The Secret Hides in the Boot

Chapter 3

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

The goal of the first day at school was to dress hip enough to not get picked on, but not so over the top to put you on the radar. 

Kassandra cracked open the dusty trunk that served as a closet and inspected the prospects with a sigh. This would’ve been so much easier with some real choices. Sure, there were plenty of shirts and accessories for the top half. But from the waist down, she was screwed. The prospects were limited: the jeans with the holes in the knees, but she’d worn those yesterday; a pair of old black jeans, now a size too small; and two shorts. Kassandra eyed a pair of the shorts. Everyone would gawk at her white thighs. Not a great first day impression. Besides, the shorts were a Mom purchase. Once upon a time, she had some kicking Capris, but Mom tossed them because they were one of Dad’s gifts.

Resigned, Kassandra chose the jeans with the ripped out knees. Better to have some holes than to pop a seam with the black constrictor pants. She snatched a not-too-girly top, slipped on the fingerless fishnet gloves and laced up the red Converse chucks from the secondhand store. They didn’t match the outfit, but they were paid for, so on they went.

The front door to the house swung shut and moments later Mom breezed past the room, blouse wrinkled and riding up in the back. Kassandra glanced at the clock, nearly seven in the morning. So Mom was using the house as hotel now—checking in and checking out.

Kassandra scooped up the crocheted purse. She needed to make a run for it before Mom figured out something to blame her for. 

“Kassandra!” Mom hollered from down the hall.

Too late.

Mom stormed into the room. A few strands of dyed black hair escaped her ponytail and dangled over her forehead like stalactites. One hand clutched the empty nail polish bottle. 

So she could spot something in all that mess.

“I found this in the trash.” Mom shook the bottle accusingly. “Were you in my room again?”

Kassandra clenched her jaw. “It’s not your room, you know.” The words came out like bullets. “Our house is still up in Seattle. At least until it sells.”

Dark blotches ringed Mom’s eyes and the corners of her mouth turned into a frown, yet not a smudge marred the immaculately drawn lipstick. 

“Okay. I can’t do this right now.” Mom waved a dismissive hand and headed back to the hall. 

Kassandra stepped forward. “So who were you shacked up with this time?”  

Mom spun around. “You don’t get to talk to me like that.”

“You’re so right.” Kassandra’s neck muscles tightened until they felt like guitar strings. “I guess I don’t deserve to know.”

A vein in Mom’s forehead quivered. Condition red. Hands clenched into fists. Then she took a deep breath and smoothed the creases in her blouse.

“His name is Sam.” 

Kassandra heard a distant shout, deep in her brain. Let this go, it said. This was just Mom’s way of dealing. But the guitar strings quivered—everything pulled too tight.

“Does this one even know your name, or does he call you babe?”

Mom slapped Kassandra hard enough to whip her head to the side. 

“This is why I don’t come home at night.” Mom had one finger pointed like a laser.

Kassandra’s cheek burned but she refused to rub it. “Go off with your stupid boyfriend. He’s not going to replace Dad.”

Mom glared, but then faltered, wrinkles grooving her forehead. The roots of her black hair showed tufts of grey intertwined with the natural auburn.

Her shoulders sagged. “No one will replace Dad. But it’s not about him anymore.” Mom trundled down the hall and shut the door to her room. 

Something wet struck Kassandra’s hand. She mopped up the tears but who was she fooling? Crying was pathetic. A sign of complete weakness. Kassandra whacked one of the packing boxes, over and over, the same thought replaying in her head—I’m so stupid. Finally a cardboard flap tore off and sailed to the corner of the room. It landed near her pair of purple Doc Marten boots.

Auntie Jo glanced in before continuing on to Mom’s room. The argument echoed down the hall.

“I’ve had enough of that girl. It’s always the same.”

“Maybe if you spent more time…” Auntie Jo said.

“I can’t be around her. I just can’t.”

Kassandra edged closer to her door, pulse beating erratic and hot.

“I should have left her in Seattle. Then we’d all be better off.”

Kassandra filled her lungs to bursting, not daring to exhale. Breathing would make this real. And it wasn’t. She wanted everything all at once, to march in there and scream, to crawl into a corner and whimper, to run as fast and as far away as possible.

“I’ll shower at the gym.” Mom stomped down the hall, shooting past without a single glance. The keys jingled and then the front door slammed.

Auntie Jo came in, wrapping her arms around Kassandra. “I’m so sorry, darling.”

Kassandra shivered. Everything felt numb, like watching the world from somewhere outside her body. 

Auntie Jo gave her a little squeeze. “I know you may not feel like it, but breakfast will do you a world of good.”

“Sure.” Kassandra managed a nod before Auntie Jo disappeared down the hallway.

The room fell into silence. It hurt for Kassandra to breathe, like a fist pressing against her chest. She rubbed a raised section of flesh under the fishnet glove. Kassandra needed to get things under control. 

