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2nd Prize Winner - Group IV - Reality

March, 2015
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In March, she woke up to a different reality. The sun, a copper-coiled light bulb, blinded her and suddenly she couldn’t see. Well, she could, but the world appeared…gray. Although the sun radiated, she could only see clouds. And not “cotton-candy” clouds, as her sister liked to say, but amorphous demons ready to precipitate chaos. Now, chaos didn’t scare her; hell, she thrived in the imperfect intertwinement of stress and reward, but this…she shuddered slightly. A cold breeze filled her lungs and suddenly she couldn’t breathe. She hid under a mountain of blankets in an effort to calm herself. Breathe. Now get up, and get ready for school.

In April, she woke up to the realization that school is meaningless. In English class, in a misty blend of curiosity and boredom, she messaged Amelia: You bored? No response. What is the point of learning about absurdism? She looked around the room slowly while picking her fingernails. They were all taking notes, but couldn’t they see…this is reality. Human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe, damaged by the irreversible, inevitable truths. Like everything is meaningless…She closed her laptop, leaned back in her chair and looked at the whiteboard apathetically. Me? Blinded? They’re the ones who can’t see.

In May, she received a message: Hey! Would you like to over to my house for pizza? She stared at the message, but felt nothing. Like clumpy tomato sauce, emptiness settled sweetly in her stomach, provoking an overwhelming feeling of queasiness. My stomach…I feel like…why are there no words…She pulled thin strands of hair over her eyes and for the first time, she couldn’t see. When she tried to find color, at the very least, gray wisps, she only found black hands. Am I alone? They hugged her until she could no longer cry.

In June, school let out, allowing summer’s carefree ambience to lather Shanghai’s lighted skyline. She’d stay up for hours at a time listening to To Build A Home by The Cinematic Orchestra, but music couldn’t distract her. Not anymore, anyway. The cavity in her heart had grown too large; hell, her sadness had stretched beyond belief…I am alone. Curse you overactive tear ducts. Pen and paper in hand, she tried to write, make sense of the tempest raging inside…but the blood-red poppies covering her heart wilted, and suddenly she had no roots. Words formed ice cubes, feelings created bubbles, which popped…I am broken.

In July and August, time seemed to slowdown. Polly Scattergood filled her headphones: And it hurts to be here. I don’t want to be here. And it hurts to be here, tonight. Pain dragged like a knife against her back…blood everywhere…I am left no choice. She opened her computer and messaged a friend: I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m not feeling okay. Days later, she wrote: I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m drowning…am I pathetic. Within minutes, Amelia responded: Oh darling, you are beautiful. Stay strong, my love. Tears welled in her eyes. My love, I am not strong. I am not alive.

In mid-August, school started again. While the first day was fine, stress immediately began to pile up. Homework, tests, quizzes, projects…like a tsunami in a desert, anxiety overpowered her system…Does not compute. Does not compute. She couldn’t move, and when she looked at herself in the mirror she wondered: What am I doing here? Will I ever be okay? On the second day of school she called Amelia: I can’t do this. I’m sorry, but life has become too much for me. After a moment of silence, she heard tears crackle, vicious moans, “No, darling. You can. You may not believe me now, but everything will be okay. You are stronger than your struggle and I will always love you.” She dropped the phone, walked to her room and cried till the moon finally kissed her damp cheeks.

In September, she visited a psychologist. The pills tasted like small slivers of concrete and did little to remove the ghost caressing her body. I have to tell someone. I have to…let go. Two people. One sitting area. The white elephant in the room roared…begged to be acknowledged. “Amelia, I have something to tell you.” Tears filled her eyes, breathing became difficult… her ability to form coherent sentences dissipated, “I-I’ve wanted to tell you…um, this for…well, a while now…” Sunlight lathered Amelia’s face, as she looked at the ground. “I…um, have…” She felt arms around her shoulders, and for the first time in a long time, she felt acknowledged. I’m sorry for my tears. I’m so sorry.

In October, deadlines flooded barren classrooms. Read pages 34 through 76! Turn in your internal assessment by October 15th! How’s your Common Application? Each reminder burned her brain. Everything is meaningless. I am meaningless. One day in the middle of class, she felt fingers begin to scratch her throat. Gray nail polish dissolved in her esophagus…and…no…I can’t hold it in any longer. She quickly walked out of the room in an attempt to hide her tears from the class. Breathe. Just breathe. Seconds later she heard a knock on the bathroom stall. “You there?” Amelia asked shakily. Let her in. Let…Amelia stuck her hand under the door. “Take it,” she whispered. Never had a hand felt so cold.

In November, she began to hate her skin. I hate myself. “You are not alone, my love. You are a diamond: unbreakable, strong and beautiful.” Amelia messaged her every morning: Good morning, sunshine. Still, she felt hands grabbing her wrists…let me go. Please just…But then December came, and she made a mistake. She stopped trying. Amelia tried to reach out, but could no longer reach her hand. “LEAVE ME ALONE, AMELIA!” she yelled one day in a flurry of anger. While no tears were shed, no words could repair the damage. Let me fight my own battles for once. You don’t understand.

 In December, silence stung like a knife wound. Kill me. Set me free. Alone once again, she pulled quilts over her eyes…carbon dioxide had never tasted so sweet. Days went by, and the truth is, they were all the same. Black. Gray. Black. Gray. The concept of color seemed unfathomable, and all she wanted was someone to talk to. I need you. Is it pathetic that I need you? Her mother grew concerned and forced her to exercise, but sweat did not restore vitality. Nothing did, not even chocolate-covered marshmallows. Why am I so fat? She didn’t know…couldn’t handle…when will I stop having these thoughts?

In January, fireworks illuminated the sky like exploding stars. You know…you can be a star again? Wait, can I? She woke up, wrote the thought on a scrap piece of paper and messaged Amelia: I will be a star (maybe). She remembered Amelia’s arms around her, the hand under the bathroom door…she continued: You have awakened me, and I will forever shine…for you. Of course, this was easier said than done. She still had days when the world seemed to heavy, the night sky too dark, the moon too distant…but, when lost, she’d draw a star on her wrist and a capital “A” underneath. You are a star, A. I love you.

Months passed, clouds disappeared and sunshine began to fill the windows…Look, my love. I can see red, blue, green, yellow…hell, I’m staring at a rainbow! Tears no longer seemed like needles, pain no longer felt like a horrible nightmare; in fact, the world started to make sense. Amelia, I can see the world…even if it is meaningless. She woke up, eyes wide open, and for the first time in a long time, smiled. Her lips twitched slightly as she thought: Thank you, A. You’ve helped me to wake up to a different reality. 


By Stephanie Ganzeveld
Shanghai American School


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