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The Day I Didn't Skip Town
There was a slow deterioration in my head of late and I couldn’t take It anymore. It seemed to eat the whole world. “Those poor princes,” I said to myself as I put away the book of fairytales, paralyzed and struggling to breathe. The loneliness silenced me, shamed me. It was like when you drink an entire glass of milk and nothing else and not good, fresh milk. No, it has to be that stuff like water that is over-clean and too white and you can never get every last drop out of the glass so a ring of not-quite-real-milk sits in your glass as you sit and after a while you have that sickening taste in your mouth, like vomit or chalk. And you open and close your mouth and hear a lip-tongue-cheek noise that sounds just as wrong as the flavor tastes and you think about brushing your teeth to get rid of the nastiness but you don't, you never do and the taste just sits there and you sit there and you accept it and you hate it and it's the most unpleasant experience but you don't do a damn thing to change it. That's what it was like, that's why I had to leave.
It was obscenely selfish and irresponsible, that’s why I did it. Like last minute shopping by a crazy person, I shoved some bills in my bra, stuffed an umbrella next to the toothpaste and half-empty lighter in a damp bag, dropped them all out a second story window. It was selfish and scary. I buried everyone I loved and it was so easy; the easiest thing in a long time. I did it because I missed the way the phone would light up constantly, to let me know someone wasn’t quite done with me. I missed walking through fire like it was mist. I did it because the lights in my house were always going out, flickering. I did it because I was starting to enjoy hating things, all kinds of things. I was becoming a connoisseur of scorn and spite.
The people I saw were animals and I was intimidated, but sometimes I think I’m even less than animal and that’s what truly scares me. The wild thing in my head was getting louder. That was why I left. It was made of the way I followed them, trusted so blindly, gave him everything whenever he asked nicely and often when he didn’t. I had never been this bad before; the pollution rivaled Sinclair’s Jungle. “I don’t need another parasite disguised as Friend,” I said, “I need a brave psychotherapist, or maybe a new journal,” I said as I tried explaining It to him later. He didn’t understand that he was adding to the nightmares, that I was a coward, and fear makes people cruel.
Everything was all muddy and, dodging puddles, I felt older than myself, out of my body and into a future version. The suitcase was heavy, tearing slightly inside. He was an inch and a half shorter than me, quieter, gentler so he had to hurry to keep up. He knew, this boy I tricked, he must’ve known, the moment I got in the car that something was wrong this time. I can still see how bare his room was, surprisingly devoid of personality. There were no valiant princes to find me. They were all cowards, that much was clear now. The English teacher would’ve said it was a recurring theme. “You are like clockwork,” I told him and could feel his arm, next to mine, slightly jerk in offense; except it didn’t. He just sighed, all sad and forlorn, and I wanted to kill him for a moment but really I wanted to save him, sad child, from the bad, bad world.
There was nowhere to sit so we just lay down on his bed, half asleep, and it was the closest I had let another human being be to me in months and he was warm and I was cold. It took great effort not to fall asleep next to him, pretending he was someone, anyone else. And that was when I started getting weak. “Why do we put ourselves through all this?” I wanted him to show me wisdom but all he did was ask ever more confusing questions. And then the shame appeared, like being crippled or gagged, so I couldn’t speak or walk. It was getting late and it had finally started to rain and I could feel how tired I would be soon. “I know we’re all born with an empty place,” I admitted, “But I really feel like I’m being swallowed whole by a thing that just keeps grinning at me.”
“Be optimistic,” he said while I put my shoes back on.
“I am so tired of optimism,” I wanted to respond, but didn’t because none of this was really happening. Then we walked through the dark and it was freezing but I didn’t really feel it. And I had to tell him to leave me there. It started to pour, to sob and mourn. The big, blue bus howled and brought puddles to life, temporary like my adventure. Standing in the rain was the least-horrific part. In the ocean that was a crosswalk I could tell myself I was almost free. But on the roller coaster of commuters the phone was buzzing constantly in my pocket. I had forgotten to turn it off and now I didn’t know how. The sudden shock, the realization, hit me like a van with failed breaks. “I threw out everything you gave me in a sudden fit of strength that has long since passed,” but I never sent that message. Because it should’ve gone to all of them and I couldn’t face them all at once.
