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I was running. That’s the first thing I noticed. The next thing was my location. Trees surrounded me, blurring green and brown. I could hear the birds communicating with each other, probably chirping about the young girl dodging the many trees.
Why was I running?
I felt my short black hair whipping behind me as the harsh wind hit my exposed cheeks. The sky was darkening overhead causing me to run even faster. Suddenly, I saw a light ahead of me. It taunted me, wanting me to draw closer.
Darkness was closing in quickly.
I reached the clearing where the light was and found myself looking down off a cliff. I stopped running and took in a ragged breath. I let it out and watched the white wisps of air leave me.
They don’t want me either, I thought, watching them with envy. I nudged a foot forward and frowned at the pebbles that fell into the dark abyss. I took another step forward, causing the toes of my feet hang off the edge. I took in another breath and threw myself off the cliff into the never-ending chasm.
“Argh!” I sat up in my bed and widened my eyes in surprise. Sweat drenched the sheets around me, pouring off my body in waves. I shuddered violently. This was the fourth time the dream made an appearance in the past week.
Scowling, I threw my comforter off my trembling body and pitched my feet onto the floor. I felt myself stumble to the bathroom, where I flipped on the light. I squinted my eyes against the bright light and steadied myself against the sink.
Once my eyes adjusted to the sudden light, I glanced at my reflection in the mirror. I scrutinized my black hair cut in a pixie style so that the strands stuck up in every position. My dark blue-almost purple eyes swept over my heart-shaped face, full lips and pale complexion. I frowned at the mirror and she frowned back.
I shook my head defiantly and knelt onto the cold tile floor; it was calming against my clammy skin. I held my head over the shiny porcelain bowl and stuck my finger down my throat. I heaved up all of the dinner I had had and when I finished, I saw a red stain spreading in the now dirty water. I tried to ignore it as I flushed the evidence-not that anybody will notice...nobody ever does.
I shuffled back to the sink, brushed my teeth and washed my hands. I then went back to my bed and leaned against the headboard. I ran hesitant fingers over the faint white scars criss-crossing up and down my arm. I closed my swollen eyes as the memories rushed back to me at once.
“Hope! Wait for me!” I turned at the sound of my name and saw my best friend, Mackenzie, running toward me. She was waving two pieces of paper in her hand while trying to hold onto her purse and backpack. I noticed she was wearing a short (very short) white dress that showed off her summer tan. I glanced down swiftly at my own t-shirt and jean shorts, feeling under dressed.
“What’s up, Mac?” I said nonchalantly, hitching my backpack higher on my shoulder. Mac reached me and grinned triumphantly. She held out one of the papers and I took it. I scanned it and looked back up at Mac skeptically.
“How did you get the invitations to Hannah Black’s birthday party? She’s in eleventh grade.” I watched Mac’s grin grow even wider.
“My sister is Hannah’s best friend. I promised to help her with her math and in return she gave me two invitations. One for you and one for me. Isn’t that amazing? We are going to a high school party!” Mac squealed and clutched my arm. I smiled tightly and nodded. Mac frowned and watched me in disbelief. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. I mean, our moms will never let us go.”
“That’s why we have to sneak out,” Mac said as if stating the obvious. I shook my head.
“No. No way.”
On Saturday afternoon, Mac and I were standing in front of Hannah’s mansion of a house. Mac had convinced me to wear a miniskirt and blouse; she said it made me look like I was in tenth grade. I didn’t want to disappoint her and that’s why I was standing on the porch trying to tug the skirt down.
“Hey…Mikey isn’t it?” Hannah opened the door and gave us a withering smile. Her long blonde hair was styled in waves and she wore a skimpy two-piece bathing suit.
“Mackenzie, actually; and this is my friend Hope,” Mac said and smiled brightly up at Hannah.
“Pleasure,” she replied in a voice that said it wasn’t a pleasure at all. “Well, the pool is back that way and there is a game room in the basement.”
With that said, Hannah walked away to talk to an older guy. They walked hand in hand out to the pool. Mac turned to me and smiled.
“Come on,” she said and pulled me out to the pool. A lot of older teenagers-maybe some college-aged students-stood around the pool laughing, talking, smoking, and even kissing. I took a hesitant step back and shook my head.
