When kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up, their answers aren't usually taken seriously. There are those who will say they want to be the red Power Ranger, a superhero, or just like the protagonist of some show. Then those answers will turn into things like a fireman on the moon, a vet for werewolves, a doctor, a singer, a pro skater, or a teacher. As even more time passes and those kids turn into high school students, the answers either become solid or they become "I don't know"s. When I was younger, I had no idea what I wanted to be but I knew that I couldn't just give no answer, so I always told them I just wanted to be happy. They always laughed and said it was cute in elementary school, then in middle school they told my parents I was wise for my age, and in high school, when I had bags under my eyes and rarely smiled of my own accord, people began to worry.
The truth is, when I was younger I wasn't really unhappy, more of just edgy. I got really into Twitter and video games, and those two things led me to the group of people I would feel were the first to really care about me despite not knowing who I really am. I would stay up late on the computer and I was glued to my iPod Touch just because of Twitter. I would tweet almost 24/7 and changed my handle every few months, and people actually responded to me. I had friends there I communicated with regularly and shared my interests, and whenever I felt sad and slapped a misleading label called "depressed" on it, I tweeted some really edgy stuff and listened to music like Linkin Park, 30 Seconds To Mars and My Chemical Romance. Those were my two go-to fixes for my bouts of sadness that became more and more common over the years, to the point where I probably was depressed, but looking back I doubt it.
I was rash and stubborn--I am rash and stubborn--so at school I was an easy target and got into trouble often because of it. Whenever someone got me mad, I reacted. If someone took something of mine, I chased them around the classroom until I got it back or I got in trouble. I was also very emotional. I was scared of thunder and cried during a storm in first grade. The kids made fun of me, and I don't remember how I felt about it but I don't think it was a very good feeling. I had quirks from the very start: I brought little stuffed animals to school and had them with me in class. I treated them like they were real and if anyone else touched them I got extremely possessive. I talked to them and had dialogues with them, which is probably one of the reasons why I started talking to myself later on and didn't see it as weird. There was a reason the students started calling me weird.
I wasn't really used to having a lot of friends because after the end of every year, at least one student moved away or switched schools. It was a really small private school, so that fact wasn't surprising. Every year I had a new best friend because the old one was gone, until around 6th or 7th grade, when I met a girl I stayed in contact with and called my best friend even after she moved away and back multiple times. (Her name is Kathleen.) There was, however, a group of people who stayed the longest, and then two moved out one by one, and when I was the first of us to switch schools, those that remained followed with me. However, it was like switching divided us, and we changed.
When I was small, my parents used to ask me, "Sage, why aren't you outside playing with your friends?"
If I was playing online, my answer was always, "I already am, just from inside."
That obviously wasn't a suitable answer, but my father was into games when he was in college, so they understood and would let me finish what I was doing in-game and then tell me to go outside the house and socialize. The problem with that was that I was only close with my friends from school, and if they thought I was weird, the kids that lived on my street thought I was a creep and couldn't play with them because I might do something messed up. So instead of moping on the street and hoping they'll let me join in, I would find an excuse to go for a ride on my bike and went into the park. There I just sat on the grass by the lake and looked out. Sometimes I closed my eyes and what I felt listening to the water and birds was peace.
Academically, I was striving. I was smart and I had parents who kept me in check when it came to finishing my homework on time and whatnot. I was probably smarter than the other kids because my father would give me 5th grade math exercises when I was in 4th grade and taught me things ahead of my level so I wouldn't have trouble in the future when I actually learned these things. I don't remember it well at all, but according to my mother I was arrogant (because of my knowledge) and actually told other kids that they were dumb. That was something the teachers would tell her, and was most likely one of the reasons many of my classmates didn't particularly like me very much. I do remember feeling very entitled to things because I either thought or knew I was better at something than others were. There was a drawing contest every Halloween at my first school and I had a very specific drawing style around 5th grade. I drew some dragons (thought they hardly resembled them) fighting, all bloodied and such. I got second place and this drove me livid. I whined to my friends about it.
"I can't believe it. Second place would've been okay if first place wasn't a second grader drawing of some gravestones! I drew so much better than that!"
I dealt with it anyways.
