Mum kisses my head and says goodnight. She turns off the light and closes the door behind her. her shadow lingers outside my door. She waits for a good twenty seconds before she moves away and the unfiltered light creeps back in under my door.
I stare into the black void above my head. Aside from the tinnitus in my ears, my head is quiet. All thoughts have gone to sleep, and so should I. I don’t like it when they go quiet, it unsettles me; I haven’t heard from them in two days. I’m so sued to them talking to me, and on a regular basis, that if they break the routine, I begin to wonder. Have I done something wrong? Don’t they need me anymore? It would be their choice, but if that is what they want, I won’t pretend to like it. Ultimately, they have the power; I am just their puppet. I don’t like that term really. It gives the impression that they literally pull the strings; they don’t.
They need me. They know they do.
They’ve been speaking to me since I was six. Since then, I haven’t uttered a single word; not one. I’m now fifteen. If I told you why, you wouldn’t believe me, and you would no doubt arrive at the same conclusion as everybody else; she must be mad, she’s gone insane, she needs help. I’ve heard it all.
This behaviour scared my Mum. At first, I mean the first few weeks, she thought I was being silly, that it was all some childish game. She soon realised otherwise. She started off angry, this turned into disbelief, but then that gave way to a begrudging, and bewildered acceptance. I won’t lie, she’s not fine with it, but she’s accepting enough that it doesn’t affect me. At the very least, she’s given up asking why.
Mum has tried everything, I’ve seen the Doctor, I’ve seen a psychiatrist and a spiritual healer. I know, right? My Dad once took me to an acupuncturist, even though he knows I hate needles of any kind. Between them, I think they have tried everything. There’s no point, I’m not going to change. Why should I? If I don’t want to talk, then I won’t.
I reach under my pillow and pull out my notebook. I turn on my bedside lamp and open it in the middle. There’s a nice, white blank page waiting for me. The notebook is looking rather old now, but it does the job just fine. It’s the friend that doesn’t answer back or ask questions.
The book is a sort of diary; They told me to keep one. They said it would help to make sense of what I’m feeling, and ultimately, what it is I must do. I don’t mind doing it; I quite like writing. It helps me relieve stress, and because I don’t talk, I write a lot. At school, the teachers often praise my handwriting, and use of language. They’re not that keen on some of the stuff I write in the margins though. You can’t please everyone. When I need to write, I write. A lot of it is train of thought, and this often doesn’t make much sense to anyone who’s read it. I don’t allow people to read, but a few have managed to get their hands on it. Those weren’t pleasant experiences, for me or them.
I spend a good hour, flicking through the pages. With each sentence, I can transport myself to another time. I can pinpoint exact feelings and emotions; it’s my own little time machine.
I have a code which helps. If I’m insecure, or worried or sad, I write in red ink. If it’s a normal day, I write in blue. I write in black felt tip when I’m not having a good day. It’s all organised, and it’s extremely private. It contains conversations with them, my own thoughts and my onions and ideas. They once warned me never to let it out of my sight. I lost it once, when I was thirteen. I won’t risk that again.
After a while, my eyes start to sting and I’m feeling tired. I place the book back under my pillow, and stretch to pull the lamp cord. I lay my head on the pillow and quiet my head. Sleep will take me soon. But not too soon, I hope, because tomorrow is Monday, and that means school.
Registration is the usual noisy din. The boys talk about boring football and video games. The girls just irritate me without uttering a word. Especially Helen Bough. She’s a bully, a nasty girl. I think her family is quite wealthy, so she thinks acting like a bitch is acceptable. It’s not. She’s the queen bee I guess. She looks down upon everyone and expects us to worship the ground she walks on. She’s a massive waste of oxygen if you ask me. She doesn’t make it easy to like her, so I don’t. I’m quite content to dislike her in silence. If I did talk, which I won’t, I wouldn’t waste breath on her.
I pull out my book and open it at a random page. Today’s a reading day. These days are relaxing, and help me focus my mind on what’s ahead.
