I tried to ignore the vicious laughter as I dragged myself down the corridor miserably. “She’s mad!” Susan, a puffy faced, wardrobe of a girl sneered as she pointed at my ankle length laced blue skirt. I was attending the same school for years, and I was always invisible. I prayed someone would notice me, but when puberty came along and they finally took notice of my oddness, it was most certainly not what I had hoped for.
While other girls developed an interest in makeup, boys and whatever band was alternatively mainstream, all I wanted to do was read books. To them, I’m just a rather odd girl, always a daydream away from reality. Always fascinated by the wrong things. I tucked myself away once I had reached the lunch room, and gently unfurled my book with a delicate eagerness. I’ve been reading the same book over and over again since I discovered it in a second hand book shop on my sixth birthday. I remember the store as vividly as if it were yesterday.
On the outside, it looked quaint and ordinary, yet I was inexplicably drawn to it. I walked inside, and the walls were painted a nightfall coloured blue, with illustrations of grinning cats, and tea cups on the walls. The shelves were brimming with books, and I stared at them, complexed. They were unlike any books I’d ever seen. Some were draped in velvet sleeves, with golden letters inscribed on the front. None of them possessed a blurb. In this book store, it was a game of chance. I lightly ran my fingers along the book shelf, and I grabbed the first book that made me feel any sort of significance. This particular book filled me with a sense of serenity, as if it were meant to be. The old man with short, tight, fluorescent orange curls winked at me, and sang “Keep it, it’s yours.” And walked out to the store room, and didn’t return until I had left without paying.
It was entitled ‘Wonderland’. It rather oddly didn’t state the author, but I didn’t mind. It was an old hardback with beautifully hand drawn illustrations of a girl with long, blonde hair mid dance, her hand elevated and interlocked with the hand of the Hatter, trapped in the tea stained pages of a happier place. I blinked away the memories, and slowly came back to the melancholic lunch room. I traced the front cover of my holy book gently when the first sandwich hit my head.
A flurry of food travelling far too quickly for me to make out followed swiftly. The laughter and sneering echoed around my head. Susan’s high pitched shriek of a laugh could be heard above all the others. I didn’t turn around. I closed my eyes tightly, and sucked in my breath as much as I could. Maybe if I didn’t move, they’d get bored and leave me alone. Of course, that is not what happened. I was enveloped in the sticky contents of somebody’s mayonnaise and chicken sandwich. Fed up with their behaviour, I turned around to finally confront them, only to see Susan standing smugly, one arm extending towards me in one, quick motion. I could feel the burning in my eyes before I realised what had happened. Burning tea had engulfed them. I stood, dumbfounded and unable to move, and then I let out a piercing scream. The laughter stopped abruptly, the girls shocked silent by Susan’s audacity, and I heard someone whisper, “Susan, what have you done?”
Despite the silence, I could still hear their laughter echoing around my hollow, empty heart.
“It’s okay.” I whispered feebly, “it’s okay.”
I hugged my body tightly, and drifted into a painless sleep on the ground in the centre of the lunch room, thinking only of my sweet Wonderland.
When I awoke, I was alone inside my weeping bedroom. I stumbled to my bedroom mirror, and although my eyes were red and swollen, they seemed to be okay.I found no comfort in being at home. I knew this just meant having to face my mother. There was no point in avoiding it, so taking a deep breath to brace myself, I walked slowly but deliberately to the kitchen. I froze when I saw her. She was swaying gently from side to side, her eyes unfocused and glazed. In her hands, she clutched my book, my precious book.
“You’re pathetic,” she slurred and then began to chuckle. She dangled the book in front of my face, snatching it away whenever I tried to grab it away.
“Your stupid, childish fantasy land isn’t real. Don’t you think you’re too old for imaginary friends? You’re as mad as they say you are.” She struck me hard across the face.
“Grow up, Alice.” She bit out coldly.
She held no affection for me at all. Ever since my father passed away, my mother has become an unrecognisable monster. It’s not her fault that she’s like this, she’s just sick.
