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A quarterly international literary journal

When Did It Start to Hurt

/ Fiction /

I lay with my head on the grain of the picnic table. I’m sure it’s cutting shallow lines into my face. I’m watching the ice melt in my cup. I’m watching little beads of water form on the outside of the cup. They sparkle in the sunlight. I reach up with my arm and use a finger to smear the water beads. They streak and start to pool, little beads becoming bigger beads. The big beads slide down the cup, getting bigger until they reach the bottom rim, where they slide onto the table and pool in the little canyons of splintered wood. I sigh, or groan, or murmur. I don’t know. I think of knocking over the coffee and watching it run, making a brief delicious waterfall when it overflows onto the concrete, but I still might drink it, and wasting it would make Amelia mad. More mad.

​ “Are you going to drink that or just stare at it?” she asks.

​ I roll my head to face her, “What?”

​ She groans. I’m sure about that one. She flaps her arms, because she believes that hitting things to make loud noises is too violent, so she finds creative ways to make her point, particularly when that point involves anger. “I bought you that so you could drink it,” she says. “It was expensive!”

​ I didn’t ask to meet here, but I keep that to myself. “I will,” I say through my smushed cheek.

​ She shakes her head and says, “You’re pathetic,” then gets up and walks to the bathroom, leaving her purse with me because she trusts me, which I appreciate. I wonder if she left her purse here just to make me feel useful, but I’m overthinking things. I do that, but knowing clearly doesn’t make it stop.

​ When Amelia said, “you’re pathetic,” I thought, I already know, but that’s self-pity, and self-pity is bad.

​ I mean, it’s not “bad,” bad.

​ I try to sympathize with that kind of thing in others, but when it’s inside of me, I don’t get it. I don’t understand why it’s there, or what it’s supposed to do besides make me feel sad and not want to do anything. I try to pretend like I’m not feeling it, or thinking it, or thinking about it. I used to talk to my parents. The conversations went something like this:

​ Me: I’m sad, and I’m trying to do anything I can to distract myself from my feelings.

​ Parents: So what’s your plan to deal with that?

​ Me: I don’t know. I guess I want to stop feeling sad.

​ Parents: What happened?

​ Pause to think.

​ Me: Nothing.

​ Parents: Then why are you sad?

​ Pause to think.

​ Me: I don’t know.

​ Parents: Well, how sad are you?

​ Pause to think. I have sat in my room and cried for an hour almost every day for the past two weeks. I wash my face afterwards so nobody knows. I go for a walk and wear sunglasses and always remember to smile.

​ As far as I’m concerned, those sentences don’t exist. They don’t embarrass or scare me, but I am literally incapable of saying them out loud. I see them written and know what they mean, know that they reference situations basically true of my own history, but my mouth can’t form the sounds. I just say:

​ Me: Very. I am very sad.

​ Parents: What does that mean.

​ Pause to think.

​ Me: I don’t know.

​ Parents (sharing a glance): Well, why don’t you think about it?

​ And that was that.

* * *

I’m worried that I’m about to have the same conversation with Amelia, but then I remember I have a plan for that. She returns from the bathroom and stuffs a mirror in her pocket. “Well,” she asks, “how are you?”

​ I sit up and take a long sip from my drink before I answer. “I’m fine,” I say.

“No you’re not,” she answers. Damn.

​ “How do you know?” I ask. I ask in a tone that doesn’t quite agree with the premise of her question, but I’m not sure it gets across.

​ She rolls her eyes, “How do I know anything? I stalked you on social media.” She starts scrolling through her gigantic iPhone with one hand. “From what I can gather, you have been listening to… ‘Liability,’ ‘The Scientist,’ ‘I Miss You,’ and ‘drivers license’ on repeat for the past week. Those are sad songs, J.”

​ She puts her phone on the table, still under hand, but with the screen down, which means a lot for her. “I hate to imagine you in your room alone with your headphones crying all the time.”