Just dealing with it came to happen more often than it should have for someone with a superiority complex as bad as mine was. I started losing my confidence. I still kept the aura of threat around me that I had gained over the years, which was basically my crutch, but I became aware of the fact that there was nobody I knew in real life who actually liked me to the point of defending me when someone made fun of me. That was probably when I started the downward spiral.
Once, during the year I met my best friend, someone put a sticky note on my back that said something really childish, like "I'm stupid" or "kick me". Everyone was snickering, and clueless me had no idea. Eventually, something happened and I found out about the sticky note. I saw my best friend laughing at me with everybody else instead of helping or defending me, and I was hurt. I felt more insulted than I should have, but I couldn't help it. One of the first best friends I had, Liz, was a little on the chubby side, and the two guys who always got me in trouble would always say that she was fat. I knew she wasn't exactly skinny, but every time I argued against them and I told them not to call her that. I defended my best friend, and I felt that I deserved to be treated the way I treated Liz. But I can say that I dealt with it.
Kathleen? I 'taught' her my drawing style because she liked it. In class, we made little comics together. I was jealous because people actually liked Kathleen, and when they saw her comics, despite my style being more refined than hers, they praised her and said it was cool. When I showed them mine, they weren't impressed at all. Memories of things like that are probably why whenever one person compliments a drawing I'm really proud of, I show it to as many people I associate with as I can, seeking the approval I was so sure I deserved but never got.
Things got hard, both socially, online, at school and at home. I came to realize that I didn't have many real friends, and I became edgier and edgier online, so people didn't want to associate with me as much as they did before. My grades fell as I got lazier and less motivated to work towards goals I felt that I was no longer capable of achieving. My parents got divorced, and I had no idea why. I was convinced that I had something do to with it. I was sure that the cause of my parents no longer loving each other was the unavoidable fact that their kid was slowly becoming an unfixable mess.
I became really depressed, and I found it difficult to concentrate on my work. When I was still arrogant, I would seem like I was paying no attention. I was a disturbance in class but I managed to pay attention and answer every question. Now I seemed like I wasn't paying attention and I was a disturbance, and I knew fuck all about what was going on in class. I tried to pay attention but I was finding it significantly harder than it was before. I was still around 12 years old then, and I started to wonder if I had ADD--attention deficit disorder. It was a thought that I entertained during late nights listening to three entire albums of Kings of Leon. As time passed and the self-hatred brewed within me, I started using that as a way to talk down to myself.
In the beginning I had a character who was one of the only few beings that was inhabited by both a demon and angel. The story was that they both entered her body at the same time, and agreed not to quarrel because a fight between them would tear her apart, or at the least kill her. I wanted to be like that. I forced habits into myself. I wrote on the same paper in two different colors of pen, a discussion between the weak, emotionally unstable side of me and the forceful, sadistic reality check side of me. I started to talk to myself in a mirror as a 'we'.
"You know, Sage. This wouldn't have happened if you'd just put in some real effort."
"We knew this was going to happen. I knew this was going to happen. You never listen to me!"
"If you weren't so god damn pathetic all the time, shit like this wouldn't happen to us all the time!"
"Why would you do that?"
"I just wish he didn't do that do us."
"It was your own fault for being so naive and falling for his lie. But it's okay, because he fucked up too, and he's going to suffer dealing with us because of it."
"Sage, don't do this. We know better."
"Every time we find something like this, we get addicted, Sage. Don't blame this on anyone but yourself."
It didn't matter how well I was doing in 5th grade with my grades and my illusions of the supposedly perfect life I had convinced myself I was leading. In the end, all the good friends I thought I had and the perfect family I convinced myself was there to stay, that's all they ended up being. They were just the delusions of a 12 year old who thought her life would be perfect, and when reality hit her like a freight train, she took it worse than anyone else did.
She fell from grace, and shattered when she reached the bottom.
Whenever I needed to be alone, but away from the music I deafened myself with on a regular basis, I would go into the park, leave my headphones at home, and sit on a bench next to the lake. That bench became a special place for me. The first time I sat on that bench it was by pure chance, I was tired and it was the closest thing to sit at. That bench gave me the best sunset view you could ever get from the middle of a park when you're surrounded by trees. From that day on, the bench was my special place. You'd find my name written in sharpie on one of the planks with a little heart next to it if you really wanted to look.
