Non-Existence

By Claudia Jo, age 13
Non-Existence Claudia Jo is an eighth grader in Felix Festa Middle School. Ever since she was young, she loved art –– painting, drawing, and anything else involved with art. She made her own exhibition several times and donated some of her artworks at the American Cancer Society. She also started playing the piano at the age of four.

“‘Don’t you ever try to tell me what to do. Do you think I’m scared to blow this whole stupid school up, huh? ‘Cause that’s what I’ma do if you don’t shut the hell up!'”

Blue sky, black birds, and fresh warm air. I stand up in the crazing atmosphere and find myself standing in the center of technicolor. Why am I here? And where is ‘here’? Now snow is twinkling from the beautiful clear sky. This must be a dream. I have to wake myself up from this crazy and obnoxious dream. I have to get out of my bed and go to school before my mom kills me. But, I can’t wake up. So I pinch myself. Harder. Stronger. Nothing happens. Pain doesn’t even exist. From a distance, I see a person coming towards me. I can see that it’s a girl based on her long, silky, and beautiful brunette hair. She is wearing a white gown. Miles apart from her, I can see a tall man with another woman, holding each other’s hands. I can see their bare feet and their ghostly, pale-white skin. What a peaceful dream. Maybe it would be better if I don’t wake up. Suddenly, the girl wearing the white gown approaches my right side and quietly whispers, “This is real, this isn’t real, this is real….”

 

“So Marina, why did Dr. Kepler write this love poem based on his vision of photography instead of the first woman he met?” Mr.West asks me, carefully. I am in English class. Did I really just fall asleep — so long that I had a dream? What a shame.

“Um… because — uh… oh photography… yeah because umm…” I never struggle to answer questions — especially in English — where my focus is so strong that I get straight A’s all the way. I can feel everyone’s eyes and faces on me like bees stinging on my skin.

I never want to or even think of disappointing Mr.West. He is the best teacher. In fact, he is more than just a teacher to me. He is the reason I bother to get up and go to school. His hysterical sense of humor always brightens my day.

“Well… Marina, would you like give it another try?” He looks at me — I can tell he is worried. I am worried too.

“Yeah — I uh… I think — ’’

“Looks like you lost track of our reading session. Why?” he shrugs and forces himself to grin. “It seems a little too boring for you?” he teases.

I hear a laugh coming from behind me. Gossip from fangirls and skinny cheerleaders; I’m screwed.

“Mr. West… I — I didn’t mean to — ”

“Atta girl, take a joke now will you? And save those daydreams for later.” He winks at me and then walks away in silence, a sign of tranquility but also disgrace.

“Anyone else like to give it a try?”

“Me! Mr. West, I would love to correct Ms. Marina with her sweet dreams,” Stella Maxwell says. Of course she would be the one to correct someone like me at this moment with that filthy attitude.

“Alright Stella to the max, let’s see what you’ve got.” Did Mr. West seriously just call her “Stella to the max”? Or is he just messing around? I hope he’s not getting flirty with her the way she always sends blossoms to him.

“Thank you, Mr. West. Dr. Kepler didn’t intend to write this poem based on photography, but instead to theorize the retrospective of life and death in order to visualize his past life as well as human reincarnation, shown, in general, from the hidden messages in such photos, especially those from the 1800s.”

“Good, Stella! I don’t think there is any other better way to put that in a sentence. Nice job.” He patted her on shoulder.

Oh, I wish this was still a dream.

 

I walk into the girl’s bathroom. Swearing with middle-finger drawings and other gang symbols on the wall, an ugly scent, and thank god — empty stalls! No one would have to hear my irritable, god-made, yellow-nurtured liquid flowing in between my legs.

“You can’t carry that shit around!” a girl yells as she slams the door to the bathroom. Great. An angry cat fight. “And you can’t be in here!” Is she talking to me?

