A girl quietly pads over to her window in the dark of night. She separates the curtain with a quiet swoosh and perches on the wide windowsill. She looks up at the lighthouse on the far shore. Its beam of light illuminates her room and face every other minute. The harbor is silent as she starts to think.
What is she doing here, all alone on a Friday night? She has no friends; people say she is too deep a thinker for them to understand. Or maybe she is just weird, for liking school as an escape from her home. She’s not one to stand out from a crowd, but nor is she one who blends in. Instead she is a part of a different crowd, one she has yet to meet.
She sits alone, hoping that one day she will find someone like her, maybe someone nearby, who sees her in all her beauty. Looking over the harbor she scans the water for any sign that she will find that one person.
As she sits in silent solitude, she hears a footstep followed by another and another. Her breath catches in her throat, as she sits silently, waiting for the steps to subside, hoping against hope that they would not reach the stairs before she could close the curtain, get into bed, and regulate her breathing.
Unfortunately, that does not happen. The steps go quickly up the stairs, thump, thump, thump. She struggles with the curtains. One sticks. As the curtain finally moves, she starts to hop into bed, but too late. The sliver of light that falls over her face makes her freeze. She is frozen when she hears her father’s voice.
“My daughter…what are you doing up so late?” He is genuinely concerned, but she hates these nights. The concern is suffocating, every question of worry pushing the pillow harder over her face, the air becoming thin and scarce. Every question of why she has no friends, why she is always alone and prefers it that way.
But that was the problem. She didn’t prefer to be alone; she was just searching for someone like her, and as of yet, she had found not one person she had even a remote interest in.
“I am just looking over the harbor, father.”
“Nothing more? No thinking, sulking, or in any way hurting yourself?
To each question, she shook her head and looked him in the eye. She never understood why he had to ask such things. She had never hurt herself, and though she had sulked she didn’t do it often. And she never saw why thinking was so bad. She was a morbid thinker sure, but she wasn’t annoying anyone else, so what was the big deal?
“Okay…well, good night.” He reluctantly walked out the door and looked back with every step until the door was closed. The girl waited until the footsteps faded and then crouched by the vent. She always listened to her parents’ conversations and she learned a great deal about what they thought of her, without all of the questions posed toward her.
“I’m really worried about her Ellen. What are we going to do? She needs to be social, but she isn’t and prefers to be alone. She needs help. Maybe a psychiatrist would help her become more social and outgoing?”
“Alan. We can’t change our daughter. Why would we even try? She played alone for hours when she was little and was never interested in a friend. Why would she be now?”
“I know. But what if she ends up alone, with no one to care for her? She’s not doing well in school, and might not get a good job if she doesn’t go to college. She has always wanted to quit school and I’m not sure that if I hadn’t threatened to kick her out, that she would have continued her education. I can’t stand this anymore! She needs to toughen up and make some friends. What if we switched her school? Do you think she would make friends if no one knew her previously?”
“You know that wouldn’t work, Alan. We’ve done that before and it hasn’t worked. What is there left to try? And don’t say ‘psychiatrist’ because that science is just a bunch of hooey. We don’t need to throw our hard-earned money down the drain for something that may or may not work.”
“You don’t believe in the hooey of science? That stuff works! And what else are we supposed to do? We’ve tried everything else. Nothing has worked. What other option do we have? Leave her as she is? I will not do that when she is so obviously suffering.”
The girl turns away from her vent, praying that she doesn’t have to talk about her feelings in some tiny windowless room with someone she just met. She feels a dry heave coming at the thought. No, they couldn’t do that to her. They loved her, even though they tortured her every day with school and asking about friends. She absolutely hated it when they fought over her like she was just some object that they needed to take care of.
She opened the curtains again, staring out over the ocean, at the revolving light. She was calmed when she opened her window to let in the salty air and the far-away rush of the waves. She had not slept in a long time and barely kept her grades up. She always had insomnia, so the prospect of sleep scared her.
When she was asleep, her unconscious mind had free rein to do whatever it wanted. Would she dream about being in a room with the shrink? Would she revisit school and the emotional pain and suffering there? Would she finally lose her cool façade with her parents and be forced to share her morbid thoughts?
She was sure there had to be someone like her somewhere in the world. She was not alone. It was a scientific impossibility that she was completely unique and did not share an interest with anyone. She was going to find a friend, and if that meant moving to another school to appease her parents, she would.
Her father bought the house overlooking the harbor for its great view of the town on one side, and the ocean on the other. He thought that the view would help the girl become friendlier and less morbid. It had worked, to an extent. Or maybe it was just her learning curve catching up. She learned that talking to people about things such as death, or how they would like to die as a first conversation was not a good idea. In fact, it was a horrible one. She would stop talking to people at all, so as to avoid the awkward stares and whispers.
Her new strategy did not work, though. In fact, it had quite the same effect. There were still stares and whispers and rumors, all circling around her being mute. She only talked when the teacher called on her and when she vibrated her vocal folds, all of the students around her were stunned into silence. They had no idea she could talk until the math teacher called on her. When she explained the problem perfectly, without looking up, everyone got a clear idea of the genius she really was. She just needed someone to pull her out of that shell. At least, that was what the math teacher told her parents.
The students were also shocked at how musical her voice was. It was high and smooth, with catches every once in a while, every time she looked embarrassed.
People were bewildered by her pledge of silence. When they tried to talk to her she would just nod, but never said a word, even if the conversation warranted a response. She never laughed at their jokes. She wasn’t even sure why people laughed. It was an involuntary, trivial, unproductive thing that had no meaning.
She had never laughed, or even smiled, as a kid, and her parents worried she’ll never be normal. Maybe, she thought, it was because she had never laughed that made her so melancholy and morbid. She never knew what to say or do when someone was laughing. To her, it was of trivial importance.
What would she do if someone asked her why she wasn’t laughing? She didn’t know how she would respond. She was never asked that, and she was sure that she never would be. Her father said that because she was so silent, she was intimidating to go up and talk to. When people did so, her staying silent was the worst mistake she could make at a new school.
She went back over to the vent, for she had heard a clear shout; “What are we supposed to do, Ellen?”
“We have to move. We have to get her into a new school. She needs new scenery, and she needs new people. Just humor me here. I just want to move, no matter what it costs. Is the emotional well-being of our child more important to you, or the money?”
“What kind of question is that?”
“A simple one, Alan. Is our daughter worth more to you than money?”
“We have to worry about both if we want to get through this life with enough leftover for her lonesome self.”
“So she is equal with our money?”
“No! Of course not! But by saving our money now, she has a better future. She is more important than anything in the world, but we have to focus on the long term.”
“I disagree. We have to consider the consequences of her having no friends for the rest of her life. We have to get her some friends; otherwise, her emotional health will fail at an exponentially bad rate. We need her to feel better, not worse.”
She walked away from the vent. She knew her parents loved her, but she never knew how much. Now it was too late.