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It’s snowing when I go to see you. The snow flutters in the headlights of your mom’s car. I climb in the back seat, and she pulls the long door shut. We drive, your mom flying down the highway, honking at any car that dares pass her. You know how she does that. I always loved your mom. I love her crass sense of humor. She twists life into something funny. I wish you and I could do that.
We pull into the parking lot. I’m distracted by the sign, the glowing blue Mental Health scrawled on it, like a billboard of your worst secret. Your mom signs us in; I answer a few basic questions, how long I’ve known you, my age (15 sounds so young, even to me). In a few minutes, we’re permitted to go up. We take the elevator, it shudders up a long chute, the doors open slowly, and we’re out.
The nurses ask your mom to come in first, talk to you, make sure you’re “up” to seeing me, whatever that means. I know you want to see me. I see the way the nurses look at me. They give me a weak, condescending smile. Oh, there’s the good-for-nothing boyfriend. It’s amazing how cliché adults can be. Just when you comfortably think life isn’t really like that, adults prove you wrong. Your mom gives me an empathetic smile and walks away. The nurses hurriedly close the door behind her. I walk down the small hallway and see a collection of four chairs by a window.
Being here is so weird. My stomach and skin feels jittery, and there’s a dull ache in my back. I bring my coat closer to me and lean forward, arms on my knees, head facing the floor.
Remember when we fell asleep on your floor? It was that unbearably hot day in July, and the whole world sagged. We walked around your neighborhood, and the air felt tangible, pressing against our skin. We came back to your house sticky with sweat and lay on your floor because it looked like the only place that might be cool. You looked across the floor at me, your face all pretty and scrunched, and we both fell asleep.
Or there was the time in the fall when we were on your trampoline way past curfew, staring up, counting the stars through the suburban haze. (There were three.) And you slid your hand down my arm. I could feel the bones (carpal, metacarpals?) through your papery skin. And you folded your fingers into mine. It amazes me how our bodies are built, how they can fit together like a 3-D puzzle, sliding and snuggling into place. This moment mattered to me more than anything else. I wish I could have stayed there forever, in the fingers of your thin hands.
But nothing stays forever. You once told me that everything falls apart. And I was aware of that. Being aware never really helps though, does it? Our flaws emerged from our depths, ugly and big and real. We didn’t really fight, exactly. It was just this shift, this feeling of ending. Like that feeling you get when someone dies early, or a flower withers prematurely. It’s that feeling of something unexpectedly failing.
You know how they say: “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”? That’s bull. I open my backpack and pull out a piece of paper, write it down, fold it up. A little folded lie to make you feel better. But as I sit here on this February night, in this waiting room, I realize how flat and stale those words really are. Because love, especially lost, is more destructive than anything I have ever seen. It has more power to destroy, more power to cripple than any force on earth. I still think it tunnels into your soul in a surgical way. “Love is nothing but an exercise in destruction.” I write these words down on the top of the folded paper. Better.
I sit here in the waiting room, my folded arms on my thighs; my stomach hurts. The soda machine rumbles. The elevator doors scream open. And I want more than anything to cry. I remember one time you told me your favorite word: catharsis. Purging. Well, that makes sense. You were always so thin, and in the back of my head, I always knew. But in another sense: purifying, cleansing. That’s what I need now. Some catharsis. I need an emotion I can card catalogue, dog-ear for future reference. This dark jumble in my head is too messy. Inside there’s just too much going on, these thousands of emotions are scraping at my insides. I’m so exhausted now. I’m sorry, but I want nothing more than to leave.
I sit hunched over, my eyes blinking back absent tears. Your mom and the nurses come back, say it’s okay to come in. I walk past the colored paper hearts for Valentine’s Day through the double doors. I see you from behind a nurse. You take a tentative step toward me. You don’t look as different as I thought you would. Your hair is shorter, choppy (you must have cut it). Your arms still have scars; your wrists are still bone thin. But you throw your arms around me in a clumsy embrace. Your mood is pretty high. Pills. Your mom did say you were on a huge dose of Prozac. You’re jittery too; I can see that. Your arm is shaking. I look at you, unsure of myself, unsure of everything I’ve ever done to this point.
You look me in the face, say “Hey!”
Your voice is so high and startling, jangling with hope. It’s like a gift, seeing you, this naked, this wounded, and yet amazingly, unbelievably alive. I know that you’ll slide back into the war raging inside your head. But for now, I’m glad to see you.