It Meant Nothing
It was an accident. That's what the paramedics said anyway. But as I stared at the gruesome, twisted face of someone I'd once known, it seemed more like a concept of fate. He was a good boy. His report card always shone with perfect grades. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
But people always said that, as if it made things better. And maybe that was my friend being hauled into the back of the emergency van? As if anyone cared about that.
The sirens were still ringing as I stood there, hands stuffed in my pockets with a bored look on my face. It was like watching some sick scene in an angsty teen movie. There was the wrecked car, running straight into the bare tree at the side of the road. He was speeding, I knew. Drunk too, maybe coming back after crashing a party. And these paramedics—they saw this every day, didn't they? It probably ceased to mean anything to them but another casualty to alcohol and the open road. Just another drunken guy who shouldn't have been given a license.
They were trying everything on him, probing and examining, yelling out orders amongst one another as they tried to save his life though he never had his seat belt on. It was useless. Even from my short distance from the blood-stained face—I knew he was dead.
And that word felt like any other syllable, just another four-letter word that horrified people but was a daily part of life. But there stood his parents, his mother sobbing, embracing the young son—brother—that stood silent at her side. His father stood emotionless, aghast, his eyes wide with disbelief.
A paramedic rushed past me, "Out of the way, kid." I only flattened myself against the car that still stood wrecked near the trees. The man was trying to help. It was his job. But it felt like he was just someone who brought the news, because it was obvious, hopeless, avoided. The teenager in that van was dead and no miracle would bring him back. Not like in those ER stories where they only aired the miraculous, inexplicable recovery.
And I still stood near that van, knowing it was hopeless, only there because it was something that was supposed to change my life. You best friend just died. How do you feel about that? I could just hear the counselors now, but they were useless voices. As useless as those pathetic attempts to bring him back.
It was supposed to matter. Supposed to bring some incredible dent into my life. So yeah, we've known each other for years. But now he was dead—what did they expect me to do? Burrow a hole and mope like it's the biggest tragedy?
And his parents—sobbing, clinging to one another, desperate to know why—it was so blatant that it'll take them years to get over it. And I'll just watch in the sidelines—as his black-clad room gets cleaned up, his CD collection is given to some cheery cousin, his life is swept away like it was never there.
They'll just ignore everything because that's what they're supposed to do. There's no why about that except to ask why it was their son that died. Why it couldn't have been the other boy—who brought the mail every day and smoked in the bathrooms at school—or that psychotic maniac who sold drugs behind the dumpsters. Why it had to be their handsome, young son. About to go to college in the fall. About to reach the best moments of his life.
Well, and why not? He wasn't any more special than that art student who drew floral parts in class. No more invincible than the old lady down the street who ran a boutique shop. He was just another teenager, drinking and driving—and crashing. Maybe he'd fallen asleep at the stirring wheel. Maybe he was giddy with alcohol and hoping to sleep it off before his parents found out. Maybe he shouldn't have died.
They'll be asking questions tomorrow, wondering and demanding to know, but today they'll just stand and stare at their dead son—aghast and horror-struck. Because that's what they were supposed to be doing. That's how much it mattered.
I emotionlessly stared at the crimson blood that could have been the spray paint he always used on the backs of shops when he was bored and went out. His torn tee shirt that was masked with that spray paint. The bruises and cuts that were scarlet and violent in the dim moonlight.
My gaze was blank, because it was expected. They wanted me to be struck dumb with horror and slowly start grieving, break into sadness and hysteria.
I only glanced at his torn body. He was long gone—mortal—dead.
But I knew it meant nothing.
She always lied to me. It became like a guessing game every day. Maybe today she'll break away from the habit and stop doing this to herself. Maybe she'll finally drop that act of indifference and admit she needed help. That it wasn't right—it wasn't normal—for those cuts to simply appear on her wrists.
It was expected of me to get her this help. To get her to stop though she blatantly continued. And it was just another thing I was supposed to do. Another thing that mattered so much.
"Of course I've stopped," she'd say. I would ask her to put out her arms at lunch and she'd be unwilling at first, criticizing me for being such a nosy friend. I would press her, knowing that if she continued there would be nothing left to cut away. There would only remain the spray paint gleaming against her pale arms one night when her nightmares were too burdening.
