Saving Persephone – A Young Adult Novel

Here is a sneak peek of a young adult novel I’ve been working on, loosely based on some of my own experiences and parts of my adolescent life as a developing woman in modern day America. Much of the novel is fictionalized and contains some triggering content.

Confession #3: I’ve never kissed a boy. 

Dear Dad, 

Yes, it’s true. I’m almost seventeen and I’ve never kissed a boy. Not just because my thick, frizzy blonde hair makes me look like a ruffed up porcipine, but because boys scare the absolute shit out of me. I’m not kidding. Ever since Lucas Gladestone took it upon himself to smack my ass in front of half the eighth grade class, I’ve vowed to never reveal any of my feminine curves to male eyes again. 

Though to be fair, Lucas’ behavior only confirmed pre-existing feelings of mistrust toward the male species. I remember the way an older man made me feel uncomfortable as I stood in a Subway sandwich line with Mom as he stared longingly at me and joked that I could cut him in line “only because I was cute.” I remember being eight and naive as a man in a tan Toyota Corolla pulled up next to the sidewalk and tried to convince me that the bus had already gone by my street followed by an offer to drive me to school. Thank God the bus turned the corner and pulled up next to me seconds later with Mom yelling and swearing at the man in a pink bathrobe from the porch steps. I had never seen a man vanish into thin air so fast, and I had never been so close to making a horribly ignorant and childish decision that would have forever changed my life. I later learned that his name was Robert Dean and that he was a 61 year old registered sex offender who lived two towns over. I remember when I was nine and holding the phone out to Mom after a raspy voiced man asked me if my parents were home. The man hung up the moment I handed her the phone. But despite the exposure to these experiences with older men that I had in my youth, I still believed that boys my age could be different. I believed that boys my age could still be innocent and good. 

Before the Lucas incident, I used to be the kind of girl that would paint my nails with girlfriends at sleepovers. I was the kind of girl that would dance in front of my mirror to old Jonas Brother songs and daydream about being the focus girl in one of their music videos with Nick Jonas, of course, singing front and center. Before that, I had spent most of my childhood in baggy and smelly sports uniforms. But when you start growing lady lumps and have to wear a cinched half tank top under your uniform, you start to feel differently about your body. 

I used to feel pretty. I liked the way the boys stared at me when I shed my tomboyish attire and embraced my silver hoop earrings and new form fitting jeans. I liked that I felt wanted and desired. But when Lucas posed the question, “Hey, anyone want to hear a joke?” and then shamelessly placed his hand on my middle school rump without my consent, it forever changed the way I felt about my own feminine figure. It wasn’t a joke I had wanted to hear after all. I had become the butt of his joke, and it wasn’t a punchline I had consented to be apart of. 

I remember wanting to tell Mom what had happened, but I didn’t know how to say it. Like I said, I was embarrased. I was so ashamed of my own body. This was my fault. I shouldn’t have changed my clothes. Boys didn’t do that to me when I hid everything underneath my oversized sports uniforms. I didn’t think there was anything anyone could really do about what had happened. It didn’t happen on school property so the school couldn’t do anything about it. Parents were absent from the situation so an adult couldn’t confirm or deny that it had happened. All I had was my word against Lucas and the eight classmates that had enjoyed his cruel joke. It felt futile to say anything about it. But on the inside, I was crumbling into refined pieces of self-loathing. Three days after the incident, Lucas showed up to our second to last day of eighth grade with a black eye. I would have liked to think that it was karma for his mysoginy, but the circulating rumor that it was the product of Lucas instigating a fight and winning squashed any faith I might have had in the innerworkings of the universe. 

So when I entered my freshman year of high school, I did all of my school shopping in the teenage boys section. Yes, that’s right. I was prepared to spend all of my back-to-school shopping money on boys clothes all for the sake of keeping the predatory wolves at bay. If I didn’t want boys to touch me, I needed to give them enough of a reason not to touch me. And covering my pretty in ugly was enough of a reason to keep their indecent hands off me. 

