Wide Awake

by Kianna Jackson

You know those moments in life that you regret and wish with every fiber of your being you could change? And you know those nights when you can’t sleep? When you just lay awake in bed at 3:46 am and reflect on those regrets and think of all the things you could have done differently? Well, we might as well be twins because I’m having that moment right now. This usually happens to me like once a month. When I feel like my life is one big shit show and how I wish that I could change these moments in my life.

I’ve always felt like I was falling behind everyone else, like the slow kid in gym class that everyone runs laps around. Experiencing the world at full value, and I’m just stuck in the same place feeling nothing but regret and uncertainty. I’m almost 30 and still trying to figure out who I am or what I am. Going through the motions day by day of what I think is the right way to live life. Having a boyfriend, a decent job that pays the bills, plenty of friends to party with, and just enjoy living. Yet, I have none of that. I’m still just scraping by, alone, never reaching my peak. Sometimes I think I was born to be a loser, a fuck up. My mom sure has implied it every time she calls. “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” “You need a real job if you want to start a family.” “Why can’t you be more like your brother? You are the oldest!” “What would your father think?”

That last one would hit the hardest. My dad was my best friend when I was little. We had an understanding that my mom and I could never have. Honestly, that was probably when my life started going downhill. Just remembering that part of my life fills my stomach with knots.

It’s a pretty simple story. He was a police officer, and there was a robbery at a gas station. The robber shot him in the head, he died instantly. That’s it, nothing profound or poetic. But it’s the after that has more substance. After he died, our family completely changed. My mom just closed up. She withdrew from us. She still took care of us, cooked dinner, made sure we got to school, threw birthday parties. But there was a hollowness about her that I hadn’t felt before. That hollowness is what made our relationship what it is, that and other things, but I guess you could say how we handled the after is my first regret.

My second regret is my middle school volleyball tryouts. During the after, my mom thought it would be good to keep my mind occupied and keep my body active. She thought it would make me feel better and help me be more social. So, one random summer, she dropped me off in the back of my middle school gym, told me to “Have fun and make the most of it,” and took off. I thought I was going to throw up. I was so nervous. I didn’t know shit about volleyball except to hit the ball over the net. I hoped that they would teach us the rules before we did anything.

When I walked into the gym, the other girls were already talking to each other like they already knew each other. How did they already know each other? We were all just starting the sixth grade. Did they go to the same elementary? I should have left, but a really intimidating woman in a blue and teal tracksuit noticed me from across the room.

“Hey! Are you here for tryouts?” Everyone in the room turned around and looked at me. I could feel heat prickle my cheeks as I meekly said, “Um…yes.”

“Alright, check-ins are over here.” She said sternly. I could hear the other girls giggle as I quickly shuffled to the check-in desk, which was a single student desk from one of the classrooms. That lady was Ms. Sonders, and to this day, she has been the most intimidating woman I have ever met. She was very tall, at least six feet, with a pale blonde pixie haircut and a permanent scowl. She also always wore jumpsuits from the 80s with weird colors; I honestly can’t think of a time when she didn’t wear a jumpsuit.

“What’s your name,” she asked as she pulled out the registration sheet.

“Nadia, but I go by Nia.”

“Alright, do you have a change of clothes because you can’t tryout in jeans.” That was when I realized that I made the dumbass mistake of wearing jeans to a volleyball practice. Now I understood why the other girls were giggling. My cheeks got hot again as I shook my head. Ms. Sonders sighed as she reached into a box next to the desk and threw me a pair of shorts.

“Go change and hurry up. Tryouts start in two minutes.” She said, irritated. Right from the beginning, those volleyball tryouts were shit, and it didn’t get any better. Once I finished changing, Ms. Sonders circled us up and told us what she would be looking for during tryouts. She told us we didn’t have to do anything perfectly, but as long as we showed effort, teamwork, and participation, we would make the team. Sounded easy enough, then she introduced us to two girls from the high school team that would be helping us. They were probably the prettiest girls I had ever seen. They were tall like Ms. Sonders, and they had their team uniforms on with their hair in high ponytails. When they showed us how to spike and serve, they were so graceful and confident they made everything look effortless. As I watched them jump and dive for the ball, I had this intense determination to be just like them. When it was our turn to practice serving, spiking, and diving, I failed miserably. First off, I also made the mistake of not bringing kneepads, and I ended up with so many bruises I was one more dive away from crying. I was also a lot weaker than I thought because I couldn’t get a single ball over the net. What was worse was that I was the only one genuinely struggling. The other girls were doing just fine passing the ball around and chatting, while my forearms were red from volleying and my knees were bruised even more. I was so frustrated and distracted by the stinging in my arms that I hadn’t noticed someone volleyed the ball toward me. The ball smacked me right in my face, and the girls around me started laughing at me. That’s when I began to cry. I heard Ms. Sonders blow her whistle and yell at the girls to stop that they weren’t showing proper sportsmanship.