At home, my comfort was a little stuffed golden retriever I've had since I was a year old. The poor old thing has soaked up too many of my tears, more than I'd ever like to admit. Whenever I wasn't at home, that bench was my comfort item. The first time I got drunk in the park in my freshman year, I passed out on that bench and my friends wondered why I had insisted on getting to that specific bench. The night I had a really bad fight with my dad and snuck out past midnight, I cried my heart out on that bench, and on that night, on that bench, I met someone who I would treasure for years after that strangely pleasing first encounter.
"Hey! Hey you," I heard a voice shout out. They were obviously male, but their words were sort of slurred, so I panicked. I thought someone drunk was going to come to me, overpower me, and ruin me again. Just the thought alone of losing the last bit of control I had over my life terrified me, and my hands shook more than they did at the prospect of sneaking out.
"You! On the bench!" I saw a figure stagger over to me with slight difficulty. "Yes, you, what the hell are you doing here at..."
I assumed he was going to check the time so I waited for him to tell me, but instead he said, "Hell, I'm drunk, I don't know what the fucking time is!" Then he came up to the bench and stood right in front of me. He was squinting at me, and I noticed a bottle of vodka in his hand. He leaned dangerously close to me, holding himself up on the armrest of the bench.
"Well fuck me sideways," he mumbled out of nowhere, and the smell of alcohol infiltrated my nostrils. "You're a girl... What the hell is a girl your age doing out here alone? Have you been crying?"
There was nowhere to run, or so it had seemed, so I hugged my knees and nodded. I shut my eyes tight, trying to keep any more tears from falling in front on this drunk stranger. I felt he was gone from my immediate vicinity, so I relaxed and let myself cry. Next thing I knew, someone was sitting next to me on the bench and was rubbing my shoulder reassuringly.
"It's guy trouble isn't it?" the drunk asked, looking at me out of the corner of his eye. There were no lampposts nearby, but I could see that he was taller than me and possibly stronger than me too. I told myself that this probably wouldn’t be worse than my dad. He was yelling at me about school. It was around mid-March and my grades were less than satisfactory. He told me I needed to get my act together, that if I screwed up my freshman year then the chances were that I was going to screw up my entire high school career. I brought a test with a B+ home, which, considering my current grades in all my classes, was improvement. However, when I showed it to him he told me that he knew I could do better and I wasn’t trying hard enough. He disregarded all the effort I had made and the joy I felt when I saw that B+ dissipated quickly.
“I guess you could call it that,” I mumbled unsurely, reaching over to wipe my tears but finding a cold hand already there and tenderly stroking my damp cheeks. His thumb stopped and trembled for a moment after I spoke, before resuming its calming routine. I found my eyelids drooping and my shoulders slumping as I relaxed into the stranger next to me.
“Well, whoever it is, he isn’t worth it,” the stranger said in a smooth, surprisingly soothing voice for a drunk person. “I don’t respect people who make curls… Uh, girls, cry.”
Despite the dried tears on my face, a smile broke out on my face that I couldn’t control. A small patch of moonlight made its way onto our faces as a soft breeze moved the branches of a tree in front of the bench. His eyes locked onto my lips and a soft laugh escaped his own parted lips. His hair was a dark shade of brown, like mine, but I could tell it was gelled because of the shine it had in the light.
“There you go,” he whispered, his thumb brushing over my bottom lip. His eyes came into the light and I clearly saw his forest green irises. “That’s what I like to see. A pretty girl with a pretty smile.”
“I can’t help it when you can’t even say girls right the first time,” I replied, and I noticed my voice getting louder and more audible. The stranger smiled even wider.
“If it makes you smile, then I don’t care if I embarrassed myself. You don’t deserve a guy who makes you cry. If you’re still with him, you should probably leave him,” this boy said, and it boggled me how someone, drunk or not, could find it in themselves to care about a girl he had just met. I pulled on the sleeves of my jacket nervously and scratched at my arms.
“What is it?” he asked. I sighed. Nothing would get past this drunk.
