"Now is the age of anxiety." - W.H. Auden
I was sitting in the living room when I heard the news about Evan Saunders. He had been a student at Berkeley High School, just thirty minutes or so away. The anchor woman said that the eighteen-year-old had gone missing a week ago. His body had finally been found early that morning. There were obvious signs of struggle, but no suspects had been called out.
“Isn’t that terrible? I want you to be careful. Who knows when they'll catch the person responsible,” Mom said while walking through the living room and towards the kitchen. Following after her was Petya, a short woman with a thick accent from some Eastern European country. She was also my mother’s personal doctor. That was one of the first things to gain popularity. Hospitals literally rented out doctors to the people who could afford it.
Sadly, my mother was one of those people.
What about the people who couldn’t afford doctors? Even more importantly, what about the people who really needed doctors, but couldn’t afford them?
Of course, I couldn’t bring this up to my parents.
“They have no idea why he was killed,” I told her.
On the TV screen there was a scene of the Evan’s family. He had two other siblings and both of his parents. I felt my heart break for their loss. And then the clip was over.
Now, on the screen was a middle-aged man dressed in casual clothes sitting a table across from a teenage girl. It was an ad for something. Probably something to help teens communicate with their parents. Not wanting Mom to hear it and get any ideas, I turned off the TV and got up off the couch, taking my empty cereal bowl with me. I had a few more minutes before school to kill.
Walking into the kitchen, I saw Petya and Mom looking over a catalog. I was a little curious about it, but knew better than to ask. If I did it would only mean that I would be dragged into the latest, fashionable “flaw.”
So, ignoring the two, I went straight to the sink and rinsed out my bowl. I had barely made it to the doorway when Mom said my name.
“Yes?” I asked turning to look at her.
“I was just wondering, how are the pills working?” she asked glancing up at me before looking back down at the catalog. She pointed to something in it and Paula nodded her head.
“Yeah,” I told her, trying to look convincing.
At that moment Petya looked up at me. Sometimes I get the strangest feeling like she can tell that I’m lying. But, I don’t know how she would ever know. I act just like everyone else, constantly berating my body and worrying that there’s something else wrong with me. Really, I just don’t like Petya. She’s literally making money off of problems that my family doesn’t really have.
Quickly, I moved out of the kitchen.
“I’m going to head out a little early,” I told Mom while reaching for my backpack in the hallway. That’s when I noticed that the other half of my parental unit was missing. “Where’s Dad?”
“He’s upstairs,” she said. “The pills he’s taking really knocked him out last night.”
“Is he going to be okay?” I asked while moving to the kitchen doorway, frowning at the thought that Dad was still out cold. Sometimes I worried about the people I cared for crossing the thin line between harmless flaws and true problems. What if my dad didn’t wake up from his sleep? What if the pills he had taken were too strong? I shook my head, wanting to clear my mind of those morbid thoughts.
Mom looked up at me and nodded, offering me a reassuring smile. “He’ll back to his normal self in no time. Petya said that the pills would really help with his sleeping problems,” she said. Then, she looked at Petya. “I don’t know what we would do without you. Henry didn’t even realize he was having such difficulty with his sleeping until you asked.”
I turned away so I could roll my eyes. I wanted to tell them that Dad never had sleep problems. That this was all in his head right now, and who knew what those pills were doing to him!
“’Bye Mom,” I called before stepping out the front door.
“’Bye!” Mom called back. “Be careful!”
By lunch time the news about the kid in Berkeley had spread all over the school. People were wondering what had happened, who could have killed him.
“I wonder if it was gang related,” Zoe said as we sat down for lunch.
Zoe Hartley is the closest thing I have to a friend. She's a bit eccentric and has been told she has ADHD. She bounces off the walls like a pin ball. Personally, I think it's the coffee she's always drinking.
I shrugged. “I hope they find the person, though,” I said while pulling out my Tupperware container with my new diet salad and then my fake pills for my newest problem, anxiety. If I didn’t find a better alternative to Smarties, then I was really going to have a flaw. The kind that comes with tooth aches and dentists.
