Today is my eighteenth birthday. So far, all I’ve learned is that nothing changes and that everything still sucks and that being an adult, technically an adult, doesn’t make me feel any more powerful. All I have is a party full of strangers and a shortbread cookie shaped as a heart. Now not everyone is a stranger—my mother and father are upstairs monitoring by sound—but I go to school with these people. Or I went to school with them. Really it’s only been a day since graduation and not everyone has wiped their brains clear of these horrible memories, so we still remember each other.
I’ve been sitting in the corner for an hour. People gave up trying to include me after twenty minutes, and let me be. Really, they care more about the free food, uncovered alcohol, and possible shots at sex more than my birthday. An opened bottle of tequila and a half-drunken bottle of vodka with a large pack of beers sit in the garage, and if anyone wants a drink they have to go in there and sip quietly. Marissa drank half of the vodka and is now flirting with her boyfriend in the corner opposite of mine. He looks pretty pleased because he just may have his shot at finally sealing the deal. She wanted to wait and obviously, he didn’t, and the only reason I know this is because I sit with her at lunch.
I’ve shamelessly eaten my fifth shortbread cookie, so I glance out the window behind me instead of getting up to fetch another one. The pool lights are on, but no one is outside. It’s not like it’s cold or anything, it’s May and beautiful at night. My mother turned on the light just in case anyone wanted to swim, but I didn’t tell anyone to bring a swimsuit.
Getting up, I push past the few people in my pathway to the back door.
My life isn’t bad. It’s been pretty okay. I have a few friends, or people that call me their friend, and both my parents love me. I had a dog, though he died last week from cancer—I didn’t even know dogs got cancer—and now I’m just realizing my life hasn’t been great. It’s not bad. But it’s not great. And maybe I sound like a whiny teenage girl, but that’s because I am a whiny teenage girl who can at least admit it to herself.
The only thing keeping me from running off again is the fact that we’re leaving for my Aunts beach house tomorrow, and I like the beach house, so I don’t want to miss it. She’s a bit of a hippie, but the town is nice. It’s far better than this cesspool of hormones and two-faced text messages, so I plan on laying on the beach until I roast. So what? I think I’m better than everyone but worse than everyone at the same time, and I’m sure everyone secretly hates me. I’m just that girl in the corner who thinks she’s so mature that no one understands the language she’s speaking.
Sometimes I hate people like me. But other times I couldn’t care enough to do anything about it. I don’t have all the answers to life, I’m just trying to make it by.
Sure, I realized a lot of crappy things today, but one good thing I learned is that no one cares about me. I don’t mean it in a depressing, self-hatred kind of way, but a this-is-real-life kind of way. My mother would probably die for me, and my father is caring, but besides them, no one really cares what I do in life. They’ll be dead in less than forty years, and when a parent is old, they expect you to no longer need them.
I’m not saying I need them, I’m just saying that no one cares. My furniture boss doesn’t care if I have rent payments if he fires me, my future ex-husband doesn’t care what I do when he has a young piece of meat to screw, and everyone else is only worried about themselves. So what? I’m probably a pessimist. It doesn’t bother me that I am.
My feet meet the cement patio as I slip through the back door. It’s glass, but for some reason, I act as if no one can see me anymore. There’s crickets, cars in the distance, and muffled music from inside, but all I hear is the beating of my heart.
I guess I’m scared of the future. It’s not easy being a pessimist and hoping for the best.
I stand in front of the pool with my toes curling over the edge. There are cookie crumbs on my shirt and an ugly temporary tattoo of a bird on my thigh that I hope washes off when I do this. Marissa said it was cute but it’s ugly and I hate her.
When I jump in, the splash causes everyone to turn to the large windows. Marissa flocks to the glass and presses up against it. I hear her knock on the glass and call my name. “Emma! Emma, what are you doing!”