She would show me her wrists, uneasy, reluctant. I would gaze at them, pulling up the sleeves she used to cover those thin lines. She had bandages this time. There were more cuts than last time and I could only stare at them blankly.
I was supposed to be doing something. Acting shocked and confused, angry and irate, that she was stubbornly drawing thin lines again. But I only glanced at them briefly before placing her arm down on the lunch table. She would only tint her cheeks with rose, knowing the speech I should speak forth.
But this time I didn't. There was no point. It was just another thing that felt like it mattered. How can you let your friend do that to herself? Don't you care about her at all? The counselor would continue. Those words felt just as empty. All these things had such heavy emphasis on them that one day they might break up and become separate syllables, and they wouldn't mean anything.
Because they shouldn't mean anything. There was too much significance placed in this one thing.
She would continue to cut, because she didn't know any better—just as millions of other teenagers would do the same thing all over the continents. It was some kind of dejected ritual, and it was supposed to relieve something. Escape agony. It was also a mental pain, digging deep on the inside—and she only wanted substantial release.
And I was supposed to be just like the rest of them—rushing her to people who would understand. Help her stop. And what about the rest of the world? Broken mirrors wouldn't stop them—sharp, glass bottles would only dig further.
But she would just lie. It was a scrape in the biology lab. My cat doesn't like it when I bathe him. She had each excuse waved at me airily, as if it was nothing. And that's what I grew accustomed to. Knowing that she would easily pass through it, nothing to worry about.Nowhere in the future would the razor sweep deeper than it should. Nowhere near would she lay still upon the carpeted floor with spray paint rushing forth.
Her other friends knew about it, tried to lead her astray from the habit. It was slowly becoming a hobby to her, like walking into shops and buying hats that were on sale, then putting them up in a room like trophies. And the thin cuts were the golden trophies. It was as if she tested herself, trying to see how far she can stride down the circus cord until she lost her balance and fell.
But I was supposed to be the umbrella that kept that careful balance and I always grew tired of it. She had every excuse planned, every lie at hand as she waved my faked concern away. She was like a perpetual thesaurus, her lies blending among the similar words. I batted them away but they were angry flies that snapped back. She lied to savor her hobby and I was supposed to care. It was all supposed to matter.
One day her lies might drive the hobby into eternal sleep, but I knew she only dared them to. Dared to see the circus cord break as she indifferently walked upon it. I only watched the trophies grow deeper, the bandages hurry into abundance, the sleeves on her sweater reach lower down the pale arms.
And still I was expected to think it all mattered. Expected to act my part, be the umbrella she desperately needed.
The cuts grew violent, deep and slashed. She twisted the sweater down lower but I caught sight of them. Her lies were bolder and the lines grew bruised upon her pierced skin.
But I knew it meant nothing.
It always started at nine. That's about when he came home from work, bringing in the lousy small salary that barely kept the family together. She was the housewife, cleaning the soapy dishes and washing the laundry every day. They were both tired by then, but she was only submissive. He was always the irritated one—the one who started with the first stroke. It would be on the cheek usually, hitting her harshly because dinner wasn't ready yet, because something at work went wrong and he had to take it out on her.
I only stood near the kitchen door and watched. There were things I could be doing instead—watching TV in my room, setting up the table for belated dinner, filing through a CD collection or watching a terrified little sister. But it somehow felt like I was hiding if I did any of that. I felt as if witnessing everything would help me stand up to him, to that tall man whose features were embedded upon me.
She would cower, dropping the dish soap as the bubbly suds spread across the floor. Her eyes were wide, terrified, as she stared in fear at the next hit.
He never had a genuine reason. His fist only connected with flesh and wild laughter escaped after this accomplishment. He might angrily point out the soap suds on the floor, jerk her around so she would see them, clutching her hair tightly. My eyes would blankly take in the usual sight. It was just another privilege to him—a condescending, disdainful concept that made him the lofty superior. Because she wouldn't fight back.
I should have been doing something. Intervening in the harsh sounds of sobs that escaped her. Intruding upon the one-sided dispute that would later call for bandages and the first-aid kit. The young girl who hid in her room as the conflict raged on would emerge from her room after it all ended—she would help her mother up and clean the bloodied wounds.
