The Mask We Can’t Live Without
by Jaden Jacoby-Cooper
New York City, 2/28/00-Home
The moon was abnormally small that day. It looked like a speck of silver that managed to light up the whole sky. Ma placed her new treasure ever so gently in a small pink crib. The crib was filled with lushes cushions covered in thin pink silk. The smooth words of Ma’s singing filled the empty air.
Down to the river
Up to the sky Wherever you go
Let yourself fly
Don’t be in fear
I’ll whisper in your ear You’re the driver
You can steer
Every night since her baby was born, she would sing that tune and on the last word, her baby’s eyes shut.
“Mija!” Ma yelled as she prepared some cheese tortillas, the only food Luna would eat.
“Coming!” Luna yelled back as she scribbled an answer for a complex equation for math. She grabbed the already crinkled sheet and bulleted down the stairs which were made of bamboo. Ma was one of those people who would get very angry if she saw plastic. Anywhere. Ma couldn’t have it with plastic.
“Here you go Lu.” Ma said as she placed a tortilla on Luna’s plate. “Did you finish your homework?”
“I think so.” answered Luna with her mouth stuffed with cheese and bread. Luna is the kind of person who doesn’t care about manners or anything that takes up extra brain space.
“Coulf task bar fo shcool?” Luna said with her mouth full. “Manners Lu!” Ma said.
“Shorry!” Luna said giggling. Luna swallowed her food and repeated her sentence. “Can you drive me to school?”
“Sure sweetie.” Ma answered as she poured ice water into a metal water bottle. “You have ten minutes to get ready or else you will be late. Chop chop!”
Luna walked upstairs and into her bathroom. She starred in the mirror. Her sepia skin, her grass green eyes, her annoyingly big, black, framed glasses. She was Luna. She was also tired. Luna splashed cold water on her face. As she patted herself dry, she noticed that her hair was a bit crazy. She grabbed her new-never-used hairbrush that her mom got her and pulled the contraption through her curly black hair. She didn’t realize it would be that painful. When she was done, she looked like a whole new person. She gave herself a big grin in front of the mirror.
“You there?” Ma yelled from the garage.
“C0ming!” Luna yelled back.
Luna walked swiftly to her locker. She was on high alert mode. She unpacked her bazillion books, binders, pencils, and folders. She was closing her locker door when she saw the face she dreaded. The reason she was on high alert.
The reason she walked so quickly through the red and white halls that reminded her of High School Musical. Petunia.
“Wow, you look so different!” Petunia said in her usual sarcastic tone. “Whaddya do to your hair? Brush it with your fingers? ‘Cause I bet you don’t have nearly enough money to afford a simple hairbrush huh? Oh, and look what you are wearing. How cute! Red socks with uh khaki shorts. Wow, what a, uh, risky choice.”
Petunia reminded Luna of Sharpay from High School Musical. She had on white boots, ripped jeans, and a graphic tee shirt that said, “I am sure I know who is the best person on this planet. Read the first two words of the previous sentence!” How clever and selfish at the same time.
“Ah yes Petunia. Your daily analysis of me because you don’t have anything else better to do.”
“Ohh, backlash. How savage!” Petunia said.
“Is it a crime that I might have brushed my hair with an actual BRUSH? Is it a crime that I wore red socks and khaki shorts? No, because it is not in the Constitution, which yes, I have read, because I am that much of a nerd.” Luna replied. With that, Luna slammed her locker door in Petunia’s face and walked away feeling confident with a teensy weensy bit of regret.
Petunia was in ALL of Luna’s classes. So, Luna? sorta? learned how to deal with her. There was one part of Petunia that surprised Luna. Petunia was really good at math; she was in Luna’s Honors Math class. This little detail shook Luna.
Their math teacher’s name was impossible to pronounce but he would always insist that his students call him Mr. Singinburginsontish. Every single worksheet Luna would get, she would have to write his name on the sheet. What a nuisance. “Can anyone tell me zee answer to zee expression? Not equation. You mixed zat up yesterday Steph.” Mr. S said in his French accent. Petunia and Luna’s hands shot up in unison.
