Bewilderments of the Eyes was published June 8, 2016. It’s an NA novel about a twenty-year-old girl named Quinn who is struggling to get a grip on her depression and anxiety. Below is an excerpt from chapter two, in which Quinn’s mental state is on full display. In this scene, Quinn is waiting to be picked up by her best friend, Emery, to go to a party-something Quinn is extremely uncomfortable with. Further into the excerpt, Quinn regales us with the story of the start of her downward spiral.
Bewilderments of the Eyes is my baby, and a story that is very close to my heart. I hope you enjoy this little peek into Quinn’s world!
I pace my room. My hands tingle slightly, almost like the pins and needles that happen when limbs fall asleep, but not. My skin vibrates with a creepy-crawly sensation, my palms sweat, and my breath comes shorter with each step I take across the worn carpet of my bedroom. I go to the Jack- and-Jill bathroom I’d share with a sibling if I had one and wash my hands, trying to scrub the tiny jumping beans from beneath the surface.
Emery and Todd will be here in less than ten minutes to pick me up. I open the medicine cabinet above my sink, targeting the small bottle of anxiety relief medication tucked away on the middle shelf, and shake two onto my palm. I swallow them dry and wash my hands again. I try distracting myself by pulling the hair tie from my haphazard ponytail and brushing through the dull, blond strands. It hangs limp along my cheeks, down past my shoulders. When I lift my arms to tie it back up at the top of my head, my eyes zero in on the two damp spots darkening the armpits of my shirt.
Irrational tears prick my eyes, adding to my frustration. I rip the shirt off and tear back into my room where I yank a dresser drawer open and dig for a new one.
My phone beeps in my pocket.
Outside! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
“Ugh,” I moan again.
I pull the new T-shirt over my head, dislodging strands from my ponytail, give myself one last, hopeless glance in the mirror, roll my eyes, and slam my bedroom door shut behind me.
When I slide into the back of Todd’s car, Emery turns around in the passenger seat and flashes her teeth at me. “Yay!”
“Hey, Quinn,” Todd says, pulling out of my driveway.
Emery’s smile falters when her eyes drop to appraise my attire. Her gaze rakes from my beat- up Converse sneakers, up my faded jeans, to my borderline-too-small T-shirt and my bedhead pony. Not the sexy, “I actually spent an hour in front of the mirror” bedhead, but the real “I forgot to shower” kind.
“Awww, couldn’t you have tried a little harder?”
I point at my head sarcastically. “I did my ponytail, like, twice, Emery.”
She reaches into her purse and pulls out a stick of gum, unwrapping it and offering it to me. “I’m glad you’re coming. I won’t push my luck,” she chirps.
Gratefully, I take the gum and grind it up with my teeth, channeling my nervous energy into chewing. My eyes trace the line of Emery’s shoulder down her arm, where her hand is covered by Todd’s on the center console. I feel strangely lonely, out on a raft by myself while Emery and Todd float together.
Emery swivels to face me again and asks if she should change up her hair and I feel silly, as I always do, for imagining Emery deserting me. If anything, it’s been the other way around.
“Your hair is beautiful, Emery,” Todd says. “Hey, Quinn, did she tell you she wants to chop it off?”
I pull my jagged fingernails from between my teeth. “Huh? No, she didn’t. How short, Emery?”
“Just to my chin.”
“Just to her chin,” Todd scoffs, reaching across to swipe her long curls over her shoulder.
Emery and Todd argue over what movie to see this weekend while I sit here pulverizing a piece of gum. I’m tempted to ask Emery for a second stick. I close my eyes and press my forehead into the window, trying to think back. When was the last time I didn’t weigh my decisions based on its toll on my sanity? My first mental breakdown is so vivid in my memory that it’s tough to remember a time before it.
Two years ago, on my first day of classes, every professor talked about how much dedication his or her class would take. One said we, as students, would need to be genuinely invested in our career paths in order to succeed.
I’d asked myself if I was invested. I made lists and I did research online. I obsessed over my invested-ness for a whole semester.
And then, as I was packing up to go home for the holidays my first year, I was struck with such a hopeless thought that I sat, stunned, for a few long minutes.
There is no point.
All of the money I was spending on school, the triumph of scoring placement in a highly- competitive program, all the hours I spent studying and doing homework, all the time I expended sitting in lectures… none of it mattered. Because I was not invested in my career path.
What am I invested in, then? I asked myself. Nothing, I answered myself. I wish I’d thought, I don’t know, I should think about that. But, I hadn’t. Just a flat nothing. I was not invested in life. I didn’t care about school, I didn’t care that I needed an education to get a good job because I needed money to live comfortably and to support a family. Then, I started thinking about needing to find a husband to have a family with and I lost my cool. I stopped packing, I curled up on the floor, and I surrendered to the spiraling, negative thoughts. It was like this long chain of events that needed to occur, each leading to the next but then… what’s the last step? Death? What am I working so hard for? What’s the point?
I felt a moment of crazed hysteria and bit my lip, holding my breath. When I released the burdened breath and went to inhale again, there was no oxygen left in the room. I felt so big sitting on the floor, like a human in a dollhouse.
It was that thing that happens sometimes— on a minor scale usually—when you’re feeling too many conflicting emotions. Just experiencing so much all at once, and the emotions are all tangled to the point where you can’t separate and name them. You don’t know how to sort yourself out because you don’t know what to do with it all. When you’ve got yourself a big math problem, for example, you break it down into steps. You don’t try and swallow it whole.
This cyclone was going to consume me before I could even attempt to get my teeth into it.
Instead, my teeth went back to my lip and, this time, they broke the skin. My lungs burned as if I had just run a marathon and my head swam from the shortage of breath. The room became unfocused and my eyes glazed over. I was too hot. I was sweating, yet shivering at the same time. I couldn’t get a grip on myself, and that started the crying. Once that faucet was turned on, the handle rusted over and I couldn’t do a thing to stop the tears. They came faster than I could catch them. They sailed into my mouth, drowning me.
I remember turning to stone. Time stopped. I sat there leaking for an hour, maybe two, maybe twelve. I don’t know. Eventually, though, I just… dried up. My mouth eased closed, the skin of my cheeks dried and hardened. My eyes felt tight. They refocused, but stared straight ahead. Everything inside of me hardened, from the top down.
I got to my feet, I got my bags, and I got into my car. I drove home in silence. There was a solid hollowness carved into my middle, I felt. There wasn’t anything left in there. When I got home, I was sure my parents would take one glance at me and want to rush me to a hospital or something. I couldn’t find it in me to care, though.
But they didn’t say a thing about it. They asked me what I wanted for dinner. Confused, I ignored them and went straight upstairs to my room. In the bathroom mirror, my face leaped into its first emotion since my insides froze: shock.
I looked fine, perfectly normal. If I leaned in closer, I could see some lingering puffiness. My cheeks were ruddier than usual, but at a distance… nothing. Odd, I thought. My entire existence had crumbled into meaninglessness, yet I still looked like me. I don’t know what I expected—a zombie version of myself, maybe.
Nope. This monster hides in plain sight.
That holiday season two years ago, I shut down, taking on an attitude of total apathy I wear to this day.
There you have it! If you enjoyed this excerpt and would like to read more, the first chapter and my author’s note are available here. Or, you could just purchase the whole book on Amazon (wink, nudge).
To those of you who’ve already read Bewilderments of the Eyes, what did you think? Any favorite scenes, quotes, or characters? What did you hate? What can I work on? I would absolutely love any feedback!