My Battle with Social Anxiety, a CNF piece

“Today’s the big day,” my mom chimes as I walk past her room to begin my morning routine. I let out a deep sigh. Stop reminding me, I just want to get it over with, I think. “Oh stop. I’m really proud of you for taking this step! Four years is long enough to wait,” she responds. I’m not particularly in the mood to get into the layers of this issue with my mom for another countless time, so I drop the subject and get into the shower. I avoid any further conversation long enough to just hear my mom call out, “Don’t forget your money! Good luck!” as I walk out the door.
I know what you’re wondering. Am I going on a trip? Am I attending a job interview? Am I starting a new job or school? What could I possibly be doing to make my mom proud yet still wait four years to do it? I don’t expect you to understand, but I’m throwing myself out there, so what the hell; here it goes. Today, I am going to the school cafeteria at the college I’ve been attending for almost four years. No confetti, no award, no possibility of a brighter future. Just me going to a lunchroom in my school, something people do every single day like it is not big deal. However, life is really normal when you have a disorder. Yes, here is the big kicker, I have social anxiety which has made doing the seemingly most simple things, horribly difficult.
While most people would merely be planning the time for their lunch and possibly what they will eat, my mind is in an upset at the sheer thought of going into that building. What are you thinking? You can’t do this! You won’t know what you’re doing and will look stupid! You will hold up the line and people will be mad. Places like that are for people with friends on campus, not you. It seems harsh, right? Well, that is my every day with social anxiety. To be honest with you, it’s been much worse.

When I was in elementary school and people would go around the classroom handing out birthday party invitations, I wasn’t excited like the rest of my classmates. A party meant interaction. It meant I had to be in a strange place, a peer’s house, with a group of children, most I admittedly knew, yet had to socialize with. Even from a young age, I hated the party atmosphere. No specific memory sticks out, but flashes of several moments do. I remember moms being afraid I was too shy, or even worse, that I was being excluded. As a result, as everyone played a party game and I sat on the sidelines waiting for it to be time for my mom to pick me up and save me from this torture, the mom would swoop in and politely encourage me to join in. After a few attempts, I remember being physically pulled, not in a painful or harmful sense, but just literally coaxed to join the group. With social anxiety, it is hard to be assertive, especially to an adult, a mom, so I complied. I didn’t talk, but I sat closer to the group. Back then, everyone just tagged me as shy and thought I would grow out of it. I even thought of myself as simply shy and hoped that one day, things would magically get better. I would wake up one morning wanting to talk to anyone would listen. As you would expect, things didn’t work out that way.

As my school years progressed, I watched classmates come out of their shells and yet I was still under lock and key. Though my memory fails me again for an explicit instance, I can specifically remember being in several classroom situations that went something like this. “What is the proper way to divide fractions?” The teacher would ask. Flip the second fraction and multiple across, I would think. The room would go silent. No one would raise his or her hand. Come on, someone has to know this. We went over it in class yesterday. “No one?” The teacher presses. “Were anyone of you paying attention?” I could raise my hand, but I’m probably wrong and if I’m wrong, people will think I’m stupid and laugh at me. With an audible sigh, the teacher writes an example on the board and explains the process again. I was right. Though that was a fictional example, I remember the disappointment all too well. If I would have just trusted myself, I could have said the answer. The teacher would know I was paying attention. I would be so angry with myself for not speaking up, yet the next time the situation would present itself, the vicious cycle would continue.

It wasn’t just school either. Any public place was hard for me to speak up in. At shoe stores, I could find a pair that I wanted to buy, but they didn’t have my size out on the sales floor. Although I knew there was a backroom that an associate could check, I was too nervous to ask. If I didn’t have someone there who could ask for me, like a friend or relative, I wasn’t buying shoes that day. When I would go out to eat with my family, I would have to coach my mom on the way to the restaurant about what drink I wanted. As the waiter asked for drink orders around the table, my mom would order for both her and me. The same routine happened with the meal selection, except I had more time to tell my mom what I wanted as we were given time to roam the menu. It was embarrassing to have my younger siblings be so forthcoming as they ordered their food and I couldn’t utter a word to the stranger serving us. With friends, I couldn’t be the first one to walk into a place. If I opened the door, people would look and all eyes would be on me. I couldn’t have that.
Things like this created tension towards me. People cared about me and knew I was shy, but after a while, they got fed up. “Can’t you ask the saleswoman yourself?” “Why do I have to order for you?” “Seriously, you are going to have to go to places by yourself sometime. People aren’t going to be here to do things with you forever.” I understood what they meant and I tried to not resent them for their words that hurt me. It was hard though. I just wanted someone to understand that I didn’t choose to be this way and I didn’t know why speaking and being the center of attention was so overwhelming. I would do anything to be normal.

As if by chance, in the second half of my junior year of high school, I finally began to crawl, cautiously, out of my shell. My school was very small; with Grades 7-12, the student population totaled roughly 600 students. There was only one public middle school and high school in my one-square mile town, I had known the kids around me for literally over a decade. Once I thought like that, they didn’t seem as scary anymore. With the help of my best friend, who I had now since third grade, I joined the bowling team. I then was inducted into the National Honor and National Art Honor Societies. Soon, I was meeting more people and found it easier to talk to people I didn’t know. My senior year was when I truly came into my own. I was nominated Treasurer of my honor society, member-at-large of my art honor society, and varsity bowling captain. I even joined chorus. Four things I never would have imagined a mere two years before. I still was anxious giving presentations in class, refused to ever perform a solo in chorus, and had a rough time talking to strangers. However, most people were like that. These were acceptable forms of shyness in my society.

Nevertheless, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. When I enrolled in Kean University, I knew my world was going to change drastically. I knew I was going to a school that had a student population bigger than the population of my hometown. I knew I was going to be twenty miles from home in a completely new place with all new people. Yet, that was college. That was what happened when you make the transition from the shelter of high school to the adult world of college. I would deal with it and get used to it like everyone else who adapted.
Unfortunately, history repeated itself and again I wasn’t normal. I was alone on campus most of the time because I didn’t know any on campus. I didn’t talk to anyone in class unless it was required group work. I didn’t raise my hand if I had a question about the material or knew the answer to a question. I didn’t eat lunch because I didn’t want to sit alone. Heck, I’d never even been to the cafeteria to know where to go. What I knew was, I was not going to sit in a room full of people talking and laughing with friends while I sat alone. People will think I am weird. They will know I have no friends and will talk about me. They may even laugh at my loner status. That’s when I knew it. I was back to square one, except this time, I felt I couldn’t get out of the hell I was in. I had lost all hope.
As fate, destiny, or God would have it, I had to hand in paperwork to the health services office on campus. On the way there, I saw the counseling center. I thought I needed help and could get it here. I shouldn’t hate going to college as much as I did and feel so alone. After a few meetings with a counselor, it was determined that I had social anxiety. This wasn’t a simple nervous feeling of shyness. It was a fear, a phobia. Likened to people who are afraid of heights or spiders, I was afraid of talking to people. Just as going on a bridge would cause an immediate response in someone whom fears heights, talking to people did that for me. Both our bodies had the same reaction—fear. Months of working with my counselor, it was suggested that I join a social anxiety support group that was forming on campus. Although going into a room with strangers to talk about intimate feelings may seem the exact opposite of what someone with social anxiety would do, I went for it. I thought things couldn’t get any worse and I even let myself believe that I would find that I wasn’t the only one with these issues.
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one. The group of four of us, you see, it is really hard to get people who are afraid of socializing to be in a room together, lasted eight weeks and met every Monday for an hour and a half. The structure was set into two parts. For the first four weeks, we learned about psychological theories into the phenomena of social anxiety, the usual physiological, emotional, and mental reactions, and something called cognitive distortions. The last one is the way people with anxiety disorders mentally change their perceptions automatically. For instance, there is one called “fortune telling.” By assuming that if I talk to a stranger, he or she will get mad for being bothered, I have taken it upon myself to believe that will happen without any evidence to support it. What I have trained myself to believe after years of having the same reaction, has now become automatic in my brain.
The second half of our meetings was taking what we learned, knowing our fears, and trying to do things that scared us. Each week, we would have the goal to complete an activity that scared us and the following meeting we would discuss how it went. Now, we didn’t have to worry about disappointing just ourselves, but our group members too. Also, knowing that someone was facing their fears like you really helped. That group changed my life in college. I am more open to talking to people in class, and I have joined a group, the English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta, which I am currently vice president of. I still battle social anxiety every day and it is a struggle. However, I know every step forward, no matter how big or small, is positive. A few weeks ago, I conquered a goal that has plagued me since my first semester at Kean University.

