FICTION

JULIETTE SCHOHN

The Graduation

That morning, I was still lying in bed, in one of the latter stages of sleep. That stage when the mind is about to enter reality but is still hanging on with one hand to the world of the unconscious, like trying in a last desperate effort, not to let go of that place where it takes you when you sleep. That distant place where your mind, so wild, frees itself from logic and everything else that constrains it from flying, and takes you down a dark tunnel into a world of strange images, sounds and situations. They are all so very strange and irrational, yet they sometimes seem so real, that when you wake up, you don't know whether they were really a dream or actually reality.

That night, my dream was one of those. I was in a pitch black place lit with very few thin strings of yellow light here and there. I don't really know what I was doing but I could hear my mother and my sister in the distance having an undistinguishable conversation. I tried to understand what they were saying but they were too far for me to discern the words. It was probably one of those rare deep conversations my mother so often wished to have with my sister to try to unlock the secrets of her fragile teenager mind.

So there I was, that morning, when my mother came into the room. I felt the mattress sway slightly as she slowly but heavily sat on the bed, as if she were carrying a serious load. I opened my eyes. They felt rusty from the sleep and my vision remained blurred for a few seconds. The daylight pierced through the light pink paper blinds. It seemed bright outside, which meant it was going to be a beautiful day. This was good, since today was a day of celebration. Beautiful weather and clear sunny skies always bring joy and happiness.

I finally rubbed my eyes. Still lying down, I turned onto my left side, facing my mother. Her back was turned to me but I could see her face and body in the tall mirror closet doors in front of her. Her eyes looked gloomy. Numerous red veins navigated in her eyes. Her face was particularly craggy and showed tremendous fatigue. The typical rings under her eyes stood out more than usual like a deep somber valley in a relief. That morning, they were the predominant features of her usually lean beautiful face. Her expression revealed a mix of utter pain and sadness.

I hesitated and said,

"Good Morning Ma'," but what I really wanted to say was "What's wrong?"

She turned around and looked at me, and instead of answering my question, she replied in a frail voice:

"Your sister… she's completely… drugged…"

Her sentence was interrupted by deep long breaths as if she was trying to swallow a ball stuck in the back of her throat.

"What are you talking about?"

"Carolina!!" she insisted as if I had forgotten who my sister was. "She's drugged… Completely irrational… like she's drunk or something…" Her eyes were fixed on me as if desperately searching for an answer. I opened my mouth ready to say something but nothing came out. I knew how sensitive the issue of my sister was to my mother but at that moment, I didn't really know what to think. After all the nightmares and worries my sister had brought to my mother over the years, you never knew what to expect.

At that moment, my sister stumbled into the room with extremely uncoordinated movements, like a baby still learning how to walk. Her pupils were unusually dilated and her dark rings also stood out of her morbid white face. Her lips were dry and pale.

"Hiiiiii…" she said in an inarticulate and stupid tone of voice, trying to focus her vision on me. Her stare was empty and lost. I just sat on the bed staring back at her not knowing how to react to this display. Both pair of eyes were glued to me. I felt pressured as if I was supposed to do something but I didn't know what to do or think. What was my sister doing? Was she acting? Was she faking it? Was she joking? No, she couldn't have been joking. My mother wouldn't be in such a state. Was I still dreaming? No, dreams are dark and this was bright. This was real. I shook my head or at least I thought I did and finally came back to my senses.

"What is wrong with you?" I blurted out in an angry tone of voice. At that instant, my mother's facial expression tightened considerably, and she threw me a terrifying infuriated look. It seemed as though her eyes were ready to fire lightning strikes at me. I immediately understood this was not the way she had expected me to react and that's when I finally realized that the situation was serious.

That brief instant was suddenly interrupted by a loud bang. My sister had just fallen flat on the floor, with all the weight of her massive body, without having even tripped over anything.

"Carolina!!" My mother yelled as she ran to my sister's rescue. I could sense her fear and uncertainty coming out of every inch of her body, through each pore of her golden brown skin, through each one of her frizzled black hairs, through her tense muscles and her bulging eyes. In a second, I got up and helped my mother bring my sister to her feet.

"Caro, are you okay?" I asked.

Silence.

"Caro!! Are you okay?" I repeated my question louder and with more emphasis.

"…Ooops…" she lethargically replied with a pathetic smile on her face.

"Why don't you go back to your room and lay down on your bed," I said, "I'll take you. Come."

I helped her to her room as she hopelessly tried to walk straight. Once in her room, she hopped on her bed and lay down.

"Stay there," I said, "I'll be right back."

