When Everything Changed

The front door slammed shut. A pair of heels sloppily clunked against the hardwood floors. The sound of clumsy, slow hands rummaging around the kitchen and a high-pitched hum echoed throughout the house. I would recognize that sound anywhere. Much like the sound of my brother’s laugh or the rhythmic beating of my own heart, I can’t remember a time without it.

I heard her footsteps slowly climbing up the stairs—she was pausing and reaching for the rail to steady herself until she reached my door. She managed to swing the door open, drowning my room in fluorescent light.

“Save the whiskey words, Mom,” I said, not bothering to roll over to face her. “I’m tired.” And disappointed. And angry. But mostly tired.

She laughed. Her voice wobbled, as if it was unsure of itself. “Just checking in,” she slurred, before shutting the door.

I was tired of having a mom with whiskey for a tongue. Tired of the ocean of words that sunk holes into my heart. Tired of the drunken criticisms. Tired of the clumsy hands always searching, but never finding, something to hold on to in the spinning darkness. Tired of waiting for the sound of her stumbling heels on the floor before I could peacefully sleep.

The night was thick and absolute, an oil spill across the sky. Few stars shone through. I gazed out my window, trying to calm my swimming thoughts. I watched the endless stream of cars speed past until their red lights faded into the distance. I tried to invent stories for each passing car—the black Toyota was going to the hospital to see the birth of his first child, the red Camry was rushing to a dinner date and was running fifteen minutes late, the gray Minivan had just dropped off a bouquet of flowers at the local church—reminding myself that time had not frozen. It was continuing without me. It felt peaceful, staring into the dark. The dark has a way of folding you into the night sky, rocking you gently to sleep with the moon and stars.

But the morning was anything but gentle. The light surging through the windows blinded me. Cold air flooded the room. The curtains spun in the breeze until stronger winds urged them into a violent waltz, flap-flap-flapping against the white walls, flap-flap-flapping me awake. It was the kind of quiet morning when sound lies still, the world seems flat, and the shallow recesses of your own breath consume your consciousness.

Outside, the green of the trees blended with the blue of the sky and the yellow of the sun, and the space between them seemed to be within walking distance. The white, the quiet, the wind. I had an overpowering sensation of nothing. I reached out to touch my face, seeped in tears, and ran a fingertip across a dewy crowd of eyelashes. A circle the size of a teardrop was inscribed on my pillow.

The flowers on my vanity glowed. Light bounced off the crystal vase, streaking a translucent rainbow on the ceiling wall. The petals in the vase were a vibrant purple and the stem a forest green, but the flowers were all wilted and the water in the vase brown. The sheets on my bed were crisp and the pillows fluffed, although I had lain there all night. The wrinkled outline of my body was barely visible.

I had become the stranger I pretended to be.

And Don’t Miss

The second and third prize–winning works from the Third Annual “Tell Me a Story” High School Contest:

Reenactment” by Grace Sewell
Getting Out” by Ronnie Pereira de Leon
The Looking Glass” by Chloe Saraceni




Additional Information:


Narrative in the Schools | For Teachers | For Students |
“Tell Me a Story” High School Contest | Video Tutorials with
Carol Edgarian
| A Great Reading List

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