As I stare into my book, I can feel her eyes bore into my head. I would flip her the finger. But last time I did that, I was caught doing so by Miss Grainger. The resulting detention was a complete waste of our time.
Any attempt by the teachers to understand or control me is a joke. They can’t, they never will. I think now they have given up trying, or at least appear to be giving that impression. That’s fine, it takes the attention away from me. They know the score now. Best to let it be. I’m not doing anyone any harm, so there’s no need for them to pry. It’s the children that are the problem. Given my…decision, shall we say, these underdeveloped minds just can’t cope with what it is I’m trying to do. Fair enough, I don’t talk or try to explain myself, so I can understand their confusion to a point. The name calling is fine also. I can channel out and ignore them. They taught me this. But there’s always one, isn’t there?
I like school, especially science, because we get to burn stuff from time to time. Bunsen Burners are fun. I don’t think my fellow classmates approve of my fascination with the flame, or my teachers. It mesmerises me. Something so pure, so small, can be so violent, and yet so utterly beautiful, all at once. It’s poetic in its nature.
A screwed-up piece of paper hits my head and drops to the ground. This is quickly followed by laughter. I know it’s Helen. I can tell by the gasps between shrill giggles. I stare ahead at the whiteboard. If I ignore her, she’ll stop. This isn’t always the case, but it’s what they tell you, isn’t it? It’ll do for now, besides, I don’t have the energy for anything else.
Miss Grainger enters the room. She’s about thirty, I think. She has a kind face and always has her hair tied back in a ponytail. She wears clothes that are out of date and always looks a little nervous. Helen stops being a bitch the second she walks in. I look up at Miss Grainger to see a nervous looking girl stood next to her surveying the room. She’s frightened, I can tell. She catches my eye for a second, and for a second, I see hope in her eyes. A swirly, unsettled flood enters my gut. I feel like I might be sick. My hands start to go clammy and I can feel sweat trickle down the front of my shirt. This has happened before, four years ago, and that did not end well. I try to breathe, to remain calm and not let those memories sink me.
“Class, we have a new student today. This is Emily, I hope you all make her welcome,” says Miss Grainger.
Silence. Emily surveys the room. Her eyes are wide, her arms rigid by her side. Poor thing; she’s scared shitless.
“I’ll be assigning one of you at random to be Emily’s first month buddy,” adds Miss Grainger.
Good luck to whomever gets the job.
A pair of boys behind me whisper and giggle. I can’t imagine they were being very complimentary. Boys rarely are. But then I’ve learned that this kind of behaviour is indicative of them liking the person in question. It’s all nonsense that they have told me that I don’t need.
“Sadie Hewitt,” says Miss Grainger. She looks directly at me.
That’s my name. Why the fuck is Miss Grainger saying my name? She can’t be serious, can she? She’s picking me, the mute freak to be this girls babysitter?
I know, I know. How did I know they would choose me?
They’re not happy. They see this as a problem. When they’re anxious, it makes me head go all busy. I start to feel a little dizzy and confused. I fight them back, reassuring them and after a while, they go quiet again.
“Will you show Emily around on her first month? I think it will be good for you both,” says Miss Grainger.
Then I suggest you think a little harder, Miss. Is she for real? Given what they know about me – and that’s very little – she wants to saddle me with the responsibility of babysitting newbie? I like Miss Grainger, a lot. But I really think this is a shitty idea.
What can I do? I can’t say no. Literally. Once again, my lack of voice is my undoing. I find myself picking at the quick of my nails and fidgeting more than is normal. I don’t need this.
Emily pulls out a chair and sits next to me. She whispers a fragile hello and I smile. I would imagine somebody has told her I don’t talk? I’ll soon find out.
“I wouldn’t bother talking to her, she’s a silent, lesbian freak” says Helen, clearly pleased with her wit.
I roll my eyes as Emily smiles politely.
“Miss Bough, outside right now,” snaps Miss Grainger.