One of the high school girls ran over toward me, I don’t remember her name, but she smelled like apples and had freckles sprinkled around her cheeks. She guided me to the side of the gym as the other girls continued their practice.

“Hey, it’s ok. It happens sometimes I can’t even count how many times I’ve been hit in my face.” She said gently as she rubbed my back. “You’re doing great out there; just drink some water and come back when you’re ready.” I didn’t say anything because I’m pretty sure I would have started sobbing if I tried, so I just nodded in response.

“Come here!” I pried my eyes from the floor and noticed her arms were open for a hug. I couldn’t remember the last time I was hugged, during the After. I awkwardly fell into her embrace and was engulfed by the smell of apples. She was several inches taller than me, so my head rested on her chest, her chest was warm as it pressed against my cheek, and I could slightly hear her heartbeat. I had never been so self-conscious during a hug. She pulled away and said, “You’re doing great! Come back when you’re ready!” and headed back toward the other girls. As I watched her go back, my legs started to feel like jelly, and I plopped down on the cool floor. That’s when I had my realization as I looked at all the other girls. I realized that I was different and that I would never be like them. I didn’t have their skill, I wasn’t social, I didn’t have hand-eye coordination skills, I couldn’t jump or spike or serve. I didn’t have what they had. I wasn’t tall. I didn’t have fair skin or silky hair. I wasn’t pretty. I was nothing like them. I stayed on the floor for the rest of the tryouts, and no one tried to get me back out, not even the high school girl that smelled like apples. She probably saw the same things that I did. Once tryouts were over, Ms. Sonders called out the names of the girls who made the team. I obviously wasn’t one of them. When I changed, I tried to give back my shorts, but Ms. Sonders said that I could keep them and gave me a school t-shirt too. She said I would need them for my gym class uniform. I made it all the way to Mom’s car before I let it all out. She asked if I made the team, and my response was a sob. We spent 30 minutes in that parking lot, my mom just rubbing my back, trying to calm me down. Once I did, she took me to McDonald’s and let me eat in my room to give me some space.

The reason why I regret this moment so much isn’t because I didn’t make the team, but because I gave up so quickly. If I had tried, maybe I could have been like them. Perhaps I could have entered their world. I should have tried harder. That night I couldn’t sleep. The pain in my knees and forearms kept me awake, forcing me to relive the day over and over. That night was when I started to feel myself lagging behind.

I glanced at the clock at 4:56 am. I had to be at the studio by 7. Yeah, a studio! I rent an art studio with four other people. Out of everything in life, I became an artist. Pretty cliché, I know, but being an artist is not one of my regrets—Probably Mom’s, but not mine. I learned how to draw in my freshman year in High school when I joined the art club. It was my last-ditch effort to try socializing. My mom had gotten worse over the years. She joined a Christian support group and became a bible thumper. She also became a drunk, but that slight contradiction was lost on her.

Apparently, the group members liked to gossip and compare the lives of their kids, the friends they had, the boyfriends, the volunteering, etc. Mom would come home after her support group meeting and question why her daughter didn’t have friends or a boyfriend? So, to get her off my back and avoid her constant nagging, I joined the art club.

Surprisingly, I loved it! I learned a lot about sketching and shading and how to draw different dimensions of shapes. The most surprising part was that I didn’t feel intimidated like I did with volleyball. I felt free, like I could do anything. Even if it looked like shit, no one cared. It became my favorite part about high school. It’s also where I met my best friend, Sam, well best friend to me at least.

Sam could have easily labeled as a popular girl. She was like Blake Lively, and a summer day rolled into one person. She was the nicest person I had ever met. She had this brightness about her that made people want to be around her. Although she would deny it, I’m pretty sure she was a part of every club in school. Theater, tennis, debate club, the list goes on. But, like me, the art club was her favorite. Sam had been in the club for a year before I had joined. She taught me everything I know; I couldn’t even draw a circle until I met Sam. Something about her just clicked with me. Things were never forced around Sam. She was just so upbeat and talkative that it drowned out my awkwardness. We would hang out after art club, and we would just talk about art, or movies, or books. Sam was my first best friend, and she was amazing. Freshman year, I was on cloud nine whenever I was with Sam. My mom’s jaw practically hit the floor when I first introduced her.

