When it came time to choose the songs for this year’s song fic prompts I was excited to have the chance to pick a few. Of course my first choice was to pick a Backstreet Boys song. The song is called Try and if you’ve never heard it and want to hear it, you can click here.
It’s one of my favorite songs but when I chose it I didn’t think about how sad it can be even though it’s hopeful too. This is for Sydney and Olivia who I did not know but wish I or someone had been able to help.
Sophie and I had worked together for six months, side by side slinging expensive coffee to the masses. We’d bonded over our strange tastes in music and movies, and laughed at the absurd names the hipsters named their kids. I’d slowly fallen in love with her but had been too afraid to tell her. I told myself that being her friend and coworker was enough. As long as she was in my life in some way, I’d be happy.
I could tell she was hurting, and I saw all of the warning signs. She’d withdrawn from her friends and activities she loved, made a massive change in her wardrobe, began getting failing grades, and had wicked mood swings. The red flags had all been there, and had all been ignored. Her family thought, “Oh she’s just going through a phase…” Her friends who’d been pushed aside said she’d turned into an “emo bitch.” When her teachers and school counselors brought up concern they’d been told by her mother, “I know my daughter, I’d know if she was hurting herself or if she was depressed.”
I couldn’t ignore her though. Even when she tried being mean to me in an attempt to push me away, I shrugged it off knowing that she was just in pain. It was a pain I’d known all too well myself. I didn’t know how to tell her though. It wasn’t like one day as we mopped the floor I could just say, “Hey… you seem depressed and well, I have experience with that so… wanna talk?” If I’d done that, she would have slammed her walls down around herself and I probably would’ve never seen her again.
So instead I just did my best to let her know that I was there. I gave her access to every social media account I had. If she sent out a tweet, I read it. If she Instagramed something, I liked it. I hoped that if she knew I was out there paying attention to her that it would help somehow. I remembered the days when I felt like no one saw me and the dark, scary path it had led me down.
One Saturday morning when we were supposed to open the store together she didn’t show up. The voicemail in the office that we were supposed to call if we had to miss work was empty. I checked her Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and checked to see if I’d somehow missed a text but there was nothing. Her last post on Instagram had been four hours earlier and was an artsy shot of her left hand, palm up. There hadn’t been any sort of text along with the shot, but it made my blood run cold. She was right handed and if she’d planned to hurt herself, the left wrist would be first.
I called her phone and prayed that she would pick up. I ran through my head as the phone rang what my next step would be if she didn’t pick up. I didn’t know her exact address but I knew where she lived. If I had to I was prepared to risk my job and lock up the store to go check on her. Just as I was reaching for my keys her voice was in my ear and it wasn’t her voicemail kicking in. She was saying my name, “Alex?”
“Hey, Soph…” I said, with a relieved sigh. My heart was still in my throat but if she was talking to me that was a good thing. Or at least that’s what I told myself. “Uh… Yeah… I was just wondering if you…” I rolled my eyes at myself and smacked my hand to my forehead. “Well, I figured you weren’t coming in today but I was wondering if I could see you later.”
Total silence on her end of the line and then quietly, “Why?”
I had no idea what to tell her. I ran my fingers over the scar on my wrist, a nervous habit, and tried to think of something clever. The scar itself gave me an idea, “You’re artistic and I need someone with an artsy eye.”
“Al, what are you talking about?” she asked in a confused and somewhat annoyed voice.
“I decided to go ahead and get a tattoo. You told me that if I got one you’d go with me.” Suddenly my mind was firing on all cylinders and I didn’t sound like such a dweeb. “Remember?”
She chuckled and sniffed like maybe she’d been crying, “Yeah I remember.”
“So will you go with me?”
“Even though I was about to ditch you on a Saturday morning shift?”
“I can handle it…” I told her gently. “I’m not sure how well I’ll handle the tattoo needle though.”
More silence followed by another sniff before she cleared her throat, “I’ll be there in half an hour.”
“Promise?” I asked before I could tell myself that it sounded too desperate.
“Yeah… I promise.”
She made good on the promise and made it to work, which means I had to follow through with getting a tattoo even though I hadn’t really planned on it at all. She was quiet in my car on the way to the tattoo shop and I did my best to fill the silence with light banter. She’d been quiet all through our shift too, but as long as she was there with me, I knew she was safe.
I was pretty sure that I was going to either piss my pants or puke when it was time to get my ink. She found that to be hilarious and she smiled for the first time all day as she teased me. When the artist asked me what design I wanted, I pulled up a picture on my phone. It was one that Sophie herself had posted months ago on her Instagram and I’d saved because I’d liked it so much, “Like this…”
I heard Sophie gasp as she realized the picture belonged to her. It was a semi-colon on a coffee cup that she’d doodled on the edge of a history test. I pushed the sleeves of my tee shirt up and bared my wrists to her. In the six months we’d known each other my wrists were always covered. Mostly because it had been fall and winter in Michigan, but also because even when it was 80 degrees out I had a tendency to cover my wrists.
“It was a year and a half ago…” I told her as she reached out and ran her fingers over the scars. “I was very lucky. I shouldn’t have survived it, but my mom came home early.” I watched as a single tear slid down each of her cheeks. “You okay with me taking your design?” She nodded and kept looking down at my wrists. I then turned the tables and pushed her sleeves up her arms. She had scars too but none as severe as my own and they were fairly new. “Will you get one with me?”
She let out a soft sob and let her head drop as she gave in to her tears. I pulled her into a hug and let her cry. The tattoo artist smiled at me and motioned silently that she was going to leave us alone for a bit but she’d be back.
“Soph… I don’t know what’s been going on with you, but I know from experience that it can get so much better. Please let me help.”
“How did you know?” she finally asked when she pulled back from the hug to wipe her eyes.
I shrugged, “I’ve been there. Sometimes it takes someone who’s been in your shoes to see what’s really going on.” I nudged the toes of her converse sneakers with my own.
“My own mom doesn’t even believe me when I say I need help.”
“I know…” I told her and held her hands in mine. “And I hate it. But I believe you. That design you drew, that tells me that you don’t want to go anywhere. You wouldn’t have drawn it otherwise. So this is your pause… you get to decide whether your story ends or goes on. But for the record, I really, really want it to go on.”
She squeezed my hands and nodded her head, “So do I.”
“Okay, so let’s do this. We get the ink, and then we do this together.”
She finally lifted her eyes to meet my own and as they filled once more with tear she said, “Promise?”
I smiled from ear to ear as relief washed over me. “Absolutely.”
Try, baby, try
Give me a moment of your time
Oh no, don’t, don’t close your eyes
I know you’re hurting now
We can work it out
If we just try.
PROJECT SEMICOLON IS A GLOBAL NON-PROFIT MOVEMENT DEDICATED TO PRESENTING HOPE AND LOVE FOR THOSE WHO ARE STRUGGLING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS, SUICIDE, ADDICTION AND SELF-INJURY. PROJECT SEMICOLON EXISTS TO ENCOURAGE, LOVE AND INSPIRE.
National Hopeline Network :: 1.800.SUICIDE (784-2433)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline :: 1.800.273.TALK (273-8255)
The Trevor Project (LGBTQ) :: 1.866.4.U.TREVOR (488-7386)