Jars of Poison
[Content Warnings: Self-harm, Suicide]
She tiptoed up to the 8th floor, her brain busily plotting some new creative way to hurt herself with one of the chemicals in the school lab. Perhaps she should use the acids again. Long ago she decided to spill sulfuric acid over her right hand, and it did hurt a lot. She fairly remembered having to cover her mouth with her uninjured hand to muffle her own screams.
When she unlocked the door to the lab, a familiar smell of rotten eggs penetrated her senses and she squealed (in such a pathetic manner, she thought) as she rushed to the washroom to deal with the wave of nausea that engulfed her.
Would the pain of chemistry haunt her to the grave, she wondered?
‘It’s academics again, isn’t it?’ The words spat from the psychiatrist like burning whips.
‘Don’t make it sound so simple, it’s much more complicated than you think-’
The psychiatrist bared her long, pointed teeth at her. ‘Everyone says that to me, Karol. Every single one. But let me tell you the truth – it’s just you, being your drama queen. Get over it. You failed the three science subjects you’re worst at. It’s no big deal. Get over it and move on.’
‘Just get out, your session’s over-’
The psychiatrist folded her arms as she scowled bitterly in the safety of the shadows, away from the blazing sunlight pouring through the window of her office. ‘One only.’
Joy. How strangely distant a word was it for a 15-year-old youngster like her.
All she felt was fear. And melancholy. Scared about the future, mournful about the past. Ever since she entered high school, her mind started to fill itself with detailed memories that creaked with anguish, and any other memory that was torturous. They stabbed her, every single day, like a million knives decorated with spikes, and on the spikes were drops of acid, eroding into her skin. They tormented her body, they demolished her soul.
People had tended to ask her about the happy memories. Everyone must have some happy memories.
Once upon a time, she was a walking happy-memory generator.
But now, the generator was damaged. Damaged beyond repair.
That was the problem.
She re-entered the lab and staggered over to the side bench. Carefully she slipped her fingers across the bench towards the jars of acids on the edge and tried to lift one.
A piercing shatter rang into her eardrums as the jar dropped to the floor. She caught her reflection in one of the jagged shards of the jar. She looked so… weak. So thin.
Kneeling, she cupped her face in her hands and began to cry.
‘Do you not have hobbies?’
Psychiatrist Number 2 removed her spectacles and rubbed them uncomfortably with a handkerchief. ‘Your record shows you were on the Athletics Team in primary school. And you joined quite a couple of writing competitions too.’
‘That was the past.’
‘Why did you stop?’
She did so much more back then. She was in the orchestra, she was a swimmer, she sprinted, she drew, she wrote. Loving every single thing she did, looking forward to every new day.
Then she was admitted into her current high school. It was a school for… elites.
Not for her.
The reality dawned over her.
Time was never enough. The academic workload doubled… tripled… over the months, taking the form of an exponential growth curve. Her health condition, on the other hand, could be drafted as an economics PPC diagram.
It was impossible for her to have enough time to balance her studies and her life.
And she dropped everything.
She began to drug herself with academics. Every moment of rest became intolerable; a restful mind was enough to leave her uncomfortable – chills would creep up her back, her heartbeat would pace faster than a racecar. And she would lock her eyes on the clock, horrified by the speed of time, terrified, petrified – the thought of using time to do something non-academic was unacceptable – such an unforgivable crime – she had to work!
She would rattle through textbooks as she turbo-typed on the tablet, clicking into websites to conduct a hundred pages of research, speed-writing her speeches for presentations before quickly enduring a call with her classmates concerning the next piece of group work.
Midnight always seemed to arrive in the blink of an eye.
Her body system was fatigued. She felt drowsy. She wanted to slumber off. No! What a crime would it be to sleep. There was not enough time to work. But she fell asleep anyways. And the dreams would make her pay for her deed.
Approximately four hours later, she would spring up in a state of disarray and shock, gasping in tears.
And so every morning she was forced out of her sleep by her own dreams. Apparently, no space in the world would accommodate her, except for the tiny area of square taken up by her work desk, on which the endless piles of work lay, towering over her world and herself as she forced herself to accept what was there. The worksheets she could never have enough of. The questions she could not work out solutions to. The research books she despised so deeply. The crepe-pink hues of dawn never seemed to arrive as she continued to work on for hours with nothing to accompany her but the dark.
The work was not the worst part, though. She could endure it. Her true suffering was knowing no matter how hard she studied, she couldn’t win the elites. She didn’t blame them – the only one to be blamed was herself. She was not an academic elite, and could never be one. She was not built for such. And yet she had abandoned everything for her studies. She had trapped herself in this prison and threw away the key. There was no way out, for she had nothing.
Life seemed to drag on, it seemed… meaningless.
Why was she living like this?
What was the purpose of living like this?
It was a nightmare that never ended. A life she never wanted, did not want, and would not want in her next life. Was it even life? Maybe it was. If it was it was a wrecked one, a ship without sails, destined to drown in the lashing currents. Maybe it was not. If so she wanted a life. A real one. A human one. And so now she would go find her life and free herself of this bizarre state of stagnation.
There was no one there to help her. No angel to set her free. No devil to slay her alive.
If she wanted to start over again, she had to do it herself.
She went for the jars. This time, the real ones.
Cherry Wong is a 15-year-old high school senior from Hong Kong. Her writings have been published or are forthcoming in-school, and in magazines such as Overtly Lit, the Meditating Cat Zine, and the Origami Review. Her work has also been recognized by the Hong Kong Young Writers Awards. Apart from writing, she also has a great passion for law and loves mock trial and mooting. She aspires to become both a renowned author and an outstanding lawyer when she grows up.