The sound of rushing water. A coughing like none other. A husband's terrified stare. The first sight of a dead body. My eyes opened, I was awake.
Morning. I'd woken up in a sweat. I could feel it sticking to my palms and on my forehead. I must have dreamt of it again.
I sat up in bed, hugging my knees to my chest, asking myself over and over, Why can'tI remember? Six years ago I'd had an accident, an accident that wasn't my fault, an accident that put me in a hospital and when I woke up, I couldn't recall anything about the last 24 hours. Emberly wasn't even home, it's not her fault if she doesn't have anything to remember. Anyways...
I glanced at the clock, which displayed in big red letters 5:24am. I guess it was better than nothing. I hadn't been sleeping well for a while, but by now I'd pretty much gotten used to it. I got up and out of bed, and tiptoed across the hallway to the only other room on the upstairs floor, the bathroom.
I took pleasure in the fact that no one would be awake for another hour, I enjoyed my space, I suppose.
In the bathroom, I shut and locked the door. I removed the baggy pajamas from my small figure, and stood in front of the mirror. You know, in movies they always tell you that they don't recognize their reflection, but the boy looking back at me was oh so familiar. Though he wasn't what I'd expect of a regular teenage boy.
This is where you think I'm going to talk about how my ribs were poking out of my skin and how I believed I needed to lose weight, right? Well, that isn't how this is going to go. I didn't stare at my body in the mirror and wish I was thinner. My anorexia was completely based off of the weight, something I wanted to lose. So I looked at myself, and thought that this wasn't a regular kid. That my thinness wasn't something... desirable... or whatever. It might even be a repellent. I ran my fingers through my hair and tugged on it a bit. I curled my lips in towards my teeth in that weird kinda humph look, and stepped onto the scale in the corner of the bathroom.
Both relief and dread washed over me as the scale dial went to 102. As a 17 year old with a height of 5'8" I had a low BMI. Paranoia ran its cold fingers around my stomach, whispering in my ear, too high. But there was relief that dried the sweat at my temple, because this meant I wouldn't have to go to the hospital. I rubbed my shoulders with hard fingers, trying to de-tense my muscles, or whatever muscles I had. Today was my first day at a new school. I wouldn't let it be a bad day. I couldn't.
So, I showered and dressed. I checked my email. I took my medications which kept me from having humiliating mental breakdowns in public places. I ate breakfast, which was actually just a couple of gold fish crackers.
Surprisingly, I'd been able to waste a full hour and a half without any disturbances. I was sitting on my bed, playing on my phone, when I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I lifted the covers in a hurry and slipped inside my bed, then adjusted my head on the pillow, shut my eyes, and allowed my mouth to gape open a little.
Carolyn knocked on the door and I could hear her muffled quiet voice say, "Ben?" She turned the knob, and opened the door. She let out a light exhale, and sat down beside me on the bed. She ran her fingers through my hair like she did when I was sick or sad, and repeated, "Ben."
When my eyes flickered and opened slightly, she continued, "We have to leave for school soon. You have everything ready?"
I gave her a sleepy smile and nod, then stretched my arms over my head. I told her I'd meet her downstairs in a few minutes, and she rose from my mattress. When she reached the threshold, she looked back at me and looked a little concernedly into my room, then gave me a slight smile before walking down the steps.
I remember my very first day of school, kindergarten. Mom was standing on the outskirts of the park. And I don't mean Carolyn. I mean Mom. She had blonde, practically white hair, with a bright smile plastered on her face as she waved us goodbye. She didn't walk me and Emberly into the school due to some kind of business meeting she had to attend to, which I believed to be true at the time. I remember holding my sister’s hand as we doddled our way to the front steps. I remember she was scared, she didn't want to go, and even though I was born only a few minutes before her, I still felt I had to protect her as best I could as her older brother. It was the terrifying, but it was something I easily overcame.
Today would be just like that, I hoped. Today I was going to attend a new school, a bigger school, full of new people. All I wanted to do was get in and get out as quickly as possible.
Carolyn was driving Emberly and I. I was sitting in the back, watching the neighbourhoods fly past the window while holding in my hands a warm fresh cup of coffee, fuel for the day. Emberly was talking Carolyn's ear off about the clubs she wanted to join and how anxious she was to meet her teachers. She responded with enthusiasm, but there was an edge to her voice that I recognized as stress.
It felt like less than a minute before the car was parked in the lot of Lanson High. Emberly opened her door to leave and I was about to do the same when Carolyn said, “Go on ahead Embe, Ben will be right out.”
I sat back in my seat, already beginning to feel shivers of paranoia.
Emberly said her goodbyes and practically skipped to the front doors of the school. Carolyn turned around in her seat, and asked me a dreadful question, “Did you use that site doctor Laghner suggested?”
She was referring to the group therapy website I had logged onto the night before.
“Yeah, um…” I was going to explain the whole thing as it was. Really. But she kept on looking at me with those big hopeful eyes. Crushing her spirits just wasn't something I could bring myself to do. So… “It was really great, actually. I was surprised. Everyone was really helpful, and they were all supportive.”
She gave me a warm, genuine smile, then asked, “Did you tell them about…?”
“No, not yet. I didn't think the first day would be a good time to introduce that. They're still strangers, y'know? I'd like to get to know them a little. Let them get to know me.”
Sprinkling on little lies was just like giving her a whole damn cake. I hated it.
I started to move to get out of the car, when Carolyn asked me to wait. "How much sleep did you get last night?"
"Actually," I said uncomfortably, "I've been sleeping a lot better lately. I think the move has made me a little less anxious about everything."
Carolyn nodded, but I knew she didn't believe me. She had always been able to see right through me. I guess that was just her motherly senses kicking in.
"I'll see you after school." I opened the door.
"Hey, have a good day, okay?" She had barely made out the words before I shut the door.
Part of me wanted to shy back into the vehicle, that somehow outside was making me feel more claustrophobic than a small low-to-the-ground car. I knew school wasn't something I could avoid, and I guess it was Carolyn's hope and my own shredded will that made my feet move that day as I walked to the doors.