Radiant // Sample Chapter

Radiant by Ashlee Craft - Cover

 

Chapter 1

They’re all radiant

Radiant like the sun

Radiant like the moon that shines above the sea

Radiant like the stars twinkling light-years away

Radiant

Radiant

But I’m not one of them

Maybe someday I will be

I read the poem from the page of my notebook and sigh. How many times before have I read those words? The words are part of a poem from a book I’d read a long time ago, a poem I’d liked so much that I’d copied the words down in the notebook where I saved things that made me feel just a little bit better. I don’t remember how the poem ends because I didn’t like it at the time, so I didn’t write it down.

Sometimes, I wonder how it’s all going to end for me.

This notebook of mine is black and has a worn cover on it. Inside, it is filled with quotes, thoughts that I had, and song lyrics. Anything that cheers me up, even if it is only a little bit. Because that little bit matters. That little bit is sometimes the only thing that keeps me from completely falling down.

Sometimes, that little bit is all that keeps me from breaking.

I cling to that notebook like a lifeline, because in a way, it is.

Those words, those words from that poem written by some poet I could no longer remember the name of, those words make me feel better. Because when I hear words like that, I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one that feels that way.

I am not radiant.

I am not beautiful.

I am not special.

I am not important.

I do not matter.

And I never would be anything different than that.

I am ugly, and stupid, and fat. I don’t deserve to be liked, or cared about; I don’t deserve to matter. Everyone I know hates me, and they think that I am nothing.

But they can’t hate me more than I hate myself.

No one could hate me more than that.

Despite this, despite all these feelings that are bottled up inside of me, feelings that I could tell no one, that poem still gives me a sliver of hope. The hope that maybe someday, some far off day in my unforeseeable and frightening future, maybe I could feel radiant. Maybe I could feel beautiful. Maybe I could be happy.

I laugh at this ridiculous idea. I know it’s never going to happen. An impossible dream. A dream so impossible that it isn’t even worth my time to try and imagine it, and yet, I do. My whole life, I have watched as those around me, those who are prettier, smarter, and better than me, have succeeded in life. I watch as I remain behind, forgotten about, hurting. But no one sees me. They’re all to busy with their own beautiful lives to notice me at all.

Because I am a failure, and I always will be.

Yes, that poem makes me feel a little better, but at the same time, reading it hurts. Hurts me deep inside. The poem reminds me of all the things that I never could be. It reminds me that there are so many people who are better than me, people who are or will be happy. People who actually have a chance.

When I read that poem, I am reminded that I will never be like them.

To be honest, I don’t really understand why I like that poem so much. I mean, if I read it for hope, why am I kidding myself? Why do I still believe that things can work out for me, that things are going to get better? Why do I keep lying to myself, lying that maybe someday things could get better?

Despite the fact that the poem cheers me up, it also makes me feel confused and obligated, like I am supposed to feel radiant, and beautiful, and important, just like most other people around me feel.

But I don’t. And I never will.

Sometimes, I long so desperately that I will feel that way. Even if it’s only for a few seconds, at least I would know what it felt like to be loved.

Because no matter what I do or what I try, I have never experienced that feeling. Things have never gotten better for me, no matter how many times I tried, or how many times I promised myself that things would be different.

How many nights have I sobbed in silence, whispering to myself these cries for help? And how many times have I discovered that no one ever hears me?

With every second of every day, I am reminded of this ever-present fear, the fear that frequently is so bad that I can hardly leave my room in the morning. So bad that it takes everything I have to force myself to even get out of bed.

It was that fear that makes me wonder this:

What if there was no point in even trying?

Despite the fact that I am a failure, despite the fact that I hate myself and my life with as much contempt as I can feel at all, I still fear this more than anything.

As much as I hate the thought of it, I have to think about how things really are. I am ugly. I am fat. I am empty. I will forever be doomed to a life of mediocrity, a life of self-hatred, a life of pain. I will be forever doomed to loneliness and failure. And I will never know what it is like to be loved.

