“You’re nothing but a filthy whore!” Rachel’s mother shouted as she burst through her bedroom door with a stack of papers in her hand.
Rachel jumped at the sound of her door being flung open and quickly removed her headphones from her ears. Resting them on her shoulders, she could still hear the faint sound of Backstreet Boys playing over her portable CD player. Her brow furrowed as stared at her mother in confusion, both offended and annoyed that she invaded her privacy by not knocking.
“Are you fucking this guy?” her mother spat out as she moved closer to the bed.
Rachel frowned as she observed her mother stumbling towards her bed. She straightened her back, remaining in her Indian style position as she placed her notebook beside her. Rachel collected herself before speaking. Swallowing back her sarcasm, her eyes met her mother’s as she spoke. “Who are you talking about?”
“This guy you’ve been talking to!” her mother shouted a little louder.
“I haven’t been --”
“Don’t you fucking lie to me, young lady! I know what you’ve been up to!” she stated as she dropped the stack of papers on Rachel’s lap. “Did you really think I wouldn’t find these?”
Rachel stared down at the stack of papers. Her eyes widened as she realized they were handwritten love letters that she had stashed away in a box. Anger boiled inside of her belly as she gripped the papers and slid them under her pillows.
“You went through my stuff?!”
“You didn’t answer my question. Are you fucking this boy, huh?”
“Mom, I haven’t--”
“Shut up, you fucking whore!” her mother stated, raising her hand and quickly slapping her across the face with brute force.
Rachel gasped at the impact of her mother’s hand against her cheek. Her breath staggered as she tried to control the tears that were threatening to spill from her eyes. She looked back over at her mother and opened her mouth to speak but no words would come out. Her mother angrily reached down and grabbed Rachel by the ponytail and dragged her off the bed. Rachel screamed, kicking and thrashing her legs as she continued to drag her across the carpet.
“Let go of me! Mom! Stop! Please!”
“I did not raise you to be a slut!” her mother stated in a booming voice, pausing between each word with another strike to Rachel’s face.
Rachel sobbed at every impact of her mother’s hand. Struggling to get out from underneath her mom’s grip, she shrieked loudly. “Stop it! Stop it! You’re hurting me --”
Rachel let out a loud gasp as she quickly sat up, catching her breath. She looked around the dark room for a moment, confused as to where she was. Running a hand over her face, she sighed as she realized she had woken up from a nightmare. Her heart raced against her chest as she lowered herself back down onto her pillow. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she settled back under blankets, feeling frustrated that the recurring dream of that unpleasant memory had followed her to Florida. It was the same dream she had been having for the past two years. It was a memory she wished she could forget but her subconscious failed to let go. Staring up at the ceiling, she frowned as she wiped the tears off her cheeks and sniffled quietly. The air conditioner kicked on with a soft whir as Rachel rolled over onto her left side, gripping her pillow to adjust angle against her neck. The chilly air seeped into her room and she tugged on her blankets and wrapped them tightly around herself. Bringing her knees to her torso, she let out a soft breath of air as she grabbed her stuffed teddy bear and curled her arms around it. Resting her chin against the bear’s soft, plus head, she relaxed her body, in hopes of going back to sleep. Her eyes slowly began to close as she focused on her breathing. Burying her cheek into the teddy bear’s head, she laid quietly in the dark, listening to the air conditioner softly humming. Even though she wasn’t falling asleep, she was relieved to feel relaxed beneath the comfort of her blankets. Tracing her fingers through her teddy bear’s fur in a circular motion, she began to softly count to herself. It was an old coping mechanism from early childhood.