Tall, sunkissed, and freckle faced Oliver Harris is the only boy since eighth grade who has seen me in something other than athletic garb and sweatpants galore. It’s hard for him not to when our mothers are best friends and when he lives in the antiquated Victorian house across the street from me. After two weddings and one funeral, Oliver has seen me in a dress more times than I would have liked him to. He’s not like most boys in our junior class and I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. 

He doesn’t play any traditional school sports, but he’s one of the school’s top swimmers, and he plays raquet ball with his dad every Sunday morning at the local YMCA. From the amount of side eye glances I’ve cast in his direction over the years, I suspect that he’s got an unconfirmed set of rippling abs underneath his various Tide washed shirts. Unlike most kids, he doesn’t surround himself with friends in the cafeteria. By choice, he sits alone under the school’s atrieum where the sunlight can spill across the pages of whatever book on the banned books list he’s reading. The last book I saw him reading was Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut. And when he smiles, it isn’t the brace laid, artifically created type that most kids nowadays have. His lopsided lips and the slight gap between his front teeth make him look like an attractive Looney Tunes character, if there is such a thing. At least, that’s what I remember of his smile. He doesn’t smile as much these days. Either Oliver has this mysterious and aloof teenage boy act down to a tee (which could be at the sight of Jessica Pullman adjusting her posture and thrusting her tits up each time she walks past him) or he’s just as uninterested in the frivolous drama of high school as I am. It’s not that Oliver doesn’t have friends. If he put in more effort, he could be just as popular as twerps like James Avery, Eric Duncan, and Lucas Gladestone. It just seems like ever since the passing of his brother, Ronnie, he’s been more recluse in the way he carries himself at school. 

Ronnie’s funeral was the first time Oliver saw me in a dress. It was January of freshman year—the absolute worst time to be hosting and, much less, attending a funeral. Everything around us already felt enough like death. The holiday buzz of twinkling Christmas lights and the scent of warm gingerbread cookies fresh out of the oven had passed. Not that Mom ever baked or hung up Christmas lights. I’m lucky if she can just get them out of the box without accidentally strangling herself. But the seasonal joy brought on by the birth of Jesus and the new year had faded, and now we were left to pray that we wouldn’t go all Jack Nicholson on our loved ones with each snowstorm. The ambiance of Ronnie’s death in the air only made me feel like Death wanted this winter to feel especially suffocating for our town. 

Bone cancer–that’s what had claimed him. He was only eighteen. Ronnie was supposed to go to college—Colby College, I think. Ronnie had wanted to major in Russian studies. This didn’t make sense to a lot of people. Wendy and Arnold didn’t have a drop of Russian blood in them nor had they ever been to Russia. But our high school was one of the only schools in the state that offered Russian classes at the high school level, and Ronnie found something captivating and beautiful in the Russian tongue. Not only that, but his high school sweetheart, Zoya Ivanov, was a foreign exchange student from Russia. And he wanted to be fluent enough in her language so he could move to Moscow and assimilate into the Russian culture to be with her. Ronnie was a gentleman and a romantic. He wasn’t a pig when it came to girls like the rest of the boys at our school. Of course, Death had to claim one of the good ones—the motherfucker. 

Mom had made me wear a black Vera Wang dress from the back of her cluttered closet. It was unflattering being two sizes too big, but I was more relieved than anything. It meant no one sick enough to pick up chicks at a funeral would be eyeing me. We sat in the the front row with the Harris’. Mom smelled like the inside of a liquor bottle as she sat next to Wendy, squeezing her hand and offering her shoulder. Mr. Harris was dressed in his finest Calvin Klein suit, rubbing his wife’s back. The slight tremble in his left hand indicated that he wanted to fall apart just as much as Wendy. Zoya cried hysterically in the pew behind us as Liz Harting and Joan Damons, the only two girls from Ronnie’s class that didn’t want to murder Zoya for dating Ronnie, tried to console her. Oliver and I sat on the other side of our parents, blankly staring at the Russian speaking minister. Me in my boyish haircut and in my two sizes too big dress and Oliver in his $5.99 clip on tie and slicked back hair. From behind the back of our parent’s heads, Oliver glanced at me and I glanced back, not knowing what to say or do other than acknowledge his gaze. 

