I looked up from my summer homework to see my mother looking back at me, her hands held out in front of herself as she offered me three empty pop boxes to throw away. Her pale blue eyes were gentle, and they matched the softness of her voice. She was trying to make herself seem as non-threatening as possible because she knew exactly how baleful the task she just gave me was.

I gave a quick, negative shake of my head, the skin on my neck burning as it rubbed against its twine restraints. Was anyone else starting to get hot and clammy in here? The kitchen window was open, yet despite the cool August breeze making its way throughout the room, I felt beads of sweat forming across my forehead.

"Gabriel, please." Her sad, tired voice matched the sorrowful, exhausted look in her eyes.

"You know that Dr. Andrews thinks it's a good idea for you to do things yourself, to practice going outside a little bit each day," she continued. "She says it'll help you regain some of your autonomy, and ultimately allow you to move on from the past."

I forced myself to exhale the air I had been holding within my lungs--forced myself to remember how to breathe through the anxiety, the panic, the adrenaline searing at my veins, screaming at me to fight or flight. Preferably the latter.

"...Mom. I...I already went outside today. In the morning, I watered the flowers in the backyard for you. Remember?"

She frowned. "You were barely out there for more than 5 minutes--and you only watered two pots. You skipped the whole garden."

"...But still, I did what I was supposed to do. I went outside."

"You're not pushing yourself to make more progress, Gabriel. You're going back to school in less than a month--Dr. Andrews said that it's important for you to feel comfortable enough outside the safety of your home in order to attend high school everyday. You know this."

School, I thought, chewing on the inside of my cheek to distract myself from the harsh anxiety that had begun to twist itself into tiny little knots within my stomach--knots so small, so numerous, they'd be impossible to undo.

I had been attending online school for the past three years. I liked it--I never had to leave my bedroom, much less my own house. That was how I was able to catch up on five years of missed schooling in a little over a year. I know, it sounds impossible--but I did it. I was told by a number of doctors and psychologists that performing well in school was a coping mechanism I had developed to protect myself from trauma. By focusing solely on learning all the required subjects like math, science, history and english, and ignoring all other aspects of life such as socializing, partaking in hobbies, practicing good hygiene and keeping a proper sleep schedule... I was able to catch up to my studies just in time.

I spent all of 8th grade catching up on all those 5 years of missed schooling from 3rd grade to 7th grade. Then, I spent freshman year completing both my 8th and 9th grade requirements. Then I spent sophomore year completing my 10th and 11th grade requirements. In the end, I was able to not only catch up to the same schooling schedule as everyone else my age, but I actually surpassed them--I was supposed to be in my junior year of high school, but instead I was entering my senior year.

The doctors and psychologists thought it was a miracle, the fact that my brain development hadn't been delayed despite all the trauma I had endured. But I accredited my abilities to the fact that I did what I had to do to avoid thinking about my past--and that meant putting everything I had, applying every ounce of energy and every thought in my head, into mundane schoolwork. It meant locking myself away in my bedroom for days, suppressing the horrors of my past with geometric proofs and Shakespearan plays.

In a sense, studying and school came relatively easy to me. I had always completed my assignments and received high marks on all my tests and quizzes. So, you can imagine my surprise when, three months ago, my parents told me that I was going to spend my senior year attending the local public high school.

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