“Mac, I can’t do this. We don’t know anybody,” I said, my voice breaking on the last word.
“Hope, stop being such a downer. This party is so cool. We will be so popular when we get back to the middle school. Let’s go get some snacks.”
Mac and I walked around talking to a lot of other high school kids-well, Mac mingled; I just stood there, trying to avoid the eyes of the others. After an hour, or so, I found myself without Mac. She had disappeared with a girl who said she had some “stuff” that Mac would like. I chose to stay behind and went into the game room. Nobody else was down there so I busied myself with playing Pacman, wishing Mac was still with me.
Then, the door opened and three guys walked in. I tried to stay hidden and walk out unnoticed, but one of them saw me and called my name.
“Hey, Hope,” he said drunkenly. I turned and saw Chase Reynolds, the most popular guy in the eleventh grade. He was also Mac’s sister’s boyfriend. I gave him a small smile and walked over to him.
“Hey Chase,” I said quietly. I could smell the alcohol rolling off him in waves. Suddenly, he was leering over me, a hand clutching my arm. I cried out but he just laughed. “Chase, let go of me.”
“Not so fast, Hope,” he slurred. He motioned for the other guys to lock the door and stand guard which they did. It was just Chase and me.
“What are you going to do to me?” I said, my voice trembling.
“Something that you have been asking for,” he said angrily and pushed me onto the floor. He ripped my blouse open and I flushed at the exposure. I tried to pull away from him, but he tightened his grip on my arm.
“Chase, stop,” I cried out. He laughed mockingly and ran a hand over my stomach. I could feel my body trembling even worse.
“If you scream, I will kill you.” The threat was made a reality when he showed me a pocket knife in the waistband of his shorts. Then he proceeded to pull and tug at me. He ignored my whimpers of distress, the blood pooling around me, and the tears cascading down my cheeks.
“You little s***,” she yelled at me. I cowered beneath her accusing glare and lowered my eyes. “How could you do this?”
“Sara, I didn’t mean to…I’m sorry,” I said. She reached out and struck me across the face. I reeled back, clutching my bruised cheek.
“You can’t apologize for this,” she seethed and stormed off. I looked at Mac with apologies swimming in my eyes. She scowled and took a few steps closer to me.
“I can’t believe you did that to my sister,” she said, fire burning brightly in her eyes. “You had sex with her boyfriend. She’s right; you are a s***.”
The word hung in the air between us like a veil. I reached out for her but she turned away.
“Mac, you have to believe me. You’re my best friend. Please.” My voice raised an octave and I felt the tears slipping down my cheeks.
“I am not friends with people who have sex with other people’s boyfriends,” she said, her voice low. “I will ruin you. You are ugly, stupid, and fat. I thought we were friends…but it turns out I was wrong. Good luck at school without me. It will be hell.”
With that said, Mac walked off in the direction her sister went, leaving me alone in the hallway. I sniffed and wiped at the hot tears dripping off my cheeks. What would I do without Mac?
I let out a low laugh. I haven’t talked to Mac in years. I may see her in the hallway, but every time our eyes meet, she mouths the word, “s***”.
She ruined high school for me. Everywhere I went, I always heard the whispers, the giggles, the taunting. All of the guys would come up to me asking if I wanted to “do it”. Some days, I didn’t even go to school because of the new bullying I would receive. My mom never noticed and my dad had been long gone.
To cope, I started to drink and binge. After binging, I would force myself to throw up the food, because I knew it would make me fat. It wasn’t until tenth grade that I started to cut for a release.
In fall of my sophomore year at high school, the taunts got worse. High school was already a nightmare, but I had to go, to get into the college that I wanted to go to. One day in particular was the worst day of my teenage life.
“Oh look, it’s the school s***,” someone called out. I looked up and saw a girl pointing at me with a stupid grin on her face. I grimaced and continued to my locker. Whispers followed me like wildfire. I tried to ignore them-I mean, I was used to it-but the words still cut through my skin like a knife.
I reached my locker and spun the lock quickly, hoping to get away as soon as possible. The locker door swung open and hundreds of foil squares fell onto the floor around me. I flushed and bent down to pick up the paper that had fallen out with them. I could hear the laughs and taunts around me as I unfolded the piece of paper.