Two years later, and I still haven’t said anything to Oliver about Ronnie. I haven’t asked him how he’s been. I haven’t asked him if he’s okay. I’ve only observed him from afar like a scientist watching a social experiment unfold. It’s not that I’m a coldhearted sociopath that enjoys watching other people be miserable. I’ve just always been awkward in the presence of death and tragedy. I don’t know what to say because I know, “Sorry for your loss” and “He’s in a better place” isn’t going to cut it. It’s just bullshit that people tell suffering loved ones as a way to make themselves feel better about the situation. Not the loved ones. Themselves. 

Since you decided to leave and grow lady lumps, drinking is Mom’s way of overcoming the end of a 23 year marriage. Overcoming isn’t quite the word though. More like forgetting that the tragedy even happened. I haven’t spewed any of that bullshit to Mom either. What am I supposed to say to her? Sorry the man that you loved for 23 years left you and decided to become a woman instead? Sure, I have my days where I want to scream at her and scold her for being the child or ransack our cabinets and pour all of her mind-numbing juice down the sink. But I don’t because I don’t know what I could possibly say to her that’s going to make up for all the shit you left her with. I was never supposed to be the adult or the therapist or the protector. Your absence in my life made me grow up faster than I wanted to, and I wasn’t going to stop Mom from drinking when I didn’t have the answer to her problems. 

Shortly after Ronnie’s death, Wendy’s presence in our house had become more frequent and the empty alcoholic beverages had now doubled. Lately, the topic of their drinking sessions has been Oliver and I. 

Three glasses in and Mom routinely asks me through slurred speech why I’m not dating Oliver. “He sssseeems like a ffine catch,” she would try to say soberly as she pours herself another glass of vodka. 

It still amazes me how she nurses people back to health for a living, but can barely nurse a bad hangover in the morning. “Is it because you like girlsss? You know I wouldn’t jj-judge you if you di-di-did.” 

“Seriously, Mom,” is always my response. 

And today, just like every other day, seemed to be no different. 

Monday through Friday, I always walked home from school when the bell rang at 2:00pm on the dot. Today was different though. I had to spend an hour after school to serve the detention I earned for my colorful choice of words to James and Lucas for making fun of my lady problems. At 3:00pm, I marched down the concrete steps and passed the fields where several fall sports practices were wrapping up. I quit any sports I had done in middle school for fear it would draw more attention to me. 

With my hood up and with Anarbor’s song “Take My Pain Away” in my ears, I started making the half mile trek to Mom’s house on Lark Lane. Leaves danced around me as I marveled at the fall foliage above. Fall has always been my favorite season. Not because of pumpkin scented everything. Not because of Halloween. Not because sweaters are more acceptable to wear and easier to hide everything. It’s the time when nature reminds us that there is beauty in dying things as much as there is ugly in living things. Autumn makes me think of Ronnie. 

I remember going to visit him in the hospital with Mom two weeks before he died. Wendy was there, gripping Ronnie’s hand as if nothing could rip her away from her dying, eldest son. His skin was sunken in and his eyes were hollow. A vase filled with sunflowers and a “Get Well Soon” card had been placed next to his hospital bed. Small, plastic tubes were coming out of him left and right, all hooked up to machines to monitor his breathing and to pump him full of sustenance and various medications. There was no trace of his mop of blonde hair underneath the green bandana that covered his head. It was clear that he was withering and wasting away, just like the yellow sunflowers next to him were starting to. Ronnie was on a path to death and we could all visibly see it. “How could he do this? How could God do this to us? We’re a good family—we pay our taxes—” 

Ronnie placed his pastry white hand on his mother’s head as she cried into the thin blanket that covered his frail body. “I’m not dead yet, Mom.” 