I love it when Miss Grainger gets annoyed or angry. She’s such a friendly, timid character, it’s completely at odds with who she is. It’s like a cow trying to roar. She escorts the annoying outside. The second she leaves the room, it erupts into a chorus of nothingness. Gossip, laughter, male bullshit, bravado, bitching. Amongst it all, there’s nothing to pick out, it’s all crap.
“Do you like writing?” asks Emily.
I look to my book sat on the desk in front of me.
I smile. Oh my God – I smiled.
I nod and then place my hand on my book.
“I like writing stories, I do it a lot,”
I can’t let this happen. I can’t let anyone in. As friendly and as genuine she appears, I cannot let her seep under my skin and cause me to like her.
I’m starting to feel agitated and a little anxious. This sort of scenario should have my heart leaping and fill me with a need to talk and communicate. That doesn’t happen with me. I chose this, I also understand what I need to do and what I have to avoid. But there is an overwhelming urge to not follow code. I want to break rules. I want to rebel. Nobody has ever made me feel this way. All this time, not one single person has made me feel like this. I’ve known Emily all of twenty seconds and this has happened. I cannot have friends. I cannot reach out; I must be alone is what they tell me. But this time I don’t want to.
For the rest of the day, Emily is glued to me. I quite like it; I quite like her. She’s unassuming and natural. Not speaking to people has led me to developing other skills. One of them is the ability to read people. I find that I am often quite accurate. I can read Emily easily. She’s pure, like newly washed linen. She’s kind, like a loving relative and as trusting as a puppy. I hope that she never loses these qualities. She’s understood straight away that I don’t talk. She points at stuff and makes hand gestures. Straight away she pulled out a notepad from her bag and started to write things down. We already have our own little language. For the first few lessons we just pass notes to each other. The teachers could not understand why we were laughing so much; I loved it. It’s a lightness that has not touched me for so long. All this lightness has not gone unnoticed. They don’t like it. They warn me that I am being ridiculous. They remind me of the consequences. How could I forget? I recall and wince a little. I can’t get too attached, mind. I must think about things. I must be careful. There’s too much at stake here. I can’t be friends with Emily. I can’t have friends. This sits at odds with their insistence that I go to school, that I try to lead a normal life in the meantime. Normal? What the fuck is normal? I swallow my negativity and try to reset. I’m getting worked up. Emily studies me and places a hand on my arm. Her lightness of touch is like a sugary syrup running through me. It lightens me and sets me right again. How can she do this? How is she doing this?
Up to this point, I’ve been pretty much friendless. It’s ok, no need for violins or nothing, I have ways and means of coping with the isolation, but Emily is different. In the space of less than a day, she gets me. She doesn’t judge. She fills me with something I have never ever had.
Hope. But hope is dangerous.
On the walk home from school, Emily tells me all about her life and family. They moved down here after her Dad died. Cancer. She has one older sister who lives in Canada and an auntie who plays bowls for England. I have no idea what bowls is. Just walking along and being, for want of a better word, normal, is nice. I mean, I am normal, but it’s nice to have a friend. I know I shouldn’t really, it’s like being on a diet and sneaking a Mars bar. Part of me doesn’t want this day to end. They’re suspiciously quiet given the day’s events. Maybe they are waiting for me to fall flat on my face. They’re waiting to tell me ‘I told you so’. I know this isn’t their way, so I don’t have a clue why they are being quiet right now. Normally, I so much as talk to the neighbour’s dog and they fill my head. I don’t like it, but I also don’t care.
I get home, eat dinner, sit with Mum for a bit. Mum isn’t that talkative, then again, neither am I. After an evening of silence, I kiss my Mum on the head, and head to my room. That wasn’t too bad for a Monday. Who am I kidding? This was a brilliant Monday. I think about Emily. My heart flutters and already I am looking forward to seeing her tomorrow.
