Chris M.

Summer is over. On Monday I’ll be wandering the hallways clutching my schedule, trying to find my first-period class. I’ll be wearing my new ankle boots. I will have have done something special with my hair for the first day of school as a reminder to myself that I plan on caring this year.

What I’m not going to do: End up in a mental hospital. Fail my classes. Fall into toxic friendships, or skip class to read Nabokov and check under the stairs. I’m not going to storm out of class to protest every unjust action committed by the teacher. For the next three years I will tone down my nihilism, because it will make my life easier in general (less getting in trouble, less going to summer school, less people deciding I’m an idiot).

When I got out of the hospital last year, I felt an urge to shatter every social convention and arbitrary rule I came across. I burst into my now-boyfriend’s classroom, gave a speech about anarchy or some carpe diem shit (yeah, I don’t know), grabbed his hand, and dragged him out of there, yelling, “Let’s ditch this hole and explore the universe together!” I got way too sassy with teachers, even the ones I actually respected, and never did any of my work. I skipped most of my classes and walked in and out of other classrooms all day, sampling AP literature and music theory classes according to my whims.

My friends were concerned. “Why are you doing this?” one of them asked me. “You have to graduate. You’re going to be a super-senior. Just go to class sometimes. You think it doesn’t matter but it does.”

“Not if I’m dead before the opportunity to graduate is even possible,” I said darkly (I said everything darkly then). “I’m not wasting my time on this bullshit. It’s going to matter for you, so you go to class.” No wonder they were worried.

Then summer came, and I decided that I wasn’t going to die. As soon as I didn’t have to go to school anymore, I felt happy. For real. For the first time in as long as I can remember.

The past year has been nonstop torture. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything. I hated myself and everyone around me. I hated the whole world. I had started taking some anti-anxiety meds, and suddenly nothing mattered to me. I didn’t care about anything, and that was OK with me. Ruining my life would at least alleviate the boredom.

Everyone seemed to see my behavior as attention-seeking self-pity. Every time I dragged my heavy boots into history class and threw my bag on the floor as I collapsed into my seat, I would hear a loud voice coming from a cluster of girls a few rows back. “Hey, mall goth—the ’90s are over. Get over your angst trip.”

The last time this happened I got up and walked over to the girl’s desk. “I’ve always thought ’90s mall goths were the best kind,” I said, affecting my best innocent-naïf voice. “Am I wrong, you pretentious hipster asshole?” I waited for a response, but her jaw just dropped. The room fell silent. “I’m sorry,” I continued, “that’s probably just the angst talking. I’m having a bad trip.” On my way out the door I gave her a little wink and said, “Later, doll.”

I had never been that way before. What was even going on? Was it the medication? Was it the depression? Was it the pressure of being trapped in the one place I’d rather die than occupy?

I don’t know why everything changed last year. School was worse than ever and so was I. Behaviorally and academically, I was a failed student. And I didn’t die, so now I’m going to have to deal with the consequences.

This summer I spent a month in summer school. I felt like I didn’t belong there. I was a straight-A student before I stopped trying. Now I was in the school library, surrounded by kids who could barely read or do fifth-grade math, 20-year-old seniors, and a guy who asked me how to spell circle.

I used to be so nice to everyone. I used to be a pacifist and a peacemaker. I hated chaos and strove to make people happy and to make them like me. I would never consider retaliating against someone who made a snide comment at me—I might leave the room, but only to burst into tears and feel worthless.

This year I feel the same as last year. When I think about school I want to punch something. I feel angry and sad. I am hoping that I can coast through the year on the power of my summer happiness. I want to get my shit together this year. I can do this.

The first time I set foot in this school as a freshman was just a couple of months after my mom died. The first person I spoke to warned me to never even look at her or her friends, “or else.” This year, I’ll be walking in with my best friends—the people who saved me last year. I’m going to walk into tenth grade in my brand new ankle boots and get shit done. ♦