This only upset Wendy more. As Ronnie stroked his mother’s hair, I noticed black ink protuding from underneath his wrist. He noticed me staring and he gave me a weak smile. “I wanted a tattoo as part of my dying wish. It took a lot of convincing, but the staff finally agreed to it.” 

He flipped his arm over for me to see the small, Russian inscription scribbled into his skin. “ “Любить – это ничего. Быть любимым – это что-то. А любить и быть любимым – это всё.” “To love is nothing. To be loved is something. But to love and be loved is everything.””

Ronnie takes an uneven, deep breath. “Yes, I’m dying. But at least I’m going to die knowing that I have loved and that I have been loved. In the end, that’s all we’re searching for, Persephone. That’s all we’re living for.” 

My memories of Ronnie were interrupted by a plastic cup being flung at me out of a car window. The splash of old coffee in my face, saturating my green sweatshirt and trickling down my neck and into my bra. “Damn, Phony. If I had known you had such huge bonkers under all that, I would have signed you up to join the cheerleader’s car wash this Saturday.” 

James Avery’s $50,000 car, brainless testosterone squad, and movie star good looks were now in front of me, taunting and teasing me as I stared at them like they were the future Harvey Weinstein’s and R. Kelly’s of this man run world. I looked down at the now visible curves of my chest having been accentuated by the coffee that made me feel like I had unknowlingly signed up for a wet t-shirt contest. Lucas Gladestone was in the backseat making kissy faces at me. “Let me know if you ever want to have some fun. I know how much you like to be spanked.”   

Before I could get a few good swears in, James and his crew peeled away from me and down the street. I could read the bumper sticker on his back windshield that read, “Never get down on one knee for a girl who won’t get down on two for you.” 

Fresh tears brimmed in my eyes and trickled down my cheeks. Fuck you, James Avery and your money can buy me everything and making others feel like shit makes me feel good mentality. Slade Echeverria’s voice was no longer in my ears. I had dropped my phone on the sidewalk in the process of James and Lucas being assholes, as they always were. I flipped over my phone and ran my fingers over the spiderweb that had formed on my screen. Dammit. “Is everything okay, Persephone?” 

Oliver Harris’ blue eyes stared down at me as I muttered swears under my breath and wreaked of expired creamer. “Just peachy,” I said, trying to fight back tears. 

I slipped my cracked phone into my sweatpants pocket and I ran down the remainder of Maple Ave. and turned right onto Lark Lane. I disappeared into the house three doors down on the left and raced up to my bedroom covered in posters of angsty bands where I could hide from everyone. James Avery, Lucas Gladestone, Oliver Harris, Mom, you, myself. Everyone.

Confession #9: I believe that when we die, butterflies are actually our souls flying around on this Earth. 

Dear Dad, 

I hid in the bathroom and cried during first period today. It was the one year anniversary of Jessica Flowers passing. Though Principal Dean’s use of the word “passing” made her death seem natural. Unless people are considering suicide natural these days. 

I wasn’t her best friend or anything. I didn’t know any of her dark and intimate teenage secrets that she kept buried in her once beating heart. I didn’t know who she had a crush on nor did I know anything about her family. I guess I didn’t know anything about her except for the fact that, in the midst of all the teenage drama and bullshit, she treated me like a human being.

It was fall of freshmen year and my life was a mess. Correction, it still is a mess. But at least now I’ve found a way to deal with the constant tsunami that I call my life. It was four months after you left Mom for that other woman. Diana? Mom had just discovered her elixir of life: vodka. Ronnie was in and out of the hospital constantly, and I had stripped myself of everything and anything that would feminize me. The kids at school had started making fun of me for my new boyish look. “You must like girls since you dress like a lesbo,” was an observation made by a boy in my 9th grade geometry class. 

“The boy’s locker room is this way,” Curt Oberlin said to me as I was about to enter the girl’s locker room to change for PE class. 

“You’re ugly,” said Samantha Waters when I asked if I could sit with her during lunch. 

