It’s May 25th, 14 days after my 9th birthday, and I’m sitting on a rock in the middle of a meadow, far away from my house because my mom just died.
“You’re not saying anything...” Jason said.
I’m paralyzed, my body’s harder than the stone we’re laying on, unable to remember to breathe or swallow until I choke.
Jason sits me up and turns towards me. “Say something, Hail...” Jason urges.
I can’t even force my eyes to look at him. I can feel his blue ocean’s sink into me, crashing, pulling, taking my resolve.
“I can’t...” I croaked. Honestly I can’t.
He’s been my friend since before my memories stuck, since before my we started school, since before my mom got cancer.
His soft boy fingers, dirty from baseball practice, cover the outside of my own. They don’t grip, or squeeze, or tell me everything-will-be-okay because we both know it won’t.
This is a week that will go down in history. The hurt radiates from deep in my tissue, the marrow in my bones, the mitochondria in my cells.
I feel pain everywhere and so intensely that it’s almost too easy for me to block out. I feel like my world has been turned upside down.
Nothing is ever going to be the same.
′Why is she gone?′ Is the only question that echoes through my mind.
“Remember when your mom helped us with that lemonade stand at the hospital last summer? We made three hundred and seven dollars and made the news!” Jason said.
I snort and nod. “Only because your dad made all the nurses buy a cup.” Jason doesn’t push too much too fast. He’s always been quiet, letting me lead, offering up whatever I wanted.
“Remember when she...” Jason began but I cut him off.
“You don’t have to do that, Jay...” I said, but my voice says please don’t do this.
Finally turning my head to take him in, he nods in acceptance and understanding. His eyes are bluer than I’ve ever seen. Pink stained cheeks are wet with feelings and emotion he wears too easily on his sleeve. His quiet crying makes me uncomfortable.
“I should go...” I said, hopping off the rock.
Purple, yellow, and white flowers scratch at the skin of my legs.
“My dad’s probably wondering where I went...” My best friend nods, jumping off the rock we sit on. “Watch out for the weeds... There’s a lot of prickly ones this year...” He warns, picking and pulling and uprooting the purple ones.
Jason leads us away, out of the meadow. He offers to help me down the rocky terrain at the bottom of the hill.
I’m in stupid black sandals and this stupid black dress and the reason hits me all over again.
Air catches in my lungs, choking out a sob from my throat, but I tell my best friend I can manage.
His eyes look to mine for reassurance, but I have none to give.
At the edge of the woods, where tall, thick trees are traded for knee high weeds, Jason brushes debris from my knees and shins.
“I can’t believe you’re going away for the whole summer...” I said, walking past him. ′When I need you the most...′ I finished in my head.
It’s unfair and mean, but I can’t help it.
“I know... It totally sucks... My mom wants to spend the summer at my aunt’s beach house... I don’t even like the beach... Who wants to be hot and sweaty and get sun burned all day long?” Jason said.
I sort of smile.
Jason’s almost as fair skinned as I am. His milky complexion won’t be able to handle the intensity of the sun’s rays for too long, but I offer a supportive shrug.
“You’ll be so tan when you come back...” I said. “The girl’s might actually like you then...” I teased numbly.
Our steps fall in sync as we walk the few minutes back to our street. We reach his house first, the biggest house on the corner.
He waves to me with a smile as his lanky legs carry him up the wide set of stairs leading him to his wrap around porch.
“I’ll call you...” Jason said.
“See you in August, Jay...” I said, giving him the most hopeful smile I can manage today.
My house is just six down on the left.
My step dad’s car is parked behind mom’s and numb-tingles start in the tips of my fingers, zinging all the way to my heart, my throat, my ears. I hear ringing and look around to the quiet expanse of the neighborhood.
I want to run in the opposite direction. I don’t want to go back in there without her. My head and my heart suddenly hurt so bad I want to explode. I feel like I just ran forever, my breath catches in my throat, my heart beats heavily.
When I walk into our house, the silence almost kills me and I wish it would.
Mom’s not dressed in an apron canning tomatoes in the kitchen, or dusting the plates in the dining room, or humming a tune in the living room.
She’ll never ask me, “Can I braid your hair, Hails?” or “Come, sit, and tell me about your day...” or “Is that Peters boy being nice to you?” again.
“Hungry?” Dad asks gruffly, his voice hoarse, his eyes red, his cheeks puffy from the loss of his wife.
“No...” I tell him, shutting the front door quietly and walking to my room.