After a whole school year, we were still friends. I was also still a part of the art club, and I was getting better at art. The lesson that semester was anatomy and learning to draw the human body. I was awkward at first because we had to look at pictures of naked people, but it was pretty cool. At least until I brought my sketchbook home. That’s where my third regret comes in. I took it home because it was Thanksgiving break, and I wanted to practice. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about my annoying little cousins snooping through my stuff. My aunt caught them with my sketchbook, and of course, she showed my mom.

“What the hell is wrong with you!” she snapped as she practically dragged me up to my room. “Please tell me why you are drawing naked women!?”

“It’s for art club!” I snapped back.

“Oh, so you’re drawing porn at school now!”

“It’s not porn; it’s anatomy! We’re learning how to draw the body.”

“It doesn’t matter- ”

“What do you mean it doesn’t matter!?”

“It doesn’t matter because of the pages of female privates that your six- and eight-year-old cousins just saw!”

“How is that my fault? They shouldn’t be poking around my stuff!”

“You embarrassed me in front of the entire family!”

“Oh, like that’s anything new!” Mom looked really taken aback after I said that. I thought she was going to take what she said back. That I wasn’t an embarrassment and that she was sorry and that she just didn’t really understand art. Instead, she took a deep breath and asked, “Are you a lesbian?” I remember a chill running through my body when she asked that. The touch of fear in her voice like she had caught me committing murder.

“What?” I choked out.

“Don’t make me ask again.”

“Why would you ask me that?”

“I don’t know, Nadia, you never talk about boys, you don’t like wearing dresses or skirts or the other pretty clothes you have. You have a notebook full of female privates, and you hang around that Sam girl. What am I supposed to think?”

I stared at her in disbelief, “So all of that just automatically makes me a lesbian?”

“Nadia- “she started.

“No, I’m done talking about this. I have to use the bathroom.” I rushed past her and out
of my room before she could say another word. Then I ran into the bathroom to cry from embarrassment. Mom and I didn’t talk for a long time after that, and I regretted bringing that sketchbook home.

This brings me to my fourth regret, and probably my biggest regret. It was the homecoming of my junior year. A lot of things changed that year. Sam quit the art club and joined the cheerleading team, and I finally got boobs. Some things were still the same, though. Mom still treated me like I shit in her cheerios every morning. I hate change, but that’s all that high school was. Everyone and everything constantly changing. Junior year was when everything changed the most, and I hated it.

To be more specific, it was the homecoming of my junior year. Everyone was going nuts with team spirit. The football team was practically oozing testosterone and adrenaline for the game that night. It was fascinating, like monkeys fighting over a banana. Even Sam was radiating school spirit, fully decked out in her new cheer uniform, completely blue and white from head to toe.

“I truly don’t understand how you can’t be even a bit little excited about the game.” She said in disbelief.

“You know that sports aren’t my thing.” I chuckled.

“Yeah, but the whole school is excited! It’s contagious!” She was practically jumping at this point,” Plus, I look super cute in my cheer uniform. You have to at least be happy about that!” She did look adorable.

“How is that supposed to make me happy?” I laugh.

“I don’t know. I’m just trying to get you pumped!” she yells as we laugh down the hallway. “Oh, I know what will get you excited. Tyler McNamara is throwing a party after the game. Win or lose, it’s supposed to be big!”
At that moment, I had been invited to my first ever high school party, a real high school party. A party that didn’t have cake and a High School Musical Marathon! I was so stunned that I took too long to reply.

“Come on, Nia, you have to come. It’ll be so much fun!” she whined.

“Ok, I’ll come!”

“Awesome! After the game, come to my house, and we’ll get ready, and then Nate can come to pick us up!”

“Oh, Nate’s coming?”

“Of course, Nate’s coming. He’s on the team.” She said matter-of-factly. I hated Nate. Nate Johnson was the wide receiver of the football team and a total prick. He had been after Sam since freshman year. He asked her every year to every dance, every party, every game, and every social function. She would say no every time except this time.

