It’s walking into school, the carpool line a mess of seniors, adults, lower school kids crying on their parents, high school students reuniting after their summers spent abroad. You know you won’t fit in: you walk too fast, and your shoes squeak against the linoleum. It’s going to bother you for the rest of the day, too, you know. Knowing that everybody can hear you squeaking everywhere. Can’t you just blend in until you know the routine well enough to not make a fool of yourself?
They know each other, have for years. They know middle school romances, elementary school haircuts, and the newest and oldest of the inside jokes. Strangers here are closer than your friends. News spreads faster than a wildfire, and the only way you can imagine it happening is if they’re all secretly in on some group text—but no. Not that they’ll say. Which is where the secret part comes in. You know they’re hiding something from you.
Even the kids who will talk to you seem to know more about yourself than you do—what did they do, pass around your file?—and soon grow frustrated and bored with you as soon as they realize you’re not going to catch on as quickly as they think you should. That’s what it feels like. They really just have other friends. Probably. Or maybe it’s that damn group text, the rumors flying more quickly than mosquitoes. Every once in a while, you catch a glimpse, hear a buzz, but it goes away before you can react. Before you can figure out the truth.
And you know you haven’t hit it. You can hear the buzzing, glimpse the mosquito. You know they’re telling each other about how badly you’ve fucked up. Those social taboos you’ve broken, those rules you’ve overstepped. Now you’re not just the new kid, you’re the socially awkward new kid. Everybody else has adjusted; you haven’t. Parents and teachers and other friends, older friends look at your grades and say that everything’s fine. You look at every day and say it’s worse than before, far worse.
Every time you open your mouth, all you can think is how the anxiety, the hindsight is going to kill you one day. One day you know you’re going to see that mosquito one second longer than you had before, and you’re going to glimpse the truth, and it’s going to destroy you. They’re not giving you the math homework because they don’t mind, they’re doing it because they might get a merit. They’re not including you on the group project because they want to, they’re doing it because they have to. Everybody knows everybody else here, and the truth has to remain hidden from the teachers. No bullying allowed. Not the kind they can see, anyway.
Psychological warfare is fine. And you can’t tell out whether it’s them versus you, or it’s just another goddamned civil war. So you resort to your last battle strategy: make them think you don’t exist. Go so far off the deep end that they follow suit.
So silence becomes your only solace, and they take to it. You try and convince yourself that this is normal. So what if they forget your name, run through you in the hallways like you’re invisible? It’s because you’re short, not because they’ve forgotten you exist. Damn middle school kids, you think.
The whole class is only thirty people, and they’re dropping out like flies. You can feel the restlessness, the unspoken anxiety. Who’s going to be next? You know they’re wondering, but you also know that if you died tonight, nobody would even notice that you were gone. It’s tempting, some nights, too. Just stop coming. Wait for somebody to notice. Realize that nobody would.
Kill yourself. That’s what the voice in the back of your heads is saying every time you open your mouth. It’s a cycle, you realized. It screams at you to die, do anything but this when you have to speak, then it goes silent and confidence slowly drifts into place. Then, boom, you open your mouth, and it comes back sevenfold. Close your mouth—eh, never mind, they probably didn’t even notice. Ten minutes later, and you’re back to looking for the nearest suicide weapon. Be noticed and paranoid and suicidal, or drift into the staticky background of does-she-even-go-here.
That’s why every time somebody calls your name, you’re shocked. Sort of appalled. Mostly just shouting: I knew it! I knew I existed! I knew that you all knew my name! And then you realize that they’re not calling you, it’s the other girl. Same sounds, different spelling. Different lives. One the most popular girl in school, the other one so forgettable it’s quite possible she’s not even there.
And it goes on. The days of sneaking furtive glances at the boy you like, who doesn’t even know there’s another girl, you, with the same name as his constant shadow. Wondering where the hell you’re going to sit at lunch, because you’re too invisible and too anxious to sit with your grade and you’ve burned every other bridge just by nature of your idiocy. Having people talk through you and walk through you. Never speaking because you know the consequences your brain will make up will be far worse than any sort of social stigma.
This is your life.
Better to live the lie than die by the truth, right?