Something is coagulating in my stomach, like black sludge, thick and dark and heavy.
The frustrating part is that I can’t name it.
All I know is that it’s Cassie’s fault.
More and more often now, I find myself winding the sludge into oily strings, into insults, trying to get down to the wire, trying to find the name of the emotion.
Really? I say. You’re SO pathetic. It’s Ben’s party, and you’re hiding in the bathroom bawling. Figures.
Shut up, she whispers.
The words are an unlocked gate, a paper fort.
Pathetic, weak, and practically begging for an attack.
How were you even invited? I say. No one here even likes you.
I saw Hannah’s glare when Cassie had been refilling her plate with chips (for like the third time).
Saw Kendra and Natalie whispering over the rims of their plastic cups with intermittent looks at Cassie.
Heard Thomas laughing when Cassie was “dancing” to “Call Me Maybe.”
(Oh my gosh, people should cover their eyes when Cassie dances. It’s so bad. Like her and the beat had a breakup a long time ago, and she clearly hasn’t gotten over it.)
No one besides Lily has even talked to her. And there have been rumored sightings of Lily talking to a brick wall, complaining about her grade in Spanish.
Rap music reverberates down the hall, hard notes like hands pounding on the bathroom door. I hear guys trying to sing along to the chorus. Raucous laughing when their white-boy vocal cords can’t keep up with Kayne West.
Cassie shrinks even more against the toilet, shoulders tightening like someone’s pushing them, holding them together.
Maybe you got invited on a bet. Or a joke. Or the text was sent out to the wrong person. Like why would Ben invite you? Do you think he likes you or something?
Her fingers curl in on her pink sweater. She shrinks deeper into her arms, hunching over even more until her spine is a curve.
Oh my gosh. She is so stupid.
Uh, last I checked, Ben likes actually pretty girls. Like Tasha. He doesn’t like the fat girls.
Another sob chokes out of her.
Yeah, I know. “Don’t use the f-word, every girl is beautiful, it’s all about that bass” and all that crap.
Cassie is fat. And it’s certainly not beautiful.
Come on, everyone saw you take like five slices of pizza. That’s just so gross.
Stop, Cassie breathes. Stop it. Shut up.
Why? You’re going to make me stop?
Cassie says nothing. Nothing.
Thought so. You’re pathetic.
And she is.
Because she wouldn’t stop me. I could be in here for hours, insulting her weight, how she’s an idiot in math, how she has to practice her order every time she goes out to eat, how her clothes are ugly and clinging, how no boy is ever going to like her. I could create a string so thick and long and dark that it could wind around the house, around the school, around the world and she would just whisper shut up, shut up, shut up.
The beats are no longer at the door. Even the music has left us alone.
The dark feeling, the sludgy emotion, is getting heavier. A tar pit in my chest.
It has my ankles and it’s pulling me down, down, down into something thick and bad and somewhere I can’t resurface and I can’t leave.
Now I’m scared.
I need to leave. Need to slam open the bathroom door and run.
But I can’t.
Cassie has caused this. Cassie is the lifeguard, sitting against the porcelain lifeguard chair, and she’s watching me drown.
Why? I demand.
Why do you do this? Why don’t you shut me up or tell on me or . . . or something? Please just make me stop!
She does nothing.
What, do you like this or something?
You like hearing that you’re fat and stupid and lonely and disgusting? Is that it?
No, she says. No.
Cassie is a frozen lake. She is cold and I am drowning and this is her fault.
The tar is at my chest now. Pooling around my heart. Feeling like it is slowing down the heartbeats.
Why, I ask one more time.
Why do you do this to yourself?
Cassie takes a deep breath. A shuddering breath. Cracking ice.
I deserve it.
And suddenly, the sludge, the darkness, the insults, the disgust and annoyance and embarrassment finally has a name.
I hate Cassie Elizabeth Allen.
A fist pounds on the bathroom door, and Cassie jolts.
“Hey, is someone in there?”
“Coming!” Cassie’s voice is half-strangled, choking on tar.
She forces herself to her feet. Walks to the sink.
She stares into the long mirror, which only reflects her ugly, too-heavy face and the bathroom towels hanging on the rack behind her.
She pulls on the faucet and runs cold water over her hands as the tar oozes over her head.
Editor's note: If you or anyone you know needs help, please call a suicide prevention hotline
1-800-273-8255 - Suicide Prevention Lifeline – US
1-833-456-4566 – Crisis Services Canada - CA