Some days are just meant to not go your way. It’s like some cosmic gremlin finds you in your sleep and camps at the foot of your bed waiting for you to be stupid enough to set your first foot out of it. Invariably you do. You know better, but you do it anyway. Your pillow feels so good, the blankets are so warm and relaxing, and life is so peaceful and dreamy. You look at the clock and growl. You wish it said you had just ten more minutes, and then, like an idiot, you forsake the bliss and you get up.
For the next sixteen hours or so, you keep asking yourself the same question. “Why the hell did I get out of bed?”
Saturday, was one of those days. This time the gremlin had coerced gravity during the night to pull my calendar from the wall, and the first step I took from my bed pushed a thumb tack into my bare foot. By the time I had cleaned my first bowl of cereal up from the kitchen floor, discovered the milk was turning bad in my second bowl, desperately changed my own flat tire to avoid being late for my weekend job, listened to Mr. Ryan’s five minute tirade when I arrived late anyway, and tucked the accompanying pink slip into my purse… I knew. I should have stayed in bed.
This became the story of my whole day. So nothing could have been less surprising than my roommate waiting for me at the door when I got home from work.
I stopped and absorbed Brittney’s ominous stare. “Go ahead, make my day,” I told her coldly.
“This’ll make your day alright,” Brittney said. There was nothing comical in her tone. “Come here, I have to show you something.” She started toward her room.
“Seriously, B?” I protested. “Like I haven’t had enough problems for one day? Show me tomorrow.”
Brittney stopped and turned around. Her voice was steel. “No, A, you need to see this now.”
I rolled my eyes and begrudgingly followed Brittney across the apartment. What now? The last time Brittney had used that tone it was a stupid argument over the electric bill. And she didn’t usually call me “A”. She sat down at the computer, clicked an already open window and rolled her chair away so I could have a look. A video popped up and began playing.
“What the hell?” I said, startled. “Where did you find that?”
“Just watch,” Brittney said.
I did. I watched myself backing away from the camera laughing. The video was one my cousin had taken of me when I had arrived at my aunt’s for Thanksgiving last year. It didn’t make any sense how anyone could have it. As far as I knew, my cousin Charles had never posted it. My confusion only grew as I watched. The other voice in the video didn’t belong to Charles at all. Charles had been teasing me about being “the famous author” finding time for her forgotten family, but this voice was asking if I had time for a little fun. “I’ll always have time for you, Charles,” I watched myself answer, coming to a stop with my back against their front door. The camera zoomed in close as Charles reached around to turn the knob for me. The door opened and the footage stopped.
When it began again I was inside, standing by the closet in my aunt’s bedroom. Charles had been dogging me with his new camera the whole time, but someone had edited out everything in between. I began to grow nauseous. “Is this what you want, Charles?” my recording asked playfully. I reached down and pulled my sweater up. “Hey, everyone, it’s time for some fun with Annie,” the strange man’s voice said. I glanced nervously at Brittney and then to my horror, instead of the tiny glimpse of my navel I had accidentally treated Charles to on Thanksgiving, the camera zoomed in to a close-up of a completely nude torso emerging from under what still looked like my sweater!
I stared at Brittney’s computer screen in shock. The body wasn’t mine, not even close. The chest in the close-up would have filled a bra a few cup sizes larger than mine if it had been wearing one. But the sweater and jeans looked identical to the ones I had been wearing at my aunt’s that day. “Got a little more than you were hoping for, didn’t you?” my own voice laughed. I had meant my blouse lifting briefly over my navel, but out of context, it gave a completely different impression.
“Oh my fucking God!” I gasped. “That’s not me, B. You know that’s not me.”
“Duh…” Brittney scoffed.
