“Afterward I wait. Wait for the guilt that always comes crashing. Big waves that suffocate. Choke me to tears.
And like always, I cry on the way home. And it overflows my car. I am teetering on the top of a mountain.
Guilty of a crime. Very very guilty.”
Curtains hang, great slabs of grey cement over crystal portals. My mind is blank, a sheet of nothingness. I want to keep it this way.
My phone dings, breaking through my imaginary walls. Like thin layers of glass. They don’t do a very good job.
Do u wnt to get something to eat? : )
Daren. Boyfriend. Friend. Acquaintance. Whatever. I don’t know who he is anymore.
I tug at the blue ribbon strung around my neck. It digs. Cutting, holding Mama’s wedding band. My wedding band — now at least.
No I think, but my fingers don’t listen. They never do.
Sure! I type.
I’m not sure of anything, nothing I do has any exclamation points anymore. Those had faded away long, long ago.
I get up anyway, like I always do. My room is a mess, but I don’t clean it. I just shut the door behind me — hoping it will all be good when I come back.
Of course my room can’t be fooled. It is a very smart room or I am just a very stupid person.
My mind begins going round and round. It often does this. Goes around and around and around, like one of those rides at the amusement park. I don’t go to those anymore. I did when I was younger — but not now. Too much food. Just too much of everything these days.
The floorboards creak loudly as I pass our outdated kitchen. “Ours” as in mine and dad’s. If I could call him dad anymore. He is so lost now, wading his way through the swamps of his memories.
I hold my head straight and my eyes cast forward. I refuse to look at the refrigerator. The whole kitchen is my personal monster. The cupboards. Everything. My very own personal black hole.
I pass the doorway safely and I let out the breath I always hold. My body rarely listens to my brain, but today I am safe. For once.
I grab four pieces of gum, stuff them into my mouth as if they are all that matters in the world. And they kind of are. For me at least.
Chew. Chew. Chew.
I am hungry.
No you’re not.
Yes I am.
My brain does this a lot. I never listen to the behaved side of me. Never. That bad little voice worms it way. Corrupting.
My monster is always the same, I can never stop it. I am ashamed and disgusted. Always.
I’ve gotten used to it.
Life is just a bunch of steps.
Try to muffle the angry hunger growing in the pit of your stomach,
Go to school.
Eat something. Just try.
Run. Like your life depends on it.
Try to sleep. It never comes.
Life is just a procedure you have to complete. That is all.
I pull into the tiny parking lot of Samson’s. A badly renovated diner, with a badly paved parking lot. Everything about this shitty little town is bad.
Even the people who live in it, like me.
I get out and don’t see. That great old-fashioned diner. Not like other people. I can never see things the way they are. The way they are supposed to be.
Everything is just so distorted. Even the cracked up pavement is frowning at me. At my bloated legs.
My life is just so cracked up.
You are fat and ugly. No one cares. Fatfatfatfatuglyuglyugly. No one cares about you.
There I go again.
Around and around and around.
I spot Daren. He’s standing there trying to look for me. I want to turn around and not go to that cursed diner.
Full of food. Food that has calories. That make you fat.
But I walk and slap a *** smile on my *** face. At least I try, and it works. Because Daren believes me. Like always.
“Vivian!” Daren is waving at me. Always so happy. We are polar opposites.
“Hi,” I say.
We stand there awkwardly until he gives me a hug. One of those I want us to be more type of hugs. I ignore it.
“Let’s go in.” He says. And we do.
We are seated at a small booth tucked in a corner. I play with my napkin. Crumpling and uncrumpling. A little white ball.
Daren orders a burger. Hungryhungryhungryhungry.
“What are you going to get?” He looks over at me.
I pretend to glance at the menu. “I’ll have some tea.”
There’s silence after that. Daren starts tapping his finger. “I thought you were hungry?”
The little voice inside my head leaps at the opportunity. Yes Yes Yes!
“I’m not.” I smile apologetically. “Just ate.”
And the silence continues.
Our food comes — well his food does. I try not to look as I sip my hot tea. Hot is good. It wakes me up.
But food is bad, I remind myself. Very, very bad.
“What have you been doing these days?” I try to forge on. And my glass walls tried to stop me. It can’t.
“Oh, ya know the regular.”
I don’t know, but I nod anyway.
I check my watch. I don’t have to be home for an hour, but I stand up anyway. “I have to go,” I say.
Daren stands up too. Hugs me. Again. “I’ll see you in school.”
Leans down. Kisses me, as if we’re together.
We’re not, but I smile. Even though I’m so confused, messed up. I kiss him back.
He likes that.
I’m starved. Famished. Ravenous. Empty. Hollow. All those words. Words that can’t get fat.
I want to pull over. To stuff my face.