​ She’s right. That is exactly what I’ve been doing, but what is she going to do about it?

​ “Everyone’s listening to ‘drivers license,’” I say. I don’t notice that I’m hunching forward again.

​ “It’s one of like four sad songs you’re listening to. That’s concerning.”

​ I think she’s reading too much into my music taste, but I don’t want to tell her that because (1) analyzing things too much is a key dynamic of our friendship, and (2) she is actually right, but I don’t want to tell her that. I say, “Um, ‘drivers license’ is a breakup song, so it’s only really sad if you’ve broken up with someone, and I haven’t even dated anyone, ever,” instead. Then I add, “Checkmate,” with a smirk, and I have a really annoying smirk because my face creases perfectly in line with my acne, so I hope that becomes the focus of the conversation. It doesn’t, but she does laugh.

“That’s not really a ‘checkmate’ situation,” she says, waving her hands in large circles to indicate that I am the situation.

I shrug and try to smile, and then I notice I’m slouching. I sit up straight, pushing my shoulders way back. I sigh. This is hard. I look up at the sun behind the clouds. I still have to squint, and I put up my hand to look at the light between my fingers. That used to make me happy. Now it just burns. Amelia is used to seeing me do this. I want to convince her that everything is fine. She’s not convinced.

“You look like a robot,” she says.

I say, “Beep bloop,” but my eyes are sagging and I want to lay down on the bench. I can’t tell if I’m smiling anymore.

“Come on, J,” Amelia says. She flips her phone back over, pokes around, and pushes it toward me. “Look at these. We’re worried.”

I start swiping through screenshots. “Should we invite Jeremiah tonight?” “Nah, he’s been a drag lately.” “What’s up with him?” “What happened to J?” “Why isn’t J talking to any of us?” “J used to be so much fun! Where did that go?” “He’s like a completely different person.” I shove the phone back at her. “Why are you showing me this?” I ask. I down the rest of my coffee, swallowing the cup in a few gulps. “This isn’t making me feel better.”

“I don’t know what else to do!” she says, waving her phone around, gripping the pop socket between two fingers like a plastic-tipped cigarette.

“So, what?” I say, knees pumping, feet pounding the ground. I try to push them down, but my hands end up bouncing on my knees. I look over my shoulder into the café. A handful of people mill around, talking and working on their laptops. The baristas look bored. One takes a drive-through order while the other leans on the register, holding her face in her hands while she looks at a guy in a beanie shaking his head wearing a large pair of purple Beats headphones pecking away at his keyboard. I turn the other way. Cars are rushing by and obscuring my view while I try to look into the broken-down flower store across the street. I have lived in this town for twenty-two years, and that building has never been anything other than an abandoned flower store. Someone once tried to turn it into a haunted-house for a couple weeks around Halloween, but nobody went, because it looked exactly the same and it hadn’t been creepy for a long time, just familiar. I pull at the hem of my shirt because the clouds have moved and now the sunlight clings to me too tightly. “You thought you’d fix everything by starting a group chat to roast me behind my back?”

She shakes her head, “It wasn’t my idea! We were just planning to go out for one night and we didn’t think you’d want to come.”

I lean over and spit on the ground, for effect, then say, “Those texts you showed me had nothing to do with bars or split checks, babe.”

She groans and faux-claws her face. “You’re impossible,” she says, “I’m just trying to tell you that something’s happening and we see it.” She’s not looking at me. She hasn’t been looking at me.

She’s looking at my coffee cup, reduced to a pile of ice and a shallow pool of brown sludge.

I snap to the cup and back at her, “What?” This is bad. I feel the back of my neck contract. My heart’s beating faster than my legs. I realize something. I grab my cup and brandish it. “How many shots of espresso did you put in this?”

She looked away, “I told you it was—” “Just answer the question,” I finish.

Her lip twitches. She’s thinking about what to say, and I’m about to say something unkind when she says, “Eight.”

