The Art of Becoming a Happy Maniac


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   Tuesday, May 11


A tapping on my forehead pulls me from the mindless void, and suddenly the darkness is full of my mother. I blink twice, but she does not disappear. Auburn curls askew and makeupless skin furiously wrinkled, she leans over my face and dares me to fall back asleep.

My lips fumble for words. "Mm, good morning." 

"Very funny," she snaps, and spittle lands on my eyelid. 

I decide to avoid an eruption and let the saliva stay put. "Sleep well?" I ask tentatively. 

"Nice try." She straightens and slaps a piece of paper down on my Scooby Doo comforter, three and half inches from rupturing my spleen. "What the crap is that?" 

I don't look down; I don't have to. 

"It's a suicide note," I answer, raising one shoulder and letting it fall casually.

"Don't be a smart aleck. What was it doing on my door? Do you know how much it scared me? Do you have any idea what you just put me through?"

"Well," I say matter-of-factly, "I didn't do it, did I?" 

My mother's eyes widen in disbelief. "That's not even... That is besides the point, young lady, and you know it is!"

"I didn't know there was a point."

"Ryder!" My mother jumps back an inch from her own outburst and looks down at my waste basket for a moment. Breathing in and out through her nose like a dragon, she meets my gaze again and forces her voice into a calmer, more professional tone. "Honey, a prank like this is sick. I can't even fathom what would make you want to pull a stunt like this. It's just cruel."

Life is cruel. It's on the tip of my tongue, but I can't provoke the volcano. Instead, I narrow my eyes at the cobweb floating in the corner of my pastel green bookshelf and think up a lie. 

"It was for a school project."

A tense minute passes. Then the silence bursts. "What idiot teacher would assign you to-"

"Look, it's not even important. I'll tell him it was pretty effective, and he'll give me an A. No biggie."

"Pretty effective? No biggie?" my mother repeats with a scoff, her eyes blazing. "Ryder, you nearly gave me a heart attack. Can you even imagine what it put me through, walking down this hallway, expecting you to be dead, only to find out it's some disgusting joke? What kind of teacher would ask you to do that?" Determination makes her nostrils flare. "I'm calling Principal Banks and telling him he's got some nerve letting sick, twisted people like that teach at his school-"

"Mom!" I blurt out, throwing a hand in her direction, as if I could stop her. "That's really not necessary-"

"-and I'm telling him that there is no way in heck I'm allowing my daughter to take classes where she has to write '50 Completely Believable Reasons Why I Should Die' or 'Why This Is An Entirely Sufficient Way to Say Goodbye', because I'm not-"

"Sharon!" I yell her first name like an explosion. It vibrates in my ear and sends a wave of pain down my spine. I realize I sat up in a blinding instant, and I blink away dark spots so I can see. "You're completely missing the point," I hiss at her, shaking my head slightly and giving it everything I have not to jump out of the bed and shake her. 

Slowly, her face-- which had turned the color of mashed beets-- fades back to its usual powder-white state, and her breathing normalized. Then she scowls, and a flash of red appears in her cheeks again. "So now there's a point?" she asks. 

"Mom," I moan incredulously and turn away. 

"Now there's a point when just ten seconds you couldn't tell me what it was? Well, that's just great. Why don't you tell me, sweetheart, what the freaking point is so I can go get ready for work without freaking out that my daughter might have hung herself-"

"I would never hang myself," I mutter. 

My mother became volcanic again. "And what is that supposed to mean? What, you'd choose another, more efficient way to die? What would you do, then, huh? Slit your wrists? Put a bullet through your skull? Or maybe a freak accident is more your style! Because honestly, Ryder, right now I don't know anything about you at all!"

I say nothing.

Because she's actually right this time.










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Untitled Chapter

Lying flat on my back on my twin-sized mattress, I lift my feet into the air and stare at the spaces between my toes where light shines through the fabric of my multi-colored, neon socks.


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