“One…,” she whispered into the dark. “Two...three...four...five…”
As she continued to count to herself, the counting was interrupted by the sound of Kristin’s radio alarm going off in the bedroom next door. Rachel glanced at her clock, the glowing numbers blurry from not having her contacts in. Squinting to see, she slowly sat up and gave the clock a closer look. It was 5:45 AM. She plopped back down on her pillow and creased her brow in confusion. Why was she getting up so early? Rachel licked her dry lips and sighed with her eyes closed, remembering that it was Monday...the first day of college. Her heartbeat quickened in both excitement and anxiousness. She wasn’t sure if she was ready for her first day. It was going to be a big change from high school. New classes, new building, and new people. Her stomach sank at the idea of being surrounded by complete strangers. Being sociable wasn’t her strongest suit. She had always been the shy and awkward one compared to Kristin who was a social butterfly. Going to class without Kristin by her side was going to be her biggest challenge but she knew things would fall in place eventually.
Rachel jumped when a loud thump was heard from the other room. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. It amazed her how long it took Kristin to get ready in the morning. Getting up at 5:45 seemed like an ungodly hour to be alert. She stared at the ceiling as the familiar chorus of I Want It That Way played over the radio and scrunched up her nose, pulling the blankets over her head. It was definitely too early for Backstreet Boys. However, the tone of their voices eased her thoughts a little and she laid quietly, listening to the song; hoping that sleep would fall back into her body. As the song ended, she heard the radio DJ talking about an upcoming Backstreet Boys show and she sighed, knowing she likely wouldn’t have the money for it. She heard Kristin talking to herself and assumed it was in reference to the DJ’s topic of choice. Letting out a huff against the stuffiness of the blankets over her head, she quickly pulled them off and sat up. She groaned in irritation as he hair fell into a mess of static electricity around her face. A frown formed across her lips as she attempted to smooth away the annoying fuzzy sensation within the strands that clung to her cheeks. Letting out a yawn, she swung her legs over to the edge of the bed and stretched her arms. The music from Kristin’s room became louder and Rachel sighed as she rubbed her eyes, not wanting to come out of the room and face the day. She lazily reached over to her night stand and grabbed her glasses, and stood up, stretching her legs as she scooted her feet across the soft carpet, search of her kitty slippers.
“Might as well get up,” she muttered as she sluggishly slid her feet into her slippers and dramatically flung the door open, frowning as she headed towards the kitchen. The music from Kristin’s continued to play as Rachel dragged her feet across the living room carpet, taking in a deep breath as she turned on the light to the kitchen. She winced at the bright light above her head and sighed as she clumsily fumbled around to move the coffeemaker closer to her. Turning the cold water on, she grabbed the carafe and filled it up to 8 cups, knowing that Kristin would want some too. Her hands began to shake as she carefully poured the water into the back of the coffeemaker. She gripped the handle tighter in attempt to stop the shaking, but the water began to spill off the side and dripping off the counter. Rachel groaned to herself as she gripped the handle tighter and quickly poured the rest of the water in before grabbing a towel to clean up the water spill. Plopping the damp towel beside the sink, she sighed loudly as she pulled the canister of Folgers Coffee from out of the cupboard. Setting it down on the counter, Rachel pulled off the plastic lid, revealing the unopened foil seal of the coffee canister. She struggled with the seal for a moment, pinching the edge between her fingers. She scowled as the foil crinkled loudly as she continued to pry it open. Rachel bit her lower lip and tugged a little harder, causing the coffee to fly out of the canister and all over the floor and cabinet. She groaned loudly as she looked at her own mess.
“Perfect,” she mumbled as she tucked her hair behind her ears.
Rachel pursed her lips together as she grabbed the broom out from off the hook beside the refrigerator. She slowly swept up the coffee into a pile swept it into the dustpan and carefully carried it over to the trash can to dump it. Rachel sighed again as she put the broom back on the hook and grabbed a roll of paper towels and pulled a couple sheets off the roll. Her diverted to the entryway when she heard Kristin walking into the kitchen with a towel on her head. Kristin looked over at the mess of coffee grounds on the counter and raised a brow as she looked back at Rachel.
“What the hell did you do?” Kristin said as she observed the mess again.
“I had an accident, but I’m cleaning it up,” Rachel said as she gathered the coffee with a dry paper towel.
“I don’t know how you do this stuff,” Kristin said as she pushed past Rachel. “How hard can it be?”