To a degree, my new wardrobe plan had worked. I had scared the boys away, but in doing so, I had also scared the girls away. I had few friends, a broken family, a series of hurtful nicknames, and the consistent urge to cry everyday. The only faction of my life that I had maintained control over were my impeccable grades. But even that started to fall apart. 

“You’re missing your parenthetical citations,” said Ms. Piper as she handed me back my David and Goliath essay. “You’ll need to stay after school with me for a detention today.” 

I couldn’t believe it. I had never gotten a detention. I had only been in trouble in my schooling twice before this: when Jacob Jones chased me around the kindergarten classroom at the mention of “chocolate icecream” and when I was given a bus slip for being wrongfully accused of sticking gum under my seat in eighth grade while my guilty culprit of a seat mate didn’t have to do any time. Damn you Nicole Hart. So when Ms. Piper slapped me with that detention, I couldn’t help but turn into a weeping turtle during the 60 minute ordeal. “There’s no need to cry, Persephone. It’s not like your parents are getting divorced.” 

Did you know Ms. Piper that when you “assume” it makes an ass out of you and me? In this case, more you. “Oh, Persephone. I had no idea,” she cried as she tried to console me for the remaining 45 minutes of my detention hell. 

And just like that, I had gone from a weeping turtle to a closed off clam. I couldn’t even rely on my teachers to judge me fairly. I almost told her to go to hell when she urged me to talk to you and to fix the broken relationship I had with you. First, she was going to make wrongful assumptions about my life and then counsel me as if she was some expert on what was best for me? No thanks, Ms. Piper. Our interactions for the remaining school year will be strictly academic, and I swear on the life of the dog I will one day have that I won’t forget to include parenthetial citations in my essay every again.

The following day was just as terrible. Helen Fischer spilled her spaghetti and meatball lunch on me (I’m still to this day not convinced that it was an accident), I got a 78 on my science test, and Larry Jenkins tried to feel me up during a dodgeball game to determine if I really was a girl. I guess the wardrobe change had failed, instigating more curiosity than aversion about my genitalia. I sat down in my fifth period study hall as usual with dried tomato sauce caked on my blue and white flannel shirt and with bits of meatball caught underneath my nails. I stared at my geometry homework, alone and empty of emotion. “Hi.” 

Light flooded into my bleak world when Jessica Flowers face appeared in front of me. The sight of her made up face, icy blue eyes, and bleach blonde hair brought me back to a reality I thought I had detached myself from. She sat across from me, tapping her fake nails against the cheap wood. “I’m Jessica. What’s your name?” 

“Persephone,” I whispered, ignorant of anything else to say. 

The best way I could describe her was as an angelic mouse. Her squeaky voice, meek personaility, and angelic smile made me feel like I was in the presence of a girl who felt small, but who wanted to do good. She glanced at my Honors Geometry homework. “I have Mr. Reynolds too for regular Geometry. I’m pretty sure I’m failing,” she said through quiet laughter. 

I smiled, something I hadn’t done in weeks. “ I’m not terrible at it. I just don’t like it.” 

“I’m terrible at it and I don’t like it. So you’re better off than me.” 

I shifted my eyes to the checkered floor between my black converse. We listened to the mumbling chatter of other students in the cafeteria. I looked back up at Jessica and she was still smiling, like an eternal ray of sunshine. “I like your hair,” she said. 

“I don’t,” I said. “Everyone says I look like a boy.” 

“Well everyone else is stupid.” 

This time, I didn’t just smile. I laughed too. For the remainder of our study hall, we made small talk and occasional jokes. She didn’t ask me about my problems and my crumbling world. She didn’t ask me if I was okay or if something was wrong. The truth was Jessica didn’t have to. She could see it on my somber face, in my zombie walk, and in my vacant eyes. I was hurting and asking me about it would have only intensified the hurt. It would have made me feel like I was just a pity case to her, that the only reason she marched over to my table and started talking to me was because she felt sorry for me. And the last thing I wanted was for someone to feel sorry for me. The thing I wanted most was for someone to treat me like a regular person. Not as vomit girl, the lesbo, the bearded lady, the freak—–a normal girl. Jessica intuitevly knew that because she was also a closet basket case. She just did a better job at hiding it and I wish to this day that I had been able to undress her feelings the same way she had undressed mine. 

