It consumed her. The feeling of never quite being good enough. The feeling that she was never going to get any better. Any happier. That this was it and she had nothing to look forward to. Her forever receding levels of self worth lowering her expectations of each day until she found herself at the very bottom of a darkened pit with no way of getting out. She was lost and alone scared of the darkness that consumed her. Scared that one day she would be completely lost and completely alone.
That she wouldn’t have anything left.
No one ever noticed, though. As much as her mother cared about her, loved her, she wasn’t the most observant of people. Her mother was the kind of person that only saw what she wanted to see, and Amy struggling was not one of those things. Farrah would see Amy’s smile, and ignore the black bags under her eyes. Or she would see her sitting at the table doing her homework, and ignore the fact that Amy wasn’t actually doing anything; just sitting in the chair, staring at the pages in front of her.
It wasn’t her mother’s fault, though. Amy knew that. She may not have the best way of showing it sometimes, but Amy had never felt unloved by her mother. Farrah had her own issues to deal with, and Amy had thrown enough curveballs at her this year, she didn’t need another one. She probably couldn’t handle another one, if Amy was honest. So she kept quiet, and smiled and did her homework and went to school. She laughed at Shane’s jokes and listened to Karma’s stories and plans and theories. She kept quiet at family meals when Bruce would say Grace.
It wasn't until she heard her mother and Bruce go to bed, and Lauren’s music would switch off that he allowed herself to cry. That she allowed herself to feel something. For those few hours in the middle of the night, when the rest of the world was quiet and dark, Amy didn’t feel quite so alone and lost. After all, how could you lose yourself in the darkness if everything else in the world is dark, too?
She eventually lost track of the days. Was it Monday or Wednesday? Or maybe it was Friday? She didn’t know. She didn’t care. Each day melted and moulded into the next, and each minute was a blur. Sometimes she would catch herself zoning out, and she knew others had noticed it to. Sometimes she would get lost in her thoughts, in nothingness, and Shane or Karma or Liam would touch her shoulder or her hand and ask with concern if she was alright.
“Yeah.” She would smile and shake her head at herself, “sorry, I was just thinking….”
“About Reagan?” Shane would ask, eyebrows wiggling and flirtatious smile on his face, “don’t let us disturb you!”
“Yeah…” Amy would reply softly, fighting to keep the smile on her face, “that’s it.”
She didn’t tell them about the fight. About how Reagan had accused her of pretending, of using her. She didn’t tell them how Reagan had walked left her standing in the middle of the street, tears streaming down her face. How Reagan had said she needed some time, and that time had started off as a few hours which turned into days…weeks.
She didn’t tell them how Reagan had turned off her phone, or changed her number. How she had deleted her Facebook and blocked her from instagram. She didn’t tell them how, once again, she was alone and lost and heartbroken. Of course she didn’t, because then they would know. And she knew that once they knew they would judge her, leave her, and she would fall further into the black pit of nothingness with no way of getting out.
She would be truly alone.
And she couldn’t let that happen.
So she played the charade, smiling and forcing herself to stay focused. To participate. Part of her hoped that if she played the game enough it would become reality. That somehow her forced smiles would become real smiles, that the sick feeling in her stomach would disappear and she would start to feel better. About herself, about her life…about everything. Part of her hoped, and the other part shut it down, knowing that it wouldn’t happen.
She wasn’t going to get better, she just had to survive.
Maybe it was the way she started dressing herself with less care than usual. Or the way she stopped wearing make up. Or how she found herself drifting off in class, dragging her weary body through the corridors, ignoring the concerned looks that were sent her way from people she didn’t even know existed. Maybe it was that, or something completely different, but somehow she found herself being called back by Mr Metcalf after class, and as she turned back to look at him, she felt her stomach drop and the anxiety through her chest and suddenly she couldn’t breathe.
Arms were around her, comforting her, helping her to a chair and stopping her from collapsing on the floor. She didn’t realise she was crying until Mr Metcalf wiped wiped her face with his thumb, rubbing circles on her back with the other hand and whispering calm words in her ear.
