My therapist called it an issue. I called it a necessity. Trust was dangerous, and I wouldn’t be foolish enough to let it blind me. After all, I was still reeling from having been wounded once before. I was miserable. The task that I had set for myself, that of unwavering vigilance, was exhausting. My therapist insisted that I was lonely, which apparently was no way to be. She maintained that I should make new friends and allow the past to heal itself with time. So I made an effort, but only to put her mind at ease. My guard would stay up, I wouldn’t let anybody freshen my pain.
The new friends seemed decent enough. Patrick was outspoken and Vanessa was always excited about something. It was difficult at first, having to hide my worries and distrust beneath a smiling facade to match their constant bubbly optimism. Still, such was their sunny outlook on everything around them, their light eventually filtered through my darkness. If the demons were still in there, they were doing a better job at hiding themselves. Each day grew better than the last, and I started looking forward to school just so I could see my friends. I became engrossed in schoolwork for the first time in a long time, and broke through the slump in my grades. I could see that my parents were happy with my academic progress, and that meant almost everything to me. The guard stayed up, but I lowered the walls a little. “It’s different this time,” I often told myself, “they won’t leave you, or let anyone convince them to leave you.” I didn’t want to feel miserable ever again, and was starting to believe that I wouldn’t.
“What are your ideas for the English assignment?” Vanessa asked as the bell rang one afternoon, “Creativity isn’t my strong suit.” Patrick shook his head. “I’ve got something of an idea, but it hasn’t fully formed yet. If it doesn’t, my creativity will shine through in coming up with an excuse tomorrow.” The two of them turned to me expectantly. I always planned ahead, so they knew that I had probably conceived the entirety of my essay already. I smiled and said nothing. Vanessa huffed as Patrick complained, “You never tell us anything!”
The next morning, I arrived at school with a self-satisfied grin plastered on my face. I was proud of what I had come up with. I had stayed up all night, sifted through a heap of books and websites, and crafted each word with care. This essay would give me my first A grade and with it, my parents’ pride. Patrick and Vanessa arrived as I stashed my bag away. Neither of them seemed particularly thrilled about the day ahead. Vanessa admitted that she had forced out a short essay an hour before she had to leave for school, having spent the previous night on a television marathon. Patrick had succumbed to indolence, but he was working very hard this morning to come up with an excuse that hadn’t been exhausted already.
We parted and trudged to the first lesson, and the next, and the next, until it was finally lunchtime, the precursor to English. That’s when I opened my bag, and that’s when my heart stopped. I sifted through my belongings frantically, but I couldn’t find the paper. My mind ran a mile a minute and what had happened became very clear. The demons that had been hiding until then began to laugh at me. “Alright. Which one of you took it?”
Patrick looked up in feigned surprise, his mouth full of a bite of his sandwich. “What are you on about?” Vanessa asked. The false obliviousness pushed me over the edge and old, buried feelings rushed up to the surface. “I shouldn’t have to suffer for your laziness!” I said, failing completely to supress my volume. People were starting to look. “I wrote that paper, I put effort into it and you both know that this is my last chance to push my B to an A. How could you do this? Give it back.” Vanessa still looked puzzled but Patrick spoke up. “We don’t know what you’re talking about-” I interrupted him with an obnoxious snort.“Of course you do. Neither of you had any good ideas, and one of you, if not both, decided to take mine. Just give it back!” I was sure that all eyes were on us, but I didn’t care. All three of us stood up.
“How could you accuse us of this?” Vanessa did a good job of looking hurt. Patrick looked angry- he was good too. “You never tell us anything. Not a thing. I didn’t give it much thought before, but I know now that you don’t trust us at all. What kind of a friend are you?” I saw red. “Don’t worry, we don’t have to be friends at all!” I exclaimed, gathering my things and hurrying out of the lunch hall with tears prickling my eyes. I was angry at Vanessa and Patrick, at my therapist for telling me to make friends, and at myself for complying.
In the washroom, I tried to compose myself. My attempt to recover my work had been futile, but I would try again. In front of the teacher. The one who took it would try to submit it, after all. I wiped my tears. How easily they had betrayed my trust and sent my spiralling back to the horrid place I thought I had left in the past. The paranoia was back, I hated everybody, I was alone once more, and it hurt; I wouldn’t let myself reveal that. I washed my face and rummaged through the bottom of the bag for eyeliner. My fingers chanced upon what felt like a piece of paper. I tugged at it.
My essay. It had been crumpled beneath the books that I had stuffed carelessly into the bag before lunch. My idiocy dawned upon me as my heart sank in a tidal wave of instant remorse. Just like that, I was miserable and lonely once more, happiness lost to my own fault this time. I looked up at the mirror. The reflection stared back at me resentfully. It parted its lips and mouthed a single word. “Traitor.”