“We were all hoping for a little more than that, Annie,” the strange man’s voice coaxed, and then the footage skipped forward to an even closer view of his tongue licking the girl’s naked stomach as he removed what looked like my pants. Now a strange girl’s voice that didn’t even resemble mine joined the video. Within moments it had skipped forward to some abbreviated scenes depicting very graphic oral and then vaginal sex on a bed that looked a lot like my Aunt Christy’s. All the while, the girl moaned phrases I wished were inaudible, never showing her face.
I had to swallow my lunch back down as the man withdrew and the camera zoomed in for an extreme close-up of him finishing on the girl’s cheek. Her face was turned away from the camera, but the shape of her profile and her hair looked almost exactly like me. The video ended with real footage of me pulling my sweater on again as I was getting ready to leave my aunt’s. “I hope you had fun with that thing,” I smiled, and I pushed my hand into the lens of Charles’ camera.
My face was an uncontrollable river of tears. “It wasn’t me! I’ve never seen that guy before in my life!”
“You don’t have to convince me,” Brittney rolled her chair forward again and pointed to the section under the video frame. It read, 81,633. “Tell them!”
The number threatened to explode inside me like I’d swallowed a watermelon whole. “I don’t get it!” I sobbed. “Who would do this? Why would anyone want to do this to me? Why?!”
Brittney shrugged. “Did you piss anyone off?”
“Not that I know of. God, B, what am I going to do?”
“There’s not much you can do,” Brittney answered. “I already flagged it, so it should get pulled for content soon. I’d tell you to hope none of them recognize you, but at least one did.”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t think I was surfing for this shit do you?” Brittney sounded a little indignant. “Gina texted me the link and asked me if it wasn’t my roommate.”
I swallowed. The anesthetic in my tears had numbed my cheeks, and to an extent the pain at the top of my stomach, but the sudden thought of all the people I didn’t want to see this… At least Gina wasn’t my friend and wasn’t in college. The sound of my phone ringing interrupted my thoughts.
“Annie…?” It was Charles. “Hello?” he inquired again after my long silence.
“Is this Charles the famous cinematographer?” I exchanged glances with Brittney.
Charles was quiet for a second. It was obvious I had answered his question before he could ask it. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry, Annie. I thought I had it posted in a private folder. It was all just family stuff. All of it. I swear!”
“It wasn’t your fault, Charles,” I said. “Unless there’s something you’re not telling me. You didn’t tell anyone did you?”
“No! You don’t think I would… Annie you’re my favorite cousin. I would never…”
“I know, Charles. I’m really not in the mood to talk okay?”
“I’m so sorry,” he apologized again. “I flagged it as soon as I saw it, I don’t…”
“B flagged it too. I have to go,” I interrupted a second time. “We’ll talk later.” I was starting to cry again and I just hung up the phone.
Brittney handed me some tissue. “They just removed it,” she said.
“Great,” I said sarcastically, blowing my nose. “So only eighty thousand people think I’m a porno slut?”
“It was closer to ninety already,” she corrected.
“Whatever. My life is over.”
“Maybe it’s not that bad,” Brittney suggested. “You know YouTube has millions of viewers. Chances are, most of those people aren’t even in this country, let alone know you.”
“I know, right?” I stared at her incredulously. “Ninety thousand perverts around the world all just randomly clicked on a video of me. I’m so relieved!”
“You don’t have to be pissy,” she said. “I’m just trying to help. Anyone who really knows you will know that’s not you, Annie. Anyways, at least it’s gone now.”
Okay, so it was gone. I could be thankful for that. But who had seen it?
I couldn’t eat dinner. My stomach felt like the acidy yuckiness you get right before a flu. I couldn’t even play my piano, I could only stare at the keys. I tried to lie down, but my head kept flashing through the images of the video, living them as if it really was me. I finally got up and fixed a stiff drink and watched TV until I passed out on the couch.
All day Sunday I sat around nervously waiting for the phone to ring. It never did. By the time Monday came around to prove that a bad day can last much longer than twenty-four hours, I was malnourished, sleep-deprived and very depressed. I looked like hell when I left for school and I really didn’t care. It gave me a small measure of comfort to look as unattractive as I possibly could.
