A Stranger to Myself

"I feel like I don't even know myself. And if I don't know myself, how can anyone else ever know me?" Autumn has always felt alone, like an outcast. But when a girl comes into her life and reveals things about Autumn she never would have known otherwise, can Autumn learn to accept her differences she's so used to hating?


22. Falsified Reality

I knew it was going to happen, I had always known. I tended to be brutally realistic with myself, never allowing blissful denial to set in even for a second. Despite this, though, when my mom was heading out the door with Marbara one morning and she casually called out, "Honey, we're going to have to leave tomorrow morning. Start packing up please!", my stomach immediately dropped. 


Tomorrow? Literally, tomorrow? Oh dear lord. My chest constricted so tightly I could barely breathe, my head throbbed and my chest ached to an extent I had never experienced before in my life. What was I going to do? What was I going to say? How was I going to tell Carmen?


Her break from school had ended the day before, this was her first day back. She was in class at that very moment. We had made plans - she was going to come over right after she got out. It was almost 2 - almost time for her to show up at my doorstep. Oh god she had no idea. She was so oblivious. And I was about to shatter her entire world. I doubted my ability to do it. Was I, myself stable enough to initiate this conversation? Would be the one to fall apart?


I needed to calm down, I was a total wreck. With great difficulty I managed to start breathing like a normal human being, and I tried to think rationally. She knew I had to leave, she just didn't know when. I had to remember that leaving was a positive thing. I'd be getting out of this town full of bad memories, away from my dad and from all of my relentless bullies. All of that was good. But then there was Carmen. That always made my train of thought come to a screeching halt. I was leaving her behind too. It made me feel indescribably terrible. To think that I was causing her so much pain was absolutely agonizing. Did the negatives of being separated from her outweigh the positives?


I started pacing the floor and sighing repetitively before retreating upstairs into my room. Sitting on my bed, I just couldn't stop fidgeting nervously. Can you blame me? I was terrified. 


It was then that I heard the front door open. Carmen knew that when there weren't any cars in the driveway she could just come in. So she did. 


"Autumn?" I heard her call out, shutting the door behind her, "You here? Or am I breaking and entering?" 


I had to take a deep breath before I could manage to make my voice loud enough for anyone to hear, let alone someone all the way downstairs, "In my room," My voice almost broke. I ran my fingers through my hair, my body becoming more and more tense with every audible step she took up the stairs. 


She came in and shot me a smile, not looking at me long enough to register my expression. She had her backpack still, and she walked over to the desk in my room - setting it down there. I was stiff as a statue. 


"Sorry I brought my bag, but I'm gonna have to do some of my homework now. Jesus Christ there's a lot!" She seemed like she was in such a good mood. And I was about to absolutely ruin it. My breath was starting to catch in my throat. 


"That's fine..." I struggled out, my voice quiet and halting. Surprisingly enough she didn't seem to notice. 


"God it sucks going back like this, I even woke up late this morning, I mean come on why me?" She took a seat at the accompanying desk chair, letting out a well-needed breath as she did so. It had wheels. She spun it to face me. Then saw my disposition for how it really was. Her brow furrowed. I avoided eye contact at absolutely all costs, "Are you alright..?" She asked slowly, cautiously. I think she knew. Or at least I hoped she did, maybe that would soften the blow a little bit - if at all possible. 


I just shook my head back and forth. Jesus Christ how was I supposed to do this? Should I wait and just hope that she guessed it? Or was that too much? I didn't know what to do. How was she going to react? How was going to react to her reaction? I couldn't prepare myself because I genuinely had no idea what to expect. Anger? Denial? Sadness? Devastation? Whatever it was, all I knew for sure was that it wasn't gonna be pretty. 


"Well... what's the matter? You can tell me..." That last part sounded more like a question than a reassuring statement. She was scared. Rightfully so. 


My hands folded together tightly in my lap. I had to say it. I was over-thinking things. Her reaction was essentially going to be the same no matter how I decided to word this. Just say it. Don't think. Blurt it out. I told myself over and over again in my head. I opened my mouth, about to listen to my own advice, but my throat clenched up. I almost couldn't breathe. She was staring dead at me. I wasn't looking back, but I could feel it. She needed to know. I needed to tell her. 


"Autumn..?" She asked again, her terror showing very clearly in her voice. 


Do it now. Come on. It'll suck no matter what, get it over with. Taking a deep, shaking breath, I finally said it, "I'm leaving tomorrow." My voice broke. God I couldn't do this. I wasn't ready. We weren't ready. It was too soon. 


There was an expected silence that was incredibly heavy and tense. It weighted me down so much I was worried I would sink into the floor. I clenched my hands into white knuckled fists and sat on them. It did nothing to ease my nerves. There was no way I'd be able to look at her. I knew that would hurt. I wished more than anything in the world that I wasn't leaving, or at the very least that I wasn't leaving tomorrow. 


