CHAPTER ONE

 

THE DAY I realized I was depressed, I was seven years old. I was sitting in the playground of my elementary school, and all the kids around me were running around, playing. I listened to their laughter, and I watched them have fun. Then there was me. I sat alone on the swing. I stayed away from everyone else. My teachers thought I was merely shy, but I knew even at that age I was sad. For as long as I’ve known, I’ve been a sad person. I didn’t really have many friends as a kid. I mean there was this one girl. Her name was Alison—Ali for short—but she moved away. I never spoke to her again after that. It was my fault. She sent me a few letters after the move, and I just never responded to any of them. I don’t know why I never did.

I wonder what she is up to in life now.

But other than Ali, I’ve been mostly alone my entire life. Well, that isn’t totally true. I do have a couple friends, but I also have my books. They have always been there for me throughout everything. I’m one big stereotype. A depressed person who reads books. Even my therapist probably thinks I’m incredibly clichéd. I guess the scars on my wrists would prove that point as well. To add to my painfully depressing life, I tried slashing my wrists about eight months ago and then proceeded to spend the next seven months in a hospital dealing with my “internal struggles,” or at least that is what the doctors called it there, and now I’ve been seeing a therapist every week since the moment I left that bleak place one month ago. Geez, when did my life become Girl, Interrupted?

But I’m so glad to not be in that hospital anymore. Damn, was it an awful place to be in! Seven months was way too long of a stay. The other patients were incredibly moody, and the doctors were both strict and way too nice at the same time, which I didn’t even know was possible. I felt a mixture of being smothered and fear. I mean, I may have emotional issues, but at least I’m just sad all the time.

Now, in this very moment, I stand in the small local bookshop in town—The Book Revue. It’s a tiny shop, one I had always adored growing up. The moment I turned sixteen, I applied here. And now here I am three years later and still employed. I take in my surroundings, as books are piled high on the shelves around me. Not a lot of people are sauntering about. Ever since they opened up a Barnes & Noble here in Wilshire, people just stopped shopping here. And now The Book Revue is becoming a bit of a relic. It’ll be like Blockbuster.

I look around the tiny bookshop, which has become a salvation to me in this past month, and I breathe in that old-book smell. That wonderful scent that fills your nostrils when you take in the aroma of a book. The only other great scent is that of a new book. The few people who inhabit the small building sit in their far-off corners, each person with a book in their hands and some a steaming cup of coffee by their side. No one has even walked up to me in the last half hour. I sit behind the cash register and pull out my tan canvas bag, which I keep underneath the desk. I unzip it and pull out a small book—a thesaurus. I open it and randomly turn to a page. I look down, and the first word I notice is sullen. I shut the book and put it back in my bag. What a good word sullen is.

Sullen; adj.

surly, sulky, pouting, sour, morose, resentful, glum, moody, gloomy, grumpy, bad tempered, ill-tempered; unresponsive, uncommunicative, farouche, uncivil, unfriendly.

Antonyms: cheerful.

Yes, I decide I like the word. One of my small obsessions is my old, torn-apart thesaurus. I’ve had it nearly my entire life. It once belonged to my mom back when she was in college. When I was about six years old, I did what many children did. I snooped through my parents’ bedroom. At the bottom of a dresser that once sat in their bedroom but now is long gone, I set my eyes on the dark red book with the cracked spine and dog-eared pages. Seeing that book was what I imagine love at first sight being like. I took the book, and it has been with me ever since.

I love to learn new words and to expand my vocabulary. It makes me feel smarter than I actually am. Who doesn’t love an elephantine word every once in a while? Elephantine. How is that for a good word? Every day I try to look up a word, and then I try to use it later that day.

For example: Jesse Holbrooke, myself, is a sullen man. It’s also a true fact. My therapist, Dr. Barbara Wheeler, says it’s bad to lie. When I first started talking to doctors in the hospital, I had a habit of lying to them. It’s a problem that manifested as a young boy. I would lie to my parents all the time.

Oh, how are you, Jess?

I’m fine.

Are you happy?

Of course.

Why aren’t you smiling?

I’m tired.

Why did you try to kill yourself?

Okay, that last one, even I couldn’t really find a good lie to cover that one up. I’ve honestly spent my entire life lying to everyone. Whenever people asked me how I was doing, I would just answer, “I’m fine,” because I figured that is what you are supposed to do. No one wants to really hear about the intimate details of your life and mind, especially when you’re as crazy and fucked-up as me.

“Excuse me, I’d like to buy this book.”

A young man’s deep voice brings me out of my recollections. He’s an attractive man, probably in his early twenties or so. He has a giant smile that might be a bit too big for his face, but it’s a nice smile.

“Sure.”