My fear and sorrow paralyze me, and it feels like I’m standing on the edge of an abyss, an abyss which I could fall into at any moment.

And the sad part is, part of me almost wants to fall. Part of me wants to fall into that abyss, to give up, to fall into that abyss just to spite life, to spite the people I knew, to spite myself. Part of me just wants it all to be over.

So, why do I like that poem if it cannot provide me with hope?

Because it shows me that I am not alone, and for the time being, that is enough.

Chapter 2

Even at sixteen, I know that I am a hopeless case. There is something missing inside me, and its absence hurts. There is an emptiness inside me which has never been filled, and, based upon the way things are going, never will be.

In fact, my whole life, my whole body has a startling emptiness to it, like there’s nothing there anymore. In a way, it reminds me of the sensation of walking up a staircase and expecting another step, only to find there is only emptiness, or reaching out to touch something, only to find that it’s a pale memory.

Once more, I ask myself what it would feel like to be loved. The pang of longing stabs inside my chest. It makes me feel sick when I look around me and see the love I’d never known. Loving parents walking across the grocery store with their children, the whole family laughing and smiling together. People sitting in the park with their significant others, holding hands as they watched fireworks explode in the air, or cuddling close by a fireplace around Christmas. Couples making out in dark corners at school or kissing in front of lockers. Friends walking together in the mall, looking as though they had not a care in the world.

Watching as everyone around me spends time with someone who cares. Watching everyone smiling and happy, because they have someone who loves them. Because they know they have a chance.

What would it be like to feel that way?

I sigh and swallow hard, knowing I will probably never know the answer to this.

At this point, my eyes drift towards my alarm clock, and when I see the time, I sigh again. It takes so much effort to push away the tears prickling at the back of my eyelids.

Mother expects me to be up soon. I know I only have a few more minutes to remain in this silent reverie of mine before she will come in here and order me to get up if I don’t go downstairs soon. She’ll come in here and complain about how dirty my room is, or ask me how I could expect to make something of my life if I couldn’t even get up and go to school.

Pulling my pillow over my head, as though doing so will offer me some sort of protection, a place to hide, I begin thinking about dreams. The dreams you’ve got inside of you.

When I think about it, I realize I have no dreams. If I look inside me to the place where the dreams should have been, I find only emptiness.

Emptiness. Yes, emptiness. That seems to be the recurring theme in my life. Every place I look, there it is again.

Emptiness.

Emptiness.

And I am numb inside.

I suppose that at one time, a long time ago, I probably had dreams. In fact, I know that I did, and when I was a child, I believed in my dreams. I believed in them with all my heart and soul, as if there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to reach them.

But as I got older, I realized that this wasn’t true.

My dreams are never going to happen.

Emptiness.

It has been so long since I’d had a dream that I am not really sure I even know how to dream anymore. I’d lost the ability to dream long ago. I know that I’m worthless, that there is no point in even trying. I certainly don’t need anyone else telling me that. I don’t know what I want, and even if I did, I know that if I tried to go after it, tried to make things better for me, I’d only fail at it. Just as I do with everything else in life. I would fail, because a failure is what I am.

Once or twice, I’d sought out the sensation of having something big and happy and wonderful to look forward to, but then it fell through and there was nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

There was only emptiness.

In the night, when I was crying myself to sleep, when everything was dark and forlorn and lonely, I would ask myself what I even wanted. What would make me feel better about myself and my life?

And the answer was always the same.

All I wanted was for someone to love me.

The moment that the idea originally occurred to me, everything seemed just a little clearer.

If only I had someone to love, someone who loved me back, someone who believed in me, then everything would be okay. I would believe in myself again, because I would know that there was someone out there who wouldn’t let me give up.

But that’s not going to happen, because it’s my fault that no one loves me. It’s all my fault, because I’m too fat and stupid and ugly to be loved.