Rachel frowned at Kristin as she felt Kristin shove her out of the way with her hip. “Kris, seriously, don’t start with me this morning. It’s bad enough I was woken up nearly two hours early, but now I have a mess to clean up.”
“You’re cranky,” Kristin said as she placed the coffee filter into the coffee maker.
“I am not!” Rachel stated in a slightly raised voice, feeling the tension building in her chest.
“Don’t start that crap,” Kristin muttered as she spooned the coffee grounds into the filter and shut the lid, hitting the brew button before turning around to face Rachel. “Let me know when that’s finished, will ya?”
“Fine,” Rachel said as she threw away her paper towel, swallowing back the tightness in her throat.
Rachel blinked back the tears as she watched Kristin walk back to her bedroom and shut the door. She sighed loudly as she forced herself to collect her emotions and go to the fridge for a bagel. Sniffling lightly, she clenched her jaw as she removed the package of bagels from the second shelf and scooped up the container of cream cheese with the other hand. Setting both items on the counter, she began to mentally count to herself as she untwisted the wire tie to open the bagels. The coffeemaker bubbled loudly behind her as the kitchen filled with the aroma of fresh coffee. Rachel winced at the pain reaching her chest as she opened the container of cream cheese before opening the drawer beside her. Her anxiety began to rise as she got out the knife and cut her bagel in half. Her hands began to lightly tremble she put it into the toaster and leaned against the counter. Leaning against the counter, she felt her heartbeat slowly increasing as her breath began to hitch in her throat. A sudden rush of temperature swarmed through her body, giving her the sensation of being enclosed and swallowed from the inside out. An uncontrollable urge to panic began to surge through her brain as she gripped onto the counter to keep from fainting. It was happening...a panic attack. Struggling to find something to focus on, Rachel stared at the toaster as the bagel popped up. She couldn’t move. Her body felt frozen in the midst of her overwhelming anxiety. Rachel managed to turn herself around just as Kristin came back into the kitchen, making her way back to the coffeemaker, oblivious to what was happening.
“I’m so excited for my new classes,” Kristin said as she pulled out a mug. “Aren’t you?”
Rachel clenched her jaw as she her head and Kristin looked her way. Rachel forced herself to nod at Kristin’s statement, attempting to force words out of her mouth, but her throat wouldn’t allow the words to release. Her eyes met Kristin’s as she was blowing on the rim of her mug to cool down her coffee. Kristin creased her brow as she observed Rachel, setting her mug back down and stepped closer to her.
“Rach? What’s wrong?”
“I--I’m fine,” she spat out as she closed her eyes, feel her whole body beginning to tremble.
Vertigo was starting to sweep over her as the room was slowly swaying around her. She was sure she would faint if she let go of the counter. The tightness of her chest increased to a painful level as she closed her eyes. Before she could react, she’d already dropped to the floor, hiccupping from hyperventilation. Kristin’s voice echoed in her head as she slowly opened her eyes, unable to focus on anything around her. Tears were streaming down her cheeks as Kristin helped Rachel sit up and shoved a pill into her hand.
“Take your Xanax,” Kristin said as she guided Rachel to put the pill into her mouth and helped her sip on a glass of water.
Rachel swallowed the pill and began to sob, covering her face in humiliation. This wasn’t how she wanted to start her first day of college. This wasn’t how any of this was supposed to happen.
“Just breathe normal, Rach,” Kristin said as she put the water back on the counter and gripped Rachel’s arm, coaching her through the staggered breathing.
Rachel breathed slowly, feeling relief as her chest began to loosen, making it easier to breathe. Kristin frowned at Rachel and sat on the floor beside her, still coaching her through the breathing. Several minutes had passed before either of them spoke and Rachel could feel the Xanax starting to kick in.
“When was the last time you went to the doctor?” Kristin asked as she stood up to grab her coffee.
“Kristin, don’t start,” Rachel said as she laid her head on her knees, not wanting to discuss the issue.
“I’m being serious. When was the last time you went to the doctor.”
