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?


17. It's Fine


I woke up in a hospital. I knew it was a hospital immediately because nearly every surface was white, blindingly so. And as soon as I started to stir, instinctively trying to sit up, a man in a white jacket holding a clipboard gently placed a freezing cold hand against my collarbones to hold me in place. I had no strength whatsoever and my confusion was so prominent I just complied, leaning against a not so comfortable pillow as my head pounded erratically. 


I watched the doctor hold up one finger to me, telling me to wait, as he parted a dividing curtain and left my sight. I listened for a few seconds as I started to become more aware. The beeping of machines, the ringing of phones, and the muffled conversations of distant people were all I could slightly hear, but it for some reason sounded as if I was underwater. None of it was clear. My vision was also mildly blurred. And my stomach hurt slightly. 


I moved my hand to my head briefly to place it on my forehead after a particularly painful throb of my skull and was surprised to see one of those tube things that people have when they had been seriously injured. I was hooked up to one of those machines that shows your heart rate. I just stared at the monitor displayed - at the jagged line that indicated I was alive. It was entrancing. 


I wished it was flat. 


The doctor came back into the room. He stood at my side and just watched me for a second. I didn't look at him. Just kept track of where he was out of my peripheral vision. 


"Autumn," He spoke up. His voice was raspy. Like he had spoken a lot that day. I still didn't look at him. Eventually he just sighed and continued, "Your friend gave us information about you. Your father refused to come in, but we managed to contact your mother."


I didn't fully register what he had said. In the fragile mental state I was in this was becoming too much to deal with all at once.


My mother? I hadn't ever seen her. Maybe I did when I was like, a day or two old, but obviously I don't remember. I think I saw a picture of her once. My sister had one. She was pretty and she had my eye color. Why would she be here? How did they find her? 


"I understand this must all be very overwhelming for you," The doctor told me. The way he said that made it sound like a pre-recorded statement, he must have said it to so many other patients in the past, "But your mother is concerned. She asked to see you as soon as you were awake." 


Concerned? Why would she be concerned? She hadn't been "concerned" when she walked out on the family after I was born. Maybe she could immediately tell how bad I would turn out and she didn't want to be responsible for it. Maybe my dad was right to blame me for her leaving. I didn't know. I didn't understand anything right then. 


When I didn't say anything in response the doctor sighed slightly and simply left my sight again, going past the curtain so I couldn't see him anymore. I was wearing one of those hospital gowns, I noticed then but I hadn't before. It had short sleeves. My arms were showing. They looked terrible. All of the scars and cuts made me look so weak. I must have looked so pitiful laying in that hospital bed, with the tube thing in my arm, and self-inflicted cuts all over my body. And this was how my mom was going to see me. Great. 


The doctor guy came back. He had a woman at his heels. I knew it was my mom immediately. I recognized her. She was a little older than she had been in the picture I saw once, but in general it was the same. 


She walked in and the doctor left us alone. I just stared at her. She looked pretty dismayed. After a dragging silence she cleared her throat in almost a business-like manner and grabbed a nearby chair, pulling it to my bedside and sitting there. Was I supposed to say something? I didn't know what to say. It didn't look like she did either. 


"Autumn..." She said my name and I could tell she felt weird doing it, "...I um..." She wouldn't keep our eyes locked. It was like she couldn't, "...I was so sorry to hear about what happened, I came straight away..." She said that like it would make up for all of the years she wasn't there. I wasn't necessarily mad at her, but I didn't forgive her either. Not that easily. She wasn't screaming at me so she already liked me more than my dad did. That was something. 


I liked the way she referred to it: "what happened", like it was some unfortunate tragedy that had struck me and I was so strong to be enduring the aftermath. It was almost laughable. I had tried to kill myself. I was here because of something that did, not because the universe had dealt me a bad hand or whatever. Everything that had "happened" was my fault. 


I didn't respond to her. She felt really awkward, I could tell. Anyone probably could, "...look, honey, I'm sorry that I wasn't there. And I know that obviously doesn't make up for anything, but I regret what I did. I regretted it about a year after the fact but I felt too ashamed to just, show up again, like I was returning from a vacation or something." 


"Honey". Wow. I had never been called that before in my entire life. 


"I wanted to keep in touch with you, actually, and I tried to but your father had this burning resentment towards me. He wouldn't let me get close to you, but Hazel managed to contact me and we met up a few times here and there."


What? Apparently my sister had "met up" with my mom throughout the years and had never told me about it. What a brat. Not to mention my dad was blaming me for my mom leaving, but she was trying to be a part of my life and he wouldn't let her. What was my family's logic? We were the definition of dysfunctional. I don't think my mom understood just how much what she was saying was rattling me. Probably because I was showing no emotional reaction to any of it whatsoever. 


"I've always felt terrible whenever I thought about how I just, wimped out and left like I did. I still sometimes don't understand why I did that. You obviously won't remember this but your father and I were on terrible terms even before I had you. God he was an ass. Probably still is... we got into shouting matches all the time, Hazel was only five so I would get mad when your dad would start a fight right in front of her. Then he would just get more angry and it was a never ending cycle." 