“Did you hear about Harriet McFarland?” Zoe asked while pulling out her own Tupperware container filled with her vegetarian food.
“No, what happened?” I asked as I pulled out two Smarties.
“Apparently she was so worried about her figure that she became addicted to going to the gym,” Zoe informed me. “She over did it one day and collapsed.”
“Is she okay?” I asked before washing my two “pills” down with water.
Zoe nodded. “Yeah, she’s in the hospital. Her parents are going to send her to a therapist in order to overcome her body issues.”
I frowned at the thought. If I remembered correctly, Harriet was a tiny girl, maybe a little over five feet. She barely had had any meat on her bones. What kind of body issues did she have? She looked like a freaking supermodel half the time.
“I hope she gets better,” I said.
Zoe, though, was already focusing on something else. “Do you know what Mr. Smith told me?” she asked while stabbing at her tofu lasagna furiously.
Really, she needed to chill back on the caffeine.
“No, what?” I asked looking up at her curiously.
She stabbed at her food some more, not managing to pick up any of it onto her fork. “He told me that I don’t have any theatrical flair!” she cried angrily, drawing the attention of some people sitting further down at our table.
Smiling to myself, I pushed my salad around. It was supposed to be a special salad, one that helped ease anxiety. Really, it was just a normal salad.
“I am filled with so much freaking theatrical flair!” She stabbed her food a few more times before giving up in a huff.
If only Mr. Smith could see her now.
Zoe is a tiny person with a large personality. At first glance she looks like the last person who would consider herself flawed. She seems so confident. Except, that I know how deep her insecurities run. Her father left her at a young age and ever since she's been trying to make up for that missing part of her life. That was her first issue, the one that started it all. I think sometimes that she just wants to prove that there are other things "wrong" with her in order to bury what she calls the "daddy issue."
While my world is certainly strange, it is fairly normal. The day to day things like school and work still happen. People don't all look the same. They just happen to be brainwashed. School revolves around the same subjects that they always have. There are sports and other activities.
I should make this clear: In my world there are no flying cars, hover boards, or time machines. Only large companies looking for the next dollar.
Just as I was thinking of something to say to Zoe, something to comfort her, an announcement came on over the speakers.
"There will be an emergency assembly after lunch period," Mr. Davidson said over the intercom.
Zoe and I looked to each other.
"Wonder what that's about," I said.
She shrugged. "No clue."
By the time Zoe and I reached the assembly it was pretty packed full of students. We squeezed past most of the football team - who were all beefed up on helpful steroids and "natural" products - until we located two vacant seats.
"Settle down, settled down," Mr. Davidson said while walking out onto the stage. He raised his hands into the air to silence the rowdy crowd. Slowly, the roar turned into a silence.
I looked around before turning back to our principal.
"As you all know recently a student has been admitted into the hospital due to an obsession to perfect her image," he began.
Mr. Davidson never needs a microphone. His voice carries easily and his mere presence commands for obedience. No one messes with Mr. D.
"If any of you feel that you are unhappy with your image, or that you, too, are on the verge of becoming addicted to unhealthy ways to keep your body in a certain condition, please do not be afraid to ask for help," he said. When he looked out at us it felt as if he were looking at each and every one of us individually. It kinda gave me the creeps.
"Now," he continued, clapping his hands together, "I believe you have all also heard of the young man's murder in Berkeley."
There was a mass nod of heads, myself included.
"Students, please take caution while walking around," he instructed. "Berkeley is not too far from here. So, please be careful. And, if anyone feels some anxiety or other issues relating to the matter, again, please feel free to come to any of the staff." Mr. D looked out over us once more. "All right, you are all dismissed."
There was a scurry of bodies moving to leave the large auditorium. I trailed after Zoe, thinking over Mr. D's words. How many students would feel that they needed to talk about their newfound issues revolving around Harriet's problems? Or, about the dead boy? I shook my head, a feeling of disgust settling in my stomach.
Wrong. This was all so wrong.