The trouble all started because of my good friend, Ellen. Well, that’s not completely true. She didn’t really start it; my mother’s dying started it. But the epiphany that I had – the revelation that has forever changed the way that I look at my life – happened as a result of something Ellen said. Or, rather, something she wrote.
I love that word: epiphany. It’s so much grander than plain old realization or discovery. I especially love saying the word out loud, because it sounds so airy and romantic.
When I first learned what the word meant, I imagined that having an epiphany would feel exactly like it sounded. But that was before I had one of my own. Now, even though I still love the dramatic way the word sounds, I know that having an epiphany is the furthest thing from a light and airy experience.
Instead, your heart starts to thump. And the thumping is so loud that the sound crashes through your body and wraps itself around your eardrums. At the same time, all of the air is sucked out of your chest in one huge gust, like someone punched you (as hard as they could) right in the ribcage. Then, just as the air starts to seep back into your lungs, your underarms begin to tingle and burn. And, finally, your gut turns hard, and you feel a slight but steady gnawing in the region where your stomach used to be. At least, that’s how my moment of discovery announced itself to me. But, I’m rambling.
As I was saying, everything started a few weeks ago, when Ellen invited me to spend the night at her house. It was a weeknight. And, although I am not usually allowed to stay out overnight on weeknights, my father said that it would be all right (since school hadn’t started yet). He also said that, if I was willing to wait, he’d drive me to Ellen’s when he got home from the office (he’s a doctor). But, I didn’t feel like waiting. So, I packed my bag and walked the four blocks from my house to hers.
When I got there, Ellen’s friend, Rose, was already there. Ellen had invited her to spend the night as well.
Now, I know that I just described Rose as Ellen’t friend, but I swear that it’s not because I dislike her or anything. It’s just that I only know her through Ellen. Their parents are friends, so the two of them spend a lot of time together. But I’ve never spent any time alone with Rose, and I don’t expect that I ever will. Why would I? I mean, we don’t go to the same school, and we don’t participate in any of the same after-school activities. In fact, the only time that I ever see Rose is when we are both with Ellen.
But, even though I don’t know her well, Rose has always been very nice to me. And it certainly never occurred to me to question why she was being so nice, that there might be more behind it than just plain friendship. At least, not until I had my epiphany.
At any rate, the three of us had a really good time that night. We watched television, ate an entire bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough (no baking required), and spied on Ellen’s parents and her two sisters. Not that there was any particular reason to spy on them, they weren’t doing anything interesting. Spying on family members is just something we like to do every now and then. Kind of like Harriet Welsch in Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet The Spy.
Around midnight, Ellen’s mother decided that it was time for us to go to sleep. We went upstairs and got into the oversized t-shirts and shorts that we like to wear to bed instead of pajamas, but we weren’t the least bit tired. So, Ellen decided that we should play a game.
According to the game’s rules, we were no longer permitted to talk out loud. Instead, Ellen gave each of us a little cardboard box, some paper, and a pencil. From that moment on, we were only allowed to communicate by writing notes to one another (and placing them in the box of the person to whom we wanted to send that particular message).
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have much to write to Ellen, let alone Rose. But, I wrote silly, chatty notes to both of them. I didn’t want either one of them to feel neglected.
Eventually, we all fell asleep.
The next morning, while we were getting dressed and straightening up Ellen’s room, a stray note caught my eye. It was about me, so I read it. I couldn’t help myself. And, anyone who thinks that they wouldn’t have done the same thing if they’d been in my position is kidding themselves.
But, even if my decision was horribly wrong; even if I should have walked away and ignored Ellen’s loopy handwriting, it really doesn’t matter now. As I’ve already said, I read the note. It was written on a little piece of lined paper, and it said:
“My mom feels sorry for Sophie because she doesn’t have a mom anymore.”
In an instant, I realized that this is how people see me. I’m not just Sophia Green, sixth-grader extraordinaire, I’m “the girl with the dead mother.”
About a million different thoughts went racing through my head, but I didn’t say a word to Ellen or Rose. What could I have possibly said? I wasn’t supposed to have seen the note in the first place, remember? Instead, I just folded my blankets and finished getting dressed.
After everything was straightened up, the three of us went downstairs to eat breakfast. As we ate, Ellen and Rose chattered on and on as if nothing was different – as if everything was absolutely normal. And, of course, as far as they were concerned, everything was absolutely normal. But I was still so freaked out by what I’d just discovered that I could barely swallow my scrambled eggs, let alone put two sentences together. As soon as the dishes had been cleared from the table and rinsed off in the sink, I thanked Ellen’s parents for having me over and said goodbye to Ellen and Rose.
As usual, Ellen’s mother offered to drop me off at my house on her way to the grocery store. But, for the first time ever, I said no (“but, thank you, Mrs. B”). You see, it had suddenly occurred to me that she was lying – that she had always been lying. Every time Ellen’s mom had said, “I would be more than happy to take Sophie home. It just so happens that I am on my way out the door anyway,” she was just pretending to be on her way out. She didn’t really have any errands to run, she was only offering to take me home because she felt bad that I didn’t have a mother of my own to pick me up.
Suddenly, I was overcome by the oddest sensation; I felt trapped in my own life. Or, rather, I felt trapped in someone else’s version of my life (a version that in no way resembled the life I had thought I was living).
Everywhere I looked, giant clouds of pity hung in the air. They clung to the tables, and the chairs, and they wrapped themselves around Rose, Ellen, her mom, and her dad.
The shame – and the horror – that I felt at the sight of all that menacing pity so overwhelmed me that I could feel the muscles in my throat tighten in distress. I practically gagged on my breakfast as it turned to stone at the bottom of my stomach (where it sat in defiance for hours, refusing to digest).
Before anyone could try to convince me to change my mind about letting Ellen’s mother drop me off, I grabbed my overnight bag and dashed out of the house. And, despite the very real physical pain I was in (isn’t it weird how physically painful emotional discomfort can be?), I ran all the way home.
By the time I reached the driveway of my house, my heart was beating so fast that it was practically jumping out of my chest. I tried to steady myself, but everything around me was shifting in all sorts of weird directions. The sky was where the grass was supposed to be, and the grass was where the sky was supposed to be. And my head was spinning around and around and around.
I felt as if I was going to pass out right there on the sidewalk, so I dropped down on the front lawn for a moment in order to catch my breath. I didn’t want to go into the house until I had calmed down, because I knew that, otherwise, I would start to cry the instant that I walked through the door. And I knew that once I started to cry, I would never be able to stop.
Instead, I lay back, and I closed my eyes, and I let the sun-baked earth warm my cool, damp skin and sooth my rapidly beating heart. After a few minutes, the dizziness disappeared and everything slowly began to shift back into place. The sky moved back where it belonged above my head, and the grass migrated back to its rightful place below my feet.
But, even though my vision was no longer blurry, the inside of my head just wouldn’t clear. It still hasn’t.
On the surface, nothing has changed. Everything is exactly how it’s always been, and everyone is acting exactly how they’ve always acted. But, when I look around me, I see it all differently. Ever since my epiphany, it’s as if everything has mutated into some strange new shape. Nothing is the way that it used to be.