Phillip Kim was forced to go to Boston University. He studies English Education because he wants to be a drill sergeant but he doesn’t want to join the military. He is a preschool teacher and mocks his students regularly. He writes videogame plots, slam poetry, short stories and likes cheese.
[TW: self-mutilation, bullying]
Sam told me he saw you and that whore holding hands.
I asked when?
When you left the school with that pack of losers.
They are not losers, they are really cool.
Shut the fuck up.
No you shut the fuck up.
Did you kiss her? Did you? Huh? Answer me.
I said no, of course not, we are just friends.
You are a fucking liar and you know it.
I said look Lauren, you are my girlfriend and you are the only one for me.
She said you are a liar and you are going to pay for this. She hung up the phone. I said what the hell have I gotten myself into.
As usual, I got to school an hour early. I saw Tim and he was mopping the floor. He said hello. That meant his wife was able to sleep through the night. He asked how’d it go. I beamed. He said that good? That good. He gave me a firm slap on the back. Attaboy. Tim, do you need help? No, but I know you have somewhere to be. Thanks.
Homeroom was empty. I went to school with Emily since we were kids and this was the first time she wasn’t at homeroom early. I sat down where she normally sat. I looked at the desk to see if she had carved my name, but I knew I wouldn’t find anything. I sat there alone and I couldn’t help but replay the events from last night in my head. Did I screw up? Did I scare her off? She’s right, I’m an idiot. I should have never mentioned Lauren. I should have just gone for it. I hope she’s ok. God I hope she’s ok. Her father. I forgot. Damn, why am I making this all about me. I hope he was sober but he didn’t sound like it. I hoped she was safe. I wanted to see her. I wanted to hold her and tell her everything is going to be ok and I’m here. I would break up with Lauren today. I don’t know why I lied last night over the phone. Emily, where are you?
It was five minutes before the bell and she wasn’t there. Harry, James, Will, Ryan, Colin and George sat in front of me and they reassured me that everything would be ok. I said thanks because what else was I supposed to say. About half the class had arrived. Sam and Bobby strutted in the room. Sam looked at me like I stabbed his dog. Bobby gave me a pleading look. He mouthed what the hell when he saw who I was sitting with. They sat on the opposite side of the room. Ben walked in right after. Sam and Bobby pushed a chair out but Ben ignored them and sat in the front. Right before the bell rang, Lauren strolled in the door. She was dolled up, and she knew how to do her make up. Sam looked down and rubbed his forehead. Bobby did a double take. The gaming club members gave me a look of concern. She smiled at me and I shrank away. She sat next to me and said good morning honey. I didn’t respond.
The bell rang and Mr. Henry showed up a couple minutes late. No one talked for those few minutes. He walked in and said is everything ok? Everyone seems on edge this morning. Lauren said nothing’s wrong, I think you’re just tired. He said yeah, I just need my coffee and I’ll be ok. He took attendance but paused when Emily didn’t answer. He repeated her name and scanned the room. He said wow, first time for everything. He taught for the next half hour, but everyone stared at me and Lauren. She sat up straight, got in perfect posture and turned the corners of her mouth up. Near the end of class, I heard the door open. Emily slumped into class, her bangs down. She wore a white sweater with a matching white skirt. Mr. Henry asked if she was ok and she sat down and said everything is fine. She let her hair flow down and cover her face. I counted the seconds until class ended. The bell rang and I shot up. Emily was already halfway out of the door. Lauren grabbed my arm. I shouted to Emily, please wait. She was gone.
Lauren hung on my arm as we walked to the next class. I fixed my eyes on the open door. The teacher waved her hand in front of my face. Said my name a couple times. Snapped her fingers. I saw Emily speed past the door, a white blur. I stood up and said I really need to go to the bathroom, it’s an emergency. Lauren reached for my arm but I swatted it away. My teacher said that’s why you were zoned out. Go ahead but hurry back. I left before she finished talking.