“Ah yes Petunia.” Mr. S said calling on her. “Do you know zee answer to zee expression?”
“Well since you had to multiply that number by 26, if I’m doing my calculations correctly, the answer should be seventy eigh-
“Yes!” Mr. S shouted. “Finally someone got it correct!”
Luna was going to suggest to do the expression with a shortcut she came up with, but Mr. S didn’t seem to care. What a waste. She used up all her brain space so she could focus on math. Maybe she should take up a manners class if she really wasn’t valued in her so called Honors Math class.
“Mija, Mija!” Ma called out from downstairs as she took a freshly baked vanilla birthday cake from out of the oven. Luna ran downstairs and hopped onto the kitchen stool.
“Happy birthday Lu!” Ma said. Luna was now officially a teen. She was entering a whole chapter of her life!
“Tienes trece ahora mija!” Ma said. Ma always spoke in Spanish when she was either incredibly proud or happy.
“Sé que sé.” Luna replied as she took a bite into the spongey, scrumptious substance.
“I also baked you some of my white chocolate cookies for your math class. I heard your teacher loves white chocolate.” Ma said.
“He does.” Luna replied.
“Are you taking the bus to school?” Ma asked.
“Yes.” Luna answered as she walked upstairs. Luna looked into her mirror again. She brushed her hair and reached for her new-never-used lip balm her mom also bought her. Luna couldn’t believe her eyes. She put on her black boots and thick black jacket. She liked the way she looked. It was very different than her usual “nerdy” look. Maybe people would start treating differently. Luna always thought it was weird that society used their eyes to judge people. She wondered how blind people would judge if they judged at all.
A girl wearing a blue shirt, blue shorts, blue socks, blue shoes, and a blue jacket waved to Luna from down the hall.
“Lulu!” Tracy said as she walked over to Luna.
“You having a blue day?” Luna joked while looking at Tracy’s outfit.
“You could say!” Tracy replied. Luna met Tracy when they were only a year and a half old. Ever since, they bonded. Not literally, that would be weird. Tracy is so self confident that she thinks of Petunia as just an unlucky, ugly, flower.
“You look so different!” Tracy said admiring Luna’s outfit.
“I take that as a compliment now, thanks to Petunia.” Luna said.
“What did she do now?” Tracy asked rolling her eyes.
“She did some bad-“Luna was cut off by the bell. “Maybe if I get to math early, Mr. S will actually notice me and I could give him these cookies. Seeya.” Luna said. “Seeya!” Tracy yelled back as she walked down the hallway looking like a smurf. When Luna reached her math class, she was out of luck. Petunia was already there looking at herself in a mirror. Luna wanted to say something but she would have been a hypocrite in a sense. Plus, she knew that Petunia would say something ridiculous if she saw Luna giving Mr. S the cookies.
“Does anyone vant to show zee class how to go about solving zis problem on zee board?” Mr. S asked. Luna’s hand, for the first time, shot up a millisecond before Petunia’s.
“How about Luna?” Mr. S said as he gave Luna a green dry erase marker. Suddenly, Luna started getting an extreme case of nausea. She hadn’t technically been in front of the class before. Was she supposed to have her back towards them or try and write facing forward? She didn’t know!
“Go on.” Mr. S said. Luna took a big breath and started explaining. She memorized the diagram she drew on her homework so she copied that onto the board.
“Well, when I first looked at this problem, I noticed-
“OH MY GOD!” Petunia yelled out of nowhere.
“Vwhat is it?” Mr. S asked.
“My, my, my MIRROR broke. That was expensive!”
“Now now Ms. Johnson.” Mr. S said. “We will take care of this after class.” Petunia slumped in her seat and Luna continued on.
“I noticed that when you got that final answer which I think was three hundred and seventy two, since the problem said for two weeks, we have to multiply the answer by two. So that should be seven hundred and forty four.” Luna said feeling proud of herself.
