I shouldn't be here.
No, not here, in the hot, sweaty kitchen of this rundown diner—although, to be honest, I highly doubt I should be here either.
No, I shouldn't be alive.
I was supposed to die eighteen months ago. That was supposed to be it for me.
I was ill for a very long time, so getting that final diagnosis of six months to go was as reliving as it was devastating. To be honest, my emotions about it were completely mixed. I didn't want to die necessarily—not that I think anyone does really—but I was so sick of the constant round of doctors, hospitals, tubes, pills, sickness...it was exhausting, and the thought of escaping that was something of a relief.
I just wanted an end to it.
Of course, not everyone felt the same. At least, not at first, but once my family and friends got used to the idea that I was dying, that I was going to be relieved of my suffering, they were intent on making my final months amazing, and boy did they succeed! I went travelling, I had parties, I did everything that was on my bucket list—except bungee jumping. I bottled that at the last second. It was fabulous, a real whirlwind of fun and excitement. Of course, there was the odd interruption with my health, but somehow we managed to work past that. Sure, we were all acutely aware of where it was heading but it didn't taint the mood. Not really.
"Lara what are you doing just standing there? I pressed the bell about five minutes ago...these burgers aren't going to take themselves to table twelve." The grumpy head chef, Alfie yelled at me. He didn't care about my internal struggle. He had no idea what it was like to know that you should be dead. All he cared about was getting this disgusting, fatty food out as quickly as possible so he could return home, to his sad middle-aged man 'bachelor pad' to smoke and drink his wages away.
I snatched the plates out of his hand and stalked moodily over to the table, where a couple were sat there smiling intently at each other. This could have been their first date, or they could have been married for years—that wasn't what I noticed. It was the light that was shining in their eyes, as they gazed at one another. Happiness. An emotion I couldn't even begin to understand anymore.
I shoved the food on the table in front of them, asking them if there was anything else they needed in the flat, monotone sound that had somehow become my voice. They didn't even acknowledge my existence, they simply waved me away. I was nothing to them, just as I was nothing to everybody.
I'd been that way for a very long time now.
Once my deadline had passed, and the high started to wear off, I wondered what was happening, why I was still alive. Confused, I took myself to the doctors and after a whole range of invasive tests, they told me something unexpected, something miraculous—that I was actually starting to get better. Against all odds, I was somehow surviving.
I felt numb as he said those words. I know he expected me to celebrate, to be happy with the news that I would get to live longer, but I wasn't. I'd gotten so used to the idea that I was going to die. I'd even adjusted to it, become comfortable with it, that to hear otherwise was utterly overwhelming. I had become so used to living in the moment, not worrying about the future because I was never going to have one, that with a long, black emptiness stretching out in front of me, I felt terrified.
What was I supposed to do? I had no future, no dreams, no plans. I had no idea where I was supposed to go next, how could I? How was I supposed to craft a new beginning out of zilch? It seemed like a ridiculously impossible task, that I couldn't even begin to overcome.
Then again, I still had no prospects, no real education, no interests, no desires...nothing, and I no longer had any excuse for that. A year and a half had passed. There was so much that I could have done with that time, but I hadn't.
I'd done absolutely nothing with it, I'd merely existed.
Every day it hit me how I would have been better off dead. I might as well have died, because since my positive diagnosis I was just living on autopilot, going through the motions aimlessly.
My friends and family couldn't understand how I just seemed empty after I got the good news, and as I continued to improve, to get better, they got more and more frustrated by my increasingly negative attitude. One-by-one they became annoyed by me. I did something to piss all of them off and now, none of them bother with me anymore.
Not that I bother with them either. I feel like too much has passed; there's too much negative water under the bridge to even think about repairing those fractured relationships.
When my mum eventually asked me to move out because I was putting too much pressure on everyone else in the family, I left quickly and got an apartment in the nearby city. I couldn't stay in that little, suffocating town anymore, where everyone knew absolutely everything about me. I had no excuse to remain there anyway; it didn't hold anything for me anymore, except for memories and bad feeling. I desired to be anonymous so I could wallow in my own misery in peace, without anyone trying to cheer me up. I didn't want anyone else to feel responsible for my own happiness, when it was so clear that nothing could be done about it.
So I upped and left, without even glancing backwards.
I got everything that I ever wanted—a tiny, albeit grotty apartment that was just for me, a job in a diner where no one bothers to try and find out more about my life, and no one to speak to. Perfect.
Yet, of course, I still wasn't happy.
"Got much planned over the weekend? You have tomorrow night off, don't you?" Amy, the eighteen-year-old waitress, who was constantly chewing gum and nosing about in other people's business, asked me in her typical over-the-top fashion.
She didn't care about me of course, not at all. To her I was just another loser waitress, but she always tried to rile me up for some reason, and she quickly discovered that my non-social life was a sore point for me. I don't know whether I was just a game to her, if she really wanted to piss me off, or if she just wanted to make herself feel better by commenting on my sad existence. Either way, it drove me crazy.
"I dunno...not really." I kept my eyes fixated on the floor as I spoke, praying that she would take the hint and leave me alone.
"Why are you so boring? You never seem to do anything!" She laughed, genuinely thinking she was joking.
I looked up and smiled blandly at her, hoping that she would assume I took the joke in light humour, but the look she was giving me suggested that she might just be able to see the vulnerable weakling behind the cold exterior mask I gave myself.
The thought of anyone seeing any of the real me filled me with an intense fear that gripped tightly onto my heart, so I instinctively turned away from her, trying to discretely wipe the frustrated tears from my eyes before they fell onto my cheeks.
Idiot! I thought to myself. What the hell are you doing?
Hiding emotion was something I thought I'd become particularly good at, but with one look, Amy—a girl I barely knew—had managed to revert me back into a blubbering mess.
"I'm going out to that new club tomorrow night with a group of friends. Do you...would you maybe want to come?" She asked, with a kindness to her tone that I hadn't ever noticed before.
Pity. It had to be.
Normally, I would have shot her down right away. Even the thought of going to a club filled me with fear—the drinking, the dancing, the socialising...it all felt a little too much for some like me. I'd never really done anything like that before, and it was intimidating as hell. Even at all the parties that had been held for me, I'd avoided alcohol due to the medication, I'd been too tired for dancing, and socialising hadn't been too much of an issue because it was with people I'd known my whole life. Plus, my best friend Daphne had always been there to protect me if things got too much.
I instantly forced myself to shake the image of her from my mind, in the way I always did when she cropped up. Daphne was a no-go now, there was no point in even giving her a seconds thought. I didn't want to upset myself over nothing.
"Sure." I eventually replied, distractedly. I wasn't really thinking about my answer, I just wanted the conversation done, and it was a shortcut way to achieve that.
"Oh..." Amy sounded incredibly shocked—understandably so. "Okay cool. We're meeting up at about eight-ish so..." She looked at me strangely, as if she was wondering what the hell was going through my mind. "I'll see you there I guess."
As she wandered off, a sinking feeling set in. Why the hell had I agreed to that? I didn't want to go out to a club! Keeping my existence simple and straightforward was the only way I managed to get through everyday life. Now, I'd just agreed to something that threatened to send me into an anxiety meltdown, just to shut her up.
I was an idiot!
No, I would have to phone Amy tomorrow with a plausible excuse. I needed to get out of going. Disrupting my routine with something so terrifying could only have negative results.