It was a rare sunny day in Vancouver, the kind of day that comes with the promise of an early spring. Allison loved days like this. She loved the crispness of the cold, just enough to lightly freeze the morning dew, contrasted with the light warmth of the morning sun. Yet all of this with its promise of spring, made evident by the popping up of the purple crocuses in her garden, did not make the darkness go away. If only she could take the sunshine and put it inside herself. Sadly she couldn’t. She could only marvel at its beauty with jealousy. In the rare moments where she could feel the darkness inside go away it was only for a few seconds, and now those moments where the world seemed to make sense again were too fleeting and much more rare.
Days like these didn’t match what was inside Allison but she couldn’t quit complain. Vancouver was the wettest city in Canada. While most cities were plagued with the white stuff most of the year Vancouver was plagued with rain. A big part of the year people lived under gray skies. So it was no surprise when she got to school that morning that people weren’t as grumpy as usual. Some even dared to wear a smile which they normally saved for a special occasions.
This did nothing to lift Allison’s mood.
These people were such hypocrites. They smiled at you one day, acted all nice and the next they talked behind your back, though they didn’t get much of a chance with Allison. She was too quiet. When they did talk behind her back it was always made up. The only people she did talked to were her friends and they didn’t always seem ready to listen. So she kept the important things bottled up inside and shared the trivial or stupid things everyone always seemed only too eager to hear like who had a crush on who and what guys were cute.
Honestly, who cared! She didn’t.
And today of all days she didn’t care because yesterday she had gotten into a huge argument with her best friend.
‘I can’t take it anymore!’ she’d been silently screaming for the last two months.
The day before tiered of suffering in silence Allison had finally burst, and with it destroying the most important relationship with any of her friends. So when at lunch one of her friends asked her ‘How are you?’ she started to think.
How am I? What an overused expression that was. They didn’t care how she really was. No one cared about anyone. They were just being polite because that was what you did. Few people ever asked that question hopping for an honest reply. It didn’t matter if your eyes were sunken in and that you were as pale as a corps. You would answer ‘I’m fine thank-you’ and it would go no further Even if you were hacking away with a cough. Then you would just down play it ‘oh I’m fine, just a bit of a cough’ because if you were sick they would act as if you were ill with the plague. You being sick allowed them to act all high and mighty because if you were sick you were supposed to stay home. Not because it would help you get better. Of course not!
Some might try to act as if that were true and try to believe it themselves, but deep down it was because they were so important. Or because they had to be well to go to hockey, or track-and-field, or any other sport they valued more than you. So how could you be honest when asked that question? You weren’t supposed to be honest you were supposed to say what they wanted to hear, like a call and response song. With some friends you might once in a blue moon say how you really felt but even then you had to be careful.
‘I’m fine’ she answered in her normal quiet and calm voice.
‘I’m not fine. I’m anything but fine!’ she cried inside.
‘I just hope tomorrow is better’ she thought as a tear slid down her cheek.
None of her friends said anything even thought they did notice the tear. Instead Michaela and Emi, anonymously, left a note with the councillor suggesting that Allison be asked to see her.
Later that day instead of being in history class Allison sat in the councillor’s office staring at the clock on the wall avoiding at all cost crossing her eyes with those of the counsellor.
‘Do you know why you are here Allison?’ calmly asked the counsellor.
Allison looked at the women for a split second and answered.
‘Allison this space is free from judgment and completely private. You don’t have to be worried. I’m just here to talk.’’
‘‘Let’s just talk. Is that okay? Let’s start with some basics.’’
‘‘Do you have any siblings?’’
‘‘How is your relationship with your family?’’
‘‘And extended family?’’
‘‘Good. They live in Toronto but we Skype.’‘
‘’ That’s good. What are some things you love?’’
‘‘My family, my pet cat, Flowers I guess… Before you ask me anything else I just want to say I think you’re wasting your time.’’
‘‘Let me be the judge of that okay. Now let’s continue. ’’Said the counselor calmly with a smile.
‘‘Try to look deep down within yourself and tell me what are you afraid of?’’
‘‘Lots of things, spiders, reptiles, dogs’’ replied Allison defiantly
‘‘What really makes you scared?’’
Allison didn’t know why but the non-judgemental look the women gave her, even though she had noticed that Allison was trying to avoid the deeper issues, compelled her to be honest.
‘‘Life makes me scared, being numb. Maybe the fact that I’ve gone numb...I feel some things with a stabbing pain... and others I just don’t... I don’t feel sad when I need to...
My grand-mother died. You probably didn’t know that. I didn’t miss school so probably no one knew. We ended up not going to the funeral. I only told my friends... I tried talking to them about it, but by the time I was ready to talk they weren’t interested. So I said nothing.’’
‘‘When did she pass away? ’’
‘‘Six months ago ’’
‘‘What did you feel?’’
‘‘That’s just it. When I got the news I felt nothing, nothing at all, nothing for a woman who had loved me so much, who had spent her life helping me. I felt so bad for not feeling. I tried everything to feel, but nothing. I ended up envying everyone around me. The worst part was when I finally did feel something and when I was finally able to mourn my father told me straight up ‘No, or I will go crazy.’
I feel like I’m the one who went crazy instead of him. Now I feel so numb the only way I have been able to feel anything is by putting my hand into a burning flame, metaphorically speaking of course.
