nonfiction

table of contents

“Coming to Terms” by Anonymous

“The Things I Wished My Mom Remembered” by Kate Nichols

“Love is Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Alyx Scherich

Coming to Terms

Anonymous

CW: Eating Disorders

A Standoff in the Kitchen

My mother on one side of the counter, me on the other. A plain Eggo waffle and miles of misunderstanding between us.

“Please just eat something.” 

“You’re smarter than this.” 

“You’re not fat.” 

“I weigh more than you do, do you think I’m fat?” 

“Please.”

I greeted every word with silence and tears. Once the begging, rationalizing, and guilting stopped, the threats to pull me out of school started. I took a bite of the waffle. When my mother wasn’t looking, I spit out the bite into my napkin. I sat at the counter for thirty minutes until I had a mash of waffle balled up in my lap. My biggest fear was that my mother would catch me with the disgusting mess in my hands, and that the confrontation would start all over again at double the intensity. I didn’t know what compelled me to spit it out; all I knew was that I didn’t want to eat.

This sort of kitchen standoff was commonplace. This wasn’t the first meal I tried to refuse, but this was the first time I got away from the table just as empty as I had sat down. She smiled when she saw I had cleared my plate. She thought all I needed was some food in my belly to keep me healthy. I thought all I needed was to lose weight to be happy. What we both failed to realize was that I needed help. I used my spit trick to win every other kitchen standoff for the next 7 years. 

That day, at 13, I learned that if it goes unseen, it gets left alone. Now, at 20, I realize when it gets left alone, it goes untreated and remains misunderstood. 

Black and Blue 

At 14, I mapped out the places I hated across my arms and legs with the swirling blues, purples, and yellows of self-inflicted bruises. Three on the inside of my left thigh that faded into and out of one another; two on the top of my right. Small bursts of color spotted my upper arms and the sides of my hips. When one faded, a new one would take its place. 

Each ache and throb that settled into my flesh was a release for my mind; it was easier to express what I felt on my skin than to vocalize it. I was hungry. I was skipping more meals and my thoughts were constantly consumed by my weight. The surface level pain paired nicely with the hollow groan of my stomach and provided a distraction for when the hunger pains got too intense. 

I imagined the bruises were black marker lines that dotted the areas of removal before a surgery; these were the places I planned to carve away. 

After a few months, the relief I felt went away. I was numb, and I needed a different avenue for release. There was a pair of tweezers on my dresser: a black metal handle and two sharp silver tips. One night, after slipping away from the dinner table, I grabbed them and pressed them onto the softest part of my forearm, just hard enough for them to cut through skin. 

One two-inch line, and above that, two small one-inch cuts. It stung and bled, but it felt good.

There was a bruise on my right leg, just above my knee, wide and dark and fresh. In big letters, through the deep purple center the tweezers scratched out “F-A-T”. 

The bruise faded after a week or so and left the carved-out word behind, visible for months after.

Body Over Mind

At 15, my parents sent me to therapy after my sister told them about the bruises. I bounced from doctor to doctor, always with the excuse that I didn’t feel comfortable with them. I don’t think I went to see the same person for more than three appointments. The truth was I just didn’t feel comfortable talking about it at all. 

I told the last therapist I went to see that I would try to starve the weight off my body. I told her that the bruises and the cuts and the sadness and the sleeping were all side effects of the way I saw my body. I didn’t think I had an eating disorder by any stretch of the imagination; I was “too fat” to qualify, but I so desperately needed to talk about it. I was reaching out and hoping someone would take me seriously; that they would acknowledge the health of my mind over the health of my body. 

“Well you are within a healthy BMI range for your age and height. I don’t think you need to worry about the way that you look. We don’t need to talk about that. Now, what I really want to talk about are the bruises.” 

I didn’t go to any more therapy appointments after that. 

I smiled and told my parents I felt better. I was more careful to hide the injuries under my clothes and the dinner in my napkin. 

Diagnosis

At 19, I called my mother with the news of a diagnosis. I went to see a doctor for medication management and left with a few too many pamphlets titled “EATING DISORDER RECOVERY” and a follow up appointment to monitor my weight. Something inside of me held the hope that if a medical professional had attached a title to my behavior, my mother would accept that something was wrong. I knew she noticed my weight loss, my irritability, and the way the only thing I had enough energy to do was sleep. The last time I’d seen her, she’d said I was “shrinking away”. I had lost 16 pounds in less than two weeks. When she asked me if I was eating while I was away at school, I changed the subject.

