content warning: self harm, body image, suicide
Days before my seventeenth birthday, I tried to kill myself. I couldn’t help it; I was just too heavy. My center of gravity was dragging me down to the bottom of a concrete stairwell, and I was aching for the release that would come with the shattering of my bones. He talked me out of it, though. Precious baby, pretty baby, sweet girl, stay here with me. He convinced me he loved me long enough to stay alive. They put me in the hospital the next day.
I stared at my reflection in the rearview mirror of my mother’s hoarder car. Jagged cheekbones, big-blank-waterlogged eyes, bruised circles dented underneath like warpaint. I didn’t sleep last night, too busy composing my own elegy in my head. I was screaming in bed, blowing my brains out through my nose. Couldn’t stay still, I was rolling and sliding across the mattress made wet with my tears. Stretched out, skin pulled taught like taffy. I wasn’t soft anymore; I was mushy. Half my head shaved; prison-style, prison inmate, pharmacy numbers like teardrop tattoos on my blotched skin. I wondered how long he’d known I was falling apart.
The notebook I carried between my legs was deforming. Poetry for him, an ode to us, homage to his rosacea. Shitty metaphors. Scribbled portraits. Eyes are bulging, can’t see straight anymore.
My white flesh melted across hot carseat like glue– cottage cheese thighs like my mama. I was stuck. Couldn’t get out. My mother pulled and pulled me until her blue veins burst, but I wouldn’t get out. I wanted to stay forever, pretend I was perfect. Clutched a little yellow puppy, soft like velvet, between my bruised elbows. I wouldn’t let them put me to sleep. The doctor-man came down and used his metal fingers to pry me from the car, but parts stuck to my full moon behind. I was dragging my mother’s receipts, gum wrappers, tampon strings, and dry-frozen french fries down the hospital hallways.
Hot, sweat like sticky Alabama rain, and heavy unwashed hair. Everything around me was thick and slow, time dragging on at half speed in the emergency room. I watched the clock do dances above the bald spots in my hair. Stroked my own arms, crisscross cuts in all the places he used to hold me. I don’t love him. I’m not here because of him. I hate him. I don’t care about him. But who did you call, when your organs were screaming to be splattered on the pavement? He didn’t put me here.
They cut my breasts off first. Squishy flatbread mounds, slapping against my convex stomach. Not ladylike. Too big. They folded them away in the closet of my tiny blue room. Top shelf. No touching. They only left the stretchmarks on my skin.
Bed nailed down. Table nailed down. Chair too heavy to move. The toilet doesn’t flush unless you stand a certain way. Your grandmother, mama tells me, once tried to drown herself in a toilet. No showers or alcoholic shampoo. She left me alone in the paper sheets, syrupskin too tight to glide on my new bed. The soft wrinkled women came in and out, leaving with a vial of my blood or a cup of my pee. The big-smiling, white-teeth-laughing one took a Polaroid of me against the concrete walls, giant paper scrubs hanging naked off my shoulders. I wasn’t sure if I should smile or not.
An army of eyes watched me stumble down the hall. Tight-knit ball of healing scars– they were scared of me. Hi. No words, too pink. It was dark in there; they couldn’t tell my eczema from my tearstains.
Why are you here?
I tried to jump off of a stairwell.
Oh. I took pills.
Too heavy in there, smiles too fragile. I didn’t know how these people could love me, or listen to me laugh. I was there to die. Every single one of us. We were there because we wanted to die.
My cousin died in this hospital, four floors up. I was there, watching her tired brain shut down and give up. She was tiny and soft, skin like snowbunnies. At the end, though, her eyes were tightened with scabs and her cheeks swelled over her perched pink lips. Bald, translucent chemotherapy scalp. She coughed and screamed and all I could do was cry. She was dying, and I was jealous. Later, my little sister would call me with cracked rage: How dare you want to die? All Emma wanted was to live.
He told me that he couldn’t stand to be around me. Four dates in the past month, and I cried during three of them. I’m not crying because of you. I’m just sad. I promise I love you. I love you, and you make me happy. Then why are you crying? It’s just so big in there. It’s heavy, and I’m sad. I want to tear it all out. He couldn’t do it anymore, couldn’t listen to me shriek in the night. He had found a new manic pixie, someone with thin bones and bound breasts. A someone who was sad through poetry and song lyrics, 3am text messages– not desperate sobbing in his car on Sunday nights or screaming between classes when his touch got too heavy. He found someone who was beautiful and romantic, sad in all the right ways. I wanted to rip his skin from his face– stupid pink potbellied face. I wanted him to kill me.
