Friday, April 14, 2017

Scholastic Spotlight: Kaitlyn Gabrielson


Gabrielson, Kaitlyn

Grade:  8
School:  Valley Middle School, Grand Forks ND
Educator:  Diane Krueger
AWARD:  Silver Key, Personal Essay/Memoir

My head is swimming as I try to make my way through the other students and to the front of the room. If you don’t do this now, you’ll never get a chance again, I think. I am practically dragging myself to the front door, and I’m reminded of the scene in The Never Ending Story where Bastion tries to drag his horse through the swamp of sadness. On one hand, I want to lay in the mud and accept my fate, I want to lie down and die like that horse did. But, doing what Bastion couldn’t, I somehow manage to succeed, kicking and screaming, to pull the horse and effectively, myself through the mud. Just as she is about to reach the door, I’ve caught up with her.

“Ms. Harper,” I say, reaching out to touch her shoulder. The words slip through my mouth before I can stop them. Before I can think about what to say and how to say it I am asking to make an appointment with her. I am making a cry for help. My head is hazy as she tells me to come down in
third period the next day. I nod quietly and stutter out a broken “thank you.” I leave the classroom. My steps are heavy and although I made it out of the swamp I am still covered in mud.


I swallow dryly, knocking on the door to the counselor's office. The walk from the seventh-grade science lab had taken only a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity. It felt like I had both taken too long and hardly taken long enough. Ms. Harper opens the door for me and I timidly step inside. She and I sit at the small round table in the corner of the room. I had not been in the counselor’s office before. I had not ever anticipated that I would be in the counselor’s office.
    She asks me questions, most of which I have not been able to recall since that day. I answer carefully, all too aware that she is writing down and scrutinizing every word to see if I am a danger to myself.

“Have you ever had suicidal thoughts or feelings?”


The feeling of embarrassment hits, and despite reminding myself that she is here to help, I am still ashamed of everything. Ashamed of my answers. Ashamed of my reason for being there. Ashamed of myself.

“Have you ever planned out a suicide attempt?” The question hits me hard and fast and to this day, it is the only one I can truly remember clearly. I can even remember the look on her face. I wrack my brain for an answer. Oh God, have I? I don’t even know. I don’t think so but I don’t know. I don’t even know.
I don’t even know.

“No,” I say trying not to let my voice falter. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have told her. Not at the risk of being hospitalized. I may have been sad but I certainly wasn’t stupid. No way could my parents afford to send me to an actual hospital for this. I wasn’t even sure if they’d be able to cover the cost of therapy.

Whatever Ms. Harper had told me next was lost to my ears. Guilt was rising up in my stomach like bile, and God knows when I get sick I cry. I take a few minutes to process what she’s saying to me, what she’s been saying to me. She is asking if I want to be the one to call my mom or if she should do it for me.

I choke down my feelings and attempt to say I can do it. If my mom deserves to hear this from anyone it’s me. Alas, no words come out, and my falsified confidence shrivels up and dies in my throat. Instead, I simply mouth the word ‘you’ to her and hope she takes the hint. Luckily enough for me, she does.

I listen for a few seconds while she calls, I listen just long enough for my mom to say her name in the peppy ‘customer voice’ she always uses when she answers calls at work. I listen just long enough for Ms. Harper to introduce herself as the school counselor. I listen just long enough for the feeling of dread to set in, and I cover my ears.
I note this as another small loss. I am too weak to listen to the call. Too weak to hear my mother’s heartbreak, or maybe her fury, or maybe her indifference. I didn’t know, I couldn’t hear her over the sound of my own shame. I was too weak to listen to their goodbyes and too weak even to speak to my mother herself.

Ms. Harper tells me I can leave now, with the same pity-smile that I instantly (and correctly) assume all counselors have. I nod, take a deep shaking breath, and pull myself up out of the chair and back into the halls.

It isn’t until after lunch, or even after the remainder of fourth and fifth period until my shameful feelings die down enough for me to concentrate in class. We’re in the middle of working on something from our books when my concentrations breaks at the ring of the phone. Mr. Donnovan answers it, and for the first time ever I am not mentally chanting, “Please be for me, please be for me, please be for me.” It really is funny how these things work; you get what you want but only under unfortunate circumstances. I’m told that I am leaving for the day, to go get my things and go to the office. I’m incredibly confused but I comply nonetheless. Who was I to pass up an opportunity to get out of school?

What, I think, could I possibly be getting called to the office for?

When I arrive there, my mom is sitting in the chair closest to the door. I smile and say, “Hi,” but I raise my eyebrows slightly, my expression very obviously reading what in the name of all things holy is going on, mom? She ignores my confused expression for a minute and stands up to sign me out.

Whether it was November or February I cannot remember, but I very distinctly remember that there was snow. Lots and lots of mushy gray snow. I watched the tires push through the slush for a few minutes before I ask what’s going on, why mom had pulled me from class.