“It was my dad,” I breathed out quickly, not even hearing myself speak.
“My dad. My dad made me cry.”
Then there was silence. The boy next to me froze, and his eyes were opened wide and stuck in a blank stare out into the lake. I licked my lips and looked away from him, knowing that I shouldn’t have been so blunt with someone I just met. I subtly inched away from him, not wanting to be so close, but his arm snaked around my waist and pulled me back even closer. My heart raced, being so close to someone to unfamiliar, and I could feel myself shutting down. I ached to push him away and scream, but something else kept me quiet. I leaned back and closed my eyes, listening to the chirping of crickets while I waited for the boy to respond.
“Oh,” he said eventually, his thumb tracing circles on my waist. A shiver went down my spine and a lump formed in my throat. “I’m sorry.”
My hand met his at my waist, but he didn’t stop or seem flushed. “It’s not your fault,” I muttered in response through half-closed lips.
“Did he hit you?”
My eyes shot open and I came close to suffering whiplash when I realized what he had asked. My pulse really began to speed up and I stared at him dumbstruck. “What? N-no, he didn’t…”
My answer satisfied him, however, and his entire body sighed in relief. With a subtle smirk that I barely saw in the low light, he asked, “So, I’m Jayden… What’s your name?”
I looked away. “Sage,” I mumbled.
Jayden seemed to be contemplating something, and I felt his hand stop moving and rest motionless on my waist. I looked away from his face and stared out to the lake. “Sage, have you ever been kissed?” he asked, seemingly with no shame and a certain tone to his voice that said he didn’t really care anymore.
“What?” I asked in disbelief, but not even bothering to turn to face him.
“I said,” he repeated, deliberately slowly and gently grabbing my chin and making me face him. “Have you ever been kissed, Sage?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and cautiously shook my head from side to side. “Why?” I asked, licking my lips again.
“Well, you see, Sage, I’m drunk. And it’s about maybe 3 in the morning. And there’s a girl here next to me who I expected would be screaming and accusing me of sexual assault by now and she’s obviously been feeling like shit. Now, like I said I’m drunk and it’s in the early morning and I’m horny as fuck, and there’s this beautiful girl next to me who somehow makes me nervous even though we just met and I’m under heavy influence. So I’d really like to kiss this girl if she wouldn’t mind, but I wouldn’t take a girl’s first kiss if she wanted it to be special,” Jayden explained, and blood rushed to my cheeks. He pulled me ever so slightly closer to him and I caught a glimpse of the time on my watch: 3:12 AM. “So what do you say?
I had never been kissed before, so the decision was nerve-wracking to make. However, the option I chose was obvious. There wouldn’t be another chance like this one in a million years, considering that everyone thought I was a freak or had mental issues. So I looked at Jayden and moved one leg to be under me and the other on the ground.
“Is that a yes?” he asked, and in the dark his face practically lit up.
“I’ve never done this before, but I need to get home at least two hours before my parents wake up and I’m not about to shoo opportunity away if he’s knocking,” I quietly mumbled just inches away from Jayden’s ear. He leaned forward until our noses were just brushing against each other and stroked my cheek.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, however, narrowing his eyes at me. “You got tense. This is your choice.”
“I’m nervous,” I told him.
“Don’t be,” he said.
Next thing I knew his cold lips were up against mine and I was trying to move in sync with him through the chaos of our mutual confusion. Neither of us had any idea what we were doing, which soon became obvious enough. My hands found a grip on his shoulders and he kept tracing those tantalizing circles on my waist. He kissed me like he was sure that there would be no tomorrow for him to ever experience anything like this again. I couldn’t really feel anything but his mouth on mine, and I soon lost track of whether my eyes were open or not. He tried to open my mouth, and having a feeling something like this kiss wouldn’t happen again anytime soon, I did my best to leave my inhibitions behind and just went with whatever Jayden wanted from me. I could taste the vodka along with something that resembled Sprite from him. The next thing he tried was to stick his tongue in my mouth. That was too much for one night, though, so I dug my nails into his shoulder and pulled away. His eyes had a shine in them that wasn’t there before and his lips were curled up into a breathless smile.
