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When I woke up I didn't have a mouth

~1000 words

When I woke up I didn't have a mouth.

I ran to my mom's room and she started screaming. I wanted to scream too, but I couldn't. At the hospital, the doctors were very confused. They took all kinds of x-rays and scans. My mom wanted them to just cut me a new mouth, but they said it wasn't that simple.

They kept me there for a few days, but aside from not having a mouth, I was fine. I didn't have to eat anymore. Somehow, I just never got hungry. The doctors did everything they could to figure out what happened to my mouth, but after a few days it seemed like they were more scared of why I wasn't hungry.

After those few days in the hospital they sent me home. Mom said the insurance wouldn't pay for it anymore. I was still confused, but I thought the best thing to do was to just move on. Mom even seemed to be feeling a little better. On the car ride home she made a joke about having one less mouth to feed. I wanted to laugh at it.

Going back to school was tough. Even my friends shied away from me, so I wore a mask to cover where my mouth used to be. Even then, I could hear people talking about me behind my back. I carried around a little whiteboard to write things on, but it wasn't as fast as talking. I tried to focus on my classes, but everything was just harder. Obviously I had to drop my public speaking class.

I stopped eating lunch with my friends and would go to the library to read. It was just too awkward to sit around with everyone else eating. Even when people did talk to me, it seemed like when they weren’t asking about my mouth, they were thinking about it.

It was the same thing at home. My mom and I used to eat dinner together every night, but now I just sat and watched TV while she ate. A few times at first she’d forget and cook me something too. She'd just apologize and put it in the fridge. I didn't even used to like her cooking, but those days I'd have done anything for just one bite.

I tried to spend time with her anyway, but eventually I decided to spend more time out of the house. Being around anybody just felt weird. At least if I wasn't there they wouldn't have to think about my weird non-mouth situation.

I ended up going on long walks through the woods. I'd leave a note saying I was sleeping over at a friend's house and then just start walking out past where the streets ended, into the trees. Sometimes on weekends I'd even keep walking into the night and the next morning before I got home. I didn't seem to run out of energy or get tired, probably as a side effect of not having to eat. I still slept, at least back then.

When I was able to get away from other people and just walk into the stillness of nature was really when I was happiest. At least there my silence wasn't strange. I'd come across deer and have conversations in subtle gestures and twigs snapped underfoot. Even after the sun went down, I didn't stop walking. I carried a flashlight with me at first but after a few weeks I didn't need it.

One weekend, I decided to walk to the next town over just to see if I could. I spent all night walking through the dark forest, avoiding the trails and roads. As the sun was coming up I made it to the edge of town, and walked down the empty roads as the town started to wake up. I wondered what I could do now that I was here. The few times I had been to this town had been with my mom, when we had stopped at a small local coffee shop.

I made it all the way to the door before I thought about what I was doing. I no longer had a way of reliving those memories, not even of relating to another person about it. I just stood there looking in through the glass for a few moments and left.

I didn’t go back home after that.  I just walked off into the forest again, away from the lights and noise of the city and into the accepting stillness of the woods. Free from fatigue or direction, I walked between the trees like a shadow. My body changed further as if to approve my decision to flee. It was subtle at first, my legs grew longer to let me step over logs and streams, while the rest of my body became better at seeing and moving at night. I haven’t looked in a mirror in a while, but the last time I came across a hiker they turned and fled.

It’s quiet where I am now. I go down to the edges sometimes, the places where the woods and towns tentatively touch. I can’t go back over that border. It’s not a world I know anymore. But here in the safe still solitude of the trees I can embrace what was always within me. Maybe that’s worth not going back.

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