I still do something unkind, if not unjustified. I crush the cup in my hand and throw it against the panel window. It barely splashes but the ice scatters around the patio in lots of little clinks. I can feel them melting. I scream, “God damn it, Amelia!” Then someone shoots a gun at us.

The last time I drank anything like that was the morning of Amelia’s birthday party. We were getting lunch with Kelly and Tommy. I stayed up late making Amelia’s present, so I ordered a monster latté to wake me up. Amelia got there after me. I gave her her present right away. She golfclapped as she sat herself down across from me, peering into the small navy giftbag stuffed with pink tissue paper.

“What is it?” she asked, shaking it.

“Just open it and find out,” I answered. I was nervous. I wasn’t sure she’d like it.

She overturned the bag and a palm-sized tan notebook pushed out the pink tissue fluff before plonking on the lacquer protecting the dark chestnut wood. The cover was paper-bag brown, hardback. I had wrapped a thin, pale-pink ribbon around the front cover and stuffed the ends behind the inner liner. On the back, I flattened a small, pale-blue-braided cord and attached it using the same method. Back on the front, I superglued pop art letters spelling “Julia.” Amelia once, I think as a joke, told me that she wished her name was Julia, so I granted her wish. The letters looked like I had cut them out of magazine pages, but really I drew them up in photoshop and ran them threw a laminator.

She arranged her face like an emoji and pressed the notebook to her chest. She said, “I loooooove it,” twisting from side to side as she squeezed.

“Thanks,” I said. We sat across from each other in the inside seats of the booth. Amelia sat facing the entrance. When the bell rang, Amelia looked up and slid to the booth’s outer seat. I wrinkled my brow, but then she smiled wide and said, “Kelly! Great to see you,” and I whipped around to see her walking toward us.

“Heeeyyy!” Kelly cheered as she took the space next to mine.

I pushed my back against the cushion and clasped my hands between my knees. I barely lifted my head to flash angry eyes at Amelia, who mouthed an arrogant “Y-O-U-R-E-W-E-L-C-O-M-E” while Kelly rooted around her purse.

“Oh, wow!” Kelly said when she caught sight of Amelia’s present. She reached for it, “May I?”

Amelia pushed it forward, “Absolutely! Isn’t it awesome?”

Kelly opened it and flipped through the pages, then closed it and turned it over a few times. “It’s great, but why does it say ‘Julia’?”

Amelia rolled her head, laughing, “I made a joke once, once, about wishing I had the name ‘Julia,’ and dear old Jeremiah remembered it. Can you believe that?”

“Oh, absolutely!” Kelly replied, then she started poking my head, “I literally do not know how you manage to fit everything in there.”

I swatted her away. “Stop it!”

“Humphf, ok,” she said, then she started pushing her finger into the soft parts of my cheek.

I jerked my head to the side and nibbled the tip of her finger.

She pulled away, then cautiously attempted to poke me again while I snapped my mouth at her.

Amelia puffed, “God! Get a room, you two.”

What the hell, Amelia!? I lay down and knocked my head against the table.

Kelly patted my upper back, “Don’t worry, dear. Everybody knows we’re just friends and we’re just teasing each other.”

No, please don’t say that. “Yeah,” I mumble.

“Oh, Tommy!”

“Thank God.”

And there was Tommy, long black hair slicked over his skin fade down to his idiotic, perfect jaw-line. Tommy’s a nice guy, but I also hate his immaculate guts, very specifically. I hate his liver and his spleen and his kidneys and his digestive track. I bet he bleaches his anus in case some girl wants to peg him because he’s such a feminist. The coffee’s already kicking in.

Here’s a quick note about what I mean by caffeine “kicking in.” For most people, that means they become more energetic, more focused, more alert, and maybe a bit more jittery, depending on how much caffeine they took. That is not how caffeine works for me. When I drink coffee, it hits me like goddamn Ritalin. I mean, probably. Maybe. I don’t really know how Ritalin works. Anyway, my thoughts start to outpace any hope of moderation. I don’t just get jumpy. I lose my impulse control. I start to connect anything and everything and I feel like a freaking genius. I find everything either hilarious or infuriating. I feel incapable of having a bad idea. I feel like I’ll never die.