Chips. Soda. Pizza. Ice cream. Cartons of ice cream. Pretzels. Chocolate. Food.
My head says no — of course. It always does. But then I’m pulling off at the next exit. Driving. Just driving.
Nononononono. I don’t listen. My foot presses the gas pedal, turning into the convenience store. The one that’s all run down. With the broken down truck. And the crumbling curb.
Leave and drive back home! That was behaved Vivian. I ignore her, like always. She is nothing compared to the other me. The one that shouts.
I get out of the car. I move like a robot, not in control of my body. As if I am standing and watching outside on the cracked up sidewalk. Watching Vivian get fat.
I can’t stop. I never can when it gets like this.
My cart fills up up up. Heaping. I can’t listen to myself. It’s impossible. And my money goes down down down.
I sit in my car. In the front seat. Eating. Not thinking.
No more chips or soda or pretzels or ice cream. All gone down the drain.
Afterward I wait. Wait for the guilt that always comes crashing. Big waves that suffocate. Choke me to tears.
And like always, I cry on the way home. And it overflows my car. I am teetering on the top of a mountain.
Guilty of a crime. Very very guilty.
I fall to the bathroom floor. Those disgusting chartreuse tiles.
Shove two fingers down my throat until everything is gone. I am just so ashamed. Ashamed of myself. Ashamed and disgusted. Like always.
And I lie there– for what feels like forever, until that guilt goes away. Fades away to nothingness.
I close my eyes.
But instead I see the stark white hospital. White walls. White floors. And then a quivering white lump, on the tiny hospital bed. Small mama. Small me.
She presses the ring–her ring into the palm of my hand. “Keep it, darling … my Vivian.” Mama’s voice croaks. Like a frog. A sick frog. She closes her eyes. Then opens them. “Some day the sky will fall,” she whispers.
Then she is gone. A wisp of air, blown away. Gone.
I’ve never told anyone that. What had she meant, when she said those haunted words?
Someday the sky will fall.
The memory has become wrinkled around the edges. Old. Sepia. But it stays tucked away. Hidden, strung on a blue ribbon.
Dad is home. I am in my room again. Looking at the grey slab curtains. I hear him tromping up the stairs.
Sometimes I dread our little talks.
He comes in without knocking, bringing the smell of wet rain clinging to his untucked shirt. I pretend I don’t know. Pretending to read. My whole life I pretend in front of him.
“Vivian!” He acts all excited when he says my name.
“Dad.” His smile slides off his face. Like it is made of water.
Maybe he really is trying. Like Ms. Freeman says. Dad sits on the corner of my rolly desk chair.
“You need to clean your room Vivian.” As if I don’t know.
Dad stares at me as if I have two heads. And maybe I do.
“I’m worried about you, Vivian.”
I am too I think, but I don’t answer. Just wait.
“I don’t want to go through this again.”
I don’t either.
Silence. The space between us stretches for a long time. A stretch of air.
“Have you been eating?”
I want to throw my lamp at his head. I want to cry and wail. Say that he doesn’t understand me. That food is the enemy. My eroding flaming monster.
But instead, all I say is, “Yeah.”
Dad tries to get up but doesn’t move.
Maybe it’s that thick stretch of air that we made. Dad and I.
“I’m going to talk to a doctor, Vivian. You don’t look well.” Another stop. A halting breath. “I’m doing this because I love you honey.”
Yeah right. You love mom. Who hasn’t been here. For a long long time.
But, “Ok,” is all that leaves my lips.
Finally Dad leaves, the smell of loneliness leaving with him.
Nothing is ever ok.
It is dark — my room. The moon is gone, hiding behind my depressing curtains. I should get rid of them I think.
Dad is asleep, probably–but I’m not. I never am. Even if I try.
The moon peeks at me as I open my door.
Then slam it shut wishing the moon would take care of the mess.
Our treadmill is big and black. Bulky. Hulking piece of metal. It helps though–with the guilt. The moon watches as I sweat into the night.
My body stings. Aches. Screams. But I don’t care. All I care about is Burning. Off. Those. ***ed. Calories.
Dad is sitting at the kitchen table when I come down the next morning.
He is sitting, so I sit too. The cereal box is open. I tell myself that I’m ok without it.
But really I’m not.
The refrigerator is scowling at me. I ignore it, along with everything else.
Dad’s lips move, but I don’t understand what he is saying. I don’t understand anything these days. Not myself. Not dad.
The kitchen isn’t my only monster. My body is my monster too.
I shake my head. Don’t know what I’m doing that for. Shaking my head to life probably.
Oh, there it is — sound. The dishwasher whirs too. I never realized it was so loud.
“Are you alright?”
No. Dad sounds worried.
“Yes,” I say. I am lying. And he knows it too.
