The Voice Inside Her Head
by Jerrad Hardin
The teacher’s lecture faded to the background, and Emma Brown’s mind wandered away. Her first thought drifted toward the game after school against Booneville – a conference rival.
A hint of a smile crept to one side of Emma’s face. She knew that the team depended on her to perform well as the pitcher for the big game. For a moment, she liked the idea. Then her expression changed, as she scribbled on her notepad.
The body aches when the mind wakes.
Steps are involuntary, breathing a chore.
Being lost isn’t confusing, it’s something more.
A day begins, mirroring the night’s end.
What to do, I just want to sleep.
Being lost isn’t superficial, it’s buried deep.
Voices are passing, constant harassing.
The darkness is found at the bottom of the pit.
Being lost isn’t …
Mr. Brooks put his finger on Emma’s notepad and leaned his head to meet her eyes and said, “Emma, I’d like to have a word with you after class.”
Emma folded her notebook shut and nodded.
Mr. Brooks stood straight and didn’t miss a beat in concluding his lecture. When the bell rang, Emma approached the teacher’s desk.
“You wanted to see me?”
Mr. Brooks wore a flat expression but tried a smile. “Emma, can you tell me about the poem you were writing during my lecture?”
Emma’s heart raced and the acid in her stomach rose. She stammered, “It’s nothing. Just some silly words.”
Brooks stood and extended a hand. “Can I see it?”
Emma reluctantly gave it to Mr. Brooks. He flipped through the pages and found partial notes from his lectures, a few odd drawings, and more poems like the one Emma had started during the day’s lecture.
“Emma, I’m concerned.”
She rushed to explain, “No, Mr. B. There’s no need, really. The words are just a way for me to express some my feelings. It may seem dark, but it’s nothing. Really.”
Mr. Brooks removed his glasses and tapped them against the cover of the notebook. “Emma, are you depressed?”
“No, sir. I’m happy. Really happy. We have the big game tonight with Booneville.”
“And are you worried about it in any way? Feeling pressured? Is everything okay at home?”
Emma faked a convincing smile and said, “Mr. Brooks, I’m a creative writer. That’s all. I don’t feel any pressure and my parents are great.”
Mr. Brooks passed the notebook back to Emma and nodded, “Okay, kiddo. But you’re going to need to pay more attention in class. You’re missing all the details.”
Emma thanked Mr. Brooks and promised to be more attentive. When she reached the hallway, she took a deep breath in and blew it out.
“That was close,” she heard the voice in her head say. “You're so stupid.”
A tear escaped down Emma’s cheek. She wiped it away with the back of her hand and navigated the hallway to her locker.
The voice said, “You should do everyone a favor and go home. Skip the rest of the day. Take those pills from your mother’s cabinet and go to sleep.”
“Shut up,” Emma growled through her teeth.
Monica Rodriquez, Emma’s best friend and teammate, slung an arm around her and laughed, “You talking to yourself again?”
Emma smiled and recovered, “Thinking about what I wanted to say to Brooks. Guess I must’ve said it out loud.”
“Yeah, you’ve been doing that a lot lately,” Monica smiled and continued, “everything okay?”
“Other than I’m going to be late for my next class, yeah, I’m fine.”
Emma and Monica walked side by side down the busy hall.
“Big game tonight. We're going to need you to pitch a good one. You ready?”
“Always,” Emma said.
Monica high-fived her friend and split.
“She's not your friend,” the voice said to Emma. “You don’t have any friends. You used to but that’s before you started looking like this. Now, everyone just talks about how much you’ve changed.”
Emma shook her head and walked into History class, just as the bell rang.
Coach Timmons, her history teacher, issued a warning with his eyes.
“Sorry, coach. Brooks kept me after.”
“Mr. Brooks,” Timmons reminded her.
Emma took her seat and tried to drown out the negative voice inside her head.
Coach Timmons introduced a new topic with a video. That’s when Emma put her head between her hands and closed her eyes.