“What?” I asked, furrowing my eyebrows and feeling as out of breath as he looked like he was. He closed his eyes and breathed out in satisfaction.
“Nothing,” he said, not stopping tracing circles on my waist. “You’re just so fucking beautiful. And that was amazing. A kiss to remember.”
My eyes went wide and I felt my face get flushed. “I-It… I, uh… It was?”
Jayden nodded and procured the bottle of vodka he had before from right beside the bench, and took a swig right in front of me. He saw me eyeing the bottle and looked at me strangely. He held it out towards me.
“Do you want some?” he asked. “I mean, if you live nearby I could always… help you get home? God, I’m sorry, I probably sound like a creep.”
“Trust me,” I told him, taking a swig of my own. It tasted just like Sprite, the only difference being that it burned my throat on the way down and I felt a tiny bit lightheaded after it. I had just had my first kiss on the bench that was my comfort object away from home. I almost couldn’t believe it. “You’re the farthest from a creep right now.”
And because I couldn’t get enough from just one kiss, I pulled him to me by the collar of his shirt for another round.
A week after my first encounter with Jayden, I was sitting in Starbucks in the afternoon with my best of best friends, Kathleen Jones. She was drinking a latte, but I was drinking a hot chocolate with extra cinnamon and vanilla because I didn’t particularly like to fit into the system of drinking coffee every time you went to Starbucks. Kathleen and I were talking about school and upcoming tests that we had decided to study together for. I wasn’t dumb, as I’ve established, but I was struggling in my classes and I needed someone else to help me keep focused on the work that was actually important at the moment. Fortunately, that person was my best friend and I knew I could count on her to help me get back on track.
Kathleen had moved back and forth a couple of times, but for the time being she was here and had no immediate plans to move away again. We had stopped talking as much while she was away, but I felt us easily falling back into our old routine. I hadn’t mentioned anything about Jayden or the kiss to her yet, and I was getting a nagging feeling that I should do so as soon as possible. She knew that I snuck out and she knew that it was because of my dad, but she didn’t know much else past the fact that I was there for longer than usual and got home around 4.30 AM.
I looked up at the brunette in front of me. She was looking at something on her phone, probably scrolling through Facebook, and she would smile every now and then. She liked quite a lot of pages that posted jokes. She would eat this story up like it was top ramen.
“Kat, there’s something I didn’t tell you,” I started, quickly making the wise decision to not beat around the bush and get straight to it. Her head perked up and she stared at me with a worried look on her face. “And don’t worry, it’s nothing bad. Not between us, at least.”
Kathleen nodded, pulling her hair back and tying it with a hair band from her wrist. “Well? Don’t keep a girl waiting, Sage,” she told me with a childish and lopsided grin.
I fiddled with my fingers as I thought of how to tell her. “When I snuck out, I didn’t just sit on the bench… I, uh…” My words failed to come out the way I wanted them to, much less at all. I could tell that Kathleen was becoming apprehensive because of my hesitation.
“Sage, did something happen to you?” she asked, taking my hand in hers. “Because if it did, I’ll help in any way I can.”
That was the last thing I expected her to assume, but the fact that she was willing to help in the chance that it did happen made me feel a little reassured. “No, Kat, it’s nothing like that. I just… A drunk guy came up to me. He was a little older than us and he talked to me for a while… He held me too and he said I was beautiful and, uh…”
Kathleen leaned forward and raised her eyebrows. “And… Isortakissedhim?” I rushed my words, I wanted her to understand but also didn’t want to hear myself say it properly. Her eyes widened to the size of saucers.
“Sorta?” she all but shouted. Then, in a hushed whisper she continued. “How do you sorta kiss a drunk stranger at like 3 in the morning? Did you kiss him, Sage, or did you not kiss him?”
I leaned closer to her as well and pulled my chair up to the table. “He kissed me, and then I kissed him? Again? Multiple times?”I confirmed. Kathleen’s gasp was a sure sign that she was about to squeal with uncontrollable joy, but we were in public, so she had to control herself.
“Oh my god,” Kathleen mumbled, looking down at her coffee with a wide smile. “My little Sage got kissed!”
I flushed and scratched at my neck out of habit. “I guess?”
