By Madison Dykes

There’s a darkness looming over me.

And like a thief in the night it comes to take the very breath from my lungs, the sparkle in my eye, and the joy in my heart. I feel nothing as I gaze out the car window, watching the sun set and all the immaculate homes in my neighborhood whizz by. I used to love taking drives with the windows rolled all the way down— music blaring, while passing by people’s homes and seeing them outside as well as inside.

It was like seeing a snippet of someone’s life in the style of a flip-book. Little glimpses here and there of a certain television show on in the background, kids playing in the front yard, and adults pulling into the driveway. Seeing these little glimpses of people’s lives always made me wonder and imagine what their lives might be like. What their hopes and dreams were, what their family is like or if they live alone. If they’re happy, or sad? Or maybe somewhere in between?

But lately, I just don’t seem to care about anything. I try, I really do and I want to care again, but I just don’t know how. And I don’t know if I ever will again. I’ve tried everything I can possibly think of. My life lately has seemed like it’s been distraction central: cleaning my room, going on my phone, smiling even when I don’t feel like it, or going on drives—like I’m doing now. But that doesn’t seem to help the darkness from closing in around me. The other day I tried to remember when it first appeared, and if there were any glaring warning signs that I somehow missed.

And the longer I thought about it the more I realized there were no warning signs—or at least none that I could remember. It just appeared one day, like a lonely cloud in the morning sky—seemingly insignificant as it drifts alone. But given enough time that single cloud can block out the light if it so chooses, and there’s nothing to be done when it does. All we can do is wait until it moves, and hope that when it does the light will come back.

So that’s what I did for the first week the darkness appeared. I waited for my cloud to move, then waited some more as another week passed and my hope began waning bit by bit. The waiting was excruciating, and I was like a crumbling sculpture.

Every moment that passed, felt like my very soul was being chiseled away piece by piece. The first part of me that broke off was something that at the time didn’t seem like a big deal— my smile. Then the next thing it broke was something much more intimate—my joy and passion for life. So by the third week, I was just tired. Tired of waiting and hoping that the parts that were shattered from me would piece back together again. So I just stopped waiting and hoping, because nothing was getting better and it probably never would. And from that moment on I decided that I would just stop trying to feel anything.

And it worked.

At least for a while that is. Now, I feel hollow as I pull into my driveway and grab my backpack out of the back. Dreading, the thought of going inside and pretending everything is alright to my grandma. Taking in a deep breath, I take a moment to put on an air of happiness before I turn the door handle. And before I even hit the threshold of the house I hear my grandma call, “Avery? Is that you sweetheart?”

“Yeah, it’s me grandma,” I call back hoping she wouldn’t want to talk beyond a simple hello.

“Come into the living room sweet girl, I’ve got a surprise for you!”

I close my eyes for a minute, hoping I’d misheard her. I didn’t have the energy to be excited about something. But then she called my name again, “Avery?”

“Coming! Just had to set my bag down!” The lie tastes bitter on my tongue. You can do this, Avery, I think to myself, just smile. And whatever you do don’t cry, don’t cry. Walking into the living room I find my grandma in her usual spot by the window. She pops her head up from her magazine and smiles brightly as she set it aside. Her rosy cheeks and piercing blue eyes boring into me. A pit begins to form in my stomach as I take in my grandma’s demeanor and how excited she is. Her small frame is practically bursting at the seams when she blurts out, “Close your eyes.”

“Grandma, what’s going on—”

“Just close your eyes and hold out your hands!”

Seeing no point in arguing I close my eyes and hear her rustling some papers in the small table by her chair. The pit in my stomach continues to grow as she softly sing-whispers, “Oh you’re gonna love this.” Please smile, I chant to myself, you’ll be alone in your room soon enough. Don’t ruin this for her. After a few more seconds pass, I hear my grandma shuffle over and gently place something light and thin in my hands.

“Okay,” she says, clapping her hands together, “you can open your eyes sweet girl!”

Before I open my eyes I knew what was in my hands and instantly dread what I have to do next. I bring my hand to my mouth feigning a shocked breath, as I look down at three tickets to see Khalid in concert tonight. And to be fair I am shocked, but the problem is I don’t want to go.

Khalid is my favorite artist and for months I had begged my grandma to go and even offered to pay half the fee, but she said we just didn’t have the funds right now. And yet, here are the tickets right in front of me. A seemingly impossible wish turned into reality. And somehow I feel nothing. My god, what’s wrong with me. Its like I’ve been sucked out of my body, and all that’s left is this empty shell who only looks like the person I used to be.

“Oh dear, what’s wrong? It is Khalid you were wanting to see right? Did I get the wrong ones?” My grandma’s concern makes me feel all the more guilty. Her eyebrows are tightly pinched together as she waits for my response. Forcing a smile to my face I say, “No, no, no, you got the right ones grandma…I’m just shocked is all.”

“Oh whew, you gave me quite the scare. I thought I’d gotten the wrong singer!”

