Mom is Gaga Over Her New Crush

Chapter 18

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 blue Beetle pulled into the drive and Kassandra and Auntie Jo burst through the front door to escape the rain. The iPhone sat charging on the counter with no sign of Mom, probably holed up in her room. She was kind of like Bigfoot. There was proof she existed, but sightings were rare.

Auntie Jo kept Kassandra busy in the kitchen, cleaning up olive pits and tomato scraps, and wiping down the counter. The knife was off limits, even though Kassandra had chopped veggies hundreds of times before. Did Auntie Jo really think she’d pull down her gloves and get started right there? But there was no room to complain. At least Mom was still in the dark.

With dinner ready, Auntie Jo called everyone to the table. Kassandra cringed. Mom hardly ever joined in—usually opting for the room service option. Auntie Jo must’ve hoped for a family meal bonding experience, where everyone shared what they did that day. All smiles and giggles. Well Mom revoked her family card the day she dragged Kassandra to this crummy town. 

Mom waltzed in, phone in hand, and flopped into a chair. Not the least bit hungry, Kassandra curled one noodle around her fork and popped it into her mouth. Maybe she could chew this for the rest of dinner and not have to talk.

“The rain’s really coming down, wouldn’t you say?” Auntie Jo smiled, hooking the apron on the chair and sitting.

“Uh huh.” Mom positioned the phone next to the plate as if it were a new addition to the settings: spoon, fork, phone. If Kassandra tried the same thing, she’d find her phone locked up. Of course, she didn’t even have one to lock up. 

A new message popped up with a chirp. Mom inspected the screen and giggled. She was texting her boyfriend—Jim or Mat? Shouldn’t that be a Kassandra thing? She was the teenager here. But if Mom stayed distracted, then there was hope for surviving dinner. 

“How’s the pasta?” Auntie Jo smiled a little too wide. “I got the recipe from one of my clients.” 

Kassandra enthusiastically chewed the one noodle in response.

Mom nodded. Though she could’ve been responding to the text. Her gaze was glued to the tiny screen.

This wasn’t how dinners used to be. When Dad was around, Mom wouldn’t shut up. She’d go on and on about her day. Sometimes it really bored Kassandra, but now she missed it.

“Everything we’re eating is fresh.” Auntie Jo mixed the sauce into the pasta. “Since Kassandra left school early, we rolled by the Co-op.” 

Kassandra’s stomach twisted into new and interesting pretzel shapes and she shot Auntie Jo a look. Why had she let that slip? 

Mom surveyed the dinner table as if it were some new restaurant. “Why’d you leave school early?” She wasn’t angry yet, but a motherly tone infected her voice. “You should have called me.”

Kassandra nearly laughed. Like Mom cared. “It’s nothing. Just got sick is all.” 

“Oh. Must be this cold weather.” Mom forked an olive and popped it in her mouth. “You need to wear a jacket.”

Yeah, that was it. Because Kassandra didn’t know cold coming from Seattle. She liked Mom better when she didn’t pretend to care.

Mom twisted toward the phone, fingers making clicky noises as they tapped on the screen. 

A wave of tension crested inside Kassandra, peaking at the base of her skull. What was Mom typing? Wish you were here? No, probably the other way around. Something like: I’m stuck here with my stupid family. 

Normally Kassandra tuned Mom out, but tonight it felt like an insect burrowed just beneath the skin. Every time the phone clicked or binged, the bug dug an inch deeper. 

“Would you stop that?” Kassandra tossed her fork down. Mom whipped her head up. “It’s ridiculous. You’re too old to be all gaga over some guy. Give it a rest.”

Mom stiffened. “I don’t believe I asked your opinion.”

“Listen guys.” Auntie Jo flashed Kassandra a look. “I know no one’s feeling top notch tonight.”

Kassandra squeezed the fork until the metal dug into the skin. “It’s rude. We’re having dinner and all you can do is text.”

