“The End” by Nikki Zuleger
My shirt flew across the bedroom and landed on the floor. I grumbled softly to myself that it didn’t manage to make it in the hamper. My jeans were next and they flopped sadly next to the blue cotton already on the floor. Man, was I useless. Good thing I never tried to play basketball in college. That would have been a laughable event. I stepped over my fallen clothes and into the bathroom, locking the door behind me. It’s not like anyone would be home soon. Mom had taken the little brats to baseball practice. Dad was at work filing extra reports because it was a rough week. The house was absolutely empty.
I started the water in the bath, filling it with lavender oil to try and calm my nerves. My hands shook as I rinsed the cap under the tap and it went flying across the bathroom. I really was useless. I fished the cap out from behind the toilet and screwed it on top of the purple bottle. The warm air was now thick with steam and the scent of lavender did nothing to calm me down. The damn bottle was lying when it claimed to soothe nerves instantly.
Standing in front of the mirror, I took a deep breath. You can do this. You’ve planned everything out. Dad will be the one to find you. He can handle it. It won’t be the little ones. It won’t be Mom. Minimal damage. My fingers fumbled to open the drawer under the sink. I reached far back and grabbed up my old glasses case. Mom never thought twice about the worn black leather, stained by leftover toothpaste that seemed to reappear immediately after being rinsed off. She had searched through every inch of my space after she saw the scars, but she never did find it. I watched her tear open drawers, flip over my mattress, and even check the vents. At the time she had gone through my eyeglass case, but in her checks afterwards she just scanned the drawers. She thought I was better. Everyone thought I was better.
The metal was cold against my trembling hands. The little silver pocket knife had been a gift from my father for turning sixteen. It was going to break his heart that his gift would do all this damage. I would never get to explain to him how much I appreciated the gift. He was giving me an escape. He had been so pleased with himself for giving me the knife.
“You’re sixteen now, Jessie, and you’ll be driving soon. I want you to have this, for protection.” Dad said, hugging me close. He placed the little silver pocket knife in my hand, a huge grin spreading across his face. “I bet no one else got a knife for their sweet sixteen.”
“No. Most people get cars.” I rolled my eyes and returned to my task of applying the perfect amount of cream cheese to my bagel.
“Hey, you’ll thank me one day. A knife is useful. It can give you more freedom than a car. It’s a gift to be able to protect yourself.” Dad ruffled my hair and I swatted playfully at his arm with the closed knife.
He was right. This knife could give me more freedom than a car. It was protection. I was protecting myself from the cruel world. From disappointing my family. From having to continue suffering when no one really wanted me around anyway. It was the perfect gift, though at the time, I wanted the car. As I stepped into the bath, the knife gripped tightly in my fist, I could think of nothing but how this had definitely been the perfect gift for the worst year of my life.
Mom noticed the scars about the millionth time I had cut. It was at least five months into my spiral before she saw the red ribbons twisting along my arms. I told her they were cat scratches. Maybe I would have fooled her if there weren’t so many.
“Why are you doing this to yourself?” she sobbed, her grip on my wrist crushing. She roughly pushed my sleeves up, her fingers running along the cuts. They were all at varying levels of healing. Some were thin and pink, almost gone. Some were still dark, only a scab keeping me from bleeding everywhere. “Why are you doing this to yourself?” she repeated.
“Let me go.” Was my brilliant response. Mostly, I didn’t have a response to her. I still didn’t. How do you find the words to explain that the world is suffocating you? How do you explain that you haven’t felt happiness in months? How do you tell her that you have nothing to live for?
“Tell me where it is! No more of this! No more!” she screamed, dragging me into the room. She ripped apart every inch of the room. All my drawers were emptied. The mattress hung half off the bed. My bookcases sat empty like a carcass picked apart by a hungry vulture. My shampoo and shower gel had been emptied down the drain, red and blue goop mixing into a sickly pale purple.