It’s been over a week now and Emily is growing on me. She hasn’t left my side all week. That is the point of being a buddy, but, I dunno, I’m getting used to it. I like her. She gets me. I like having her around. I feel like I must protect her, and I enjoy that too. Due to her associating with freaky pants here, she gets the usual treatment from Helen. The problem is, Emily isn’t as thick skinned as me. I can tell it upsets her sometimes, and in turn, that upsets me. This is of course a risk. I’m starting to let her in. I’m starting to get close to her. They’ve warned me that she isn’t my responsibility. This is all very well, but I am not going to leave her. I will protect her. You can’t tell me otherwise. What do you know about anything anyway?
They said I was losing my way, that I was becoming blinded by silly, girlie needs. They told me that I didn’t need to fit in, I just needed to get things done. They didn’t say it, but I could tell that they want me to end my friendship with Emily. They can preach all they want. It’s all noise, a persistent hissing that fills my head. Good luck, fellas.
I’m not going to.
I’m starting to tire of it. They tell me that the time is coming, that my day will soon be here. I hate waiting. Just get it over with already. Do something. I’m ready, for Christ sake. Come on. It couldn’t happen at a worse time, though. Emily’s arrival has shaken me, and worried them. I question things now. Maybe I’m questioning them? They’d love that. They can be self-righteous assholes at times. Snidey, vindictive and self-important. I need Emily, and that means I don’t feel like needing them; they hate that, but they will never admit it. I’m throwing caution to the wind and they cannot abide it. I’m taking a huge risk here. What I’m doing, as I have known all along, does have dire consequences. I stab at the memory that tries to grow in my head. I push it back as far as I can.
I take out my book and start to write. I can only think of one thing.
Do you ever get days where you just want to run away and hide? Forget everything, and everyone, just go. I’m having one of those days. It’s what I call a dark day, and I don’t like to talk about them. Ever. It’s like a shadow that follows you everywhere. A raincloud that pisses on you all day long. No break, nowhere to hide. I think of seeing Emily today and the darkness is pierced. Just like the light of a solitary start that sits in the inky black of space.
I can’t wait to see her. Today might not be so bad after all. Go to hell – I’ll see her if I want to. You know better than to lecture me when I feel like this.
I’m sat in my room, a blanket wrapped round me. I have my book, and a few crappy magazines for company. I flick through my book, turning the ages and let the tears come. I stop at each page far longer than I should. They told me to get rid of those pages. They told me that it was all my fault, that they warned me.
Each word is like a knife in my side. I sit there and let them stab me over and over. The sobbing consumes me and I wallow in a grief so true, I cannot feel them trying to get in my head.
I bury my head into my bed and I just want to die.
I hate it. We’re all treated like animals. The food is crap, the people are crap and I miss Emily. She hasn’t visited, or written. All I have is my book and the notes from school that I have kept. I’ve been in this dump for two months. What a bloody stupid place to put me, to put anyone. What good can come of this? What can they hope to achieve here? What did I expect? They don’t offer any words. They don’t care. I imagine they’re happy about all this. They probably designed it to happen this way. Nothing they do is done without purpose. So, they tell me.
I’ve become angry at them. It’s almost hate. This bitterness and contempt has given me a strange isolation from them. The angrier I am, the less they invade. That’s what they do, it’s all they ever did. The good thing is, it’s so easy to remain in a foul mood in here. It’s a place devoid of hope. It’s a place filled with fucking idiots.
The warden pops her head around the door. She nods and closes it again. Nosey cow. I can’t even grieve in peace.
I step out into the whitewashed surroundings of the social area. There’s a few tatty, old sofas, a table stacked with magazines and a pool table. The walls are white and dotted with stains, the result of a hundred different tantrums. The carpet is tatty and filled with crumbs and sick and other shitty fragments of everyone in here. The magazines are old and boring, and I don’t like pool, so I’m screwed. This is where most of the kids hang out. They scream and shout at each other like they’re in a playground. They all stand at the fringes. They all hate me, it’s like school, but worse. We’re not talking about stupid school children here. These are damaged individuals. You’d think being in a place filled with misfits I would find some comfort. I would fit in. I ain’t ever gonna fit in here. They tell me that some of these people could be useful. What the hell? They sure do change their minds a lot. These useless tossers with the collective iq of a fucking sandwich, yeah sure, be their friends. Heaven forbid I ever meet someone I like and who likes me. No, that would be terrible.