“She wants me to see a nutritionist. She said I have an eating disorder and it started when I was about 13.”

“Well I don’t know about that, I mean you’ve always been a picky eater but I don’t think that means-“ 

“No. Not picky. Anorexic.” 

She didn’t say anything after that. I didn’t go see the nutritionist. We still don’t talk about it, and I don’t have hope that we ever will.

What Anorexia Looks Like on Me

I am 20 years old. I am 5 feet, 8 inches tall. From ages 13 to 20 I have weighed anywhere between 125 and 160 pounds; completely within a healthy BMI range. When I do eat it’s not always healthy. My bones don’t seep through and poke out through my skin. My ribs only show when I stretch, and my spine when I bend over. I’m not, nor have I ever been, underweight. I’ve never been hospitalized. My story is not the story I expected to have the title of “Eating Disorder.” Anorexia is like the clothing I wear; I am sometimes convinced that I am too fat to fit. 

What Anorexia Feels Like to Me

I passed out once in the high school bathroom after four days of fasting. Some days I take showers with my eyes closed so I don’t have to see my body. I am both obsessed with, and terrified of, weighing myself. When I haven’t eaten in more than two days, I’m grumpy and mean and exhausted and quiet and sad. I prefer feeling completely empty to feeling “comfortably” full; there is no comfortably full to me. Most of the time my stomach doesn’t growl very loudly. I am almost always thinking about the excessive fat on the bridges of my toes, and the tops of my feet, and on the fronts of my ankles when I crouch down, and on my calves, and on the sides of my knees, and on the circumference of my thighs, and on the pouches of fat on my stomach that feel suffocating when I slouch, and the dimples on my back, and the sides of my ribcage, and the edges of my armpits, and the backs of my upper arms, and around my wrists, and on the attachment point of my thumb, and the first bone of all my fingers, and on my neck and chin and cheeks. I wear sweatshirts and jeans in the summer to cover up the soft edges of my most vulnerable parts, to hide as much as possible. I am sometimes more anxious than turned on when a guy touches my body during sex. I’ve taken caffeine pills and smoked cigarettes to suppress my appetite. I am embarrassed and ashamed and sensitive and hungry

Body and Mind

At 20, I grew tired of the constant mental battle surrounding food. A diagnosis wasn’t a cure; simply having a name attached to my behavior wasn’t going to get me to change. I decided to give therapy another try. I don’t know if my mother would have objected to the idea had she known I wanted help with the eating disorder she didn’t think I had, but she agreed to help me set something up under the impression that I was sad and wanted someone to talk to.

Noon on a Saturday: My mom drove me to the doctor’s office, and I walked in for my first session. It didn’t look like anything I had expected; there was no long couch, no motivational posters on the wall, just a large wooden desk with a chair on either side of it. 

“Why are you here?” 

The short answer was that I wanted help. When I told the therapist that, she asked for the long answer. After she was caught up on everything, she asked “Do you think that anorexia is an accurate diagnosis for you?” 

I was afraid that if I said “yes” I would face another rejection. If the doctor said I didn’t have an eating disorder, that meant that nothing was wrong. If nothing was wrong, I wouldn’t get help, and I’d be resigned to a poor relationship with food for the rest of my life. 

Hesitantly, I nodded. 


“Well, I don’t specialize in eating disorder recovery, there are doctors out there who might be better equipped than me to work with you, but if you’d like to continue, I think I can help.” 

I left the session with a follow-up scheduled for two weeks later. In the car with my mom on the way home, she didn’t ask about the session. I was thankful; I didn’t want her to. We sat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes before she asked, “Do you want to grab something to eat?” 

I responded with the usual, “I’m not hungry,” and like always, she put up a fight. I found that it didn’t bother me as much as usual this time. I knew  this feeling of comfort at my mom’s well-intentioned worrying would disappear, but in the meantime, I could enjoy the progress I had made. She could take care of my body and I could take care of my mind. 

