Anxiety is a normal part of life, but not to everyone.
On a cold day in the middle of October, the classes of seventh grade were mixed. The room was intermarried with hyper adolescents ranging from 12 up to two girls of 13, and half a dozen scattered book bags were strewn across the room. The day started out with a note of promise in the air but ever so quickly had changed. For in this room of outcasts, pranksters, and artists, lay chaos.
The classroom filled with noise, voices bouncing off of each other in a frenzy, battling for a control they could not attain. The chaos was a by-product of the classes mixing for one brief hour, one teacher stepping away from his students and vanishing. This was the perfect time for things to slip unnoticed, because their importance diminished as so many children inhabited the room. Or so everyone thought. Because on this day, one such thing occurred that changed their views on their fellow children for years to come.
A teenage girl, eyes downcast and her body slouched, sat by the door. She was surrounded by children, but the closest to her sat a few feet across. There was a certain charm about the girl if one could look past her strange adoration for books, bumbling social graces, and the scars that curled into her flesh, long enough to notice. Faint words echoed in her head as her fingers slipped over the long, slightly jagged, scar on her wrist. Miracle. A small twinge of pain followed the action, which was nothing more than a small reaction from a nerve getting squeezed by the scar tissue. Healthy. Over the years, the teenager told herself she should just be grateful she was alive and had no disabilities, but the harsh words of her own mind made that almost impossible. Being premature wasn’t her fault, and everyone was quick to remind her she was a gift, that they loved her. But her thoughts did not. They whispered to her, coating her with lies she could no longer refute. Useless. Anyone could tell her she was a waste of space, an idiot, or any other negative connotation, but none of it would compare with what she told herself. Never spoken with doubt or anger, but as cold facts; the thoughts were definite and unchanging.
Her features were soft, eyes a mix of light and dark green, mirroring that of a forest as it passed under the moonlight. Limbal rings circled around her irises, highlighting the difference in shades of both eyes. Her skin seemed to be kissed by the sun itself, for beautiful coats of light ivory coated her limbs. Rich, wavy chocolate-colored hair dipped below the crown of her head, cascading down the white shirt the kids were forced to wear while the insignia on the front glared out; the pumpkin coated sign the only spot of color on the drab article of clothing.
She stared at a piece of paper, her fingers absently trailing over the scrawled words, a difference from the usual hurried writing she normally used. It was as if the creativity that had sparked a fire inside her only hours ago, was reduced to ashes. It would have been a strange sight had anyone glanced her way, but even those closest to the young teenager were occupied with varied tasks. A boy sat directly in front of her. He was the type of guy who liked to play pranks and trivial jokes without ever looking at the serious things. His skin was dark, years of sunlight creating a toned cream color that shone stark against the backdrop of pale bodies littering the room.
“Cory!” The boy poked her in the arm with his pencil. A two-second conceived idea used in an effort to get her attention. It worked. Ironically, it first brought the elder girl out of her thoughts instead of the boy’s target. Lifting her head, the girl focused her attention on the two, managing a small smile as her fiery, spitfire friend snatched the utensil and threw it across the room. It hit a kid on the back of the head who gave no notice to the object that bounced off his cranium and fell to the floor.
The scene might have been funny at any other time, a reason to at least give a tiny snicker, but all she felt was fear. A dull ache entered the girl’s chest, where it filtered throughout her body, a harsh heat spreading with it. This wasn’t excitement or any kind of emotion that caused jubilance. No, this was the feeling that one gets after a nightmare overtakes them. Something that hissed and curled around someone in the darkest point of night. It was a feeling the thirteen-year-old had grown accustomed to and didn’t know how to get rid of. Her hands curled into fists in recognition, and her sharp nails dug into soft skin, where they pierced the top layer and left small lines melting into flesh. The harsher side of her wanted to turn and scratch her arms, letting red, angry, thin strips marr them, but that wasn’t an option. They would be too noticeable, so for now that would have to suffice. It wasn’t used to cause torn skin or blood, just for controlling the emotions swirling like a hurricane beneath her calm exterior. She would not notice the pain or the marks left behind until much later, but the force of the action quelled the shaking in her hands. It may not have been the best way to deal with it, but she did not know any other way. It was driven by a need, some part of the girl’s core actions that had grown to commit the act, despite that it was hurting her. After all, her reasoning was spot on, right? She was dealing with an abundance of terror and the pain, when enough, distracted her. Enough that she lost sight of the fire that coursed through her veins, even though it would not stop until every last shred of safety was gone. Even after it stole her hope it would linger, feeding her with pain.
A sudden hand curled around her wrist, and though it barely touched her, she jumped, hot tears clouding her vision. If you were to ask her later why that was the action that finally caused her to spiral, she would find there was no explanation to give. The rational side of her knew there was no danger, but she was losing control anyway. It was like her mind and body were not hers anymore, and they were only slipping away more as the minutes ticked by. Her limbs curled, dark thoughts descended on her like a murder of crows, and peace became a foreign word. The onslaught of voices tore at her flesh, stabbing and poking with vengeance. But it was only until a shocked voice murmured beside her that the attention of her two friends focused on her.
