My eyes open to the sunlight coming in through my bedroom window, as it begins to heat up my duvet cover. It always makes my mornings feel warm and cozy. I roll over to the other side of my bed and grab my phone from my nightstand. My morning routine consists of exactly two things: checking my phone and eventually getting out of bed once I am done checking my phone.
The screen lights up, obnoxiously bright. I focus my barely-awake eyes on the notifications that appear on my home screen.
Twitter: @TheGuardian: Gunman shoots and kills 8 people in Jacksonville, Florida. Read more.
Instagram: @KellyNif23 liked and commented on your post
Instagram: @Hannjacobss: Hey guys! I have some new hoodies up for sale! Check out the link in my bio! Only $60
My body sits up straight as I read the first notification. My finger clicks on the banner to unlock my phone and go straight to the news story. “Gunman shoots and kills 8 people (7 of them women) in Jacksonville, Florida in a downtown nightclub at 1:00 am today.” As I continue to read into the story more, my heart becomes heavy and my stomach drops. Almost all of them were women. I wonder how the streets outside will be today? They still haven’t caught the man who did it.
iMessage: Mom: Did you watch the news?
iMessage: Tara (Myself): Yeah, I saw it on Twitter. So crazy. Did you see a lot of cops on the way to work?
iMessage: Mom: Lots of police. Please be careful. I love you.
iMessage: Tara: I’ll be safe. I promise. I love you too <3
There are replies under the initial tweet claiming that people thought it was targeted against women. I wonder if Kehlani has heard the news yet; I’ll have to make sure to tell her later when I go over to her house.
Just the thought of walking to her house later makes me anxious. Ever since I got a phone and started reading the news every day, I’ve become so hyper-aware of everything that happens in the world, and I become even more aware of the possible things that could happen to me while being outside alone.
Last month, I read this story on Instagram about this little girl who was kidnapped in broad daylight in Chicago. Now, every time I go somewhere alone in a quiet area, I make sure I am on the phone with a friend, and I always make sure to carry my keys in my hands for self-defense.
I switch out of Twitter and onto Instagram. As I am scrolling through the app, I make my way down the hall to the kitchen to cook some breakfast. A smile spreads across my face as I see posts from all of my favourite influencers. I stop scrolling as a post from Kendall Jenner appears on my feed so that I can double tap it, leaving behind a like. I stare at the photo for a while, taking in what she looks like, noticing her thin body and tiny bikini that looks so good on her.
Comment to @KendallJenner: Wow!! I wish I looked this good all the time
I place my phone in my pocket. Searching through the cupboards, I come across a box of pancake mix and a bottle of pure maple syrup, my favourite breakfast food. I reach to the top shelf of the cupboard above our white coil-top stove, grab the box, and pull it down. My stomach starts to make noises and I glance down at it. My eyes take notice of the slight bump at the lowest part of my stomach and my fingers poke at the fat that lies there. Maybe pancakes are not the best option today, maybe we have some fruit or something.
Placing the box back into the cupboard where I found it, I turn around and open the door to the refrigerator. My eyes scan over the shelves, looking for something a little bit healthier than my previous find.
Yogurt: too much dairy
Bread and Butter: too many carbs
Leftover French toast: too many carbs again
Cold pizza: no way
I decide on a bottle of water instead. I’ll just eat later, it’s really not that big of a deal. I let myself lean against the counter as I drink my water and I pull my phone from my back pocket and make sure I haven’t missed any notifications. Nothing yet. I reopen the Instagram app; except this time, I scroll straight past the Kendall Jenner photo as quickly as possible. I notice that people I know are posting about the shooting from earlier. Photos of the women lost and their families. I wonder if anyone posting actually knew them.
Clicking on the story feature of my account, I go to make a new post. Extending my arm in front of me, I take a quick selfie of myself smiling and holding up my water bottle and I type out a quick caption for the photo: “healthy breakfast today! Now I’m just hydrating up before I head to my bestie @KehlaniDaviess house ;).” I make sure to add a couple of heart-shaped stickers to the post before posting it. Now I’ll be able to watch the views roll in for the next 24 hours.
Kehlani: Hey! are you on your way yet?
Tara: Just about to be
Kehlani: KK see u soon!
Tara: See u soon
I put my phone on lock again and the time glares back at me. Shoot. No wonder she texted me, I was supposed to be at her place by now and it takes me close to half an hour to walk there. I better get ready. My phone hits the white countertop with a thud as I toss it out of my hand so that I can vanish back into my room to get ready for the day with no distractions.
I quickly make my way down the hall and into my bedroom. Stepping in front of my mirror I analyze my body, taking in every curve, scar, and lump. I think I need to wear something a little oversized today to cover my body in the best way possible, maybe for the next few weeks until I can get thinner. Yeah, I think that’s a good plan and I mean, summer is coming soon anyways so I really need to look better and fast. Instead of wearing my usual white tank top and shorts, I decide on a grey sweater that is made of a light material to help combat the Florida heat, a pair of black biker shorts, and some sneakers. I take the time to reevaluate myself in the mirror once again, smiling at myself slightly when I can’t see any sort of shape in the upper half of my body.
