2014 Spring Collaborative Writing Competition: She Sleeps with the Lights On

You're so strong!

You're my role model!

You inspire me!

Elena Tanner zips her jacket all the way up to her chin as she runs in the rain. The voices of her friends, her family - oh, just about everyone she knows - drum further into her brain, with every pounding step. With the droplets pelting down like razors of fire, she ignores her burning muscles and continues to run in an attempt to purge any weakness from herself. After all, they did say that "pain is weakness leaving the body." Right? Right?

How you can be so strong in the middle of all this is beyond me! You're my heroine!

Their words were meant to be encouraging, but now, Elena wonders if she deserves them. She's such a hypocrite. People think she's so strong, but on the inside, she's struggling to press on, ever since her husband died of an accidental Strattera overdose. They say there's every reason to believe it was suicide, but she knows better. He'd booked airplane tickets for a fourth-anniversary vacation, ordered a new guitar, set up a new desk in his office, talked about how excited he was that Elena had finally agreed to try for a baby - would a man-about-to-die really do those things?

She wipes a shock of usually-frizzy, now-drenched mahogany hair from her face and leans against the back door. The fatigue is almost overwhelming.

Jamming the key into the lock, Elena enters her apartment and replaces her soaked clothes with dry ones. It's dark outside. Time for bed, really. The doctors say she's getting too thin, what with her continual running and all, but she knows the truth. The recurring nightmares always end the same way: prepare to run. And they're such real nightmares that she has no choice but to do what they say. Some people might call her obsessive, but Elena knows she's really just well-prepared. If not slightly well-paranoid.

I want to be just like you!

"Would people stop saying that?" Elena whispers, burrowing into her pillows and blankets and trying to regulate her breathing. The therapists all suggest deep-breathing, but Elena's too oxygen-hungry and panicky to attempt anything of the sort. How many miles did she run today? Ten? Eleven? Not exactly a marathon, but considering how out-of-shape she used to be (and how she's still dead-set on running even more miles than that), it's pretty impressive.

The clock in the kitchen is ticking too loudly. The shadows seem to be reaching for Elena. The thought crosses her mind that maybe she should look for a smaller apartment, because living all alone in this one, fraught with memories of Jack, isn't doing any wonders for her paranoia.

Elena curls up in bed, spindly limbs trembling, and lets the guilt wash over her. They think she's so brave, but really...she's not. Anxiety, nightmares, panic attacks, and fear have become a nightly ritual. They think she's someone to look up to, but the truth is...

She sleeps with the lights on.

The End

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