The past is just a story.
And once you realize this,
it has no power over you.
I guess it’s safe to say that I was the girl everyone fell in love with. Painfully smart, achingly beautiful. At least that’s what they told me. I drew people in as a razor draws blood to the surface of skin. Later, they would ask me why I tried to kill myself. Why I wanted to die. And I would tell them, it’s not that I wanted to die, exactly. I just wanted to see if I could do something right for once.
It goes something like this. I was the golden child, growing up. The one with perfect grades and perfect clothes and perfect friends. The one who was taught to look her best, to smile no matter what. The one who was expected to go as far as she could, and then keep going, because the best was never quite good enough. I lived in this perfect house, on the perfect street, with a perfect family. And I was content, really, in this paper thin façade of flawless existence. Happy, because it was all I knew how to be.
And then I met her. They say that people come into your life at an exact time for a certain reason. If that’s the case, I wish she’d never stepped into that goddamn classroom, never set her books on the goddamn table next to mine. But she did, at that exact time, for a certain reason. And so marked the beginning of the end, in which everything slowly, slowly changed.
It’s hard to pinpoint that precise moment in which it all began to come unwound. I’d like to say it was then, when that fallen angel first smiled at me, with those damned brown eyes. Or maybe it was when my birth father left. Or maybe when I was born, and it had just all been downhill from there and I hadn’t even realized it.
I guess it’s easiest to start there, with her, then. Astrid Hanley. The girl with the perfect brown curls and the perfect smile that captivated everyone. The girl who made me come to understand how very imperfect I really, truly was. Astrid was the sort of girl everyone wanted to be, and I was the sort of girl everyone fell in love with. And so it went, a friendship bred on the facts that I wanted to be her and she fell for me like everyone else did. And we were the best of friends, and the worst of enemies. Supportive of each other in a competition against, well, each other.
“Are you even listening to me?”
No. What? A snippy voice pulled me out of my thoughts. I was always doing that, disappearing into the depths of my mind. Brushing a strand of black hair away from my pale face, I looked up into those depthless brown eyes. Astrid was sneering, like she did, hip jutted out to the side. She always looked so together, so collected. I glanced down at the ground, mere inches between my worn out Converse and her round toe heels. I was always so close to falling apart.
“Yeah, sorry,” I muttered, mostly under my breath. Astrid flipped her hair over her shoulder and turned back towards her locker.
This is where it started. Fourteen years old. September. There was a steady breeze outside, just enough to chill the skin in spite of the sunlight. Astrid was wearing a skirt and a pink top, with a little ribbon in her hair. I was wearing gray jeans and a black shirt. Ever the opposites, yet more alike than we’d ever care to admit. Everyone waved as we passed, and we smiled at them all. Perfect. We were perfect.
I realize I’m getting ahead of myself. The doctor told me I shouldn’t think while I write this, that I should just write to get all the thoughts and feelings down onto paper. It’ll help, he said, even if I cant remember a lot of what actually happened. That’s the thing about memories, I think. The way they’re preserved in our minds and the way they actually happened are so very different.
Astrid and I were sort of unofficial queens in our five-mile town. There were days I hated it there, the daily routine that made up my life. But there was a comfort I found in the repetition, a sense of stability I clung to whether I knew it or not. Astrid was saying something about cheer practice after school. She was always going on about cheer, because being freshman on the varsity squad was kind of a big deal. I hadn’t wanted to do it, exactly. Join the squad and all. But what Astrid wanted, she got, and so I had trailed behind her to the tryouts, and made it on the squad because we just couldn’t seem to be separated.
That was before the summer. I started to change, I guess, in the heat of the summer days. Favoring black clothes and just a little too much eyeliner. High-tops, skinny jeans, unnaturally straight hair. All the things I wasn’t supposed to be. I was supposed to be glowing and perfect, like Astrid, dressed to kill in designer clothes. I didn’t expect anyone to understand; to be honest, I didn’t even get it. I suppose it’s just one of those things. Sometimes things happen and we don’t really know why, but they do, and that’s that.
Anyway, Astrid was looking at me like I was supposed to be replying, so I scrambled to think of something to say that would make it seem like I’d been listening to her. But before I even got the chance, I was suddenly being attacked in a half hug, half tackle, swept up and clutched in the familiar arms of Gregory Hale. “Scarlett!” The way he said my name made me feel like I was actually important, somehow, like I could light up someone’s day in a way I could never light up my own.
Pushing Astrid out of mind, which was an increasingly difficult task, I took a step back to smile up at Gregory. I don’t know exactly how to describe him, really. One of my closest friends since we’d met two years earlier. The blonde cocked his head as he looked down at me, an intense gaze that said he could see right through me. Maybe he could. I hoped not. “Hey, you,” I greeted easily, hoping that he might stop looking at me like that. I would later come to realize that he never would, even years later. Gregory would always be searching for something in me, and I didn’t know if he would ever find it.
“You look good,” he said then. I knew he meant it. Gregory never said things he didn’t mean. It was nice to hear, because I knew a lot of people were going to ask me why I was suddenly wearing such dark clothes instead of pink tees and mini skirts. There were just some things people didn’t get. There was a devious hint in the grin I offered up.
It went on like that for a while. I don’t remember what all was said anymore; it’s funny how the little things like that seem to slip away. I remember Astrid working her way into the conversation, like she had a tendency to do, and I remember laughing about everything and nothing all at once. And then this sort of chill set it, and that’s the only way to explain it. Astrid angled her head so that she might glance down the hall. I could only follow her gaze, like I always followed her.
A slow, easy smile crept over Astrid’s lips, whereas I could only try very hard not to scowl at the approaching girl. I don’t want to say too much about her, because quite frankly I think my mind has corrupted the reality of Tori Jacobs. I just remember that she was everything that I was not, and that was enough. Enough to make me hate her.
Rewind. When I met Astrid, we were both young, at that age where neither of us really knew a damn thing about the world. She was in love with herself, and I was in love with tragedy. I guess some things never really change. But we had this unshakable bond that couldn’t be described, couldn’t be put into simple words. Somehow, in each other we found something we couldn’t find in ourselves. Then there was Tori, who never seemed to do anything on her own. Feeding off of Astrid, she followed, worshiped, and fed into the queen’s conceited arrogance. The illusion of control over our perfect little town.
Just then, Tori was fawning all over Astrid, hugging her tightly and squealing, tugging at the hem of her denim micro mini. And, oh, Astrid just ate it right up, and I was left seething with my arms crossed over my black shirt. And so, I became the outsider. I realize now how very hard I clung to the belief that things wouldn’t ever falter from that routine I found so comforting. And how very wrong I was.
Since it was the first day and all, all the freshman were to eat lunch together, an outdoor picnic type thing with the intentions of bringing us together. I don’t remember any more than sitting on the grass next to Astrid and Tori and Gregory, and maybe a few other people who didn’t really register. Astrid complained about the wind and her hair; Tori complained just to hear her own voice. I looked down nervously every few seconds and felt Gregory’s heavy stare on me. Always watching.
It’s funny, when I look back and think to myself,if only I had known. Like maybe then this whole fucking chain of events, this domino train of misery that toppled over onto me, never would have happened. Or maybe we’re all given a path in life, and whether we know it or not we cant do a damn thing about it. Maybe.
“I cant believe we’re in high school now,” Astrid stated offhandedly, pushing around a bit of food on her plate. I smiled over at her, and for a moment nothing else seemed to matter. With Astrid, things always just seemed to feel okay. I guess that’s why I clung to her like I did. I was just so scared of having to face it all on my own. “Everything is going to be different now.”
Oh, how terribly, terribly right she was.