When I get like this, people notice. Maybe they get annoyed, but mostly they laugh and bounce along to my energy. The world seems brighter, more exciting to everyone around me. I become the drunkest girl at the party without a single drop of vodka-and-sprite. They call me a maniac. As a complement.

Caffeine triggers these episodes most consistently, but other things do as well, like undereating, or sleep deprivation.

We finished our lunch (Tommy got all the attention while he talked about his band, and I fumed silently, stuttering my right leg on the floor like a machine gun) and drifted over to Amelia’s place. It was a blistering summer day, especially so in the midafternoon. We hung inside, but her pool looked so blue and inviting. “I’m going swimming,” I announced.

“Have fun. I’m staying inside where it’s nice,” Tommy replied, glued to his phone. Jesus Christ, I can’t stand Tommy.

I left my swimsuit in my car, so I started taking off my clothes, stripping down to my boxers.

“Um, what do you think you’re doing?” Tommy asked, when he finally bothered to look at me.

Wow, are you deaf, Mr. Perfect? “I’m going swimming,” I repeated, but slightly louder because apparently he’s hard of hearing. Then I burst through the door and out to the deck, hopping the fence onto the concrete, sprinting forward until I jumped and turned, flipping off the world with both hands as I splashed into the water.

Kelly greeted me with thunderous applause after I broke the surface. “Hell yes!” I shouted, and she smiled.

I am a god.

I didn’t eat lunch, just played with some chips. I hadn’t eaten anything all day.

Everything tasted like cardboard and cowardice.

I lay out on a pool chair to air dry before I put my clothes back on. Kelly lay a few feet away under an umbrella wearing the kind of swimsuit that girls wear that covers your whole torso, because modest is hottest, but actually because men are trash and saddle women with an unfair need to protect themselves. The sun is my friend. He’s taking care of me and nothing can possibly go wrong.

“Tommy thinks you’re a lunatic,” Kelly said.

Tommy blows. I said, “Tommy blows.”

She leaned forward and looked at me askance. I looked at her from the corner of my eye, but I was wearing sunglasses so I don’t think she could tell.

“Aren’t you friends with Tommy?” she asked.

“I am,” I said, which isn’t a lie. I didn’t dislike Tommy. I just hated him. “Which is why I can say that.”

“Oh,” Kelly said, and then she flipped her book back up. I think she was reading Faulkner. God, she’s so smart.

Her Yeti cup rested in the shade on the ground beside her, covered with stickers that said “Black and Boujee” and “Harris-Biden” [sic] and “Bartlet-Hoynes ’98.”

“Well, I’m dry, so I’m going to go put my clothes back on,” I said. Kelly mumbled “mkrm” and flipped another page.

I went back inside to slip my shorts back on and started bouncing around Amelia’s living room.

“Someone’s excited,” Amelia said, stepping out of her room in a flowy yellow sundress.

“COME DANCE WITH ME,” I shout. Then I grab her and start spinning her around the room.

“Alexa,” Amelia says, “play ‘Shut Up and Dance’ by Walk the Moon!”

So, I wheel her around, catching rainbows off every reflective surface, radiating raw energy, intoxicating the whole world, invulnerable to the punishing pain of the room’s sharp corners but, thank God, I got lucky and didn’t crack Amelia’s skull when I whirled her around and threw her onto the couch, where she collapsed, giggling.

Tommy chuckled from the breakfast nook.

I kept dancing. I started my body rolls. I reached my hand out to Tommy and waved him over, still moving my hips. “Come on, man!”

He shrugged, “What the hell.”

​ He walked over and started to dance in front of me.

