Trigger Warning: implied suicide/homicide, mention of pills, self-harm, and otherwise damaged mental health
Content Warning: vulgar language (swear words)
Whispers In The Waves
“Jump,” she whispers into my ear. Her warm breath settles in a layer of sticky film in my ear. My skin boils, even as the harsh winds scrape against it. What lies below the cliff is sand and choppy blueish-greenish water. The smell of the earth and water in the air can only be described as fresh. The roughly 12-meter drop reminds me of the time mom took me to the fancy pool and I did so many cannonballs that my back was red the next day. I look down and feel both terrified and content. I scooch closer and sit by the edge, but not too close or I’d risk falling in. I can’t swim — not that knowing how to would help me if I got hypothermia or if I hit a rock.
The sky is charcoal grey with light swirls, like someone had taken a cotton candy sky and set it to black and white. I peek at my watch. It’s dead. It doesn’t matter anyway. If I go home, I’ll have to sneak inside, put myself back to bed, and wake up as if I’d had an undisturbed sleep. But if I don’t… well, that’s more complicated.
“If you’re going to jump, just fucking jump,” she repeats, louder this time. I resist the urge to throw her off the cliff, but I have to hold onto my sanity. It’s the only harness stopping me from falling. There is no safety net on the way down.
I stand up and kick a large clump of dirt off the cliff. It makes a similar sound to the dime I threw into the fountain in the park a few days ago. I’d had to take my binder and textbook out of my backpack and dig around the bottom to find the stupid coin and it was one of the dimes with a special design I usually saved. Still, it was a tradition my mom and I had started years ago to always throw a dime into this fountain. I didn’t make a wish.
“Shut up,” I mutter. She smiles, clearly enjoying my annoyance. If I follow through then I concede to her stupid suggestion. I’d rather die.
I move back from the edge and walk back to my bike. The wheels spin as I pedal back home. When I pull up to the side of the house, I put the kickstand down and take in the sky. Now — at quarter to five in the morning — the sky is lighter, with pinks, purples and blues on the horizon.
I curl up in bed, bury my numb toes under the duvet, and let the sounds of the waves lull me back to sleep.
I wake up the same as always. It feels like I’ve just finished the suicide sprint test we had to do P.E. only for a group of small children to be released on me, except I’m a piñata, and they all have baseball bats. I drag myself out of bed and into the kitchen and grab my medication off the counter. I stare at the circle of the counter that dust has not been able to collect and then place the pill container back down.
“Why don’t you see what happens if you take five?”
I roll my eyes. “Do you ever shut up?”
I think about it though. What if I did? Would my throat close up like anaphylaxis or would I black out and have a nice long rest? I’ve never actually Googled it. The thought has always been too enticing to ruin with research and reality. Because the truth of the matter is, if I did, my mom would be all alone, and she would miss me, but more than that, she would grow to resent me for leaving her.
“She wouldn’t be all alone. She’d have me. Seriously, you should just try a handful.” Her words are coated in a sneer.
I roll my eyes.
“No,” I say calmly. I take one of the pills and shove it into my mouth. After six years, you’d think I wouldn’t still have trouble swallowing them. I fill a glass with cold water and chug. It doesn’t make the Prozac go down any easier nor does it make it taste less like chalk.
I look over my shoulder to face her. We share the kind of humour on the sliding scale of witty and obnoxious. Her jokes land with certain people whereas others tend to give her a strange look or tight-lipped smile to disguise their discomfort. Even when I find them funny, I only dare to laugh inside my head, whereas I’m not sure there’s ever been an instance I haven’t heard her giggle at her own punchline.
I walk up behind her and yank a strand of her hair, something that would probably make her roar with laughter if she’d done it to me. How I envy her thick dark, glistening hair. It’s so dark that I worry I’ll be sucked into a black hole if I look at it too long. Then I run to the washroom — the only room in the house with a lockable door. I rub a piece of my less thick, less dark, dull hair between my fingers and feel the pinch in my nose that always comes before tears.
“Fuck you!” She screams.
I don’t answer. It only makes her angrier when I ignore her. I stop crying. For a moment, I think she’s given up before I hear her voice again. “Mom doesn’t even like you.”
“And you really think she likes you any better?” I force a laugh.
It’s quiet for another few minutes. I imagine she’s just trying to think of something smart to say. I’m startled when she pounds on the door.
“You know what? At least I’m not a coward. At least I don’t need drugs to keep me sane. At least I’m not you.”
I hear her footsteps moving down the hall. I collapse on the floor and begin to focus on breathing. I try to stay calm, but my breath is out of control, like the whitewater rapids mom and I tried to kayak on last year. I’m calm. I repeat it to myself until it stops feeling like a lie.
I shuffle into my room and move my clean laundry off my bed so I have somewhere to sit. Of course she’s there already.
“If your friend tells you to jump off a cliff, what should you do?” She jokes.
“Funny.” I’ve never been more sarcastic. “We’re not friends though.”
“Sure we are. Childhood besties, you and me,” she says, elbowing me.
I stare at myself in the full-sized mirror. The gold edges reflect a subtle glow on me. My skin looks good. Minimal eye bags. A few blemishes. She peers over my shoulder and makes silly faces with her tongue sticking out.
“Oh my God! Will you stop that?” I snap, shooing her with one hand while rubbing my face with the other.
