People are not always what they seem. Sometimes you have to scratch just beneath the surface.
Johnathan Hawks is no exception. To an outsider, he has the perfect life: money, popularity, friends, and even intelligence. Unknown to everyone who sees his smiling face in the sports section of the local newspaper or his friends who see a happy guy who has everything that's worth envying, Johnathan has a war waging inside of him.
I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling above me, the grainy texture burning its pattern into my eyes. The room darkens as the sun slinks below the horizon. Through my eyes, everything is dull. The once bright blue walls of my bedroom now look an institutional grey. My mind races and I am numb to my own touch as I place my hands gently over my eyes in an attempt to shut out the world. I will my mind to quiet, but nothing I do works. Exhaustion creeps through every fiber of my being, consuming it, like a lion eating its prey. I let my arms fall limp at my sides. All I want is sleep, but I am graced with no such luxury as I lay there, still and silent.
I know I should have dragged my ass out of bed today and done something, but the thought of bringing myself to face a beautiful, sunny Sunday is almost repulsive. I could never enjoy the sun, the breeze, the warmth, the life. Not when I am dead inside. The pit I feel in my stomach is a weight, pulling me down, denying me the right to move. There is an emptiness – a void – within me, and no matter how many smiles I force or how many ‘positive thoughts’ I try to drive into my mind, the emptiness never goes away. Instead, it just continues to linger like mist over the still, smooth surface of a pond after rain.
Thoughts swirl in the pool that is my mind. I try to think back to when it all started: the lack of desire to move another inch in my life. The result of my thoughts comes in the form of tears sliding down my cheeks, making puddles on the pillow beneath my head. I know that this feeling of sadness has always been here, looming just over me, waiting for the time when I would become beaten down and broke by my life; because only when I felt defeated would this wretched feeling be able to devour and destroy me.
Everyone around me has been noticing the stark changes. They tell me I am not myself. This makes me want to scream at them, to tell them that this is me, that the person they see day-to-day is a façade used to mask the anger and sadness that burns like a raging wildfire just beneath my skin. The energy that I once used has drained the life from me, and I no longer have the strength or will to maintain this guise only to satisfy those around me.
Friends and family alike have started to distance themselves from me, or maybe it’s me doing the distancing. All I know is that I would rather be completely alone on this Earth than face those I love only to see disappointment and pity written on their faces. I know they worry, but here is nothing I can say to make their worries dissipate. I cannot tell them I’m okay. This would be a lie as transparent as the cleanest window pain. I cannot make a promise to get better. Such a promise would be meaningless and hollow, a promise I could never guarantee to keep.
I am so deep in thought that I barely notice the knock on my bedroom door or that I have turned on my side to stare blankly at the wall. I pick my head up and look in the direction of the door, but after a couple seconds of silence, lay it back down. No sooner than my head hits the pillow that I hold firm in my grasp does someone knock again.
“What?” I groan in a hoarse voice. I notice that I no longer sound like me. My voice sounds groggy and disoriented. I begin to think about what I look like, but shudder at the unkempt mess that most likely awaits me in my reflection.
“Dinner is ready dear. Are you going to come downstairs?” I can not only hear the worry in my mother’s voice, but the pity as well. Pity: oh how I despise it. Having someone feel sorry for you when you make no intention of gathering sympathy is one of the most irritating things I have ever experienced.
I sigh, “I’m not hungry.”
“Johnathan, you haven’t eaten all day, and we haven’t even seen you all weekend. Don’t you think it’s time you came out of your room?”
“Mom, I said I’m not hungry. Drop it, please,” I snap in a muffled voice, my face buried in my pillow. I can hear her take a breath as though she’s about to say something more, but she sighs and walks back down the hall. I can hear her footsteps fade as she walks down the stairs into the dining room where her and my father will eat by themselves again tonight.
