Exhausted and touchy as usual, I bang my way through the front door. The foul smell of liquor meets my nose, but I ignore it. I try to make my way toward the stairs.
However a large figure steps out of the den and blocks my way.
My father looms over me, and I can easily tell where the smell of cheap beer comes from.
“Where have you been?” He slurs. I avoid his eyes. I’d seen his eyes when he’d been like this before. I don’t want to see them again. Not because of what’s in them. Because of what they lack.
“Out.” I reply.
“Out doing what?”
“I’ll teach you to be a goddamn smart-mouth…”
A thumping pain emerges in my left ear and red stars dance before my eyes. Used to it, I shake them out, but I can’t help but let my tears spill.
“You’re gonna cry now, are ‘ya? Maybe you know how I feel. Pain like that doesn’t just come when you’re given a shakin.'” My father says. “When people run away. That pain is ten times worse. And I have you to thank for that.”
This time to the gut.
I double over, but glare up at him.
“I didn’t make mum run away, you did. Maybe if you weren’t just a fat drunk she would’ve stayed.”
This time it’s a kick.
His steel-toed boot smashes against my shin and I drop down to one knee; but with the hand that’s not clenching a can of beer, he seizes me by my hair and before I know it, I’m airborne. The pain of being lifted from your hair is like no other pain I’ve ever felt before. It’s not just the fact that you’re being suspended in mid air by thin strands of matter connected to your scalp- it’s also the feeling of being totally helpless as you’re forced to stare into the face of your attacker. Unable to do anything, I just hang there, limp, as he screams in my face.
“WELL YOU CAN GO TO HELL, YOU INSOLENT, UNGRATEFUL LITTLE GIRL. AND DON’T THINK I WON’T DANCE ON YOUR GRAVE WHEN YOU DO.”
Even though I can’t move any of my limbs, somehow I muster the strength to talk.
“You’ll die before me, you bastard.”
Finally he releases my hair. I stumble back to my feet and scramble to the stairs.
“Go. Run.” He says. He takes another swig out of his can of beer. Then he gives me an awful, yellow-toothed grin. “Run just like you made your mother run.”
I get to my room which is really more like a closet with a bathroom in it and I close and lock the door, placing the one and only chair I have against the doorknob to make sure he can’t get in. The usual routine.
Then I take the bag of grams out of my coat pocket and place them on the bathroom counter. It’s so normal for me to do this that I don’t even have to think about digging up the small length of rope from under some papers and pulling the syringe from a box in the corner. I go back into the bathroom and take a spoon out of the cupboard. Removing my jacket and the lighter from inside it’s left pocket, I take one of the grams out of the back and place it in the center of the spoon. I flick the lighter open and click it, the flame sputtering to life underneath the silver metal of the spoon, and I let it burn until the drug is fully cooked. I then empty the liquid into the syringe and wash off the needle, not caring that its still hardly sanitary. Placing the rope around my bicep, I look in the mirror, and this is when I see the girl that isn’t me. It’s only when I let the needle puncture my skin that I finally begin to break down.
It’s not like I want to do this.
I just can’t control myself.
But I can’t stop myself from trying.
“Quit it,” I whisper to my body. Tears are welling up in my eyes even though I don’t want them to as I watch the needle sink farther into the pale skin in the mirror. However, my reflection grins back at me wickedly as it holds up the syringe. Perhaps I only believe that Im crying. I think I wanna cry now. But as I can see, the girl in the mirror has no remorse.
As the fluid in the syringe drains, a familiar warm, weightless feeling fills my blood and the grin on my reflection’s face turns to a goofy, lazy half-smile. The rope is loosened from the reflection’s bicep as she pulls the needle out of her forearm. I watch the empty syringe drop onto the dirty counter.
The blood is starting to drip, so I grab a paper towel and press it to my arm a few times to slow it down. Then I drag my feet through air that feels like mud and leave the bathroom, pushing papers and punching dust off my bed before collapsing. I giggle to myself, but when I look at my pillow, it’s soaked with tears. Confused, I wipe at my eyes. My fingers come away wet. Suddenly it occurs to me that Im not laughing, Im crying. I’m really actually crying this time. But this time, I think Im laughing.
I think in my head, ‘maybe all this stuff is hurting me,’ but the fuel running through my veins tells me I’m wrong. I’m always wrong.
‘This is what’s best for you,’ the fluid purrs in my mind. ‘You’re staying like this and no one’s ever gonna help you. Change is unachievable.’
To be honest, as my brain drowns in drugs and I close my eyes as I laugh and I cry and I think about how this is my future-
I really can’t care less.
“Annie,” the girl’s voice says. There’s an urgent tone and I really don’t feel like getting up, so I roll over on my mattress and pull my one cover over my head.
“Annie, get up.” This is a different voice, a boy’s, and it sounds just as anxious, if not more. “Come on, Stick Boy’s waiting in the van. We needa show you something.”
“Bug off,” I mutter into my pillow. Suddenly I’m seized by a strong pair of hands and I’m hoisted into the air, my cover coming with me. I’m lifted over Ben’s broad shoulder and Im carried through my small house as Gwenyth follows us, watching me carefully.
“Where’s my dad?” I murmur, glancing at his empty red armchair. There’s a beer stain on the wall next to the small TV and I think it’s new, so maybe he’s gone on another one of his drunk bar-trips. But Gwenyth informs me otherwise as Ben struggles to push cardboard boxes out of the way in order to open the back door.