Mom slapped the table causing her silverware to clank against the bowl. “Why can’t I have anything for myself? I work hard…”

“Yeah right. And who bought you that new toy?” 

“Now Kassandra…” Auntie Jo tried to assume a parental tone.

Mom gave Kassandra a look that sizzled the air between them. Then the phone buzzed and Mom glanced down.

“Jesus, Mom. Did you just forget Dad?”

“Kassandra!” Auntie Jo half stood out of her seat.

“I’d sure like to get over him as quickly as you did. Can you give me your secret?”

“Go to your room!” Mom’s whole body trembled.

“Not a problem.” Kassandra shoved her chair out. “Dinner was great Jo. Save me some.”

“You’ll go now!” Mom jabbed a finger down the hall.

“What’s the point trying to talk to you? It’s not like we’re even a family anymore.” Kassandra marched down the hall and into her room. 

Leaning against the door, she sucked in a long breath. It did nothing to calm her. Kassandra’s body felt tense and jittery. The argument with Mom jabbing at her brain. 

She spied the purple Doc Martens in the corner and knelt by them, pulling out the sock. Red lines marked the places where blood had stained the fabric. She cradled the razor in her hands. Such a small thing. Yet it had caused so much trouble. The handle of curved metal was flecked orange with rust. Kassandra held the blade over her arm. No intention of actually cutting. Just a familiar action, long ingrained in her memory. The length of the razor seemed the perfect size for the scars peeking through her fishnet gloves. 

Kassandra looked at the door. Auntie Jo had been too gung-ho about dinner to search in here yet. But it was only a matter of time. Just as soon as Mom left red alert status.

“I need to stash this.”

Options around the room were limited. There was the bed, the massive trunk coated with dust, and the books lining the walls. Sweat beaded on her forehead. She should have thought of a place earlier. Everything looked so obvious. Kassandra glanced at the door, fingers rubbing the handle of the blade. Just a few minutes was all she needed.

Back to the book shelves again. Auntie Jo hardly touched them since Kassandra moved in. Though she’d probably tear the place apart during school tomorrow.

Dust caked most of the shelves, but some spots were disturbed where Auntie Jo had removed books recently. Kassandra kept scanning until finding a section blanketed in dust, and spied three books on poetry, nestled on the end of one shelf. Two were thick anthologies, but the third was a slim volume tucked into a cardboard slip case. Perfect. The case could hold the blade during inspection. Unless Auntie Jo decided to tackle the books page by page, the razor would be safe.

Kassandra gingerly lifted the book out without disturbing the dust and then slid it from the case. Flipping it open at random, Keats’ name appeared smack at the top of the page. Only the last two lines of the poem were there, but it was one Kassandra had read hundreds of times: Ode to a Nightingale.

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

       Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

A trembling sensation spread into Kassandra’s arms and legs. Everything felt mixed up now, like a nightmare, except she was wide awake.  It all used to be so simple. Poems weren’t loaded with meaning. And she had been a normal girl. Back when Dad was alive.

Kassandra wedged the razor near the binding. Just before snapping the book shut, she noticed some red from the blade rubbed off on the page—a scrawl underlining the last line. She wiggled the book back into its slip case and positioned it on the shelf to match the dust footprint. 

Then the sock went straight into the purse. Kassandra couldn’t risk throwing it out here. She’d have to toss it at school. Her hand brushed the Tarot deck. In a moment, she had the deck out and found the Death card. Lying on the bed, Kassandra set the card on the pillow. It was good to see Dad, even if it was only a picture that looked like him. 

“I wish you were really here,” It felt weird saying this out loud. Kind of like she was speaking to a person and not some rectangle of paper. “When you were around, Mom was still Mom.”

Chin settled on the bed, she stared at the illustration, waiting for Dad’s head to move again. Drowsiness curled around Kassandra, willing her eyes to shut. If she was patient enough, Dad’s head would move. 

Her fingers tingled as if falling asleep. But then the tingling picked up in her toes too. She tried to shift positions, but couldn’t let go of the card. Her arms prickled as if someone had dragged a comb lightly along the skin. Sleep tugged at her eyelids. The world faded away and her mind switched off.