My comfort didn’t last long.
Cheryl never really liked me. I’m being totally honest when I say I don’t know why. It goes back to my first week of my freshman year, so I hardly see how I really could have had anything to do with it. She and her cronies have a habit of showing up places they don’t belong fairly frequently, apparently just for the sake of tormenting me. It didn’t surprise me much to see them in front of Bekman Hall when I got there. I watched my feet on the steps carefully and pretended the girls weren’t there the way I usually do.
“Is this what you want, Charles?” I overheard one of them say, mimicking my voice. “Hey, everyone, it’s time for some fun with Annie,” Cheryl added. The girls started toward me. The first one, I don’t even know her name, started making sex sounds like the ones from the video. I whirled on the steps and fired a stare at Cheryl. If she’d said another word, I’d have done my best to lynch her with her own vocal cords. For once, she was quiet. So were her friends.
I started up the stairs again and I could hear them begin giggling as I pushed hurriedly through the door. Safely inside, I raced for the bathroom. I couldn’t stop myself from crying and I hate it when people see me cry. I ran the cold water and splashed some on my face. It helped.
Watching my face in the mirror as I dried it, I could see the pain spreading. The terrible realization blotted out the light in the world like a dark evil cloak descending slowly over my head. The Cherylets (pronounced like turlets) had something to do with this. By itself, that’s a big so-what-a-la-mode, but Cheryl is the biggest gossip on this Earth who doesn’t get paid for it. If they were responsible for making me into a porno star, I could be assured they had promoted me too!
My tears were gone, but I was petrified to leave the bathroom. I let my mind search frantically back to my freshman year. How did this happen? My whole first week of college, I was so shy I barely said a word to anyone except Brittney, so it’s not like I would have offended anyone. None of the witches played tennis. Only one of them had a class with me. I had, wait let me count… yeah one whole date in two years, so I doubt there was a jealousy motive.
I admit I am a little bit weird, okay maybe a lot weird, but I can’t imagine that being a threat to anyone. It always seemed to me like if anything, that should make me less threatening, even obscure. It didn’t work out that way. Whether it was Greg and his stupid friend knocking my books to the floor and calling me “Sir” in middle school or Cheryl and the Wicked Witches of West Campus now, it seems like I just manage to find people who think I demand humiliation.
Cheryl’s first words to me were, “What’s the matter, did someone eat your apple?” Her friends all thought it was hilarious. It didn’t make any sense until I found out later they sometimes referred to me as “the worm.” They’d pulled a few small stunts before. I ate a pizza once that was rumored to have some extra ingredients. My third semester, they managed to get into the university computer and dropped me from all my classes. I’d put up with jeers and insults and public taunting, but nothing like this complete defamation of my character.
I shook my head and slapped my cheeks lightly. I had to get to class. The bathroom door seemed heavy and the Anne-iverous monsters lurking on the other side of it were probably a formality in my assured fate. I pushed the door open.
I think I know what it feels like to be deaf. It’s not like you can’t hear anymore… it’s more like what you can hear wouldn’t make any sense to those who can. I watched the other students’ feet in the halls, but their steps were meaningless hollow echos of my heart throbbing in my chest. I had never been so frightened in my whole life, but I really couldn’t say why. The one sound I seemed to fear the most was not there. Laughter. I was sure it was lurking in every dark corner, but Cheryl and her friends were nowhere to be seen and I heard nothing.
Convincing myself I was being paranoid, I started down the hall in a hurry. The number of students was dwindling and I didn’t want to add Prof. Craig’s normal punishment for a tardy to my overwhelming, undeserved shame. Why not add futility to the beginning of my day?
“So good of you to join us Ms. Schilde,” Prof. Craig interrupted his own introduction.
