Story of My Life

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
I let go of my most important friendship. I bad-mouthed my parents under my breath. I constantly searched for approval.

I met people who were more successful than me and compared myself to them.

I was determined to stretch one moment into multiple lifetimes.

In high school I drove my car into a tree and spent hours picking off pieces of bark from the windshield until no one could ever tell I had gotten into an accident. I went home and told my parents I was at the library.

I broke four bones and had a doctor named Tally tend to my injuries. She told me to stop getting hurt so much like it was my choice.

I glued my fingers together during Art class and ripped them apart again. Over and over until white flakes scattered my desk like dandruff.

My sister cut off the bottom halves of her shirts. She ripped her jeans. She practiced applying eyeliner. She barged into my room showing off her exposed belly button and smooth knees. I went to school the next day in a ski mask.

I shadowed both of my parents at work. My mom worked as a cardiologist at a private practice around the corner. My dad packaged customer orders at an Amazon factory on a middle-of-nowhere piece of land right next to our town. I listened to my mom ask her patients, “How are you today?” as if she said it all the time. I listened to my dad whistle over the sounds of cardboard flaps scraping against each other. It only took me seven minutes to figure out that both of them were happier at their jobs than they ever were together.

My English teacher got high off of truth serum before writing comments on my end-of-year report card. He said, “For someone who claims to care so much about school, you’d think Leah would be able to at least pretend she cares about my class.”

I posed on a piano bench in front of an over-decorated Christmas tree. My sister and I wore matching pleated lilac skirts with shirts buttoned up so tightly they almost choked us. “Sit up straight,” my father whispered at me from the corner of his mouth. My sister snickered, intertwining her fingers like a couple holding hands. She tucked her skinny ankles away behind the bench leg. I looked down at my half-bitten nails and tangled my fingers together like a piece of rope. I wondered if this was really what they meant by The Christmas Spirit.

I satisfactorily completed the requirements of my school to graduate. I spent the summer reading about people I could never live up to.

People wouldn’t shut up about how college was going to be the best four years of my life. My mother dropped me off on campus because my father was on a work trip again.

A boy in my 8am class asked me why I was so dumb.

My friend called me to tell me she adopted a chinchilla and named it Puddles. Then she hung up.

I got scared by the sound of bread popping out of my toaster. I sipped clandestine tea at a table across from my aunt who visited me after being disowned from our family. I ditched bar soap and started using shower gel.

My roommate was randomly generated for me using some compatibility test. At night she lay down on her long rectangular purple bath mat and rolled herself up into a cocoon like she was entering hibernation for five months. She slept face down. “The system isn’t perfect,” they’d said. “Don’t take it personally.” Yeah, well, don’t tell me what to do.

I read a textbook from start to finish. I skipped the appendices. And the equations. I read the majority of the words.

I blasted rock music through my speaker until my grandma had better hearing than I did.

I accidentally stapled my finger and flaunted it like an engagement ring.

I tried to preserve a long-time friendship with a girl I’d met in grade school. Her slight British accent came through on words like “literally” and “vitamin.” She won spelling bees and wore headbands that she crocheted herself. Her parents never pressured her, but she still got A’s. She sent me cute photos of her and her family, but all I could see were her shiny white teeth. She wanted to do everything in her life. I got an 8 page letter from her that could have been summed up in one sentence: “I moved to Antarctica.” I never heard from her again.

I heard a penguin at the zoo died of obesity.

People described me as a downer. A Negative Nancy. I thought Lonely Leah was more accurate. More poignant.

My sophomore year I met Stella, who decided to get hitched in our dorm’s crusty cafeteria. She met Jay during orientation. They played an icebreaker where everyone stood in a circle, held hands, closed their eyes, and squeezed the person on their left’s hand. Stella said she squeezed Jay’s hand and immediately felt a squeeze back. She said it like it was the most romantic thing anyone could have ever done for her. “He broke the rules for me,” she said. I wanted to say he squeezed back by accident. He didn’t know his left from his right because he hadn’t made an “L” with his fingers beforehand. I wanted to say a mere “squeeze back” seemed like a low bar to meet. But suddenly I was her maid-of-honor, and she found a senior who was ordained, and they said their “I do’s” next to the tray where discolored mashed potatoes were steaming just hours before.

I found out I’m the spill-your-guts type of drunk. I announced to everyone I was a nose-picker. Sheila thought it was funny. I stopped drinking.

I joined film club with Terry even though I preferred television. I dabbled in recreational rowing with Joy even though I hated getting wet. I took beginner’s jazz classes with Tom even though the only dance I’d ever done was the Electric Slide. I pretended I played the snare drum just to get on the marching band with Sally.

I ran a mile for the first time in my life. I couldn’t walk for four days.

I swore to live waste-free. I made my own soaps, shampoos, conditioners, and toothpaste. I filled small hotel bottles with experiments and donated them to shelters as if they were Pantene. I gifted them to friends who didn’t know any better. I smiled like I was making a difference.

I ate white rice, switched to brown rice, and switched back to white rice.

My game theory professor taught me how to play chess. He droned on and on about why the pawn was his favorite piece. “It has the potential to both destroy and reincarnate,” he told me, holding a pawn in the palm of his hand, raising it on his crusty-skinned pedestal. I thought it was a little dramatic. My favorite was definitely the knight. It moved in an “L” shape like the Loser I was.

In senior year I kept two pet betta fish in my dorm room. Andy and Garcia stared each other down from their separate tanks. One day I got home and only Andy was in its tank, swimming in innocent circles. Goodbye Garcia.

I got sick with the flu. My friends brought me canned soup, ginger ale, band-aids, and a ZipLoc bag filled with ice. They took turns checking on me. They pretended I was dying and that it was the last time they’d ever see me. They planned a funeral for me, made a casket out of class notes I’d never use, and improvised eulogies until I started hiccuping. I didn’t expect to laugh so much I’d feel my stomach start to cramp. We held hands and drew blood-red pentagrams on the rug like we were performing an exorcism. I pretended a demon was leaving my body. We prayed for my speedy recovery. My hands were sweating and I was cold and I could feel my fever getting worse, but I was gloriously giddy. I broke into spontaneous fits of laughter until that became the thing that was contagious. I recovered. Story of my life.