Just before Kassandra dissolved into slumber, something shifted on the card. The room darkened, but the illustration glowed. A bitter coppery taste filled her mouth. Then Dad turned his head to stare.

Kassandra’s Secret is Exposed

Chapter 17

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.

“Okay.” Auntie Jo slipped into the passenger seat of the blue Beetle. “You going to tell me what this is all about?” The vents blasted, causing the photo of Ronald to flutter under the stream of hot air. Outside, thick droplets of rain attacked the roof of the car.

“The nurse called me practically when I got in the door. She said you were sick.” Auntie Jo glanced over. “Are you?”

Kassandra shook her head. “Just high school stuff.”

Auntie Jo wrenched the gear shift into first. “At least tell me you kept an eye on those cards.”

Kassandra’s breath caught in her throat. The cards. She shoved one hand into the purse as the car veered onto the main road. The wipers skittered and hopped across the windshield, hardly affecting the sheets of cascading water. Her fingers curled around the deck of cards. Still there. Pulling them out, the first one was the Magician—a blank silhouette outlined where the figure once stood. 

A mental image flashed: some schmaltzy Vegas guy in a suit sporting a goatee and sawing a lady in half. That wasn’t Luke at all. The trick with the bottle caps seemed more street hustler than magician. Assuming he really was the guy from the card, which felt like her being nutzo again.

“What’s that?” Auntie Jo glanced away from the road.

Kassandra looked down. One of the fishnet gloves had gotten caught when she dove in for the cards. Now it bunched at her wrist, revealing the scarred skin underneath. 

Auntie Jo swerved the Beetle to the side of the road. “No, no, no.”

Kassandra immediately yanked the fabric back over her arm as the tires crunched on the gravel shoulder. She was so stupid. No one could know. 

“Show me!” Auntie Jo yanked up on the parking brake.

Kassandra shuddered as the fear, raw and cold, slithered under her skin. If she could crawl inside herself and disappear she would. But Auntie Jo fixed her with a stare that would not quit. No way to get out of this. 

One thumb hooked under the elastic band, Kassandra tugged the fishnet glove down, the fabric gathering in a heap at her wrist. White scars crisscrossed the skin, along with five tiny pricks made by the pushpin. 

“What?” Auntie Jo heaved a sigh. “Why did you do that to yourself?” 

“It’s just…” Kassandra saw the ridges of raised flesh from the scars made by the razor blade. “It started after Dad died.”

“Oh honey. I know how it feels.” Auntie Jo stroked the side of Kassandra’s face. “You must feel so alone.” Then she glanced at the arm, crisscrossed with hashmarks. “This is serious. You’ve been hurting yourself for eight months and no one knows?”

Kassandra nodded.

“We need to get you to see someone right now.” Auntie Jo ground the stick shift into the gears again. “Before it’s too late.”

“No, don’t take me to a hospital. They’ll just hook me to some IV or something”

Auntie Jo shook her head, scanning the road for a break in traffic. “Someone has to look at you.”

Kassandra couldn’t see a doctor. Then Mom would know and start freaking out again. She’d find a way to blame Dad for it. Kassandra grabbed Auntie Jo’s shoulder. “You know we don’t have any insurance. Mom can’t afford a doctor.” 

The car vibrated, impatient to start moving. Auntie Jo rotated in her seat, tears glistening in her eyes. A truck whizzed by on the road, sheeting the side windows with spray. She covered Kassandra’s hand with one massive palm. “I feel sometimes like you’re my daughter too.”

Something broke inside. Tears pushed at the corners of Kassandra’s eyes. It was true. Auntie Jo looked after her better than Mom did. 

“You’re my second chance.” Auntie Jo’s body trembled and her voice cracked. “I can’t lose you too.”

Kassandra shook her head. “I’m not Dad. I won’t kill myself.”