“Hey, come on, I know you don’t like Nate, but don’t read into it. He just offered me a ride, and I’m humoring him for one night.” She said gently, “but once we get to the party, it’s just going to be me and you dancing and getting shit-faced!” I had never been “shit-faced” before in my life, but Sam’s excitement was always so contagious that it was impossible for me to say no. That’s what I regret.

That night I met Sam at her house to get ready. The football game wasn’t important; I barely remember it. I think we lost, honestly, but it didn’t matter. Instead, I remember sitting on Sam’s bed watching her try everything in her closet to find the perfect outfit for the party. I wish I had my sketchbook with me then because Sam was that elegant type of beautiful that you just wanted to draw.

“How’s this dress?” she asked. She was wearing a tight maroon spaghetti strap dress that showed off everything. It was beautiful.

“I liked the pink one more. More casual”

“Yeah, you’re right,” And she dipped back into her closet. “Hey, when are you going to get ready?”
“Um…I am ready.” Since this was my first party, I didn’t really have “party” clothes. The ugly church outfits that my mom got me didn’t count. I tried my best with a Pink Floyd t-shirt and some black jeans.
Sam emerged from her closet, wearing a lacy pink mini dress. She looked utterly bewildered as she looked me up and down.

“No, the hell you’re not. You are not wearing that.” She said sternly and quickly went back into her closet. “Don’t think that I haven’t noticed that you finally got titties! It’s time for you to show them off!” She came out this time holding up a short V-neck dress.

“No, no, no, hell no!”

“Yes, ma’am, we need to get you a boyfriend! Go get changed!” she said and tossed me the dress.

“I don’t need a boyfriend.” I huffed as I went to the bathroom to change.

I stared at myself in the mirror for a long time. I hadn’t worn a dress since I was little. It felt weird, like if I moved wrong, it would fall off my body. I felt too exposed, too raw, and I didn’t like it. I should have told Sam I didn’t want to wear the dress, that it was too much, but then she knocked on the door.
“Let me see!” she said, already opening the door. “Oh my god! You look amazing! That dress is perfect!” She got behind me and ran her fingers through my hair. “Your hair is so curly you don’t even have to style it! You’re so pretty! Do you like it?” she asked, looking at me through the mirror.

“I think I might need a jacket,” I answered with a smile. Suddenly, a car horn started blaring outside.

“Alright, Nate’s here!” Sam hurried out of the bathroom and back to her room. I followed and grabbed a jean jacket out of her closet. We headed out to Nate’s car. I had told Mom that Sam and I were having a sleepover, and Sam’s parents were rarely home, so it was pretty easy to sneak out. We got into Nate’s car, Sam up front and me in the back, and took off to the party. As we drove, Nate tried to make light conversation with Sam; it made my blood boil. Nate was a tall, dark-haired, arrogant asshole with an “I know you want to fuck me” attitude that I despised. He thought everyone wanted him, and they did, but that was beside the point. He wasn’t good enough for Sam.

By the time we got there, the party was in full swing. There were people everywhere laughing, screaming, dancing, and the music was so loud I’m pretty sure all of the neighbors called the police. Once Nate parked, Sam jumped out, grabbed my arm, and dragged me into the house and straight to the kitchen. I don’t know how she knew where the kitchen was so fast, but there were a bunch of guys handing out a blue drink from a storage bin. Sam got two and handed me the other cup.

“What is this?” I asked, taking a whiff of the drink. I immediately started coughing because it smelled like straight alcohol.

“Don’t smell it!” she scolded, “It’s Jungle Juice; just drink it!”
I did, and once I finished it, the whole room felt like a spinning top. I felt Sam grab my arm and lean into my ear.

“Are you drunk?” she shouted so I could hear her over the music.

“Uh…I don’t know?” I honestly didn’t know, but looking back on it, I definitely was.

“I’m going to take that as a yes, so let’s go dance.” Then she was pulling me onto the dance floor. Of course, I didn’t know how to dance, but I didn’t really care with the alcohol taking over my body. Sam weaved us through the mass of humid, sweaty bodies until she found a hole for the both of us to dance. That moment was the best moment of my life. I was at a party, I was drunk, I was dancing with my best friend, and finally felt like I had caught up. I was with everyone else, I was a part of them, and it felt amazing. Sam and I danced for what felt like hours.