“Where are you? I’m in the UC & I don’t see you.” I text my friend Nick as I look around the Kean University University Center that is bustling with people going in every different direction. I barely even enter in this building because of the chaotic nature of it. However, with friends it’s easier. At 12:30, I am supposed to meet Nick and our mutual friend Ashely for lunch. They know my struggles and have made it a point to support me through this obstacle. The fact that they aren’t there is irritating me. My heart is thumping against my chest and my fists are clenched. I try to look at my phone to seem busy and to distract myself, but it isn’t working.
A grueling five minutes later, the phone that I am squeezing in my hand lights up. “Hey, sorry. I was talking to my professor. On my way to the UC now,” a text from Nick reads. I already knew Ashely was going to be late, as she made it clear from the initial invitation. However, Nick’s unusual tardiness is an unexpected change. I hate things I didn’t anticipate.
At 12:47 p.m., finally everyone has arrived and Nick and Ashely lead the way as I have never been here before so I am unfamiliar with the way to the cafeteria. After a series of a few doors, I hear the roar of the crowded lunch room. I must have shown my reaction on my face because Ashely gives me a concerned look and asks, “Are you okay?” “Yeah, just a little overwhelmed. I’m sorry,” I quickly reply and look down. “It’s fine. It will be okay. Me and Nick are here literally by your side!” She says with a small laugh in what I think it an attempt to lighten the mood.
Suddenly, the doors are in front of us. I can see the tables and the people. The thumping in my chest gets stronger. It abruptly feels like there isn’t enough air in the room and my chest aches. I slightly shake my head and retain focus. I take a deep breath and we walk through the doors. Ashley walks ahead and finds a clear table and set her stuff down. I put down my black messenger bag and reach inside it to get my wallet. I clutch it in my hand as I know I have to face a fear very soon. Walking into the cafeteria was one thing, but now I had to order food, in a crowded cafeteria line. I decided to get a basic item, the simpler the better. Nick and Ashely talked as I rehearsed in my head over and over what I was going to say exactly. The BLT Special. The BLT Special. No changes. Take it exactly as it is. Doing this is hard enough without complicating the situation with specifics. Before I knew it, it was my turn. The cafeteria worker turned her attention to me. “What can I get you?” She asks. “The BLT Special, just like the picture,” I answer. I relax as I watch her assemble my lunch. Everything is working out perfectly. “Do you want that with a combo?” Wait, what? I didn’t prepare for this! “What?” I ask. “Do you want a pickle and a bag of chips with your sandwich?” She asks. “Um, sure,” I respond with my heart beating quicker than it had a few moments ago.
Then, the worker hands me a plate with a sandwich, a pickle, and a small bag of potato chips; the moment is over. I can breathe. Ashely and Nick get their food and we return to our table. I wish I could say something amazing happened like confetti went off or a marching band arrived. However, it wasn’t like that. No one but Ashely and Nick knew how hard that was for me and how I struggled to do such a simple task for nearly four years. I knew though. I knew I did it. I had a fear and I faced it. Yes, I wasn’t alone, but it was a step and for that I am proud. Every day I try to face a social anxiety fear, sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. The result doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I keep trying. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over my social anxiety completely; for now, I am just taking one day at a time.


Another Sleepless Night

First day of my Spring Semester is tomorrow, but first I have work from 5am until 9 am. I should be asleep right now, but my anxiety is so great that I haven’t slept at night in a few days. All that does is bring me anxiety attacks that wake me up. I literally have to pass out from exhaustion to go to sleep, reluctant as I am with even that. I know what you’re thinking, what every sane human being is thinking, Holly, it’s your Junior Spring Semester, how can you possibly still be nervous about school? Let’s put it this way, I went through such a bad Fall Semester of my Sophomore year mentally that I had two options: 1.) Drop out to save myself 2.) Go from full-time to part-time and try and fight my mental demons. I suppose there was a 3rd option, I could have stayed full-time and lost my sanity completely. However, I tried to stick it out and push myself with part-time. The past two semesters part-time have gone well. However, my parents, who are currently funding what my student loans do not cover, are fed up and have made me go back on to full-time for this semester and all semesters after it until graduation. I understand that they don’t want me to stay in college forever and have pressure from my fellow aged relatives who have only stayed 5 years or more in college to get Master’s degrees. However, those things do not help my anxiety about falling into another pit of despair. It was very hard to get out of the last time and I am so worried it will happen again and I wouldn’t be able to get out this time around. You can say I’m overreacting, but with an anxiety disorder everything feels real. The same sense of danger that you get when walking on a dark street alone at night is the same feeling I get when walking into college, everyday. Things might not turn out as bad as they seem, but it still feels like it will. I wish someone could understand what I am going through. It is so frustrating to have people simply dismiss the intense feelings that I struggle everyday with. I don’t know where this post is even going. Maybe it was a useless rant or maybe someone out there will read this and learn to be more accepting, tolerant, and patient with someone with a mental illness. I understand that mental illness has a certain stigma attached and even having to classify myself in such a category is hard to do in such a public setting. However, to be honest, writing this out is helping me. I can’t guarantee I will sleep tonight, but I can feel some anxiety releasing as I type. I’m not sure anyone will get anything out of this, but I hope it helps someone. Thank you for reading.

My Bittersweet Sixteen (Creative Non-fiction Piece)

(Hello Reader 🙂 Before you are so kind to read my piece, I would like your help on how to make this writing less telling and more showing, if you can give me some feedback on that OR ANYTHING ELSE, I would be very appreciative!)