She sounds like a man from underwater, but I can tell it’s her. She’s the only one who would ask what I’m doing when it’s obvious. A person can’t kill themselves on purpose in a pool by jumping in unless they purposely hit their head and pass out. So, I don’t know why everyone immediately decides that I’m trying to kill myself.
I jumped into the middle of the pool like a normal person, well, a normal person with clothes on.
To make a long short, my parents rushed down and kicked everybody out. They got me out of the pool and nearly took me to the hospital. After convincing them that I’m fine, they found the alcohol in the garage and grounded me for the night, which is pointless but made them feel powerful.
In the morning they wake me up to leave for Aunt Wendy’s beach house, and the entire ride there I think about how stupid they are. Well, they aren’t completely stupid, just terrible at punishments.
My phone is decorated with text messages from the partygoers about my suicide attempt. I don’t bother answering any of them as I will hopefully never see them again. I wonder if they’ll think that I died. Would I care if they thought I was dead? Is that a dark thought or just a whiny-teenage-girl thought? I wonder if our doorstep will be cluttered with dead flowers when we get home in two months. I won’t mix that up with caring, though. Giving flowers to a dead person is just the norm, you don’t actually have to care about them to give them flowers.
The drive to my Aunts house is the same every year but not very repetitive for some reason. It takes about four hours to get there, yet feels like a whole other planet when we reach the town. It’s like some heaven on earth. No one is on their phones, everyone is enjoying their company and the scenery. The beach is close enough to chuck a rock into the water from the road, and the seawall gives me nostalgia. I always climb over it and make my way down the rocks below when the tide is out. Shells litter the sand and I collect them.
I used to really like shells, and now they’re just shells, but I gather them anyway because the guest bedroom at the beach house has shells everywhere from years of vacations here. My Aunt doesn’t get rid of them. She doesn’t have many visitors so she keeps that bedroom just for me.
I remember my first love, here. Every time I come here there seems to be a boy that catches my eye, or I catch theirs. But the first time, I was fifteen. His name was Hunter and he was a year older than me, so the fact that he liked me made me feel extra pretty. I didn’t know much back then, nearly nothing about real romance and how much it sucks. The idea of having a boyfriend was simply exciting and fresh, and I just wanted to be his girlfriend. When you’re fifteen, becoming someone’s girlfriend isn’t the hard part, it’s the actual relationship that takes the life out of you.
It’s the reality of teenage boys that make a girl want to give up on love altogether.
I met Hunter at the beach, got his name and age and useless information before seeing him again at the boulders. The boulders are at the end of the beach where the teenagers like to hang out and be delinquents. At fifteen, it was my first time venturing to the boulders, and I had only gone because he said he was going to be there. Like its name, the place is just full of boulders, and no one really knows how they got there, but kids like to spray paint them and the seawater eats away at the bottoms. Hunter was my first kiss and it happened on top of one of the boulders. Since we kissed, we were now dating. It was simple but dangerous.
I was known as Hunters girlfriend that summer, and there’s a lot that came with the title. A lot I didn’t expect.
When we arrive at the house, my mother wakes me up, and I carry my suitcase to the front door, up the porch steps. My Aunt welcomes us in a rush—she always seems rushed for some reason—but I immediately head to my bedroom and forget about everyone. It smells the same. That salty, rustic, wooden smell that makes my heart feel light in my chest. I place my suitcase down by the door and wander in. There are the shells, of course. They line the chipped windowsills and cover the top of the dresser. I pick up a few and feel them in my hands before sitting down on the bed with my favorite one to look out at the beach.
It’s a conch shell. Broken, but not enough to make me hate it. The beach looks very welcoming as usual, and I have an urge to run into it. My parents and my Aunts voices play over and over again in the background as I walk to the window, getting a better look at my surroundings. I can see the tip of the neighbor’s house. An elderly couple lives there. I remember that.
A memory pops into my head suddenly, and I ditch the window for the closet. I open the door and fall to my knees, scanning the bottom of the wall for my carvings. I find them by the corner. ‘HJ.’ ‘MT.’ ‘KL.’ All in a row. They’re all here.
