Gift In The Waves
To help spread awareness on the effects of bullying on its victims and in support of the movement to end bullying, I have written a short story. With a young daughter who has been the victim of bullying over the last few years, this is a topic that is near to my heart. This is the story of Sarah Carpenter.
With her low self-esteem and the stress and helplessness of being a victim of bullying, Sarah has become a suicidal girl whose salvation comes through a promise not to kill herself if only she received a sign through a special gift sent to her in the waves.
It all changed the day I found the gift in the waves. But that isn’t what this story is about.
This story is about how I got there.
If you asked Sarah Carpenter why she felt so unhappy all the time she wouldn’t tell you. Sarah didn’t know why.
You see, Sarah was depressed and depressed people don’t always know why they feel that way.
Sarah was a suicidal girl whose salvation came through a promise not to kill herself if only she received a sign through a special gift sent to her in the waves.
That’s me, Sarah Carpenter, the most despondent teenager in town, and this is my story.
The alarm clock buzzed and Sarah rolled over with a groan, slapping blindly at the clock until she managed to hit the snooze button.
She didn’t get the chance to snooze.
“Sarah, get up. Let’s go,” her mother called impatiently from the doorway.
“Ugh, five more minutes,” Sarah moaned. She felt like hell, she was so tired and she hated getting up early.
“Now Sarah! We have to be out of here in thirty minutes,” her mother said. Her voice was full of stress. It always was in the mornings.
Sarah heard her mother leave the room, rushing about to toss stuff together.
Her eyes opened a crack, the glaring orange light of the clock told her it was only six-thirty.
“Stupid early dance class,” Sarah muttered, dragging herself out of bed. “Just once I wish I could sleep late on a weekend like everyone else.”
Sarah’s life was a parade of moving about from one place to another, school, soccer, baseball, and dance. She hated them all, but her parents apparently thought the activities would make her a better person.
By the time Sarah was dressed and racing down the stairs, her mother was already in the car honking the horn at her to hurry up.
Sarah thought that was very rude.
That the neighbors might be sleeping and disturbed by the horn was just one of many things that never seemed to occur to her mother. She was too busy rushing everywhere to stop and think about it.
Sarah settled into the car and closed her eyes for the drive, imagining that she was sleeping with the whole day to do nothing else.
The motion of the car would have been soothing if she hadn’t seen her mother’s frantic driving with her eyes open.
The car zipped through traffic, in and out of lanes as her mother jockeyed for position as if she were in a race instead of just going to ballet class. A horn honked as a driver made a rude gesture, angry at being cut off.
They were barely in the dance studio when her mother was already on her phone on a business call, completely ignoring Sarah.
She never stopped working.
Her parents were busy and successful in their careers. Unfortunately, that also meant they didn’t have a whole lot of time for Sarah or her siblings. They made up for it by buying them a bunch of stuff all the time.
Sarah would rather have a better family.
Sarah survived her class, muddling through pliés and frappés while the teacher glared disapprovingly at her lack of effort.
The other girls huddled and giggled, giving sly looks towards her.
Sarah knew they were gossiping about her. They always did and it was never anything nice.
After dance were soccer practice and a baseball game.
Soccer wasn’t any better. Margaret Mansfield tripped her on purpose and half the team laughed at her. At baseball, they put her far out in the left field where she mostly just stood around waiting for the time to pass. When it was her turn at bat, she got hit with the ball and did nothing but strike out.
When they finally got home Sarah slouched off to her bedroom and closed the door, relieved to finally be alone and away from the comments and looks from all the other kids and the endless chatter of her mother on the phone.
Sarah was an average teenager with an average family and an average life. Nothing eventful happened in her life and she preferred it that way.
Like any teenager, nothing ever seemed to go Sarah’s way. Everyone in her parent’s circle told her she was pretty, but she didn’t agree. If she was, she would have more friends like her sister and brother.
She had two brothers and a sister who all seemed to be better at everything than her.
Sarah didn’t really like any of her siblings either.
Her older brother Jordan, the oldest of the siblings, was the family hero. He was the best at everything, did everything right, was handsome, and everyone was supposed to be just like him.
Her older sister Carrie was taller, prettier, and dressed right. She was popular and the best boys in school followed her around like puppy dogs.
And then there was Sarah’s younger brother Trenton, the youngest of the bunch. He was flat out a pest and pain in her rump. He got anything he wanted by throwing tantrums and always got into her stuff and wrecked it.
Sarah disliked him the most.
But not as much as she hated herself.
She could hear her family off in the house doing whatever they were doing and hoped they would just leave her alone.