I know it pains them to see their only child withdraw from the world, but I cannot help but have an anger burning within me that is solely directed towards them. They pushed me too far: not only to the edge, but clear off where I dangled for a moment like a cartoon who realizes he’s in the air, hundreds of feet above solid ground. Then I fell, plummeting to the earth. I became tired of striving to be what everyone else wanted me to be; completely ignoring the desires I have, the things I want from life. I made the mistake of letting them believe that what they want for me and what I want for me are one in the same, and now it feels as though I am too far into life to go back. I don’t know how to make them see that I never wanted to play football or go to college to be an engineer, and I definitely don’t know how to make them see that I never wanted to go to Ohio State, even if it is on a full-ride football scholarship. How am I supposed to tell them I hate who I’m becoming when it is exactly who they want me to be?
I sigh, turning away from the wall to face the rest of my room. By now it is barely visible; the only light is what the moon pushes through the tiny crack between my curtains. I can only see the silhouettes of the bulky wooden armoire and frosted glass desk that sit across from me on the hardwood floor. Above the desk, I can see the outline of the black box shelves that display all of my football trophies. My fists clench, nails digging into my palms. Since I was seven I have played football. At first, I enjoyed it, but as my parents realized I have a natural talent in the sport, they pushed me harder. Pretty soon, even offseason wasn't really off. I was always working out, practicing even when the rest of my team wasn't. My life – their life – now revolves around my football career and I hate it.
I throw my blankets to the side and swing my feet over the edge of my bed, placing them on the cold wood floor. I stand up, walking over to my desk and look up at the trophies. It feels as though they are taunting me, like kids laughing at someone who just fell in the hallway; but the bruise received from his fall is only a temporary reminder of the day he fell. These trophies are a reminder I look at every day, a reminder of the thing I have come to hate like the boy who fell hates the names he’s called and the people who laugh at him because of that one accident: he tripped… Because of that one mistake: playing football.
I reach up and angrily swipe the trophies from the first shelf, pushing them so hard they all hit the side of the armoire that sits almost five feet away and crash to the ground next to it. I stare at the pieces that remain for a moment before looking up and doing the same to all of the others. I am done with looking at these horrible reminders of everything I have grown to hate. It feels good to destroy these taunting little things, to break the tiny gold men that look at me in judgment as they perch atop the source of my pain.
I look up at the now empty shelves: the pedestals for the devices of my torture and origin of my anger. One-by-one I rip them from the wall, casting them aside. I hear them crash to the floor and I know that my parents are concerned. They will probably be outside my room any minute, asking if I am alright, trying to open the locked door. At this point, I don’t care if they see what I’ve just done. I want them to know how much I hate what they have pushed me to do, but at the same time I don’t. They are my family, I love them, and I don’t want to hurt or disappoint them.
I pause for a moment and sink to my knees, allowing racking sobs to shake my body. The tears I have held back now flow freely from my eyes like a river washing over weather-worn rocks. I know what I have become would destroy those I love. I have lived my entire life trying never to disappoint my family or friends, but not I can no longer force a smile and pretend to be happy.
I hear a knock on my door and I try to quiet my crying. I don’t want my parents to know how much I’m hurting. I stay silent, hoping whoever is outside will walk away if I don’t respond. Instead, I hear a second set of footsteps approach my door. I will them to go away, mentally pleading.
“Come on honey. Let him be. He doesn’t want to talk,” I could hear my mom’s muffled voice through the door.
“No. Carolyn I’m done with him sitting in his room, closing himself off from us. Son! You come out here right now,” I can tell my father is angry and hurt when he speaks. He jiggles the handle again.
“David, just let him be.”
I get up, wiping the tears from my face as I walk over to the door, planning to unlock it. I’m arguing with myself, torn between letting them in to see the mess I have become and shutting them out to let them continue to believe I am okay. I begin to wonder if I can play it off as being sick, but I know I can’t. If I even have sniffles my parents drag me to the doctors for fear of me missing a single day of my workout routine. I roll my eyes at the thought. Maybe they deserve to see their son in self-loathing, to see that the pressure they put me under has finally made me crack. I stop at the door, taking a shaky deep breath and reach for the brass knob. I pause, hearing my father’s voice again. This time, anger is more prevalent than hurt, his voice rising.
