My name, Maura, means "Sea of Bitterness." I wonder sometimes if bitter is what I'm destined to become. I'll be sitting there thinking "Wow, life sucks," and I'll lean back against the wall and every once in a while I'll cry a little and it feels like I'm drowning and I wonder if this is what it's always going to feel like—a fire in my skin and wanting needing feeling for anything to ease the pain.

It's funny how much a thirteen-year-old can get around, and I don't mean in a sexual way. You think you can only do so many things, at least until you're an adult, but none of those rules ever seemed to apply to me. I guess most of it just happened—all these things I tried in order to fix what I thought was broken.

I'm going to tell you now about the cliché that became my life for almost a year. I hesitate to put it into words; you're going to want to stop reading it. I know, because I've done it myself. I think, "Just another emo cliché." And usually it is—but not if it's real. Nothing is a cliché if it represents someone's real pain or joy, because those things are unique unto themselves.

Let me describe drowning.

You wake up in the middle of the night, drenching in sweat, throat raw from screaming. The darkness feels like it is writhing, closing in, and you curl up against the side of the couch that is your bed. There's a staple digging into your thigh, but you don't dare shift position. The horror movie that plays on the back of your eyelids while you sleep is still fresh in your mind, and the rough fabric of the couch feels like a brush of leathery wings on your face.

You dare to move only once: to curl up into a tight ball, as if that will truly protect you from whatever predator lurks in the darkness. You close your eyes, squeezing them together with a three-year-old's logic: if I can't see it, it can't see me. You hardly dare to breathe; if you make a sound the world will explode.

You scream, and it does. Lights flick on, chaos running screaming and you feel the tears falling from your eyes onto the shaking hands folded in your lap as your older sister shakes you in desperation, crying, "Why won't you tell me what's wrong?"

You refuse to answer, and eventually she switches off the living room light and goes back to bed. You can't seem to stop crying, so you press your thumbs against your eyelids as hard as you can and whisper-scream to yourself that you are numb.

The darkness has become nothingness: the unknown is calm and still, inviting. You pad across the hall to the bathroom and sit there in complete darkness. How can something be so terrifying one minute and so inviting the next?

And how do I face tomorrow?

The answer to the second question lies under a pile of threadbare underwear in the top drawer of the dresser you share with your sister. It is sharp and beautiful and it is your savior every night you spend screaming. No one notices and no one cares, even though you're wearing a sweatshirt in 85-degree weather, even though you almost fail gym because you can't wear the stupid uniform more than a few times, even though your clothes are bloody sometimes. It gets worse all the time, but you never ever think of it in the way some people describe: slow suicide. It's life, not death; it's the only thing keeping you sane.

One day someone sees. He kisses your scars and your lips and tells you it'll be okay as he unzips his pants. Then he goes home and he never speaks to you again.

This is drowning.

Nowadays, I have good times too. If I'm having a good day, I'll wear a yellow shirt sometimes. It has short sleeves, because my scars are almost gone. Sometimes I'll even smile at someone in the hall, someone I know has had it just like I have. Maybe someday I'll have the courage to walk up to them, to say hello, and to keep them from following in my footsteps. Maybe I can rescue someone from drowning.

On the outside, nothing changed in my life. The couch is still scratchy and my sister still doesn't understand me. The blade is still in the drawer, but it hasn't been touched for months. But something twisted inside me straightened itself out, and now I can breathe.

My name, Maura, means "Sea of Bitterness."

But I choose to defy.