It Gets Better

By: Raihan Khafidz Pratama Kurniawan

I was sitting down on the cold floor, I could see nothing but darkness all around me. The air felt damp and heavy, every breath I took was suffocating and painful. I swiveled my head around, desperately trying to look for a way out of that place. I started to hear whispers all around me, nothing tangible but started to feel a chill down my spine. I panicked as the voices grew louder and louder, the voices were practically screaming in my ears. I tried to cover my ears with my hands, hoping that voices would cease, but the voices kept getting louder and louder. I put my head down and closed my eyes shut, trying anything that I can to muffle the voices.

The voices started to dig into my ears, each syllable felt like nails digging into my brain, and just as the pain became unbearable, they stopped. The whispers were replaced by a singular, deep voice whispering against my ear, “You look confused. This is no place for you. You don’t belong here. Why don’t you do everyone a favor and get out of here.” I opened my eyes and released my hands from my ears, finding nothing around me. I looked up to see a large knife with a particularly sharp looking blade, floating in front of me. I reached out and grabbed it before examining it closely, “What are you waiting for? Do it!” The knife pulled itself closer to my neck, I winced and closed my eyes as the blade came closer. The steel felt cold as the blade started to cut into my neck, a few drops of blood dripping down out of me, and I started to hear a loud ringing in my ears…

I slowly woke up as the alarm clock started ringing, I feel very lightheaded as I slowly got up, “Ugh, what was that dream?” I said groggily. My vision was still blurry as I tried to look at the calendar hanging on the wall. I grabbed my glasses from my drawer and chill went down my spine as I saw what was marked for today, “Right… First day of high school….” A long sigh came out of my mouth as my mind started to fill with dread, the idea of going back to an environment filled with peer pressure, hormone fueled teens, and where popularity dictated everything was not an appealing idea for me.

Every fiber of my being was screaming at me to stay in my room and just read a good book but I was already hearing footsteps getting closer to my room and then a knock on the door, “Honey,” I heard my mom’s voice from the door, “Are you up yet?”

I let out an exasperated breath and finally got out of bed, “Yeah, mom. I’m getting ready.”

“Well, come downstairs for breakfast when you’re done. Don’t want to miss your first day of high school.” I could hear her walking away.

I took a quick shower, the feeling of warm water against my skins always feels great. I dried myself up with a towel in front of the bathroom mirror, the bags under my eyes were prevalent, my acne was acting up, and my lanky body seemed so weak. The more I looked at myself, the more uncomfortable I felt, what a great way to start the school year. I put on a pair of jeans and a hoodie.

I opened up my bedside drawer to take a look at the old hunting knife that my dad gave me, the last gift he gave before he passed away. Having it nearby makes it feel like a part of him is still here and that gave me some comfort to take on the day.

I could smell the pancakes from the staircase and my stomach grumbled, anticipating the amazing meal that is waiting for me, “Smells good, mom.”

“Thanks, honey. It will be finished in a minute.” I had clear up some business papers lying around on the table from her day job, it amazed me how she can provide me with so much on her own. She handed me a stack of pancakes, “Eat up, honey. You don’t want to miss the bus.”

I quickly finished my breakfast and walked to the door to make the dreadful journey to school but mom stopped me, just as I got to the door, “Honey, wait.” She handed me a lunchbox with a sandwich and an apple inside, a gesture that most teens would find childish and uncool but I found it endearing, “Something to eat if you don’t like anything in the cafeteria.”

“Thanks mom.”

She gave me an uplifting smile before sending me out the door, “Alright, have fun at school and make some friends okay? Love you honey.”

I stepped out and waved my mom goodbye, “Bye mom, love you too.” She was the most amazing woman I know.

After a 15 minute bus ride, I had arrived at school. I turned my eyes away from my phone to see a sea of people slowly meandering towards the school building, I could feel my heart beating like a drum as the bus came to a complete halt. I took a deep breathe before stepping out of the bus, bracing myself to face what high school has instore for me.

I started making my way to the front door and it was already apparent that some of the students already have cliques of their own, how people make friends so easily was beyond me. I still had some time before I had to go to the assembly hall for student orientation, I decided to spend that time catching up on my reading on one of the benches by the entrance.

I wasn’t even done with the first page when I was rudely interrupted by a guy wearing the school’s jersey with his arm around a girl with way too much makeup and a wardrobe choice that I was sure was against the school’s dress code. The guy started talking in a deep voice and puffing out his chest a bit, “freshman, you’re in my spot.” I tried my best to ignore him and kept on reading, that is until he flicked the side of my head, “freshman! Are you deaf or something?! You’re in my spot!”