I liked my mom already. The way she talked about my dad was incredibly satisfying in an odd way. 


"...but, Autumn, what are you doing here honey? What happened?" 


Oh boy. I knew this was going to be asked, that was inevitable, but I didn't want to talk about it. What was my explanation anyway? "Oh, I suddenly realized I had no sense of myself and it made me sad so I started to self-harm"? My reasoning, in hindsight, seemed weird and confusing. I definitely wouldn't be able to explain it to someone else, especially not my mom. 


I just sighed heavily, my head still throbbing painfully. My eyes moved from her, trying to find a surface in the area that wasn't white so that they could get a break, and when they couldn't I just shut them. 


"It was a buildup of a lot of things." Was all that I managed to say. Stupid explanation, if you could even call it that. It didn't explain much of anything. 


My mom made a tsking sound, "I'm sorry... I should have been there. Did your dad have anything to do with it?"


"Um... I guess a little. He threw me out of the house when I told him I might be gay..." Again, I said that so nonchalantly. It was weird. Then again I had just met my mom so I didn't really care what her opinion on me was. She already seemed a lot nicer than my dad so I assumed she would be a better person in general, not all bitter and closed-off like he was. 


Surprisingly enough, my casual, half-coming out didn't even make her flinch, "He threw you out? Seriously? That does sound like him... guess he hasn't changed much at all. Where did you go?" 


My eyes were still shut. It was making my head hurt a little less, "Carmen's house." 


"That's the girl that called for the ambulance, right?" 


That would make sense. She was the only one around when I initially passed out, "Yeah." 


"She seemed nice. She was very very concerned about you. When I met her, it looked like she had been crying for hours." 


My chest constricted. 


"Is she here?" I asked. I sounded a little apprehensive. 


"Yes, she's been here the whole time you have, just waiting for you to wake up. I think she fell asleep, though, the poor dear. She's in the waiting room. She wasn't allowed to see you because you aren't related or something, I'm not really sure." 


"Oh." Was all that I said. I stared at my hands. They were pale but they weren't white. I felt myself frowning. I wasn't sure why. Thinking of Carmen, panicking as she called 911, barely able to form a coherent sentence while she told them what had happened, and then rushing to the hospital after I was taken away but not being able to see me, it made me upset in a weird way. I picked at my cuticles. 


"So... listen, Autumn, clearly life here hasn't been treating you too well." I didn't look at my mom still. I felt myself almost starting to tear up, which I didn't want to happen, I would look so stupid if I just started crying for no reason, "I'm worried about you. Now that I'm back in your life, I want to be very involved. I want you to come back to my house. I live pretty far away, though. Hazel is actually going to college somewhere, surprisingly enough, so your dad will be alone. I wouldn't want you to have to live with only him - if he even let you back into the house. I think it would be a lot better for you if you came with me. Alright?" She sounded nervous. Like she feared my reaction to what she was saying. 


Leaving. Huh. I had never really thought about just leaving. It hadn't been a possibility earlier. My dad wouldn't move just because my life sucked. I would never have thought my mom would be willing to take me in since I was under the impression she hated me. I had nowhere else to go. I barely even thought about leaving. It never came to mind. 


I would get away from Jessica and her lackeys, that was a positive thing. I would get away from dad too, which I couldn't do quick enough. I think subconsciously I had always wanted to do that. I had no other attachments in that town even though I lived there my entire life. People didn't get close to me so I didn't get close to them either. 


But then there was Carmen. 


Carmen. What would she do if I left? Would she be fine with it, as long as I was alive? Would she be indifferent? Would she be devastated, would she do everything in her power to get me to stay, would she beg my mom to come up with some illogical compromise so that I wouldn't have to go? I felt my body tense. This was a pretty big decision now that I thought about it. It was too big. I wasn't ready to make it. 


"How much does my choice factor into what happens?" I asked my mom. My voice was really shaky. 


"Well... I would like to say a lot, but in reality, you don't have anywhere else to go besides coming with me. It sounds like your dad is pretty adamant in keeping you out, Hazel is going to college, and I don't think it would be the best idea for you to just invite yourself to move into Carmen's house... I just wanted to let you know what was going to happen instead of just springing it on you. I thought you would be really willing to leave, what, do you like it here?"


"No." I responded immediately. My eyes stung. 


"Well then wouldn't you be eager to get out?" 


"Yes, but there's just one thing that's making this a hard decision." 


"Oh? And what might that be?" 


I sighed, "Carmen." 


There was a pause. My blinking speed was increasing. 


"I understand, you two are... close aren't you?" I didn't know how to respond to that truthfully so I didn't say anything, "Well... um... I'm not sure what to tell you honey, I..." 


I couldn't stay in that town. I knew I couldn't, why was I even thinking of staying? It wasn't like wanted to. I would never ever want to. I needed to go. I needed to stop over-thinking. A fresh start sounded incredibly appealing to me now that I thought about it. That was just what I needed. Nobody would know who I was. I could find out things about myself. I could redefine myself in a way I wanted. 


"...I'll go. It's fine." 


"Oh, alright, good. Do you want to tell Carmen?" 


I hesitated for a few seconds, "...not right now."


Then when would I?


Would I at all?

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