My memory fails me in trying to recall exactly what she said, but it does not fail me in reminding me of the solid, horrible, shame-fueled feeling in my gut when she said it to me. It must have been something along the lines of, “When you get a call from your child’s school counselor hearing that they feel like they want to kill themself you get a little worried.” If I didn’t feel guilty before, I most certainly did now.

I knew mom didn’t mean to make me feel like that, I knew she was just worried. She loved me and she was scared for me. Or maybe she was scared of me – of how I felt about myself. I knew she would deny it with her dying breath but I had now become a burden. A weight on her shoulders. I couldn’t even begin to process how much this had hurt her, and despite her intentions being to convince me otherwise, it was set in stone that her feelings were more important than mine.

We pull into the parking lot, and I cannot quite remember how my mother told me that this would be where I will be going to therapy from now on. A building near the local university, only a block away from the hockey rink. I let my feelings of guilt and shame and embarrassment swallow me whole as we go inside. My mom uses her customer voice when she talks to the receptionist. Her voice is light and cheery, a stark contrast to the serious, distressed tone I’d heard in the car.

We sit down in the chairs nearest to the front desk and I watch my mom fill out all of the paperwork. I don’t bother trying to read it over her shoulder. I am positive that she would just be answering all of the questions I had answered in the counselor’s office earlier. I look at her and watch the way her expression slides into neutral, and very quietly, very softly I start to feel very, very bad.

Mom folded the papers up and held them tight in one hand. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out something; I assumed it was her inhaler. I turn away for a second, avoid eye contact in fear that she will see me and feel what I feel. That she will see me and hate me the way I hate myself. But she doesn’t, because when I glance back she is holding out a handful of chocolates to me. Mom is smiling, and it is not the pity smile of the counselor, for the strained I-don’t-want-to-be-here smile of the receptionist. She is smiling at me for real and my quiet bad feeling changes and morphs into a quiet sort-of-almost-not-quite-good feeling as I open up one of the chocolates and eat it. It’s dark chocolate sea salt caramel. I’ve never had this kind before, but I convince myself that I like it.

After that very small, very meaningful event my memory is fuzzy. I cannot remember being called in to see my therapist. I cannot even remember her name. I cannot remember whether or not my mom came inside with me. Even after visiting her twice a month for nearly a year I can hardly even recall what her office looked like save for a small couch and a very tall, thin bookshelf. I notice now as I write this that I have a tendency to forget important things. I ponder now as I write this whether or not the things I forget are important at all.

My memory skips, like a broken record player to the drive home. The sun had come out of hiding and the sloppy gray snow that painted the streets now shone through, bright and beautiful. I was tired, in the way I always am when I get done with feeling bad for myself but there had been a very small change. I would always feel tired and soggy, slushy like the snow outside. But now I just felt warm and cozy. Like instead of wanting to sleep until the sun burns out, maybe I just needed a little nap. Like instead of wanting to go into a ten-year coma, I’d be ok with just falling asleep in the car. Usually, my tired was not the kind of tired that sleep can fix; I convinced myself that time that maybe it could. The feeling was refreshing and I could almost pretend that I hadn’t spent most of my day wallowing in self-pity. Almost.

I wonder if maybe that is how everyone feels. I take comfort in the idea of it as we pull up to a red light. I like the idea of everyone understanding how I felt and feeling the same way. It almost feels like maybe, I’m not alone.

I turn my gaze from out the window back to my mother.

You know, it is funny what the mind will choose to remember. Although I cannot remember a single second of seeing my therapist, although I cannot even remember her name, I remember the jacket that my mother was wearing when she drove me home that day. It is the same jacket that now resides in my bedroom, on the blue bench in front of my fireplace.

Like I said, it is funny what the mind will choose to remember because although I am absolutely sure that she must have said something more than this, I can recall her saying to me only one thing as we waited for the light to turn green. Something so small that you could have missed it if a particularly strong gust of wind came by and carried her words away with the snowflakes
“I’ve got you,” she took my hand. For reasons that I believe to even be beyond cosmic comprehension, I almost burst into tears. Maybe I only remember that phrase because she has said it so many times. Maybe she did not say it at all that day. Maybe I am simply trying to comfort myself in the idea that I had it all figured out. Maybe I am just a liar. Maybe not.

The way I remember it, she took my hand and told me she’s got me. She gave me the one small affirmation I had been searching for so desperately that it hurt. In three words, she made me feel okay again, if even just for a short while. It’s strange how sometimes feelings so big can be silenced by something so small as chocolate, or three small syllables. Sometimes all it takes is one very small epiphany.

I squeeze her hand and relish in my realization. In the warmth of the car, and her hand, and my heart. I am not alone, I think. I do not ever have to be alone.