“To the school slut: We though you could use these with all the stuff that you do. Sincerely, the entire school body”
I refolded the paper and threw it in the trash can beside my locker. I then gathered the squares in my arms and tossed them in the trash too. Sighing gruffly, I slammed my locker door shut and started towards my homeroom. As I passed a stairwell, a pair of hands grabbed me and pulled me into the large alcove. I struck out and hit the cement wall. I cried out in pain and held my injured wrist.
“Shut up.” A deep voice came from the darkness and I froze. Another voice let out a laugh. “Just keep quiet and you won’t get hurt.”
I heard a door shut and the lock clicked. Panic rose in my mouth like bile. And I resisted the urge not to scream. Different pairs of hands pulled at my clothes, ripping them off my body.
Pressure. Crying. Shouts. Slaps. Bruises.
Suddenly, it all stopped and I was left alone. I shakily pulled on my clothes and tried to brush through my hair. I started to feel along the wall until my fingers found a light switch. I flicked it on and blinked in the sudden light. I found that I was in a large janitor’s closet underneath the stairs.
I then proceeded to fix myself, so no one would think of it when I walked out. The tardy bell rang overhead, the sound being muffled in the dim room. I took in a deep breath and walked out of the closet and to my homeroom.
“Honey, how was school?” My mother’s voice, high and cheerful, called out from the kitchen. I chose not to answer and ran upstairs to my bedroom. I went into my bathroom and threw up the lunch I had consumed only hours before. After flushing the toilet, I brushed my teeth and washed my hands.
As I reached for the towel, I knocked my razor to the floor and heard it break. I bent down and reached for it, a sharp pain shot up my finger. I reeled back, clutching my hand. A drop of blood formed at the tip of my finger and I felt an odd sense of relief.
I glanced down and saw the razor blade glinting off the floor. I reached for it again, being more careful, and held it gingerly in my hands. I then bent over the sink and gripped the blade in my right hand.
Without thinking much about it, I slid it across my arm in a quick motion. Pain shot up my arm, but instead of alarming me, it calmed me more than anything has ever done before. I let a small smile grace my lips and slid the blade across my wrist again. Blood trickled down my hand into the sink, staining the white, a pinkish tinge.
Suddenly, I started to laugh; a loud manic laugh that echoed throughout my room. I dropped the blade and continued to laugh, not caring that my blood got onto my shirt, staining the soft cotton, and as the blood swirled down the drain of the sink, disappearing into a deep abyss.
I took in a shuddering breath and felt myself climb out of bed again. I staggered into my bathroom and turned on the water in my bath tub. I twisted it until it was as hot as I could stand and then reached for my razor blade. I stripped down and stepped into the steaming water.
I sat down, letting the water swirl around me. I laid there for a minute or too, letting the hot water numb my body. I tightened my hold on the blade and sat a little straighter in the tub.
“Made a wrong turn…once or twice; dug my way out, blood and fire,” I sang to myself as I started to slice the already scarred skin. “Bad decisions; that’s alright. Welcome to my silly life.”
Blood started to drip into the water, staining it red. I smiled ruefully and continued to etch the cuts into my skin.
“Mistreated; misplaced; misunderstood; It didn’t slow me down. Mistaken; always second guessing; underestimated; look, I’m still around.”
Letters formed on my skin as I sang to myself.
“Pretty, pretty please; don’t you ever, ever feel, like you’re less then, less than perfect? Pretty, pretty please; if you ever, ever feel, like you’re nothing; you are perfect to me.”
Shining back up at me, the word “perfect” was etched into my pale skin, the blood smearing all over my arm. I leaned back in the water, waiting for death to overtake me when the words came back to me.
“…if you ever, ever feel, like you’re nothing; you are perfect, to me.”
I sat up a little straighter.
“…you are perfect, to me.”
I reached out and grabbed hold of the towel rack; using it to pull me to my feet, I stepped out of the bloody red tub and onto the tile floor once more. I wrapped a soft towel around my arm, staunching the blood from pouring down my arm. I pulled the plug on in the tub and watched with satisfaction as the blood was washed down the drain. I snatched my razor blades, stained with my blood, and threw them in the trash, hoping to never see them again.
Finally, I took a tube of bright red lipstick and popped the cap off. In large capital letters I smeared it across my mirror.
“I AM PERFECT.”