Isolation and Desperation
*this piece contains sensitive topics such as school shootings and domestic abuse.
by Allison Risha
Rebecca threw her head back in a laugh and smiled, trying to gain the attention of a group of boys sauntering by her lunch table. She glanced toward one of them, Matthew from her Biology class, and quickly broke eye contact after an awkward three seconds. Her friends, the same group of chatty, easily impressed girls she shared her lunch with in kindergarten, pushed her toward the awkward boys. The sound of the bell sent all the kids on their way to class, and Rebecca threw one last glance at Matthew before zipping up her bag and joining the rest of the seemingly happy students.
Chris, slamming his book shut and zipping his bag closed, put his headphones in and left the math classroom for lunch. As his new favorite song began to play, he put on a smile and joined the group of guys in line to buy their food.
He sat down at his table, plenty big for just him.
Chris spent the rest of lunch in silence, focused on his phone. He noticed a group of giggling girls, all making eyes at the group of douchebag boys who barely knew their right from left. He grunted and continued playing his newest video game. His leg bouncing and hood up, he thought of how stupid those boys were. Stupid, stupid, stupid, he thought over again. He always had trouble making friends and had recently given up on any prospect of companionship. The bell sounded, and Chris headed to his last class of the day.
Rebecca stared off into the distance as her English teacher explained the symbolism of Fahrenheit 451. Her thoughts drifted to her mom, wondering how she would be today. The constant wondering and worrying made her head hurt, and she shut her eyes, attempting to block out the berating thoughts. She opened her eyes and noticed Chris, publicly branded as the quiet kid, staring at her. The room fell quiet as the teacher looked to Rebecca to answer the question.
“Let me say it again, Rebecca. How does the symbol of the phoenix relate to the theme of the story?”
“Uh, well, a phoenix rises from the ashes of a fire, and, just like the phoenix, this town seems to be built on fire. In addition, Guy Montag’s job is to fight fires, which within itself is a strange parallel.”
Rebecca was one of the students who managed to walk a fine line between being seen as smart and knowledgeable without being considered a try-hard. The ability to see a problem and know the solution came naturally to her. She always knew what to say, and even when others seemed to have a problem with her, she never let the kids at school get in her head. The final bell of the day rang out and Rebecca let out a sigh of relief.
“Remember to keep the kids at Saugus High in your thoughts and prayers!” her teacher yelled, bringing a cloud of sadness and remembrance to the group of kids who had gotten the news about the shooting earlier that day.
Chris once again put in his headphones and began his walk to the bus stop. He listened to the sounds of his music and ignored everything else around him. He preferred noise over silence. He was, as always, the last one left on the bus when it pulled up to his stop. As he approached his house he could see his parents’ shadows moving about. It was only Thursday, and this was their third fight of the week. He slipped inside, careful not to interrupt their argument and turn the attention onto himself. As he padded up the staircase, he heard the slap. The sound that ended most of their fights, and always brought a deafening silence to both of them. The uncomfortable air was shortly filled by the sound of the slamming door, and the growl of his father’s frustration.
“Chris!” the father yelled, his eyes bursting and body shaking with madness after what had happened.
“Coming,” Chris replied, bracing himself for the impact of what was to come.
“How was your day, buddy?” the dad asked sweetly, sliding the facade of fineness over what both of them knew had just happened.
“Okay,” Chris stated meekly, longing for their conversation to be over.
“Good, good, that’s good, that’s good,” his Dad responded. Chris knew better than to ask about his mom.
“I think I’m going to go to the shooting range, blow off some steam,” his Dad declared. “You want to come along? I could teach you some of my stuff” his Dad said. Chris only vaguely remembered the range from when his parents brought him as a kid. The noise, smell of chemicals, the energy of excitement and fear, the grins after a target shot, the feeling of the solid, powerful, cold steel in your hand.
“No I think I’m ok, I have uh, a lot of studying to do,” Chris lied, longing to return to his isolated room.
“No problem, chief, I’ll, uh, guess I’ll see you later.”
“Mom, I’m home!” Rebecca called, assuming that her Dad had left to pick up her sister.
“In the kitchen,” her mom whispered, her voice unable to support a yell.
“Hi mom, how are you feeling?” Rebecca asked, planting a kiss on her mom’s cheek.
“Okay, I was able to eat some food today.”
“That’s great!” Rebecca replied, relieved. Her mom was in the middle of her chemotherapy for her diagnosed stage four breast cancer. At this point, any progress that her mom had was a relief. The treatment had not been easy for her family, as many of the responsibilities of raising her little sister had fallen on her. An aura of sadness mixed with hope seemed to wallow about in their house, with the tensions and steaks rising everyday that passed.
“I’m working on a story for English class, do you want to read it?” Rebecca asked her mom hopefully, longing for any sort of recognition.
“Not now honey, I don’t feel so well.”
Rebecca’s face fell, heated with anger and frustration. The intense emotions she felt usually passed quickly, her problem solving side emerging to clean up the mess.
“Oh, okay, no worries,” Rebecca said sheepishly, doing her best to cover her disappointment. She headed up to her room, tears welling in her eyes. She dropped her backpack and sat in her bed, letting the sadness pour out of her. She couldn’t help but face the truth that her mother was slowly dying, and with each and every day she was becoming less of herself. The hopelessness and loneliness that she felt in that moment made her angry, upset, and confused. The emotion, which she seemed to feel most intensely in the quiet, isolated nature of her room, took over her body. She went numb, and could not think of anything but her mom. The helplessness of her situation and the lack of control that Rebecca had made this fire inside of her one she seemed not to have the tools to put out.
Chris went down into the basement. He locked the door and went to the back of the cold, almost empty room. Slowly unlocking the large brown chest and opening the hatch, Chris felt a sense of danger and excitement. In the chest lie a single AR-15 rifle. Only use this when absolutely necessary, he recalled his Dad saying. This was necessary, Chris thought. Necessary. Shaking, Chris took the gun up to his room. His mind full of nothing but what he knew he had to do. For him, this was the only solution. Filling it with ammunition, he hid it under his desk.
When he woke up, the house was silent. His Dad had never returned home, something not unusual after a night like that. Chris packed up his school bag, slid the gun into a duffle, placed his headphones in his ears, and walked out of the house.
“Bye!” Rebecca shouted as she rushed out of the house, she was running late. The previous night had taken a toll on her. However, shortly after she had went up to her room, her Dad visited her, comforting her and assuaging the pain that was now felt often in her house. The raging fire inside her seemed to calm after they talked, and, although her mind was still crowded with thoughts, she felt ready to tackle the day ahead.
That day, the walk to school seemed to double in length, and, after sprinting the last block, she barely made it to campus before the final bell rang.
Chris arrived at school, his head on a swivel, surveying the crowds of kids moving about. At this moment, all he wanted was for the pain, sadness, and hate to end, to make others feel what he felt. Loneliness, isolation, lack of worth, all the things that had been bottled up inside of him for the past months, that nobody seemed to notice. Somebody needed to be held accountable for his lack of happiness. His worthlessness.
Rebecca saw one still form in the mass of kids getting to class. It was Chris from English. He was holding a gun in his hand. As they locked eyes, she saw something hidden behind the mask of content. She saw what she hid underneath her own skin. Pain, fear, loneliness.
Suddenly, adrenaline rushed through her body to her legs. Rebecca ran.