With a heavy sigh she grabbed her MP3, plugged the earbuds into her ears, and turned it on, the music instantly crashing into her eardrums.
Sitting at her computer, Sarah clicked it on and waited for it to boot up. She decided to check out her social networking sites first.
Within minutes Sarah wished she hadn’t. The comments streaming through her feed were peppered with mentions of her, none of it flattering.
“Sarah U R So LAME!” Margaret messaged for everyone to see.
Sarah’s stomach suddenly hurt. She felt like her heart was sinking right down below her achy stomach.
After that the comments just got nasty. Before Sarah closed the site Margaret and a few other girls promised to beat Sarah up at school Monday.
“Great!” Sarah muttered. “Another thing to look forward to.”
Margaret and her friends have been bullying Sarah all year. They made up mean stories about her, spread hurtful rumors, and were always waiting for her to hurt or embarrass her.
Sarah had tried complaining about it. She told her parents and they talked to Margaret’s and the other girls’ parents. She told the teachers at school and her parents talked to the principal.
But telling only made the bullying worse. Nothing seemed to happen to the bullies and they came after her worse every time she told, punishing her for telling.
Sarah stopped telling anyone. It was just easier that way.
“Sarah, supper!” her brother Trenton called, opening the door and slamming it closed too hard.
She took her time going downstairs for supper. She was hungry but didn’t feel much like eating.
Sarah sat mutely picking at her dinner.
It was the usual dinner conversation.
Jordan and her father bragged about Jordan’s wonderful exploits.
Carrie and her mother talked about shopping and fashions and how fabulous Carrie would look in this and that.
Trenton goofed and burped and farted, interrupting everyone’s conversations with his inane laughter over how funny he was. He managed to get his elbow in Sarah’s food and seemed to annoy nobody except Sarah.
Sarah quickly lost her appetite and sat there pretending to eat, moving the food on her plate around with her fork until enough time had lapsed that she could ask to be excused.
Nobody noticed how little she’d eaten as she skulked off with her plate to scrape it and put it to be washed.
It was Sarah’s job to clean up after supper. She started on the task right away so she could get it done and go back to sitting in her room alone.
Done with washing the dishes at last, Sarah went up to her room.
She froze in the doorway, staring in horror at her bed.
There, in a tattered mess of torn pages blotched with fat ugly marks from a felt marker, was her diary.
Tears welled in Sarah’s eyes and she clenched her fists at her side in fury.
“TRENTON!” she screeched.
Footsteps thudded through the house, approaching as she stepped in on wooden legs, staring at the mess.
The clasp locking the diary was snapped right off the pressed cardboard book cover.
“What happened?! What’s all the yelling about?!” her father called as he rushed into the room. Mother, Jordan, Carrie, and Trenton were hot on his heels.
Jordan craned to see past his father, snickering at the sight of the mangled diary.
Carrie gasped and then smothered a giggle behind her hands.
Mother gave Trenton a look. He didn’t have the decency to look guilty.
Father glared at Sarah, angry at her outburst.
“He destroyed my diary,” Sarah cried, the tears stinging her eyes beginning to flow despite her attempts to keep them at bay.
“It’s just a book!” Father snapped. “We’ll buy you a new one. It wasn’t worth shrieking about!”
But it wasn’t just a book.
This was her diary, her only confidant, and where she hid all her deepest secrets.
It was more than the destruction of a part of her.
What if Trenton had read it?!
The thought horrified Sarah beyond what words can explain.
“Clean up the mess,” Mother said more gently than Father’s accusing tone. “We’ll buy you another one.”
As if that would make it better.
“I don’t want another one!” Sarah stamped her foot in frustration and hurt feelings. “I want this one!”
Everyone filed out except Trenton who stayed back just long enough to wait until no one would see and he had a clear escape path.
He pulled a fistful of pages out of his pocket, making sure Sarah saw them.
“Sarah’s got a secret,” he sang mockingly.
Sarah’s eyes widened and she screeched like a wild beast, leaping after her little brother.
Trenton squealed and ran down the hallway, pounding down the stairs so fast he almost slide down them.
Sarah almost caught him twice.
She didn’t know what she would do when she did, but tearing him limb from limb felt like a pretty good idea.
Sarah stumbled on the stairs, catching herself on the railing as she fell and getting carpet burn on one knee.
She looked up to see her parents standing at the bottom of the stairs looking angry.
Trenton hid behind them looking smug.
Sarah couldn’t believe it. Trenton was the one who wrecked her diary, stole pages from it, and teased her, causing all the trouble. And she was the one grounded!
Sarah knew she’d be in even more trouble if they knew she was on the computer, but she was so angry that she was beyond angry.
