Plankton: One teen's story about abuse and anxiety
PHOTOS: JOSHUA HUSTON
For seven years, students at Scriber Lake High School in Edmonds have written honest accounts of their difficult life experiences. Led by educator Marjie Bowker, the school’s writing program aims to promote healing and literacy through personal storytelling. Seattle’s Child is honored to reprint three abridged versions of student essays from the 2019 collection "Listen: Young Writers Reflect on Chaos, Clarity, Action, Balance."
(Plankton: n., an organism that everyone has adapted to feed on)
My hands are shaking as I rub them on my grey sweater, an attempt to rid them of the sweat that has accumulated since the bell for third period rang. The halls are a raging river of faces and backpacks — constant and angry — everyone flowing around each other, like fish, for nearly four whole minutes. Pools of people gather around the bottoms of the stairways, unbothered by the closeness to others.
I am plankton, small and microscopic, drifting as the waters carry me from one side of Edmonds-Woodway High School to the other. I can feel my heartbeat in my ears, drowning out the threatening hum.
Do I look as terrified as I feel? I look around for an exit, everything becoming way too much to handle. The water’s rising, and if I don’t get out soon, I’ll drown. I have to avoid eye contact at all costs. It’s too personal, too close. Keeping my head down is what I’m best at; I need to if I’m going to survive.
This was especially true in third grade when I found myself being bullied at school. No matter where I went, there was torment. No matter how long I spent inspecting the floors, someone somewhere was ready to strike. And I know that what happened all those years ago is the basis for why I am stuck in this cesspool of anxiety now.
I stepped onto the bus and exchanged a quiet “hello” with the bus driver, then quickly walked to my assigned seat in the back. Sliding in, I squished myself against the side.
I just want to be home. I hate being on edge all day, tiptoeing my way around and trying to avoid what I can’t predict. There’s nothing I can do to avoid being pushed around during recess and called names at the lunch table. I’m so tired of it.
I finally propped my head up and took a look around to bring myself out of the haze. A wind dancer advertisement caught my attention out the window, and as my head turned to follow it, I heard, “Don’t look at me.”
The harsh voice came from a girl sitting behind me. Startled by her hostility, all I could do was stare.“I said don’t look at me, creep!” she yelled more loudly.
I quickly turned around and shrank down into my seat. Please don’t say anything. Please don’t yell. Don’t make it worse.
A few moments passed with little reaction from anyone else, so I thought I was in the clear. Maybe this once, the situation won’t escalate like all the other times. Maybe this time, the other people who love to terrorize me won’t join in and attack.
As I put my backpack over my shoulder, I felt my hair being messed with and heard laughter. My thick, long hair lived its life as a poofy mess. Kids always poked fun at my hair, so when I felt the girl’s hands in my frizz, I was embarrassed and ready to cry.
I shot my hand up to my head and felt a glob of wet stickiness. They had marshmallow bunnies at lunch for Easter, I remembered. She must have put the marshmallow in her mouth, chewed it, and put it in my hair. Everyone’s gonna see it when I walk off the bus, and they will all laugh.
My tears welled up. I saw the blurry buildings of my apartment complex. I shuffled down the aisle, holding my hand over the gooey mess. A few giggles still erupted from the back of the bus. I let the tears fall, not caring. I just want to get out of this twenty-foot yellow torture chamber.
“Can I use my DS?” I asked my dad. I figured he was done with it because it was sitting on the table next to his beer can.
“No,” he answered passively while continuing to stare at the TV.
“You’ve had it all day,” I said, cautiously. “Why can’t I use it?”
He was living with us for the first time after eight years. Life with him was an endless minefield. I longed for when it was just my mom, siblings, and me, and I could breathe without fear.
He stood up. “Don’t talk back!” he screamed in my face, then added, “You’re just an ungrateful brat, you know that? Always asking for things from me.”
I ran to my room, away from his harsh words, feeling nauseous from smelling the mix of Bud Light, body odor, and chlorine from his poor hygiene; he considered our pool to be his daily shower.
Hours passed. Then a tired creak came from our cat-scratched couch. I dropped my head when the door opened, avoiding his stormy blue eyes. “Your mom’s almost home, get ready for bed.”
“Oh … okay.” My voice came out small; I was hoping for an apology but I wasn’t quite sure why. He’s never apologized for being mean these last few months. Why would I hope for anything different now?
When I got into bed, the bells on our front door jingled, letting me know she was home. I ran out for a hug goodnight.
“Hi honey, how was your day?” she cooed.
“It was fine … ” I answered. I was never sure what to say, all I knew was that I didn’t want her to be mad at me as well. I went back to my room feeling empty.
An hour went by. All I could think about was wanting to be next to my mom. I crawled my way to her door frame, peering in to see two lumps in bed. I made my way in silently to the small space on my mom’s side of the bed. I started to drift off, and when my arm fell, it thudded against the bed frame.
“What the fuck are you doing in here?” my dad screamed. I went cold for a moment, then picked myself up and tried to escape fast enough to show I was sorry. I wanted to make it back into my bed before he could strike me.
But he jumped up and chased me down the hall. I was screaming “No!” and “I’m sorry!” as I tried to push myself into the corner against the wall, hoping he wouldn’t reach me. But he grabbed my leg and flipped me over and started spanking me over and over with no breaks, leaving no time for me to react to the last blow. I kept begging for him to let me go, but he didn’t care. Finally, I wriggled out of his grasp and held pillows up to block his blows. Nothing worked; he slapped the pillows out of my hands so easily, and I couldn’t stop his hands from coming down.
When he finally grew tired, he walked back to my mom’s room and slammed the door. I laid on the bed and cried.
I can’t even walk through a hallway without breaking down and needing to run away, I think, condemning myself. I’m missing class again. More work to make up. Last time I looked I had 187 missing assignments — I just stared at it and cried. We aren’t even close to being done with the school year. There’s no way to get out of it, I’m stuck. I won’t pass any of my classes, again.
“You can fail two classes and still graduate,” I remember them telling us at the freshman orientation. I have failed every class so far, and I don’t know how I let myself get like this. In middle school, I was placed into honors based off my test scores. For a short time I envisioned myself graduating early, going to a university somewhere and taking sophisticated classes, no problem.
But here I am in this bathroom stall, failing again. Here I am, unable to make eye contact, answer simple questions in class, or even do a presentation without quaking. I never thought I’d struggle like this. I never thought I’d want to end my life like this. I planned so much for myself less than a year ago.
But here I am, I’m struggling to even see myself walk out of this bathroom.
Mindy graduated and plans to go to college to study art, psychology, and writing, and eventually become a therapist who uses art to help clients cope with past trauma.
Note: These essays have been edited for length. "Listen: Young Writers Reflect on Chaos, Clarity, Action, Balance," can be purchased at Edmonds Bookshop (111 5th Ave. S.) or on Amazon.com. All proceeds from book sales will support future student writing programs at Scriber Lake.