“Perfect,” I say out loud to myself.
I almost trip over my own feet from how fast I’m moving to grab my phone from the kitchen counter where I left it. I take my keys from the bowl near the front door so that I can finally leave. I check the time on my phone again. Only 10 minutes have passed which is not that bad. Now, I’ll only be about 30 minutes late.
@TheGuardian: Shooter in Jacksonville, Florida has been arrested by the Jacksonville Police force.
The grip that I have on my keys loosens immediately. I didn’t even realize how intensely I was holding them. Starting my walk, I make sure to have my headphones on but not playing any music so that I can hear everything going on around me. I keep my eyes focused ahead of me and my phone in my hand ready to call Kehlani if something happens that makes me feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
Kehlani: Text me when u r here so I can come down and let u in
Tara: yep for sure. On my way right now
Kehlani: ooooh yay ok c u soon
I’m glad she texted me, so she knows exactly when I’m leaving. I always feel embarrassed about texting my friends my exact whereabouts when I’m coming over, but it makes me feel so much safer when I have to walk alone. I should honestly walk more; it will help me get a better body and then I can eat pancakes without feeling as guilty.
Since I can’t play my music, I take the time on my walk to listen to my neighbourhood with people mowing their lawns and cars running idle in the driveways. The smell of exhaust fills the air.
I lift up my phone to snap some photos of the trees and some of the flowers that line the edges of the gardens against the sidewalk. I’ll have to remember to edit those later and give my followers a few nature photo posts on my accounts tonight. A lot of the time when I’m outside, I really start to think about what it would be like if we didn’t feel the need to pretend our lives are perfect online. People would think I’m so weird if they knew I’m scared of being kidnapped or attacked all because of a news story.
@JellyRiley23 replied to your story: OOooo what did you make for breakfast!? I need some healthy recipes
Reply to @JellyRiley23: I just made some yogurt topped with granola. So easy and delicious.
@JellyRiley23: Yummy! Thank youuu:)
Lie. That’s all a lie. I just drank water and now I feel lightheaded. I feel sick to my stomach all because I decided not to eat earlier and now, I’m lying to her and she will never know. I wonder if she will actually eat what I told her or if she will think I’m fat for eating that and she will just drink water too. She will probably post about it if she does make it.
I am startled out of my thoughts by a loud rumbling behind me. My head whips around and I see a black pickup truck driving down the road towards me with the engine revving. I stay in one spot and don’t continue walking so I can be aware of the whole situation, just in case. As the truck gets closer, I hear male voices shouting out of the windows, but I can’t hear what they are saying until their truck is directly in front of me.
“Hey baby girl, you need a ride?” The one man in the passenger seat shouts at me. He looks about 25 and has a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth.
“No thanks. I’m good,” my voice shakes as I quietly reply, and my hand tightens around my keys.
“Ahhh come on baby, you’re too pretty to walk anywhere,” he smirks at me and his friend in the driver’s seat laughs along with what he is saying. Is it a joke? I let out a nervous laugh along with him. “How old are you?” he asks.
“I’m 15” I reply.
“Okay, whatever you fucking whore. You’re ugly anyway,” he rolls his eyes at me and gives me the middle finger as he signals for his friend to drive off. He honks his truck’s horn before skidding his tires against the road and driving away. After their car is gone, my feet stumble back a little bit. I allow myself to sit down on someone’s lawn. I pull my knees up to my chest and unlock my phone to call my mom. I’m so stupid. How come I didn’t call her when it was happening? How come I didn’t record it? I’m always on my fucking phone and I couldn’t even bring it out for one minute to help me be safe. I’m so stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Holding down the power button of my phone, I let the voice commander pop up so that I can speak into it. “Call mom,” my phone registers my voice command and it pulls up my Mom’s contact info and dials her number. I press the speaker button and listen to the ringing noise, waiting for her voice to come through the speaker.
The phone call gets declined. My eyes start to water, why isn’t she answering me? I feel my tears start to quickly run down my cheeks and leave salty, dry streaks behind, and my eyes start to burn a little from the tears.
Mom: I can’t call right now. I’m at work. What’s up?
Tara: I need you to come and pick me up
Mom: From your friends?
Tara: No. I never made it there. Please, mom.
Mom: What do you mean you never made it? Please go home, okay? I’ll be there in a couple of hours
“Shit, shit, shit,” I can’t go home by myself. What if the guys come back? My breathing starts to get heavy, and it begins to weigh down on my chest, so much so that I swear I can feel every single beat of my heart.
Kehlani: okay seriously, where are you?
Kehlani: Are you coming?
I read her text messages, shaking my head and wiping the tears from my cheeks with the sleeve of my sweater. I start walking back in the direction I came from to go home but this time I walk faster than I have ever walked before. You said you wanted to exercise, well here you go.