“You’re lying,” he says. Dad’s right. For once at least.
Dad is worried even more now. Always worried, that seven letter word that can’t get fat.
You’re fat and ugly. Fatfatfatfatfatuglyuglyuglyugly.
Maybe I can drown myself in these bad words.
Maybe words are my monster too.
Did I answer? Probably not. I don’t remember anymore. I never remember — just keep my mind blank.
Mom always told me that being pretty was everything. People will like you. Always want to be your friend. She had explained this as she stood, staring into the floor length mirror, adjusting the straps of that tight black dress she had always loved.
“Why?” I had asked. I had stared too. Worshipping her. Mama’s every move. I hadn’t understood.
“You’ll know when you’re older.” Mama had waved a hand. Dismissively.
She was right. I understand now. As much as I ever have.
Coldness is being splashed on my face.
Maybe I’m in heaven–but I am not. I know I’m not.
The first thing I see is the cracked up ceiling. Chartreuse too. Like the bathroom tiles. Tiles I know too well. Could I call them friends? Definitely not.
I think I am going crazy. True — 110% true.
Water — that’s what this coldness is. Not heaven, just water.
That’s too bad.
“Vivian! I’m taking you to the hospital!”
No! Hospitals are clean. The type of clean that clogs your nose. Teasing. Like words. With fat nurses. Who would feed me food. Daemon food. Looming monsters. Fire. Licking. Food. I tremble…
Put hands on counter.
Slap. a. ***ed. smile. on your. ***ed. face.
Just follow the steps. And I do. Just like living in this shitty world.
I tell dad I’m fine. I don’t think he believes me. I tell him I’m fine. Again. Always. The type of fine that translates to I am never fine but I’m just saying I am.
He doesn’t believe me.
But I have convinced myself that I am fine. Which I’m not.
I’m always not — fine that is.
I don’t think I believe in god. If he was real he would help me. If he is out there, he’s an idiot.
For not helping me.
Ms. Freemen–my counselor, the shrink. Whatever. Says I’m making progress.
By admitting I need help.
But I’m not admitting I need help. I am admitting god needs help.
My counselor is an idiot too.
Dad leaves. Finally, looking at me all weird. But he leaves.
He swears he will call a doctor.
This time he sounds serious. But I still doubt it.
I am worried. Just like him.
I go back to my room. Have to go past the kitchen.
Hold my head straight. Feel the cupboards looking.
Pass it. Safe. Again.
My stomach rumbles.
When I get upstairs I find my room still a mess — sadly. The moon didn’t do a very good job.
I decide to tear the slab grey curtains off my windows. There, all better.
But I’m not better. My room is but I am not. It’s a start though.
I collapse on my bed, thinking how sad my life really is.
Slab grey curtains. Daemon food. Eroding fire monster. I lie there until it is time to run again.
¨Vivian Mince, please report to Ms. Freeman’s office.¨
It is school again. Monday. I have no hope today. Usually I do. To be pretty. Skinny. But today I am a hollowed-out tree trunk, with no heart. No soul.
I go down the stairs, seeing the walls. A light blue. People jostle me.
¨Sorry,¨ they say. And I smile and nod. All just pretending. Wearing a mask that is not me. But now that I think about it — I have been pretending for a long long time, so far back that I can´t remember. Always.
It’s always been my way of hiding.
I raise my hand to knock on the flimsy door. All the doors are flimsy in our school. My life is flimsy too. Just like the doors.
¨Come in.¨ Ms. Freeman says. So I do, although I don’t want to. It is never a choice I want to make.
She sits, my counselor does, and smiles. I don’t smile back. All I can think about is god. And how he is an idiot just like her.
¨Have a seat.¨
I sit on that nasty yellow couch. Lumpy.
It is silent for what seems to be a very long time. All I hear is the clock ticking.
Ms. Freeman shuffles some papers. I clear my throat.
“So … Vivian.” My name again. She says it with so much power. Entitlement — like that.
She thinks she is something to me. She isn’t. Of course.
“Your dad called me.” I pretend not to be interested. But I am. Definitely.
I don’t answer. I cross my legs instead. The clock keeps ticking.
“He’s worried, Vivian.” I do not want to look at her. But I do. I always do.
“Stop,” I say.
“Saying my name like that.”
I smile, because she faltered. Ms. Freeman has never done that. Ever.
“He’s worried,” she repeated.
“Yeah.” And that is it. Just yeah.
“I called you here to discuss some … options”
Options for what? My life? Or just me. I sit up straighter on that lumpy couch.
“Like what?” Be calm. Let nothing show. Nothing.
“He says you’re … struggling.”
I close my eyes. Angry. Angry and shaking. *** you Ms. Freemen! *** you. Don’t you get it? I’m always struggling. Always. Always. Always.