The Things I Wish My Mom Remembered

Kate Nichols

I was probably nine when I realized that my mother was an alcoholic. I remember slowly making the connection between her drinking from various containers, the disgusting smell on her breath, and her altered behavior. I think the moment of realization came when she was sick. When I say sick, I don’t actually mean sick. I mean drunk.

I wish she remembered the time that I came home from school and found her passed out on the couch again. The large glass bottle of clear liquid was beside her, and she had a hand covering her eyes to block the light streaming in from the window. Quietly, I shut the front door, and bent down to shake her awake. I asked her if she was okay.

She said something along the lines of “I just don’t feel very good, baby,” and “Go be quiet in your room.” Her alcohol tainted breath made my nose scrunch up in disgust. I glanced between the near-empty bottle and her. I thought about the other times when she’d been sick: when the same revolting smell was on her breath, a similar bottle at her side. I thought about how this sick seemed different than all of the times that I’d seen her have a cold. There were no tissues at her side, no cold medicine; just the bottle. 

Instead of confronting her, I went to my room and closed the door. I may have figured out what was causing her to act funny, but I knew not to argue when she was like that. Arguing was considered talking back, and talking back meant getting yelled at, grounded, or hit. By that point I’d learned to keep any invasive questions or comments to myself.

I remember being uncomfortable with this new knowledge. My stomach knotted as I put my backpack down and curled up on my bed. Instead of worrying, I sat in my room and made up stories in my head where I was out in the world on my own, fending for myself with fictional characters nurturing me in the way that didn’t often happen when I was at home. I would think of these stories for hours, trying to drown out everything in the world that was wrong. I did what I could to take the image of that bottle beside her out of my mind, to get the smell of her breath off of me. Later that night, I sat in my room and listened to her and my stepdad argue. I always tried not to listen, but from their screaming matches I learned a new word: drunk

One time when I was around that same age, we were in a store, and I asked for this giant teddy bear. Instead of saying no, like I expected her to, she agreed. As we were walking out of the store, she did a double take at the teddy bear, and asked me if she had really bought it for me. 

“Well that was an Absolut moment,” she told me. At the time, I didn’t know what she meant, and I didn’t really care—I had the teddy bear, after all. But I’d hear that phrase more and more and I realized that she blamed her strange actions on alcohol. By the time I was a teenager, I’d roll my eyes and scoff at the phrase.

I don’t know exactly how much she drank, but I do remember the cleaning days. Those were the days that we would spend emptying her hiding places of alcohol bottles. I’d follow my mom around the house with a large black trash bag. We’d usually start in the kitchen, opening various unused cabinets, to reveal the empty (or mostly empty) bottles of vodka. We’d occasionally head down to the laundry room to find a bottle or two. Then, we’d make our way to the bedroom, where there would be a few small bottles in the drawers beneath her bed and some in her walk-in closet. Her favorite hiding place was underneath the master bathroom sink. I remember that was where we’d find most of the empty bottles.  

And then there were the airplane-sized bottles in her SUV. She drove a dark green Chevy Tahoe with beige seats. The center console’s cupholder had been ripped out, leaving a gaping hole and a lot of room to hide bottles on the go. On the days that we cleaned out the Tahoe, she would reach far into the console, grabbing every last tiny bottle of vodka. One time we counted the bottles, but I can’t remember the number. Fifteen? Twenty? Twenty-five? Too many.

Growing up, I loved visiting my friends’ houses, but I was always confused about why no one would visit my house. When I asked my mom why my friend’s parents wouldn’t let her come to our house, her replies were “it’s probably because I smoke,” or “maybe it’s because we’re poor.”  Now I realize that neither of those things were the case. 

I was playing outside in the sprinkler with a friend. We ended up getting all muddy. My mom called for me from across the street while my friend’s dad told me to wait so he could rinse me off with the hose. I turned red with embarrassment and trembled with fear. She drunkenly screamed for me as the cold water rinsed the mud from my legs and feet. 

The thing that stood out to me the most was the look that my friend’s dad gave me as I said goodbye. He was frowning, his eyebrows drawn together in concern. I remember feeling ashamed, uncomfortable—feeling at fault for causing his discomfort. He looked like he wanted to say something, but before he could, I was sprinting across the lawn toward my screaming mother.