“Very good Luna.” Mr. S said. “You may take a seat. Alright class that will be it for today. Make sure to review pages 7-12 for your exam next week. You are dismissed.” Mr. S left, leaving only Petunia and Luna behind. Luna was trying to pack up her things quickly until she felt a big tug on her shirt. She felt her feet lift the ground. She was face to face with Petunia.
“Listen up you.” Petunia barked at Luna. She shoved Luna to the floor, leaving Luna with two bruises on her knees. “Pick up those shards.”
“Excuse me?” Luna asked.
“You heard me. Unless you are deaf which wouldn’t be surprising. Pick up the shards!”
“Or what?” Luna barked back.
“Or I’ll make your life, living hell.” Petunia whispered into Luna’s ear.
“It already is.” Luna mumbled. A second later Petunia slapped Luna so hard, Luna went flying through the air and landed with her face smashed against the wall.
“That is what your life will be like Luna. No matter how hard you try, no one is going to like someone like you. You are worthless, dumb, and you certainly do not deserve to be in this school.” Petunia said this so close to her that Luna could smell her minty breath.
Luna grudgingly picked up the pieces of the mirror, cutting her fingers while doing it. Petunia pranced out of the room. Luna changed her mind. She still had no idea how to deal with Petunia. She dropped all of the shards she picked up, and ran into the girls bathroom to cry in private. She was hurting in every single way you could think of. Her fingers were starting to bleed and her head was throbbing with unconditional pain. So many people at her school thought she was overly dramatic. No one except Tracy and her mom wanted her alive. Petunia was right about a couple things. Ma used multiple food stamps to buy ingredients to make a simple cake. Bamboo stairs were surprisingly cheaper than regular wood stairs and Luna and her mom had been threatened to be kicked out of their home if they didn’t pay their rent on time. The school she went to was very prestigious and private. Her mother’s priority over anything else was school. Luna had told her mom multiple times that Ma could send her to public school but Ma just shook her head no.
“We don’t have enough!” Luna complained.
“You are already so ahead at school. We cannot afford you to lose that intelligence and wit by sending you to some random public school. You are already so bright mija. If you keep up this pace up, you could get a scholarship to some of the best colleges.” Ma would say.
What seemed to be ten minutes later, out of everyone in the school, Petunia walked into the bathroom. She took a glance at Luna then turned towards the mirror. While washing her hands she said, “Shouldn’t you do your crying in the boys bathroom?” Petunia asked while laughing to herself. That was the last straw for Luna.
“What the hell is wrong with you Petty Petunia?” Luna asked rhetorically. Luna was also good at coming up with nicknames, good and bad. “You hypnotize people to dislike me why, because I look different, act different, wear different clothes than you? That shouldn’t matter. If you truly dislike me and do not care about me, you would leave me alone. You don’t have to rub it in someone’s face that you don’t like them because it is just going to come back and haunt you. Don’t believe me? Wait ten more years.” Luna retorted.
“I’m just being honest with you.” Petunia scoffed.
“DON’T YOU THINK I ALREADY KNOW?” Luna barked. Luna ran out of the bathroom and out of the school.
Luna ran streets upon streets upon streets. Her home was two miles away but she didn’t care. Petunia was right about another thing. She didn’t belong at that school. She ran up the stairwell to her small townhouse and tried opening the door. She then rang the doorbell but no one answered. Her mom was at work and Luna forgot her keys inside. So much for having at least a decent birthday. With nothing else to do, Luna sat at her doorway and cried. She cried, pondered, thought, and questioned. She also was trying to figure out a way to convince her mom to let her switch schools. Out of nowhere, Luna heard rustling in some bushes to her left. At first she thought it was some sort of animal but through the cracks she saw sparkly shoes and the flash of a cell phone camera.
“That B!&*!&!” Luna thought. Luna decided not to go over there for her own good. A couple minutes later, Luna started smelling a very strong cherry scent. She was allergic to cherries. Luna started coughing. Her throat was tightening. She was getting dizzy and fell to the concrete floor. She couldn’t breath. She was bathing in sweat which made it look like she just ran a marathon. Was she dead?
