Remember when they thought I was dying? My white blood cell count was so low I was certain that I could fit each one into the palm of a hand and name them. I pictured my soon-to-be bare scalp reflecting against every light in every room it walked into and wondered if you could still love me like that. Of course you said yes, laughing, my hair wasn’t what drew you to me in the first place, it was my writing but that terrified me just as much because what if one day I just stopped and never started again? I figured that if I was ever happy enough, that I wouldn’t need to anymore. When I say happy I don’t mean it in a momentary sense but that raw kind of happiness that just about makes you forget every bad thing in this word. When I’m that kind of happy, the words that feel like they constantly need saying will find comfort in silence.
You barely knew me when I was sick over thanksgiving but yet you spoon fed me soup you made from scratch full of vegetables you cut except for onions because I hate the texture of them. The pads of your fingers pulsed the ache out of my lower back and my upper back and my ribcage until I finally fell asleep against your chest, rhythmic and warm. You tipped shots of orange dayquil through the base of my lips and kept your hand on my stomach at night because it was the only cure to quieting the waves. I often find myself with my own fist splayed open against my abdomen when needed in hopes it will know the same magic as yours.
I cursed you for pulling my cuticles out of my teeth and for trying to stop my bad habits that I’ve never had the audacity to try to stop myself. I said, I used to be worse you know and you asked what that meant. I said it’s funny because I hate having my blood drawn at the doctor, it’s the worst thing in the world I swear, but I could sit on the tile of my shower for 2 hours straight with a flood pouring from my veins and call it therapy. You were quiet for a moment and then said don’t you dare ever do that again and I said it’s been two years and also that it would ruin my tattoos and I’ve spent too much money on those to risk it.
But you knew what you were getting into because I make a hobby out of passing out my trauma to people for entertainment. That’s what art is isn’t it? When you asked if I wanted to talk about it I said yes but no but yes. I said sometimes at night I could still feel him kneeling on my chest and then my gut folds itself into one of those origami swans I learned how to make in the fifth grade. I said I’m embarrassed because I don’t want to seem weak but sometimes it takes me four hours to fall asleep or sometimes I just never do at all and that I’ll get out of bed four times just to relock the doors if I can’t remember whether or not I did already. You nodded softly but I think the actuality of it really only hit you after that time you came on my hair by accident and I started crying. I didn’t even know why I was but you did and you understood without me having to. Three days after we were laying in bed and I laughed and then cried again and then laugh-cried and you said shh, it’s alright, I’m sorry, and I said don’t be sorry, I’m okay, just realizing, just realizing.
You don’t understand mental illness and I don’t really either but I’ve learned that you don’t have to understand something to live with it so I figured you could too. The depression is bearable enough so there was never a reason to warrant it a deal breaker although I did get mad that time I told you I was feeling depressed and you told me to be more optimistic. You learned very quickly that it doesn’t work that way and I learned very quickly that you learn very quickly and I liked that.
I warned you about the mania but that means little to someone who has never seen it and by that I really mean someone who has lived it. It doesn’t matter if I told myself early on that I’d never let myself call you 87 times in a row because I did it more than once and more than once I’ve said I wouldn’t do it again but still have. More than once it has been three in the morning and my hands have been eager to pluck the follicles from my head and I’ve been recycling my tears and the snot is foaming above my upper lip and it’s such a sight to see. It’s not the thought of my fingers sheering my scalp or the mucus crawling down my face that is shocking, but the onset of the disaster I expect but can never quite prepare for. I said I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry and you said it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay and I wondered how you could ever last the instability long term. I ask myself the same question but choose to not answer because I don’t have the choice of leaving and still being alive and also how many times can we repeat this cycle until you stop picking up the phone?
How can such a pretty girl be so ugly? As a child my mother would ask me this when I was misbehaving. One time you said I was a mean person when we were fighting and I swear that pulled my stomach so far down my body I thought it would fall out of me entirely. But I’m not mean. I’m not mean, I’m not. I hold the door open for strangers and drive my roommate to get her car fixed when I have things to do and if I think someone looks pretty then I tell them they look pretty. I can be selfish and demanding and sometimes I avoid eye contact with homeless people asking for money but I’m not mean. When I told you I hated you that time, it wasn’t a meanness, just another way of me saying I hate who I’ve become and also a fraction of who I’ve always been and probably always will be. I hate that it started showing with you, I hate that I couldn’t keep it under control long enough for it to pass, I hate that regardless of how well I was doing in one way, a different part of me was always going to be sick in another. My mother asked why you were with me, how could you love such a crooked thing, and how long until you leave and then of course, what did I do to finally make you go?
You stopped asking me to read poems. I could feel the patience slipping from your grip as we held hands. You used to grasp onto me like a hurricane might arrive at any moment and sweep me up and away from you right then and there. But then it was spring and I had walking pneumonia and you were too busy to stop by that week so I took myself to Walgreens in search of aspirin and fainted in the candy aisle. You gave just one attempt to get me to stop biting my nails and then no more. When I asked if we could keep the light on while we slept, you said that you were tired and it was late and to just go to bed already. Our arguments ended with silence rather than sorrys. You let the phone ring longer before picking up. You didn’t answer after the 5th call. You didn’t answer.
I still use your toothbrush head you let me borrow because I have small teeth and it’s easier to get to each one individually. I know that you’re supposed to change them every couple of months but it reminds me of how we stood side by side in front of the mirror brushing in unison. I keep your box of Lucky Charms, too cloying and stale, in a safe place in my cabinet just in case you decide to come back for a bowl of it. Even though I hate the taste of them, now and then I’ll put a few marshmallows on my tongue and let them dissolve. There’s always a bad aftertaste. Your sweatshirt smells like my dog but I keep it on the right side of my bed in your absence. It’s a bigger bed for one person that I remember it being.
The hair on my head is intact and my blood cells are at normal levels for now but I am still writing. I’m not sure I’ll ever stop.