Broken: The Jewelry Box
From the novel, “Broken”, by Tiffini Johnson
Tentatively scheduled for release during Summer 2013, “Broken” compassionately portrays the effects of hopelessness that can pave the road to teenage suicide.
This is an extremely sensitive excerpt from one of the later chapters in the book with many things that could act as potential triggers for survivors of abuse or self-harm and/or suicide. Please read only if you are certain you are safe.
Taya is fifteen. She is a bright girl whose hiding a life of trauma and instability. After years of silence, a sad but seemingly benign event propels Taya into a tragic decision that effects her family, her friends and her community.
My English teacher is weird. Really weird. I mean, when we talk about a book we just read for an assignment, she sits in a rocking chair like she’s talking to first graders. And if you fall asleep in her class and she catches it, she pours half a glass of cold water over your head so you have to spend the rest of the day with wet hair and clothes. She’s really weird.
The weirdest thing she’s done so far is this assignment. We’ve been talking all week about tradition. How girls are usually not portrayed as the hero. We talked about what kind of trouble the people in fairytale usually face. Let me just tell you that most children’s stories were not Disney. I mean, there was all kinds of bad things happening: kids getting ate, wolves scaring the pants off little girls, witches trying to kill off sixteen year old girls. Really, all the children’s stories were quite violent.
We just finished talking about all the traditional fairytales. Now we have to pick one and make it modern. Whatever problem the heroine faces in the traditional story, we have to make that a problem that kids really face today. We have to pick a social issue and make it work in one of the fairytales. Our new story has to have a realistic end to it too. No Prince Charming riding a white horse to save the day.
But also kind of interesting. I keep thinking about it. I thought about it the rest of the afternoon in school. I thought about it on the way home and during dinner. I keep thinking about the fairytales that I’ve always heard.
I could use Little Red Riding Hood and make her get kidnapped. That happens all the time. Just yesterday, on the way to school, there was a new Amber Alert blinking over the freeway. I could have her kidnap and the kidnapper could be crazy. But… I don’t know if Mrs. Simmons would think of kidnapping as a social concern or just a crime. And how would my Little Red Hiding Rood’s end change? She’d have to be rescued. I could use Snow White… But what would the social concern be?
The next day in class, I still haven’t thought of anything. We are given time to work on it in class. Not many of us are really working on it. Trey, behind me, is blowing bubble gum and acting like he’s going to stick it in my hair. If he does, I’ll kill him. A couple of the girls around me are writing out Prom Date choices. We’re not Juniors or Seniors but it’s still nice to pretend some upper classman will ask us to the dance. More are passing notes about Kelsey; half of us are pretty sure she’s pregnant but we don’t know if Greg or Zack is the baby’s dad. She’s missed, like, more than a week in a row and she told Olivia that she was late. Olivia told everybody else. If high school has taught me anything, it’s taught me not to open my mouth unless what I’m going to say is ok for the whole school to know. Normally, I’d pass notes too but this time, I’m actually interested in the assignment.
I start going through the list of princesses again. But, one by one, I cross out the fairytales for one reason of another. I draw little hearts on my paper, then add arrows that are shooting through them. I doodle all the time. Even on the edges of my tests. When I stare at a math problem I don’t know the answer to, I draw block F’s on the edge of my paper. Then, sometimes, I draw stars and color them in with my pencil. I don’t know why I draw the stars; maybe I’m just wishing it will help me know the answers.
It’s like a lightbulb goes off in my head. Cinderella! Cinderella wasn’t kidnapped but she was forced to work like a slave by her stepmother. Her stepmother was jealous, that’s why. Cinderella was old enough to get married—but she never disobeyed her stepmother. She only snuck out of the house once! Suddenly, my head is full of ideas. I jot them down, as fast as I can. Before I finish one sentence, I know something else about my story.
I never hear the bell ring. Only when Trey uses his notebook to slap me on the shoulder do I realize class is over. I shut my notebook and cram it into my backpack. “Writing the next big novel today, T?”
Trey is in almost every one of my classes. He’s a nice guy…but he’s also loud and obnoxious. When the teacher calls on him to answer a question, he almost always makes a stupid answer. Not because he doesn’t know, but because he wants the kids to think he’s funny. So I know better than to spoil my story by telling him anything. I shrug, walking out of the class. But I can’t wait to get home and finish the assignment.
***** ***** *****
It is past midnight. But I can’t stop thinking about my assignment. I wrote three pages of it after dinner but then crumpled them up. See, in my story, Cinderella’s parents died, leaving her with her cruel stepmother and stepsisters. At first, I made her rebellious… She snuck out all the time and refused to do the chores. But she probably wouldn’t do any of that—not if her stepmother had abused her for years. The original version got that right… She probably would obey.