When I got home, I think that I narrowly avoided getting beat with my explanation about the mud, but got sent to my room regardless of the reason. It wasn’t the first time that I got sent to my room for something so silly, but it was definitely better than the alternative. Sometimes I wish she’d remember this moment, though I doubt she’d remember it the same way. Like a hose, alcohol rinsed that memory out of her mind.

Upon moving to Ohio when I was ten, it appeared that my mom was drinking less. Things seemed to get better for a little while. I’m not sure if it was simply the fact that I had marching band to focus on, or if it was because she ended up in a relationship and her boyfriend slowly became my father figure. He didn’t try to be my father, but he was present, offered advice, and often stood up for me when I couldn’t find the words to stand up for myself. Though he didn’t have an alcoholic as a parent growing up, his father had abandoned him at a young age, as well. He comforted me when I felt like I wasn’t good enough; when I thought that my father’s absence was my own fault.

When I was thirteen, my mom and her boyfriend got in a nasty fight. They were having a party downstairs while I was upstairs, sleeping. My mom was too drunk to function, and went to bed early. She kept yelling that no one cared about her, and that she should just go and die. Hearing this was upsetting, because as her daughter, I cared. I didn’t want her to think that she was better off dead. Despite being upset, I stayed in my room. My mom’s boyfriend went upstairs to confront her and to try to get her to stop yelling. I was still inside my room, but the rooms were so close together that I could hear every word of the argument. They yelled at each other, and then I heard the glass lamp beside their bed smash, and a body being slammed into the wall. 

The two separated, and my mom called the police. When they came, my mom’s boyfriend had bruises and scratches all along his arms and neck from where she had grabbed him. Despite the fact that she called the police, she was the one who ended up going to jail that night. This was because she was so drunk, and because of the marks all over her boyfriend. As she was getting ready to be arrested, she started to give the police my social security number before correcting herself. She was handcuffed and put into the back of the police car. I went to spend the night with two of our family friends. I was too upset to sleep in the same house where everything had happened. My mom later criticized me for it, saying that those people had started doing hard drugs, and that I should’ve stayed in the house. But clearly she didn’t remember me crying and needing comfort as I watched her get into the back of a police cruiser. She doesn’t remember how upset and afraid I was the night she was taken away, and I wish that she did.

A couple of months later, our neighbors called the cops when they heard my mom and her boyfriend screaming at each other, slamming each other into things. The fist through the drywall is probably what did it. She probably doesn’t remember that I was awake and almost answered the door for the police. She definitely doesn’t remember how scared I was. I stayed in my room with a pillow over my head, crying and trying to imagine myself anywhere else. But it’s hard to pretend when the yelling is so loud that it shakes you to your core.

When I look back on moments like these, I often wonder why none of the adults in my life did anything. No, I didn’t go around telling everyone that my mother was an alcoholic who liked to use excessive force when disciplining me. At the time, I assumed that everyone got the shit beaten out of them for not cleaning up after themselves. It wasn’t until high school that I realized that what she’d done wasn’t okay, but when I was younger, there were many signs that I didn’t have a great home life. I often didn’t want to go home—I loved school because most of the teachers were so kind and caring. Despite this, I still cried a lot while I was there. Well, I cried a lot in general. I cried when people picked on me, I cried when I got in trouble, I cried when I thought that adults would get mad at me, and I cried when I got things wrong. Crying was  how I communicated. I didn’t talk much, and I was always timid around adults. 

One of the few times when I’d gotten in trouble was for putting my backpack in the wrong place. My teacher had yelled at me, and I ultimately turned into a sobbing mess. I cried so much that I couldn’t breathe—I gasped for air as I tried to explain my mistake, constantly sniffling, unable to stop the tears from flowing down my cheeks. It wasn’t until I was away from the teacher, safely in the guidance counselor’s office that I finally calmed down.

Despite all of these things, not once did a Children’s Protective Service representative talk to me. I talked to therapists, to teachers, to other adults, and they should have known that something was wrong. Yet, nothing was ever done. No one ever asked about my home life— not for specifics at least. 

There were adults in my life who knew my mother was an alcoholic, but did nothing to get me out of my toxic household. No teacher ever considered that I cried so often because I was afraid of what would happen when they got mad, because the most constant adult in my life could, at the flip of a switch, be the scariest person in my life whenever I did something wrong. 