       The red and blue flashing lights, the will reading “do not resuscitate,” the sound of my brother’s cries. On January 15, 2009, my grandfather, who I called Opa, which means grandpa in Dutch, died while my entire family was at his house celebrating my sixteenth birthday. With the patriarch of our family missing, it has been very difficult to continue on with life as usual. He was quite a remarkable man and his position in our family will never be replaced.
            My birthday began as an enjoyable day. I walked into my high school that morning to find that my best friend Korie had decorated my locker door with a collage of pictures of all my favorite bands with room for people to stop by and write “Happy birthday” messages to me. Then, my mom delivered a surprise cake to the school during my lunch period. Meanwhile, my mind was occupied all day with the thought of seeing my cousins later that night at my grandparent’s house to celebrate my special day. This year, we arrived at the house at five o’clock, which was earlier than usual because my grandfather hadn’t felt well and we didn’t want to keep him up late. “Happy birthday Miss Sixteen Year Old!” my cousin greeted me when I walked through the door. “Oh, no! Holly’s street legal? Better tell everyone to keep off the sidewalks,” my uncle teased. Soon the conversation, laughs, and general loudness of my large Italian family quickly filled the house. Then, an hour into the party, Opa cleared his throat and mentioned that he had to leave the room. After a while, we realized something was amiss.
            “Can the boys check on Daddy?” my grandmother asked. All nodding in agreement, my uncles and father went into the other room to see what was wrong. In the meantime, my grandma handed me a black velvet box and whispered in my ear, “This is a special gift that Opa picked out especially for you.” I opened it and saw two glistening diamond earrings. I had never had real diamond jewelry before and I was memorized. With astonishment, I looked up at my grandmother and said, “Oh, Oma, thank you! They’re—.” I was suddenly cut off by a loud moaning that came from the other room. Immediately, my dad rushed in. “All the kids go into our minivan,” he ordered as he tossed the keys to me. The questions and comments from my younger cousins and siblings seemed endless as we all sat in the car. “Why did we have to leave the house?” “Is Opa okay?” “It’s cold out here!” “Can we please go back inside?” “Why did Opa make that funny noise?” Unfortunately, my older cousin and I had no answers as we tried to comfort them through our own confusion.
            Soon, a police car pulled up and my brother started to cry loudly. “Why is he here? Is Opa dead?” he pleaded for an answer. “No, no. He’s just here to make sure everything is okay. Don’t worry,” I attempted to soothe. Despite my good intentions, I was wrong. A few minutes later my aunt opened the driver’s side door to quietly talk to my older cousin and me, trying not to alarm the already upset children that were in the backseats. “We don’t know for sure, but we think Opa had a heart attack,” she explained. Before we could even react, an ambulance pulled up and my aunt ran up to it to guide the EMTs exactly to where my grandfather was. As I found out that night, Opa had a living will that read “DO NOT RESUSCITATE,” which kept the paramedics from doing much.
            Some time later, the grim news came in. “Opa has passed away. Come in the house and say goodbye. He’s in the hallway covered by a sheet from the chest down,” my dad announced to us all. As everyone filed out of the van, I didn’t move. “Come on, I know it’s hard, but we have to do it,” my cousin told me with tears welling in her eyes. “I can’t. I don’t want to remember him this way! I don’t want that image to haunt me,” I protested. After several attempts from my dad, aunts, and uncles, my decision was accepted, and I was finally left alone. I remember how hard I closed my eyes as the undertakers came to take care of the body. Thankfully, my efforts were fruitful and I didn’t get a glimpse of the body bag. It wasn’t until I opened my eyes and the undertaker’s van was a safe distance away that I made my way back into the house to join my family. Guests who had arrived late were in tears from the news. They greeted me with a brutal mix of “happy birthday” and “I’m sorry for your loss” sentiments. It was a horrible combination of emotions. That night, my family went home and we all slept in my parent’s room, trying to comfort my mourning mother.
            Later that week, we had a three day wake for my grandfather. This amount was longer than most wakes I had been to. However, it was helpful because every day new people showed up to give support and help us smile during such a trying time. What I remember the most is all the different things I learned about my grandfather through the many people that I talked to at the funeral home. After the last hour of the final viewing, my Opa’s life all came together like a large puzzle, which I managed to form in my mind in my mind later that night.
            On May 24, 1927, Johannes Jacobus Rustemeyer was born in the Netherlands. He had a harsh childhood, filled with extraordinary experiences. His mother died when he was four years old, leaving him with an abusive father to raise him. Being the brave spirit he always was, he often took the blame and beatings for his six other siblings. After four years of single parenting, my great grandfather had enough and put all his children in an orphanage. He ended up returning a year later to retrieve his daughters, leaving his sons behind. The following year, Adolf Hitler needed young men to work. At the tender age of ten, my grandfather was forced into a labor camp in Poland. When he was finally liberated, he returned to a war-torn Holland and joined the Merchant Marines at fourteen by forging his father’s signature. During his service, he travelled to every continent, except Australia. At age twenty-four, he journeyed to America and immediately enlisted in the armed forces when promised a speedy citizenship in return. My family often reminisces about the first thing my grandfather did fresh off the boat. He walked around, found the nearest bakery, and went in pointing at a strawberry shortcake. Paying for it with the little money he brought with him, he proudly sat on the corner outside the shop and ate it, truly feeling free for the first time. A few years after that moment, one day, while on leave from the Korean War, my grandfather met Rachel Pietropaolo. After months of being pen pals, that same woman became my future grandmother. The two had six kids, eventually six grandchildren, and built a wonderful life together during their fifty-two year marriage.
            Though the nostalgic piecing together of my grandfather’s life was therapeutic, it didn’t take the pain away from the next day—the funeral, which occurred on a solemn, cold day. I never shook the eerie feeling that I had while saying the final goodbye to my grandfather in the funeral home, knowing that in the next few hours his body would be cremated. Surprisingly, I didn’t cry the night of his death or even at the funeral service. In fact, it took until the month anniversary of his passing for me to finally let out all my emotions. It didn’t hit me until then that day I would never see Opa again in my mortal life. Before then, it felt as though he was on vacation, but soon he would be at the next holiday gathering. It was difficult to deal with after that sobering revelation, but eventually I got through it. I never stopped missing him nor was able to think about the day he died without having all the sad memories flood back, but I was capable of accepting reality. Not having Opa around while the family was all together or when we visited my grandmother was a strange, empty feeling, but, as unwanted as it was, we ultimately all got used to it.
            Despite the shock of its timing, Opa’s death was not an unforeseen possibility. In the years leading up to it, his health had declined. After the birth of the sixth grandchild, my little brother, Opa began to show signs of Dementia, a deteriorating brain disease. Having little family history to warn us, the diagnosis was a surprise. In the beginning, it was a small annoyance. Opa would forget to turn off a light when he went to bed or leave the water running after he left the sink. However, his condition progressively worsened and eventually developed into full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. There was no brushing off the symptoms anymore. In fact, my grandmother had to quit her job as a paraprofessional at the local elementary school because my grandfather could no longer be left alone. Alzheimer’s is a frightening sickness that causes delusions as well as memory loss and we witnessed both through Opa’s suffering. The incidents were many, but three stick out in my mind more than the rest. First, he started to forget who the grandchildren were. He called my brother “the boy,” my sister “the girl,” and me “Ann Marie,” which is my mother’s name. Although he didn’t remember any of us, I was called by a name because I look very similar to my mother in her younger years. Next, when he was in the hospital for a congestive heart failure scare, Opa woke up extremely disoriented and wanted to know why strange people were in his kitchen. This made him very anxious, and he ended up running out of the room with a catheter bag trailing behind him down the halls. Lastly, he was once in his house and started to believe that the police had bugged it and were spying on his actions. When my uncle, who works for a patrol board, attempted to calm him down, Opa became very violent and took a swing at his own son. Those times were so emotionally draining for us all. I don’t know how my grandmother did it day after day. It was difficult enough seeing him every weekend as we did. The man who we had loved and cherished for years no longer was himself, trapped in a mind that was holding him prisoner. After a long, eight year battle, the heart that endured parental abandonment, the body that survived the starvation of a work camp in the Holocaust, and the mind that could navigate the roughest seas, succumbed to an incurable illness. It will be five years this January since his passing, and I still vividly remember the day he left us.
            I love my Opa and would give up all my possessions to spend one healthy day with him again. He babysat me for the first four years of my life, taught me how to count, and even used to put me in a wagon and bring me to the local park in his town. I will never forget those memories. I’ve learned several things from him and the life he led. To this day, he teaches me lessons as I reflect back on the experiences he went through while examining my own life. I try not to take people for granted, especially my family. I know they are not going to be here forever, so I tell them I love them every chance I can. I also try to live each day to the fullest like my Opa did. He knew how precious life was and how to savor it. Almost five years later and even writing this piece is difficult as I think about my grandfather and the tragic end to his life. However, I now think optimistically and how he was very sick and did not deserve to live that way. There are even times when I can feel his presence around me, like when I sit in his chair at his house or when I find a dime, a sign that my family has deemed as a gift from Opa, letting us know he is with us during tough times. My birthday wil never feel the same and I may miss my grandfather every day; but I stay positive hoping that I will meet him again in Heaven someday.