“Why you gotta be like that?” a guy’s voice. Arrogant. I quickly try to grab toilet paper until I feel emptiness; the little white leftover spots are all that is sticking on to the finished roll of cardboard. I just close my eyes and cross my fingers, hoping for teleportation to exist.

“You carrying that around is going to get you kicked out of school for good.”

I hold my breath and pray that they don’t notice my bright pink ugly shoes that my blind step-grandmother bought me last week. I appreciate her affection toward me, even though I’m not her real granddaughter, but I hate all the things that she buys me (especially since she thinks of me as her ‘little princess’). I feel the sweat of hopelessness all over my body. I close my eyes tighter, as if I’m ready to die. They are arguing like crazy and I assume he’s carrying a gun. I barely listen to the conversation — all I can really hear is the two calling each other names like stupid little kids.

“Put that thing down, you asshole!”

“Don’t you ever try to tell me what to do. Do you think I’m scared to blow this whole stupid school up, huh? ‘Cause that’s what I’ma do if you don’t shut the hell up!”

“YOU STUPID SCHOOL TERROR — ” The girl stops talking; the guy has covered his hand over her mouth so she won’t talk back. The moment I hear a gunshot is a moment of such extreme hatred and anger that all I can do was disappear.

 

Green grass. I look around and remember that I’ve been here before, not so long ago. I’m right; the light blue sky and the aroma of crisp morning air — I am dreaming again. How-how am I dreaming? The last thing I remember is sitting on the toilet in one of the stalls in the girls bathroom. Did I get too tired and bored from their conversations? No, that can’t possibly be the reason — I was in this same dream 15 minutes ago in English class. Nothing makes sense now and this can’t just be a ‘dream.’ It feels so realistic: the birds — I even hear the birds chirping peacefully, the babies crying for food. I start to walk toward the chirping sounds and touch the tall grass, feeling comfort at last. I close my eyes, knowing this is a good time for me to feel restful and free. Maybe the only time. My body moves through space with grace and wonder until —

I fall down, not knowing what bumped me. I lie all the way down and I still don’t feel pain so I wait. I wait until I can wake up again but this time sitting on the toilet, my pants not on yet and listening to the cat fuss. But I don’t wake up. I still sense the fresh air, the warm comfort around me, and the sound of birds chirping remains. I open my eyes. I’m lying on the tall green grass and suddenly feel pain.

Somewhere on my body hurts so much, it’s as if a tiger just tore me in half. I touch my face and feel a slight bump on my forehead. I see a dark brown, rough plank of wood standing on its own, from about a mile away. Is that what caused the pain? I get a closer look and realize how stupid and insipid my observation and thoughts were — a plank of wood can’t just stand on its own; it’s obviously a tree. As I walk closer to the tree, step by step, I feel something strange and bumpy from beneath my feet. I look down and see the hard roots of the tree sticking out heavily like green veins popping out on a person’s skin, especially when they work out like a monster. It looks scary, though it is better than witnessing someone get shot and feeling helpless. (Is that what I saw? Or what I heard? Or what I felt?)

Then I see the bright green leaves hanging on like clothes to the naked branches, making the whole thing look like a tree. The naked branches somewhat remind me of myself while the green leaves represent hope that surrounds me. I wonder what happens when the wind blows off all the leaves — will I then be left hopeless? I feel the roughness of the branches and remember all the sorrow and despair I went through in the past when one car accident left my whole family behind except for me.

I step back as the memories invade my body and soul. Why didn’t I die in peace with my family? Why did I make that attempt to escape? I regret every second of that moment even if my parents wouldn’t feel the same way, since they would probably want me alive. But maybe being alive isn’t the solution to everything.

I go back to the chirping sounds and see a bird fly off from its nest. The bird is as black as the midnight sky, and reminds me of the girl in the white gown I saw in my other dream. It flies around in circles above me, and I wonder why it’s dancing around at the same spot repeatedly. I walk away from the spot to see if it’ll still stay at the same place. It follows me and then flies off about a half mile away. It stops again and seems as if it’s waiting for me to walk towards the same spot. I think I get it now; the bird is leading to my waking life.