When Coach Timmons clicked the lights on after the video, Emma sprang to life in her chair and pretended to have been awake the entire time.
Timmons asked the class, “Can anyone tell us how the Allied Forces rallied?”
Many raised their hands, but Timmons chose to call on Emma, who sat with her hands folded.
Emma struggled to find an answer and then said, “I’m sorry, I think I missed that.”
Timmons stared at Emma with disappointment before moving on.
When the bell rang, Emma rushed to get out of the classroom, but Coach Timmons caught her at the door.
“Have a good nap?”
Emma looked away and mumbled, “Sorry. I haven’t been sleeping too good.”
“Too well,” Timmons corrected her. “And why haven’t you been sleeping well?”
“Something at home? School? Softball?” Timmons probed.
“Just…” Emma looked at her coach and said, “Nothing I want to talk about.”
Timmons looked Emma up and down and sighed. “Okay, I won’t push. Just know I’m here if you need someone to talk to.”
Emma turned to leave, and Timmons asked, “Can I count on you tonight?”
Emma glanced over her shoulder and stated confidently, “Of course, coach.”
The voice inside her head grew louder, as it had every day for the past month. “Everyone hates you. Timmons doesn’t even like you anymore. You think he believes in you? The only reason you’re pitching is because there isn’t anyone else. You suck and you know it.”
“Stop,” Emma protested.
“You gave up six runs the last time you played Booneville.” the voice noted.
Emma responded, "Shut up.”
“Take the pills.”
“I don’t want to.”
“That’s not how you felt when you twisted the lid two days ago.”
“I didn’t open it.”
“You would have had your mother not walked into your room.”
“You don’t know that.”
“No, but you do.”
Emma pivoted in the hallway and jogged toward a side door that exited to the student parking lot. She fumbled her keys from her backpack and pushed the unlock button on the key fob.
“I can’t take this anymore,” Emma said to the voice.
“Good because I’m tired of dealing with you,” the voice said.
Emma sped out of the school parking lot.
“You won’t have to deal with me ever again,” Emma said aloud.
“Best thing for everyone,” the voice said.
“I agree,” Emma concurred.
“Your parents will be unburdened without you. Your team will surely be better. You won’t have to whine about why James broke up with you. Your teachers will rejoice to have your stupid butt out of their classes. Your friends won’t have to talk behind your back anymore. And you won’t feel a thing. Take a few pills and off to sleep you go.”
Emma pulled her car into the garage and left it running as she closed the door behind her.
She cracked her window and leaned back in her seat. “Maybe I’ll just skip the pills,” she thought.
The voice inside her head encouraged, “Even better, Emma. Now breathe deeply and go to sleep.”
Three days later…
Emma’s family and friends gathered in the parking lot. They hugged one another and shared their favorite stories about Emma Brown. They laughed, cried, and hugged.
Coach Timmons stood before them and offered a few words.
“When you suspect someone is having a hard time, it’s okay to ask them about it. Don’t be afraid to think that you might be offending them by digging deep. It’s important. Caring about people you love sometimes means that you’ve got to ask them tough questions to find out what’s going on... Because we did that with Emma, she’s alive today.”
Emma’s dad added his voice.
“Thank you Mr. Brooks, Monica, and most of all, Coach Timmons for speaking up, immediately communicating your concerns to the administration, who notified us right away. Had these actions not been taken,” Emma’s dad began to choke up, “we’d be gathering today for a different reason.”
Just then, the hospital doors slid open, and Emma’s mom pushed her little girl into the sunlight, where a crowd of loved ones cheered to greet her.
Emma waved and then used the same hand to cover her trembling mouth as she cried, witnessing the outpouring of love.
While there will be much work ahead to silence the voice in Emma's head, fortunately, she'll get that chance, thanks to those around her who were brave enough to say something.
Jerrad Hardin is a coach and author speaking and writing about causes he cares about. You can find Jerrad this summer in cities across the country. Click the image below to find his summer camp schedule.