My parents don’t care the least about me. The only time they show any type of emotion to me is when they are angry, or annoyed, or disappointed with something I’ve done. They never tell me that they love me, and more importantly, they never show it. I mean, somewhere deep down inside of them, they might love me just because I am their child, but they never show it if they do indeed feel it. They only put up with me because they have to. Whenever I try telling them about something that’s going on in my life, they tell me to shut up.

For example, once, in seventh grade, I had a strong crush on a kid from school, whose name was Joshua. He had short blonde hair and sparkling eyes. He was funny and kind and wonderful, and we’d even spoken to each other a few times. I was pretty sure that I was in love with him.

One day at school, my dreams came true. Joshua asked me out. It was the best day of my life, even now when I look back upon it. It was the only moment in my life when anyone had actually acted like their cared about me.

I knew I couldn’t go out with Joshua without my parents’ permission, so I decided to ask them.

It was after dinner and they were sitting in the living room watching television. I’d just finished cleaning up the kitchen. I had taken my time in doing so, and as I cleaned I had repeatedly gone over what I was going to say to my parents. My heart was pounding so hard I could feel it in my chest. I was afraid of asking them, and yet, I had no choice but to do so. Every time I thought about refraining from asking, I pictured Joshua’s face and remembered how adoringly he’d looked at me when he asked me out. This gave me strength.

I’d also tried pretending that Joshua was there with me in the kitchen. In my mind, I could see him there standing next to me. If he had been there, this was what I’d pictured happening:

As Joshua was helping me put dinner away, he looked at me with his beautiful eyes, which were filled with love and adoration.

Are you almost ready to ask them?” He would say.

I nodded.

Yes. It’s time.”

Together, we would walk down the hallway from the kitchen and into the living room. My heart was pounding, and I was nervous, but everything was going to be okay. Joshua would reach over and squeeze my hand to reassure me.

You’ll do fine.” He would say.

We reached the living room and saw my parents sitting there. They looked up when we entered the room, and for once, they actually paid attention when I was speaking to them.

Joshua asked me out on a date, and I would like to go with him.” I would say.

I could see my parents immediately looking angry upon hearing this.

No. You will not be going out with him!” My father would yell.

We will not allow it.” Mother would add.

At this point, Joshua would step forward and look my parents in the eyes.

I love your daughter. She is the most beautiful and wonderful girl that I’ve ever met, and I would like to date her.”

At this point, either my parents would agree to let him date me, or they’d say no. If they still said no, Joshua and I would leave the room silently. There would be tears streaming down my face. Joshua would take me out onto the front porch. His soft hands would caress my face, and he would wipe my tears away with his thumb, looking me in the eyes.

Everything is going to be okay.” He would tell me. “We can date secretly. They don’t have to know about it. We can make this work.”

Joshua would be my hero.

And more than anything, I needed a hero.

I pictured this scenario because I needed some sort of hope, some sort of strength. I needed enough courage to be able to talk to my parents.

Because I didn’t know what I’d do if they said no.

When I was finally finished with the kitchen, my heart was pounding loudly in my ears. Time seemed to be passing much slower than normal in the way that it does when you’re about to do something big.

I walked from the kitchen and into the living room. My parents’ eyes were glued to the screen, and the volume was up reasonably loud.

I entered the living room, standing next to the couch.

Mother? Father?” I said over the blare of the television.

Father said,

Mmmhmm?”

They both kept watching the screen, and I saw it was some reality TV show about rich people on a yacht.

I continued loudly,

There’s something important I want to ask you about.”

Mother looked over at me.

What do you want?” She asked sharply.

I’d stammered,

Well, you see, at school…”

Can’t you see that we’re trying to watch TV?” Father shouted above the noise.

I don’t want to hear this now.” Mother said.

I looked down at the ground, suddenly feeling very dejected and small.

Can we talk about it some other time?” I asked quietly.

My parents kept staring at the TV. Father turned up the volume louder, and neither one of them looked at me.

