Akshara Taraniganty | Art by Alice Lu
The room is about half-full when she arrives. Her eyes naturally drift to the unoccupied desk in the corner, but she forces herself to sit in the center of the room. Students are beginning to file in around her, and the room grows louder and louder with the sounds of gossip and laughter and conversation that she wants to be a part of.
She wonders what they see. A cliché? The quiet new girl? That’s a good joke, she thinks. Laugh about being a cliché. Teenagers love self-deprecation.
She quickly realizes, however, that teenagers do not love change. All eight seats around her are occupied, and almost everyone is turned away from her. This isn’t easy even when everyone’s nice, she thinks. And nobody’s nice here.
She’d planned this. She doesn’t want this to be like before. This is the last chance she has to be accepted somewhere. Several articles on social skills had told her everything about forming friendships, but it’s hard for her to believe them right now.
Her plan was simple. First, she’d wait for someone to talk to her, and she’d start a conversation. She’d joke about her old school and act like everything was perfect, trying to ignore every time she tried to say something and the words wouldn’t come. The silent, judgemental looks and whispers that always seemed to be about her. The lunch periods where everybody laughed and joked while she sat alone. Every time that she ran away and took comfort in the bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably until she calmed down. Her record of unexcused absences because school was sometimes just too much and the bathroom was the only safe place. She’d ignore everything, and maybe then she could forget.
After she started this conversation, she’d imply that she was new and lonely and needed a friend group. If the person didn’t pick up on it, she’d ask to join them. Either way, she’d find herself with a new group. Then, she’d joke with them, adapt to their sense of humor, and work toward being fully accepted.
When she made friends, she’d expand her horizons, maybe join clubs or try out for the softball team. She’d keep her head up high, finally feeling confident. Then she would’ve finally beaten the monster that ran through her head. Then she could be the person she’d always wanted to be: strong, confident, and someone.
She takes a deep breath. It’s not that hard, she thinks. Smile. Be friendly. She exhales, and smiles at the girl to her right. The girl’s eyes meet hers, but as she prepares to say “Hi,” the other girl turns to somebody behind her and starts an animated conversation.
Another opportunity wasted. What if the rest of the day continues like this? The plan will fail. Of course it will. She’s not friendly enough, not interesting enough, not approachable enough. It’s not even worth trying. And although she tries to hold them inside, the tears start to come.
Not now, not today, she tells herself. It’s okay. It’s okay.
But it’s not okay. It won’t be.
Calm down, she tells herself. She breathes in, out. In, out. But it doesn’t seem to be doing anything.
The bell rings, and the class quiets down. She forces herself to stop crying, but she can’t bring herself to listen as the teacher starts to talk.
The girl to her right doesn’t turn back to look at her when class ends. Dejected, she picks up her bag and walks with her head down. Tears silently stream down her cheeks as she scolds herself for even crying in the first place.
As she tries to find her next class, she notices the girls’ bathroom. Relief floods through her. A safe place, she thinks as she speedwalks inside.
As soon as she closes the door, a sob escapes from her. It feels good to cry after an hour of holding it in. It feels good to worry without having to hide it.
She lifts her head up, looking at her reflection in the mirror as she wipes off her tears. It’s okay, she tells herself. You’re safe now. Her heartbeat starts to slow, and her tears stop. She has an urge to stay in the bathroom for the entire day, avoiding every possible interaction possible. It’ll be so easy, she thinks. To stay. To do what she’s always done best — blend in. Vanish.
But as she starts to calm down, her chest aches for something different. A part of her, a part that was never there before, wants her vision to come true. For as long as she tries, she may never find friends. She may never be the person she wants to be. But there’s no use staying here in the bathroom, preventing her dream from ever coming true. Maybe this time, it’s worth a try.
She breathes in and out once more and heads to her next class.