She felt hollow and empty. Her eyes still burned with the tears that had run out and her jaw ached. Her whole head felt stuffed with cotton and her nose wouldn’t stop running.
Sarah was searching the internet for ways to kill herself.
It wasn’t the first time. She thought about it every day.
“Tomorrow,” she whispered. “Tomorrow I’ll do it and they’ll all be sorry.”
She knew she would go to Hell. But she was going to Hell anyway.
Her parents dragged them all to church every Sunday morning.
Tomorrow morning she would be sitting awkwardly in the uncomfortable wooden pew in her Sunday best, feeling small and insignificant in the grand and gaudily decorated building, while the priest commanded them to sit, stand, sing, and chant on cue with a gesture of his hand in between lecturing them on God.
She always felt like he was telling them nobody was worthy of God or Heaven and they were all going straight to Hell unless they smartened up.
Sunday morning dawned and it was off to church.
Sarah followed her family sullenly, wishing she was anywhere else.
Some of the girls snickered behind their hands, giving Sarah looks that suggested she was funny in an Elephant Man kind of way. Of course, Margaret was right in the middle of them.
Sarah sat through the endless sermon, not paying attention and turning red with embarrassment when she was caught still sitting seconds after everyone else had stood and started chanting on cue.
Her mother glared at her. The look said how much of an embarrassment Sarah was to her family.
Sarah wished she would be absorbed into the wooden pew like the gas the old man sitting behind her kept passing.
After church Sarah had to go play a soccer game. Her father drove her there impatiently and stood on the sidelines looking annoyed that he had to be there.
“Well, I didn’t ask to be signed up for soccer,” Sarah muttered, feeling like he was blaming her for making him waste his time there.
During the game Margaret kicked Sarah in the shin, shoving her down at the same time, and stomped on her ankle with her soccer cleat, drawing blood.
Margaret’s friends snickered at Sarah as she limped off the field.
Margaret and Sarah exchanged looks as she limped by. Sarah’s was shell-shocked and Margaret’s was smug.
Once home after soccer, Sarah snuck out and wandered off to the nearby beach. Her house was only a short jog from the ocean.
She wasn’t supposed to leave the house since she was grounded, but her parents were always too busy to notice.
Sarah’s feet slipped and sank as she struggled to walk along the sandy shore line. Even the sand seemed to be trying to knock her down. Seaweed and other refuse from the ocean was pushed up and up the shore as each wave came in to give it a shove as if the sea were just too tired of it all and couldn’t put any real effort into it.
“I know how you feel,” she said to the ocean. Sarah felt tired of it all too, like pushing that gunk up the beach was just too much effort.
She plopped down on the sand and just sat there for a while watching the waves and the seagulls. Clouds tracked slowly across the sky, playing peek-a-boo with the sun. The sun warmed her when it peeked out, then the breeze cooled her when the sun hid.
“If I just swim out far enough the undertow will take me so far out into the ocean that nobody will ever find me,” she told the waves.
The idea of drowning didn’t really scare Sarah.
“Yes, that’s what I’ll do,” she said, nodding as if the matter were decided. “I’m going to drown myself. Today.”
Sarah just sat there and didn’t move.
She imagined everyone’s reactions to her death.
Most of them wouldn’t care at all.
Margaret would be happy. She’d probably brag to everyone that she did it.
Her family wouldn’t care at all. Hell, her parents probably wouldn’t even notice she was missing.
Well, Trenton would care, she mused. He’d be happiest of all. He wanted her computer and MP3 really badly. If she died, he would get to have them.
“I should take them with me,” Sarah thought. She pictured herself struggling through the sand, awkwardly carrying the bulky computer to take them out into the ocean with her.
She almost laughed at herself just seeing how silly it would look.
Her mirth was short lived.
The sadness came over her again, filling her with emptiness.
“I’m just a hollow nobody,” she thought.
Sarah sat for a long time, not thinking or feeling much of anything, trying to not think or feel at all.
It was useless. She felt like she was so useless, so hopeless.
“No wonder nobody likes me,” Sarah said sadly.
She felt even smaller and more insignificant against the vast sky and ocean. She was a speck of sand on the beach and nothing more.
She felt like God was up there, his back turned to her, ignoring her.
“Even God doesn’t care,” she sighed.
On Monday Sarah went to school. She slinked all the way there, watching for Margaret and her friends, desperately hoping they wouldn’t see her.
She made it to school safely and didn’t see Margaret or her friends until she was heading to her third period class.
Sarah squeezed between bodies in the crowded hall, watching and alert for the first sign of danger.
She staggered from a painful blow to her back.