Forcing a laugh, I reach out and hug her before the tears threaten to come. She squeezed me, rocking back and forth, like she did when I was younger—which only made me want to cry even more. I quickly pull away and make an excuse to go upstairs.

“Okay, just hurry back down,” I hear her call after me, “Hannah will be here soon.”

I barely make it into my bedroom by the time the tears fall down my face. What’s wrong with me? There shouldn’t be any reason at all on why I feel this way. I have a great home and a grandma that loves me seemingly unconditionally; I’m in the honors program at my school, and I have two of the best friends a girl could ask for—and yet.

And yet.

I am so unbelievably, and irrevocably sad to the point to where it scares me. I’ve never felt like this before and I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to burden my friends with this because they already have enough to worry about, and I don’t want to tell my grandma because I don’t want her to think that this has anything to do with her. So I just haven’t said anything. I’ve tried to act normal and pretend that everything’s fine around them for weeks now, and I just don’t know if I can do it anymore. It’s exhausting.

My phone has been beeping incessantly for the past couple of days, but I’ve ignored all the beeps and notifications coming from it. I haven’t been in the mood to talk. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve started trying to take different routes on my way to class to avoid bumping into my friends

or people that I know. As I’m wiping the tears from my eyes, I hear the doorbell ring and Hannah’s booming voice as it greets my grandma. Hannah was one of my best friends, but I haven’t talked to her in days, and there’s no doubt that she’s going to question me about it tonight.

Now, I hear her taking the stairs two at a time and calling my name. I take a deep breath and sit down at the chair by my desk, acting like I’m writing something down in my planner. Hannah doesn’t waste anytime knocking, and bursts into my room like a mad scientist. In elementary, I used to tease her and call her Dr. Frankenstein because her always chaotic energy and untamed red curls reminded me of a mad scientist. The memory brings an ache to my chest.

“Hey ya weirdo,” Hannah blurted out, “are ya ready for some Khalid? And where have you been lately? I’ve been texting you non-stop for days. Days, I say!” She dramatically flings herself on the bed and adds, “It’s been like trying to breach Area 51.” She moves her arm out of her face when I don’t reply and says, “Wow, tough crowd today. But seriously where have you been?”

“Nowhere, I’ve just been busy with school and work is all.”

Hannah sits up and looks at me with skepticism and says, “And you didn’t have your phone with you all those times? Seriously, Avery, is everything okay cause you’ve been acting a little funny lately?”

Not expecting that kind of response I say, “Acting funny? Funny how?” I ask as if I don’t know what she’s talking about, hoping all the while that my face doesn’t betray me. Hannah looks at me with one raised eyebrow and says, “Fine. Don’t tell me. It’s not like I’m your best friend or anything—oh wait, yeah I am! So spill.”

“Nothing. I’m fine. I’ve just been busy.” I look down at my hands so I don’t have to look Hannah in the eye and lie to her face. I hear her sigh and look up to see her start to open her mouth to say something else, but then my grandma comes into the room.

“Knock, knock girls! Are you both excited for tonight?”

She stops in the doorway and sees the looks on our faces, “Oh have I interrupted something? What’s wrong Avery?”

I look up at both my grandma and Hannah—their gazes boring into me. Hannah with her crazy mad scientist hair and deep-set eyes, and my grandma with her piercing blue eyes. Their ever-growing concern and confusion becomes so overwhelming that I let out a quiet sob. It starts out slow and soft like a scoff I hadn’t meant to let out. But once that single puff of air comes out, I couldn’t stop and the sobbing went from a quiet puff of air to a deep, gut-wrenching wail. The kind that rip out of your throat and rattle your chest— leaving you breathless and gasping for air.

Sobbing for all the lies and masks I’d put on these last few weeks, and at the hollowness that’s been eating me alive, and finally for the unrelenting guilt in feeling this way. I put my face in my hands, trying to stop the tears from coming. To stop the darkness from leaking out and spreading to the people I love the most, but the tears just keep coming like a torrential rainstorm.

I hear both my grandma and friend take in sharp breaths and feel their arms wrap around me. They keep saying my name over and over again asking what’s wrong, but I just keep saying, “nothing” in the hopes that that will be enough of an answer for them. But it isn’t and I knew it wouldn’t be. My facade is finally crumbling, and in a way I’m secretly relieved it has. And so I tell them everything.

And of course, it takes a bit more of coaxing from my grandma and Hannah, and there are long moments of silence that seem like they will never end. But they are so patient with me and listen fully when my words slowly start to come together. It’s hard to get those first words out—almost like I’m pulling a loose tooth that doesn’t want to come out, but needs to.

And once I got out those first words, all of the things I’ve wanted to say come rushing out like water out of a busted dam. I tell them of the pain, emptiness, and darkness that has wrapped me up so tight that I’d thought it’d never let go. I explain the reason why I haven’t told them when it first appeared, and how sorry I am for lying to them all this time. And even though, I still feel hollow and afraid after I told them, I feel like a little bit of the heaviness has been lifted off my chest.

And a feeling that maybe, just maybe I’ll somehow be okay.

And that the light might after all break away from that single lonely cloud, and shine once again.