Stranger Than You Dreamt It (Possible Title, revised story)

            I run my hand across my forehead in an attempt to dull the throbbing against my skull. I’ve been at this party too long. I look at my phone and the time reads, “2:04 am.” “I have to get out of here,” I try to tell my friend Kaya over the blasting music. “What?” she yells in my ear, sending a shooting pain burrowing deep into my head. I take out my car keys and point to the door. Kaya’s face contorts disapprovingly and she grabs my arm to lead me to a quieter area of the house. “You want to go home already?” she complains. “I have a headache and I just want to go to bed,” I reply. “You want to go to bed? But it’s so early!” I show her my phone and Kaya gasps. “Exactly, I’m gonna go to the car. Say your goodbyes and meet me outside,” I say a bit more sternly than I had planned.
            When I’m outside, away from the heat of an overcrowded house party and the booming music, my headache finally begins to diminish. The fresh, cool early morning air feels relaxing as I take in long, deep breaths of it. By the time I am in my car, the pain in my head is gone and I take a sigh of relief as I drive up to the house and see Kaya waiting on the curb. “Thank God, you are so responsible! I would have stayed at that party forever and missed work completely tomorrow!” Kaya exclaims. “I try, but hey, sorry I snapped at you back there. I’m just so tired.” “Don’t even worry about it,” she waves her hand at me, “Like I said, if it wasn’t for you, I’d be a mess.” Kaya lets out a small laugh and for the remainder of the car ride, the only noise that fills the air is the low radio playing between us. After a half mile drive, Kaya and I say our farewells and I make my way home.
            Walking to the front of my house, I take out my keys and clumsily unlock the door in the dark. I take special care to open it very slowly, so I won’t wake up my parents. Ever since I turned eighteen three years ago, they took away my curfew because they felt I was responsible enough to make my own choices. However, as my dad always says, they “can bring it back anytime, if I betray their trust.” Immediately as the door opens, I am hit with a strong metallic smell. Turning on the light, I look into my illuminated living room, my knees go weak, and I fall to the floor.
            Our beige carpet is stained a deep red in two awful puddles. The source of those puddles? My parents, both slain on the floor, laying still. As if they were both done simultaneously, my mom and dad have matching slices across their throats. I close my eyes. This can’t be true. I passed out at the party and this is all just a horrific dream. Taking a deep breath, I open my eyes and the two bodies lay in front of me, in the same positions I left them in. I want to scream, but I can’t. It’s too much to take in and let out noise at the same time. I desperately crawl to my mom and grab her hand. “Don’t worry Mom, I’m gonna you and Dad help and you’ll be okay.” Suddenly my brain starts to work. I have to call 911. Trembling, I take out my cellphone and dial the three numbers. “911, what’s your emergency?” the operator on the phone asks in a plain female voice. Again, I am struck speechless. I can’t say it out loud, it’s too horrible. “Hello? Are you there?” the voice continues. “Yes, I, I, I just came home and my parents, they’re really hurt. I need an ambulance.” “Ma’am, what happened to your parents?” “My mom and dad are both slit in the throat. There’s blood everywhere. Oh my God, you have to get someone here fast! You can’t let them die! Please get an ambulance now!” “Ma’am, you said they were slit in the throat, do they have pulses?” I kept hold of my mom’s hand as I feel her wrist. “I can’t feel anything on my mom. It must be really weak, but wait, let me try my dad.” Doing a similar process with my father, I get the same results. “My dad’s the same way. Don’t you see, the longer you wait to call someone, the worse they’re going to get!” “I understand. What is your name and your address. I will send a police officer over right away.” “Brooke Stevens, 316 Oak Drive in Little Falls.” After a brief pause, the operator speaks, “Okay, Brooke, someone is coming now. Now, as calmly as you can answer, I need you to let me know, are you safe? Did you check the house to make sure no one was in there with you?” “No, I didn’t even think. . .” my voice changes to a whisper, “You’re right, the person that did this to my parents could be here, waiting to do it to me!” “Brooke, take a deep breath, don’t think that way. Don’t move from where you are, until the officer gets there.” “But I could be a sitting duck, just waiting to be shot, or cut.” “You have to trust me. Everything will be better if you wait for the police officer. Please stay on the phone with me, okay?” “Okay.” Kneeling between my parents, I hold a hand from each in mine. “When the police get here, you’ll both be alright.”
            After what seemed like the longest ten minutes of my life, a knock on the door startles me. “Police, open the door,” a male voice commands. Still on the phone with the 911 operator, and not wanting to let go of my parents, I yell, “It’s open.” Two policemen stand in front of me. “Oh, thank God!” I exclaim. “Come here and help them, I don’t think they have much time left!”  The taller officer gives his partner a look, yet stays where he is. “Don’t just stand there! Help them, please!” The shorter one kneels by me and checks for pulse too. He knows what he’s doing; he’ll feel it! With a shake of the shorter officer’s head, I lose control. “Why haven’t you called for an ambulance yet? Can’t you see my mom and dad need help! What are you waiting for?” “Let me talk to the operator while you and my partner go outside.” The taller one says matter-of-factly. “No, you aren’t doing anything! If I go outside, you’ll probably forget my parents altogether!” “I have to talk to the operator so I can call who we need. And to let me help your parents the best way I can would be if you go outside so I can get everything done properly,” the taller cop reasons. Simply nodding, I hand over my cellphone and walk outside to the wicker couch on my porch. Sitting down, I stare into the morning darkness, trying to figure out what is going on. Who hurt my parents? Are they going to be okay? “Is there anyone you want to call to come over here with you?” The shorter cop asks, pulling me out of my daze. “My brothers. I forgot about them. They’re on a road trip to California. I can’t be the one to tell them this. I don’t even understand what’s going on. I come home from a party and my parents are lying in pools of blood. How do I explain that? Please, if I give you the number, can you tell them?” I plead.
            He agrees and I give him my middle brother Eric’s number. Just as he begins to speak, an ambulance pulls up and I let out a sigh of relief. Finally, Mom and Dad will be alright. After I watch the EMTs rush in, the officer hands his phone to me. “Eric?” “Brooke, I can’t believe this happened. I can’t believe we aren’t there to be with you.” Already my brother was hiding his own emotions to try and protect me. “I know. It’s so horrible. Seeing them on the floor like that, I’ll never get that picture out of my mind.” “Brooke, did they. . .do you think they’re going to—?” Before Eric can finish the sentence, I interrupt him. “Don’t talk like that. The EMTs are here and soon they’ll get to the hospital. Where are you guys?” “We’re in Indianapolis and can’t be home until at least tomorrow night. I think you should call Nick, okay?” I’m taken back by the statement. Since we started dating three years ago, my brothers never particularly liked my boyfriend Nick, normal older brother tendencies; however, it’s only gotten worse in the past few months since we’ve been having problems with our relationship and they’ve been my shoulder to cry on on many occasions. Before I can dwell further, Eric continues, “Craig and I don’t want you being alone right now and we know Kaya doesn’t have a car to get to you. Please Brooke.” “Okay, I’ll call him.” “Alright, now let me talk to the cop again, but text me when Nick gets there.” “I will.” “I love you Brooke.” “I love you too, and tell Craig the same.” “Will do.”
            Once he’s off the phone with Eric, I ask the officer to use it again to call Nick. After a tense few rings, a groggy voiced Nick answers. “Hello?” “Nick, it’s Brooke.” “What? Did you get too drunk at your party and now you want me to come pick you up?” He asks belligerently. “No, Nick please. I know we’ve been fighting, but I really need you right now. My parents both had their throats slit right in my living room.” I hear a gasp on the other end. “Right now the paramedics are working on them, but I don’t know. Craig and Eric left on their road trip this morning, and I just can’t be alone right now. Can you come over?” Nick starts to answer when a black van pulls up to the front of my house with the words “CORONER” printed on the side in bold yellow letters.