“You have no idea how fast things spiral out of control.” Auntie Jo fingered the silver ankh and eyeed the photo of Ronald taped to the dashboard. Then she squeezed Kassandra’s hand hard enough to dislocate bones. “You’re so special to me. I can’t let anything happen to you.”

“It won’t.” Kassandra shrugged. “I’ll quit doing it.”

Auntie Jo knitted her eyebrows together. “No you won’t. You don’t dismiss something like this.”

“I’m not. It’s just…”

“Your mom needs to know.”

Kassandra’s whole body clenched. “She’ll freak.”

Auntie Jo gripped the steering wheel with both hands. “And how do you think I feel?”

“Please, don’t tell her.” 

Auntie Jo chewed her bottom lip as rain pattered the windshield and thrummed on the roof of the car. She glanced over and Kassandra held her breath.

“I’ll leave your mom out of it for now.”

A smile forced its way to Kassandra’s lips.

“But,” Auntie Jo aimed a finger. “The cutting stops. All of it. Deal?”

“Deal.”

Auntie Jo made a gimme motion. “Hand over what you’ve got.”

Kassandra rummaged through the purse until one finger pricked on a sharp point. She pulled out the pushpin.

“Is that it?” Auntie Jo looked questioningly the pin. “What do you have at home?”

Kassandra shook her head and answered quickly. “Nothing. I left it in Seattle.”

“How’d you make those?” Auntie Jo eyed the white scars.

Kassandra’s gut clamped into a ball. “One of Dad’s razors.”

Auntie Jo mulled this over, rolling the pushpin between two fingers. In one swift motion she reached out and locked a hand around Kassandra’s wrist.

“If I find you with anything else. Anything.” Auntie Jo stared Kassandra dead in the eyes, thumbnail digging into skin. “The deal’s off. I tell your mom and you go to see a doctor. Are we clear on this?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll be checking your room to be sure.” Auntie Jo let go and started working the gears until the stick shift clicked into place. Seeing a break in the stream of cars, she pulled onto the road. 

Kassandra stared out the window, watching droplets slither down the glass. This couldn’t be happening. She needed to rewind the day and hurl the pushpin all across the bathroom. 

Arms wrapped tightly around her shoulders, Kassandra pictured the razor bundled up in a sock stuffed in a boot. She wanted to crawl deep inside that boot so no one can see her? To fade away, dissolve, and forget. Just wipe everything clean. 

Auntie Jo would find the razor. Then the secret would explode into the open. Everyone would know. Kassandra’s body shivered and she squeezed her arms tighter.

She couldn’t let it happen.

The School Discovers Kassandra’s Secret

Chapter 13

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.

Silver streams of water trickled from the blue Beetle. Kassandra stood on the curb in front of Arroyo Grove High School, rain pelting her bare head. 

Auntie Jo leaned out the driver’s side window. “Remember what I told you. Don’t take the cards out of your purse.”

“Yeah, got it.” A droplet slid down Kassandra’s neck. She’d hoped, in spite of things, to show off the new clothes, but now they were soaked.

“I’m going to see if there’s something I can dig up to block or bind them.” Auntie Jo gunned the motor. “They’re still in the baggie?”

Kassandra reached into the purse and felt the slick plastic of the baggie. The seal had popped open and the corner of one card nosed out. No need to worry Auntie Jo. She nodded and said, “Yup, they’re in there.”

“Good.” Auntie Jo threw the Volkswagen into gear. Somewhere under the hood, metal ground against metal. “I’ll pick you up after school.” She cranked the window up and then looked at the dashboard. Kissing two fingers, Auntie Jo touched the photo of Ronald.

Kassandra jogged toward the main building, fending off the rain with one hand. It was a futile effort. The new zip-up hoodie and jeans were drenched. As she cruised down the halls, sneakers squeaking, kids pointed and chuckled. Nearly everyone was checking her out. One girl even snapped a photo. 