One week later, I wake up on a Thursday to a For Sale by Owner sign being hammered into the grass.
Three weeks later, my bedroom is packed up into large boxes that dad and his friends carry into moving trucks.
“We can’t afford to live here without your mo...” Dad pauses and closes his eyes before continuing, “With only my salary...” Dad finished saying.
When he first tells me, I just don’t get it. I beg. I plead.
“But my friends live around here...” I said.
“You’ll make new friends,” He says, packing away mom’s dresses, not meeting my eyes.
“But Jay...” I began but he cut me off.
“I never liked that boy anyways...” He said. “You’ll be in the same school... It’s not like you’ll never see them again...” He continues to speak.
Anger boils inside, and it’s so hard to contain. I walk over and rip her clothes from his fingers.
“First you take my mom, and then you take my house, and now you’re taking my friends... I hate you!” I scream at him, tears fall blindly, heavily, like hard drops before a thunderstorm. “I hate you!” My step dad moves closer to try and console me, but I push him away.
I don’t want his comfort.
It feels all wrong.
He’s cold and quiet.
“You’re not mom!” I screamed. “You’re not my mom!” My body falls to the floor in exhaustion and sadness, overwhelmed with the acceptance that she is gone forever. “I want my mommy!” I cry so loudly it sounds foreign.
I’ve never made these noises, wails of grief, whines of desperation, shrieks of heartache, and dad looks utterly lost.
The day we move, the last hour in our home, I knock on Jason’s door.
“Hailey, honey, good to see you. You know Jason’s with his mom this summer, though, right?” Mr. Morgan, Jason’s dad, said when he opens the door.
“Yeah...” I said, nervous, shifting from foot to foot. “But he never called me, and I don’t have the number to where he’s at, and...” I stutter off anxiously, “But I was hoping you’d give him this letter... It just has my new address and stuff in it so he knows where we moved to...” I explained.
Mr. Morgan smiles gently and nods. I hand him the envelope and awkwardly wave bye. My feet run as fast as I can back to the house as dad locks up one last time.
“I didn’t get to say goodbye...” I tell him as he puts the keys in his pocket.
“Nothing’s left...” he says blankly.
′Mom’s in there...′ I want to tell him but don’t because he won’t get it.
I shake my head and follow him to the truck. I don’t even look out the window as the truck roars to life and we drive quickly out of the neighborhood I grew up in.
My dad’s making us leave.
He’s making us move past the train tracks, by that run-down playground.
Can you believe it?
I wish I could swear at him and tell him I hate him.
He probably knows already.
Last night he had a lot of beers and then left!
He’s being such an idiot.
I miss my mom.
Why haven’t you called?
I hope you brought SPF 200.
I don’t know what my new phone number is, so I can’t give that to you, but my new address is 139 Elmwood Ave.
I miss you.
I don’t know why I wrote my last name.
Jason returned at the end of the summer, but the only way I know that is because I saw him playing with Megan Fisher outside the grocery store when dad and I went to get food.
I walked up and pushed him.
“What the heck?” He asks.
“You didn’t call!” I said. He looks away. Blue eyes won’t hold my stare. “I moved... Did you get my letter?” I asked.
“Yeah, I got it.” He answered.
“Come over tomorrow?” I asked.
“I can’t...” He says.
“Why?” I asked
“Ready, son?” His dad says, exiting the store with two bags in his hands.
Mr. Morgan smiles tight lipped in my direction.
“Where’s your mom?” I asked, looking around.
Jason doesn’t respond. He grabs Megan’s hand and they walk with his dad to his car.
In 4th grade, just before Christmas, Jason and his new crowd of misfits leave coal inside my desk.
The first Christmas without my mom, and my ex best friend leaves coal inside my desk. I know it was him. He’s the only one who wouldn’t look me in the eye at recess when I confronted them.
I didn’t quite get it at this point. I didn’t know why he was being so mean, but after this, I didn’t care.
Jason was a dumb boy, and I didn’t need him.
I told my dad but all he said was, “Hmph...” as he opened another beer can Christmas morning.
He got me a coloring book and markers that I finished in two days.
I spent the rest of this year eating with Erin or Greg.
Erin was shy and quiet, but I didn’t mind.
Greg was cute with a nice smile, and he was really nice.
Once, when I dropped my backpack in a puddle after school, he helped me carry it to the bus so I wouldn’t get my dress wet.