“Shhhhh,” he whispered, “it’ll be alright….it’s not at the moment, I know, but you’re strong. You’ll get there.”
When she tried to formulate a response, all that she managed was a choking noise and then she was crying again. Her head fell onto his shoulder, and he pulled her into his side, hugging her, trying to convey to her in some form that she wasn’t alone. That she would be alright. That it was okay to cry.
When she finally opened her eyes, blinking away the tears that had gotten caught in her lashes, she sat up and swallowed and Mr Metcalf smiled at her. Not in a pitying way, not in a judging way, but in a way that made Amy think that maybe she really could be okay. She felt warmth and comfort, and as she smiled back at him she realised that her body didn’t feel quite so heavy. That the sick feeling in her stomach had gone, and the smile that she sent back to him wasn’t forced like all the others had been.
“I’m not going to force you to tell me what’s wrong,” Mr Metcalf said, rubbing Amy’s back again, “but I want you to know that I’m here, if you ever want to talk or just get away for a while, my office is always open to you.”
She whispered her thank you, and wiped her eyes on her sleeve, not really caring that her nose was running and her eyes puffy. He nodded once, and they both stood. After a few moments of just standing in silence, Amy thanked him again and left the classroom, wondering briefly when the door got shut.
Sometimes help comes from the most unexpected of places. From the most surprising of people. The person you think wont notice, wont care, wont help, turns out the be the only person who notices, who cares, who helps. And it’s confusing, and unexpected and it makes you think that they are doing it for different reasons; that they have some form of agenda and are using you to further that. Of course, it doesn’t help that these moments are usually your lowest and you are so far down the black hole that you can’t even see the light at the top anymore, so your suspicion of other people is high and your feelings of self worth are so low that you don’t even think you deserve help anymore.
Which is why when Lauren slips into bed next to Amy a few minutes before four in the morning, and wraps her up in her tiny arms and tells her that it’s okay, Amy is suspicious and confused and a tiny bit self-conscious because she knows that her pillow is covered in tears and snot. Lauren doesn’t seem to care, though, and pulls Amy in closer, causing Amy’s heart to break slightly and fresh tears to fall.
When they wake up, they don’t talk about it. They go about their normal daily routine and Lauren is as snarky as ever, but in the quieter moments when no one else is around, Lauren would send Amy a small smile, or whisper that it’ll be okay in her ear as they pass in the hallway at school. Sometimes Lauren would pull Amy aside and into an empty classroom simply because “you look like you’re about to puke” and then they would eat their lunch in silence.
She noticed, too, that there stares were less frequent. The pitying looks and concerned expressions seemed to disappear, and Amy wasn’t sure if it was because she looked less like a train wreck, or if people were just losing interest in her. She couldn’t tell which one she hoped for, but part of her thought that maybe she was slipping back into the background. That she was becoming the nobody that she was before Karma had intervened.
Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe it wasn’t. She didn’t really care, though. She had Shane. To some degree she had Liam and Karma, too. But mostly she was thankful for Lauren. Lauren who sometimes slept in her own bed, but mostly in Amy’s. And sometimes she didn’t sleep at all and instead would creep in and sit in the chair, or under the window and just watched her sister sleep.
A few years later, when they both go back during the college break, Amy would ask why she did that. Why she spent so many sleepless nights watching over Amy.
“Because,” Lauren would reply, shrugging like it was no big deal, “you’re my sister.”
What Lauren didn’t tell Amy was that when she was passing by classroom E115 and saw her sister broken and crying and half the student body watching on like it was a blockbuster movie, her heart broke. She pulled the door shut and told everyone in her loud and authoritative voice that this was never to be mentioned again. That no one would so much as look at Amy and anyone who was caught doing so would be destroyed.
No one questioned her, of course, and shuffled off to their next class.
When Lisbeth had asked her why she had threatened everyone, Lauren had thought the answer was simple.
“Because,” she had said, “she’s needs people to help hold her up, not a gawking audience holding her down.”