I left the room and went upstairs to my bedroom without saying anything.

Over the next few days, I tried talking to them several more times. Each time, they made some excuse why they didn’t want to talk about “something important” at the time.

Around a week later, I brought it up again, this time to my father.

Father, there’s this boy in school. A boy that I really like. He asked me out –“ My voice shook as I’d said this.

Without even hearing the rest of what I had to say, he cut me off and yelled,

Your grades are failing! You’re failing in school! This is not the time to be thinking about boys and their little dates and their little romantic schemes. There is no way that you’re going out with this boy! I don’t care how nice you think he is or how wonderful he seems! The answer is no.”

I protested,

But I –“

Father cut me off and shouted,

Shut up, Ally. Just shut up.”

My heart fell. It fell even further, if that was possible, when I had to break the news to Joshua that I couldn’t date him because my parents wouldn’t let me. He nodded understandingly at the time, and I fantasized that maybe he would propose we date secretly. Maybe he’d still be my hero. But he never brought the idea up, and I didn’t have the guts to bring it up to him myself. For around a week after I broke the news to him, we still continued in our relationship. After that point, Joshua began losing interest in me, and soon, we had broken the small bond we’d had.

It broke my heart when I saw him, weeks later, holding hands with one of the most popular girls in school, whose name was Gretchen Wilkes. I felt an anger deeper than any I’d ever felt when I saw Joshua with Gretchen, but I knew that I deserved to feel that way.

Gretchen was one of those perfect people who looked like they should be on the cover of a magazine. Gretchen was everything that I wasn’t – skinny, beautiful, tall, curvy in just the right places, talented, intelligent, and popular. She wore the most fashionable clothes, always looked perfect, and had a large entourage of friends who followed her around everywhere and went to all the wonderful parties she held at her house. Additionally, Gretchen had her pick amongst nearly every boy in the school, and she could always be seen parading around with her newest selection and showing him off.

After Joshua left me for Gretchen, Gretchen took special interest in doing her best to make my life hell.

Hey there, loser! You look like you gained weight. What kind of diet are you on? Is it an anti-diet?” She would frequently ask me. “Hey, fatso, you look worse today than ever before.”

And then her and her equally perfect little friends would go on laughing and laughing. I would blush and look away, doing my very best to block them out. I hated all of them. I hated them so much that I couldn’t even put it into words. I wanted to go to Gretchen’s house and shred up all her perfect clothing. I wanted to trash Gretchen’s room, to ruin all the expensive and perfect things that she had. I wanted to spread a horrible rumor about her and make everybody in school hate her too. I wanted to see her fall from her popularity and become a loser too.

But I couldn’t, and I didn’t. All I could do was continue to hate Gretchen with everything I was. All I could do was continue to hurt inside.

Gretchen’s words always hurt. They hurt when she says them, and they hurt me weeks later when I am reminded of them. They tear me up inside, make me feel like I’m nothing.

Because I am nothing.

And there isn’t anything I can do about it.

This pain, this fear of rejection, is what follows me around everywhere I go. Everyone around me seems to know what it is like to be loved. Everyone around me has someone who cares about them, some reason to be happy, some reason to have hope.

Except me.

As everyone else runs around with their boyfriends and girlfriends, I am left behind to eat the dust they kick up. As everyone else makes new friends, goes out and socializes, or achieves their dreams, I am left behind in their shadows.

I need to be loved, and yet, there is no one around to love me. To me, the world is empty. Sometimes, sometimes I even liked pretending that I am the only person left on earth. I might as well have been, as I never speak to anyone and no one ever speaks to me unless they had to. Or, in Gretchen’s case, if they want to.

I need someone to love me.

But I am afraid.

I’m afraid to reach out in the night, only to find that there is nothing there. I’m afraid of spending all my time trying to make a relationship work, only to discover that the two of us aren’t meant to be.