A wave of muffled snickers rippled through the classroom. It was hard to tell how many. I realized that was the way Charles had mockingly greeted me at the very beginning of the video when I first got out of my car. Was it just a coincidence or had Prof. Craig seen it too? I thanked myself privately for not having an appetite that morning.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” I said as plainly as I could. “It’s my first time being late. It won’t happen again!”
There was a hushed silence and then several students erupted in laughter all at once. I couldn’t understand why they were laughing, but I could understand that it didn’t have anything to do with me being late to class. Someone must have whispered something I couldn’t hear.
Prof. Craig looked annoyed. “Perhaps you’d like to take a seat?”
I looked nervously toward the direction of the laughs without turning my head and took the closest open chair. It was a waste of time. I couldn’t understand a word of the lecture. It was as if it was all being delivered underwater, and the few moments of clarity were only when something threatened to sound too much like it had been said in the video.
Mercifully, the lecture ended without further humiliation. I blindly scribbled whatever assignment was written on the board down onto a piece of paper, pulled my books to my chest and hurried out of class. Tried to anyway. A heavy hand on my shoulder stopped me and my heart froze.
“Can I have your autograph?” The voice belonged to Greg.
Greg was sort of cute, but mostly he just seemed big and dumb, maybe there on an athletic freebie, and I couldn’t get past the fact that he shared a name with my favorite middle school bully. He talked to me sometimes, but I didn’t really know him, like the only reason he would talk to me was to see if I would do his papers for him or something if he gave me some pity attention. He had a habit of making casually stupid jokes about my appearance and then laughing playfully as if that was somehow endearing. At the moment, I wasn’t endeared.
“Fuck you, Greg!”
I pulled my shoulder away, but he didn’t let go. Instead, he laughed an odd, sinister kind of laugh I’d never heard before. He pulled me back around and close to him. “I was hoping for a little bit more than that!” he said.
I was in Hell. The last of the other students were quickly pushing past us and Prof. Craig had already exited through the staff door. Suddenly, we were alone with Satan’s flames dancing around us in a mocking ritual of torment. Greg pulled me close to him like he was going to try to kiss me. “What’s the matter, Annie? I got more than that Charles. Come on, you know you want it.”
I wrested myself away from him and my books fell to the floor. I tried to bend to pick them up but he grabbed me again. “You can call me Charl…” His voice trailed off and he stared directly at my chest. I pulled away from his hand again, ready to slap him, but he let go easily this time.
“What happened to…?” he started, thinking better of his question before he finished it.
It was too late. Any hope that I’d left all my tears in the bathroom was lost. I started crying pathetically again as I picked my books up from the floor.
“What the fuck?” Greg was shaking his head. “But that was you in the video!”
I clutched my books back up against my chest. I wanted to tell him what a genius I thought he was, but my throat was so swollen I knew words wouldn’t have come out. I turned and ran out of the lecture hall.
Life was officially over. I couldn’t go to my next class. I couldn’t go back to school again. There was no way on God’s green Earth I was going to try to explain this to Daddy. The other students, even the faculty, thought I was freelancing internet porno to pay my tuition. The only thing that seemed like it was worth living for was if I could find some way to inject massive amounts of rare frog poison into something and then watch that witch Cheryl consume it.
The walk back across campus was a blur. I don’t remember the drive home at all. Brittney was at work and the apartment was empty. I slammed the door shut, dropped my pack on the floor of the entry closet without closing the door and threw myself onto the couch. I must have swallowed one of those climbing ropes on my way home. I pressed the palms of my hands against one of the big knots to see if I could at least push it back down into my stomach.
That stupid Greg! I couldn’t decide which was worse, how convinced he was that I was going to be his little slut, or how quickly he gave up on the idea when he realized I didn’t look like the girl in the video. Poor baby. I should have clawed his eyes out, so he would never have that problem again.