My feet pick up into a jog and I make sure to not look back over my shoulder at the risk of slowing down, and I continue the jog until I get all the way back to my front door where I see my mom’s car in the driveway. I thought she said she had to work for a couple more hours.
“Mom!” I shout into the air of my quiet home, knowing that she will hear me if she is here.
“Tara? What took you so long? I thought you’d beat me home and that’s why I didn’t want to waste time driving to come to get you.”
“Yeah, well there is no point in me picking you up if you were going to beat me here anyways,” she tells me. She looks innocent. She is, she has no idea what happened, and I can’t even tell her because it will only scare her.
“Yeah, okay whatever, I’m just gonna go to my room till dinner, I’m really tired so just call me when it’s ready.” I make my way down the hall and past the kitchen to get to my room, slamming the door shut behind me and turning the lock on the door handle so that she can’t come in and bother me. I make my way to my bed, getting in and crawling under my duvet, and rolling over to my left side before turning on my phone.
@The Guardian: Confirmed: Shooting in Jacksonville was perpetrated by a man who identifies as an “involuntary celibate”
@HarryJkd3: Holy crap. A woman hater did the shooting. Not surprised lol
@KellyFraiserws: Men need to stop joking about the shooting. It really is not funny, It’s terrifying.
Reply to @KellyFraiserws from @JakeIllos: get some humour holy shit. Maybe if women like you would want to be with men like the guy who shot them then he wouldn’t have shot them. duhhhh
I can’t. I just can’t look at Twitter anymore. Maybe Instagram will be better.
I open the photo-sharing app and start to scroll through my feed. Every single post is about the victims or the shooter. Mourning them, calling him out for being a misogynist, or even commending him for what he did.
Caption by BradCaply: Not girls from my school acting like this was a personal attack on them when they aren’t even old enough to have possibly been at the nightclub *rolling eyes emoji*
Caption by SaraHelly: My heart is broken. Thinking about the families of the victims and praying for a world where men can understand that women not having sex with them is not a reason to cause violence.
Comment by LiamJ45: Men who are downplaying this situation and invalidating women are losers
I feel the tears start to form in my eyes again. The women at the nightclub didn’t deserve this and neither did their families. That guy who shot them probably didn’t even know them, he probably targeted them at random just because he saw them first and he didn’t know how to handle his emotions. I hate this world. I hate it so much. My breathing starts to pick up again and this time I have to breathe in and out of my mouth to try and regulate it and calm down.
I remember that I never texted Kehlani back. I think I have to tell her what happened to me and that I can’t come over anymore. There is no way I’ll be able to walk down that street again without freaking out.
Tara: hey sorry I never made it earlier. Something really weird happened and it freaked me out. These guys pulled up on me and started catcalling me on the way to your place earlier and it freaked me out because that has never really happened to me before and plus all this stuff with the shooting from before…idk it’s just giving me a lot of anxiety. I’m really sorry.
Kehlani: OMG you should’ve just told me earlier. That’s so scary! It has happened to me before too, so I totally understand. I’m so glad you are okay. Maybe you should take a break from social media for a while you know? Just until you feel relaxed again.
Tara: thank you <3 I’ll see you soon sometime. That’s a good idea. Thank you for understanding
I roll over in my bed so that I am lying on my back and I close my eyes. All I can see is the pickup truck headlights from earlier, the man with a cigarette, the photo of Kendall Jenner, and every other skinny model that I’ve seen on my feed in the past 24 hours. I see the photos of all the women who were victims of the shooter this morning and I hear the truck honking at me, skidding its tires against the pavement as it drives away. Its screeching tires sound a lot like “you fucking whore. You’re ugly anyway” and my breath getting caught in my throat.
I feel like I’m suffocating like I’m constantly being weighed down by external forces. I open my eyes and grab my phone that is lying on my chest and unlock it once again, my index finger hovers over the Instagram application icon on my home screen. Slowly and hesitantly, I allow my finger to press the button down for long enough that the little ‘x’ appears in the corner of the app, and, without thinking about it, I press the ‘x’ softly and the app vanishes from my screen. Then, I do the exact same thing with Twitter and the news apps that I have. I can’t believe I just did that.
“Tara, dinner” my mom calls for me from down the hall. I still haven’t eaten a single thing today and it is almost 6 PM.
With one last look at my phone, I turn the device off and throw it onto my bed as I get up to go meet my mom down the hall for dinner. I hear a notification go off from someone texting me but for once I don’t turn around to check it
Why I wrote this piece:
I wanted to write a story about how young people see the world through social media. I grew up around and on social media from the age of thirteen and I have seen the ways in which the platforms have grown and changed and the pace at which content is being created is only increasing. Through Tara’s interactions with various apps, I wanted to demonstrate how it can affect her internally but also how it bleeds into her day-to-day life. I think that in today’s world, people are becoming very aware of things happening around the world at very young ages and although this can lead to positive change, it is also important to talk about the anxieties and inner conflicts that this awareness can create.