’d just have to hope that she’d get away from my parents’ cruelty and find herself a new owner who would love her with all of their hearts like my parents’ should’ve loved the both of us.
Darkness spread over my vision, Death’s presence having never felt so palpable.
I used whatever strength I had left to put on a small, brave smile. For Mixie and for myself.
The first feeling that left me was the pain.
The last feeling that left me was the warm touch of Mixie’s saliva on my right pointer finger, where the paper cut had first penetrated my vulnerable skin.