Seconds later her mom came walking by and ran over to Luna and called 911.
“Ma!” Luna said shakily.
“She doesn’t have her Epipen.” Ma said to herself. The ambulance came and EMTs put Luna onto the hospital bed. The door shut tight and the ambulance drove away with alarms and lights blaring.
“AHH!” Luna blurted out feeling startled. Luna felt a sore jabbing sensation on her right arm. She glanced there and saw she was connected to an IV. Some blue rubbery thing was covering her nose but she couldn’t tell what it was because she could barely see. Luna gazed dazedly as a nurse wearing light blue scrubs walked in with a silver tray which had yet more needles.
“I’m sorry we have to do this sweetie. You took quite a fall.” the nurse said as she took more blood from Luna.
“Wha- wha- where is my mom?” Luna attempted to ask.
“She is in the waiting room. You’ll see her soon okay?” the nurse replied. The room was very kid friendly. It had pictures of elephants, giraffes, and monkeys plastered to the wall. Luna thought she was too old for this kind of stuff but nonetheless it was cute. The nurse wrapped her other arm to take her blood pressure.
“115.” the nurse said to another doctor who walked into the room.
“Can you sit up for me?” asked the doctor. Luna squirmed using all her strength. The doctor hooked her up to yet another machine which was connected to a screen. The doctor watched intensely.
“Heart rate 70 bpm.” the doctor retorted. “Give her the medicine in the yellow case.”
“Do you mind telling me what happened?” Luna asked.
“Your body went into anaphylactic shock when you breathed in the cherry scent.” the doctor told her.
“I knew I was allergic but I didn’t know I could be allergic to the smell!” Luna exclaimed.
“Your body seems to be calming down.” the doctor said. “All we are going to do is put you on this medication for a few weeks and give you a new epipen which you must carry at all times. But you are very much alive.” The word alive stuck in Luna’s head. Someone wanted her to die but who? Was anyone else there when she started reacting to the cherries? Luna searched her mind to find some memory of what happened. All of the sudden, a wave of realization and memories hit Luna like a rocket.
“PETUNIA.” Luna yelled out of nowhere.
“Is something wrong?” the nurse asked her.
“No no.” Luna said, shaking her head. “I just remembered something important.” “That’s good!” the nurse said. Luna grabbed her phone from a table next to her. She needed info. She knew exactly what Petunia did and she knew exactly what to do.
Tracy had no idea what had happened to Luna. School just let out and she was on her bed catching up on her Snapchat streaks until she got a notification saying she got a text from Petunia.
How did that girl get my number? Tracy wondered. Tracy opened her messages app and saw that Petunia sent her a video. Tracy clicked on the video.
“Is that Luna?” Tracy asked herself. Tracy automatically knew that Petunia filmed the video.
That B*!*!&! Tracy would recognize Luna anywhere. She knew Luna was in the video, Tracy concluded that Luna must have reacted to something Petunia did.
“There is no one else in this school who would be evil enough to try and kill someone except Petunia.” Tracy said.
Tracy posted the video on Instagram captioned, “Petunia Johnson attempts to kill Luna on Luna’s 13th birthday. If you are as enraged as I am, repost this with the #lunaforlife to end bullying once and for all. In ten minutes time, the post got over 20,000 comments and 100,000 reposts. Right after, Tracy texted Luna to ask if she was okay and surprisingly, Luna texted back saying, “Come to the hospital now pls. It’s important.” Tracy took off two minutes later.
Tracy walked into Luna’s room where Luna’s mom sat next to her.
“Hi Tracy.” Luna said from her hospital bed. Tracy ran to the bed and gave Luna a big hug.
“I’ll let you two be.” Luna’s mom said as she sat up and started walking towards the door. “Let me know if you need anything Lu.”
Tracy started crying and in between sobs she croaked, “I’m so horrible. I should have been there for you. Has Petunia really been tr- tr- treating you like this, this whole time?” Luna nodded her head yes. “I had no idea! Are you okay? Did Petunia really try to poison you with cherries?” Tracy asked.