“He’s on a short-haul,” she tells me. “We saw his truck leaving earlier and he had a crowbar and some boxes in the back. We don’t think he’ll be back for a while.” She turns her attention back to Ben. “Ben, put her in the car, we need some time to pack stuff she’s gonna need…” She looks back at me. “Oh, by the way, happy eighteenth birthday. You’re officially a legal driver. I guess it doesn’t matter, ’cause you can’t drive,
“Whatever.” I interrupt. Whatever. The greatest word known to man. It’ll shut anyone up if said the right way.
There’s a pounding in my head and I have a strong need to get high, but I don’t share this with either Ben or Gwen. I don’t think they wanna know. “…Wait, what do mean ‘pack stuff Im gonna need? Where am I going?”
“To your present.” Ben replies.
He finally gets the door open. Stick Boy’s van is in the driveway. Ben carries me over to it and throws open the door, setting me down in the back seat. He closes the door again, I immediately curl into a ball, trying to regain the warmth I’d had before. Stick Boy peers over at me from the driver’s seat. A toothpick hangs loosely from the corner of his mouth and, like always, he doesn’t say a word. His skinny arm is draped over the passenger’s seat and his eyebrows are furrowed in a way that I know means, ‘We were all worried.’
“I know you were.” I sigh. “…But it’s my life, you know?”
He raises an eyebrow, which translates to, ‘Getting high is not a life.”
I don’t reply.
I just close my eyes, knowing he’s right and wishing he was wrong.
Ten minutes later, while I’m still trying to go back to sleep, the trunk of the van opens up and a duffel bag that I haven’t seen in years is thrown in. The trunk closes and the side doors open, and Ben slides into the passenger’s seat as Gwen pushes me farther into the van and sits beside me. Stick Boy revs up the engine and everything vibrates.
I grumble something that even I can’t understand, wrapping my blanket around me tighter. My vision starts to sway as we drive down some road I’ve never been down; its funny how lost you can feel in a place you’ve lived forever. Gwen stares down at me, her big blue eyes filled with concern behind her glasses.
“Are you okay? Are you gonna be sick?” She asks me.
“Leave ‘er alone, Gwen. She’ll be fine.” Ben tells her.
“How do you know that? You ever done heroine?”
“Then shut up. Seriously, Annie, are you okay?”
“Mmm.” I nod my head yes at her, even though I’m not all that sure.
“See? She’s fine.”
“Im sorry Im so worried about her- at least I care.”
“You think I don’t?”
“You’re acting like you don’t!”
“Well you’re acting like a bitch!”
“Well you’re acting like a-”
“Can you both just shut up and tell me where we’re going?” I wail. All the arguing is giving me an even stronger headache.
“I already told you, to your present.” Ben says irritably.
“Yeah, but what IS my present?”
“You’ll see when we get there.” Gwen says, looking out the window. “Stick Boy, how much longer?”
Stick Boy points to a sign at the side of the road.
“Forty-five minutes.” Gwen reads as we pass. “Long time.”
“Can I sleep?” I ask her weakly, looking up at her. She sighs.
“Let her sleep.”
This is an unfamiliar voice. It takes us all a minute to realize that it’s Stick Boy’s. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard him talk. He doesn’t look at us; he keeps his eyes sharply on road as he speaks. “She needs rest.”
A surprised silence fills the van, the only sound coming from the light patter of rain that has begun to fall, against the roof.
“…Okay.” Gwen says a minute later. “Yeah, Annie. …You can sleep.”
I’m kind of angry that they let me sleep at all, because it ends up being just as unpleasant this time as it was the first time they woke me up. I faintly hear them discussing wether or not they should pour some water on me to get me up, and not wanting that to happen, I open my eyes and tug on Gwen’s sleeve.
“I’m up, I’m up.” I say, swallowing my anger. After all, it’s not their fault I’m so withdrawn. Then I remember why were in a car. I ask them one last time, “Now where the Hell are we?”
“Just wait a few more minutes. We have to get you in.”
Suddenly there’s a tap on the window. We all look up.
There’s some woman standing outside, dressed in what looks like a nurse’s outfit.
Stick Boy rolls down his window and the woman asks,
“Do you have a patient?”
“Yeah, we do.” Ben says from beside Stick Boy.
“Name? Last and first?”
The woman checks a clipboard in her hand and I whisper to Gwen,
“Is she what I think she is? Is this what I think it is?”
She just smiles.
A feeling fills my chest and suddenly I’m looking at things through hopeful eyes
“And she’s in for heroine addiction?” The woman asks.
“Alright. Can someone help me get Ms. Mallick inside and check her in?”
Stick Boy speaks for the second time ever.
The woman steps out of the way so that he can open his door. Gwen opens hers and helps me out of the van, and Stick Boy wraps my arm around his shoulder to help me stand. Him, the nurse-lady and I begin toward a building at the end of the road.
“Happy birthday, Annie!”
I turn my head. Gwen and Ben are sticking their heads out of the van windows. Gwen has tears in her eyes. I can’t tell if she’s sad or happy. Trying to cheer her up, I say sarcastically,
“So you guys didn’t get me an actual present?”
“We got you a future, man.” Ben says. “That should be enough of a present.”
“I hate to interrupt this moment, but we really need to get her inside.” The nurse says kindly.
“Alright,” I whisper, one the verge of tears myself. “Bye, guys.”
We start again towards the building and I wipe my tears away. After all, it’s not forever. It’s just a month. I’ll see them again. I’ll see them through sober eyes.
Traditionally people make wishes on their birthdays.
But as I look up at the building, the hospital, the place that’s going to save my life, I smile.
I already have my wish.
Jayne Thompson, Age 13, Grade 8, The Clinton School For Writers and Artists, Silver Key