But I would only remain, watching as the brawl continued and she fell weakly to her knees. Her bleary gaze swam with tears but she didn't dare swat them away. He would only ridicule her again, twisting the pale arm he gripped so firmly as he launched into harsher strokes. She would skid upon the tiles sometimes, her slippers twisting beneath her feet, trudging her down upon the cold floor.
His grip would cruelly pick her up then, roughly hoisting her pallid arms upward. She would only sob quietly, as she was expected to.
It happened in so many households—this merciless abuse that was often hushed and left unspoken. It was only known and simply understood. There were many figures of it too—sometimes the mother was the victim, sometimes a solemn pair of children, hiding beneath the harsh lashes that were thrown at their young limbs. The world recognized this, and it mattered.
And I was supposed to be doing something about it. Speaking to a teacher. Relinquishing knowledge to an adult. A counselor. How can you stand by and watch as your mother is beaten like this? Why haven't you done anything? The words were empty, questions that were useless.
Because her eyes would only grow sightless with fear, her face blanched when she heard the footsteps and the clock chimed nine. Her hands would only barely escape the soap suds of the sink before his first stroke would appear. And the dishes would color crimson once she escaped his grasp and he settled at the seat for belated dinner. Despairingly, she would sweep the dishes clean and finish cooking dinner, escaping the reasoning that none of this was right, only continuing life as though nothing happened.
Bruises appeared upon her cheeks repeatedly, but every day she would only hide behind her firmly-masked gaze of housewife's duties. Her needless make-up would rouge her face, artificially livening the ghastly violets beneath, powder marking the dark tinges under her fearful eyes.
It was something that always had meaning in society, yet my witness didn't stop it.
His strokes would grow more defined, his gaze colder and more distant, while her sobs were heard in the quiet chime of the silent evening. She would stand straight before her knees unclenched and held her up no longer. But then his hand would roughly pull her up again, ridiculing her weakness.
The bruises became dark visions of soft violets. Eyes streamed tears that emptily fell and the soap suds would only scatter upon the tiles until morning light dried them. Dinner grew late every night, sometimes it was expectantly skipped. She was a broken china doll and the desperate glue was denied to her.
But I knew it meant nothing.
The light was soft, hushed in early dawn. My footsteps only stood near the forlorn porch while she drew upon pale paper. It was something she did every day, like an instinct that helped her manage this muddled life.
It wasn't something that mattered. She would only sit upon the wooden planks of the porch and trace a crayon along the splendidly white sketchbook. Her young face would frown in concentration as she vaguely grabbed one marker after the other, slipping it against the white expanse until colors shone in rosy dawn. I would stand by her, watching the creation that always emerged.
Her pieces were childish, presenting clowns or rainbows emerging from pots of gold. They held little meaning to the whole of the world. But she only placed crayon to paper and drew, as if she didn't care what the world thought. It was something population disregarded but also something that kept her interest and held meaning to her alone.
I would only quietly stray towards her spot by the wooden planks and gaze as those delicate fingers nimbly glided against the sketchbook, placing vivid hues into a world of gray. She didn't want everything to be as blended or starkly contrasted as people made the world seem. Her sketchbook never used black, white or gray. She strode away from the colors because she never believed in them.
I wasn't expected to do anything about this. Maybe smile, pick up her drawing after she handed it to me, and laugh alongside her wide grin. No one cared about this. Not even the counselor, who frowned when I presented the variedly-hued drawings. Why are you showing me these? Isn't there anything more important you can tell me instead? They were questions that seemed to scowl at my meanings. And I turned away from them, frowning my own confusion.
Society wanted me to notice other things—things that were given more importance. What was a sunny picture of clowns in comparison to death? A sketchbook of colors in the face of blatant lies? Traces of diverse hues in contrast to abuse?
She would only continue sketching colored artworks as I stood near her in early dawn. Her young features would stare at the paper, pick up markers and vaguely place them down.
None of it mattered. It was just a hobby, something to occupy a little girl of her age. Only existing for the sake of individuality, not taken in consideration in the larger population. Simply a drawing of colors, without importance, without matter.
But I knew it meant something. And that felt the worst.
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