She seemed to have nodded as she vacantly stared at the ceiling. I walked back to my mother's room where I found her sitting on the bed in the same position she had been a few minutes earlier, looking down, her rosary in her hands, and silently sobbing. A lonely tear fell down her left cheek. As I walked closer to her, she looked up and said:

"I spent all night awake with her at the foot of her bed, talking to her, trying to get something out from her…" Her voice was flooded with sobs. "All night… I didn't sleep one minute. All night she's been like this… dizzy, nauseated, agitated at times, lethargic at others… She vomited… I don't know what to do… She said she took something but I can't get her to tell me what it was… God, why this? Why me?... Why today? Oh God… We can't go now. She can't go. How is she going to go like this? She can't even walk, she can't even talk…"

Her voice expressed every bit of pain a mother could ever feel when something bad happens to her children. I was paralyzed. It hadn't been a dream after all. How could I have not realized that I hadn't been dreaming, that I had really heard my mother and my sister talking all through the night. I suddenly felt like the sky fell on top of my head and my shoulders and crushed my whole entire body. My mother was counting on me to do something and I felt like everything was in my hands. In a few seconds, which seemed like hours to me, I contemplated the situation. Finally, I walked back to my sister's room where she was in the same position I had left her. Her eyes were closed but she opened them and said:

"Oooh… I don't feel good…"

"Sit up," I said, "I need to talk to you. Tell me. What did you take and how much did you take? It's important for you to tell me because you could be in danger and if you want us to help you, we need to know…"

I tried to look her in the eye but again, her eyes were empty. It was like talking to a child who can't make sense of what you are saying.

"Huh? What?" she answered, "What d'you say?... Oh yeah… I don't remember but… in the trashcan..."

"The trashcan?" I immediately understood. I ran over to it and started digging inside, like searching for a hidden treasure. Except this wasn't going to be much of a treasure. It would probably be the opposite. After a few seconds, I had found it. Here it was, carefully hidden in paper wrapped around it so nobody would see it at first glance.

"What is it?" my mother said. She had dried her tears now and was walking over to me. I closed my eyes and felt my heart, heavy like a rock, drop down to the bottom of my stomach, or even lower, to the ground.

"Coricidin…" I mumbled.

"What?" my mom cried out impatiently. "What is that?"

Finally, I turned around and showed it to her. Two packs of Coricidin, with eight pills in each pack. That was sixteen in total. Six – teen!! Enough to kill anybody. I had heard of teenagers overdosing on over-the-counter cold and cough medications because they wanted to get high, but I knew that with my sister, it hadn't been about getting high. After a dreadful moment of silence, my mom burst out in tears.

"Why Caro? Why? Why did you take this? What were you thinking?"

After a hesitation, my sister answered in that same voice:

"Somebody told me it would make me become skinnier. I just wanted to be skinnier for my graduation dress."

"Who told you that?" cried my mom with pain. "You don't need to get skinnier…"

I could not hold it any longer. I felt like a storm inside of me was about to explode. The hair on my skin stood on end as I felt a cold chill freeze my blood first, then every muscle of my body. My eyes flooded and my vision got blurry. Finally, the rain came down. I was crying. All three of us were crying.

But I felt I had to be strong. I said,

"Let's go to the hospital."

My mother looked at me. I had never seen her so sad. She knew this was the right thing to do. My sister stopped crying and suddenly blurted out:

"What about my graduation? So we're not going to my graduation?"

All three of us looked at her bright yellow graduation gown and her long black dress hanging in her closet. The gown was bright yellow like the sun outside but it didn't seem as bright anymore. A few more tears rolled down my cheeks as I tried my best to compose myself.

"Let's go, let's get ready. Come on. We can't waste any time. Caro, just go put your shoes and wait for us. Mom, go put something on quick and tell Anthony to get ready."

I had almost forgotten about my little brother. He was downstairs playing PlayStation. He had no idea what was going on and it was better that way. He was too young to have to worry about things like this. We could just tell him Caro got sick from eating bad food and that's why she wouldn't be able to attend her high school graduation. I ran to my room and hurriedly put on some clothes. As I went to grab my purse on my desk, I saw the red frame with that picture of Caro and me at my senior prom. The red frame was just sitting there, like starting at me. We looked beautiful in that picture, happy, and so close to each other. The big smiles on our faces brightened the black background of the picture and the way we were hugging, our heads leaning against one another, formed the shape of a heart. In a glance, I looked back at our whole life together. We had always been so close and I had always done so much to try to maintain that relationship, until one day, when it just didn't work anymore. We used to play together all the time. We had so many invented games. We loved to play role games. The witch game, the Lion King, the ponies, the Care Bears… God, so many wonderful memories. I felt the tears rise up and fill my eyes again, and finally hit the carpet on the floor. But this was not the moment for this.

Five minutes later, I was at the wheel of my mother's car. We were all in the car. As I drove out of the garage, I noticed that the sky had picked up some clouds. As I looked more carefully, I realized it wasn't as bright anymore. I searched for the sun but I couldn't find it. It was probably behind some white cloud. I started driving in the direction of the hospital. It was definitely getting much darker. I looked up ahead of us. Black clouds, grey sky… There it was. There was the storm. It had been waiting for us all along, like a dark demon.

–e-