“No,” she says. We don’t look dissimilar, but we are nothing alike. At all. Sure, we share the same dark hair, the same eye colour that is so close to the colour of our pupils that you can’t tell they’re different shades unless we stare right into the sun and the same nose; but she is a good fifteen or so pounds lighter, her lips are full, soft and an enticing shade of pink. I change into my clothes for school and look at the time. I’ve missed my bus. I start to panic and I fight the urge to throw the glass on my nightside table at the wall. I bite the dry skin on my lip and feel the taste of metal on my tongue.
“Just tell Mom you’re sick. I mean, you are sick… in the head.” She laughs. I don’t.
“You know what? Maybe I will.” I type out something short and believable and hit send.
I’m at the bottom of the cliff this time. I feel the sand between my toes and ignore how much of a pain it’ll be to wash my feet when I get home.
I pick up a pebble off the ground and inspect it.
“Too round,” she critiques. I side-eye her.
I find a flatter stone and flick it across the swirling blue in front of me. It skips smoothly about five times before it sinks out of sight.
It wasn’t until a few months ago when a friend of mine convinced me to get ice cream with her after lunch because it was her birthday that I first skipped school. I felt so guilty about it then. I remember rushing home to delete the recorded message from the answering machine before my Mom came home and listened to it. Now, I feel no remorse about it. Skipping school had just become a bad habit.
“Think of it as a mental health day,” she tells me.
“I didn’t invite you,” I reply.
I climb back up the hill, glad to see no one has stolen my bike. I sit on the edge of the cliff and stare out at the water. It’s warmer than yesterday — considerably warm for October. My phone rings at noon and I dismiss the call after four rings. I know it’s my mom. I know I don’t want to talk to her. I feel my stomach rumble, but I ignore it and lie down. The dying grass tickles my skin.
When I get home, I shower. The water is close to burning me but it feels like a warm hug so I don’t adjust the temperature. I lather up my mango-scented bar of soap and scrub in between my toes. Sand falls out and runs into the drain.
A blast of cold air hits me when I step out of the shower. I wrap a microfiber towel around my hair and shake off excess water like a dog.
I walk down the hallway and stop outside my door. I scratch the itch on my left leg that’s been bothering me for the past couple of minutes, only to see a red mark where my sharp nails came into contact with my flesh.
If I scratched harder, would I draw blood?
“That’s not a bad idea.” I hate that she can read my thoughts.
“I was just theorizing. I wouldn’t actually do that,” I say, waving a hand away. I walk into my room. “Go away, I’m getting changed.” I close the door in her face.
“Were you, though?” she shouts through the door.
I can’t convince myself I was, but I’d never admit that to her. “Sure I was.” Ugh, what is wrong with me? I lie in bed, my towel probably soaking the bed, and try to fall asleep. I don’t care that it’s only 8 PM.
A closed door won’t keep her out of my room. Not even fifteen minutes later, she reappears sitting cross-legged on top of my desk. She fiddles with my favourite pen — a fancy one mom got me for Christmas last year.
She goes on about the most random things like what she had for breakfast and how ugly the outfit I wore today was until the early hours of the morning.
“Stop talking,” I beg.
“What’s the magic word?” She taunts, full of joy.
I roll over and my clock tells me it’s 2 AM. “Fuck off.”
“Please? Will you please just be quiet?” She does, thankfully, and I finally get my four hours of sleep.
“Paisley,” my mom says as she draws my blinds. “It’s late. I let you sleep a bit longer but you need to get up.” Do I? Do I need to? I do because my mom keeps getting calls from my school saying I’m late for class. I argue that time is a societal construct. She argues that I’m about to miss my bus again.
The bus is crowded. The school hallways are crowded. My brain is crowded.
I can’t remember what day of the week it is. All I know is it’s not a Tuesday. Or a Saturday. Or a Sunday. I scratch my head. My hair is greasy. I haven’t washed it in weeks. What now?
I go to my favourite place to think — the cliff. I pace back and forth once more. I feel nothing. No shock, no sadness, no anger. I feel alone.
“You’re never alone,” she reminds me. That’s true. I am never alone. The one I truly hate is still here.
The waves crash more violently than usual. It’s windy, and even the sun doesn’t make the day warm.
What am I waiting for? I take off my Doc Martens because man, they were expensive, take off my leather jacket, and tie my hair in a low ponytail.
“Finally,” she says, arms crossed, wearing a smug expression and one of my sweaters.
“Happy? You’ve won.” My heartbeat quickens. “Why did you have to ruin my life?”
“You ruined your life,” she rebuts. She’s right. I can’t even deny it this time. I take about twelve steps back. Then I run off the cliff’s edge.
My heart drops into my stomach as I fall. The whole world spins. I feel excitement in my stomach for a moment. The same feeling you have when the roller coaster drops. Maybe this is how Alice felt when she fell down the rabbit hole. A slow, floating sensation.
I slam through the surface of the water. It’s freezing, as I’d suspected. Pain shoots through my entire body. I thought I’d die. I relied on the assumption that I’d die upon impact. I wasn’t just jumping for fun. I struggle to catch my breath, and I can’t feel my limbs. I bob up and down, gasping for air each time I surface. When I can move again, I start treading. I stare at the murky water.
“Stop treading,” she whispers into my ear as she floats gracefully beside me like a swan. Pretty looking but terrible to be in close proximity to. I pull the hair out of my mouth and try to breathe at a steady pace. Finally, I make up my mind. I struggle for a moment, arms flailing and screaming that results in a mouthful of water, but manage to push her head beneath the surface. Normally, I just try my best to ignore my intrusive thoughts, but maybe today I can completely drown them out.