She never found the knife.
I rested the knife on the edge of the tub and dunked my head under the water. I wish I actually had the will power to drown myself. I know I could use a weight or something to hold me down, but I just think that would add stress to my final moments. At least with the knife I’ll end up passing out and I’m already used to the pain of blade against skin. A weight crushing me to my death isn’t appealing, but lying in the water until I have exhausted all oxygen supplies in my body seems strangely calming. If only I had the willpower.
But I didn’t have the willpower, and I soon found myself back in the real world gasping for air, strands of my hair sticking to my face in clumps. I pushed them aside and leaned against the back tiles of the bath. My pale legs, checkered with scars, stretched out in front of me. I could faintly see the steam floating off of my skin that wasn’t submerged under water. Why don’t they make bathtubs that actually fit normal sized human beings inside? My toes were always left out in the cold.
The knife was in my hand again, the metal no longer cold. I flipped the blade out and ran it lightly along my fingers. It probably needed to be sharpened, but I didn’t know how to do that. Besides, a dull blade may hurt more, but it gets the job done. I didn’t mind the pain anyway. I was covered with scars, the pain had stopped hurting a while ago. The pain had stopped helping also.
I rested the blade on the inside of my wrist right along the blue vein that ran down my arm. I never went vertical with my cuts before. They were all short little marks running along my skin. They had never been meant to kill me. I had never wanted to die. I fought so hard not to die that all the fight just left me and now here I was, the blade ready.
A little more pressure. A little wince. A long stroke down the arm. Skin split open. Blood dripped into the water. I remembered playing with food coloring and vinegar years ago at Easter time. I remember the drops of color merging with the water in a dance for dominance. My mother always took a spoon to the liquid, allowing the color to win the war. One year I saved the green dye from her wrathful stirring and watched the water slowly lose the battle it never stood a chance of winning. I had rooted for it, even though in my mind I knew the science was wrong. The colored molecules would overtake the water no matter how much support and encouragement I gave. Now I was in the water, my blood dancing around me.
What happens when you kill yourself? You die. I know that. But what happens to everyone else around you? What will happen to my mother? To the little brats? To my father? To my miniscule amount of friends? Would they care? Did I care?
My dad would be home within an hour and he would call out for me like he always did. He might even ask what I want for dinner. The silence from my bedroom won’t be strange for at least twenty minutes. He will knock on my door, call my name softly. He will find the door unlocked, but the room empty. The letter on the bed will catch his eyes. He might get through the whole letter. He will more likely hit sentence number three and panic. Something will alert him that I’m in the bathroom. Maybe it’s my clothes on the floor. Maybe my lavender oil is still heavy in the air. He will fumble with the key to get inside and he will drop to his knees as he sees me laying in the red tinged water. He will hug me to his chest as he calls 911 the tears falling down his cheeks mixing with the blood now on his shirt.
Mom will meet him in the hospital. The little ones have been sent to a friend’s house to play. Mom will fall into her chair as the doctor says there was nothing they could do. Dad will punch a wall and blame himself for not checking on me the second he walked in the door. Mom will blame herself for leaving me alone in that house. They will drive home in absolute silence because what do you say to comfort the other when you believe you are the cause of their pain? The police will have taken the evidence, but Dad knows what I used. Mom knows it too. She hates Dad for giving it to me. She hates herself for not finding it. Dad hates himself for giving it to me. He hates her for not finding it.
The little ones will ask where I am when they come home the next day. They won’t understand Mommy’s tears and Daddy’s silence. They won’t get why they aren’t allowed in my room. They won’t understand the silence that was once replaced with rock music and screams to get out. They will walk to the bus stop with no big sibling to hold their hands. They will eat casseroles for weeks straight because that’s how people show their condolences in our southern neighborhood. They will have no one to sneak them out for pizza when the parents aren’t looking. They will have no more warnings about which teachers are nice and how to avoid the principal. They will have no more automatic babysitter. No more constant playmate. No more protector from bullies. No more attitude adjuster. No more big sibling.
