“‘frank? frank!’ my entire life, summed up into two short words, written in sharpie against my white bedroom walls.”
my entire life, summed up into two short words, written in sharpie against my white bedroom walls.
i think that’s what they hate the most. the shortness, the stillness of it. the ink that dried too quickly and the words that were missing too many letters. the blood that rushed to my head and the gravity that pulled the marker away from me, onto the ground.
they’re angry with me, even if they pretend that they aren’t. maybe they wish i had more to say, more of an apology than just the words:
when i think about it now, i have more to say. i could’ve written pages and pages about it, explaining why i did what i did. but sometimes things are better when they’re simpler. sometimes i don’t need the whole world to try and analyze my mind.
the only reason why i make so many mistakes is so that the skeletons in my closet won’t be lonely. but i didn’t tell them this, won’t tell them this. instead, all i left behind was a measly i’m sorry. it’s better than nothing, i guess.
still, they hate me. i know that they do. but i can’t really blame them. i hate me, too.
i felt like a jellyfish that day, or a ghost. something that you can’t hold on to. i couldn’t even hold on to myself.
i spent two weeks in the hospital last month. four days were for me, in a stiff white bed with no company but the ceiling and the tubes and the nurse who poured me orange juice every morning. the remaining ten days were for my dad, sitting beside him in a plastic fold-up chair, listening to his even breathing as he climbed over the edge of life. he died surrounded by what he loved most, the woman he pretended that he could still call his wife and half-empty cans of beer.
he was a nice person, i think. he was just good at not being himself.
he’s in a better place now. and if you ever want to talk about it… if you ever need me, just know that i’m here. i’m here for you. we’re here for you. you’re not alone.
it’s going to be okay.
it probably is going to be okay, but i wish it could be more than that. i wish that things would be how they used to be. i wish that things could be summed up more than just “okay” and “i’m sorry.”
the last night as a patient in the hospital was the worst. i shared a room with a six-year-old girl. she talked a lot, mostly to herself but also to me. she told me about the pet rats in her bedroom who chewed holes into the sunlit yellow paint that coated the walls and died. some nights, she’d crawl over to my side of the room and just cry, but i never said anything when she did. that was the worst part about being upset — people just wouldn’t leave you alone. i couldn’t tell what she was thinking. maybe it’s better off that way.
monday, 1:37am. i wish that i had learned her name.
my dad died on a thursday at half past twelve with so much alcohol in his veins that they couldn’t tell how much of it was blood and how much of it was whiskey. i wasn’t there that night like i was all the other nights, like i was that monday thirty-seven minutes after one in the morning. i wasn’t there as he faded into nothing, silent as ever, no one noticing that he was truly gone until my mother turned over to give him a glass of water and didn’t even hear a whimper of protest in return.
he was half dead when they first found him on that day, face down in a puddle of unrecognizable fluids. they spent ten days trying to revive him, wasting their energy on a man who was too far gone to even care.
i don’t miss him, and yet i wish that he was still here. ryan doesn’t believe me. she thinks that i do miss him, somewhere inside, and maybe she’s right. but maybe she’s wrong.
ryan visited me twice when i was there. she brought a plant with her the first time, a small cactus she named albert that had allegedly lived for fifteen years, but no one really believed her about that, especially because after a few days of living on my windowsill, albert was no longer looking very healthy.
it’s fine. everything’s fine.
there is no air here. i can’t tell if it’s actually as stuffy as i think it is — maybe it’s just all the flowers lined up against the wall, little goodbyes and sorry’s but mostly just dying flowers of what they think is sympathy.
goodbyes to a dead man. how ironic. shouldn’t he be the one saying goodbye?
people are staring, but no one says anything. maybe they feel as out of place as i do. maybe they’re pretending just for me.
my mom leans over towards me. she doesn’t reach for my hand, but i feel her breath, warm and sticky on my neck as she says, “are you okay?”
the breath moves away like it had never been there at all. i don’t look up. i don’t look anywhere. time keeps moving, moving on and moving away and i am still, not still enough to not be noticed, but still enough to fade into the background.
there is no air here, and yet the atmosphere still smells of who he used to be and the dust that floats by me but not in the way i want it to. and everything is so quiet, their words tiptoeing around me, but it still feels too loud and i know this only because my head feels like it’s going to explode.
my mom hovers over my shoulder again, pressing fingers into my palms and words into my ears but really all it is is noise.
“are you okay?” she asks again. this time i turn to face her. “frank?”
“yeah.” something crawls up into my throat and pulls down at my flesh, down my neck and my spine and my wrists. it’s racing up and down my chest and down into my stomach, and i feel like i might throw up. everything is glued to me. the hair on my forehead, the shirt on my back, and the rows and rows of eyes watching me, waiting to see what the dead man’s son has to say about his decaying body.
i cough into my sleeve, the cloth warm over my chin. another layer of fear.
“frank, are you sick? you’re not getting sick, are you?” she reaches up to my face and presses a palm to my forehead, pulling away after a few moments of prodding. “you feel sweaty,” she says.