I ring up his book and tell him it’ll cost $7.50 with tax. He hands me eight singles and says to keep the change. This is probably the most interaction I get from people. I only really speak to a few others outside of my family, including my boss, and he didn’t even show up today. I don’t think he cares much about this store, or at least as much as I care about it. It’s not that this place is so perfect, but it has become a home away from home for me. An escape from everyday life.

The customer leaves, going through the door, and the little bell dings that annoying ding. I hear it once again, as my boss finally walks through the door. He’s an older man in his forties, with graying hair and light stubble. He walks up to the cash register. It’s nice of him to show up, since neither of my two coworkers are coming in today. I’m basically on my own.

“Thank you for opening today, Jess.”

“Yeah, no problem, Peter.”

My boss’s name is Peter Jackson. No relation to the director. Don’t even mention the name to him because he’ll get pissed off. It happens way too often. We’ve lost customers that way. It’s kind of funny. Pathetic, but funny. He grumbles as he walks past the cash register and heads to the back room, leaving me alone once again. I look around to see that only two customers remain. One is sitting cross-legged on the floor with a book of poetry, wearing a pair of oversized Ray-Ban’s, looking something like a pretentious hipster. The other person is an elderly man, fast asleep in our most comfortable armchair. That’s Roger. He comes in a few times each week to nap. I always let him. I kind of feel bad for him. I don’t think he has anywhere to go. Over the years, he has come in every day wearing the same pair of jeans and a green threadbare army jacket. When winter comes, he still wears the same jacket. I wonder if he even has a family.

Peter comes back out onto the floor, his breath reeking of Jack Daniel’s. He always drinks the same thing for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and for snacks in between. Probably brunch too.

“That vagrant is still here,” he says in his deep, gruff voice. When he speaks, he always sounds as if he has swallowed a handful of pebbles that scratched his throat on the way down.

Peter calls Roger a vagrant. Peter is also an asshole. I don’t think Roger is anything of the sort. Peter has never even spoken to him. He just always sees him asleep. The way Peter criticizes Roger, he makes it sound like there is nothing worse than being homeless.

“He’s tired,” I say.

“What? Speak up!”

“I said he’s tired.” Everyone tells me I speak in a really low voice. It sounds loud to me, but apparently everyone thinks I talk like a middle-aged nun in church. Peter gives me a look of disdain, one I’ve grown very accustomed to. I’m safe from his firing hand, though, because without me his shop would fail. I am the one who is here most of the time and takes care of it. I’m the one who actually cares about this place. If I didn’t work here, he’d lose more money than he actually is.

“Is anyone else coming in today?” Peter inquired in that annoying voice of his.

“Why are you asking me? You’re the boss.”

Sometimes I don’t think he realizes that he’s the one who owns this place, not me. If I had the money, though, I’d take it right out of his hands. I could probably turn this into a really cool vintage bookshop.

Peter shrugs. “Don’t talk back to me, kid.”

“I’m nineteen years old.”

“Whatever.”

In his mind I’m no older than a prepubescent boy who is still trying to catch a peek of his hot babysitter changing. But me being the spiteful bastard I am, I refuse to tell him that no one else is coming in today because he should act like a damn boss.

“Go sell something.”

He walks away, disappearing into the back office, aka his hideaway from society. What gives him the right to disappear when I’m forced to confront my problems and get help? When I was found in bed with my wrists slashed open, I had passed out from blood loss. In the moment before I did it, I didn’t think I would ever wake up. Opening my eyes and seeing the blinding white light of the hospital surprised me. I left behind a note for my family. I was so ready to say good-bye, but here I am. Funny how life works. There are so many people out there, young children even, who have so much to live for. And some of them could become doctors or teachers or might change the world in some way. Some of those people will die of disease or will be murdered. But then the nobodies—me, for example—who have nothing to live for and bring nothing of benefit to society, are the ones who end up living, even when they don’t want to. It’s a cruel joke. If there is a God, in my humble opinion, he’s an asshole too.

The rest of the day seems to pass by in a blur. The shop never really gets busy, but a few more stragglers find their way inside. Most of them are regulars. They greet me as they all come in, and I’m polite as usual:

“Hello.”

“Hello, Jess. How are you today?”

“Fine. Yourself?”

“Not bad.”

It’s the same monotonous routine that happens just about each day. When it’s time to close, I find Peter in his office passed out. I shake his shoulder, but he does not respond. I shake him harder, and he finally comes to. He tells me to fuck off, but after that he gets up, throws me the keys, and says not to fuck up before he leaves. I am probably better at closing down the shop than he is. I lock the doors and bring the shades down in the windows. I count the money in the cash register, only a little bit tempted to take some for myself, which I don’t. It’s normal. Who wouldn’t be tempted? It’s like the money is saying “Take me and run away.” It’s the little devil that sits on my shoulder. I do what any sane person would do: push the devil away and close the register.

