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?


15. Take It Back

Carmen said I should start going to school again. She really wanted me to. But I knew that I couldn't. After all the classes I had missed and all of the insults I had avoided, I knew that it would be too much for me to deal with in the unstable state that I was in. But Carmen's family would notice if I didn't attend, and although they wouldn't react in the way my father had, they wouldn't be happy to know I was skipping.


So instead, I woke up at the same time Carmen did, I walked down to the bus stop with her, we might exchange a few words on a good day, and then I would walk to the end of the street when the bus came, and go sit on a street bench for the duration of the school day. It wasn't overly interesting. But I didn't know what else to do with myself. 


After about a week and a half of doing this, there was a half-day at the school. Carmen hadn't told me about it. I guess it just slipped her mind or she didn't think it was important to tell me. 


But a half-day meant that all of the students got out of school much sooner than usual. And while I sat on that bench, my mind wandered to such an extent I was barely aware of what was happening around me. So I didn't notice when the school bus drove past three hours before it normally would. I only came to my senses when someone literally grabbed me by the shoulder and shook me roughly. 


The bench was really only a few steps from a string of stores which sold accessories, clothes, and food. I personally had never shopped in any of these businesses only because I knew who often went to them. 


Jessica, Aubrey, and Gretchen. 


I felt safe when I was there during school hours though. Because there was no way they would be there. They would never skip, because their daddies would confiscate something from their pampered lives if they didn't maintain their B- averages. But it was a half-day. And I didn't know.


I blinked twice, confused at the unexpected contact, and I looked up from staring at the pavement of the sidewalk. And I inhaled so quickly I thought I might choke on air. My entire body tensed up. 


Gretchen withdrew her hand from me and shook it theatrically, as if I was contagious or covered in some sort of slime. She stood next to the others. I found my chest constricting more and more with each dragged out second they just stared at me, all of them sneering in distaste. 


"Is this where you've been for like, a year?" Aubrey asked, hands on her hips, a plastic bag full of clothes wrapped around her wrist.


I didn't say anything.


"Haven't you flunked out yet?" Gretchen added. She held a stryofoam cup in another hand.


"There's a limit to the days you can be absent, you know." Jessica told me, like she was some astute guru and was informing me on the ways of life. 


Again, I said nothing. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know if they actually wanted me to respond to them or if they just wanted to pelt me with questions and most likely insults. 


"God I'm glad you haven't been there, though," Jessica started to speak after a minute or two of heavy silence, "The entire school seems happier with you gone." The corner of her mouth was slowly, gradually curling upwards and forming her expression into that of a cruel smirk. 


She really didn't know how much that got to me. If the school really wanted me gone, why shouldn't I just take myself from the world altogether?


"You guys, don't you think it looks like she got uglier over time?" Gretchen asked. Every word she spoke felt like a stab in the chest but my expression remained unreadable and void of clear emotion. 


"Oh, you're right!" Aubrey spoke with enthusiasm, "Hmm... it also looks like she's kind of sad..." Her voice showed no concern. It was absolutely dripping with sarcasm. 


"It's probably because her girlfriend dumped her, remember?" Gretchen said. 


"Oh yeah... that girl has been kind of sad in school too. Gosh, Griswald, it seems like you ruined her life!" 


"It even sort of seems like she's getting less pretty with each day!" Jessica said. 


"Stop it..." I spoke in a mutter, looking away from them. I didn't care when they insulted me. Even though their words were painful to hear, I felt as if they were all true. But they were lying about Carmen. She could never get less beautiful. 


"Oh! It looks like we struck a nerve!" Gretchen seemed overly excited.


"What's the matter Griswald, you don't like it when we make fun of your girlfriend?" Aubrey taunted. 


"They broke up, though, remember?" Jessica reminded them before looking back at me, "Why is it you're so defensive when you two aren't even together anymore?"


"We were never together." I spoke clearly that time, glaring at her. I finally stood up from the bench and started to walk away--


--when a hand grabbed my forearm, to tug me back into the conversation no doubt, a motion that I normally would have shaken off with little difficulty. But the hand was now clamped firmly on all of my cuts. All of my scars. And it hurt so badly. And I couldn't help but cry out in pain, turning around frantically and yanking my arm from Jessica's grasp. 


There was a silence for a while. I could feel something on my arm. Like blood had started to seep from my cuts. I was wearing Carmen's jacket. I didn't want to get my blood all over it. But I didn't plan on revealing just how weak I was to the three girls that I feared most on Earth. 