            I drop the phone and jump up. “Coroner? Wait, that means. . .What are they doing here?” I shout at the officer that is giving me a sympathetic look. “No, they didn’t. My parents they’re… they’re dead?” Every ounce of control that I foolishly thought I had is gone. “No, no, it can’t be true.” I look at the cop with tears welling in my eyes. I want to shake him until he tells me it is a mistake, a wrong turn, not meant for my address. Then, three men get out and remove two stretchers from the back of the vehicle, both containing black bags. “I’m sorry Brooke,” the officer says gently. “No! This is a sick joke! My mom and dad aren’t dead! They can’t be.” I run towards the house, but the cop stops me. “You can’t go in there; it’s officially a crime scene.” I am broken. I am alone, out the dark while the bodies, no, corpses of my dead parents are being put into black bags to be wheeled away and examined. I want to cry, but I feel too numb. It doesn’t feel real. I can’t connect to this reality. It can’t be mine. I gaze off into the darkness yet again, still pleading to be somehow woken up at any moment.
            Soon, I hear a voice, not an unfamiliar official voice, but a caring voice I know. “Brooke?” Nick asks softly. He sits next to me and wraps his arms around me. “I’m sorry baby. I know this is such a tough thing to deal with,” he soothes. I put my arms around him and sob. “They were just there when I left at ten and now, now they’re gone.” Nick tilts my head back and I’m looking at him. “Brooke, you’re going to be okay. I promise.” He kisses my forehead and I again bury my face in his chest. “Miss Stevens?” Yet another voice fills my ears and I turn my face to it. “I’m Detective Fields and this is my partner Detective Vee. We understand this is a difficult time, but you have to come to the station with us.” “You think I killed my parents?!” I ask in utter disbelief. “Brooke, no one is jumping to conclusions, we just need you to make a statement for our records,” says Detective Vee. “Can he come with me, he’s my boyfriend.” “For right now, you have to ride with us, but he can follow us there.” I look back at Nick and he gives me an approving nod. “I’ll be right behind you. You won’t even know I was gone.” He gives me one last hug before I follow the detectives to their car.
            The ride to the police station is torturous because I’m left with my own thoughts in the eerily quiet car. Just a few hours ago I was at a party and I was worried about waking my parents up when I got home, and now they’re gone. That word doesn’t even seem real to me, gone. My parents can’t be gone. My mom is the one who makes her special meatball soup when I’m sick, tells me to wear a jacket when it’s cold, and always has the best dating advice. My dad is the one that hangs up the Christmas lights, mows the lawn, and always knows exactly what to do when I’m having car trouble. I can’t not have a force like that in my life; it’s too terrible to imagine, much less live through. A lump forms in my throat and I feel like I’m going to start crying again. I turn around to look out the back window and Nick is in the car right behind us, just like he promised. The sight of his face calms me down just in time. “Brooke, we’re about to be there. We’re gonna go in, ask you a few questions, and then you can leave,” explains Detective Vee.
            Entering the station, Nick is told to wait on a bench as I am escorted to a room with a small table, three chairs, a lone light bulb hanging overhead, and a two-way mirror. The detectives sit on one side of the table while I sit on the other. As they are setting up the room and getting their paperwork in order, I study their features. Under the light, I can see them both clearly for the first time. Detective Fields is a husky man at about 6’2 that seems to be in his mid-forties and needs a shave to remove the five o’clock shadow that I would now classify as ten o’clock shadow. Detective Vee is another sort all her own. She is a younger thin woman of average height with strong bone structure and blonde curly hair tied in a ponytail. It may seem foolish to focus on such things, but I’d do anything at this point to distract myself until I have to relive all the details of my parents’ murders. Even in my head, that last word spends a chill down my spine. Just then, the click of a tape recorder turning on rips me from my thoughts.  
            “Today is May 18, 2014 and the time is 4:05 am. I am Detective Fields here with Detective Vee and we are both interrogating Brooke Stevens about the murder of her parents, David and Linda Stevens.” He looks into my eyes and asks plainly, “Can you lead me through the events of what happened tonight and what you witnessed?” Starting from leaving for the party to the time the pair introduced themselves to me, I relive every mundane or gory detail: the last time moment I saw my parents alive, the party, the car ride with Kaya, the metallic scent, the red pools, the perfect slices, everything. A few times we have to stop because my crying fits change my voice to hopeless noises that cannot be understood by anyone, including me.
            “Thank you Brooke, now can you think of anyone who would want your parents dead?” Detective Vee asks me after I calm down from the last sobbing episode. “No, they were both great people. My mom’s an accountant and my dad’s a carpenter; they are—were average people. My mom would help the neighbors with their taxes for free and my dad would give discounts to the majority of people he worked for. They didn’t do anything to make enemies!” I explain assertively. “Okay, so if they didn’t have a reason to have enemies, is there anyone close to them that you think could have done it?” Detective Fields presses, “Maybe your mom made a mistake on a neighbor’s taxes and it caused them to be bitter or maybe your dad didn’t give a customer exactly what they wanted?” “That doesn’t even make sense, even if those things did happen, I can hardly see either of them causing someone to do such a ghastly thing.” Then again, none of this entire situation makes sense to me. “How about people closer? Did your parents have any problems with family?” Detective Vee asks. “Not that I know of. Most of my family on both sides lives in California. My parents moved to the East Coast before I was born, so I don’t get to see my family very often.” “Speaking of California, weren’t your two brothers, Craig and Eric, going there recently?” Detective Fields jumps on the mention of the state. “Yes, they were on a road trip to see our cousins. Like I said, we don’t get to see my extended family very often and my brothers have been looking forward to this trip for months.” “Alright, and when did they leave for the trip?” “This morning, but why does that matter?” “Don’t you think it’s a bit convenient that both your brothers just happen to ‘leave the state’ the exact night your parents are murdered?” “Are you kidding me? You think Eric and Craig killed our parents?!” I don’t even know how to process the accusation. “Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds?” The hysteria in my voice must be matched with a crazy look in my eye because immediately Detective Vee begins to speak to me in a pacifying tone. “Brooke, we are just trying to get all the facts, so we can figure out who did this.” She puts her hand on my shoulder. “The more we know, the closer we come to solving this case and prosecuting whoever did this to your parents.” Detective Fields starts to ask another question when his partner stops him. “I think we have enough for now.” Detective Vee raises her hand to stop his action. With a frustrated groan, he storms out of the room. “Brooke, you can go now, but we will be in contact with you later today.” Detective Vee instructs and adds, “I know it’s probably the last thing on your mind, but try to get some sleep.” With that, I exit the room and find Nick asleep on the bench where I left him over an hour ago.
            “Nick?” I give him a light nudge, he is startled awake, and stares at me with a wild gaze. “Nick, I’m done. We can leave.” Fixing his eyes on me, Nick’s face relaxes; he stands up, and puts his arm around me and we walk to his car. The digital clock on the radio flashes 5:37 am when Nick turns the key in the ignition. “I called my mom and she set up the guest room for you,” he tells me as we settle in our seats. “I didn’t even think of where I would go, I forgot I can’t go home.” “Don’t worry about it.” Nick is still a little dazed from just being woken up and I have too much on my mind to even want to talk, so the ride to his house is a silent one. Walking through the door, Nick’s mom suddenly has her arms around me. “Oh honey, I don’t even know what to say about such a tragedy! You don’t deserve this at all! You, your brothers, and your parents, are all such good people! I can’t believe this.” She pulls away and there are tears in her eyes. Suddenly I feel like I have to comfort her instead of the other way around. “Mom, Brooke is understandably upset, I think she just wants to go to sleep. She’s been up all night,” Nick suggests. “To be honest, I don’t even think I can sleep. My body is physically tired, but my mind is too wound up to sleep,” I admit. “I have just what you need! Go to the guest room and I will be there in a minute,” Nick’s mom, who has now controlled herself, pipes up.
