Tessa slammed the box lid shut without peeking inside. Her hands trembled as she put it down for the second time. It was as if she was expecting it to be a can of worms.
“What is it?” Jake whispered.
Tessa dropped the box back on the table. “I can’t seem to look inside. I just can’t.” She returned to the kitchen counter and burst into a wail.
“YOU NEVER UNDERSTAND,” she yelled as she stormed into her room, banging the door shut behind her. That was not the first time Eddie had had such a meltdown. Teenage had not been kind to her, so far. Her practising Catholic parents, Tessa and Jake, had also not yet been able to comprehend her conflict.
They lived in a small town in Alabama. The neighbourhood seemed friendly and well-knit. Most people would meet either at Sunday Mass or the country fair. They celebrated their festivals in unison with abundant gifts and exchanged pot-pies on every instance. Children would spend their evenings either cycling around in the neighbourhood or playing in the public parks. Seasons would come and go in a brisk but the town’s spirit would stay the same. From the look of it, everyone seemed content with their life in measure.
Unlike Eddie, who was withdrawn most times. Her engagements through the day included going to school and returning to her room after that. A bit of schoolwork would often take hours. And that could very well be her way of avoiding to step out. She would rather stare at the wall than enjoy with friends. The fact that she had any friends was questionable as well.
That was not always the case, though. Growing up in a small neighbourhood, Eddie was usually found riding her bicycle around with her friend, Ashley. From their pigtail days to their cycling days, they had been inseparable. Sharing lunch during recess, opting for the school football team, riding downtown for ice-cream, or crossing over to the thicket behind the school wall. Eddie was always found with Ashley. Their respective parents were also coaxed to choose the same summer camps often. But this was soon to change.
When Ashley moved away with her family, Eddie felt deserted. Her parents tried to encourage her to make new friends. They took her to visitors, every so often, but Eddie could never try to reach out. With every passing day, she was becoming a recluse, which was worrying her parents. On Sundays, she accompanied her parents to the church for the Mass. Her parents hoped that she would engage in some meaningful conversations there. However.
“Why don’t you speak to Reverend Jose,” Tessa suggested for the third time this week, much to Eddie’s chagrin.
“What’s the point? He doesn’t even know me,” Eddie argued from behind the closed door.
“Of course, he knows that you are our daughter,” Tessa insisted.
“Not like that, mom. NO! You just don’t understand,” Eddie gave up and burrowed her face in the pillow to prevent the snuffles.
Desperate and dejected, Tessa and Jake invited Reverend Jose over, one evening, without Eddie’s consent. She had no choice but to play along.
“I hear that your mind is unsettled these days, Eddie. Is there something that you’d like to share?” the Reverend offered.
Eddie shook her head and looked at her mother. She hoped that Tessa would understand her predicament.
“Any new friends in school?” he further prodded.
Eddie shook her head again. This time looking down at her feet, her face beginning to flush with suppressed ire. She imagined shoving him out of the house but for the sake of her parents, she stayed put in the corner chair.
“Is it a boy?”
That was the last straw for Eddie. She jumped out from her chair and stomped into her room, closing the door behind her with a bang. Everyone in the room recognised that as a sign that she wished to be left alone. Disparaged with his attempt, the Reverend decided to leave Eddie and her parents on their own. He deduced that Eddie’s conduct was beyond repair, after all.
The next morning, Tessa braved her way to Eddie’s room to check on her. “Eddie are you still in the shower?” she called out. With no response from the room, she hollered out to Jake, “Eddie’s not in her room, can you check the backyard?”
Jake peeped from the kitchen window out in the backyard. “Nope, she’s not in here too,” he confirmed.
A few minutes into the search got Tessa and Jake worried. She had not had her supper last evening and wasn’t available in the house this morning. They reckoned she would have left for school early but that was a very bleak possibility. Why would she? The school indorsed that she was not present. Making a few calls to friends and acquaintances confirmed that she was nowhere to be found.
Jake decided to search her room for clues. An extensive pursuit led him to a box in Eddie’s cupboard marked “no one can know.” He was instantly taken aback. Eddie was secretive, he knew, but keeping a locked box behind for them was radical. He searched for the key around but could not find it. He took the box to the kitchen where Tessa was sitting at the counter making some calls.
“What is it?” she asked him.
“Looks like this might get us some clues,” he confirmed. “It’s locked and I couldn’t find the key. Guess we may have to break it open.”
“We can’t do that! What if she comes back for it,” Tessa argued. “It is marked ‘no one can know’.”
