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How To Save a Life
I wonder what Egypt is like. Through closed eyes I picture majestic pyramids, sand dunes, and ancient mummies. Feel the sand grains in my lips and the hot Egyptian wind in my hair. I wince as the pounding in my head grows stronger and open my eyes. Sarah’s sitting in the opposite side of the table. Her eyes, like murky green watercolor, are far off gazing at something I can not see. The throbbing in my head is bad now and I fight the need to lie down and sleep. I always imagine myself in far off places when I’m hurting. Lately it’s been Egypt.
“He hit you again?” Sarah asks, glancing at the part of my head that I’m holding.
“Let me check if it’s bleeding.” She has to lean all the way across the table. I bend my head down. I can see her ribs through her blue tank top.
“There’s a little bit, but it’s already dry.” She sits back down.
I wince again as a group of boys yell to my far right. They’re playing soccer as they usually do during recess, occasionally stealing glances at the girls. Not us, the rest of the girls sitting a couple of tables to the right. They don’t pay much attention to the boys drowning in their own sweat though; they’re too busy pouring over the new Seventeen magazine, even though we are only eleven.
I look back at Sarah. Her eyes are sunken and look like lifeless dark circles in her pale face.
“Aren’t you going to eat something?” I ask her.
She pretends she didn’t hear me and stands up as the bell rings. I wince again. Maybe I should be more insistent with her eating but she is so stubborn and my head is hurting too much to fight.
When school ends, we walk silently together. Everyone’s screaming and laughing and running around us. Sometimes I wish I could scream and laugh and run like them. A kid is walking around barefoot asking where his shoes are. Sarah and I look at each other and giggle half-heartedly.
We walk the two miles to our secret hiding place as we do every day, in the attempt of forgetting there is a house we need to return to at night. It’s down a very narrow alley, past a dumpster, and behind an abandoned building that used to be some kind of workplace. It’s an old patio. There is a fountain with no water, flower pots with no flowers, and two girls with no homes.
Sarah sits down with her back against the fountain. I sit next to her and rest my head on her shoulder even though her protruding bones are not very comfortable. She reaches her hand to the side of my head and strokes my hair. I close my eyes.
“Lex?” she asks.
“Do you ever wish you were an orphan?”
So there we were: two girls whose definition of “family” was little more than a word between “ache” and “fear” in the dictionary. One with a body hurt too many times, silenced too many times- hated too much to ever accept anything else. The other with a body that makes itself smaller and smaller because she does not feel she deserves the space, a body caused by a mother’s neglect. Both wishing they didn’t have bodies at all.
One morning that summer, I left my house at the same time as usual to meet Sarah at our abandoned building hiding place. As I was passing through the dumpster, I heard her sobbing. She was the tiniest thing, crumpled in the corner of the patio, her body so skinny it scared me. I kneeled beside her. She lifted her head up to look at me, her eyes were puffy from hours of crying. Sarah lifted herself a bit and wrapped her arms around my waist, her face buried in my lap. She started saying something, but I couldn’t hear her. I gently turned her shoulders around until she was lying on her back with her head on my lap.
I still didn’t understand her very well, but in between sobs she told me how her drunken teenage mother had woken her up well past midnight with a bottle of pills in her hand to say goodbye. She told me how she had wrestled the bottle from her.
“She kept saying ‘Give me the bottle, stupid girl, give me the bottle. And... I just... I didn’t know what to do... and... I threw it... out the window... and she just... collapsed on top of me... crying... and... I was so scared... I didn’t know what to do... she was just...”.
The tears slid down the corners of her eyes and wet her hair. With the tips of my fingers, I outlined her wet face, over and over while she cried. She stared up at me, her lost eyes searching for something. I think she wanted me to save her- someone should have told her that I couldn’t save myself.