I saw Emily at the end of the hallway and I sprinted. I needed to get to her as fast as I could. She stopped and leaned on a locker and turned around. You run like a dinosaur too, she said. I sucked in air to reply but I couldn’t catch my breath. I moved her bangs behind her ear. Her right eye was purplish and swollen half-shut. The bruising spread out to her upper cheek and the bridge of her nose. I quaked with anger. I’m going to kill him. She laughed. He’s a combat trained vet. He’ll snap your neck and say it was self-defense. The cops are always on his side. I asked are you ok. She said I’m fine. I sneezed and my teacher saw the bruise. Told me to go to the nurse right away and that she needed to make a call. I touched her face and said does it hurt a lot? She said I’m used to it. I moved in to hug her, but she said no. I can’t. Why not? I just can’t. Why do people keep saying that word? She asked what word. I said everyone says just, like nothing’s a big deal. Please talk to me. She shook her head. The bell rang. A hall monitor poked me. She said go to class now, both of you. I said can’t you see I’m busy. I’m talking to my friend here. She said what friend are you talking about. Emily wasn’t there.
I went to my next class and noticed Lauren, her two friends and Sam weren’t there. Shit, Emily please be ok. I swear if any of you touch her, I will hurt you. I asked to leave class and I said I wasn’t feeling well. My teacher said ok, feel better for the big game. I paced up and down the hallways, but she wasn’t in any of the classrooms. I checked the nurse’s office but she said she hasn’t had anyone come in today. The hallways were empty. Tim was probably on his break. I realized I didn’t check the bathrooms. As I ran down, I heard a girl scream someone help me please. The screams came from the girls’ bathroom.
Sam shot out of the bathroom and slammed me against the wall. He wore a torn wife beater and loose athletic shorts stained red and he had scratches on his arms. I screamed let me go, is that Emily in there? I swear to God, I’m going to kill you. What did you do to her? He said I saw everything. He said why’d you choose Emily. Her screams pierced my ears. Sam wept. Why Emily. Why, Why, Why. I’m sorry Emily, I couldn’t help myself. The teachers heard the noise and saw Sam pinning me down. Mr. Henry pulled him off, and said what the hell is going on. Sam slunk to the office. I got up and I saw Lauren and her two friends strut out of the bathroom cackling with glee. I said what did you do. Lauren said you’ll see. The bitch got what she deserved. A small crowd had gathered. The teachers told them to go back to their classrooms but no one listened of course. Emily fell out of the bathroom. No one helped her up.
Emily wasn’t crying. She sat up and rocked back and forth. They lopped off her long hair. Her skirt was blotched with blood. They ripped her sweater off. They cut her shirt down the middle and her bare bra hung loose. All the guys stared at her chest. I stared at her arms. From shoulder to wrist, there were precise, horizontal slashes. The scars looked old. Mr. Henry went and put his blazer over her shoulders. She screamed when he touched her. I stepped backwards. Lauren and her friends laughed. The teachers shoved them down the hallway into the office. They cheered all the way down the hall.
People cleared out, there was nothing more to see. A teacher grabbed my wrist and said we should go. Emily hugged her knees and her knuckles were ghost white. Her jaw was slack. I couldn’t take my eyes off her scars. I felt afraid. I felt nauseous. I felt repulsed I felt like she was something alien, not the girl I grew up with. My perfect, innocent girl was broken. She stopped rocking and looked up at me. I sat next to her. I put my arm around her shoulders. She screamed and shook violently. I went back to class.
That night I got a text from Lauren. My life is over. They kicked me out of school. It was just a prank that got out of hand. Oh god, my life is over. I should just end it all.
I replied then go fucking do it.
Emily didn’t go to school for a week. I called, but her phone was off the hook. I never visited her house. Then one day, she was there in homeroom an hour early. Her hair was neatly tied into a short ponytail. She wore a red button-up sweater. She was sitting in her usual seat. No book. She had a serene smile. I couldn’t look at her. I should have tried harder to contact her. I should have stayed with her that day. I sat on the other side of the classroom. My mind felt heavy. I buried my head into my textbook. The kids filed in but no one sat next to me or Emily. Mr. Henry came in, saw Emily and opened his mouth to speak. She whispered don’t.
Lunch came, and I chose an empty table. Or the empty table chose me. I went up to Ben earlier and said I quit football. He didn’t protest. The jocks looked at me with disgust. Harry, James, Will, Ryan, Colin and George sat as far away as possible. I force fed myself. The food tasted like dirt. I heard a rustle. Emily sat down next to me. A hushed whisper ran through the cafeteria. I froze. I just couldn’t look at her. It was just too hard. Lunch ended and I didn’t say a word to her. My lips opened and closed each time I wanted to say I’m sorry. Everyone hurried out of the room. We stayed. She calmly said everything is going to be ok. I said it’s not ok. I should have protected you, I should have been there for you. She said you can’t protect me from everything. I said I knew Lauren was going to do something to you. She said you could never have foreseen what happened. I said why, oh why, do you have to suffer so much. It’s wrong. She kissed me on the cheek. She said nothing’s just. I felt her place something in my hand. It was a small gold key. She said promise to keep it safe. And goodbye.