“This could be a clue, Tessa. We need to know about her whereabouts before we call 911.” Jake reasoned as he pulled a heavy knife from a drawer and struck the tiny lock open.
Among other things, Tessa was able to fish out a diary that began from about a year ago.
June 18, 2002
You’ve been gone for 3 years now and I wish I knew your whereabouts or had taken your address or something. I just hope that we were able to understand how to even stay in touch when you left. How easy it was for us to submit to fate that you were leaving. I was left here, resigning to the fact that the only friend I ever had was gone. I wish I could talk to you. Just once.
Days are dreary. I don’t cycle around on the sidewalk, anymore. In fact, I walk to school now. Recess time is the most difficult. Some or the other person tries to give me company but I feel bored most times. Why do people try to act friendly when they are not concerned about you anyway? I wish you were here.
As Tessa and Jake began flipping the pages, Eddie’s words kept coming to life. It seemed like this was a child they had never begun to know.
July 5, 2002
Happy Birthday! I remember the first time I was invited over to your birthday. Was it your 7th birthday? I was so glad that you liked the rainbow pencil that I gifted. I was so embarrassed to have gotten you THAT! But I remember the light that shone in your eyes then. I think the unicorn at the pencil end was not as sparkly as your smile was.
Ha! I recall how you hated the pigtails your mother had arranged your hair in. I guess your hair was never meant to be tied. Just like your spirit. Every time you pedaled around your hair would waft in the wind and I’d feel as if you were flying. As if you were always meant to fly. Even now, recalling your almond coloured hair and your pretty face makes my heart flutter.
I wish you were here, Ash. On your 16th today, I would’ve given you a kiss as your birthday gift. I wonder how do you look like now.
Tessa and Jake beamed at the thought of Eddie recalling her friendship with Ash. There were times that they had wished they knew where Ashley had moved with her family. Of course, they hoped that any such information would be enough for them to help Eddie. But all they were now left with was this diary. And with each entry that they read, they were beginning to realise that the cause of their child’s solitude was much more than a lack of friends.
September 12, 2002
Today I am just so pissed. Mom has been insisting that I see Reverend Jose. Why can’t she see that there’s nothing wrong with me? Self-discovery has been bizarre. What is it that the reverend would do for me, anyway? There is nothing to fix!
Yeah, I wish to heal. I am trying to heal- from this pain that keeps tugging my heart each moment of the day. Jessie, Al and Fred have been mean ever since I have known them but today they started calling me names- filthy names- that no one should ever hear. I wish I could tell mom and dad that this is beyond mild bullying. I wish they would just try to get me.
These are the times that I hope I would rather die. I guess that would spare everyone of all the trouble to deal with me. But even before that I wish to see you.
I love you, Ash. Wish you were here. I know you would have understood.
Tessa found it hard to continue. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Amidst muted snuffles her eyes met Jake’s, that seemed to be blinking away his tears too. The courage that they were trying to muster was no match for the one that Eddie had been demonstrating. Regrettably, all this while they were oblivious of her mêlée.
December 29, 2002
This Christmas, I got a dress. Another one of those which, I believe, would suit you better than me. It has those pretty blue orchids on the yoke. The last few times I have not been wearing a dress for Sunday Mass. Perhaps that is why mom thought this would be an apt gift for me. Dad has been trying to be supportive but I don’t think he knows how. Dads are mostly oblivious about their children’s pangs. I guess they believe, like everything else, growing up means getting over.
Anyway, New Year’s around the corner and this year, I am resolving to reveal. It is going to take courage but I am reading a lot about this on the internet, so I hope it would not be as tough. By the way, this Internet thing is amazing! Wish me luck!
January 12, 2003
Something exciting happened. I chatted with this amazing guy on Yahoo. He knows someone who can help me. I think I am going to take the leap. But I want to include mom and dad too. I am getting too tired of them trying to help me with something that is not even their problem. Coming out to them will not be easy. Guess, they just want no one to know.
I think I will have to leave too.
Why did you have to leave , Ash? Where are you? I miss you. Terribly.
“Jake, this one’s addressed to us!” Tessa felt a lump in her throat. Jake nodded, acknowledging the fact that Eddie possibly knew that they would find the diary.
January 15, 2003
Dear mom and dad,
I know you may have found this by now. But I am gone. I think I am gone because I am rummaged. I am on a quest. For the longest time now. And as much as I have tried to search within, I have only found a hollow. So I am out to look for myself and perhaps Ashley too. I think I know where to find her. Don’t look for me, because once I am done, I will return.
And I hope then you will be able to accept me just the way that I am. For who I am!
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