Most of these adults aren’t even in my life anymore, and even if they were, I don’t think I’d get an apology anyway.

My mom stopped drinking when I was around the age of fourteen. This was due to her long-term boyfriend claiming that he wouldn’t stick around to watch her make a fool of herself as a drunk. It wasn’t for me. She stopped for him. She slipped up a few times, to the point where I thought I would lose the only real, stable father figure in my life for good. But he stuck around, and she says that she hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol in at least four years. It’s hard to believe that sometimes, but I try to be supportive. They say that’s what alcoholics need. Support. 

We’ve had conversations about the past since she’s sobered up. We remember things differently. One time, we argued about whether she was ever sober enough to teach me how to play basketball. She fails to remember the times that she screamed at me over forgetting to put the dishes in the dishwasher, over my room being messy, over saying something in a way that made her think that I was getting an attitude with her. She fails to remember all of the times that she grounded me, and then forgot how long she said I was grounded for. She fails to remember always hitting me over the smallest things, and being so drunk that she didn’t realize how hard she was really hitting me. I wish that she remembered, so she could apologize for more than just drinking too much when I was younger. I wish she remembered how much she hurt me, so then maybe she could apologize for it.

But the thing about traumatic memories is that sometimes they can’t be recalled easily. Sometimes, if someone suggests that something happened, you can create a false memory based on the suggestion. The only other person who could possibly tell me whether these things were true either doesn’t remember, or doesn’t want to remember. We remember differently, but her memory is as fallible as mine. She was under the influence of alcohol, and I was just a kid experiencing some form of trauma. I wish she remembered correctly what happened when I was between the ages of seven and fourteen, but more than anything, I wish that she wanted to remember.

Love is Rock ‘n’ Roll

Alyx Scherich

CW: Self-harm, suicidal ideation

Love is thought to be a universal experience. Maybe this is true. I’m not entirely sure myself; I don’t know every person to have ever existed. What I do know is that love— true love, the kind you hear about in every genre of music— doesn’t apply to me. Sometimes I get glimpses of it, small crescendos that eventually fade away. I’m still waiting for the triumphant anthem to kick in, all fanfare and ornamentation. So far, it’s just been twenty years of rests.

In kindergarten, I found myself an early entrepreneur. Only looking back now do I realize that I had made myself into a five-year-old playground prostitute. Boys would give me gifts, snacks, bathroom passes— anything I asked for, as long as I held their hand or kissed their cheek. 

One afternoon, my teacher had caught me kissing the cheek of my most loyal customer, a boy named Justin. Everyone but me was dismissed early for recess. I spent the entire hour being slut-shamed by my teacher at the tender age of six. 

Stop distracting the boys. They need to focus so they can learn.

A fine young lady like you shouldn’t be messing around like this.

What would your father think if I told him what you’d been up to?

None of this made sense to me. Distracting the boys? They were distracting me. Any time I was working on my homework, a customer would approach me, asking for a kiss. It was  annoying, but I was learning just fine myself. I didn’t see why their lack of ambition was in any way my fault. 

As soon as recess was over, out of spite, I began offering kisses on the lips. The price: two chocolate bars. It was a surprise I didn’t become obese within a month.

As a child, I always loved music. Then again, who didn’t? My parents failed to capitalize on my musical fixation, but I worked with what I could. There was a particular CD that I played on repeat, singing harmonies to the soundtrack of Remember the Titans. I still haven’t seen the movie, but it’s dear to my heart nonetheless.

The only thing I knew about the movie was that it was about football. I desperately wanted to play. However, being the only female cousin out of fifteen makes it hard to join in such reindeer games. It quickly became routine.

You can’t play with us. You’re a girl.

No, honey, the adults are talking. 

Go play with your cousins.

Luckily, we lived in the middle of nowhere. Farming was in our blood. My uncle to the north was a sheep farmer. To the east, a cow farmer. And to the far west, my aunt kept pigs. Sheep are  skittish animals, yet they’re curious if you prove you’re not a threat. Cows, on the other hand, pretend to be the boss until you get too close— then it’s stampede time. Pigs, intelligent as they are, couldn’t care less about you. You bring food; that’s all they need to know.