“Dammit Carolyn I said no! I’m tired of him wallowing in unjustified sorrows! We have given that boy everything and I am tired of him being ungrateful! Son you will open this door or so help me God I will break it down.”
His voice is filled with rage. Letting him in would be like opening the gate for an angry bull; and I’m the person with the wispy piece of red cloth that has to jump out of its way. I take another deep breath, twisting the knob, popping the lock out. I am instantly hit by the door as my father pushes it open. He pauses for a moment, looking around to see broken trophies, holes in the walls, and the shelves scattered across the room. For a second, I see sadness flash across his face, but it is quickly replaced with the anger I heard in his voice just seconds before.
He flicks on the light, illuminating the disaster in front of him as though it were only an illusion in the dark. He turns his gaze to me, a sort of disgusted disbelief in his eyes. I can hear my mom gasp as she places a hand gently over her mouth. I can see the hurt on her face and the tears swelling in her eyes. I struggle to stand, facing my parents.
“What the hell is this?” my dad yells, gesturing around the room at the mess. I hang my head and remain silent. I am not ready to face anger, not ready to dodge out of the bull’s way, so instead I let it hit me like a train hits the damsel in distress whose hero was too late to save her.
My dad walks over to one of the ruined trophies and picks it up. Shaking it in front of himself, he yells, “I said, what the hell is this?! Is this what you want? To ruin everything you’ve worked so hard to earn?” He throws the trophy, hitting my knee, but I am numb and can’t feel it. I keep my head down, staring intently at my feet.
“Answer me dammit! Is this what you want? To throw everything away? Your dream of playing for Ohio State?!”
My head snaps up, looking my father dead in the eyes. Something clicks like the button on the detonator of the bomb inside of me was finally pushed. My entire body is engulfed in a flame of anger, causing me to shake. It takes everything I have not to lunge at the man that stands before me. In this moment, I hate him, loathe him, want to constrict my fingers around his neck.
“My dream?! Did that really just come out of your mouth?! You are fucking unbelievable dad! Ohio State is your dream, not mine! You've never so much as taken one goddamn second out of your day to give two shits about my dream. Did it ever occur to either one of you that maybe, just fucking maybe, I hate football, I hate being pushed so hard... That maybe what you want for me and what I want for me just might fucking differ from one another?! No. I bet it never crossed your minds. You've been too fucking busy enjoying your bragging rights about your son who got a full-ride to Ohio State for football to really give a fuck about what he might want.”
I storm from the room, leaving my mother and father behind. I walk down the stairs and grab my coat, planning to go for a drive in my truck. It only takes a few seconds before I hear my father’s heavy footsteps pounding down the stairs. I grab my keys and walk towards the door, but as soon as I lay my hand on the knob, my father wedges himself between me my escape.
“You’re not going anywhere you little ungrateful shit. We have sacrificed so mu-”
“Yeah! You’ve sacrificed so much dad…. By doing what exactly? Trying to fix every mistake you’ve made in your life through me? Doesn’t that seem just a little unfair to you? Recreating the life you wanted for yourself through someone else without any regards to what they may want is the most selfish thing you could ever do. You always tell me what a blessing I am because mom was told she couldn’t get pregnant, but then you go and pick my path for me, denying me my right to plan my own future? Some way to treat what you call a blessing dad. No one who truly loves their child and sees them as a blessing does that! Who’s the fucking ungrateful shit now?”
I can see an expression of realization and hurt spread across his face as he stands in front of me, completely silent. I push him out of my way and yank the door open. When I walk outside, I don’t bother pulling the door closed behind me. Instead, I dart straight for my truck, opening the driver’s side and hoisting myself into the seat. Twisting the key in the ignition, the engine roars to life. I lean my head back for a couple seconds, listening as the engine quiets down to a soft purr. The sound is like music to me ears. I pull to door shut and throw the truck into reverse to peel out of the driveway.