I was sixteen years and one day old the first time I told Emma Hayes that I loved her. If I was someone else I might tell you where we were that day or maybe something about the way the sunlight hit her wavy brown hair. I am not going to tell you those things, though, because the truth is, I don’t remember. I only know that it was the day after my birthday, because of our conversation. She’d been ignoring me up until that point because I’d kissed Kaitlin Green at my party when I was supposed to be going out with her. Don’t ask me why I did it, I did a lot of stupid things at sixteen.
“You’re a real pain, you know that?”
“Yeah. I mean okay, I guess.”
“You guess? So you have nothing to say to me, then.”
“What do you want me to say, Emma? I shouldn’t have kissed her, but it was a dare. It didn’t mean anything.”
“It didn’t? Are you sure?
“No, it didn’t. She’s just a friend, not even that. You’re…special.”
“I see. Okay, Chris.”
“Yeah. If you say it didn’t mean anything, I’ll believe you. But there’s something that I gotta do first.”
Then she kissed me. By the time she left that day my whole world had become blue eyes and freckles; I was hooked. I told her I loved her and I meant it too. She was so easy to love back then.
We were driving home from a school dance the first time I witnessed one of Emma’s episodes. We’d been together for about a year at that point, and I was still hooked. She looked so beautiful that night and it made it hard to concentrate on the road. Then out of nowhere, the episode happened. Maybe if she had looked at me just then I would have seen it in her face; maybe I could have stopped the anxiety before it stopped her, but I guess that’s pretty much impossible.
“Chris, there’s something wrong. I don’t feel good. I’m scared.” she was trembling.
“Okay, do you need me to pull over?”
She shook her head.
“Can I help? What doesn’t feel good? Maybe it’s something you ate.”
“No! It’s not pain, it’s a feeling or…I don’t know. But I feel dizzy and I’m scared. My heart won’t stop pounding. Something terrible is happening I just know it and I can’t make it stop! Oh please, God make it stop.” Her breathing sped up and she began to tug at her hair. Her whole body was shaking and my own body began to panic, as my calm, level-headed girlfriend was replaced by the demons of anxiety and paranoia. She began to cry ferociously, and I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot so I could call her parents.
“Stop! Stop it! I’ll be fine. I don’t want them to see me like this, God I don’t want you to see me like this. Don’t tell them this is happening! They will think I’m crazy…you must think I’m crazy. Oh God. This just happens sometimes. I panic…but I’ll be fine, Chris. Please.” I looked at her, brown curls sticking up in all directions, black stuff from her eyes running down her cheeks. I didn’t think she was crazy; I didn’t know what to think. So I did what she said. I sat there in that parking lot just holding her, for a whole half hour until she was calm again. Until her smile returned and the light in her eyes came back.
“I’m so sorry.” she’d said. “But I’m going to get through this. I have you, and you’re gonna help me be okay. I’ll love you forever, I really will.” She was almost completely calm at that point, and I would have believed anything she told me. I wish I’d had a better understanding of it, or why or how it occurred-but even now, I don’t. All I have is what happened that night, and the other days and nights, over and over again for the next two years.
Mrs. Snyder, who wants me to call her Kathy, says that putting your thoughts and feelings on paper is a good way to cope with a tragedy. I told her that Emma used to keep a journal, she said she wasn’t surprised. I don’t know if writing all this down is really going to help me. If anything, I guess it’s a good way to get Emma somewhere other than my head. I know that seeing Mrs. Snyder twice a week is supposed to be helping me as well, but frankly, I don’t think she knows what the heck to say to me. She tried to explain Emma to me once.
“Chris…” she hesitated. “I think it’s about time we talk about why Emma ended her life.”
“There is no why. She just did it. That’s it.”
“No, Chris, there were a lot of things wrong with Emma that brought on her death, suicide doesn’t just happen.” I hated that word, Suicide. Probably the worst word in the world.
“Emma was very depressed, Chris. But she was also suffering from an anxiety disorder. Does that make you feel any differently about her death?” I had nothing to say to that, so I just stared at the wall. As little as I understood of Emma, Mrs. Snyder understood less.
. . .
After talking with Mrs. Snyder this morning, I went to Emma’s house and sat for a while in her room. I opened a bent page in one of her journals.
I feel the world caving in on me. The panic is getting worse. I’m drowning in darkness, I can’t find the light. I love you Chris and I need you. But your light is too far away, this darkness is too close. I’m so scared right now. All I know is that something terrible is going to happen but I can’t make it stop.
The next page was blank.
Words by Samantha De La O // Photography by Grecia Villa.
© 2015 Reef Magazine