For a moment, Hilary stood in front of the mirror, motionless. She stared unseeingly at her own reflection, and the power of despair began to build inside of her. She could feel herself beginning to slip closer and closer to the black space that was hopelessness. But suddenly, Hilary knew that the pain and fear that she was experiencing in that moment were nothing compared to the terror of utter hopelessness. She might live her whole life in sickening sadness and confusion, but in that instant, Hilary’s heart had felt the empty blackness of giving up, and it had recoiled.
Hilary blinked and turned toward the window, where lazy gold stripes of sun were streaming through the blinds that she had neglected to close. Her eyes stung from the brightness, but she kept her gaze on the vibrant strips. She did believe that life was not worth the effort of living it, the pain and mind-numbing repetitiveness of her life had convinced her of that. But every time she teetered on the brink of giving up, every time she peered over the edge, into the pit of hopelessness and surrender, something pulled her back. Hilary did not know what it was, but she clung to it with all her might, and she felt the blackness slowly receding.
The zombie-like sensation of the previous night had left her, leaving Hilary raw once more. The hazy obliviousness of unconsciousness seemed very appealing, and Hilary momentarily considered lying down and letting sleep consume her again, but she knew in her heart that the only way escape the black terror of hopelessness was to keep going; to keep living the very life that had brought her to the brink.
Still clinging desperately to that fleeting moment of meaning and clarity, Hilary forced herself to function. She slowly got dressed, leaning against her closet door when the pain in her head and the rolling of her stomach threatened to overpower her. Hilary weakly ran a brush through her tangled hair, and had to pause for a moment as another wave of nausea washed over her. Stuffing her keys in the first purse she found, Hilary slowly opened her door, and stepped out into the hallway.
Across the plaza and down a set of stairs, the dining hall was coming alive again as students returned from their morning at church. Round tables, each ringed by eight metal-backed chairs, filled the long, low hall; and already the tables in the middle of the room were almost completely occupied. It was at one of these tables that Hilary chose to sit, slipping wordlessly into a seat between one empty chair and a boy she vaguely recognized. A handful of the other young people seated around the table glanced up when Hilary took her seat. She nodded a silent hello, then turned her attention to the plain bagel that sat alone in the middle of her beige cafeteria plate.
Sipping occasionally from her water glass, Hilary picked a bit off the bagel with her fingers and put all of her meager supply of energy into chewing the tasteless tidbit. The conversation around Hilary increased suddenly in both intensity and volume and Hilary looked up, second bite in mouth, as three girls across from her burst into rowdy laughter. Emotional pain throbbing inside her, Hilary was acutely aware of the joking and yelling, laughter and teasing that seemed to be occurring all around her. The apparent joy of her fellow students assailed her; every giggle, each word spoken in jest, every flirty smile exchanged across the table. The same dark, black feeling that Hilary had felt that morning, and so many times before that, returned, sucking away her breath and leaving her gripping the side of her seat with white knuckles.