“I love you, mum.” I whispered, kissing her on the cheek.
She flinched backwards, and yelled “Get out! I can’t stand the sight of you.”
I quickly evacuated my house, and walked melancholically to the back fence. I had a bag of supplies there from every other time she threw me out. Once she sobers up, she’ll come to find me, but this time will be different. I walked into the woods, and sat underneath a beautiful Weeping Willow and admired the trees. I always loved the sight of trees just before night falls. It’s dark enough that you can’t see its colours, but just bright enough to make out the silhouette on the fading blue sky. It allowed me to admire each little knot and furl of the branches. It was a beautifully dark shadow against the vast beyond. I tried to memorise every detail of it. I wanted to carry it with me.
Slowly, I pulled up my frilled skirt to reveal the dark gnashes on my legs. I took out my razor, and crying softly, I opened them up again. Most people associate self harm with hysteria. Yet whenever I had done it in the past, I had always been calm. It happened when I was void of feeling, when all of the tears had drained from my body. It prevented me from turning numb. It was as if I’d fallen down a bottomless rabbit hole, and the longer I fell, the less worried I was about hitting the ground.
I fixated on the sight of my blood. It trickled down my leg and collected at my ankles. How odd is it, I thought. How odd is it that because I’m different, everybody has forgotten that I’m just a girl. People say it gets better, but what of it? The future is too distant for comfort, and regardless of time, every outcome seemed dull. I didn’t want a career, and a family. I didn’t want routine. I didn’t want fame, or fortune, or to fall in love. All I wanted was to have a conversation with a talking caterpillar, and dance with the wonderfully odd Hatter. All I wanted was to be surrounded by likeminded people, who fascinated and comforted me. I did not want a life dictated by money, only to become a broken and bitter adult, forever haunted by ghosts of the past.
“Life, my dear, is not for everyone,” a voice whispered in my head. And so I climbed the tallest silhouette I could find, and sang softly to myself as I tied one end of the rope I brought to my neck, and the other to the branch. As the verse fell, so did I, and I dropped without hesitation.
Before the rope had even tightened, I stepped out of my body and watched it sway gently like a reed in a warm July breeze.
“Alice?” asked a voice I’d imagined a million times.
“Hatter!” I cried, dashing into his warm embrace.
“Alice, how wonderful to see you!” he sang, taking my hand, bowing and kissed my hand in lavish, exaggerated motions. His bright, flame coloured curls bouncing with each motion. He placed his mismatched top hat on my head, and I laughed.
“Are you taking me to Wonderland?” I squealed.
“Yes, Alice, but there is something you must know before we depart. The people you left behind are not bad people. They are scared, and fear spreads through humans like a fatal disease. Fear is humanity’s hamartia, it riddles its way inside and suffocates their goodness. You were too good, too delicate for their world. You cared nothing of material gain, and you loved with all of your heart, unconditionally. They never hated you, they thought they were helping you by making you just like them.” My beloved Hatter whispered, wiping away my tears with a sad, nostalgic smile.
“Oh Hatter, my wonderful, sweet Hatter! I know. I forgive them. I hope they find happiness in that twisted world of theirs. I hope that life takes fancy to them. They deserve to find the happiness I couldn’t have.”
The Hatter took my hand, and we took one last gaze at the sorry sight. To an ignorant bystander, it would seem like a tragedy to behold, but to me it was my happy ending. My cheeks were beginning to ache from the beaming smile plastered to my face. I bent down and quickly left a goodbye for my mother. She at least deserved an explanation, and although she was the cause of my search for refuge, she wasn’t responsible for the symptoms.
“I love you, but I could not stay. You chased me through your forest, and down the rabbit hole I fled.”
“Is it beautiful?” I breathed, my body trembling with expectation.
The Hatter grinned a charming grin, and enveloped my hand in his.
“It’s magnificent”, he promised.
He spun me in an elegant circle, and we danced underneath the velvet sky, into a world far kinder, and far more beautiful than the one I was leaving behind.