But she probably wouldn’t be as happy as she was in the original version. I mean, she probably wouldn’t feel like singing or any of that. She would have to be messed up. The question was how. I couldn’t figure that part out and gave up trying. Now it’s after midnight and the paper’s due in two days. I turn my head to look out my window. The curtains are pulled back and I can see the black sky.
I’m still staring outside when my eyelids start to feel heavy. I fight it at first, roll to my other side, stare at the red numbers on the clock. But then I yawn real big and my eyes close.
I’m awakened when I feel someone sit on the edge of my bed. My eyes pop open. I know it is him. I don’t move but my legs go stiff, my arms too. He lays down behind me, puts a hairy, heavy arm around my waist and pulls me back to him. “Come on, be good for your daddy,” he whisper. He wants me to roll over. But I swallow back a scream instead and stay still. I feel his hands on me, I can feel the bile rolling in my stomach.
I don’t know just when I stop feeling panicked. I don’t know when I stop feeling at all. But when his breathing gets real heavy, I barely notice. When he pushes my head down, I do what he wants. I don’t know why. When he grunts and hurts me real bad, I turn my head and squeeze my eyes shut. Tears leak from the corners, but I don’t make a sound. I don’t even breathe.
The first kiss from my daddy. I was nine years old. I was flipping channels on the TV and saw two people kissing. I said: “Eew” and turned it real fast. But he told me to go back. They weren’t kissing anymore but Daddy asked me how I knew it was gross if I’d never tried it. He said he could prove it wasn’t gross and leaned over. One minute, he was sitting beside me, the next minute, he had his tongue in my mouth. It wasgross. And it freaked me out. I jumped up but he grabbed my hand, said if I told, he’d wear me out good. I didn’t want to tell, I just wanted to erase it.
After that, I was never able to think of my daddy in the same way again. Cause of things like what happened tonight. But of all the things he does, kissing is the worst. It’s worse, even, then when he sticks me. Kissing is special. Maybe that’s why he always has to kiss me real hard before he leaves the room–because he wants it to be special. But it’s not. It don’t make me feel special at all.
I am shaking real bad when the door shuts. I still have my clothes on. I am glad I wore the old Winnie the Pooh T-shirt as a gown cause if I’d worn pjs, he’d have had to take them off and I hate being naked. I am shaking so bad I have to grind my teeth to make it stop. I curl my legs up until they touch my chin and lay real, real still.
Maybe if I lay real still, I can feel normal. But instead, my stomach is in a big knot. I want to throw up but I don’t. The noise in my head is so loud. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. I squeeze my eyes shut, but then pop then open again. Closing them blocks the sound a little but it makes me see bad things. I lay there, feeling like I’m about to die, until I just can’t take it anymore.
I jump up out of bed and over to my desk. It is white. White is a pretty color. That makes me cry again, because I am not pretty. I jerk open the middle drawer, throw out makeup and hair clips so I can reach into the very back. Finally, I find it.
A tiny wave of peace comes over my heart as I hold the pink razor in my hand. The tears stop flowing because I have to concentrate now. If I get it wrong, something really bad could happen. I think about it sometimes–doing the really bad thing. But I can’t. I have to finish my English paper.
I turn my left palm over and, without even pausing, rake the edge of the razor sideways across my wrist. Blood spoons to the surface. I barely feel sting of the razor, but the sight of the blood makes me feel a little less panicked. It makes it hurt less. I let it bleed. The blood drips on the paper that’s lying on my desk. I let it. It makes me feel better. Yes, I’m ugly, but it’s because I have scars on my wrists and my arms.
It’s ok. I can fix my wrist. I can fix this hurt. I can make it stop. I keep a washcloth in my room, under my bed. Finally, I pull it out and hold it against my wrist. Making it stop all by myself makes me feel a little better too–I do know how to do something good. It takes a few minutes for all the blood to go away. My wrist is red, scratched. Proof that I was hurt.
I look at all the scars on my wrists and arms. I grip my right hand with my left, then use my left thumb to gently rub the scars that crisscross my right wrist. The scars are not bumpy, they are smooth. But I can feel where they start and where they end. I can tell how many times I have been hurt.
I stare out the window again. Only then do fresh tears dot my eyes. I blink, trying to keep them away, but then I give up and let them fall. I cry until my head hurts and my nose is stuffy. Then I just lay still and stare out the window. Just as my eyes start to get heavy again, Cinderella flashes in my mind and, suddenly, I know the rest of my story.