Skeletons In My Closet


Chapter 1: Karma

The clock ticked as the calming orange light seared my skin. I slumped against the couch, walls staring at me. I opened my mouth, trying to croak out a word, but closed it and sighed. My mind felt muddled as I tried to piece together what I wanted to say.

“I don’t know. I remember what happened but it’s– it’s like my body doesn’t want to,” I sighed.

“Your body doesn’t want to remember it?” my therapist asked.

Every single nerve in my body scrunched up a little. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her walking towards me, her slightly-too-big school shoes clacking with every step.

Tlac, tlac, tlac.

The second I blinked, however, she was gone and my therapist was in front of me again, tapping her pen on her notebook. Tlac, tlac, tlac.

I dug my fingers into the couch. “Because I don’t want to remember it?”

“Well, why do you think you don’t want to remember it?” My therapist leaned closer. Every seam of the couch seemed to pop out more as I ran my pinky across them. I winced. It was like the couch was about to swallow and digest me.

“… Are you comfortable telling me? Do you want to talk about something else?”

“I don’t know, do I?” I sighed.

“Do you?”

“I guess… ” My gaze drifted down to my shoes. I noticed my laces were untied, so I put my foot up and tied them. “But I also don’t.”

“Does remembering trigger anything in your body? Like do you forget to breathe or…”

My eyes wandered to the table beside my therapist’s seat. There was a pile of books at a corner of it. They were all picture books, with colourful covers and spines lined with cartoonish drawings. I caught a glance at one of the titles – “What is Social Anxiety? (for kids)”. 

Tlac tlac tlac. I snapped out of my daze. “Well, I get this weird feeling in my chest.” 

“How does that feel?”

I pressed my lips together and glanced at her.

Tlac, tlac, tlac. She kept tapping her pen on her notebook.

The room was still. I could almost see myself shuffling in my seat and subconsciously pulling at my hoodie sleeves. My eyes darted all over. The walls seemed to close in like people in a packed mall. I glanced up at my therapist. Her pen was now hovering over her notebook.

“It’s like…”  I dug my fingers into the couch. “Like my heart stops beating – like it’s clotted. And then it feels all heavy and tight in my chest.”

After another excruciating half an hour of back-and-forth, I was back outside under the cold white light of the reception. I sat on a chair in the waiting room, feeling deflated and gelatinous. The bell on the door jingled as people entered while my parents haggled the timing of my next appointment with the receptionist.

Dad turned towards me. “Ez, can you make it next” – he leaned over the table to check the calendar behind the desk – “Saturday at 10am?”

“I guess.”

“You sure you don’t need some extra rest?” Mum asked. “There’s also a slot for next next Saturday at 2pm if you need.”

“No, it’s fine,” I muttered. They gave me a concerned look before turning back to the receptionist. I stared down at my shoes. The laces were mysteriously untied.

It’s been about 6 months since I started therapy. That’s half a year, 182 days, 4368 hours. It’s also been 4 years since everything started. That’s basically a third of my life.

Where did all that go?

They say what goes around comes around. It’s the basis of many philosophies, like the concept of karma. Some people swear by it. I guess it’s kind of true, but I’ve been trying and trying and being good, but I don’t feel better yet. 

4 years ago, I could count the number of friends I had on my fingers. Every recess, I would retreat into the school library and wait out the half an hour there. Sometimes, my friends would pop by to say hi, but only if they were going there with their other friends anyway.

I’d also always have this weird heavy feeling in my chest for the entire school day, like my whole body, especially my heart, was collapsing. 

I guess my life’s become better since then. I don’t have to spend lunch alone anymore. I’ve got Alex and Joe. Everyone’s cool with me and I’m cool with everyone.

But I don’t feel better. I still get that same feeling sometimes when I’m all alone. It’s not as bad as it was, but it’s still there.

Finally, my parents finished settling the bill. As we were about to walk out, I turned around and looked inside. The waiting room was full of people my age. Their parents sat next to them, scrolling through their phones.