“I saw Petunia in the bushes right before I started coughing. I couldn’t imagine it being anyone else. She really is out to get me. Honestly, for awhile I forgot it was my birthday. I was being treated so terribly to the point where I felt like I wasn’t human.”
“OH MY GOD!” Tracy cried and hugged Luna again.
“But, my whole day changed when I saw this.” Luna said as she showed Tracy the post on Instagram.”
“I didn’t know if you’d be okay with it, but Petunia sent me the video to get emotions outta me. So I decided to let everyone know what a worthless jerk Petunia really is. I think some of the teachers saw the video. She’ll be in for a surprise on Monday.” Tracy said chuckling.
“Thank you so much Trace.” Luna said. “I fell into this state of almost nothing because I was confused. Confused about everything, even myself.
“So how are you actually?” Tracy asked.
“I’m alive and I can go home today.” Luna chuckled.
“Thank God.” Tracy said. “I think my heart rate went up 10 bpm after seeing that video. You scared the heck outta me!” Tracy exclaimed. “Ugh, I have to go. Dinner. Strict mom. See you at school?”
“Seeya.” Luna said as Tracy began walking towards the door.
“Oh and one more thing.” Tracy said. “Happy Birthday Lulu.”
Luna walked to her locker feeling very confident in herself. She walked to her locker without being on high alert mode. There was no Petunia Johnson in sight. Luna relaxed. She walked to first period, math.
“Good morning Luna.” Mr. S said.
“Good morning.” Luna replied as she sat down while Mr. S took attendance. “Petunia seems to be absent today.” Mr. S said shaking his head. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.
“Jules could you open zee door? It seems to be locked again.” Mr. S asked. Jules opened the door which revealed a very groggy Petunia.
“You’re late Ms. Johnson.” Mr. S said sternly. “Have a seat.” Everyone was staring at Petunia with hate in their eyes. Petunia slumped in her seat.
“Mr. S, do you mind if I say something to the class before you begin?” Luna asked.
“Sure, but make it quick.” Mr. S explained.
“I’m sure most of you know what happened last week.” Luna said. “I was in a very bad part of my life. It was awful I will admit. I was always taught to keep on pushing through. No matter the obstacle. I know how you all are feeling but I want you to please stop staring at Petunia that way. I’m going to be honest with everyone. Petunia did not treat me nicely at all. I could go into detail but the point is, is that I was miserable for while. I was scared. But, I also have no clue what Petunia or anyone is going through outside of school.
We put on a mask when we enter school. We have a reputation we have to uphold and maintain. We label ourselves as certain people like “athletic or nerdy.” We also get judged for our labels. As wrong as it is to try and put someone else down, I can assure you that we are all struggling in some way. I may sound cheesy when I say this but there are certain masks people put on to make it seem like there is nothing wrong with them, when actually, all they are trying to do is hide their insecurities and flaws. But we are all human. We are all trying to get through the one life we have. So instead of trying to end lives, or make them unenjoyable, let’s all attempt to live our lives together.”
“Wow, vwhat a speech Luna.” Mr. S exclaimed. “Class, give her a round of applause.” Out of the corner of Luna’s eye, she saw some give her a smile. Petunia Johnson was giving her a genuine smile, and guess what? Luna smiled back.
“I named you Luna for a reason.” Ma said after hearing what Luna told her. “Your name means “moon” in Latin. The moon is up in the sky giving everyone light in the darkness of the night. You truly are the light in everyone’s darkness Luna. I don’t know if you remember, but when you were little, I would sing this lullaby I made up to put you asleep. It was about your name.”
“Can you sing it again?” Luna asked.
“Of course.” Ma said.
Down to the river
Up to the sky Wherever you go
Let yourself fly
Don’t be in fear
I’ll whisper in your ear You’re the driver
You can steer
Luna, 3/3/13-Principal’s Office
“I am truly disappointed Petunia.” The principal Ms. Clore said. “You are such an intelligent student. However, trying to put another student at risk of death, even if it is outside of school, is crossing the line. This behavior will not be tolerated at this school. If you weren’t a minor Ms. Johnson, you’d be locked up a jail right now.”
