Today is my “New Beginning”—
I’ve been nervous about today for a while now, especially in the past week. Not just the new school year, but the first year of high school, in a new school, a few states away from my home town. Everything is new, but what frightens me the most are the changes I’ve decided to make to myself.
The new “me” that I’ve decided to become.
The clock hanging on the living room wall says 4:26a.m. Despite the darkness, I can clearly see the clock’s hands and numbers. The thunder roars and I look up to the large window spanning the length of the living room’s wall. It’s been raining for two days now, and I guess today won’t be any different from the last two.
“Hey, Kumari.” I hear my sister’s voice chiming in, barely audible above the rainfall against the window. “You’re up early.”
“I didn’t really sleep.”
When I turn to face her, I see her approaching me from down the hall with her planned outfit draped over her right shoulder. Past the stairs leading down into the living room, my sister, Amber’s room, is on the right side, same as mine. The door is open with light from her lamp flooding into the hallway and climbing the opposite wall.
“What’s wrong? Are you nervous, or were you too excited to sleep?” She crosses her arms and cocks her head to the side with a sly smirk. “Today is a big day for you.”
Because of that, her pale skin, white gown, and shoulder-length black hair, she looks like a ghost sauntering out of a passage to heaven.
“Well you, too,” I snap back, managing to keep my voice down. “You’re skipping 8th grade straight into high school. You actually slept well last night?”
“Like a baby,” she answers, stopping in front of me to lean against the rail. “I’m not worried about these kids out here.”
I’m not exactly trying to, but I know I’m frowning at her. To save face, I sigh and turn my attention back to the window while leaning fully on the rail.
Amber’s always been this way. So cocky, smooth, and abrasive. She has a way of puffing herself up and making everyone else around her seem trivial. Even now, having lived with her for 13 years of my life—the entire 13 years she’s been alive—I’m still not quite used to it. I can handle it, sure, but there are times that it gets to me.
…Shamefully, it may be because I’ve always envied her attitude in a way.
“Well I’m not exactly worried about them. I’m worried about me,” I somehow find the courage to admit. “Remember when I said I plan on changing myself?”
“Yeah, I remember. Today’s the day?”
“Yup. I’ve got a lot planned, so if you need to shower and stuff, you can go first. I’m gonna be a while,” I explain, now turning to face her while managing to force a shrug and smile.
“Well, alright,” she groans while nudging herself away from the rail to walk past me. “Oh, by the way—”
She suddenly stops, just inches away from me, and rests her hand on my shoulder. Looking into my eyes with an intense, almost worried expression, she frowns a little.
“Try not to get too riled up. You’re doing that glowy-eye thing again.”
“Huh? I didn’t even notice—”
“Yeah,” she continues with a teasing smile. “It’s not a big deal for me or Dad to see it, but don’t let Mom find out.” She advises before tapping my shoulder twice and walking past me, to the bathroom.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath to calm down. I suppose that’s why I could see the hands on the clock so clearly, even in near total darkness. After a few moments, I turn my eyes to the living room—more specifically, the clock hanging on the living room wall beneath the window.
Besides the general shape and white background of the clock itself, I can’t make anything out. Not even the numbers. As it should have been all along.
Damn it… I still can’t control it. I’ll have to be even more careful at school.
After a few seconds of staring at the clock to make sure the crystal-clear vision doesn’t return, I make my way back to my room with a sign.
“Right. Well, let’s go pick out an outfit,” I groan to myself.
—It’s been at least 30 minutes now since Amber began showering, and I’ve been going through my closet this entire time, trying to find something to wear.
“That won’t work…” I mutter, sliding the yellow shirt to the left.
It’s funny, I used to not care about things like this. Maybe because, up until last summer, everything in my closet was black. I struggled every day to blend into the shadows, hiding behind my clothes and black hair to keep anyone from noticing me. But instead, I got the opposite reaction and often found myself being singled out and ridiculed for being reclusive, reticent, and weird. My social anxiety was so bad that I often stuttered horribly when made to speak to anyone outside of my family, and it sadly still comes out when I’m panicked.
“Come on, what looks good with red…?”
I spent most of the summer practicing speaking out loud in the mirror, which—let me tell you—was one of the most embarrassing and scariest things I’ve ever done. Possibly because I know what my goals and flaws are, I couldn’t help but notice the “what are you doing/who do you think you’re fooling/this isn’t you” look in my own eyes as I spoke. But after a few months, it got better…
“…What looks good with red?”
Finally, after a moment of staring, I lean back with my eyes focused on what seems to be the perfect outfit.
“Hey, Kumari, I’m done,” I hear Amber behind me, leaning into the room from the doorframe. “Your turn.”
Just in time… This’ll be perfect.
—I’ve been thinking this over for months now, and decided I can’t back out on this.
While looking at myself in the mirror one day, wearing a set of my new clothes, I decided it might not be enough. If I’m going to be a new me, then I need to stand out. I need to stand out even when I don’t want to. No, especially when I don’t want to. That’s the only way I can call myself a different person.