The knot wasn’t going anywhere no matter how hard I pushed, so I gave up. I stared at the TV for a while and turned it on, but I couldn’t really see or hear it and after a while it just irritated me as much as the rope full of knots. I turned it off again and flipped the remote back onto the coffee table. It bounced across and onto the floor, popping open and spilling the AA batteries onto the floor. I followed one of them numbly as it rolled across the living room and under a shelf in the closet.
My eyes lifted upward refusing to care about the battery. The hall closet wasn’t really “ours.” The backpack, a couple of jackets and a few small boxes on the top shelf were the only things in it that didn’t belong to Brittney. It had a fairly high hanging rod full of the spillovers from her bedroom. As I stared at it, I felt utterly insignificant, meaningless, and the thought crossed my mind.
I’d never considered killing myself before. In fact, I admit on one occasion I’d been callous enough to ridicule a friend for her suicidal thoughts. Nothing could have seemed more wasteful or absurd to me. But depression is practically my middle name, and depression is a skilled alchemist that quickly converts the absurd to the banal. For that moment, terminating my hopeless future was the only thing that made real sense.
Maybe with the help of a box… If I tied a belt around the rod just right and then jumped… I don’t weigh much, certainly not as much as all Brittney’s damn clothes. One of the boxes on the top shelf looked strong enough to stand on, an old box of papers that belonged to me, mostly assignments from high school and college I’d kept and pieces I’d started writing for the piano before giving up on them.
I pictured myself hanging there. This wasn’t going to be fun. I was probably too light to break my own neck, so I was going to have to hope I cut off my blood enough to knock me out quickly. But the picture was fun. One by one, I paraded my tormentors past for the private viewing in my mind… Greg, Cheryl and her friends, Daddy and his condescending attitude, that stupid jerk Kyle I dated once, Greg from middle school, all the teachers who gave my essays poor grades…
One look at my pallid corpse would extract the guilt that their frigid consciences failed to muster. Suddenly it didn’t seem like a joke. It wasn’t just a good idea, it was brilliant. I can’t explain why. Even in misery, I am a very logical person, but at that moment, logic was telling me that I had stumbled upon a way to make everyone else carry a burden even heavier than the one I couldn’t stand to bear. It felt like revenge.
I got up from the couch and kicked the stupid remote as I walked around the table to my bedroom. I only owned one real leather belt. I pulled it out of my drawer and snapped it a couple of times between my hands to make sure it was strong enough. It would have to do.
There was a strange acidic feeling in my blood as I walked back to the coat closet. I should have hated how it felt, but instead, it just felt better than the shame. I took all Brittney’s stuff off the rod and threw it in an inconsiderate heap on the couch. I pulled my box down from the shelf setting it on the floor. By this time, any thought that what I was doing was stupid was completely lost in the feeling that I had a purpose. A feeling that had been missing since Friday night.
I climbed carefully up on the box, afraid that it wouldn’t hold long enough as I felt it crushing under my weight. As quickly as I could, I fed the the belt through the buckle, around my neck, up over the over the top of the rod back through the loop twice in a knot I was sure would tighten itself and then finally, common sense came to my rescue.
What the hell was I doing? I had to wonder if I was even serious or if I was just messing around with my own head. Hadn’t Cheryl already done a good enough job of that? I reached up to untie the knot again and as my weight shifted, the stack of papers inside the box shifted with it. One side of the box split open, papers spilled out onto the floor and I stopped with a jerk with my feet just inches from the floor.
I was right. I wasn’t heavy enough to break my own neck. I could even still breath a little, not enough to live, just enough to prolong the agony while I suffocated. Panic struck. Adrenaline shot through me and my heart was beating furiously. My pulse pounded at my neck trying to force it’s way past my leather noose. The belt hurt badly. I wanted to cry, but I could only tear in silence. My fingers fumbled feebly with the knot but it was too tight now and it wouldn’t budge.