“You saw the video?” Petunia asked shakely.
“Honey, almost everyone in this school saw the video.” Ms. Clore answered. “There are a few things that must be done. The first thing is tell me exactly what you did. I will accept nothing but honesty.”
“-I -I I heard that Luna was allergic to cherries so I took some cherry scented perfume and sprayed it near where Luna was sitting. Then, she fell.”
“Now here is the important question.” Ms. Clore retorted. “Why?”
“We’ve been enemies so to speak, since 2nd grade. I was so fed up with her at the time, I wasn’t thinking straight. I know nothing will excuse my behavior. I didn’t really know if Luna was that allergic to cherries, even the smell of cherries.”
“I see.” Ms. Clore said nodding her head. “I’m going to call you parents and we will all have a meeting. Also, I’m sorry I have to do this, but you are expelled from this school for the rest of your school career. If I, or any other teacher sees you on school premises, you will be escorted out by security. This is for the safety of the students, and for you to really think about the danger you put other people in.
“MY SCHOOL CAREER?!” Petunia barked with tears rolling down her cheeks.
“You almost killed another student. Even though you are a minor, this is still a big issue and you must be punished. End of story. I’ll send your parents a list of schools that may be a good fit for you. What you need, is a place where you can figure yourself out, and realize the damage you put on yourself and others.” Ms. Clore replied.
“Holy shit.” Petunia mumbled to herself.
“I’m going to call your parents now.” Ms. Clore said.
“You can’t.” Petunia said.
“Why?” Ms. Clore asked.
“My parents are both news reporters so my dad is in Washington DC and my mom is in Vietnam.”
“Do you have any sort of parental guardian or caregiver?” Ms. Clore asked.
“I have a housekeeper, but she is on a day trip in Massachusetts. Also, she speaks Spanish.” Petunia replied.
“Well then.” Ms. Clore said. “You may go home now but I will find a way to get in touch with your parents. One last thing. Promise me you will never bully someone or try and kill anyone ever again.” There was a moment of silence.
“Promise.” Petunia said a little more confidently.
“I have an idea.” Ms. Clore said all of the sudden. “I’m going to bring Luna in. The most important thing to do right now is clear any misunderstandings, and for you to apologize.” A couple minutes later, Luna walked into the office and sat in a brown chair a couple feet from Petunia.
“I’m sorry Luna. I did not mean for any of my acts to go as far as they did. I certainly wasn’t trying to kill you. I guess I was so angry at the time, not just because of you, but because of what was going on at home. This isn’t an excuse, but I don’t have a mom like you do. My mom is always somewhere and I never get to hug her or talk to her like you do. I must have been so angry, that I took it out you. I know we weren’t friends, but I did not mean for things to be taken as far as they did. I’m so sorry.”
“Thanks Petunia. Since we are on this honesty roll, I want to apologize for what I did in 2nd grade to make us enemies. I know we were young, but I guess you’ve been holding a grudge and I am so sorry.” Luna said back.
“Are you okay?’ Petunia asked.
“Well, I learned that I am REALLY allergic to cherries. But I am alive so I guess that is all that matters.” Luna chuckled.
“Thank you girls.” Ms. Clore said. “This is what I want to see at our school.”
About the author
I’m Jaden and I’m 14 years old. I absolutely love to write for so many reasons. A big one is that I use some of the hard experiences I’ve dealt with in the past, specifically mental health issues, to my advantage to write and produce something beautiful. I’ve written stories, poems, plays, and essays that all have an overarching theme on mental health and how important it is.
Besides writing, I love to read murder mysteries and graphic novels. Some of my favorite books are American Born Chinese and One of Us is Lying. I enjoy watching thriller movies and comedies in my free time, as well as play the ukulele. I do competitive dance and some of my favorite styles are hip-hop, jazz, and contemporary. Follow me on Instagram, @jadenrjc.