For the remainder of 9th grade, Jessica and I would occassionally engage in small talk during our shared study hall. We didn’t swim in the same social circles nor did we share any other classes together. Sometimes she would smile at me as we passed each other in the hallway and I would smile back, like we shared a secret that nobody knew. I wouldn’t say that we were friends, but we had a shared understanding of the world that made the next two years of high school a tiny bit more bearable. 

February of last year, Principal Dean’s gentle and booming voice came over the intercom during homeroom on a gloomy Monday morning, which just so happened to be Valentines Day. “Good morning students and staff. This isn’t an announcement that a principal ever thinks they will have to make and this news is said and given with a heavy heart. On Saturday, February 12th, Jessica Flowers from the junior class passed away in her home.” 

I tuned out for the rest of Principal Dean’s speech. Passed away? What did that mean? At first, I didn’t know how to react to the news. I didn’t cry or punch a wall. I just sat there and stared at Mrs. Jacoby’s cream colored walls, the same way my fellow homeroom peers did. I didn’t know Jessica the way other students did. I didn’t walk to class with her or eat lunch with her or spend time in the bathroom fixing my hair and makeup with her. I didn’t have sleepovers with her or talk about boys with her. There were a great many things I didn’t do with her or know about her that made her who she was. 

But I remembered her kindness and I remembered the way she stared into my eyes and down into my heavy and hurting soul. She didn’t make fun of me nor did she pity me. She was the first person in a long while who empathized with me, a human practice that seems as lost as Atlantis and as buried as Mesopotamia in the carefully constructed web of social media and technology these days. 

The next few days, rumors circulated about Jessica’s death. It was confirmed by a number of students and staff members that she had, in fact, committed suicide. The details of how are still fuzzy and speculative. Some said she killed herself by overdose. Others claimed she hung herself in her bedroom closet with a homemade noose. The other piece of the puzzle was why she had decided to kill herself. This piece was easier to pinpoint, but difficult for many to accept. There had been evidence that Jessica was being cyberbullied and physically bullied within the walls of our high school. Slut, whore, retard—-these were just a few of the names written on her social media page or written on notes stuffed into her locker. 

Of course, the school denied that bullying of any kind was a huge problem at their prestigious academy. Principal Dean’s face was on the 8 o’clock news with the school’s three story building and snow covered landscape in the background. “Bullying isn’t a problem at this school, but I can assure you that we follow up on every incident of bullying with a thorough investigation.” 

Yeah, okay, Principal Dean. Whatever helps you sleep at night. The funny thing is, despite his denial, he orchestrated a schoolwide anti-bullying assembly and presentation shortly after the news of her suicide. He had a guest speaker who was somehow related to a victim of the 1999 Columbine shooting give a presentation about how his relative was involved in the Columbine tragedy. This led to the repeat of phrases like “Treat everyone the way you want to be treated” and “Kindness can start a chain reaction.” Meanwhile, a group of heartless, teenage assholes were in the back of the gymnasium laughing and snickering about Jessica’s death like it was some kind of sick and hilarious joke. So much for creating an environment of anti-bullying and wholesome kindness. 

The truth is school’s can preach kindness, compassion, and empathy to students all they want. At the end of the day, kids will be kids and will tear each other down because it’s what their parents do to them when they get home, unknowingly having taught them to inflict the same pain onto others. And at the end of the day, boys will be boys because it’s what their parents and society have taught them about what it means to be a man, having unknowingly given girls a reason to pay attention to the way they dress more than their own academics. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks the same way you can’t teach an experienced oppressor wholehearted empathy. 