We were both sweating like crazy, and my mouth was starting to get dry. I grabbed her shoulder and shouted in her ear that I was going to get more juice. She nodded to let me know that she heard me, and I weaved my way back to the kitchen. The guys from earlier weren’t there anymore, so I just helped myself. Unfortunately, I helped myself too much because I ended up downing three full cups of Jungle Juice. The room went from a light spin to choppy waves, and my stomach churned as I stumbled out of the kitchen. I was choking back vomit as I desperately tried to find Sam. It was too dark in the house, and there were too many people. My head was spinning so much that I couldn’t focus on anyone’s face. I tried to call her, but she didn’t pick up. Whatever, forget Sam, I’ll find her later. I needed a bathroom. With the wall as my only support, I stumbled upstairs to find the bathroom. There were fewer people up there, thank god, I asked the closest person where the bathroom was and heard them say down the hall. I could feel my stomach clenching at this point, so with as much focus as I could muster, I sped down the hall and opened the closet door.

It wasn’t the bathroom! Instead, I walked in on Sam and Nate fucking in one of the bedrooms. I couldn’t breathe as I watched Sam make eye contact with me from underneath him. I couldn’t move! My legs felt like they would give out if I did. The sweat on my body was so cold I could feel myself shivering. Sam started to push Nate away, and I felt myself falling behind again.

My stomach clenched again as I heard him ask, “What’s wrong?” before I threw up in the doorway.

I was startled awake by the sound of my alarm; it was 7:00am. I guess I did end up falling asleep. An hour and a half isn’t too bad. I quickly reached for my phone and turned my alarm off. I flopped back down, still thinking about that party.

After that night, I ignored Sam for the rest of our time in high school. She tried to apologize, although she had nothing to be sorry for. Even after she graduated, she would try to reach out, but I never responded. That was probably my biggest regret, icing out Sam. She didn’t do anything wrong. I was a bitch to her because she had sex with a boy. Maybe if I hadn’t, we still would have been friends, and I would at least have one stable relationship left. Our friendship was the longest I’ve ever had, and it only lasted a year and a half. Sam was the best person in my life since my dad. She always knew how to make me laugh or encourage me with my art. Just her smile would make my day 10x better. Everything about her made my stomach feel weird and fluttery. Yeah, you guessed it, I was in love with her. Obviously, I didn’t know it then. I was an idiot back then, hell I still am since it took 10 years to figure it out. If only I wasn’t so selfish. It’s not like Sam was mine to hoard away from everyone else. I knew she had other friends. Friends that knew how to live life to the fullest. But we had a connection that just couldn’t be recreated. God, I sound like a creep! Even if she didn’t want me the same way, we could have still been friends if I hadn’t fucked it up.

I look at my phone. It is 7:15 am. I’m going to be late. I open my contacts and text the owner that I’ll be late for my studio time. I stare at the text for a minute, and then I scroll through my contacts until I get to the name I want. Yes, I still have her number after all these years. I’m pathetic, I know. After high school, I would try to delete it, but something in me could never hit the button. Just looking at her name brought back memories—our time in the art club, countless sleepovers, grabbing slushies after school.

I missed her—more than I would like to acknowledge. When I think of her smile now, it makes the knots in my stomach worse.

Ok, that enough; I need to get ready. I have a shit ton of commissions to finish, and I’m crazy late. This walk down memory lane is over. We always wish that we can change our regrets, but the reality is that we can’t. They will always be there, and there will always be more. I turn off my phone and head to the bathroom. A cold shower will shock my body, and hopefully, I can get my ass in gear. But the questions are faster than me as they buzz through my head like annoying flies. What college did she end going to? Does she have a husband? Does she still live in the city? Does she think of me? Does she hate? Did she move on and forget me?

I can’t stand these questions because they will never have answers. She was just another fragment of my past. A regret, another missed opportunity, I throw off my clothes and jump into the shower. The frigid waters quickly zapping the warmth from my body. After 30 seconds, I couldn’t tolerate it anymore and jumped out. I quickly dried off and brushed my teeth before heading back to my room to get dressed. The shower worked to wake me up, but I didn’t erase my thoughts of Sam. I stared at my phone flung on top of my piled bedding.

Instead of heading to my closet, I grabbed my phone. Sam’s contact info lit up the screen again. Maybe the shower didn’t work, and my brain was still muddled from the lack of sleep because I actually hit the messages tab under her name. I know I can’t change the past, and I can never avoid regrets. But I shouldn’t avoid taking risks either. Life is full of them, right? Maybe taking a risk would be beneficial.

Or become another regret. Every cell of my body was telling me no. I need to put my phone down and forget this, but in a random burst of courage, I will my thumbs to type. I hesitate for a second before I send a simple ‘hey.