“How to Save a Life” by Stephanie Eberly
It’s the same routine every day, and today is no different. Anne wakes up to the sound of her alarm playing ‘80s rock music, slams her fist on the machine to make it stop, and slides her skinny legs out from under her warm Star Wars blanket. Her pale feet hit the cold wooden floor, sending a shiver up her spine. She grabs a pair of jeans and a graphic T that were carelessly thrown on her chair the night before and slips them on. With shuffling steps she makes her way to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. That mirror. Oh how she hates it. Sometimes she just wants to punch the wavy reflection and watch as the pieces shatter on the tile. Instead she glares at the sickly face peering back at her and goes to work uselessly trying to beautify the face she was born with. Cold water splashes, a pink towel dries, mascara darkens lashes, blush colors pale cheeks, contacts go in and come back out, glasses are placed, and the door is opened.
She walks down the creaky steps of the ancient house and into the kitchen where her mother stands over a sink full of soapy water. Anne thumps a bowl and spoon on the table and pours Reese’s Puffs until little pieces roll onto the table. She opens the refrigerator door and sticks her nose into the milk carton.
Her nose crinkles, and bile forms in her throat. “Ah, gross! Mom! The milk is bad again.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” she says without looking up from the pan she’s washing. “You can always pick some up on your way home from school today.”
“Nah.” Anne pushes the door closed and tosses the rotten milk in the trash can. “Whatever, I’ll eat dry cereal for the third day in a row.”
“You need to eat more than that. I can tell when you’re losing weight.”
“I’m fine,” she says, pushing the concern aside, and swipes the full bowl from the table, spilling little peanut butter and chocolate balls all over the floor. “Darn it.”
“What did you say?”
Her mother turns from the sink, her hands covered in suds. “I’m going to ask one more time. What did you say?”
“Nothing, okay? Just get off my back!”
“What did I do, huh?” It’s like something inside of her snapped. “All I ever do is take care of you. I cook, I clean, I work my fingers to the bone to make sure you get an education, and this is the thanks I get?”
“Mom, don’t. Just don’t”
“Ever since your father left, you’ve treated me as if I’m just a maid.” Her mom dries her hands and leans on the counter. “I’m your mother, Anne! Your mother. I’m sorry I couldn’t get your father to stay, but I’m doing the best I can!”
“Don’t!” Tears form in Anne’s eyes, and she presses her palms against her skull. “Don’t bring Dad into this.”
“But that’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s your father. You think I wasn’t a good wife to him, and that’s why he left. Isn’t it, Anne?” She turns to the window above the sink. “Come on, just tell me. I can take it.”
“Agh! I can’t do this with you right now.” Anne slings her backpack over her shoulder. “I’m going to school.”
Her mother never looks away from the window, as she clenches the countertop so hard her knuckles turn white. “Don’t forget your lunch.”
Anne grabs the brown bag sitting so innocently on the white counter, and the screen door slams behind her.
It’s always brought back to Dad. Two years ago, he up and left them one night, no warning, no note, nothing. He packed his bags and left. Ever since then, Anne’s mother has always been so self-centered, bringing every conversation back to “Oh, woe is me.” It’s pathetic. Doesn’t she see that her daughter is struggling, too? Growing up without a father isn’t exactly easy. The older kids see her as being weak, a wimp. She won’t—no—she can’t cry in front of them, so she puts on a mask to disguise the pain inside.
Anne kicks a piece of garbage along the sidewalk in an attempt to vent her emotions. But instead the garbage seems to evade her, and her leg goes out from under her, bringing her smack down onto the concrete. A couple of kids across the street point and laugh at her struggle. This day just keeps getting better and better. Sometimes she wonders if life is really worth living, to deal with all of these dumb people and their stupid ways every single day. Maybe it would be better if she just weren’t here anymore. No one would miss her anyway, and the world would move on.
These thoughts are pushed out of her mind as she approaches the front steps of her high school. Taking a deep breath, she enters the halls that are sure to one day suck all life out of her. Ignoring the crooked looks and stabs in the back, she moves through the crowd to find her locker. It’s located between Jamie, who doesn’t say much, and Josh, a football jock who only cares about his muscles and hair.
Josh is showing off his biceps to a group of cheerleaders as Anne approaches. He raises one eyebrow and nudges the blonde beside him. “Watch this.” As if Anne couldn’t hear him from a mile away.
He shoves her locker door closed, almost catching her fingers. “Hey, Anne. I’m surprised you actually came to school today.”
Anne bites her lip and clenches her fists. “Why do you say that, Josh?” If looks could kill, he’d be dead.
“Oh, you know, because the Comic Con isn’t for a couple of months yet.” Josh and the cheerleaders burst into a jostling laughter.
Anne feels her cheeks get hot. She self-consciously covers her Captain America t-shirt with her math books as she moves away from the lockers. She barely takes two steps before Josh slaps the books out of her hands and beneath the milling feet of the crowd. He proceeds to snatch the brown bag lunch from her hands and peer inside.
“What’d ya bring me today, geek?”
Kids all around her start to laugh. Little cliques chuckle to themselves and begin to murmur. They all know the daily routine. Anne brings the bagged lunch, Josh eats the lunch, and Anne goes another school day without a meal. Her hip bones protruded further out than last week.
Josh pulls out a napkin on which letters are scribbled in bright pink. “’I love you, sweetie. Love, Mom,’” he reads. “Aw, look who’s mommy’s little baby.” He puckers out his lip, tauntingly waving the paper in front of her.