She hung herself a few hours later. They say she pulled the belt so tight that her skin turned purplish-blue. No open casket at the funeral.
The funeral was simple. Not many people showed up. A pastor said a series of memorized lines. The groundskeepers lowered her coffin into the grave. Filled the hole in. The dirt sounded like rain when it hit the coffin. The geeks were there, but left right when the service finished. I was the only guest who lingered. Emily’s father knelt at her grave. He wasn’t crying. He didn’t have any more tears left. He trembled and whispered to himself. I could hear him repeat over and over I’m sorry.
Emily’s mother took measured steps toward me. She stood at eye level, a step too close. She said I didn’t see you cry, not once during the whole service. I said I didn’t know why. Her eyes filled with tears. For the past year, you treated her like dirt. She dug her nails into her palm, You meant everything to her. I couldn’t make eye contact. She said look at me. I did. She pulled out a small book from her jacket pocket. This had a post it attached with your name. I assume she wanted you read her last words. I didn’t put my hand up to accept it. She slid the book into my front pocket. She said read it. You owe her that much.
I got home and went to bed. I was tired, so very tired. But Emily’s mother’s words echoed in my ears. I pulled the book out and placed it on my desk. I took her key out of my treasure box. Emily and I used to fill it with the silliest stuff. When we were in third grade, we put slugs in there and they bred. We forgot about the box and after a month the whole inside was goop. Took hours to clean. When I heard about Emily’s death, I dumped everything that reminded me of her in the trash. But I kept the box and her key. I took a deep breath and unlocked the diary’s latch.
On the first page, she saved the first drawing I gave her. It was two stick figures holding hands. It said forever and ever. I turned the page, and I saw a picture of us playing baseball. I had a soft face and she had short cut hair and dressed in a t-shirt and jeans every day and people would think we were brothers. Her cheeks were fluffy as a kid too. I turned the page and read about the first time her father beat her. She sounded so confused. I turned the page and I found dried leaves taped to the paper. They were our fourth grade science project. I turned the page and found more memories, memories I had long forgotten. The time I went on one knee and slid a ring pop on her finger. I said I wanted to try it, I saw someone do it on tv. She said it was super cheesy. I neared the end and I turned the page. All it said was I’m in love. There was a blood splatter at the bottom of the page. The next seven pages were torn out. I stopped. I knew the final page held her last words and they were for me.
I’m sorry. There is nothing I can say that will make what I’m going to do ok, but I hope you can forgive me. You should know I’m not angry at you. You could never make me angry. And I’m not angry anymore. I’ve been angry about so many things in my life, but I’m going to make the pain stop. I know I’m selfish and I’m going to hurt you. But you’ll be ok, you are a strong man. You’ll forget about me, find a wonderful wife and live a happy life. Live a good life for both of us. Never stop drawing. Don’t lose yourself. You are an amazing person, and I love you. I will always love you.
There was more writing at the bottom of the page.
Please tell me you felt something that night. Please tell me that I’m not making this all up. What’s the point of asking now. I’ll be dead by the time you read this. Forgive me.
I leaned back in my chair and let myself fall to the ground. I shimmied into the corner and covered my face with my hands. I tried to scream but nothing came out. My eyes felt like they were going to burst. A steady stream of tears fell down my cheeks. I gasped for air. My body shook with pain. I stayed there until dawn.
I saw the sun pierce through my blinds. I got up and went to school. The hallways were empty except for Tim. I waved to him. He shook his head. His eyes were watery. I got to homeroom and it was empty. I reached into my bag to find something to do and I found Emily’s cards. Started playing a game against myself. I lost.
I pulled out my notebook and a pen. I realized it was the pen she gave me. I sketched the outline of a face. I filled in the skeletal structure, saving her dumpling cheeks for last. I added the finer details like her button nose, her hair how I remembered it, her wispy eyelashes. The tip of the pen broke. I was almost done. Drops of ink blotted the page. I looked at her broken eyes and said I’m sorry.