            Entering the guest room, I can smell the scent of newly washed sheets and notice a night gown folded neatly on the bed. On the dresser is a pile of fresh white towels and a box of tissues is on the nightstand.  Just like any mother, Nick’s mom has thought of everything. I sit on the bed and get choked up as I think of how my mom would have had the same standards for making a guest feel right at home. However, before I can even let out a tear, my hostess is at the door holding a glass of water and cupping something in her other hand. “Brooke, I want you to take these to get some sleep,” she directs as she gives me the water and two pills. Normally, I would have protested, but I definitely wasn’t looking forward to laying in bed crying, waiting for the police to contact me for more grueling questions. After I finish the glass, Nick’s mom sits on the bed next to me and takes my hand. “Honey, I don’t understand why this has happened to you, but just know that God has a plan for everything. It may not make any sense right now or even for a while, but God knows what He’s doing and He won’t keep you in the dark for long.” She leaves me in the room and I’m alone for the first time since I left Kaya’s house. Changing into the nightgown, I try everything in my power to not let my mind wander to my parents. I can’t think of them; it’s too painful right now. Distraction, yes that’s what I need. I start searching through the room for something, maybe a book, anything that can take my mind off the present. I open a drawer and I’m greeted by a pile of blue and white pills. Well, it looks like Nick’s mom has another stash. Maybe that is why she is always so happy? Well, except for tonight. I let out a small sigh, and shut the drawer. Despite my efforts, distraction proves to be a difficult task, so I walk back to the bed and lay in torturous silence until the pills I took before take effect.
            Unfortunately, I am barely asleep with the door opens, and a figure is advancing towards the bed. I open my mouth to scream, but nothing comes out. Before I can dodge the attack, the figure is on top of me. It’s dark and I can’t see a face, but I know my assailant is a man. I thrash about trying to get away, but his force is too strong.  Pinning me to the bed, he leans his head closer to mine and whispers, “I got your parents and now I will get you.” I watch helplessly as he takes out a knife and runs it teasingly around my cheek. “Ah, just like the first two, my knife will go so smooth across your skin, like butter.” He positions the blade on my neck and again I try to scream. This time it works; I open my mouth and a piercing yell comes out. Now that I have this power back, I use it for all its worth. I begin screaming over and over to get help. I am using so much energy in my vocal cords that I close my eyes to channel everything I have into yelling.
            I feel a set of hands on my shoulders; I release my squint and open my eyes. I am in the same room, the same darkness, but no man is on top of me. Nick is sitting on the bed calling my name. “Brooke? Brooke, calm down. It’s okay. It was just a dream. You’re okay.” I position my mouth to let another scream when I stop myself. He’s right; it was just a nightmare. “Oh my God, Nick. I was so scared. The guy who killed my parents came here to kill me. He had a knife and was about to slit my throat. It felt so real.” I begin to sob. I’ve held it off too long and now the dam has broken. I can’t do it anymore. Nick holds me in his arms and tries to stop my shaking by holding me tighter. “You have nothing to worry about Brooke, I will never let anyone hurt you, not while I’m around.” Eventually, my shaking stops, my breathing slows, and I start to feel the pills take effect again. Nick senses it too, I can feel him moving around, preparing to get up. “No, Nick, please stay with me,” I grab his arm. “I can’t be alone, not even with you a room away. I need you here, with me.” He moves back onto the bed and pulls me in. “I’ll be right here. Go back to sleep and I’ll be here when you wake up.” He smooths my hair back into place and before I can say anything more, I am asleep.
            With no more interruptions, I manage to get a few hours of sleep in. As I wake up, I hear Nick tease, “Ah, my Sleeping Beauty has finally arisen from her slumber.” Looking up, I can’t help but let out a smile, as I notice he is in the exact spot I left him in. “What time is it? Noon?” I ask as reality returns to me. “It’s actually five o’clock,” Nick eases. “I slept almost twelve hours?” I ask in disbelief. “Yeah, I knew my mom should have never given you that stuff, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.” “I have so much to get done.” The hysteria in my voice grows. “I need to call Craig and Eric to tell them they have to meet me here and not our house. And the cops, ah I bet they called and are so mad I didn’t pick up.” I am about to go on when Nick stops me. “Everything is taken care of Brooke. Your brothers should be here in the next hour and the police only called to let you know that an officer will be coming by to make sure Craig and Eric report the station after they get here.” “But how did you…?” “A lot can get accomplished with a cellphone and twelve hours of staying in the same place.” “Thank you.” Two simple words, but I can’t express how grateful I am to have him with me, especially now. If I can’t show my gratitude, I have to at least show regret. “Nick, I’m sorry we’ve been fighting recently. With school and work and just everything, it’s all gotten to me. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.” “Brooke, after all you’ve been through in the past twenty-four hours, you think I’m even thinking about that? This is why I love you, always thinking about others before yourself.” He kisses my forehead and stumbles as he gets out of bed. “Get dressed, Craig and Eric will refuse to wait any longer to see you once they get here.”
            At six a police car arrives and about twenty minutes later, Craig’s car pulls up. I don’t know who’s faster as both my brothers and I rush to embrace, but when we all connect, tears are flowing and words are being exchanged all at the same time that it barely makes sense. I don’t care though; these two are the last in my family and now that they are here in front of me, I can’t think of anything else of relevance. As we all calm down, Craig begins, “Brooke, of all the weekends we are gone, this happens.” “Thank God you weren’t there,” Eric adds, “Losing Mom and Dad is hard enough, but our baby sister too—” “I’m sorry to cut this reunion short, but you two have to come with me,” the officer interrupts. It’s difficult to hide my distaste, but I know they have to go. “Get back as soon as you can, okay?” I plead. They nod in agreement, each gives me one last hug, and I watch as the car disappears around the corner. As if waiting for them to come back in the state wasn’t bad enough, waiting for them to get through interrogation is even worse. All I can think about was how Detective Fields accused my own brothers of killing our parents. I can only imagine how he is treating them now. Three long hours and I am on the verge of a breakdown when my brothers walk through the door. “They had absolutely nothing on us, but they kept us there to try to extract the information they swore we had,” Eric explains. Entering the living room, Craig sits on the couch and isn’t adding to Eric’s complaints in the slightest, extremely uncharacteristic for my oldest brother. “They showed him pictures of the murder scene and he broke down,” Eric replies to my puzzling gaze. “They showed me too, but I barely got a glance. There’s no way I’m remembering my parents that way.” After all the frustration is released, I manage to get Eric and even Craig to eat the dinner Nick’s mom has prepared. That night Nick is not needed in my room as my brothers and I all stay in the one guest room. It’s a tight sleeping situation, but I wouldn’t feel safer anywhere else than in between Craig and Eric. The next morning, we get another visit from Detectives Fields and Vee. They come to tell us that their investigation is ongoing and they will update us as time goes on, yet unfortunately they had nothing new to report. Two days later, we are allowed to return back to our house. I appreciated Nick and his family for all they had done, but after a while, one changes from feeling like a guest to feeling a nuisance. The reentry was horrible. As soon as I locked eyes on the beige carpet, that is now free from any stain thanks to crime scene clean up team, the whole night came right back to me. Fortunately, with my brothers by my side, I was able to work through it.
            A week goes by and still nothing. My brothers and I attempt to return to some state of normalcy, but it’s difficult going on day after day and knowing that Mom and Dad are never coming home. The wounds are reopened every morning after the stupor of sleep wears off and we are reminded again of the dark reality.
            Today I vow to be different. I am awake at a reasonable hour and I have a full day planned with Kaya. Arriving at her house, I am relieved to see her smiling. The first few times I saw her after “the incident” were tough because she didn’t know what to say and she didn’t hide that fact. However, now as she gets in my car and we drive to the nearest hiking trails, I can’t help but be thankful to have my best friend back in working order. Hiking from path to path, we stop every so often to look at the wild flowers and waterfalls. The fresh air filling my lungs and the dirt crushing beneath my feet feel invigorating and for the first time in almost two weeks, I feel some small sense of peace. It is approaching four o’clock when the hunger and exhaustion of the day start to come down on Kaya and me. Once we reach my car, my cellphone starts to flash wildly. This is a usual occurrence once we exit the park, since reception is spotty on the trails. This time, the action worries me because five calls are from police department. I quickly redial the call and am told to come to the station immediately.