(I told my therapist, I’m through romanticizing anyone but myself.)
You’re here because of a boy? He was the cells in the backside of my brain. He was my aesthetic– faded jeans and strong cologne, big sweaters and dried flowers in my hair. He was the music I didn’t really like, but wanted to listen to anyway. He was tattoos I was too afraid to get, and beautiful sloppy sex that I never really enjoyed. He made me his, and when he was gone I was nobody. You see, he cornered me in his car and slid my dress off, and came at me fast and hard and red. He whispered in my ear with his hand around my throat. My girl, my girl, be my perfect girl. He wanted flat breasts and thick-rimmed glasses, prim red lipstick, a galaxy between my thighs. I wanted him, and I hated him. He made me feel like I was crazy, and he made me want to be fixed.
So he was abusive?
No. He loved me. He said he worshipped me. He never hurt me, or forced me to do anything I didn’t want to. Honestly, I pressured him into a lot. We wanted different things, and it was hard to make it work. I was too demanding.
So you were abusive?
ALL I WANTED WAS WHAT WAS BEST FOR HIM GODDAMMIT I WANTED TO LOVE HIM AND GIVE HIM HIS DREAMS HE WAS THE ONE WHO WAS ALWAYS DRAGGING ME AT HIS HEELS
I couldn’t tell the memories from the lies. I tried to sleep between my paper sheets, but a violet blue light kept beating against my lids. I pictured the two of them fucking in my favorite witchcraft shop. I pictured my legs wrapped around his waist. I threw up in the bathroom with no door. Make sense make sense couldn’t make it make sense.
Generalized anxiety disorder. Major depressive disorder. Obsessive compulsive disorder. Severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, type six. Aspergers syndrome, now classified as autistic spectrum syndrome. I was a checklist of everything that could go wrong with your neurochemicals– violent moodswings, soft mind oblivious to when I was shouting. My brain held onto everything. I was ticking off a counter every time he touched me. Daddy issues, dead cousin, eating disorder, guilt over my dead abused dog, and more problems I’m now sure I made up. I was a stupid, self-obsessed mess.
Him? He was just moody.
Shaking bean-plate tambourines in a hospital drum circle. When I sing with the other scarred children, I can feel my muscles relaxing. Things can be easy.
Tell me why you’re sad.
I don’t want to hurt anyone.
Sunday night, my sister drove me to Birmingham, swerving erratically between traffic, because I had left her velvet dress in the dryer for too long. I shouldn’t have to be driving you. You’re almost seventeen. You’re a burden, Annabeth. Mama lost at sea, drifting somewhere along with my countles prescription papers. Friends who used to keep my nails from digging scars into my wrists– too tired and worn out to care anymore. Crying every day, shrieking in the hallways, looking for anyone to feel guilty about leaving me. How dare you want to die? All Emma wanted was to live. I started stuffing food into my mouth so I could forget what his teeth felt like there. I started puking it all up in burning acid. I couldn’t take being so heavy.
He was my one phone call. Hey, baby. Emma’s dead. My dog is dead. Mama probably killed her. Nono, I’m fine. Haven’t heard from dad in a while. How’s the casual sex? Good, good. Hope your mom’s chemo is going well. Yeah, yeah. Love you– nono, can’t say that anymore. Haha. By the way, I’ve started carving your fingerprints into my skin with safety pins, and I think maybe I want to die? Hello? You there, baby?
I showed up at his feet heavy with ocean water. I threw it all at him. Every John-Green-wannabe love note, the downtown necklace, the bloodstain on my skirt, mp3s of his hollow voice singing about our future marriage, his banged up guitar, a heavy metal trashcan. I wanted to break his bones. I wanted to rip his dick off. I wanted to hurt him so he couldn’t hurt me first.
A tiny girl with red rivers running down her wrists gave me a box of crayons. Her eyes were Hershey kisses, and, for a moment, I wanted to be in love again. I dragged wax down the only paper they would give me. Lines and curves, pausing for breaths. This is easy. Angry boys and baby puppies gathered around me. Me next, draw me next. I made colors pool on the page, pronounced my jutting cheekbones and flyaway frizz like accent marks. Dark and heavy. I am here. I drew him ugly. I drew him dead. I wrote him a letter and told him goodbye.
I still look through the notebook sometimes. When I don’t feel real. When I don’t trust myself. 26 things I’m thankful for. Self portrait in violet (purple). Crayola landscape. And sometimes my mascara runs like his semen, and my friends’ carresses are like sunburns. Sometimes it’s so loud and fast in my head that the only way I can breathe is to type it out one word at a time. I am here. I am here. I am here.