What she needed was shoved in the toe of the Doc Martens. Kassandra pulled out the sock and unrolled it. Lines of red streaked the inside of the fabric. She picked up the razor blade, flecks of rust dotting the grip. It used to be one of Dad’s box cutters. 

One nudge, and the fishnet glove slithered down her left arm. Scars crisscrossed the pale skin—tiny stripes of white. Kassandra brought the blade down but a reflection flashed along the metal. She turned the razor flat to inspect the side and saw something in the shiny surface—chestnut brown. Then the image moved.

Dropping the razor, she scooted away. A coppery tang filled her mouth. In a moment, the metallic taste vanished.

The blade seemed normal now. It lay on the floor next to the lump of sock. The same kind Dad used a thousand times to scrape gunk off the windows. Kassandra crawled closer. Nothing reflected in the metal. She could hardly make out her own silhouette.

“Honey?” Auntie Jo called. Not at the door yet, but close. Coming down the hall.

For a second Kassandra’s mind felt heavy and sluggish. She imagined the floor splitting and the earth swallowing everything: the razor, the boot, the blood. Then reality snapped back. No one could see this. Everything went into the boot—the blade and the sock—no time for fancy wrapping.

Auntie Jo reached the door and scanned the room, a frown forming on her lips. “Are you okay?”

Kassandra glanced down at her left arm, still bare and displaying the patchwork of scars. She jerked her arms behind and tugged the glove up.

“Totally.”

Auntie Jo gave a weak smile. “I’ve got toast and bacon waiting.” She spun around. “Thy feast awaits you.” 

Kassandra paused at the door and gave the purple Doc Marten’s one last look. 

Had she really seen anything or was it just more loopiness on her part? The color burned into her brain—chestnut—so familiar. Goose pimples sprouted along her skin.

Those were Dad’s eyes. But that wasn’t possible. Not ever.

Coping With “Thirteen Reasons Why”

I just finished reading “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher. And when I say “just finished” I mean minutes ago. I burned through the last forty pages. Breathless.

I loved the book.

More than just a typical reader would. As a school teacher, I’ve run across kids who needed similar help (not the same, thankfully). I find that school, and teaching, is a mixed bag of learning, friendship, and therapy.

First, let me give you a freeway version of the story (no spoilers, I promise). The novel follows the story of Hannah Baker, a girl who has committed suicide. We hear her words though audiotapes she left for the thirteen people connected with her suicide. Intercut with this is the first person narration of Clay. He’s listening because he’s on the tapes, somewhere. He spends the novel trying to figure out what he did to push a girl over the edge.

Every year (every year, at least since I ran across my first case of a girl cutting) I talk to the students about coping mechanisms. How to unload all that stress and anger that builds up inside. And it does. It’s like shaking up a can of soda. If you don’t know how to release the pressure, it will explode. Trust me, I know.

As I guy, mostly this comes out with hitting things. I’ve dented two car roofs (both mine) and hit the floor so hard it actually shook the house. I don’t think those were the best therapies, but they were better than the alternatives.

Basically, you need a way to get those inner demons out. Hannah (from the novel) had the right idea with poetry. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against her. Journaling also works. This is essentially what Hannah did with her tapes. It was too late when she worked through her emotions. It’s something you need to start with.

Art is another one. I recall, as a disaffected teen, I attacked a painting with so much force, that I broke the paint brush. (Seeing a trend here?) Once, a poet visited my class (this is fast forwarding to when I was a teacher) and she told the kids something I will never forget. Poems don’t have to be about sadness or joy. Any emotion will do. Anger in fact. She encouraged my class to get angry with their muse.

Essentially, I think I became a writer as a coping mechanism. A way to pour out all the ick that lived inside. I’ve dealt with double dealing friends and some nasty gossip. I simply gave that stuff for my characters to deal with. A bit nasty on my part, but hey, it let me heal. Then I could talk to those people again and not be filled with hate.

The only thing about Jay Asher’s book that bugged me was the parents. Where were they? He had Hannah offer an excuse about the business failing, but I needed to see it more. Why? Because I want to believe that they could have helped. You see I have a little daughter. And when she struggles with her teen years, I hope I can be there for her. I know it’s possible, probably even likely, that suicidal teens don’t confide in their parents. But as a reader (and a father) I would have hoped Asher would have addressed it. Maybe he did. (I haven’t finished with the questions at the end, so maybe he addressed it there.)

I guess I feel like Clay sometimes. As a kid (I know I’m jumping around here) I had a friend who’s father killed himself. One day, at friend’s house, he just broke down, crying. Hell, I had no clue what to do. I was something like thirteen or fourteen. But I listened to him. Especially because the others in our group wouldn’t. He survived the rest of high school without any further incident. So I’m glad I did something. At the very least, I didn’t turn away.

If you ever have someone open up to you, don’t push them away. Listen. Be there for them. Do something that they can’t.

Tim Kane