​ I scoffed, “Please,” then I stepped up and grabbed him around the small of his back. I pulled his hips to mine and started slow dancing with him. “ALEXA!” I screeched, “PLAY ‘THINKING OUT LOUD.’” Amelia expressed her approval by cheering furiously.

Tommy’s face turned blood red and he pushed me away, “Dude, why?”

I dropped to the floor and rolled around, howling. “Calm down,” I choked out between laughing fits, “it’s just a joke.”

He chuckled, genuinely enough, I think. “Okay, yeah. It was pretty funny.”

“Tommy!” Amelia said, reaching out with both arms for his company. “Come sit with me and I’ll help you relax.”

“Well…” Tommy said.

I kept laughing.

Then I noticed the bottles of gin on the table. It was a little after two. The party started at seven. By the time anyone else arrived, I’d already had five shots and two generous glasses of wine. I’d Venmo’d Amelia more than my fair share earlier in the day. I didn’t feel guilty. I felt great. I was Adonis, or Apollo, or Dionysius. I was an object of pagan worship. I was, simply, incredible.

The rest of the night is sort of a blur. We joked and laughed. I played beer pong, lost, and got even more hammered in the process. Every joked I made crushed. Every move I made worked. Yeah, Kelly and I made out a bit by the pool while I was topless (wearing actual swim trunks, this time), but it doesn’t really matter. I had thrown my clothes into the cabana while I started to change in front of everyone, until my friend (everyone was my friend that night) Erica yelled at me to get a room, and I was still lucid enough to listen, at least, but I left most of my clothes where I had taken them off, so after Kelly and I locked lips, hot and sticky for all the right reasons and a few of the wrong ones (but we couldn’t notice because it all felt the same, and we were dripping with chlorine anyway) I rolled off the cushions and grabbed my shorts. I leapt onto the poolside bar and doused them with Tito’s. Then I set them on fire. I still don’t know where I got the lighter. I’ve asked so many people about that night. Nobody knows where I got the lighter. I can only assume at this point that I pulled it out of my own drunken ass. That certainly sounds like something I’d do when I’m manic. Of course it explodes in my hand, singing the flesh I can barely feel, let alone smell. For whatever reason, I can’t let go. So, I scramble down and run screaming into the pool. Someone drags me out. I roll over, puke, and then consciousness slips—runs away from me. I hear Amelia yell either “Hell yeah!” or “What the hell?” She later told me it was both. She yelled both, really quickly. She told me it was the best birthday party she ever had. Everyone loved it. It’s their favorite story. The party’s a legend. Everything turned out okay.

Someone called an ambulance. I was admitted to a hospital with severe alcohol poisoning.

I woke up with an IV in my arm to the sound of my parents arguing.

“He’s acting out,” my mother said.

“It’s what teenage boys do,” my father replied, rubbing her on the shoulder as she stood with her head in her hands. I don’t think she was crying, though. Just overburdened. “It doesn’t mean he hates us or that he’s rebelling against us.”

“How do you know?” she moaned through her skin.

“Because he’s our son, and we know him, and he wouldn’t do that,” he said, moving her to a chair, ready to lift her off the ground if she fell. I looked around the room for some food. I saw a cold chicken pot pie with a crusty salad on a red cafeteria tray, ignored on the counter across the room. I wanted to reach for it, but I didn’t want to move. I wasn’t ready for anyone to see me awake.

“This is how boys learn,” he said, “they make mistakes. I’m not ready to start worrying until we see a pattern of unhealthy behavior, and this isn’t it.”

“Okay,” she said, “you’re right.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “I’m still going to scare the living daylight out of him, but we can wait for that until he’s out of the hospital.”

She nodded, “I make no promises about my own patience.”

I moved my arm and groaned.

My parents turned to me and smiled.

We went home late that evening. The doctor lectured me. My mother cried. My father yelled, but other than that everything did turn out all right. At no point did anybody mention my brain chemistry, least of all me, but we didn’t have to wait long to figure out the root of the problem.