“Zohar, are you okay?” A lie laid on her lips, ready to dismiss her friend’s warm concern, but it wasn't enough to stop the hot tears trailing down her cheeks when the painful sobs finally broke through. As they enveloped the room, a stillness seemed to punctuate every person. It was like everyone was stuck in a silent film and their only job was to sit there like dolls. Angrily, the girl wiped the liquid away, but the pressure inside her chest reminded, slowly growing larger, as it furiously demanded for a release. It was tearing her apart.
The rational side of her knew there was no danger, but she was losing control, anyway. Run. RUN! Searing pain stabbed her chest where it seemed to increase with every new breath. Flames of adrenaline leapt through her small frame, and harsh intakes of breath expelled from her mouth. The sound of her own blood and increasing heartbeat rushed in her ears, blocking out the question that had curiously raised itself again. Eyes slid to the group’s spot, focused solely on her. Their faces were mirrors of confusion and surprise. She needed to disappear, right then. But had the girl taken a moment to think about it, the why of the matter (other than the primal need to flee), she would have realized it was more than that. She didn't want any of them to see her so weak. Letting instincts take over, she felt her body rise from the chair as the panic reached its breaking point. Her friend rose with her, as if understanding what she was about to do.
“Can we go to the bathroom?” Malia asked, walking to their teacher's desk. She cast a side glance at the shaking girl standing beside her and wordlessly slipped her hand over hers. It wasn’t a question of if, but a matter of when. Zohar was ready to bolt either way, and it didn’t matter to her at that moment if her teacher told them no. The adrenaline coursing through her veins wouldn’t leave until the “threat” was no longer present. Her brain was demanding she find somewhere safe, a place that was well away from the loud clamor of students and obscene language floating around. But the woman nodded, giving her permission as the two girls slipped out of the crowded room. The hallways were quiet and welcoming. After all, there was no sound to be heard other than the steady beat of their shoes against tile. They walked towards the restroom, their hands still clasped together, but as soon as the door was opened and clicked shut behind them, Malia’s fingers slipped from her grip as she turned to face her.
For a moment, she just stood there, unable to think about anything other than the loss of contact, until her eyes flicked up to meet her best friend's gaze. A frown had replaced her usual easy-going smile, and her eyes were somber, misplaced from the bright glow they normally had. She was the little ray of sunshine in their group, well versed in quips and had such a silver tongue that it could rival the Norse god of mischief himself. The two matched well in terms of personality: In appearance and height, though, they were much less comparable. She was lighter-skinned, pale as a ghost, and was an inch or two taller.
“Hey, it’s just us. Breathe. Breathe.” Concern melded into her soft voice. Had Zohar been just a bit more put together, she would have heard the notes of fear and determination coating the words, which could have provided a way to pull herself together. Alas, she took none of that into account. It was a good attempt, and she was glad for it, but the fear, hot and heavy as it crushed her chest, would not leave her until hours later. The initial panic may leave, but the rest of it would not be so easy to just get rid of, which was why she was so furious at herself for not being able to calm down alone. She knew the effects. It would torture her for a few hours before finally fading away to a mere ache of fear. She didn’t need help or so was the story she told herself. But Malia never cared if she wanted it or not. She was there. Then again, if Logan, one of the few people who knew what was happening in her head, didn't care enough to ask if she was okay or attempt to calm her when this happened, why should anyone else? She had created this torment, her own purgatory at times, so it should be her burden, and hers alone to deal with. But even with that knowledge, she was about to open her mouth and screw all of it over. It was an act of weakness on her part and something she had vowed never to do again.
Yet, here she was doing it anyway. Her fingernails begin to dig into the warm skin of her palms once more, tearing into the already born crescent moons, and sinking deeper into the skin. Pain bit at her body and a hiss escaped her thin red lips as drops of crimson appeared in the crevices of her nail beds. She needed control.
The sight of Malia’s concerned face overtook her mind once more, though it brought forth a voice that harshly took hold whenever anger burned hot or fear lurked below. You actually think she wants you as her friend? Of course she doesn’t. You can’t stop being so damn stupid, so you deserve to be friendless. Maybe once you gain that, you'll stop scaring people away. You’re pathetic...and they all know it. The cruel thoughts were synonymous with the dark, round shells of bullets, but instead of piercing skin and taking a life, they penetrated her skull and took her sanity. None of it had changed in the past year as her mind slipped deeper and deeper into a nightmare. Alexis has it worse, don’t even try telling Mal. This is your fault! You actually thought she cared about you. When the time comes, she’ll leave. As for Logan, he already thinks you’re pathetic. He didn’t even glance your way when you freaked. A shaky breath expelled from her lungs; it wasn’t like she wanted to be such a disappointment. She was trying, honestly, she was. But that didn’t matter, did it? No, her thoughts were there to remind her as such. When the moon regained once more, and the clock ticked at midnight, she would still be the weird, antisocial teenager everyone saw her as.
A whimper escaped her mouth when the intrusive thoughts left. They were as common as the terror, but the brutality varied. She was drowning. Her friend's voice captured her attention, the calming voice tinged with fear, still begging her to listen. The lifesaver was thrown, and it was up to her to grab it. Trembling, she took a step forward, arms wrapping around her before she could say a word. And for the first time since she walked into the school, a sliver of calm washed over the girl.