“I don’t need a lecture from you this morning. I’m fine,” Rachel replied as she rubbed her hands over her face.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Kristin said with a scowl, sipping her coffee between glances at Rachel.
“I don’t need to see a doctor. The meds are plenty.”
“Rach, as your friend, I’m telling you to see a doctor. You told me that these panic attacks weren’t an issue for you anymore.”
“They’re not,” Rachel denied.
“It sure as hell doesn’t look like it,” Kristin argued.
Rachel slowly stood up and shook her head. “When the meds run out, I will see a doctor. I’m just nervous about school and it got to me. That’s all,” she said as she poured herself a mug of coffee and mixed in some creamer, turning away from Kristin to set her bagel on a plate. “Now, I’m going to eat my bagel and get ready for class,” she said as she went into her room.
She was a little surprised that Kristin didn’t put up a bigger fight, but she was relieved she didn’t. It was bad enough she had to deal with her mother, but she didn’t want to have to deal with Kristin too. She sighed to herself and made her way over to her computer, hoping she’d find an Email from her brother. Rachel chomped on her bagel as she impatiently waited for the modem to load. Licking some of the cream cheese off her bagel, she stared at the screen as it began to connect. The familiar sound of the model connecting to the internet made her smile slightly. In the other room, she could hear the sound of Kristin turning up her music as she continued getting ready for class. Rachel rolled her eyes as she watched the screen load AOL.
“You’ve got mail!” said the voice announcer.
Rachel smiled as she click on her inbox. It was a letter from her brother, Adam. She polished off her bagel and opened the E mail from him, chewing intently as she read it softly to herself.
Hey, Sis! How is Florida? I miss you already. Everything is the same here. Mom was arrested again last night for drunk driving. I’m staying with dad. Wish you were here. Not the same without you. I hope you have a good first day of school. Write me and tell me all about it. I love you! Adam.
Rachel’s eyes stung with tears as she read the Email over and over. It was a reminder why she left home in the first place. Her stomach pained with guilt of leaving her brother behind, but she knew he was safe when he was with their father. As much as it pained her, she knew things were better this way. Rachel swallowed hard as she exited out of AOL, choosing to save her response until after she got done with her classes. Her eyes shifted to the clock next to her bed. It was almost 6:30, it was time to get ready for her first class. Frowning at the clock, she slowly got out of her chair and made her way to the bathroom.
A hot shower was usually Rachel’s cure for a bad morning, but it didn’t relieve her of the pain she held inside. She felt as if her world was closing in on her. In Missouri she felt suffocated…now she felt trapped. Not even forty eight hours into her time in Florida and she was finding every reason in the world to leave.
As she stood in the shower, she found herself lost in thought over the events of the past month. Everything from fights with her mother, to packing for Florida, to arriving in Orlando. Everything seemed to have happened too fast. There hadn’t been any time to let it all sink in. Rachel was unsure if she could make any of this work, but she knew she had to try. Anything was better than being under the same roof as her mother.
Turning off the water, she stepped out of the shower with the mirror completely fogged up. Grabbing a towel from the rack, she dried herself off and stepped toward the sink to brush her teeth. Rachel wiped the mirror clean with her towel and stared at herself. She was looking for a change and nothing seemed to make the reality go away. Moving to Florida hadn’t made her worries disappear. They had followed her and now she felt even more alone than she did before. Sure she was living here with her best friend, but her gut told her that things weren’t going to be the same as they did in high school. Chicago had changed Kristin and abuse had changed Rachel. She couldn’t help but wonder if they could live together without fighting all the time.
Her somber daze was interrupted by the sound of Kristin leaving the apartment without saying goodbye. Rachel frowned at herself in the mirror. Silent treatments from Kristin were the worst. She knew it was a sure sign that she’d be hearing an argument later. Rachel sighed and went back to getting herself ready for the day. As much as she dreaded it, she knew the only way to get past this emotional roller coaster was do what she always did...press on and keep fighting. Offering herself a fake smile, she nodded at her reflection.
“It’s fine...I’ll be just fine.”