For days, I woke up groggy, and antsy. I would down a liter of water then go for a run in my underwear, first thing, passing my younger sister, Dejah, getting ready for school. She would just roll her eyes, flick her hair, click her tongue and look at me, like, boys. I’d run for miles in circles, then come home and take a two-minute cold shower, then jump around my room screaming my favorite KennyHoopla songs. “They say ‘you clean up nice./ You look like a dead man, like a dead man.’ She say ‘you dress up nice.’/ I feel like a dead man./ A dead man.” My parents worked during the day, so I had the house to myself. I had a week off from my job at the library because of the whole hospitalization thing. My boss just knew I was in the hospital. I didn’t say why and she didn’t ask. I called Kelly fifty-four times. That’s not an exaggeration. She didn’t answer. I managed to talk to Amelia once, who filled the gaps in my memory, relating the story with peak enthusiasm. She said “thank you” at the end. I received several texts, mostly from loose acquaintances, calling me a “legend” and a “freak” and “crazy,” followed by congratulations and laughing emojis. “you’re sick bro.” I scrolled through Instagram and watched the likes cascade on my tagged photos. Of course, somebody got a picture of me on the bar with the burning shorts in my hand. More than 12,000 people liked it. I gained 2,000 followers over the course of three days. I got so excited that I ripped my shirt off in my room, biblical-style rent my garments.

High as I’d ever been on nothing but the morning air, I woke up one day and my run wasn’t enough. KennyHoopla wasn’t enough. I wasn’t getting enough likes. I wasn’t gaining enough followers. All of my friends were taking too damn long to text me back. I punched a hole through my door. I started scratching my desk. I shut down. I was pure action. I walked into the bathroom and swung open the cabinet. I grabbed a bottle and popped the cap. I swallowed thirty Tylenol tablets, threw the bottle against the window, and screamed. This might seem impossible to believe, but I wasn’t suicidal. Not then. I just didn’t know what to do.

​ I did it because I thought it would be funny.

​ My younger sister found me collapsed in a pool of vomit in my room. She called 911, maybe saved my life. This time, after I reached stable condition in the ER, I was moved to a psych ward. That’s where I got my diagnosis.

My parents argued with the hospital staff for a while, but I believed my doctor. It made sense to me. It was relieving, actually, to realize that the things I felt weren’t normal, because it meant there was something I could do about it, like take medicine. And not drink too much coffee. I’m not a fundamentally unstable person, psychologically (I think). My problem is chemical (I hope). I don’t need trigger warnings for suicidal or depressing content. I need trigger warnings for caffeine, and adrenaline, but even that isn’t foolproof. My cup probably said eight shots or something on it. I just hadn’t bothered to read it.

Amelia didn’t know that I went to a psychiatric hospital, didn’t know the ins-and-outs of my condition, but she did know that I wasn’t drinking coffee anymore because my doctor told me not to. She asked if it would make my heart explode. I said no. It would just make me too hyper, but that was what she wanted. She did not get quite the reaction she expected.

I leap over the table and bring Amelia to the ground. She screams. I cover her with my body and look around. “Get off me!” she shrieks. In the street, I see an old Chevy peeling away, leaving a plume of smoke in its wake. Oh, God. “Sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry.” I rush back, and we sit on the ground, watching each other, watching each other watching each other, resting on the palms of our hands at the end of our outstretched arms, breathing hard.

Some people rush out, phones in hand, but Amelia calms them down. “I’m okay, don’t worry, no problem here, just a little misunderstanding!”

“I-I thou-ght” I force the pooling saliva down my throat, “there was a g-gun,” I stammer.

“But there’s not!” Amelia adds, waving her hands to shoo them away. “Seriously, we’re fine. I’m just going to take care of my friend now.”

She crawls over to me. I bring my knees to my chest and hug them tight, shaking violently.