I am afraid that I’ll only make a fool of myself. Afraid that, no matter what I do, whoever falls in love with me will never think of me and love me in the same way I love him. That he’ll never look at me with that absolute adoration in his eyes, he’ll never hold my hand when I need it most; never listen to my hopes and dreams and fears. Afraid that no one will never truly be able to love me, afraid that no one will ever think I am beautiful enough, good enough, or worthy enough to be loved.

I need love more than anything, need it so much that it actually hurts to think about it. If I only had someone who loved me, everything would be okay. I need to find someone who will love me. Not just someone who tolerates my presence or thinks I was okay to be around, but someone who actually needs me like I needs him.

I need someone to save me from myself.

Around this time in my reverie, it occurs to me that truly I have to get up now, or else Mother will burst into my room and start lecturing me about how I am lazy and will always be worthless. Despite this “threat”, I still felt my typical reluctance to get out of bed. I still don’t feel like it’s worth doing, or that I can. I wish everyone would just leave me alone. I wish I could stay in bed all day and not have to face everything that’s out there.

It is always the same.

Every morning when I wake up, I am reminded of my loneliness within minutes of opening my eyes. Because as soon as I open my eyes, as soon as the first rays of light fall upon my vision, the reality of it all comes crushing down upon me again. I always end up sobbing, and I cannot stop the tears as they run down my cheeks. And then, I am left with the problem of how to hide my despair from those around me. If they knew, if they knew how difficult, how painful every day was for me, they would give up on me too. They would know that I am a lost cause.

No one else can understand how I feel, and I am not sure that I want them to. If I couldn’t understand my feelings myself, how could anyone else?

All I want is to be able to make sense of my tangled thoughts and feelings, and this is something only I could do. No, it was better if I kept it inside of me. It was safer that way. Because if I ever told anyone, it would all just come tumbling out, and I wouldn’t be able to stop falling then.

But to be honest, I cannot stand this, and I often ask myself why I’ve held on for this long anyways. I know I’ll always be lonely, and unhappy, and that I’m never going to belong anywhere. So why am I kidding myself?

The only thing that makes me feel even a little better is crying. Crying at night. Crying myself to sleep. Because it’s all I can do. I can’t keep it inside of me. Not always.

Things weren’t always this way, and it kind of hurts when I think about it, when I think about the fact that a long time ago, when I was a child, I was happy. It hurts because knowing happiness and losing it is perhaps worse than never knowing it at all.

Every day, it takes everything just to get out of bed, to go downstairs and go to school, to pretend that I am okay even when I am not. To smile for teachers so they don’t worry about me, to act as though everything is fine in my life, and I don’t spend every minute of every day just wishing things wouldn’t hurt so much.

It feels like I’m hanging off the side of a cliff. Any moment, I could fall to the ground.

Any moment, I could want to.

I do not consider myself to “live”, so to speak. I am merely existing, merely going through the motions, doing whatever I can just to get through each day.

My future constantly seems increasingly bleak.

This has gone on for such a long time that I no longer know what it’s like to be happy, or to not hate myself and my life. Things have been so monotonous, so stagnant, that it know nothing will ever change.

My morning reverie is over. The illusions of happiness I might have had upon waking have evaporated. Emptiness once more takes up its place inside my chest, and the same lonely room stares back at me, decorated with memories of my childhood, decorated with the pale shadows of dreams I’ve given up on, casting upon the walls the sickly hue of Failure.

I have the immediate urge to hide somewhere. Anywhere. Anywhere that I can just forget about all of this. It hurts. It hurts so much. All I want is an escape from my life. But I don’t think there is one.

Reluctantly and exhaustedly, I force myself to get up out of bed. It takes so much effort to do this, but I manage. Slowly, I trudge into the bathroom, which is connected to my bedroom.

I stare at myself in the mirror and almost gag at how ugly I am. So stupid. So freaking fat. So hideous.