“Hey, Amber, come here a sec,” I shout, stepping out of the bathroom and drying my hair off.
This will be the first test.
After a few seconds, I see Amber making her way from the kitchen, to the right of the stairs, coming up to meet me. Finally, after making it up, she turns to approach me.
“Yeah, what is it—oh, I like your shirt.”
“Thanks, do you think it’ll look good with red?”
“Uhm… I mean, I guess so. Red and baby blue can go together, but—”
Before she can complete her sentence, I flip the towel down and let my hair fall over my shoulders.
Rather than the screaming respond I’d expected, Amber stands in silence, staring at me. Her eyes travel up and down the length of my hair, her mouth hanging open as if she’d just seen someone get hit by a train. She frowns, tilts her head, and studies me like I’m a winged cat or something.
“So? What do you think?” I question, cutting into the silence.
“Your hair!” She finally exclaims. “You dyed it!?”
“Uh-huh!” I answer with a nod. “Candy Apple Red!”
“It’s not a wig?!” Before I can react, she reaches out and yanks a few of the strands.
“Ah—no!” I slap her hand away and pull back, holding onto the strands she just pulled. “It’s my actual hair!”
“Why!? Why’d you dye it!?”
“To stand out!” I argue. “Quit acting like that, are you trying to make me feel bad or something!?”
“I—” She suddenly stops, takes a deep breath with her hand held out as if telling me to wait, and then calmly continues. “—do they know?”
“Dad knows. He’s the one who took me to get the stuff I needed,” I explain, crossing my arms and holding my composure.
“Mom’s gonna flip sh—”
“— I know, I know, but Dad said he’ll help me talk her down,” I interrupt. ‘Besides, I had to do this.”
Adjusting my hair so that it falls behind my back, I turn to lean over the rail and look ahead to the window. It’s still raining, but it’s a little brighter outside now.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m tired of hiding and trying to be invisible. I want people to notice me. I want to matter. I want to…” I pause for a moment, trying to find the right words. And somehow, “…be a whole person, for once,” is what comes out.
To be honest, I expect her to laugh. Knowing Amber, something like “that’s stupid” or “dying your hair won’t change who you are” is what I expect.
“Huh?” I turn to face her and notice that she’s taken a spot next to me, leaning against the rail, our arms almost touching.
“I get it. Maybe this is the best way for you,” she says, her voice low as she faces me. “You were always hiding behind your hair. Now, even if you try to hide behind it, you’ll still stick out.”
“Hah, yeah, that’s the plan,” I answer, feeling embarrassed that even she noticed the way I used my long hair and the bangs I grew out to hide myself.
“Looks like you’re even letting your big forehead and bushy eyebrows show now, huh?” She jokes while resting her palm on my forehead.
“I figured it’d be pointless if I hid the parts of myself I don’t like, right?”
“That’s right. Look at you, growing up.”
“…Well that’s not something you wanna hear from your little sister,” I mutter.
“We’re a year apart, it’s not that big a deal,” she giggles, pulling her hand back. “Does that mean you’ll be standing up for yourself now, or am I gonna have to almost get expelled again?”
Hah, that’s right.
I used to get picked on a lot more before Amber graduated elementary and started going to my middle school. She got into fights with a lot of the girls who picked on me because I was too afraid to defend myself. She got suspended so much that they threatened to expel her and I had no choice but to at least attempt to take up for myself, just to keep her from getting expelled.
“Well, it’s not like I couldn’t handle anyone who tries to bully me, right?” I answer, finding myself feeling a little uneasy.
“But that’s always been the case.”
“I guess I just don’t like hurting people, and if I end up going too far, I might—”
“You won’t go too far,” she cuts in, her hand on my shoulder. “But if you don’t do anything at all, you’ll be exactly who you were last year and every year before that.”
I sigh, having no choice but to accept that.
“You’re right. If it comes down to it, I might have to get into a fight,” I say out loud, as if to reassure myself of this reality.
“Yup. And with hair like that, you’ll most likely attract some negative attention.” Suddenly, she turns somber. “But, you know, just…don’t…”
“…Don’t worry about these kids out here?” I mock her, trying to liven the mood.
“Hah, Now you got it,” she exclaims while slapping my arm. “C’mon, we gotta get going! I didn’t put on these boots to be late on the first day!”
She turns and makes her way back to the stairs, skipping proudly in her new black boots and floral green dress. Chuckling, I follow behind her.
“By the way, think you can carry me to the bus stop? Just ’cause I look good in heels doesn’t mean I like them.”
“No way. I’m not about to carry you, your backpack, and my backpack,” answer, following her down the stairs. “If I have to get used to this hair, you have to get used to wearing heels.”
“Jerk. And after everything I’ve done for you,” she says, sounding almost hurt.
“You’ll be alright.”
