While I was marking those damn papers, a student of mine, Donnatella, wrote me a message on the last page of her exam:
Sorry Mr Gunnar. I didn’t do well. I’m depressed. I’m on medication. I need to talk.
The message didn’t come as a surprise. I already knew she was depressed. I knew because, the vibe I felt, was all too familiar, allowing me to tune into that frequency where those silent screams are heard. Screams so deafening, if it ever existed in this material world, hearts would freeze, buildings would tremble, and a spectacular dance of shattered glass would rain. However, more impressive and more devastating than that, in the realm beyond, these silent screams are able to shatter one’s soul.
It’s why I always went easy on her. It’s why I never gave her a hard time if she didn’t do her work, never made her feel bad for not knowing an answer. Infact, I avoided asking her questions in front of other students, knowing she just wanted a safe space, a space that gave her time, time to be comfortable, time to pay attention, in peace, without fear. I would even smile at her. Actually come to think of it, she was able to bring out a compassionate side I sometimes forgot I even had. But I don’t think me being nice was the only reason why she felt comfortable to talk with me. I felt that she knew that I knew – knew that she was depressed. Fuck. Maybe she heard my silent screams as well, maybe that’s why she approached me, maybe that’s why she knew I would understand.
It was lunchtime, the time of day where I normally leave school for my ritual coffee and three cigarettes. After reading that message though, I decide not to go. Instead, I go looking for Donatella. When I eventually find her, we both go to the library to talk.
Donatella jumps right in and confides that her Dad deals drugs, even inside the house. When his not dealing, his always arguing with everyone at home, but mostly Donatella. She tells me that his constantly suspicious about what she gets up to at school, often calling her a slut. Shyly, Donatella confesses she’s never even kissed a guy. She never gets a chance because her dad never allows her to go out with friends, not that she has any.
Donatella doesn’t dare stand up for herself. She tried to once. Never again. Not since her Dad got a knife and threatened to cut her throat.
Her two old brothers aren’t the supportive types. Their happy to just stay out of the firing line. She wished they showed some empathy, but they don’t. Even worse, they know she’s depressed, they know she has anxiety, they know she is trying to study hard, in what is her final year of school, yet despite all of that, they expect her to manage the books of their landscaping business. They also expect her to make them a warm breakfast every morning, not to mention prepare lunch as well.
“It hurts, I’ve got no one”
Not even her mum. She’s in bed most of the time, depressed herself, leaving Donatella to look after everything – cooking, cleaning, washing, bills, literally everything.
Her youngest sister, whose five years old, is scared most of the time, and relies on Donatella to comfort her.
“She loves it when I tell her stories in bed”
The little money Donatella earns from her weekend job, is all spent within a day or two. It used to be that Dad, Mum, brothers, all of them would ask her for money. She learnt however that it’s better to spend the money as soon as she gets it, that way, she has nothing to give. They don’t complain because the money is spent on bills. Now that they’ve stopped asking for money, it’s given Donatella a chance to put some aside. The pittance she does save, is spent on eBay. Not for herself. For her little sister. Nothing special. Just cheap girly things, unique though, the stuff you can’t really find in retail stores.
“She goes through phases. Right now it’s magic. Last week I got her this magic toy kit thingy, it’s pink as well, so … yeah … the thing is though …”
She stops mid sentence. The sudden swelling of tears give her bloodshot eyes a super gloss finish, allowing the sun’s rays to better bounce off those windows to the soul, creating these, gold sparkles in her eyes. Strangely, I was saddened to see them wiped away by the end of her jumper sleeve. I understood though, it was what had to be done, the tears needed to be pushed back, to allow the words to pass through.
“If I don’t buy it for her, no one else will”
She pauses for a moment, valiantly trying to bolster the wall that is keeping those tears hidden from the outside world.
I notice she appears to be in physical discomfort.
She’s sitting on the edge of her seat now. It’s as though she doesn’t know whether she should stand up or remain seated.
She soldiers on however, revealing that the only free time she gets is when it’s close to midnight, by which time she’s too tired to do anything.
As her discomfort appears to increase, she also starts to become increasingly apologetic, forcing me to immediately put things into perspective for her. I tell her I don’t give a shit about her homework. I tell her that her health, her well-being, this is important, the most important thing in the world.
For some odd reason, at that precise moment, I picture a gold vacuum, one with magical powers and shit. A vacuum, that when placed over the heart, would automatically turn on, and once on, it would suck all that sadness out, all of it, the darkness, gone, leaving her bathed in this internal light, a light that gives strength, hope, a light that gives sight, the sight to see the answers. I know that this strange imagery, this peculiar arrangement of thought, is stemming from an uncomfortable reality, the reality of me having no fucking clue as to how to help this poor girl, no clue as to what the answers could be. I actually feel like a fraud.
Of all people, she comes to me for help? How tragic is that?
I ask her if she’s seen the school counsellor. I’m relieved when she tells me that she’s already spoken to her, about everything. I was about to ask Donatella what the school counsellor had told her, because fucked if I know what to say. Maybe the words of the counsellor can help me a little. I feel like I’m pretty good at analysing things, scrutinising them, determining levels of validity, and then proposing further improvements. But starting with a blank canvas, on something like this? No fuck that. I need help. However, I didn’t get a chance to ask
“You said my health is the most important thing”
“Is that really true?”
I sit forward in my chair.
“Don, nothing is more true”
Despite all efforts, the wall she had built, which stood defiant for so long, was now compromised. It was simply no match for a sadness that had joined forces with desperation and hopelessness. With the formation of this alliance, it took only seconds for those tears to break the threshold.
“Tell my little sis I’m sorry”
Donatella was hunched over her crossed arms.
“My… stomach… I’m scared… I don’t wanna die”
I understand. I understand everything.
“Don, what the fuck did you take?”