Despite their differences, all these animals have something in common. If you play music, they will come. Once banished by cousins and adults alike, I would move to the middle of the cowpen. The trick is you have to start off small. Don’t spook them. I’d sing until I was surrounded by curious cows, feeding them grass I had pulled from the banks just outside the fence. Soon enough, I had become one of the herd.

As middle school approached, the talks of puberty began. Sex was introduced to us way too early, a concept I likely would never have gotten in my brain if it hadn’t been for all the abstinence speakers. When will adults learn that teenagers are going to do the opposite of everything you say?

I was more than upset, to say the least, with this situation. I was getting the short end of the stick. Guys were getting deeper voices and growing taller. Meanwhile, I had to bleed for a week and worry about getting pregnant. I’d also lost all my chances to walk around without a shirt. The bright side was that it gave me another toolset with which to exploit others.

Can I touch your boobs for ten bucks?

How much will it cost to make out for an hour?

How far are you willing to go?

I started turning tricks in the guys’ bathroom. Twenty bucks, and you bought yourself a handjob. Make it thirty and you’ve upgraded to a blowjob. It never lasted long. I never saw the appeal; it was simply a way to make money. 

That’s when I first started to skip classes. Not because demand was high. Though it was, and I got to pick and choose my customers. If I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t have to. I had just lost interest in learning the same rules over and over again. I wanted time alone.

Band gave me a daily escape. Every morning at ten, we’d explore the ranges of our skill. For most people, that range was limited. I tried my hand at a lot of different instruments: trumpet, saxophone, trombone, even clarinet for a hot second. But I eventually landed myself in the percussion section.

I was terrible when it came to classical training. Melodic instruments were too hard for me to grasp; there was too much going on in my head. Counting rests was never easy; I’d get lost, wing it, and get yelled at. 

You’re playing out of tune.

You came in three beats too early.

Stop rushing.

Everything was too organized, too sterile. Notes that seemed so strictly set to my classmates danced around on the pages, impossible to read. In a way, I found myself musically dyslexic. That was, until I was placed on the snare drum. Rhythmic in nature, there only needed to be one tonal note written. All I had to worry about was the beat.

From there, things began moving smoothly. Rolls came naturally. A drumstick became an extension of my flesh and bone. I provided the heartbeat for the rest of the band and pumped blood from the conductor to each player and back. It was easy to lose myself in the music.

I lost my virginity at the age of fourteen. Coincidentally, this was also the year I started having suicidal thoughts. I had lost all interest in my education and saw no use in pursuing it any further. The days at school were spent in the band room, either downing a bottle of vodka or sucking some guy off. Not particularly in that order. 

My time at home was spent avoiding my brother at all costs. Marching band had taught me how to move silently. Any mis-timed journey to the kitchen or out-of-place noise could mean hell. My door still has holes from where he punched through it. The doorframe still hangs there, half-knocked out of the wall. He always pretends nothing happened.

I’m going to fucking kill you. 

Why are you so sensitive, bitch?

Say you love me.

The consequences for disobedience were never worth it. It was simple. Three words. They didn’t have to be true. But each forfeit from me added another arrow to his quiver. He built himself a high horse out of those three words, yet never said them back.

His torment even extended to my mother. One night, the two of us fled the house during one of his fits. A broken TV, a smashed window. Nothing important. My mom drove us around in the rain, knuckles white on the steering wheel, staring straight ahead. She told me she’d have killed herself long before now if it weren’t for me. I didn’t tell her that I felt the same.

It’s easy to forget your problems when you forget that you’re human. You begin to convince yourself that you’re part of a machine, a cog, easily replaceable. As part of a bass drumline, you live this feeling every day. You’re one of five people playing as one. If someone messes up, the unit cannot function.

You begin to think and move as one. Play as one. When I stepped out onto the football field every night, my mind melted away. All that remained was muscle memory and blind trust in the four people around me. If one leads you astray, you must follow them off the cliff like lemmings. But the trust from the field never followed to the stands.

You know she talks about you behind your back, right?

How can you deal with his constant whining?

I can’t wait to leave you assholes behind.

I knew nothing about those nearest to me, and they knew nothing about me in return. I liked to keep it that way. Made things simpler. There was no way for them to use anything against me. 

Rumors began to spread that I was going to shoot up the school. Seems keeping your distance isn’t the best idea. Didn’t help that I joined the rifle team. Despite that, I wasn’t violent, and any idiot would know that you can’t effectively shoot up a school with a bolt action rifle.. Instead, I dropped out of high school.

