Kaylee: The “What If?” Game
The SoCal Series
by Christine Dzidrums
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Creative Media
Cover Artist: Joseph Dzidrums
“I play the 'What If?' Game all the time. It's a cruel, vicious cycle.” In the follow-up to Cutters Don't Cry, meet free spirit Kaylee McMathews, the most popular girl in school. But when the teenager suffers a devastating loss, her sunny personality turns dark as she struggles with debilitating panic attacks and unresolved anger. Can Kaylee repair her broken spirit or will she forever remain a changed person?
It felt so comforting hearing your voice yesterday morning. Unfortunately, ten minutes after I called you, I experienced an aggressive panic at- tack that lasted all day. My head pounded until it ached. All the moisture in my mouth abandoned me. I became so light-headed that I expected to faint. The anxiety eventually passed, but it seemed to last forever.
“Now tell me something good that happened today,” you would say.
Okay, fair enough. In positive news, I began at- tending classes at Santa Monica Coast College this morning. Your daughter is now a college student!
Unfortunately, I couldn’t sleep last night be- cause I dreaded starting a new school. Scary questions plagued me for hours.
What if I don’t like my professors?
What if I chose the wrong classes?
What if I have a panic attack tomorrow?
What if I pass out in front of everyone?
So many “what if?” scenarios cluttered my mind that my brain wouldn’t stop spinning. My heart raced all night, too. Before I knew it, daylight burst into my room, and my alarm clock beeped impatiently.
Blaring music assaulted me when I started the car. Mom left the radio’s volume on high. I abruptly shut off the audio. Even the slightest noises un- nerve me right now.
While driving to school, I recalled a conversation we had ten years ago. I was starting second grade in a new school, in a new state. For the first time in my young life, I felt really rattled.
“I can’t do this,” I blurted out. “I’m so scared. Please don’t make me go to school. I’m going to hate it.”
“My Kaylee is scared?” you asked in mock horror. “That’s impossible. My brave warrior can defeat any fear.”
“Let me spend today with you at your work,” I begged. “I’ll be really quiet. I won’t make a single noise all day. You’ll never even know that I’m there.”
“You must face today’s challenge,” you replied. “I’m sorry, Kaylee, but you are going to school today.”
“What if I don’t make any new friends?” I asked anxiously. “What if the kids here are different?”
“Seattle children have ten fingers and ten toes, just like the kids in California,” you joked. “Except the fingers on Seattle children are wrinkled, on account of all the rain.”
I didn’t laugh at your corny humor. Instead, I scowled and ran my trembling hands over my freshly- ironed skirt. I had proudly designed my brand-new outfit all by myself. Mom had driven me to three different fabric stores until I found the ideal material for my first-day-of-school skirt. I spent hours painstakingly creating my masterpiece. When I surveyed my finished work, I initially felt over- joyed with the creation.
However, looking at it days later with fresh eyes, doubts had suddenly set in. The red material seemed too bold for an average fall day in the Northwest. What was I thinking? People would stare, and not in a good way. I’d committed an inexcusable fashion faux pas. I should have saved time and merely stamped “New Girl” on my forehead.
“You make friends so easily,” you assured me. “Everyone will love you, as usual.”
“We are done discussing this matter,” you stated firmly. “You will not whine or argue any further.”
I turned away in embarrassment, hiding the shameful tears that stung my eyes. As our red Toyota
Four Runner barreled toward my new school, I peered helplessly out the frosty window. Lifeless leaves littered the streets of Issaquah.
Suddenly, your warm, stable hand grabbed my icy fingers and squeezed them reassuringly. I knew instantly that the tiny gesture signaled an impending pep talk.
“Your mother and I took our decision to move to Washington quite seriously,” you said. “We debated it very carefully. In the end, we would not have moved here if we did not believe that you would be happy. We know that you will rise to the challenge of a new start. You are the strongest, most courageous person I have ever known. We believe in you. You can do this.”
Your unwavering belief filled me with pride and confidence. When we pulled up to Grand Ridge Elementary, I had already vowed to exceed your lofty expectations.
Except, I didn’t have the same epiphany this morning. Ten years later, the circumstances are drastically different. I haven’t traveled nearly 1,100 miles for a better future. I ran away because I was a coward who allowed my fears to chase me from my home, my friends and you.
When I stepped onto campus this morning, terror accompanied me. Every muscle urged me to run in the opposite direction. I kept swallowing over and over again. My high anxiety kicked into overdrive. Adrenalin spun violently out of control.
Horrific images from the past year came roaring back. I tried to flush the scenes from my mind but failed miserably. When I stopped to catch my breath, I began hyperventilating instead.
“No,” I pleaded silently. “Please don’t let me pass out…not here, not in front of everyone.”
My body disobeyed my pleas, though. I let out an audible cry as my knees collapsed and my head struck the hard pavement.
I let you down, Dad. I failed you in so many ways. Please forgive me.
Christine Dzidrums holds a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts from California State University, Fullerton. She has written biographies on many inspiring women: Joannie Rochette, Yuna Kim, Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, The Fierce Five, Gabby Douglas, Sutton Foster, Kelly Clarkson, Idina Menzel and Missy Franklin. Christine’s first novel, Cutters Don’t Cry, won a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award. She also wrote the tween book Fair Youth and the beginning reader books Future Presidents Club and the Princess Dessabelle series. Ms. Dzidrums lives in Southern California with her husband, three children and two dogs.