She tries to snatch it from him, but he’s too quick. How could she have forgotten to take out the napkin? The one time she forgets… The napkin is pulled from his raised hand and passed around the newly forming circle of high schoolers. Laughter erupts. Fingers point. She can feel the anger boil inside of her, threatening to spill over and burn everyone around her. Jaw clenched, she leans down to pick up her books that are newly decorated with dusty footprints.
As she goes to stand, a field of white blocks her view.
“Want this, huh? Do you?” There towers Josh. He must really want to push her buttons.
Before she knows it, tearing is heard, and his outspread hands hold the pieces of what used to be her mother’s note.
Anne’s world goes blurry as her head fills with rage. Not her mother’s note. She can barely keep her body from shaking, and before she knows it, her fist digs into Josh’s chin. He slams into the lockers behind him, the shock knocking him off his feet.
“That’s how you want to play, is it?” His forehead bulges with anger as he regains his balance. “Come here, ya little pipsqueak.” He swings at her, but she dodges to the side, the books flopping to the floor once more.
She knows she will regret this later, but all she can think about now is how sweet the revenge tastes. Summoning all her strength, she lunges onto the jock’s back. Her arms wrap in a headlock and don’t let go.
Josh claws at her arms and takes a few wobbly steps backwards, struggling to get breath. Since the beginning of the fight, people have formed a circle around them, their fists pumping in the air.
Within a split second, the cold metal of the lockers slam into Anne’s back. Sharp pain shoots up her spine and numbs her already blurred mind. She feels her grip loosen, and she tumbles onto the ground.
Like an angry grizzly, Josh towers over her limp body. She can’t help but chuckle. Never has she seen him this angry, and today, it was because of her. The little pipsqueak. A surge of pride pushes out her chest.
“I’m gonna wipe that smirk right off your face, geek.” The last thing she remembers is his large fist coming at her face, then everything goes black.
Anne sits in the principal’s office, holding an icepack against her brand new shiner. Her head throbs with pain, but her heart beats with adrenaline from the fight. The fight. She actually fought Josh. She lost, sure, but she couldn’t help but feel a hint of pride.
The office door opens and in walks a balding, middle-aged man who looks like he ate one too many cheeseburgers. “Hello, Anne. I heard you got yourself into a fight earlier today, is that correct?” His eyes search the non-bruised part of her face in an effort to get a response. Upon receiving none, he pulls out a slip of paper from his desk. “You know we can’t let this go. There will be consequences.”
Anne continues to press the cold pack against her flushed skin. She doesn’t really care what this man is saying; she just wants to get out of the cramped quarters.
“Josh has been temporarily removed from the football team in an effort to curtail his temper.” A pause. “Anne.” He leans forward in his chair. “This little fit of yours will cost you two weeks of suspension. Do you understand?”
Two weeks. Maybe she could end all this drama during that time. All she would have to do is get the razor…
“We called your mother. She’s on her way.”
Anne snaps back to attention. “What?! My mom?”
The principal just stares at her, his hands placed calmly on his desk. “Yes, your mother. She will be here shortly to pick you up, and I’m sure she will have a few things to say about your suspension”
Her grip on the icepack tightens. “You didn’t have to bring my mom into this. She doesn’t care.”
“Oh, I’m sure she does, Anne. She’s your mother after all.”
“No. You don’t understand.” She can feel her whole face flush and her pulse quicken. “She. Doesn’t. Care.”
“Anne, now calm down.”
“No! Don’t tell me to calm down! All you people and your dumb ways. None of you understand. You don’t know me. You don’t get what I’m going through. I just want to get out of here. Two weeks to rid myself of all this crap! Good riddance!”
She rushes out of the office before anyone can stop her. Tears blur her vision and cause her to weave through the hallway. Somehow her free hand finds the door to the girl’s bathroom, and she stumbles in.
She grips the edge of the counter. From behind her crooked glasses, she scans the face staring back at her in the mirror. There she is, the good-for-nothing geek that everyone makes fun of. With that black eye, she’d be the laughing stock of the whole school—not like that’s anything new. What is the point of her life, when all anyone ever does is yell and laugh at her? No one cares that she is crumbling inside, that all she wants to do is rid herself of this pain.
She thinks back to her bathroom, to the razor blade sitting all innocent-like on a shelf hidden behind that awful mirror. Just one swipe across her wrist, that’s all she has to do. And then all this pain can be gone. She imagines it hovering over her veins, so close to taking the life from her. But the bathroom door opens, and her thoughts disappear like a vapor.
Anne gives a quick start, her darkened thoughts temporarily pushed back in her mind. A short, stocky blonde girl stands behind her, peering at her with green eyes. It’s one of the “smart, pretty” girls. The ones who ace math tests and raise their hands to answer every question in science. The ones who don’t care about lowlifes like Anne.
“You’re Anne, right?” The blonde searches for a response, but upon receiving none, moves toward a stall door. ”You know, I’ve always thought your love for Marvel is pretty cool. Don’t listen to what Josh and those girls say. They’re just jerks.” She smiles softly at Anne’s reflection. “You’re really pretty…even with the black eye.”
Anne stares back at the blonde, stunned into silence.
The girl looks down at the tiled floor and searches for something else to say. “See you when you get back?”
When she gets back? News travels fast. Anne finally gets her lips to move. “Yeah.”
“Cool. I’ll see you then, Anne.” She gives her an understanding smile before disappearing into the stall.
Yeah. Maybe she will see her in two weeks. She will. And now, Anne will look forward to it