No remorse. I have to admit, it feels nice. Maybe it’s this new “fiery redhead” persona, but I’m feeling different already. I’ll just have to make sure I don’t “go mad with power” and become an actual jerk.
But, if it’s Amber, I don’t have to restrain myself too much.
—The rest of the morning goes about how I expected.
“Oh my God!” Mom’s reaction was what I expected Amber’s to be. “What did you do!?”
“It’s a wig, right!?” Without warning, Mom reaches out to grab my hair.
Luckily, thanks to my earlier experience with Amber, I manage to take a step back and narrowly avoid her fingertips, keeping my hair out of reach. I don’t care how surprised she is, it hurts having your hair pulled.
“How did you—when did you get hair dye!?”
“A few days ago,” I answer, finding myself somehow composed.
“And who gave you permission to—Walter,” she cuts herself off, growling to turn and look at Dad who, despite his much larger size, turns to avoid her glare, obviously grinning at her outrage. “You didn’t think you should have told me about this?”
“What? So you could yell at her and scare her out of being herself?”
“I’m not yelling at her!”
“You kind of are though,” Amber chimes in from beside me.
“You stay out of it. You were in on this, too, weren’t you!”
“No! I found out this morning, too! If I knew, I would’ve talked her into dying it green or something,” Amber taunts with a grin, as if trying to further provoke Mom’s rage. “You know, to match my eyes. She could be my walking accessory.”
“Nice,” I growl and glare at Amber, who smiles back at me and shrugs shamelessly. “Look, Mom, I’m sorry, but we’re gonna miss the bus if we stay and talk about it. But I’ll tell you everything after school, okay?”
Practically blurting that out, I begin my hasty retreat, backing out of the kitchen toward the front door in the living room.
“…Fine. You’re going to tell me everything,” Mom answers, sounding a little more calm but still just as irritated. “Be back by 6pm. That’s your new curfew.”
“What!?” Now it’s Amber’s turn to be outraged. “Curfew!? Do we look like kids to you!?”
…And we almost made it out of here in one piece, too…
“Excuse me?” Mom crosses her arms to challenge her.
From over Mom’s shoulder, Dad glances at me with eyes that seem to say “why didn’t you stop her?” From behind Amber, I look back at him and shrug, using body language to say “What was I supposed to do?”
“We are not about to have this fight right now,” Mom barks, her chest puffing up like a dog ready to fight.
“I didn’t skip a grade for nothing! Why do I still have a curfew!?”
Not really knowing what else to do, and still being directed by dad to do something, I put on my hoodie and open the front door.
“Amber, we can talk about this when we get home. We’re gonna be late if you have this fight now,” I explain while pushing Amber’s coat to her chest.
She growls, but ultimately understands, muttering under her breath while putting the coat on.
“I can’t stand this house!” Amber shouts on her way out, making sure to get the last word.
I sigh, turning to face Mom and Dad from the other side of the door.
“We’ll be home by 6pm and I’ll explain the hair, Mom. Love you,” I say, trying to ease the tension with a gentle smile and wave.
“Have a good day, Honeypot,” Dad responds, lifting his cup of coffee in a “cheers” motion.
“Love you, too,” Mom resentfully says. “Tell your sister she’s in so much trouble when she gets back. And so are you, Crabhead.”
“Ah—” I can’t tell if she’s joking or not. That wasn’t a joking tone, and she didn’t smile either. “Hah—right. Uhm… See ya.”
I close the door, lock it, and rest my forehead against it.
If this is how today’s starting, I’m in for a long one…
“C’mon, we gotta go!” I can barely hear Amber’s voice over the downpour. When I look back, she’s standing on the sidewalk, far out from the porch where I’m standing. “This rain’s gonna ruin my dress!”
I roll my eyes before putting my hood up and running down the steps and driveway to meet her. Once beside her, I let my hood down to share her umbrella. The bus stop, from what I remember, is about a 15 minute walk from our house, and the time is now 6:04a.m. I didn’t get to work as thoroughly on my hair as I’d have liked to in the hour that I had, so I plan on finishing the job after school—of course, after explaining to Mom why I dyed it.
“This new year’s gonna suck,” she complains. “Curfew. Seriously? 6pm? Most babies don’t even get put to bed until 8!”
“I really doubt parents are letting their babies roam the streets until 8pm,” I chuckle. “By the way, she said you’re in trouble when you get home.”
“No, she’s in trouble when I get home,” Amber snaps back. “I’ll give her a curfew.”
…Often times, I’m pretty sure Mom regrets how much Amber takes after her.
“Right. Well, I guess it’ll take the heat off of my new hair if nothing else,” I shrug.
“I can’t believe her,” she continues muttering, more to herself than to me. “6pm. No way it’s going down like that.”
With Amber complaining the entire way, we begin our trip to the bus stop.
Today will be the start of the new me. The new Kumari Price. And I’ll admit, beneath this mask of snarky bravado, I’m trembling.
More than anything… I want to finally make a friend this year.
A real friend.