At the same time a fist crashed into her from nowhere, sending her books flying out of her arms, one smacking her painfully in the nose. Something also struck her legs, knocking her off balance.
She staggered, trying to get her footing, but couldn’t seem to control her feet. Something blocked them.
Sarah tipped and fell to the floor with a thud and the raucous laughter of half the school.
She watched helplessly as her books were kicked around the hallway.
Sarah’s face reddened and her eyes welled with tears. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she might have even gotten a paper-cut on one eye when her book hit her.
For the moment Sarah didn’t feel invisible.
She felt like the whole world saw her.
She wished she was invisible.
The bell rang and the hallway cleared quickly.
Sarah got up painfully, rubbing her bruised knee, and searched for her scattered books.
She couldn’t find them all. She would be in trouble.
Sarah was late for class and tried to slip into the room unnoticed.
The teacher missed nothing.
Sarah tried to disappear into herself as her teacher scolded her in front of the whole class and threatened her with detention for being late.
Her face burned and her stomach hurt.
Almost the last class of the day was gym. Sarah hated gym more than any other class.
She felt useless and humiliated by her pathetic attempts at whatever activity the teacher punished the class with that day.
And Margaret and her friends were always there too, making fun of her and everything she did.
At the end of gym class, Sarah tried to hide in the locker room as she changed back into her regular clothes.
She was awkwardly struggling with her pants when she heard them.
Margaret and her friends were somewhere in the change room, laughing.
Sarah froze, her veins turning to ice as dread washed through her.
She felt like she would throw up.
“Hurry, hurry,” she muttered to herself, rushing to get her pants on and finding it suddenly nearly impossible.
And then they were on her.
With one pant leg around her calf and her other foot trapped in the opening of the other leg, Margaret and her friends swooped down on Sarah like a pack of cackling hyenas.
They grabbed her, pushing and dragging as she fought against them, her struggles useless against their overpowering numbers.
The girls dragged Sarah and shoved her through the door into the open gym.
She fell on the floor with an ungainly plop, her legs still trapped in her pants legs.
Everyone who was leaving stopped and stared.
Sarah was horrified. They were all staring at her in her panties!
She stared back, her mouth working but nothing coming out.
The looks she got ranged from amusement to shock to stunned expressions.
Sarah wished with everything she had that she were dead, that she just never even existed.
Her face twisted with despair and she managed to get to her feet and hobble clumsily to the change room.
Sarah pulled up her pants and hid in the furthest corner, waiting for everyone else to leave.
The embarrassment was too much. The whole school would be talking about this for the rest of the year.
Worse, the boy she had a crush on had been there too. The stunned look on his face was like a blow to her heart, crushing it.
She missed her last class, hiding in the gym locker room through the entire period.
Sarah looked at everything she saw, imagining all the ways she could kill herself right then and there.
She felt like she was broken. Sorrow and despair filled her until it hurt so bad she couldn’t believe the pain didn’t kill her.
When the bell to go home rang Sarah still sat there, huddled into herself.
She was too embarrassed to leave.
She was also afraid.
Margaret and her friends were still going to beat her up today. They’d promised.
But if she didn’t go she’d be locked into the school over night.
At last Sarah skulked out of the change room, leaving the school by a side door and not even bothering to try to get her books.
She walked stiffly home; sure that everyone on the street was staring at her. The hot flush of embarrassment on her cheeks would not go away.
A bus came barreling up the road, driving fast, its hulking mass unstoppable.
Just as the bus was passing by Sarah leapt out in front of it.
Pain exploded through her as the front grill slammed into her, breaking all her bones. She fell to the pavement with a wet sound and the bus wheels rolled over her even as they screeched with the stink of burning rubber as they driver braked to stop the bus.
She was dead before she hit the pavement.
The blaring horn of the bus snapped Sarah out of it and the bus swerved as it careened past her.
She looked up in mute shock. She was standing on the edge of the road.
She had not jumped in front of the bus after all, but had wandered too close to the road while lost in her daydream about killing herself.
Sarah flushed in embarrassment at the stares from the people around her and she scurried off for home.
Sarah didn’t go straight home.
She would be in trouble when she got there. The school was sure to have called about her skipping class. She would have to explain and the thought of telling her parents what Margaret and her friends did was almost as bad as living through it again.
Sarah went instead to the beach to watch the waves.
She sat there staring at the water in its endless tired attempts to push the seaweed up the sand.
A broken little crab struggled in the sand, a victim of a hungry seagull.
Sarah felt just like that little crab.
Empty and broken and floundering in the sand.
“Why me?” she sobbed, wanting an answer she would never get.
Sarah felt more than ever like killing herself right then and there.