            Due to my distance away and dropping off Kaya, it takes an hour and a half for me to reach the station. Since she is waiting outside when I get there, Detective Vee is the first person to meet me. “Brooke, we have to go now,” she commands. “We know who killed your parents and now he has your brother Craig.” “What? Who? Where? Is Craig okay?” The questions are pouring out of me and Vee answers them all with great patience as we make our way to the location unknown to me. “For a while, we were losing hope. There was no murder weapon or DNA and we were worried we weren’t going to find who did this. But then, one of your neighbors called in and said they saw Nick’s car in front of your house the night your parents were killed. She didn’t think much of it then because she’s seen the car many times before. However, once she heard the details of the crime on the news, she couldn’t stop herself from feeling suspicious and gave us a call. We’ve been tracking Nick’s every move since and we’ve had no physical evidence to even question him about, until now.” She pauses in what I think is a window for me to ask questions, but I’m silent so she continues. “Today, he called your house posing as the funeral director and asked Eric and Craig meet him downtown to discuss your parents’ arrangements. Eric was busy on his cellphone with the insurance company and sent Craig to go alone. From there, our officers saw Craig enter the rundown building that they followed Nick to and knew something was wrong. They immediately followed your brother in, but by the time they found the correct room, Nick already had taken Craig hostage.” “Is he alive?” I swallow hard. “Yes, and the officers are doing everything in their power to keep it that way. Detective Fields is talking with Nick now and he’s demanding to see you or he threatened to hurt Craig.” I hear the words come out of her mouth, but they don’t compute. I feel like she has just spoken to me in another language that I can’t comprehend. Nick, my boyfriend, the one who’s been soothing all my cries and wiping away my tears, is behind my parents’ murders and has now taken my brother hostage? How am I supposed to take this? It feels even more unbelievable than the murder itself. Part of me wants to protest, but I have no strength. In two weeks time, this is far too much for anyone to digest. I internally plead with every fiber of my being that this is a nightmare and soon I will be woken up by Craig, Eric, or even my own screams.
            My wish is never granted. Soon, we arrive at a building that is surrounded by police and I am greeted by a hysterical Eric. “How was I supposed to know that the police didn’t get funeral directors to call you? It seemed to make sense to me, but look where it’s got us, look where it’s got him!” Had it had been any other time, I would have thrown my arms around Eric to comfort him and dispel his self-blame. However, right now it was too much for me to handle. I callously walked past Eric with nothing more than a squeeze of his hand and a look in the eye. In the elevator, Detective Vee coaches me on the proper way to talk to Nick as she helps me slip on a bulletproof vest. “You have to stay calm. The calmer you are, the calmer he will be and the less likely he is to do anything to Craig.” It’s still hard for me to speak when I am ushered to the door that houses Nick and my brother.
            “Nick, Brooke is here.” Detective Fields informs. “I don’t believe you! Have her say something,” Nick shouts. The detectives look at me and give a nod as a cue to begin. “Nick, it’s Brooke. Please don’t hurt my brother.” “I was never going to hurt him, I just wanted to see you and I still do.” Nick’s voice settles down. “I am going to come and unlock the door and I want Brooke to come in. If anyone else comes in, I will shoot Craig and anyone I can after.” “No! You can’t let her in there! He’ll kill them both!” Eric bursts out, “I can’t lose my whole family!” There is a sudden burst of activity as Eric is apprehended and taken away. Then, from behind the door, a gunshot. “Listen, I am in charge here and if I don’t get my way. It’s all over.” Nick commands. “That was just a warning shot, but the next one will be right through his skull.” Taking a deep breath, I respond. “It will just be me, Nick; I promise.” After approval nods from the detectives, I make my way towards the door and turn the knob. As soon as both my feet are just in the room, Nick slams the door behind me, locking it again.
            Craig is in the middle of a studio apartment, tied to a chair, and gagged with a white cloth. Nick circles around and touches my face. “Oh Brooke, my sweet, sweet love, don’t look so frightened. You are just here with me. I won’t let anyone hurt you, remember?” Stay calm, whatever you do, stay calm. “You may not have hurt me physically, but you have hurt me in other ways.”  Nick lets out an aggravated sigh, throws his hands up in the air, and starts pacing. “I knew you were going to act like this. They’ve brainwashed you into thinking I’m a monster, when all I ever did was love you.” “Who brainwashed me?” “Your parents and now your brothers. They’ve pinned everything on me and they have you hating me.” “Why would you say that?” “The fighting, Brooke. We couldn’t go a day without an argument and I knew where it was heading and I couldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t lose you.” “Nick, what did you do?” “I did what was best for us. Haven’t you seen? Since they’ve been gone, we have been closer than we’ve been in months! All thanks to me.” “You killed my parents to save our relationship?” I let too much emotion slip out with my question and it immediately reflects on Nick. “Don’t you see? I had to. They were going to split us up and I couldn’t bear it. I needed to be with you forever and I couldn’t let anyone get in our way.” I feel tears build in my eyes, but I try to hold them back. “If you already dealt with my parents, why my brothers too?” “Same reasons, I couldn’t let them get in the way. I would have gotten them all at once, but four against one doesn’t really put the odds in my favor. So, I had to plan strategically and up until now, everything’s been working perfectly.” He circles around in front of me and grabs my hands. “Don’t you see Brooke? It might not have gone as planned, but you and I, we can run away. We can be together without any distractions, just me and you.” He pulls me in for a kiss, but I force myself away. “Did you ever think it was you who caused our fights? Out of nowhere, you stopped wanting to go out, and if I did convince you to leave, you would act so weird around other people. Even when it was just me and you, all you wanted to do was stay in and watch a movie or sleep. I tried to ask you what was wrong, but you never let me in. I couldn’t take it anymore.” The anger was boiling up inside Nick and I could almost see the steam waiting to escape his head. “Don’t say that Brooke, you loved me. You wanted to be with me.” “Yes, at a time, I loved you and wanted you. But now, now I . . .I” I’m stopped by Nick’s actions. He’s breathing heavy and his hands wring the gun. “I thought we would be so perfect Brooke, but you’re just like all of them and I can’t have that in my life.” He walks towards me with the gun pointed directly at me. “Nick, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said those things. I was wrong. Please don’t kill me.” “It’s a little too late for that.” Just before the gun goes off, the door to the apartment is busted down and police swarm in. Due to the commotion, a bullet only grazes my arm as a shooting war begins to erupt out. It’s all too much for me and despite any major injuries, I black out.
            The next thing I know, I wake up in a hospital bed with Craig and Eric in chairs on either side of me. “Oh thank God,” Craig lets out a sigh of relief. “Brooke! You’re awake. We were so worried!” Eric cries. “Was I shot? What happened?” I ask. “No, he wasn’t able to get you. But, the cops and the hospital psychiatrist think the mental trauma was too much for you to handle and you passed out. They sedated you for the night, but they are keeping you here for a few days to make sure you are mentally and emotionally stable.” I nod in understanding, but then I turn my head away. I find myself in the middle of an internal battle in my head. Going back and forth in my head, one side finally wins and I blurt out what I’ve been trying to avoid. “Is Nick alive?” “No, the police took him down trying to protect you and he didn’t survive.”  Eric is livid. “Now the bastard doesn’t even get to face his punishment, such a coward.”
             A few days later, the truth is revealed. Nick had Schizophrenia. No one knew except his mom, who would do anything to keep her life looking as neat as the guest room I stayed in. She swore she knew nothing of his murderous plans and thought he was taking his medication, but the autopsy found no amount of it in his system. Upon investigation, they found he was hiding the meds in the guest room. The blue and white pills weren’t his mom’s, but his. Anger rises within my veins. Why would he do this? Why couldn’t he just take the pills and be stable? My parents could still be alive, but no, Nick had to be selfish and not do a simple task. Now my parents are dead and so is he, all because he was too good to take pills.