Desperately, I grabbed the rod with both hands and pulled myself up, but it was all I could do. I hung like that for a minute, maybe two. Who knows. I had no sense of time. My arms gave out, I dropped back down and I watched helplessly as the world faded to black.
My life didn’t pass before me. At the moment it would probably only have been the pathetic parts I didn’t want to see again anyway. I just realized I was going to die and then I was at peace. The pain was gone and suddenly I wanted to remember it and then I was gone too. That’s it. Except that wasn’t it.
I felt myself dreaming and I’ll save that dream for another story someday. It faded away quickly and I woke up, completely disoriented, with no idea who I was or where I was. It only took a moment for the memory to come back and the question in my head about whether I was in heaven was quickly replaced by the fear that suicide victims don’t get go there. “But it was an accident,” I was protesting in my head, as my eyes opened and I realized I was sprawled on the floor of my apartment.
The one real leather belt in my wardrobe was definitely the strongest belt I had. Strongest belt doesn’t mean strongest buckle. The buckle had broken and dropped me. The throbbing in the side of my head suggested I had hit it pretty hard on the floor. I don’t remember what time I hung myself, so I don’t know how long I was out. It was long enough that I had to peel a piece of paper from my cheek as I pushed myself up.
The belt dangled in pathetic inefficacy from the rod above me. I sat up and stared around at the mess of papers on the floor in disbelief. I couldn’t help a sarcastic laugh. “Oh great!” I thought. “I failed.” This was one failure I should probably appreciate.
I turned my eyes to the piece of paper I’d peeled from my cheek. The instinct to pinch myself was overwhelming. It was part of an essay I’d turned in during the first semester of my freshman psych class in which I’d written about peer pressure and teen suicides. The words were eerily apropos. So much so that they were nothing but an illegible blur. It didn’t matter. I remembered what they said and one part stood out clearly amid the scribbles.
“There is one fact that makes this choice abundantly clear to me,” I wrote. “That is this. If you choose life, you are always still free to choose death tomorrow. If you choose death, tomorrow offers you very few choices.”
I actually stole that from something I told myself all the time, not about death, but about sex. If I didn’t sleep with this guy or that guy, there would probably be another chance tomorrow, but if I slept with him I would be stuck with the memory of him for the rest of my life. I know. Pathetic, right? I said I was weird, but it made it easier to deal with still being a virgin in college.
With no weight at the end, the belt practically fell off in my hands. I limited my disgusted profanity to a squint of disapproval. I barely remember picking the papers back up, or taping the box back together. Brittney’s clothes were back in the closet when she got home and I don’t remember that at all. The batteries were even back in the remote. I don’t even know how long I sat on the couch or what I thought about that whole time.
Brittney stared at me after she closed the door. Her look was one of puzzled amusement. I began to wonder if I had just imagined the whole thing. “What happened to your neck?” she finally asked.
I could feel my face blanch chalk-white. The picture in my head of the hangman’s rope burns around my neck made it all I could do not to reach up and hide the evidence. That reaction was short, immediately replaced by apathy. I couldn’t care less what Brittney thought. “I hung myself in the closet,” I said unpretentiously.
Brittney laughed. “Your noose looks like a good kisser,” she said. “Did your video get you a new boyfriend or something?”
Instantly, my head was flooded with the memory of Greg and the dichotomy his disapproval of my chest presented. For a moment I wondered how Brittney could have known. Then I realized how absurd that thought was. I sat silently, choked by my own thoughts, but she was satisfied with no answer and walked off to her bedroom without one.
Curiosity finally got me up from the couch. I walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. The only mark on my neck was where the belt buckle had pinched my skin when the noose cinched. I smiled. It did look a little like a hickey! I stared at my stupid grin in the mirror, the porno star with the hickey on her neck. The image of my paper flashed through my head again and my grin became a genuine smile.
“You can always kill yourself tomorrow,” I whispered to my reflection.
© 2011 Anne Schilde