I turned my head towards him, he did look rather intimidating but I wasn’t going to be pushed around in the first day at school, “This is a public bench.” I tried to hide my nerves as much as possible.

The guy seemed to not be pleased with that answer as he grabbed me by the collar, “What did you just say?” I looked around and found a small crowd was starting to gather, “Do you not know who I am? I own this school and I’m going to make sure that you never forget that again.” I tried to get away from his grasp and closed my eyes as he readies his fist to punch to me.

I was waiting for this guy to give me my first black eye but it never came. I slowly opened my eyes to see that a girl with dirty blonde hair was holding back his fist, “Jack, come on. No need to make a scene on the first day of school.” The guy named Jack seemed to finally be aware of the crowd that was gathering around us and grumbled before letting me go.

I straightened out my shirt after that little scene, my plans to lay low were torn asunder that day. The blonde haired girl started talking to me, “You okay, freshman? Sorry about Jack, he can be a jerk some… Well, most of the time.” when I was no longer fearing for my life, I could see that she was a petite girl, not even a little bit of makeup on her face, and she wore a pair of jeans and T-shirt, “Oh right, I haven’t introduced myself. Meghan Johnson, sophomore.” she reached out to shake my hand.

I stood up and shook her hand, “Peter Brown, freshman. Thanks for the save there, that could’ve gotten ugly if you hadn’t stepped in.”

“Don’t mention it.” We both heard the school bell rang, “Well, that’s our cue to go. I gotta go to class and you gotta go to orientation. Catch you later bud.” She lightly punched my shoulder before running off to class.

I wasn’t expecting my first day in school to be so eventful, at least I didn’t get beat up. I grabbed my book and head to the assembly hall. Time flew by after such a drama filled morning and before I knew it, it was time for lunch.

I made my way to the cafeteria and my heart dropped when I opened the double doors. The thunderous murmurs of people talking, the sea of people gathered in such a tight place, and the idea that all of them turning their eyes on me, it made heart beat like a war drum and my breathing quickly became shallow. There were a lot of people in the room and a lot voices bouncing of the walls. I was so tempted to run out the room but I needed to face it, I can’t be afraid of crowds for the rest of my life.

I took my first steps into the cafeteria and my ears perked up as I hear people talking around me. I kept telling myself that they were just talking to each other and they weren’t paying any attention to me. I frantically looked around for a bench to sit on and I spotted one in the corner of the room that was empty. I put my head down and gripped my bag as I made my way to the bench. As I walked through, I could feel eyes turning towards me. Why were they looking at me? Did I do something weird? I pulled down my hoodie and quickly walked over to the bench. I sat down, my heart was going at a million beat per minutes, my hands were shaking, and I could hear them talking now. At that point, I was so sure that they were talking about me. Their whispers were getting louder and louder. In the corner of my eye, I could make out that someone was coming towards me, I ran out the room and the school building in a panic.

I made my way to the empty sports field, the peace and quiet has put my mind somewhat at ease. I didn’t expect my anxiety to flare up on the first day of school. I found a bench by the football field and took out the lunch that my mom gave me, trying to forget about what just happened. I was thoroughly enjoying my sandwich when I felt a hand tap my shoulder, I turned to see that Meghan was looking over my shoulder, “Oh hey, how long have you been there?”

Meghan’s face showed deep concern as she gripped my shoulder, “What happened back there? I was on my way to you when you bolted out of there, are you okay?” She sat herself beside me, patiently waiting for an answer.

I hesitated about answering the question truthfully, would she think any less of me if I did? “Oh, well... I just wanted to get some fresh air. The cafeteria was a little stuffy.” I took another bite from my sandwich, hoping that she bought that excuse.

Her face showed nothing unamusement, “Dude, I was on my way to you when you ran out with a scared look on your face and you say that nothing really happened?” I nodded in response, not even realizing that she was the one who approached me then. She let out a deep sigh, “I’m not buying it. Something’s up, come on tell me. I want to help if something’s wrong.”

It seemed she wasn’t going to let it down, I didn’t want to bother her with my problems but she insisted, “Okay, fine. Just give me a moment.” I took a deep breath, mentally preparing myself to tell a stranger something that I have always kept to myself. I turned to see that her eyes were piercing into me, “I’m not that good with crowds. To be honest, they freak me out. I almost got kidnapped when I was a kid.” I have never told anyone this story but I felt that I could trust her, “Long story short, I was grabbed in the middle of the crowd in a theme park when I was 8. I almost got snatched but thankfully my dad noticed my screaming and kicking and I didn’t get kidnapped. I guess I’ve never completely recovered from that day.”