Hunter Jackson, Milo Talker, and Kaden Lane.
I would mutter ‘good times,’ but they weren’t good at all. Teenage boys are terrible. They make you feel special, use you, then dump you. It’s like they’re born with the formula embedded in their brains. Girls are hopeless, though. It can’t be all the boy’s fault. It takes two to ruin a relationship, I think. The girls let themselves feel special and stay throughout the using because some of us fear we will never love again.
Nothing is used more casually and more seriously among girls than the phrase, ‘forever alone.’ Every girl has said it at least once, even if it was a joke or cried while sitting in their bathtub with mascara smeared underneath their eyes.
If a girl never fell in love before, she would be the luckiest one out of all of us. Once you’re in, you crave the feelings. It like a weird drug that we can’t get enough of. It hurts us, it really hurts us, but we keep trying to get more. Girls have always been a generation of drug-addicts, and the drug is boys. The difference between girls and boys is that girls revolve their lives around one drug. They’re completely satisfied with that drug. But boys, they want it all. They want to try everything at once. They want to binge on one then another then another, not becoming addicted at all, they just feel the sensations then move on.
I believe that three drugs have brought me to my lowest point and those are, Hunter, Milo, and Kaden.
A knock comes to my door and I scramble from the ground just in time. My mother peeks in and finds me standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. “Oh, hi. I just wanted to remind you about Sally. Didn’t she say that she has a job for you when you got here?”
“Yeah, I’ll go to the shop now. Thanks.”
She smiles before leaving, giving me the same motherly smile that she always does. My mother believes I’m a good person deep down. She knows I’ve done stupid things, but only half of them. If she knew everything, I don’t think she’d like me as much.
I make my way to the center of town, which only takes a few minutes. The beach house is only a couple blocks away from the t-shirt shop, and when I arrive, I take a minute to lean over the sea wall and look down. The tide is making its way back in, and by night the water will be covering most of the rocks. The afternoon is almost over, so most people at the beach are beginning to pack up for the day.
I wander into the shop and scan for any person at all. “Sally?” I call, heading to the back where the cash register is. There’s a clear container sitting on the counter beside the cash register. It’s full of small keychains. Some are surfboards, some are flip flops, and I spot only one turtle. I pick up the turtle and drop it back down for no reason at all. Mindless actions come with no warning.
“Emma? Hey, I’m glad you’re back.”
I glance up to see Sally coming out of the back room. “Yeah, I just stopped by to find out about the job you had for me.”
Sally is a middle-aged woman who’s permanently tanned and blonder than Barbie. She always wears this small necklace with a black stone on it, and it takes away from the sunspots on her chest. “Of course. I’ve been saving you a position since you were fifteen and asked to work here, right? Well, it’s finally time. I won’t have you on the heat press, but you’ll help people find a shirt or hoodie they like and the transfer design they want. Just walk around, greet people as they come in, ask if they need help, grab the transfers from the back when they’re ready and hand it to whoever is working on the press. Usually, it’ll be Brandon these days,” her eyes drift then shoot back to me. “But I’ll make tomorrow your training day if you’re ready? It’s a Monday so it shouldn’t be too busy.”
I nod. “Okay. What time should I be here?”
“Uh, let’s make it noon. We usually open later on weekdays. By noon we should be in full swing.”
I nod again, somewhat excited for this. It’s true, I have wanted to work here since I was fifteen. I have a collection of clothes from this shop all with the same design on it. Sally thinks it’s weird of me to only want the sunset design, but she began to like me for it. Even now when I look up at the wall—where all the designs are displayed—my eyes are immediately engrossed in the sunset transfer in the top right corner. It’s simple. It’s a large, warm colored sun slowly melting into nothing.
“Okay, I’ll be here at twelve then. See you tomorrow.”
“Have a nice night,” Sally calls as I exit the shop.