Every week on Wednesday, school started an hour later than it normally did. It was supposed to encourage healthier sleep schedules amongst students or something like that. However, most people would arrive at the same time that they did on normal school days to rush unfinished homework.

As you can see, it clearly worked as intended.

People would also come early to hang out with their friends. That’s what Alex, Joe and I did. Alex and I would usually wait for Joe at the benches at the open area near our classrooms. We watched as students dragged themselves up the stairs and trudged to their classrooms. From up here, we could gaze down at the school gates and watch students streaming in and making their exodus across the parade square just to get to the staircases. 

Finally, Joe came, her hair swept across her face swishing with every step she took up the stairs. She dropped her bag on the bench and slid into her seat. Her headphones hung around her neck clacked against the table as she slammed her head down on it. “Sorry I’m late,” she gasped. “Had to help with that student council project.”

“You sound tired,” Alex leaned towards her and said. “Like, more tired than usual.”

“No shit, Alex,” Joe groaned. “I got only 3 hours of sleep because Shyanne begged me to help her with her side of the planning.”

“Why do you still help her? I thought you hated her,” I asked.

Joe pulled out her phone and started scrolling through it. “Well, I have to,” she said. “It’s Shyanne, after all. You know what she can do.”

“Yeah,” Alex sighed. “You know who she reminds me of?” Alex turned towards me and lightly nudged my arm. “Kasey.”

My breath hitched. Alex retracted a little. Joe looked up from her phone.

“That’s not a very high bar,” I exhaled.

“Yeah…” Alex laughed nervously. 

Joe put her phone down on the table, screen down, and glanced at Alex and nodded. She nodded back and turned towards me. Alex swept her hair behind her shoulders and flicked a couple strands away from her eyes. She took a deep breath and stared me in the eye.

“Look Ez,” Alex said. “No offence, but it’s getting kinda tiring not being able to mention her or anything relating to her. I mean – you got therapy for it, right? Shouldn’t it be ok now?”

Alex folded her hands into a triangle and looked at me. It was the exact same concerned look my therapist gave me the other day. I squirmed in my seat. Joe shuffled over towards me.

“Yeah, but– I don’t know, it’s not working.”

Alex put her hand on my shoulder and stared into my eyes. “Ezra, have you maybe, just maybe, considered trying to help yourself outside of therapy?” 

I stared back at them and exhaled.

Joe turned to Alex and nudged her under the table. Alex immediately perked up and sat up straight.

“Hey, it’s ok, if you need anything, I’m always here for you,” Alex proclaimed. Joe shot Alex a glare and she flinched. “And so is Joe.”

“Heh, I guess,” I smirked.

Alex exhaled and Joe laughed. 

From the corner of my eye, however, I saw Alex’s face fall a little. 

At that moment, the PA system started blaring music. Joe slung her bag over her shoulder. “We’re going for lunch later, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Hopefully.”

“Well, I guess I’ll head off first. See you guys later.” 

Later in class, as the teacher droned on about stuff that was probably really important, I just kept staring down into my notebook, twirling my pen in my hand. I glanced at the clock. It had already been about half an hour since class started. By this point I should’ve had at least a page of notes and scribbles, maybe even doodles lining the sides. When I put my pen down to take notes, my hand just wouldn’t budge.

In my classroom, we also had a wall dedicated to weird pictures of each other, and I happened to sit right next to it. It felt like they were all gazing down on me, which definitely didn’t help my racing thoughts.

All I could think of was Alex’s reaction to what Joe and I said earlier. I’d never seen her react to anything like that. Her face fell so slightly yet severely. Or maybe she was just tired. Sometimes her face does weird things when she’s tired.

But there was also the look she gave me. The exact same look my therapist gave me the other day. 

My eyes felt heavy. They were slowly but surely buckling down under their own weight. The teacher’s rambles went from coherent words to a muffled, unintelligible mess. Everything was so loud and quiet at the same time. The teacher’s voice now sounded more like a lullaby to me, gently brushing across my eardrums. My eyelids sunk down.