She picked up a broken sea shell. The flat shell was missing the other half. Its broken edge was jagged and sharp.
Sarah sawed at her arm, slicing through the skin and bringing up a flow of red liquid.
She sawed at the other wrist until it bled too.
She watched in fascination as the liquid dripped into the sand and was immediately soaked in.
She grew sleepy and weak until she was no more.
Sarah opened her eyes.
She had dozed off.
She looked down at her wrists.
She held the jagged broken shell in one fist.
The other arm was scratched, but not bleeding.
Sarah sobbed piteously, letting herself be carried away on a crashing wave of sorrow.
The broken little crab was gone and that made her feel more alone than ever.
Sarah looked off into the horizon where the sky vanished into the ocean. The setting sun filled the sky with colors that reflected off the water.
“Even the sky is bleeding,” she whispered. “So why can’t I die too?”
She looked up sadly to the heavens above.
“Please God,” Sarah begged. “Just let me kill myself. Or do it for me so I don’t have to go to Hell. Please just let me die.” She sobbed harder.
As much as Sarah wanted to die, she was afraid.
She wasn’t afraid of dying.
She was afraid of going to Hell and burning and being tortured forever.
“I’m already in Hell,” she sobbed. “Isn’t Margaret and her friends’ punishment enough?”
Sarah thought about her problem. Then she had an idea.
“I’ll make you a deal God,” she said, feeling defiant against this omnipotent being who refused to listen or care about her problems; this creature who had banished everyone to be punished for not being good enough for him.
“If I’m not good enough for Heaven and I’m going to Hell anyway, then it doesn’t matter if I kill myself or not. I’m going to Hell either way.”
“I’m going to kill myself unless you give me a sign – tonight. Send me a special gift in the waves to show me that I’m good enough for you, and maybe I won’t kill myself.”
“Do you hear me?!” she yelled to the sky. “I’m going to kill myself tonight! I’m going to swim out until the waves take me away forever!”
Sarah put her head in her arms and sobbed like she’s never sobbed before. She cried until the tears ran dry and she felt like she was floating on nothing but the emptiness that filled her.
She sat there for a very long time.
The sun set and the moon crept across the sky, its reflection dancing on the waves.
Sarah gave up waiting.
God wasn’t listening. Nobody ever did. Not her parents, not her teachers, nobody.
There would be no special gift in the waves, no sign.
Sarah got up and stood on the edge of the water, the cool waves lapping at her feet.
She braced herself for what was to come.
The water would be cold.
And then she saw it.
Something dark bobbed in the water. It broke the moon’s reflection; otherwise Sarah never would have seen it.
She gasped and started wading towards it.
It bobbed and moved with the waves as she approached it.
“What is it?” Sarah asked the ocean.
When she got close enough Sarah reached out, gripping it in her finger tips.
It was too heavy and big.
She waded closer.
It was getting pretty deep and the waves were knocking her around, almost pulling her off her feet.
Sarah felt herself getting sucked out by the waves, dragged further away from shore. She had to fight against the waves that didn’t want to let her go. It was harder because she was determined to not lose whatever was floating in the water. She almost lost the object and at one point was sure she was about to drown, that God was answering her by doing the job for her.
Suddenly Sarah didn’t want to die, not just yet.
Sarah got a better grip the object and pulled it to her, dragging it along as she struggled for shore.
She was halfway back to shore before she realized what it was.
“TRENTON!” Sarah screamed, frantically pushing harder for shore, dragging the inert form behind her.
She almost lost her footing when a bigger wave crashed into her, pulling at her, trying to suck her and her brother out into the ocean.
Sarah kept screaming.
‘HELP! SOMEBODY HELP ME! TRENTON!” she screamed over and over.
When she finally made shore, she dragged the lifeless body out of the water, dropping him on the sand.
Desperate and not knowing what to do, she rolled him roughly onto his side, pounding on his back like she’d seen in a movie.
Water gushed out of the boy’s open mouth.
Her mother came running down the bank of sand, screaming.
Distant shouts echoed across the beach and lights bobbed.
Hands pulled her off her brother.
Sarah fought them off, grabbing for him, trying to pound the water out and the air in.
She finally sagged weakly to the sand sobbing as she realized it was people trying to help her brother.
“He must have gone looking for you,” her mother sobbed. “He must have ended up in the water.”
“Oh God, please don’t let him die,” Sarah wailed. “Please, I’ll do anything. I won’t kill myself.”
Weak coughing sounds came from the drowned boy and then his whole body convulsed with hacking coughs as his body tried to rid itself of the water he had swallowed into his stomach and lungs.
** All characters and events are fictional.