My fear is I will never stop feeling this numbness. I’m scared. It’s like when you play in the snow without your gloves and then you go inside to drink a hot chocolate. Your hands are numb and you feel something as your hands are suddenly exposed to the very warm mug. Every time I feel it’s like that. It’s sharp and painful but it isn’t really pain.’’
‘‘Yah, I hope so because people always say things they don’t mean.’’
‘‘I would really like to continue talking to you. So if you’re okay with it I’ll call you in from time to time for a chat. Okay?’’
‘‘No, it’s not okay. I don’t like people knowing too much about me. So take care of people who actually need your help. My life is honestly good. I’m just a normal teenager. I have good and bad days. I’m perfectly fine.’’
‘‘Okay. I’m not going to force you but my door is always open. Please don’t hesitate if you do need to talk.’’
Allison left the counselor’s office feeling a little confused. It wasn’t in her nature to talk, but there was compassion in the women’s voice. Somehow it didn’t make sense. The woman was being paid to listen. Surely she wouldn’t listen to her the next time. She just held her face with a compassionate expression like a mask that she had to wear in her profession. Just another mask, another liar and to whom she had just bared a part of her soul.
‘‘I hate my life. I hate my life. I HATE my life.’’ She repeated to herself.
‘‘Maybe tomorrow will be better.’’ She thought to herself.
But tomorrow turned into today and it was worse than the day before, way worse. Her soul ached with the piercing look her friend gave her. Clearly she wasn’t forgiven, and might never be.
It was pointless to live in such a state, to live in such pain and for so long.
What was the point?
In the end life was just a waiting room for death. Most people were cowards who were afraid to meet their maker. No longer would she be a coward like them.
And by the way who was this ‘maker’, God? Hah! If he did exist he hadn’t done much for her. He had made things worse. A couple of years ago she still prayed to him. Now she didn’t. ‘He’ hadn’t answered her prayers when she had needed him most. He had left her to be ‘devoured by the hounds’. Let her spiral into this depression of unending darkness. And yet every Sunday like clockwork she made her way to the local parish with her mother and brother to pay him homage, made to pay him homage and what for? For abandoning her? Maybe he just didn’t exist?
Sundays contrarily/ contrary to bringing her closer to heaven brought her closer to hell, her personal hell. She went through the repetition of the motions, the kneeling down, and the standing up, the repeating of the words. All of this emptily, meaninglessly like the ‘hello, how are you’ and ‘I’m fine thank-you’ that she had come so vehemently detest. It was all meaningless. There was no ‘maker’ like the expression claimed; there was only death, a slow decomposition of the body, a silent process just like that of her depression tormented mind.
What little joy she had found in her best-friend had been destroyed by the very thing that now ate her up and tried to swallow her whole.
So she was going to end this once and for all.
But by first block that morning the whole school received some very sad news.
A student named Alice had committed suicide. Allison was in shock.
The rest of the day she was like a zombie. She couldn’t believe it, Alice, The Alice with whom she had had classes with just last year. Whose life seemed perfect? How? Why? This was a sign, it had to be. God had to exist. Only ‘he’ had known about how she was feeling, how close she had been to taking her own life. Alice couldn’t have died without a reason, even if that reason was to save her. She couldn’t let herself get to this point. Not ever again. No more thoughts of suicide, if nothing else for the sake of Alice’s memory.
Yet that was more easily said than done. So with her head held high Allison walked into the councillor’s office.
‘I need help.’
The councillor who was taking a file out of her filling cabinet turned around surprised to see Allison.
‘Okay’ the councillor eagerly said with a smile.
Allison came out of that counselling session with the tools she needed to start healing.
She started being honest with her friends, telling them what was going on and surprisingly their response was overwhelmingly positive. They made the effort to listen when she needed to talk to someone, and tried everything they could as part of her support network. At home her mom made her tell her one positive thing for every negative thing. Her brother made the effort of not getting on his sister’s nerves, and even acted nicely towards her. On the down side her father stopped talking to her, which turned out to be very positive. She was able to not be near his judgemental presence. Though she knew that the fact that he was avoiding her was his way of judging her for what she felt. But like the counsellor told her in one of their weekly meetings she was NOT at fault for feeling the way she did and her father would eventually come to terms with it.
‘‘I don’t care anymore if he does or he doesn’t. I’m finally feeling happy and he can’t ever take that away from me. No one can. Only I can. And I don’t want to go back to before.’’ She told one of her friends.
Allison became a nicer person to be around. Her friends gave her a mini-make-over. She started laughing whole heartedly at jokes and tried to really enjoy life. She joined a band as lead singer and even got a boyfriend. At her parish she even joined the choir. Of course she had some slip ups but by the end of the school year she had improved enough to the point where she looked to the future with hope.
After the last day of classes Allison and her friend Mae went to Alice’s grave.
‘Thanks for coming with me. Can you stay here? I think I need to do this alone.’
Mae stayed near the cemetery gate as Allison made her way to the grave. It was one of the most peaceful walks she had ever taken. The breeze was cool. The air was filled with the scent of freshly cut grass.
The sun in the sky was partly hidden by some clouds as Allison placed a bouquet of red orchids on the grave stone, Alice’s favorite. In the flowers was a card that said ‘For Alice, Thank-you.’
As Allison walked back to Mae a white feather floated to the ground. She picked up the feather looked up at the sun and smiled.