“Oh, Sage, you know you’re going to have to tell me each and every single little detail about it, right? Not now though, later, when we’re alone. But tell me quickly, what was it like? Was it magical? Was there chemistry between you two at all? Was he a good kisser? Did he have experience?” Kathleen bombarded me with questions faster than I could hear and process a very small portion of half of them, and that meant I couldn’t answer most of her questions.
"Kat, stop, stop!" I hissed, slamming my hand down on the table with just enough force to startle her without making too loud of a noise. "I can't keep up with you. Slow down."
She took a deep breath, then ran her hands through her hair. "Sorry," she breathed out, a smile gracing her lips. "I'm just so excited! I mean, you're the first one of us two to get to first base, I just really want to know what it was like, you know?"
"Yeah, of course I get it. It's completely understandable," I told her, smiling back. No matter what, I knew I could never stay mad at my best friend for too long. Especially not in this kind of situation. "Now ask me again, but slowly, and limit it to 5 questions at a time."
Kathleen's face lit up.
"Sage, is that you?" my stepmom asked from the kitchen when I got home after school one day.
"Yeah, it's me, and Kathleen is here too. We're gonna study for those tests I told you about, that's okay, right?" I called back, slowly walking into the house with my best friend in tow.
"Oh, hi Kathleen!" my stepmom chirped, peeking out of the kitchen and to the hallway to greet us. "That's fine! Your father said he'd be home around five."
I thanked her for the information and led Kathleen up the stairs to the bedrooms, and into mine. She knew the way, but let me go ahead of her instead of racing me up the stairs as we did at her house. We calmly climbed up and opened the door, but as soon as I closed off our connection to the rest of the house, we went (relatively) wild. Kathleen and I both dropped our backpacks at the door and jumped on my bed, laughing all the while. I relaxed on my viridian bedsheets while Kathleen got up and opened my blinds.
“Ugh, why can’t neither of us live next to hot guys like in all those teen fiction romance books?” she groaned as she caught a glimpse of the neighbor’s house and looked my way.
“Please,” I laughed. Teen fiction romance books were fun to read but they always left me feeling empty inside once the happiness wore off. “The last thing I need is some pervy ‘bad boy’ living next door, watching me undress and tempting me to do everything I shouldn’t even be doing.”
“Sage,” she groaned again, dragging out every vowel she could for emphasis. “You’re so boring.”
“I’m not boring,” I scoffed, rolling over and facing away from her. “I’m very fun. I’m just careful. I prefer actually enjoying my existence to resenting my every waking moment, thank you very much.”
Kathleen rolled her head back defiantly and purposely stumbled over to the bed and onto me. I coughed in pain and groaned. “Come on, Sage,” she mumbled. “It wouldn’t be that bad to just have some fun for once.”
I chuckled at her optimism and stroked her hair, as if she was a child. “Well, having a bit of fun with my parents would basically be the exact same thing and taking a metaphorical plant called my self-hate and giving it all the best fertilizers and watering it on exactly the right times to ensure its steady growth,” I reminded her. She pushed herself off me and rolled next to me. The frown on her face almost made me feel bad for reminding her, but if she wasn’t going to be my reality check, then I had to be hers.
We sat there in silence for a moment, and Kathleen intertwined her fingers with mine and stroked the back of my hand comfortingly with her thumb. I closed my eyes and sighed quietly in content. I felt the mattress dip and guessed Kathleen was turning to face me. “I’ll always be here for you,” she reassured me. I opened my eyes to see her facing me and smiled back. I knew that I could count on her if need be, but the truth was I didn’t feel comfortable enough with her to open up completely. If I couldn’t trust the one girl I considered my best friend with all my troubles, who else was there to trust with them? “And anyways, we have a test to study for, so get up off your bed and let’s get our bags and start this thing!”
“But Kat,” I whined, letting her pull me up and off the bed. “Can’t we just relax a little bit? I’m tired from school,” I told her, hoping she would say yes.
“If I let you relax now, you’ll fall asleep within an hour and we’ll get nothing done, fail this test, and disappoint both our parents because we told them we were going to study,” she refused, presenting a very good point. “So no, get off your ass and get your goddamn books. We’re passing this test whether you want to or not!”