I was in my old primary five classroom again, stuck in the same starchy suffocating pinafore. It was bursting at the seams because my mother had altered it by hand to make sure it fit me well. Too well.

Everybody was talking around me, clustering in their cliques. All their chatter and laughter seemed to meld into one huge messy noise that was constantly jabbing at my eardrums. It was just like the scene that flashed before my eyes during therapy the other day, but more vivid. I tried to look for my friends. Yun was sitting with the ‘popular’ people, probably exchanging gossip again. When I turned to Jan, she was also deep in conversation with her group of friends.

I looked around and caught a glimpse of Kasey. She was talking to Audrey, probably about something she said that they said that she said. She caught me glancing at her and walked over.

Tlac, tlac, tlac. Her school shoes flopped and clocked with every step.

The noise started to grow around my eardrums now. So many words floating around, being stuffed through my eardrums. My chest began to cave into itself. 

Suddenly, I could feel every organ and capillary in my body. I could feel my heart sinking through my chest, pushing my lungs down along with it. Every single alveoli in my lungs felt like they were being popped like bubble wrap one by one. She kept walking towards me. I felt like the chair was swallowing me up.

The noise was a lot louder and quieter at the same time now. Every word stuck out like a sore thumb and melted into each other like a huge school of fish. Their conversations were frantically swimming around my brain, clawing and chewing at my eardrums. I scanned the classroom for my friends. They were sitting right beside me and talking to their other friends, almost entranced in conversation.

Kasey walked closer to my desk. Her long, high ponytail swished with every step. Her pinafore was soaked in sweat and almost glued to her body. Her head was always slightly tilted up so she was perpetually looking down on everyone.

She locked her gaze on me. I winced. She took another step towards me. 

Tlac, tlac, tlac.

My eyelids flew open. The teacher was standing over me, tapping my desk. I rubbed my eyes and glanced around. Alex was still sitting behind me, staring blankly at the board. All my other classmates were around and looking at me. Even the walls looked like they were glaring down at me.

“Do you want to go wash your face?” the teacher leaned over me and asked. Slowly, I pulled myself to sit up straight and nodded. He walked back to the whiteboard and continued rambling while I slipped out of the door and ran to the toilet.

I stood hunched over the sink, staring at the spots of rust dotting the drain. That heavy feeling was weighing down my chest again. The image of Kasey strutting towards me kept replaying in my head, but every time she was just about to approach me, the scene would replay from the start over and over again. I turned on the tap and pooled some water in my hands. I was about to splash it into my face, but I let it drip back down.

Once I calmed down enough, I drew in a couple deep breaths and then looked at myself in the mirror. It felt like my old self was staring back instead, still tugging sheepishly at the hem of their uniform. I had a look of desensitisation and pain on my face, the same one I wore those years ago. 

My thoughts drifted to Yun and Jan – the other 2 people who know what I’ve been through, apart from Alex, Joe and my therapist (kind of). In fact, they’d actually seen it. I’d rant to them about Kasey a lot, definitely too much. One day, they both told me they were sick of me venting about Kasey so much and after that, they started hanging out even more with their other friends.

The last time we talked after that was when I texted them to ask about homework. They didn’t even reply.

What if the same thing happens with Alex and Joe? Did they really mean what they said earlier? That heavy feeling started crushing up my lungs again. 

No, I’m not doing this again. I can’t afford it.

The image of my old self staring back in the mirror faded, and I was looking at myself again. I wasn’t gripping the hem of my uniform for my dear life anymore. My hands were now limply hanging at the side of my body. The heavy feeling in my chest seemed to clear up a little, just enough to let me breathe a bit.

No, I’m not doing this again. Not if I can do anything about it.

Elizabeth Lee En (Class of 2025) loves spinning mundane bits of life into impactful stories in her writing. Elizabeth’s work overarchingly focuses on themes like isolation and processing grief and trauma. Through her writing, she hopes to help others feel less alone in their struggles.