“it’s hot here,” i tell her. “it’s too hot here. and stuffy.”
“maybe you are getting sick,” my mother contemplates to herself, reaching up to my skin again. she looks worried. i didn’t mean to make her worried. “but you feel okay… ”
“because i am.”
her eyebrows curl up and form little creases on her face. “you’re pale,” she tells me anxiously. “maybe you should go lie down somewhere.” she digs into her pockets and pulls out a pack of napkins, our alternative to regular tissues when i was kid. i cough into halloween, into rainbow birthday cake, into christmas and pearly black new year’s balloons and sparkly fourth of july. i shove the crumpled up celebratory paper deep into the pocket of my jacket.
“is ryan here?” i ask, searching through the sea of people for a tiny head of green. “did you see her?”
“uh, no, i don’t think so.” she shoves the words out of her mouth quickly to reassure me, and then shoves me forward a bit along with them. i wobble towards the back of the room near the door and into a cheap plastic chair. “you should rest, until she gets here at least.”
“you’ll wake me up when — ”
“yes, yes, okay? i’ll wake you up when she’s here, now go.”
i go. what else can i do?
she wanders off to talk to who i assume are relatives. i recognize a few of them but most i don’t. even from here, i don’t need to hear what they are saying to know what they are telling her. one of them looks familiar, an old woman with bracelets that sing like cymbals as they tangle themselves around her wrists, and this one leans forward to enclose my mother in a hug.
she barely knows him. she barely knew him. why does she get to care? why can’t i?
they’re always asking, and i never tell.
“how are you feeling, frank? after what happened… ”
nothing. i feel nothing.
“i’m doing okay.”
i feel less than this woman with a face that looks a bit like everyone else’s, a woman who had probably had only spoken to my father once in her life. and still she brought flowers. and still she feels bad.
she feels bad.
i feel nauseous.
suddenly i can’t sit still anymore, and it’s like the bats that have been breeding in my stomach have blossomed and burst out and i can hear nothing and everything all at once.
i shift out of my seat and slip out the door where no flowers wilt, no chairs are stacked, and most importantly, no people are huddled. the air feels cool on my skin for a moment until another wave of heat crashes against me, and i realize that i’m shaking. i move back to steady myself against the building. it helps just as much as i expect it to, which is not at all. my head is still spinning.
no one is here. no one is watching. usually that would make me feel better, but right now it isn’t.
breathe, i tell myself. an ant crawls up against the back of my arm. breathe.
i’m going to throw up. i know i am. i know i am, breathe, breathe —
“frank?” a voice calls from behind me. i turn around for a moment to see a head of green and brown hair, scan all the way down to her feet with curly shoelaces, the ones that match mine.
and there it is. it all pours out of me, more bats and more stomach acid, and even though i knew it was coming, it still takes me by surprise.
“oh, frank.” she edges towards me slowly. no touching, no touching. she knows this already. of course ryan knows. “hey,” she says. “it’s alright.”
“not really.” i cough out more bats. then, i wipe my mouth with the napkins in my jacket pocket. the party poppers and confetti and balloons are ruined.
“can i… ?” ryan questions, and i nod, so she pulls my hand into hers and we tumble into the grass. there are ants crawling all over us, swarming us, or at least it feels like that. i ask her if she feels them, if she feels them all over us, suffocating us, and she shakes her head in return.
“nope,” ryan says. “no ants. just us. just you and me.”
“oh.” i take a deep breath, but it doesn’t seem to sink in. “good. that’s good. i like it better like that.”
i am floating on this twin sized mattress, on this bed of grass, and i am listening to the water. i am just an accessory. i am just a footnote to someone else’s happiness. maybe that’s all i’ve ever wanted. maybe that’s all i’ll ever get.
it is/was/will be. and that is enough.
“are you okay now?”
i think before i answer. “i, um, i guess so.” i’m breathing again. the bare minimum but it still counts. ryan tells me so. we listen to our breaths for a few more moments before she speaks again.
“do you want to go in?” she asks, pointing to the door behind us.
no. i don’t want to see him.
the hospital again. it smells the same and looks the same, but this time it feels different. there is no commotion outside in the hall, where my dad is still half alive. there is no nurse with orange juice, no roommates. nothing. it is quiet and for the first time, i wish that it wasn’t.
i look up at ceiling where there is no fan spinning like the one in my bedroom. instead, there is a spider, and the way its legs move reminds me of a fan a bit, or maybe everything reminds me of everything. maybe i just want to go home.
i wonder if anyone will come visit me this time. i wonder if anyone will bother at all to go down to the pharmacy across the street where they sell those pink balloons with the bears on them, where they used to sell holiday napkins except now they don’t anymore. i wonder if my mom is at home and if she’s thinking about me at all. if ryan’s thinking about me at all. i wish for a moment that she didn’t know about what happened, about what i did.
the door squeaks open, and something jumps up in my chest as a woman in a white coat pushes her way in, and i know that my eyes are traveling down to her shoes, looking for laces that curl but they aren’t there. this isn’t who i want it to be.