“Oh wow, that’s a large bomb for you to drop on someone you just met.” She looked slightly confused, “But I think I understand you a bit more now. Look, if there’s anything I could do to help you go through this,” She reached into her back pocket and produced a pen, she proceeded to write her phone number on the palm of my hand, “Don’t hesitate to call me, okay?” She faced me directly with a bright smile.

I looked at the number on my hand and towards the girl in front of me, it was the first time someone really tried to connect with me other than my parents. I couldn’t help but smile a bit, “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” After that we continued to talk with each other, getting to what we both like and dislike, joking around, and by the end of it, I felt as though I have made my first true friend.

I went home that day being in a far better mood than I was in the morning. I went through the front door with a pep in my step and smile on my face, my mom quickly noticed the sudden shift in my mood, “Looks like someone had a good day at school.”

I turned to her, still smiling, “Yeah, it was a pretty good day. I made a friend.”

Her face showed both surprise and delight, “Oh! That’s great honey. Is he your classmate?”

“No, she is a sophomore actually. We met outside of class.”

“Oh okay. Well either way, I’m happy that you found a friend so quickly. Why don’t you go and wash up while I get dinner ready.”

“Okay, mom.” I walked up to take a quick shower.

I kept the almost cocky grin across my face all throughout dinner and my mom seemed to notice it, she softly smiled, “So tell me a little bit about this friend of yours, is she cute?” A smug smirk was directed at me.

“Mom!” My face must’ve been flushed, “It’s not like that. She’s just a really nice girl. She likes to write and she’s very bubbly and she’s just really great.” The smirk on my mom’s face turnedinto a soft smile.

“I’m glad that you’ve finally gotten out of your shell, she must be very special for you to speak so fondly of her.” I could feel the blood coming up to my face as she said that. Mom looked at the photo of dad on the wall, “You’re father would’ve been so happy to see that you’ve grown so much.”

I looked at the photo and I couldn’t hold back the feeling of melancholy, he was such a great dad, “I miss him, mom.”

“Me too, sweetie.” I could see a tear rolling down her left eye, “His birthday is coming up soon, why don’t we go visit him?”

“Yeah, I’d like that. I could tell him all about what just happened today.” The rest of dinner was filled with peaceful silence as we finished our food.

A few days passed, school has gotten much more bearable ever since I met Meghan. She was so sweet and understanding. She even helped me to slowly get over my anxiety by introducing me to some her friends, I couldn’t have been happier to have met her.

My dad’s birthday was finally here andmy mom said that she would pick me up at school to go visit his grave. I waited for her at the end of the day by bench outside of school, continuing to read my book but it seemed that I was destined to never finish that book. Not five minutes after I cracked opened the book, I felt a light punch against my shoulder. I was annoyed but when I turned around, I was pleasantly surprised to see Meghan, “Oh, hey Meghan.”

“Hi Peter.” She gave me her signature bright smile, “Alex and I were just about to go to the movies. Do you want to come with?” She pointed to Alex in a car on the school driveway.

“Thanks but today’s my dad’s birthday and my mom and I are going to visit his grave.”

“Oh, okay.” She looked away looking embarrassed but I swore that I could see the slightest bit of disappointment in her eyes, “I’ll catch you on Monday then. Bye Peter.” She walked away waving goodbye. I waved back before going back to my book.

Ten minutes later, I got a call from my mom, “Hi, mom.”

“Hi, sweetie. I’m on my way to pick you up so we can-” I didn’t hear her finish her sentence, all I heard was the sound of a loud horn and crunching metal.

“Mom? Mom?!” Time slowed down for a moment as I realized what just happened. The loud horns of fire engines were blaring in my ears, I could see the smoke from school, and I didn’t need to walk too far to see what I didn’t want to be true. I walked towards the wreck, a felt a hand trying to stop me but I struggled and escaped it. I saw it, I saw her, lying on the ground in a pool of red liquid. After that everything felt blurry as I dropped on my knees and cry.