It was as if Aubrey had been reading my thoughts, because she reached forward abruptly, yanking my sleeve and tugging it upward. The fabric of the jacket scraped against the cuts and I cringed, trying to back away again, but Aubrey was holding me to the spot. Jessica was just watching. She looked extremely pleased. Especially when my forearm was not covered in any way. And they could see. 


Yes, when Jessica grabbed my arm the cuts started to bleed. Now the skin there, already marred and torn apart, was bleeding as well. The blood dripped down and off of me, hitting the pavement I stood on. I was mortified. 


All three of them burst out laughing at the same time. My head started to throb with each maniacal cackle they emit. My cheeks lit with a blush and I got so tense it felt like I had turned into stone. 


"Wow, Griswald, I never thought you'd do that too! God you were bad enough before, now you're gonna go all emo?" Aubrey laughed, still gripping my sleeve to prevent me from sprinting away like I so wanted to.


"I've always thought that was so pathetic. Why can't you just cry and eat ice cream like everyone else?" Gretchen asked me tauntingly. I couldn't believe their arrogance. 


"Maybe she just knows that she shouldn't be here anymore but she's too scared to go all out." Jessica said, her tone different from the others'. This time she sounded dead serious. The other times they had been in a mocking tone or were said sarcastically. Gretchen and Aubrey even stopped still for a second, Jessica had caught their full attention. 


Jessica took a few menacing steps towards me until she was inches from my face, "It used to be fun making fun of you. But now it's just annoying to see that you're still alive. Why don't you do something right for once in your life and cut yourself deep enough to bleed out?"


I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe. My body went numb. Had she really just said that? 


Was she serious?


"Take that back you bitch!" Someone shouted from behind me. I was too frozen to look. I was almost too frozen to even comprehend what was spoken. 


Since I was paralyzed to where I stood, I could only gauge my three tormentors' reactions to get an idea of who might be talking. I watched as Jessica smiled devilishly, letting out a laugh, her eyes not on me but instead on something or someone over my shoulder. 


"Wow Griswald, it looks like your ex has come to try to rekindle your lost love." Jessica said. She sounded so pleased with herself. 


Carmen? Carmen was there? Why would Carmen be there? 


What had she heard?


"Shut up!" I recognized the voice now. It was Carmen. She was right behind me. I was glad that there weren't any other people on the street at the moment, all of them being inside stores or just not in the area. 


Jessica was trying to keep an unaffected expression, but I could tell that she was a bit shaken. I still couldn't bring myself to turn around. All of my effort was now being put into keeping my tears back. My body was starting to lose its numbness. And it was being replaced with pain. Agonizing, unbearable pain. 


Carmen stepped in front of me, in between Jessica and I. She even forcefully grabbed Aubrey's hand and ripped it from my sleeve. I was unable to move to pull my sleeve back down. 


Carmen was absolutely seething with rage. I had never seen her that angry before. Her fists were clenched with white knuckles.


"Don't say that! Don't fucking say that!! Leave her alone! What has she ever done to you?!" Carmen screamed, inches, if not centimeters in front of Jessica's face. Now Jessica was unable to hide the way she truly felt. I saw just how confused and worried she was about how the situation had abruptly turned against her. 


"Get the fuck out of here!! Leave!" Carmen shouted. Jessica opened her mouth as if to retort, but she was cut off, "No! Don't even try it! Go now before I claw your fucking eyes out!"


The three girls backed away in unison, all of them looking as if they were desperately trying to retain some kind of dignity and not just run away in terror. Jessica looked as if she was trying the hardest. 


"Whatever. This was a waste of time anyway." 


With that they were gone. They just turned and left. 


Carmen slowly tilted her head, looking at me. I was slightly surprised at how much emotion was shown in her expression. Still unable to move, I watched as she slowly reached toward my arm, gently grabbed my sleeve and tugged it downward, concealing my cuts again. 


"Autumn..." She faced me completely, "...you don't believe what they said..." I felt her cautiously intertwine our fingers together, "...right?" 


I couldn't handle this. I couldn't process everything that had just happened. My mind was buzzing with so many thoughts it felt like my head was a beehive. I was flooding with so many emotions and I didn't know how to deal with any of them. I needed to get away. I needed to leave. 




I pulled away form her, taking a few steps back, yanking my hand from her grasp a little too forcefully. I could literally feel how much that pained her. Her expression showed it as well. 


My body started shaking considerably as I started to cry. I couldn't help it. They were uncontrollable, hysteric sobs. I placed a hand over my mouth, briefly taking note of how upset Carmen looked before I turned and ran from her. Again. 


That might very well may be the last time I saw her. 

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