Thank God for the rain and the ride all over a city I barely knew, places I had never seen or known existed. The phone kept going off in ten-minute intervals. I just wanted them to understand that I couldn’t go back because It was waiting. It laughs like hyenas laugh; at death and blood and lust and dirt and the awkward itch we get under our bones. Any amount of silence disturbs It. Going back now would be too much of an apology, like if you leave a drop of water in the desert and tell yourself you’ve cured the drought. “It is afraid of everything,” I wanted to explain to them, “It hates everything and it will be better this way, much better. They would nod but fail to understand.
And the phone kept ringing, ringing, ringing in my pocket. It was there to remind me how far I’d slipped and not just from the rain. It was there, invisible, cruel, but unequivocally there, until I finally answered the concern with a pathetic apology and exited the quivering bus, onto pavement, and into a waiting vehicle. The heat was blasting and I finally let go of the bag and I remembered what the word “cold” meant and I couldn’t stop shaking and my father was saying he loved me and I wasn’t in trouble but to “Please, PLEASE, never do this to us again….” And he kept holding my hand, as if I might just evaporate and then I was crying and I fell asleep.
Later, everything I felt seemed newer, more special, than it had in a long, long time. The quiet, night air, the slam of the heavy door, the worn, green, carpeted stairs, the musty hallway, and finally bed. Eventually I even went back to school and saw the people I had been running away from. “Running ahead of,” I had thought. I had watched them grow up, terrified. I never spoke a word of how much I had hated them, how much I loved them, how dearly I used to pray, and still pray, we haven’t utterly destroyed ourselves. Our word was lonely, it was what we were made of, and it drove us together. Lonelier than words could convey, so we latched onto each other, parasites. My first day back we finally admitted we each had some capacity for emotion, we were more than apathy in high heels and sweatshirts. We were capable of love and some dynamic changed slightly. We felt so clean and brave, so complete and ready for the world. It lingered for a while but I learned to lock it away again. We still scatter sometimes, to avoid emotion, when we reach too close to whatever is in our minds that draws us together. But we’re intact, no longer crumbling, only stretching and discovering our own elasticity.
Over time I could accept that I was not guilty of all crimes, I was not beyond forgiveness, from others and from myself. I still cringe when I think about It but the one thing I can say I’m proud of is this; I didn’t need rhymes or music. I didn’t need scented candles or prayers or a How-To manual. I was sort of, a little bit Brave once. It hurt but I survived and was loved all the more for it. Sometimes I wonder if I’m only collecting things that don’t belong, adding difficulty in some selfish, heroic effort. All I have to do now is look at their faces and those fears are quelled. They force me to be honest. They make me hopeful and courageous. I had taken sheepish steps back and spent three years alone, pretending to be with them. I had a lot of time to make up for.
“I still maintain I was never suicidal,” I write in the blank, new notebook, “Just hateful and desperate and confused. I bolted like any terrified animal.” The nightmares have stopped and no one brings up that night, except for an occasional joke. I’ve realized there is no shame in being a little erratic, no guilt in being confused. I can write again. I can write again, like never before. It’s a feeling like being severely crippled and then released, all of a sudden. I would hesitate to say I’m at peace, but I do feel more love than I have felt in years. I feel more capable than I ever thought I could be. And when I look in the mirror, I don’t think of smashing the glass or lighting something on fire, just to see something break. I just blink a few times, always startled to still be here, and think to myself, “I’m really not so bad.” And then I move on, unshaken, undisturbed, no longer haunted. Sometimes we need help, we need to be able to rely on others and that was a hard lesson to learn. I can’t, as strange as it may seem, just pack a suitcase and get on a bus and live happily ever after. What I can do is stranger and much more difficult. I can take deep breaths and banish my self-hatred. I can tell the people who care for me how much I love them and, coincidently, how much I need them. I can forgive almost anything and admit a mistake. I can accept that I am only human and sometimes that is just enough. I can be my own hero, with all the responsibility and strength the word implies.