A day or a few passed, some people came, and I haven’t slept since. People said it was a drunk driver that killed her but what if she wasn’t on the phone with me? Maybe she could’ve survived. Maybe if I didn’t asked encouraged her to go see dad, maybe she would be safe at home then. It was my fault. “Don’t you see? This is what happens to the people around you. You disappoint them, you leave them behind, and they get hurt.” During all of this, my phone kept blaring with messages from Meghan asking me where I have been. I didn’t want to worry her and told her that I was just sick and I’ll come back to school soon, hopefully she bought it. I was holding my dad’s knife, trying to find any kind of comfort, “Just do it, there’s nothing for you here. You’ll just end up hurting everyone again.” I was so tired, I needed to rest. I ended up passing out on the floor.

My uncle ended up staying with me for a few days while they were moving things for me to move to his place and I went back to school after about fours of mourning. What was I doing back there? What use was there to go back to school? I was blankly staring at whatever was in front of me while walking slowly through the halls. I noticed that the wounds on my wrist was starting to creep out of my sleeve, my dad must be so disappointed that his knife was used to do something so vile.

I was still idly walking through the hall when suddenly, someone yelled in my ear, “Peter!” I stumbled and turned to see it was Meghan, “I kept calling you over and over but you didn’t answer. Is anything wrong?”

I put my hands in my pockets, trying to hide the scars. What should I say to her? I don’t her to worry about me, I don’t want to burden her, “Oh yeah, sorry. I guess I’m still a little sick.”

“Oh.” I could see her fidgeting with her fingers, “Is there anything else that you want to talk about?”

Was she on to me? I needed to convince her that I was fine, “No, I don’t think so.”

I saw her hand trembling and her mouth quivering before she slapped me across the face, “You idiot!” She stormed off and could hear a slight whimper coming from her.

What just happened? “You messed up again. You let her down and pushed her aside. Way to go. You really are a disappointment.” I didn’t want that to happen, I was just stopping her from worrying about me. Was that wrong? Most of the day went by like a blur, I was just going through the motion and tried to appear as normal as possible.

Lunchtime finally came around, I made my way to my usual spot, and I found her there, waiting. I approached her, “Hey, Meghan.” She completely disregarded me, facing away from me. I sat beside her and got my lunch out.

“Why did you lie to me?” She finally spoke, “Do you not trust me enough to tell me the truth?”

I couldn’t speak for a moment, I didn’t expect her to say that, “I didn’t to make you worry.”

She turned around and looked at my wrist, yanking it up and pulled my sleeve to reveal the cut marks. I could see her tearing up a bit, “You’re doing this kind of thing and you want me to not worry?!” She started to cry, “I’m your friend! I want to worry about you! Is that so hard to understand?!” I couldn’t say anything, I was trying to process how someone can care so much about me. She wiped away some of her tears, “The teachers told us about the accident, I knew from the very beginning but you kept lying to me and that hurts. You’re my friend, peter. I want to be there to help you when you’re going through tough times.” She wrapped her arms around my neck and gave me a hug.

I hugged her back and I started to tear up a little, “I’m sorry. I felt so alone and useless, I didn’t know what to do. I was scared.” I hugged her tighter, I didn’t want to let go.

She finally let me go, “You don’t have to be scared anymore and please,” She touched the scars on my wrist, it stung a little, “Don’t do this again. I still want my friend around. You don’t need to be alone anymore, I’ll be here.”

I still didn’t get it completely but her words touched me. A little bit of the load has been lifted off my shoulder but my heart still felt heavy. She held my hands in hers and looked at me with such sorrow and sincerity that I couldn’t help but feel hopeful at the time. “Thank you Meghan. Your friendship means a lot to me.”

A year had passed since then, Meghan has offered to accompany to go to my parents grave. She is so sweet. I walked out through the front door to wait for her but I didn’t expect the school ground to be crowded on the last day of school. Everyone were practically standing shoulder to shoulder, I could feel the breathing of the two people beside me, and my own heart started to burst out of my chest. I froze as the people pushed and struggled to get out of the building, time seemed to be agonizingly slow, and I was gasping for air. An arm wrapped itself around mine, it was Meghan’s, “Hey, it’s okay. Take a deep breath, I’m here.” I did as she told and calmed myself down, I don’t what I would do without her.

I was so pleased to see that they can bury mom next to dad, “Hey mom, dad.” Their tombstones are cold to the touch, “I really missed you two. I’ve gotten better and I’m pretty happy now.” I laid flowers on my mom’s grave while Meghan laid hers on my dad’s, “I really wished you were here but don’t worry, I’m going to be okay now.” I got up, standing tall but my head hung low, “I love you both.” Meghan and I walked away from the graveyard, hand in hand. For once, the future does not seem too bleak.