Within the next few weeks, the news of Jessica’s death faded into the background of routine school days filled with end of the trimester tests, projects, drama, fights, basketball games, prom committee, and a myriad of other high school functions. For a while, Jessica’s suicide also faded into the background of my own life. You became a woman, Mom continued drinking and Wendy started drinking, Oliver’s eyes fell on me more with each passing day, Luna hung out with me less the more she hung out with Fred Klimt, and I soldiered through each school day as a battle won, but as a war lost, merely surviving the emotional turmoil brought on by raging adolescent angst. I had been getting by in a numb repetition of boring classes, useless homework, lonely lunches, and comments made by passive aggressive peers—-until today. 

I sat on one of many herpy invested toilets in the girls bathroom with snot caked to my nose and with a ring of toliet paper turned tissue piles around me. I held my breath and pretended I didn’t exist each time the bathroom door swung open, listening to the various sounds and lengths of time girls peed or took a shit in the stalls next to me. A few girls tried pulling my stall door open, briefly wondering why the bathroom stall was locked if no one was using it. After three of four attempts, I pulled a blank piece of three leaf notebook paper from my bag and wrote “OUT OF ORDER” in black sharpie large enough to cover the page. With a rogue pink sticky note, I stuck the paper on the other side of the stall’s door when the coast of girls was clear. For the remaining 25 minutes, no one tried to open the stall I had crafted as my environment to be vulnerable and weepy in. I pulled a half empty bottle of Dayquil from the front pocket of my backpack. I took swigs from it, cried, and held the plastic bottle close to me until the bell rang, signaling the end of first period and the beginning of second period. 

Thank God second period was art class. I wasn’t great at art, but I liked how in art class you had the freedom to create whatever you thought. My art teacher, Mrs. Delaney, told me that I had a lot of potential to be a phenomenal artist, but that’s the thing about creating art. You will always be your own worst critic. Unless you can push through that mental barrier of self-doubt and self-criticism, you’ll never get anywhere with it. And for that reason, I never felt like I would get anywhere with my own creativity. 

Since I was light years ahead of my peers in the completion of a mosaic squares project, Mrs. Delaney told me I could use the period to create whatever I wanted. I sat down next to my usual table mate, Cameron Donald, and pulled out the small sketchbook that Mrs. Delaney had given each of us at the beginning of the school year. Half of it was filled with sketches I hated. I always found something wrong with each person, animal, object, or landscape I tried to draw. Maybe it’s because I was trying too hard. I was trying to undertake and force projects that weren’t natural or authentic to me. But today was different. I didn’t sit at my table and stare at the walls of colorful artwork, desperate for a drop of inspiration. I didn’t think. I just drew. 

I like to believe that when we die our souls take the shape of butterflies. I like to think that the reason why we have butterflies fluttering around on this Earth isn’t due to the scientific process of crystillization and overall metamorphosis of a caterpillar blossoming into a beautiful butterfly. It’s because when we die, our souls are the remnants of our beauty released into the world with wings to explore and examine the impact we made on the world we left behind. I guess I’ve adopted this hinduistic belief as part of my own belief system because it’s the only way I can live with the morose truth that we’re all going to die someday. It could be today when I’m walking home from school and I didn’t look both ways before I crossed. It could be next week when I decide to eat candy for lunch and choke on a Lifesaver. It could be two months from now in a car accident that happened because an intoxicated Mom thought she could handle driving. It could happen five years from now because I took the wrong turn down an alley in New Orleans and got mugged and murdered by a homeless man strapped for cash. And right now, this belief is the only way for me to cope with the cool, hard fact that Jessica is dead. Dead because she thought her skin wasn’t worth living in anymore. Dead because kids are cruel. Dead because she found more comfort in being a blue, decomposing corpse than in being a rosy red teenager. At least she’s a butterfly now. Grandma too. 

I looked down at my sketch of a girl laying in a meadow with her eyes closed, surrounded by roses with a blue butterfly fluttering above her chest. For the first time this year, I liked what I drew.

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