Next thing I know, crispy bacon is all I smell.

 

I wake up. Not in the bathroom, but in my room — on my bed. My alarm is still on, making loud drum sounds. 6:00 a.m., Saturday, March 18th. Gosh, why did I set my alarm clock to six in the morning on a weekend?

“Marina, are you awake yet? I made you some good old bacon!” That’s where the crispy scent came from. Wait, did my step grandmother just say she made bacon? Oh no, I’m going to die — we’re all going to die!

“Gran, are you crazy?!” I hear her footsteps on the stairs and by my door. I sit up in bed and look down to see that I am wearing a white gown. I don’t have time to think about it. “You don’t have any eyes — Gran, you’re blind!” Gran pushes open my door. “Can you see me — are you okay? Did you forget your memory — do you have Alzheimer’s — ?” What am I doing? I can’t say that to an 80-year-old woman! Gosh, am I crazy? “Gran I — I’m sorry — ”

She is holding a plate of bacon in her hand. “You know I learned it from the Maple Store down the road. You know there’s a club there every Thursday for blind people to learn the basic things normal people can do, you silly goose. I got the hang of it and now I can turn on the stove, the T.V., and even go to the bathroom by myself, just like the good old days.” She laughs and passes me the plate of burnt bacon.

“Thanks Granny. My, it looks delicious! I can’t wait to dive into this plate — should I pretend to be a dog and eat it with my bare hands for your humor, Ms. I-Know-How-to-Do-Everything?” I give an exaggerated voice, hoping for her to catch that.

“Huh? Oh, right, I’m sorry, the fork — I know I put it here somewhere….” She starts to pat her apron.

“Gran!” Suddenly, I smell something really intense and bad — something like smoke or fire. I lurch out of bed and run down the stairs and the kitchen is on fire.

“Gran — Gran, hurry up — get outside!” The fire spreads across the kitchen rapidly and is now blocking the front door. I run back up the stairs to get her.

“Gran — watch out!”

 

“Like a fire spreading its flames, life and death has its own frame.” Mr. West? Was that the last sentence of the poem? Wait — what happened to the fire — and Granny?

“As you guys can see from the poetic and passionate flow in his poem, Dr. Kepler had a high interest in photography for a specific reason.” He looks at me and I know what is coming after that.

“So Marina, why did Dr. Kepler write this love poem based on his vision of photography instead of the first woman he met?” This time, I’m lucky. I don’t have to feel stings on my skin, nor worry about disappointing Mr. West.

“Of course, Dr. Kepler didn’t intend to write this poem based on photography but instead to theorize the retrospective of life and death in order to visualize his past life — and oh as well as human reincarnation, in general, from the hidden messages and secrets in such photos, and especially those from the 1800s.”

“Wow, that — I don’t think — ” Mr. West starts.

“I know, there is no other better way to put that in a formal sentence, thank you,” I finish his sentence. Mr. West stares at me for a moment with a strange look on his face that is both amused and shocked.

“Wha — how — ? I mean, yes, that was amazing! Good — good Marina, great job.” He pats me on the shoulder, the same way he did to Stella before. This really makes me feel like a superhero or simply a cool smartass. I can see Stella’s surprised face too as she turns around.

I have to go to the bathroom again. Just as I did before. As I walk out the door, the fire alarm starts pounding through the hallways and I cover my ears. This did not happen before, did it?

“Everyone get out, now!” Mr. West yells. “Hurry, there’s no time for yapping, get your butts out of here!”

“Hey! Marina, you don’t really have time to go to the bathroom,” Mr. West says.

“I’ll be quick, I promise!” I say as I slip in.  

I walk into the girls bathroom for the second time. The third stall was where I hid out before — listening to a fight held by both a girl and a guy I still don’t know. Of course, this time I did my business quickly, but then I found myself morbidly waiting in the stall to see if they would come. But no one came. Was it the fire drill? Could that have altered reality? I sneak out the bathroom door and find an empty hallway, but I smell smoke and run out of the closest exit, panting, running — I can’t see — is everyone across the street?