After that, he started hanging out with Jason and stopped sitting with me at lunch.
5th grade was beyond horrible.
Every day, Jason teased me relentlessly. He’d call me chubby or dumb or poor.
I didn’t really care, but when I overheard him talking about my dead mom, I walked right up to him and stomped on his toe with my wedge sandals.
I half expected him to tell the teacher, but he never did.
“Don’t you ever...” I start, but I can’t finish because the tears rim my eyes like a tsunami.
I cried quietly behind the slide at recess.
Tara Matthews moves into town at the beginning of 6th grade.
I tell her all about stupid Jason Morgan on her first day.
“Okay, don’t be mad at me or anything, but that’s my cousin...” she admits, and I feel suddenly sick.
I thought I got a new best friend until she drops this bombshell.
I’m about to pick up my lunch and move to a different table, but then Tara says, “Well, he’s like my 2nd cousin or something... I haven’t seen him since his parents divorced...”
My heart stabilizes and I’m able to finish the rest of my chocolate milk.
She tells me her dad moved here to work with his dad, but I stop her after that.
I don’t want to know anything about that side of her family.
7th, and 8th grades pass much the same.
Jason still hates me for some unknown reason.
One day in 9th grade we were walking the halls to drop stuff off at our lockers, I was wearing a thick black hoodie with baggy sweat pants, and a turtle neck underneath, when Stacy Conners decided to be her normal bitch self again.
She knocked into my shoulder with her shoulder, knocking my books to the floor along with me. I grabbed my shoulder tightly, biting down on my bottom lip to hold back from screaming.
“Hails! Are you okay?” I heard Tara’s muffled voice ask.
The pain that was shooting through my shoulder was intense. Worst then it was that morning when my step dad and I got into an ′argument′ before I was able to leave the house.
He wasn’t home originally, I thought I would be okay leaving that morning through the front door.
But turns out I was wrong. As I was leaving he got home and stumbled over to me ranting about something. I couldn’t understand him.
But he grabbed my arm and twisted it up and over my head and bent it at my shoulder to go behind my head, effectively dislocating it.
And I haven’t been able to reset it or anything yet so I was just leaving it go. The pain was dulled throughout the day so I was fine.
Well until now that is.
I nodded my head, not trusting my voice.
“Come on let’s get you to the nurse...” I heard Tara say and I wanted to protest but she wasn’t having that.
“Oh for fuck’s sake... I didn’t bump her that hard!” Stacy snorted.
Then I heard a voice that I wish I could forget.
“She’s always such a baby... Can’t even take a tiny bump...” Jason said throwing his arm over Stacy’s shoulders. “Good luck trying to help her up... I’ve known whales that weigh less then she does...” Jason chuckled causing the entire hallway to burst into laughter.
“Come on... Don’t listen to them... They’re all assholes...” Tara said helping me to my feet.
I nodded and let her lead me to the nurses office.
Once in the nurses office, the nurse and Tara both helped me take off my hoodie and turtle neck which just left me in a black tank top.
The nurse gasped when she saw my shoulder. It was all different colors. Purple, red, black even.
Before I could stop her she had called the principal.
′Great...′ I groaned internally.
Once the principal got there and Tara told him what happened, he had Stacy and Jason and another boy who apparently was there too.
His name was Brandon. Not that I cared, but Tara did.
The 3 of them were speechless when they saw my shoulder as the nurse was carefully trying to figure out how to relocate it.
If my winces and hisses were any indication that it hurt I don’t know what would be.
“That’s impossible! I accidentally bumped into her! There’s no way it was that hard!” Stacy was practically shrieking at this point.
“So, you admit to hitting Miss Dawson?” Mr. Ortega, the principal asked.
“I accidentally bumped into her! I didn’t HIT her!” Stacy screamed.
“Jason? Brandon? You both were there... What happened?” Mr. Ortega asked.
I snorted softly when he asked that. Like they would tell the truth. After all they were in the same circle as Stacy. And Jason and her were currently a thing.
“I don’t know Mr. Ortega, I didn’t get there till after it happened, but I know Stacy and it would be something she’d do on purpose... It’s no secret after all that Stacy for some reason has it out for Hailey...” Brandon spoke.
His face was full of disgust when he looked at Stacy.
Did I read him wrong?
“I did not! And I do not!” Stacy yelled at him. “Jay?! Tell him! Tell them!” Stacy pleaded Jason.
Jason though had a different look on his face that said he didn’t care.