The walk to my house is a short one. It’s a cold autumn night. It’s late October, a week and a half before Halloween, but you can feel the incoming winter. I zip up my sweatshirt and push the hood over my head. I put my hands in my pockets, and I keep my eyes cast toward the ground. The wind is bitter as it smacks me across the face, brutally reminding me I should drive to work. I do have my license. I just choose to walk. I hate driving, to be honest. Before anyone asks why, I have no reason. I just do. Walking allows me to keep my thoughts in order, which sometimes is a bad thing.

When I walk into my house, I hear my parents in the kitchen. Silence reigns, and as I enter the room, a thick, awkward air envelops each and every corner.

“Jess. You’re home,” my mother, Christine Holbrooke, greets a little too cheerfully. “I started dinner. It’s spaghetti, and I’m making meatballs as well. Your favorite.”

She’s a real June Cleaver.

“Thanks, Mom. I’ll be right back.”

“Take your time. Don’t rush. Dinner will be done in ten minutes.”

I turn around to head toward the staircase.

“Did you hear your mother?” And as usual, there’s my father, Holden Holbrooke, who feels the need to forever chime in. People always ask me, and yes Holden Holbrooke is really my father’s name. It’s quite unfortunate. Who would name their child that?

“Yes, sir.”

I continue up the stairs, and I lock my bedroom door behind me. I sigh as I take in my bedroom. Books overflow from the shelves, and piles upon piles rise high upon the walls. Posters and pictures, which I have printed from the Internet, are taped to the walls above my bed. They are of writers I look up to, musicians I adore, or even movies I love. A majority of the clutter on my wall is horror movies posters. My bedroom is, to put bluntly, perfect. I get to go to sleep every night with my favorite things looking over me as I look up to them.

I take my peacoat off and throw it over the back of my swivel chair, which sits in front of my laptop. I have spent many long and forlorn (my word of the day two months ago) hours in that area.

The smell of cooked pasta and meatballs drifts through my door, and the scent is just too strong for me to ignore any longer. My stomach growls, quite loudly I must say, and I don’t fight the hunger off any longer.

 

 

AT THE table I sit next to my mother, as Dad sits on the other side. A fourth chair is at the table, but it lies empty. My older sister, Clara, always sits there, but she is away at college and excelling there. Last time we spoke, she had a 4.0 GPA. I told her I was proud of her, and I know my father is. He has always shown his favoritism toward her. Growing up, Clara was always his girl. Me… I was just there. I was the accident child. I know they won’t admit it, but it’s true. I’ve heard my parents talking late at night, when they thought I was asleep. At the time, they didn’t realize I didn’t really sleep.

People probably think this is part of the reason I’m depressed, but the truth is, I was depressed way before this. This was just another needle stuck in my flesh.

“Aren’t you going to eat, honey?”

I look up. I must have spaced out again. I look down at my food, which has gone uneaten. I take a bite, and it’s delicious, but sometimes no matter how hungry I am, I can’t bring myself to eat. I force a few bites down, though. I look up to see her compassionate smile… and I try to smile back. I really try, but sometimes it just hurts to smile.

“Are you in one those moods again?” Dad asks.

One of those moods. I really fucking hate that phrase. Before my suicide attempt, every time I was upset, he always called it one of my moods. And every time he said that it just pissed me off more and more. He still hasn’t taken a hint that I really hate it when he says that. He acts like I can help the way I am. If it was that easy, then I wouldn’t be medicated more than a Beverly Hills housewife.

“I’m fine,” I answer.

I stare down at the knife and run my fingers over its jagged edge, each point like the strings of an instrument. I push deeper and watch as drops of blood form. As I move my hand away from the blade, the blood trickles down my finger. It’s the proof that I’m a living human being. I look back down at the knife, and I push the blade, and I watch the knife spin on the table, slowly, but I push it again. Faster and faster it spins, like a child’s top, and my eyes never stray away. I watch it spin closer to the edge until it falls to the floor with a bang.

I look up to see my parents’ scrutinizing eyes. I shrug, and I pick my knife up off the ground.

“Whoops.”

I take a couple more bites and then push my chair in.

“Are you done already?”

“Yeah. I’m completely full. Thank you, Mom, for dinner. It was delicious.”

“I’ll put it away in case you want more for later.”

I give her another forced smile, and I thank her before exiting the kitchen to head toward my bedroom. It’s a waste to save that food. I already know it won’t be eaten—by me at least.

In my bedroom, behind my locked door, I fall onto my bed, wrapping myself into a cocoon of blanket, hoping to emerge as a different person in the morning.

We can all dream.