My legs don’t know what’s good for them and start crossing the street — I see the car coming but I can’t move — my stupid legs crumple from the impact.

 

Snowy evening. My parents pull the car up to the curb in front of the high school — the music is still at its highest volume. I am wearing a beautiful white gown that shines through the dark.

“So how was it?” my dad asks as I open the door to the back seat. “Why did you want to leave so early?”

“Did you have fun?” says a voice so faint and surreal. My mom looks at me with those hazel eyes, concerned by my expression.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” I can’t speak — I’m finally seeing my parents for the first time since that accident and now I know what’s going to happen in a few minutes or so. Or is everything going to be different, is this a second chance?

“Nothing. I-I’m okay, I’m fine. It was fun. I’m just tired. Thank you for coming to get me.” I don’t know what to do. What if I just drive and let my parents sit in the back seat? “Can I drive?”

“Oh honey, it’s dark and icy — I don’t think it’s a good idea,” my dad said. Or should I just tell them everything? Will they even believe a word I say?

Maybe it’s better if I don’t tell them — maybe something will change. I look out the window and see snow falling more heavily, the darkness roaring like thunder, and our car is the only light visible.

“I bought something for you.” My mom reaches her hand into the backseat next to me, searching for the thing she had bought me, the thing that will ultimately take them away from me.

I should tell them that I don’t need whatever it is, but I have a morbid curiosity as “it” has been destroyed in the accident. Things will change, won’t they? All I need to do is to stop my father from reaching back.

“You bought it, but I picked it out. Picking the right thing is important, you know,” my dad  says, as happy and cheerful as he has ever been. His smile shows so much affection; it just tears me up to think that this might be the last smile I can ever see in my whole life — not just any smile, but a smile from my dad.

“Haha, that’s absolutely right,” my mother says, still reaching and knocking things on the floor. “Your father is pretty good at picking the style of the outfit. Wonder why he didn’t become a fashion designer.”

“Nah,” Dad responds quickly. “Besides if I did, I probably would have never met you.” They are still so in love.

Should I offer to get “it” for them? What is “it”? I realize that they have just told me — “it” must have been as insignificant as an article of clothing.

“Honey, where’d you hide it?” My mom must have kept it in a secret place to surprise me. Dad can never keep a secret.

“It’s just right around in the left side corner inside the — ”

Before I can stop him, Dad’s hand is reaching around his seat. “Oh, I found it!” As soon as Dad finds it, he loses it, hits a patch of ice, and loses control of the wheel. Nothing has changed, nothing can change. Everything is in slow motion — literally. There, I see a truck coming closer and closer — every second — to our car. Is this a test or a choice that I have to make? No, it can’t be — saving my parents is not an option, it is an automatic response. But I can’t do anything to save them — it is already too late.  

“Jump out of the car!” my dad screams. My door is unlocked and before, I had jumped out and saved my own life. I now know that my parents can’t jump out — their doors are locked. I won’t leave them again, just in case I can do something. But what can I do? It is already almost too late. Or maybe I shouldn’t — maybe I should just stay here with them. That would make the three of us die instead of only two, but at the same time it will allow me to see and stay with my parents forever. The truck is about a foot away from touching our car. I just wait and feel the impact of the aggressive onslaught of metal. This is and will be the best and final choice in my life. My parents will be able to share smiles and funny stories again, just like the old times. They can also give me the present once we are back together. Or maybe this — this death that we are sharing — is the real present….

 

Nothing. No tall green grass, no birds, and no trees. Just plain nothing — nothing except a girl and two other people. There I see the girl wearing a white gown coming towards me, closer every step. On the opposite side I see the beautiful and innocent eyes of a man and woman coming towards the girl. When they reach each other, the three hold each other’s hands — so tight — almost like glue.

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