“Don’t know... I was with Brandon... We got there after it all happened...” Jason shrugged.
But what was really weird was he refused to look at me.
I knew he was lying he was there the whole time, so was Brandon. Jason made to sure to point out my fatness just seconds after all that happened.
“This is going to hurt for a few minutes okay?” Mrs. Shawl, the nurse said.
I nodded and looked away as I heard and felt the cracking and popping of my shoulder. It caused me to cry out and grab onto my shoulder again.
Even though I was expecting it, it still hurt like hell.
“I’m going to send you home for the rest of the day... I’ll call your dad...” Mrs. Shawl said. But I jumped up to stop her.
“No!” I all but shouted. “I mean, it’s fine... He’s not home... H-H-He’s away on business...” I lied. I had to. “Anyway... I have a few tests to do today, I’ll be fine...” I said waving my hand dismissively at the idea.
That was the last thing I needed was my step dad to show up drunk. Then the cat would be out of the bag. And that’s the last ting I needed right now.
The nurse narrowed her eyes at me as she did a quick scan of me before it seemed like a light bulb went off in her head.
“If it gets worst let me know... I’ll give you some pain meds...” Mrs. Shawl finally said after a moment.
“I will...” Again I lied.
By the time I was done and pulling on my hoodie with Tara’s help I noticed that the other 3 weren’t there anymore. Not that I cared.
I want to say that things got better from there, but it didn’t.
It would just get worst and worst.
The bullying in school by Stacy who was backed up by Jason. My step dad’s drinking.
The lattice outside my window became my best friend. And the park down the street became my saving grace. Specially when Tara couldn’t come get me.
“Fatty...” I hear the boys call as I pass through the lunch line.
The boys who snicker come from Jason’s table.
Once, when I was giving a presentation in science, someone in the back of the room moo-ed.
I don’t really get it.
I know I’m chunkier, but it’s not like I have my own TV show on TLC or anything.
The more I’m teased, the more I pick up drawing.
Once, in art class, I draw a picture of the meadow we used to play in all the time.
Purple and orange flowers spread wildly across the page.
My teacher liked it so much she hangs it on the wall outside the classroom.
The next day, it’s gone. I know it was him.
10th grade, everything changes.
Just after my 15th birthday, the anniversary of my mom’s death, Jason gets his newest girlfriend to trip me in the hall.
I’m unshowered, unclean, unloved today.
My heart beats like shattered glass.
Everything hurts today.
I lay on the cold linoleum floor as Tara rushes to me, pulling me up quickly.
At least someone helps.
Brandon and Jason stand idly by looking bored.
“What the fuck is your problem?” Potty mouthed Tara asked the girl.
“I don’t have one anymore...” A blonde replies.
I can’t stop the tears.
They’re not loud, but they’re there.
“Oh, go cry about it to your mommy...” The blonde teases.
Jason steps up and it’s like I can see what’s happening before it does. It’s slow motion but so fast. The words are out of his mouth before I can stop them.
“She doesn’t have one...” Jason retorts, throwing his arm over the girls shoulders.
I look to him slowly, tears fall hot out of my eyes.
His stormy eyes cloud over.
This isn’t him.
I don’t know who this boy is or what happened to the Jason who cried when his pet lizard died, or who used to hold my hand when we crossed the bridge in the forest, or who would watch me walk to my old house, making sure I got in okay, before going into his.
This boy went to the beach with his mom and came back a whole new person.
My fingernails dig into my palm so deeply I draw blood. It feels good. And then I say what I can never unsay.
“You’re right... I have no mom, but neither do you... My mom died... She didn’t willingly abandon me like yours did...” I said and I wish so badly I didn’t say it.
Even to this day, it hurts me knowing those words came from my mouth.
I ran away immediately.
Tara met me outside and I cried into her shoulder.
I have to apologize to her, too, because her mom also abandoned her.
“Fuck her...” Tara joked. “I’m over it... Didn’t hurt me… Jason on the other hand?” Tara began.
“What happened?” I asked.
Tara grimaces. “He punched a locker like a caveman...” Tara answered.
I nod, drying the tears that irritate my cheeks.
Tara holds my hand all the way to her house.
She knows I can’t go home.
The anniversary of my mom’s death is never a good day for any living Dawson.
Tara lets me pick where we order dinner.
She draws me a bubble bath.
She washes my hair.
Tara, my knight in shining armor, picks up the pieces of my very broken, very shattered heart.