My eyes, dull looking, empty, filled with pain, are red and puffy. Huge bags sit beneath them, showing the signs of sleeping poorly. My eyes stare back at me with the dimness of my depression. My hair, which is a dull, ugly mousy brown, is stringy, oily, and frazzled, like the leaves of a dead plant.

But worst of all is my body. I’m so freaking fat.

Fat. Fat. Fat. Fat. I call myself in the mirror, my lips forming this word over and over, barely audible. It hurts to say this to myself, but at the same time, the pain feels good.

So ugly and so damn fat. Looking at myself in the mirror, I am horrified by my appearance. My face is fat and freckly, with pudgy cheeks. My hands are fat. My feet are fat. My fingers are fat. My middle is fat. My butt is fat. My fat face is covered in horrible red acne, marring the surface.

It is indescribable how much I hate myself. I am so ugly. It’s no wonder that no one likes me. I have no doubt why I am never invited to parties, why everyone in the school hallways passes me and doesn’t speak to me, acting as though I’m not really there. I can understand why, with the exception of Joshua, no one has ever asked me out, and I don’t even know why Joshua did that. Perhaps I wasn’t as ugly back then. Perhaps he felt sorry for me. I know why I’ve never had a boyfriend. I can see why Gretchen sees it fit to insult me each day at school.

I deserve it, because it is all my fault.

I look my reflection in the eyes and whisper,

You’re such a fat freaking loser. You are so freaking ugly, and that is all you will ever be. Why do you keep trying?

And I wonder why can’t I just look like those beautiful people on the fronts of magazines? Why couldn’t I have been born beautiful like them?

It hurts me inside when I’d look up celebrities online, or read the newest edition of fashion magazines. The covers are graced with pictures of beautiful, skinny, perfect people. The kind of people I could never be like.

As I cannot bear to look at my ugly fat self any longer, I throw on a dark colored shirt and some stupid jeans, then go downstairs.

My father is about to leave for work. My mother stands by the stove, cooking eggs, and when I enter the kitchen, her only words to me are,

Ally, why can’t you just wake up when you’re supposed to? You’re going to be late for school again. I’m very disappointed in you.” Anger fills her voice.

My father says,

Without a good education, you’re never going to make money. You’re always going to be a loser. You’re so fat and homely that no one is ever going to like you for your looks, so education is really your last hope, and you’re a failure at that as well. What is wrong with you?”

My parent’s words sting me. I hate them. I hate them so much that I just want to scream at them, but everything they are saying is right.

Mother puts a plate of eggs on the table, but I push them away and go make myself a small cup of coffee instead. I try to avoid eating breakfast as much as I can, because if I eat any more than I do already, it’s just going to make me fatter. When I’m finished, I trudge back up the stairs, having barely the motivation to lift my feet, barely having the motivation to get ready for school. But somehow, I get ready in time.

Then Mother takes me to school. She drives me there on the way to her office, and I slowly walk towards the high school, a grayish brick building with many windows.

I stand there looking towards the derelict building. Inside are my tormenters. Inside are the ones who hate me, who remind me that I am ugly and worthless. The ones who remind me that I will never be what they are, never be beautiful like them. The ones who remind me that there would never be anyone who loved me, and that I don’t deserve to be anything more than what I am, that I don’t deserve to be happy.

And a thought crosses my mind, a thought which has crossed my mind so many times before that I can’t even count. A thought which haunts me every day because I don’t know what to do about it. There is no way to change this feeling, and yet it is always there. Always there, gnawing at me inside, making me wonder if someday, I’m just going to give up.

I can’t go on like this.

I can’t keep doing this, day after day. In fact, I’m not even really sure how I’ve done it for as long as I’ve been doing it, but I have, and it’s worn me down. And I don’t think that I can keep doing this. Keep on breathing and hoping and wishing that something will change.

Because don’t I know by now that nothing is ever going to change for me?

And I’ve tried looking towards my future, tried imagining what and who I could be in five years.

But I can’t.

Because I’m not there.

 

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