In a dark movie theater, two idiots drunkenly stumbled into a trash bin, sending popcorn everywhere. It was my first time witnessing someone amicably drunk in person. Fascinating as they were, my fellow patrons seemed to think otherwise. 

They sat down behind me, in the last row of the theater. As soon as they entered, all my attention was gone from the forgettable action flick playing. Instead, it was on their  loud conversation.

Yo, this is the part where he fucking dies.

Don’t get attached to her. They kill her in act three.

Plot twist, he was in on it the whole time.

The redhead had seen the film before; had it almost memorized, by the sound of it. The brunette was taking in everything he said like gospel, adding in his own comments or questions every now and then. 

They were kicked out pretty soon after. Some people don’t have a sense of humor, I guess. Finding the movie lacking without the play-by-play, I kicked myself out as well. I found them lurking outside, the brunette kicking rocks and the redhead smoking idly. I went home with them.

The redhead, Sam, was a guitarist. He tried teaching me a thing or two, but the idea of chords sent my brain into a frenzy. That didn’t stop me from singing his melodies while writing on his bed. The brunette, Marco, was his boyfriend. He was an anxious thing, unable to do anything without at least two shots in his system. 

Our escapades never went without a soundtrack. Dumpster fires were matched with EDM. Smoke breaks on the roof were to the tune of jazz. Our long trips were spent belting out rock anthems. What was supposed to be one night of stupid decisions turned into three years. 

We’ve been talking. We like you, you know?

I was thinking the three of us could all just date each other.

We’re basically dating as is. Make it official, yeah?

For the first time, I found myself in a relationship that lasted longer than a month. I started looking forward to life again. The symphonies were starting to crescendo. This was it, what I’d been waiting for all along. 

Sam was the first person I told about the cutting. He helped me recover, in his own way. Replaced one vice with another. That’s the issue with falling into the rockstar lifestyle. It’s feast or famine, and the fanfare only lasts for so long.

Sam killed himself at the age of nineteen. I don’t remember telling him that I loved him. I’m not sure if I did. He helped me through a lot, taught me a lot about the person I am today, but love never feels like the right word to use. It’s broken, overused, twisted.

Marco moved away, cut off contact. Last I heard, he found someone new and moved in with him. Deep down in my heart of hearts, I know he blames me. I know because I blame him right back. I stopped leaving the house, started cutting again, and wondered what it would feel like to fade away. My father was tired of my moping and mooching.

Have you looked into college yet?

You need a change of scenery.

There’s plenty of people to meet out there if you just walk out the door.

I found myself in Athens shortly after, unhappy and in desperate need of drinking money. These were the circumstances that led me to Brian. He was quiet, bisexual, sober. Perfect for a recovering alcoholic worried about how they carried themselves in the world.

I was perfect for his needs as well. A fragile female toting around male pronouns, a perfect scapegoat to use for coming out to his family. If they freaked at the title “boyfriend” he could tell them I was actually a girl and the problem would be solved.

This was the era of Mother Mother. To the uninitiated, they’re a Canadian band specializing in the art of optimistically depressing music. Brian could pretend that the major chords meant everything was fine, while I could continue singing a sad tune on my own.

We settled into our cadence well. He’d play video games while I hummed familiar melodies beside him, slicing into my own skin like it was butter. He never minded as long as I was bandaged up well enough to fuck in an hour. It didn’t matter to him that I was asexual.

Why don’t you smile more?

Do homework later. I’m bored.

Are you done yet? I’m horny.

I dumped the asshole, slept with his roommate for good measure, and left to figure out my problems on my own. He’d left a scar on me that I tried my hardest to ignore. It was a cacophony, playing in the background at all times. It’d been building up ever since Sam died, but now it was fully realized; a part of the harmony in its own right.

I’ve given up on trying. I’ve decided to focus on graduating and I’ve abandoned my old money-making schemes. Any moment not spent in class is spent listening to music, drowning out that creeping feeling; the chorus of voices echoing in my ears from years past. I’m not a strong person. When they become too much, I’m quick to relapse. But it always helps, a manageable addiction that quiets the heavy metal, soothes it to something folksy, something rock ‘n’ roll. 

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