But “You spoke to my dad?” is all I say.
“Well yes — and we’ve both decided that you need help. A Lot of help.”
God needs help. I think.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Vivian. So many young adults like you go through this — and it’s hard work to heal but … ”
I stand up.
And put a hand on the door knob.
Go. Run. And never come back.
I follow the steps, like always. I follow the steps because I am tired. And hungry. My brain is rattling inside my skull. But also because she said my name.
She said my name. Like mama did.
When dad and me were still a family. When mama was still in the picture.
The bathroom is small. Though, so am I. It smells too, like disinfectant. I sit on the toilet seat, curl up in a little ball and tuck my head between my knees.
So I can’t see anything. Just the way I like it.
Sometimes I feel like I want to cry. My throat gets all sticky. It’s hard to swallow when it gets like that. Hard to breathe. But I can’t cry. There are no tears left. I am empty.
I sit there for a long time. So long that everything just blurs into nothing. Girls go in and out.
Whispers following them, like phantom voices.
The door bangs. And I stay.
Sometime later, someone thumps a fist against the stall door, pulls me out of the vortex that I had created for myself.
I needed help. I just didn’t want to face it.
Then, I am outside. Where the wind is strong. Ms. Freeman is there too. Maybe she was the one that pulled me out of the tornado I had made. I feel for mama’s necklace. The one on a blue ribbon. But it isn’t there.
It isn’t there!
My body wobbles. So does my heart. My blue ribbon could be anywhere, mama would be disappointed.
I fall to my knees, bare hands digging in the muddy snow. My necklace, my necklace, My necklace. A whirlwind of thoughts. Spinning Spinning Spinning forever. Spiraling downward.
I have a headache.
A pounding headache.
But then there is a hand on my shoulder. Ms. Freeman’s hand, a dark chocolate next to a pale white cloud. That’s me and her.
“What’s the matter?” She asks.
“It’s my necklace,” I say. Just like that. As if it were that simple.
She unfurls her hand. A flower budding. New. Fresh. Untouched. With a coil of ribbon hidden within.
“I have it,” she says. Maybe, she whispered. I’m too relieved to know. Mama is still strung on my blue ribbon.
“It fell off, Vivian.” She says my name. This time quietly, as if her tongue were testing out a new word. “I wanted to give it back … it seemed like it was very important to you.”
“Yes.” My voice is quiet. Just like hers.
“Want to talk about it?”
I sit on the curb. Ms. Freemen sits too. We’re on even ground now.
“Mama gave it to me,” is all I say. “In the hospital right before she died.”
Ms. Freemen doesn’t say anything. Just listens.
“I was her world … Vivian … it — it means lively. Well, that’s what she always told me. Mama said I was the happiest baby she ever saw.”
I don’t think my body is hollow any more, because tears are welling in my eyes. Salty. Wet. I smile through the iridescent drops. I was happy then, but not anymore.
“Dad doesn’t know I have it … he — he wasn’t there that night and … ” I gulp. Catch my breath. ”I know he blames me. I could have done something! I ***ing could have fixed her!”
The wind scratches at my face. And I let it. I deserve it.
My blue ribbon is still in Ms. Freeman’s hand. She tries to give it to me. I don’t take it. It just hurts too ***ed bad.
She studies me, then pulls me to my feet. I let her, even though I don’t know where she’s taking me.
“Come,” she says. And I do, because I have no where else to go.
We are at the ocean. She took me there in her banged up Volkswagen. The waves lick my toes. They are cold. In a good way though.
“Why are we here?” I ask. But all Ms. Freeman does is smile.
She hands me the necklace. My necklace. Mama’s necklace.
“Throw it.” She says.
Ms. Freemen doesn’t answer, just looks out in the distance. But I know she heard me.
I look out in the distance too, mama’s heart dangling between my fingers.
A moment passes, another vast stretch of air.
And just like that I throw it. No thought. No nothing. And it feels like a gigantic weight had slid off my shoulders, as the foam and salt grab it all away. As if my blue ribbon had never been around my neck.
Ms. Freemen turns to look at me. She has a small smile playing about her lips.
“How do you feel?” She says it all serious.
But instead I laugh. Laugh at my shitty life, and the shitty diner and the shitty necklace. For making me feel so alone. Making me so helpless.
“Think of this as throwing away all the bad memories. The bad ones can get washed away, the good ones — no matter what, will stay with you forever.” Ms. Freeman’s voice has gone all soft. Testing out the waters. The waters of me and her.
“Yeah.” I say. And that’s it. Just yeah.
My phone dings. Daren again.
Want to talk? : ) with a little smily face.
I look at it, with no more mama to stop me. To hold me back.
Sure, I text back. And this time I really am — sure that is.