She snuggles next to me, puts her head on my shoulder.

I shrug it off and she clucks.

“Okay, a-hole,” she says. “You’re the one who tackled me and could have given me a concussion.”

I can’t tell if she’s joking, so I speak low, “Sorry.”

She sighs, “I shouldn’t have made your chai octuple dirty without telling you, but I didn’t know what to do.” She looks ahead at the flower shop with me. “You’ve been completely shut down, the exact opposite of the friend I’m used to.” She puts her hand on my knee, and I don’t shove it away. “It’s scary! You’re not acting like yourself and it sucks. I thought making you a little hyper might snap you out of it, maybe help you get things off the ground with Kelly again—”

“Kelly hates me,” I interject.

Amelia shakes her head and takes another deep breath. “Kelly doesn’t hate you. She’s just confused and worried like the rest of us.” She elbows me, “She’s more worried than most of us. She won’t stop talking about you, it’s actually pretty damn annoying.”

I laugh despite myself. It hurts my stomach, but I don’t care. It’s worth it.

“Okay, all right, we’re getting somewhere,” she says.

I mumble. She leans in. “What?”

I lift my head an inch. “I have bipolar disorder.”

She doesn’t say anything. Then she does. “Jesus.”

“Caffeine triggers my mania, sometimes quickly, sometimes not. It makes me paranoid and impulsive.” I can’t stop. I start crying, and Amelia leans in more. “Amelia, I lick walls. I beat myself with belts. I run until I can’t feel my legs. I call everyone on my contact list.”

“Oh,” she flinches in recognition.

“Yeah,” I nod, squeezing my eyes, “I stop sleeping. That’s why I sometimes call you at 3 a.m.”

“Damn, I just thought you were…”


“I was going to say quirky.”

“You should have said crazy.”

“You’re not crazy.”

“I am literally a maniac.”

“Not always,” she says, rubbing my back, “sometimes you’re a depressed banana slug.”

I laugh again. I feel sore all over. I’m writhing.

My head is a formula one racetrack.

“I, um, shouldn’t drive right now. Can you take me home?” I ask.

“Oh, yeah. It’s the least I could do after driving you insane.”

We stand up, slowly, together. “You didn’t know,” I said, helping her balance.

“I knew it was a bad idea. That should have been enough. I’m

sorry. No jokes, I’m really, very sorry.”

“It’s not your fault—”

“Just accept my apology!”

“Okay, yes. I forgive you.”

We get in the car and she flips the ignition. “Don’t worry,” she says, “you’re going to get better.” She keeps talking about Kelly and Tommy and the movies she’s watching and whatever she’s seen on TikTok, but I’m not listening. I’m thinking. I’m wondering if I should tell her that this is better. This is a good day. This is about as good as it gets. I wonder if this is as good as I will ever get, but I can’t think like that. I can’t trust anything I think. My therapist practically told me to imagine I’m in the Matrix and nothing I think is real is real. That’s how it felt, at least. My parents keep my medicine locked in their bathroom. We removed all the alcohol from our house. I shower with the door open. The sky is melting my skin through the windshield.

This is about as good as it gets.

* * *

Sometimes I feel the world exploding in my hands. Sometimes I feel the world exploded into jagged pieces on the floor. Sometimes I don’t feel like I live in the world. Sometimes I don’t feel anything at all. No matter how I’m feeling, I try to take things one at a time, especially my thoughts.

The more I learn about how dangerous and deadly and occasionally wonderful this disease is, the more content I am with waking up every morning and saying to myself in the mirror,

“It hasn’t killed you yet.

And it’s not going to kill you today.”

And every day, I’m trying to teach myself,

All of myself,

That another day is truly

Good enough.

​* * *

I punched out a window when I got home with Amelia. I had to go to urgent care, but they gave me a dozen stitches and I’m fine now. I’m still here.

​ I’m still here. I’m still here.

​ Despite everything, or because of it,

​ I’m still here.


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