Regret pressed down on my chest, threatening to crush me. This was a new beginning; I couldn’t let my fear get the better of me again. I risked another glance at Dad. It wasn’t only my happiness on the line if I failed. His hands clutched the steering wheel as if it was the only thing keeping him rooted. He didn’t look my way. He almost never did. His brown eyes were far away, caught somewhere in the past, no doubt. Lost in a time when things were easier, in a time when I was still myself, when I knew how to be happy.
I turned back to the window. Cars and houses were a streak of color as we drove by. Motion sickness mingled with nerves in my stomach.
Why had I ever thought this was a good idea?
Because after three years of hiding at home, I felt the walls closing in on me; because most days I couldn't even stand the sight of my room. And yet it was a safe place for me, possibly the only safe place. A place where nobody ever bothered me, where I could be alone – except for the few hours I spent with Dad after he came home from work.
But I couldn’t go on like this, or I'd never learn to live again.
Learning to live again.
That's all Dad wanted me to try. He’d been worrying too much about me for the last three years, and for entirely different reasons than most parents worried about their teenage children. But I never truly got the chance to be a teenager. The incident prevented that, and though I'm only nineteen the weight bearing down on my soul makes me feel like I've lived for much too long already.
I feel old, worn out, drained.
The happy young girl from before was gone, replaced by a shadow of my former self.
Sometimes I didn't even recognize myself, and I could only guess how much worse it was for Dad and my brother to witness how I'd changed; how I'd slowly morphed into a corpse going through the motions of the day because I had to, not because I wanted to.
I knew it was time to leave my shell and socialize. I wished it was as easy as it sounded, but if one thing wasn’t easy for me, then it was getting into contact with other people. Closeness was pure torture for me. It made my skin crawl. People scared me. Sometimes I wondered if it would always be like that.
I hated it when people watched me as if I was a freak because of the way I acted. I tried so hard to be like them, tried to act normal.
But normal required being close to people, and allowing closeness reminded me of what happened, and that was the one thing I feared even more than closeness itself. Memories – being reminded of what had happened and what I'd lost – were too much for me to bear. They reminded me of what could never be.
I was broken.
Broken with no chance to ever be mended.
Never would I be like I'd been before the incident, never could I be mended. Not that anyone had ever tried to mend me, not that I would have allowed anyone to try.
It was easier to accept that I'd be broken for the rest of my life. Some things weren't meant to be broken, and therefore couldn't be mended – ever. I was one of those things. Whatever had been shattered in the incident, and I was pretty sure it was myself, my entire being, would never be whole again.
It wasn’t like breaking a vase and simply putting it together with some glue. There was no such thing as glue for a broken soul, a broken being like myself. It was a realization that I made a few months after the incident and somehow the realization made my life so much harder, but at the same time easier. Harder because I knew there wasn’t any hope, easier because finally I knew there wasn’t any hope. Having hope, and having to see your hopes being shattered over and over again, was so much worse than not having any hope at all. Even complete strangers could see that I wasn’t normal. That's why I’d barely left the house for the last three years, despite Dad's efforts to return me back to life. He gave up eventually and even hired a retired teacher to homeschool me for the last two years of high school. I'd had plenty of friends before the incident, but afterward the thought of facing any of them ever again was too terrifying.
Peterborough was a small town and rumors about the incident spread like wildfire and speculations were all over the news.
The only people who had meager knowledge about the incident were Dad, my brother Brian, and the hospital staff that treated me in the weeks afterward, but even they didn't know everything; If I had any choice in the matter, it would remain that way until the day I died. I'd take the truth into my grave.
I'd already have succeeded, if Dad hadn't saved me twice. After my second attempt, he started sobbing. I couldn't remember ever having seen my dad cry in earnest. He’d told me he wouldn't survive if he lost me, too. Not after having already lost Mom to cancer when I was only twelve.