It was my fourteenth birthday and I was officially not a little girl anymore, as if anybody noticed or cared. I didn’t want to lift my head off the pillow and my eyes were sore from crying. I hadn’t slept very much through the night, as usual. The nightmares still bothered me when I did fall asleep so I usually just let myself lay there for hours staring into the darkness. Sometimes I could see stars shining through my bedroom window and I watched them move slowly across the night sky. I could feel time standing still around me while the rest of the world kept spinning in ever increasing circles.
I rolled out of bed and my feet hit the cold floor. The clouds outside were grey and the wind had blown all the autumn leaves away. The bare branches against the window were pointing at me. “Look at the freaky teenager,” they said.
I couldn’t bear to look at my face in the mirror, so I got dressed with my back turned. My school uniform was so drab; black shoes, grey stockings, black skirt, a white blouse and an ugly grey school jumper. I usually wore my hair tied up so that I didn’t have to be bothered with brushing it. Nobody likes red hair anyway.
I skipped breakfast as usual and gave Mum a quick kiss goodbye. “You should eat something, darling,” she said as I ran out the back door. I just waved my hand and headed for my bike. “Don’t forget to come straight home this afternoon.” No mention of my birthday or anything. She had probably forgotten all about it.
I climbed on my bike and rode down the laneway. This was the best bit, feeling the cold wind biting against my cheeks. It was almost like punishment, except it made me feel free. I usually liked to take my time on the way to school but I rode fast because there was something I needed to do on the other side of town first.
My breath was rasping in my throat as I pushed my way up the hill and coasted to a stop. I walked my bike through the gates of the crematorium and leant it against a tree. “Well, here I am again,” I whispered. “It’s my birthday today, but I guess you already know that.” The branches above swayed as I stood there in silence, tears running down my cheeks. It had been five years but it still hurt and I missed him every day. The minutes ticked away and I took a deep breath. “I’d better go, I’m already late.” I walked back to my bike and rode off to school.
I was late again, of course, and got put on lunchtime detention. It was the third time that week. I didn’t mind though because it meant I didn’t have to talk to anyone or be out in the playground with all the other kids. I could just sit in the classroom and read. I hated school anyway; I was terrible at all my subjects except English. Actually, I was bad at English too because I just got zero on that last assignment. We were meant to keep a journal of all the books we had read during the year and write about them. I had read more than a dozen books and had filled up my journal; but I forgot to hand it in on time so I got a big fat zero.
Mum had tried really hard to get me interested in an activity of some sort. She said I spent far too much time sitting in my bedroom with my nose in a book. It was time I did something like making friends and playing outside. I had never told her about school and how all the kids thought I was a weirdo.
Last year Mum bought me a guitar. I lasted one lesson because it hurt my fingers so much that I never touched it again. She then made me sign up for the school choir. She said it was because I used to love singing when I was younger and I needed to discover that again. I went to practice once and heard some boys laughing at me. One of them even came over afterwards and told me I was singing flat. So I never went back again. Then Mum tried netball, soccer, athletics, and a heap of other things. I proved I was completely uncoordinated and hopeless at all of them and just wished that she would give up. In the end she bought me a blank notebook in frustration. She handed it to me and said, “Why don’t you just write down the things you want to do?”
The notebook sat on the desk in my bedroom for months before I touched it. It was that English assignment that got me started. One afternoon, I thought I would see if I could write about how different books made me feel. I sat there staring at the blank first page for ages, not sure how to start, but then the words just started flowing.