My friends will be gathered into the auditorium Monday morning. They will scan the crowd for me and a pit of anxiety will form as the assembly begins and I am still nowhere to be found. The principal will announce the news and there will be an audible wail from my group as they crumble in on each other. The message that counselors will be around all week will not be heard over the rush off grief. They will go to class with the others and sit beside my empty seat. My best friend will stare at the empty spot and not hear a single word from the teacher’s mouth. She won’t even hear the bell as it rings. The others drag her along to the next class, but she starts sobbing in the hallway and the counselors try to approach her but she runs away. She does not want to talk to a stranger about me. She wants to talk to me. She will call my phone because this must be some cruel practical joke I’m playing and it is totally not funny and she is going to kill me the second I jump out around the corner. She will collapse to the ground after the third time of only reaching my voicemail. She will unravel with the world around her.
The teacher’s lounge will be strangely quiet as my teachers sit in silence, thinking of the last things they said to me. My English teacher will wonder if she was too hard on my last essay and if she helped drive me over the edge. My math teacher will ask herself if she should have helped me understand the quadratic formula better when she saw I was struggling, but never spoke up. The principal will wonder if he had just said good morning to me more often as I walked through the halls, then I might still be there. The PE coach will blame himself for never asking if I was alright after being picked last every class. My art teacher will look for signs she should’ve picked up on in my sketches. My drama teacher will blame herself for not understanding that my dramatic monologue was not a piece of fiction.
My mom will be drunk the day of my funeral and stands outside by my casket wearing sunglasses to hide the redness in her eyes. My father is stone-faced, staring straight ahead. The space I put between my parents will end up destroying their marriage. It’s evident as they stand there, watching their baby be lowered to the ground and not once reach out for each other.
The little ones will be ignored as Mommy’s too drunk and Daddy’s too depressed to realize that the children they do have left need help. My best friend will take their hands and hold them close, but she will be pushed away because she’s not me. She is not big sibling. She is not the protector from bullies. She is not the reader of stories at night. She is not, “alright we can sneak into the kitchen for cookies.” She is not me.
Weeks after the funeral my voice mail will be full of messages from my best friend because she just wants to talk to me. She will tell me that she misses me. That she hates me for leaving. She will tell me how she can’t keep doing this without me. She will swallow her entire bottle of headache meds because she just wants to talk to me one last time. Red ribbons will begin to appear on her skin just like mine. Science class will tell her depression is not contagious but she has the rash of self-harm to prove all the scientists wrong because her best friend left her and the depression must have jumped bodies. She will fail English because I’m not there to explain the meaning behind Shakespeare. She will stop talking to our friends and start keeping to herself, because they have started smiling again even though I’m still gone and she hates how they’ve forgotten the pain they should be feeling.
The little ones will end up acting out in school, because punishment is the only attention they get from adults now. They go home and Mommy’s passed out on the couch and Daddy’s always working late. They have learned how to microwave their own dinners and to tiptoe around the kitchen because if they make too much noise, Mommy will wake up. Mommy only ever cries or yells now. They watch the door every night waiting for me to come home, but by week three they have given up hope. They are no longer bullied at school but instead are the bullies. They scream the words they hear Mommy and Daddy shout at each other every night. They let out their frustration of this cruel world on the kids that are weaker than them. They don’t understand why they are so angry and they are so angry that they don’t understand.
What happens to me when I die? I will cease to exist. I will no longer struggle every day to get out of bed. I will no longer spend half my lunch period crying in the third floor bathroom rather than sitting in the cafeteria. I will no longer have to hate every inch of my body. I will no longer feel this constant pain of being completely worthless. I will no longer be a fuck-up to my parents. I will no longer be a social burden to my friends. I will no longer embarrass my siblings. I will no longer exist. I will feel better. I will be the only one.