Fiction in response to Gender Equality
May 2018
By Caroline Sun
CC Image Courtesy of alan madrid

I need to get away.

Thoughts crash through my head, an angry torrent of voices. I head towards the door, hands clenching and unclenching.

“Honey!” my mom calls from the kitchen. “Honey, where are you going?”

“Out for a jog, Mum,” I reply shortly.

“Ok, but be careful, sweetie. It’s not safe for a girl like you to be outside alone.”

I pull on my sneakers and grab my iPod, popping the earbuds in. Immediately, my favorite song begins playing, and I relax a little. But despite the familiar flow of the music, the pounding in my head continues.

 

* * *

 

I need to get away.

Thoughts flit through my head, a dizzy spin of images. I jog to the door, eyes narrowed to slits.

“Heading out for a walk, Dad,” I call.

“Why don’t you go to the gym, son? You need to be in top shape for next week's game. We can’t let Matt beat you again.”

“Maybe later.”

Before he can reply, I slip out the door, pulling it shut behind me. But despite the bright colors of autumn, the dark browns and the vibrant reds, the pounding in my head continues.

 

* * *

 

I’m out of the house.

Away from my suffocatingly overprotective mother, away from the ridicule and scorn of my brothers. Away from myself. At least, who they want me to be.

But still, their voices haunt me.

 

* * *

 

I’m out of the house.

Away from my overachieving dad and his high standards, away from the disappointment of my teammates. Away from myself. At least, who they want me to be.

But still, their faces haunt me.

 

* * *

 

They stole my hope.

Laughing, they threw my books out the four-story window. I could only watch as countless pages fluttered to the ground, wingless birds falling from the briefest flight.

“Hey look, it’s the pretty girl.”

“I heard she wants to be a scientist.”

“Impossible! Pretty girls like her are stupid.”

“Yeah, just look at her hair. How shallow.”

“She’s like Barbie, only dumber.”

The voices fill up my mind, rushing through my ears and coming out from behind my eyes, wet and clear and salty. I rip out my earbuds and sink to my knees on the hard sidewalk. But the voices get louder and louder, yelling, yelling, yelling.

You’re not good enough. You’ll never be good enough. 

Even the sound of my sobbing is drowned out.

 

* * *

 

They stole my confidence.

Sneering, they hurled accusations against me, their knives finding me like a target. I watched as my blood flowed across the floors, darkened by the shadow of a tower I could not climb.  

“C’mon, dude, don’t be such a girl.”

“Man up.”

“You’re such a loser.”

“Strong men don’t show emotion.”

“Yeah, stop telling us what to do and fix yourself.”

Their faces filled my vision, looming up above me. My father’s stern face, hollow with disappointment, stands out amongst the rest. I close my eyes, clutching my head in my hands. The cold dirt ground rises up to meet me, and I curl into myself. Still, the faces follow me, mouths moving in silent acrimony.

You’re not good enough. You’ll never be good enough.

The light autumn sky fades before my eyes until all I can see is darkness.

 

* * *

 

Something needs to change.

I stand outside the shop, gazing into the reflective glass window. I see a girl looking back at me, green eyes curious. Long blonde hair runs down past her shoulders, smooth and pretty.

Mum had always been the one who’d made me wear my hair long. She’d said, “All girls should have long, pretty hair.”

But now, it’s time to show everyone that I could control my own life. From now on, I would decide what I should be. 

I take a deep breath and step into the shop.

 

* * *

 

Something needs to change.

I stand in front of my closet, gazing at the neat stacks of t-shirts, each folded perfectly. Each a same, dull gray. A glint of light catches my eye, and I turn to see a boy standing in my bedroom mirror. He is tall and strong, brown eyes confident. His dark hair sticks up haphazardly, and he’s frowning.

My father had always told me that men should seem strong, and that to be strong, one had to seem cold. Unemotional.

            But now, it’s time to show everyone that I could control my own life. From now on, I would decide what I should be. 

I take a deep breath and close the closet doors.

 

* * *

 

Monday.

It’s a school day.

The first few classes pass with a blur, along with anything in between. As I walk down the hall, people whisper and give me pointed looks, but I keep my gaze forward. They could say whatever they wanted.

Before I know it, it’s lunch break, and I’m standing alone in the hallway. Friends chatter loudly, laughing and pushing as they head past. I look around absently, mind wandering.

And then, I see him.

My heart begins pounding and I can hear a faint roaring in my ears because I recognize him. He had been there that day.

 

* * *

 

Monday.

It’s a school day.

The first few classes pass with a blur, along with anything in between. My friends stay well away from me, their memories strong and their grudges even more so. I can hear them whispering about me as I pass them in the halls, but I keep my gaze forward. They could say whatever they wanted.

Before I know it, it’s lunch break, and I’m standing alone in the hallway. I grab my books from my locker and head down towards the computer lab, but I stop as I see her.

She’s standing alone, amidst the chaos of kids running and yelling.

She was the girl from that day.

 

* * *

 

The girl turns away, eyes lowered. She begins to walk away, squeezing past the crowd of students milling about.
“Wait!” the boy calls out, running forward. He reaches out and grabs her arm.

She wrenches it away angrily, turning to glare at him.

“I get it, ok? I’m stupid, I’m shallow. So leave me alone!”

The boy takes her hand, pulling her out of the crowd and into a quiet classroom. She looks at him in surprise.

“Listen, I’m really sorry about how they treated you that day. That was cruel and untrue.”

Her deep green eyes burn into him, angry and a little bit wary. “They? You speak as if you weren’t one of them.”

“I– I–”

“You what?” she demands.

The boy takes a deep breath. In truth, he had tried to break up the fight, but just ended up being dragged into the chaos. The girl must have thought he was a part of the fight all along. “I have no excuse for what they—I did. ” He speaks haltingly, his words hesitant. “I’m sorry I didn’t stop the fight. I’m sorry I didn’t stay to help you. I’m sorry.”

The girl looks at the boy appraisingly, taking in his downcast eyes. She notices that her hand is still grasped in his. Very gently, she eases her hand out of his grip and places it on his shoulder. He looks up in surprise.

“I forgive you.”

 

* * *

 

Change.

It may be something big, something noticeable, something that impacts your life.

The girl’s hair hangs short, blue-dyed ends brushing the tips of her ears. She reaches up self-consciously to twirl a lock of hair, fingers pulling at the soft blonde strand.

Or it may be something small. Something that shows the least, but says the most.

The boy’s shirt is intricately designed, pink and purple and blue flowers knitting together in a circle of color. At the center, in light, curling script, reads the phrase, “Kindness Changes Everything.”

And it does.

2018 Actions in Spotlight

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