Maybe everyone was used to seeing her as a bag lady. Not today. Wet or not, these clothes were killer. Kassandra fluffed up her damp hair. Farther down the hall, Lindsay and the fashionistas lounged by a bank of lockers. Kassandra picked up the pace, adding a smidgeon of swish to her stride, daring them to look.

Lindsay squished her perfect eyebrows together, taking in the new outfit. Then Diana leaned over and whispered something. Lindsay broke into giggles and pointed. The rest of the group followed suit, tittering away.

Kassandra hustled down the hall and glanced at her clothes. Was something wrong? Had she spattered milk across her pants or what?

“Don’t forget to check your locker,” Alexxa called.

Kassandra pulled at the fishnet gloves. What did they do? Her mind ran through the possibilities. Everything from an egg splattered door to them somehow getting the combination and jacking all the books.

Sprinting around the corner, Kassandra saw a clump of students huddled around her locker. They shuffled back, revealing something strung through the vents in the door. It was a noose made out of white string with a slip of paper taped to the end.

Kassandra’s pulse slowed to a creep. She couldn’t go any closer, yet her feet inched forward on their own. A computer printout dangled from the noose—showing writing along with a color picture. It took a moment to figure it out. Then her heart hiccupped. The photo showed a man hanging from a noose. A dead man. But it wasn’t him. Wrong shirt. 

The words underneath read:

Kassandra Troy wants to die 

just like her daddy.

Fat tears struck her arms. She couldn’t breathe. 

How did they find out?

She turned and tore through the halls. Her rational mind took charge just long enough to recognize the bathroom door. Kassandra barreled through and dove into a stall. 

A kick knocked the door closed, but then it bounced back open. She screamed and slammed it shut, twisting the lock so hard it hurt. This couldn’t happen again. They left the house, the town, everything behind. 

Kassandra collapsed on the toilet seat. “Daddy.” 

Her chest heaved in and out. A thought crystallized: Don’t let it overwhelm you. Take control.

A wave of sobbing struck again. One hand responded by sliding into the new purse, feeling for the pushpin at the bottom. It closed around the Tarot deck instead. She yanked the baggie out and hurled it forward. 

“Get away from me!”

Thwack.

The baggie hit the stall door and ripped open. Cards spilled onto the floor. Kassandra attacked the purse, finally locating the pushpin in one corner. Yanking down one of the fishnet gloves revealed streaks of white along her arm. The scars rose up like little highways crisscrossing her skin. 

Kassandra hadn’t thought of them as suicide attempts. She didn’t want to die. Cutting was more of a release. No one knew about the razor hidden in the Doc Martens. Not Auntie Jo. Certainly not Mom. But Kassandra wasn’t at home. All she had was this lousy pushpin. The tip hovered over her skin. Her fingers held it with the skill of an experienced surgeon. 

This was wrong. She was a freak. But only the pain helped. She pressed down. A tiny dot of red bubbled up, screaming louder than she ever could. Everything Kassandra couldn’t control. 

She moved the pin up and started again.

A chill surged along through Kassandra as her breathing trickled to a scant inhale. Get a grip. Shove those stupid tears back inside where they belong.

It was done. Five pricks of red dotted her arm. She let the stillness spin out from the inside. The pin went back in the purse. A paper towel would blot up the blood. With the glove pulled up, no one would ever notice. She stood, ready to twist open the stall door, but found herself staring down.

What happened to the cards? They should’ve scattered all over. Kassandra inspected the whole stall, finally spotting the deck stacked just below the toilet. A single card stuck out from the neat pile. She reached for it and hesitated, knowing the card would be something bad. The gold pattern on the back looked scarred, the same as her arm. 

Kassandra grasped the card. Flipped it. The Magician. 

The figure looked like a clown with those puffy red sleeves. He had thin chicken legs, turned at a weird angle. It was ridiculous. Then the color faded from his outfit. It went from red to pink to light grey. Finally gone. He was gone. Everything else on the card remained. The table. The cup and three coins. The stained glass window. Only the figure of the man vanished.

The hairs along Kassandra’s neck prickled. She triggered it.

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