Some time later…                

            It’s been eight months since that early morning in May and every day proves to be a struggle. I took off the Fall semester because the thought of reading chapters and writing papers just seemed futile while my entire mind was consumed with coping with everything that occurred. I also have periods of blaming myself for the whole ordeal since Nick was my boyfriend and therefore it was my fault. As a result, I’ve entered a vacuuming depression, sprinkled with bouts of anxiety. Yet, with help from Craig, Eric, and the therapist they had to drag me to, I am slowly getting “better,” by their standards. I’m even registered for classes that start in the next few weeks. Of course, this comes with the full understanding that I can stop at any time, if it becomes too much to bear.
            The medication I am now taking is meant to make me not feel so hopeless or nervous and I have to admit it does work. However, it works too well. Instead of not feeling the negative emotions, I feel nothing. The meds that are supposed to help me, just make me feel drained, an empty shell of who I used to be. My next thought is quite eerie. Now who am I supposed to be mad at, Nick or the disease? Despite his actions, I truly think that Nick didn’t exactly know the consequences of what he chose to do. Before the incident, I’d been with him three years and I thought his altered behavior was just laziness. However, as I’ve researched the illness, I found that Nick’s strange actions were all linked to common Schizophrenic symptoms. And now that I am having this reaction to the medication, I don’t know what to think. I don’t mean to excuse Nick; I am still angry, hurt, and surprised by his vile deed. Yet, it does give me something to think about that keeps awake long hours of the night. Who’s to say I won’t hit a wall, decide to stop taking my medication, and be the next one to go on a murderous rampage due to the demons that occupy my mind?