"Wha..?" She could barely form that fragment of a word. It's impossible to describe just how overwhelmed and lost she sounded. It wasn't processing for her. I don't think her mind was allowing it to, or else she would just shut down. 


I had to make sure she actually knew and understood. I had said it once, it wasn't as hard the second time, though it was far from easy, "Tomorrow... I'm leaving..." I was literally shattering her reality. Our falsified reality that made us foolishly think that for some reason I wasn't really going to move. I had to go to school, to not live in my mom's friend's house. I knew we both weren't unrealistic, so how did we dig ourselves into such a deep hole of denial? We probably just felt utterly unable to face our inevitable separation head on. I still felt that way. 


I heard her breathing start to become shallow, frantic and labored. She stammered out parts of words, trying genuinely to speak, but she was incoherent. I looked at her and felt my heart disintegrate into dust. She was coming apart at the seams almost visibly. It was actually painful to see. I felt so guilty and I really wasn't sure if that was justified or not. I was leaving her behind and I'm pretty sure we were both thinking of it in this way. She was panicking. And I obviously didn't want that. 


I got up and approached her, instinctively feeling the urge to comfort her consume me. She barely registered the movement, or that I now awkwardly stood directly in front of her. She was too immersed in her own head. I didn't know what to do or say, or if I should even do or say anything. I just stood, watching her distress, feeling the nearly unbearable guilt on my shoulders now becoming accompanied by helplessness. 


She started to hyperventilate, her scarce breaths gasping and deep. Her eyes filled with tears as if on cue. I hated seeing her like this, especially knowing I caused it. I had to at least try something, anything. 


"Carmen... please calm down--" I started to try and soothe her, but if anything I managed to make it worse. 


"--Calm down?" She shouted all of the sudden, jarring me greatly. I jumped where I stood a little, "How can you possibly expect me to be 'calm' right now?!" She was an absolute mess. 


"...I guess I don't. I just hate seeing you this upset..." And feeling like I can't do anything to make you feel better. My head started to hurt. 


It was like I wasn't even there. She was too invested in trying to keep herself together to even process what I said. She buried one of her hands into her hair, grasping her skull tightly. It sounded like she was having an asthma attack or something, her breathing was so uneven. I was genuinely worried she was going to pass out. I knelt down to be a bit more on her level, and I put my hands atop her knees, hoping actual physical contact would snap her out of it. Surprisingly enough, we locked eyes. And the pain I saw so clearly in hers was unreal. She really needed me. I needed her too. 


"Why are you just telling me this now?! There's not enough time, it's too soon, I have to--" She still looked at me, but wasn't at all calm. 


The last thing I wanted was her to be mad at me when I hadn't withheld anything from her, "--I found out like 10 minutes before you came here. I never would've kept this from you." This was probably the hardest conversation I'd ever had with anyone in my life. 


She thought for a few dragging moments, clearly so overwhelmed she could barely function. It was then that her denial started to come back, almost like a defense mechanism. She shook her head back and forth, "No, you can't be leaving Autumn. You just can't, okay? This isn't... no, this just isn't happening. It can't happen." God this was terrible. I wondered if she also heard how desperate she sounded. 


I didn't want it to be true either, but we couldn't both be in denial. One of us needed to hold the other to reality, despite how unbearably horrible this reality was so quickly becoming. That was my job. 


"Yes I am, Carmen." Her expression changed but I wasn't sure if it was actually registering, "I'm leaving tomorrow morning. I can't control it and neither can you. This was going to happen. Okay? We both knew that, we just didn't want to believe it. We just have to face this as calmly as we can." Wow I was surprisingly good at maintaining fake, weak composure. If it helped her process and accept it, I would do absolutely anything. 


She shook her head back and forth before startling me again by shooting out of her seat. Tears started streaming down her cheeks. I stood as well, worried about what she may do. She just headed straight for my door and it didn't look like I'd be able to stop her. 




"--I-I can't do this." Entering the hallway she went straight to the stairs, me following her every step of the way. I didn't trust her like this, she was so unstable. 


"Carmen wait--" 


"--I just can't okay?!" When she got to my front door, she threw it open and stepped outside. 


Debating on whether or not I should follow her, I just stood in my doorway and shouted, "By tomorrow morning I'll be gone!!" 


Halfway across Marbara's yard, she stopped still. I could see how tense she was, even at this distance. Her shoulders were shaking.


When she spoke, it was almost impossible to hear her, but I managed, "Autumn... please. I'm not..." Whatever she planned on saying, she simply couldn't get out. Then she just kept going. 


And I didn't follow her. 

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