The wardens don’t give two shits most of the time, neither do the kids in here. There’s nearly always a fight. I’m lucky, not so much as a punch thrown…yet. At least not in my direction. I’ve been threatened, almost daily. There’s pushing and shoving, but not much else.
I slump on to the threadbare sofa and stare at the ceiling. The panels above don’t let much light in because they’re frosted glass. I never thought I would miss sunlight so much. I miss a lot of things. I miss my Mum. I sort of miss school, and I miss Emily.
The room is filling with noise, as one by one, the adolescent numskulls enter the common room. What a great idea to put a load of girls together who are despised and misunderstood by society. We’re misfits, those who cannot be tamed. We’re left in here to stew and ‘think about the consequences of our actions’. Please. Sort out society. We’re not the issue.
A fat girl called Daisy Ricketts crashes on the sofa next to me. If this were a cartoon, I’d be catapulted into the air and land on my ass ten feet away. She’s alright, is Daisy. She’s in here because she burnt down her local youth club. I think it was over a boy. She’s one of only a few who talk to me. She calls me mute. I can deal with that. It’s a good thing I don’t talk, she doesn’t wanna hear what I’d call her. I don’t think I would. She has fists like rocks. The only other girl that tolerates me in here is Fiona Mansell. She’s a real piece of work.
I’m here because I beat up Helen Bough. It was totally her fault.
I broke her nose. I messed up her face to be honest. Her name calling and general bitchiness had crossed the line.
I had gone to the toilet while Emily waited in the lunch line. She was keeping my place. When I came back, I couldn’t see her. When I did find her, she was propped against a wall with her head in her hands sobbing uncontrollably. Seeing her this upset was bad enough. That morning I had woken up with one of those dark days. It was a bad one. Despite everything, I found it hard to shift that morning. When she told me what happened I lost my shit. I found Helen and dragged her back to Emily and made her apologise. She thought it was funny.
Then I lost it. An anger and rage that wasn’t my own. Consequences remember?
That’s nothing, the look on Emily’s face when I was being pulled off her really hurt. It was a look of fear. The fact that sweet little Emily was afraid of me cut me like a knife. I had no idea what I had just done. I stood looking at sweet, helpless Emily while Helen writhed on the floor next to my feet. I didn’t even look at Helen. I fell into a sort of state. I froze. I knew in that moment that I had lost everything. The hope, the friendship, the love. Gone. That was the last time I saw her. I was expelled, Mum had to move and I got put in here, ‘for my own safety’. Whatever.
I’m sat at the far end of the breakfast table. A skinny girl with a nose ring sits opposite. I’ve not seen her before, so I don’t make eye contact. This apparently gets you punched in here, a lot. It’s only a matter of time though with me. I sit and read my book, the very book that the authorities were not keen on me having in here. Mum pleaded with them and the judge decided it was in my best interest that I be allowed to keep it.
“What’s the book for?” she asks.
I shrug. I’m not interested…shit.
She grabs the book and waves it in my face. There’s a smirk on her face and a joy in her words. She’s enjoying this.
Bollocks. Fuck. Please don’t do this. Please don’t.
“Please give me back my book,” I ask.
I am calm. Shut up. I can handle this. I don’t need your fucking intervention again, remember? Don’t fucking lie…that was all you.
“I said, what’s the book for?”
She’s looking at me as if I’m dumb.
I bite my lip as she climbs on to the table and starts to read aloud my inner most secret thoughts. I can feel a pulsing in my gut. She reads out thoughts and feelings. I can hear sniggers all around the room. This is turning into a show. She unscrews a piece of paper and starts reading. It’s a note from Emily. My body succumbs to a numbing, freezing feeling. My feet are jiggling under the table. I slowly get to my feet, which is greeted by jeers all around.
Here we go again.