somewhere in 2003, a girl
I am seventeen years old, and I am depressed, and I think it’s a cliche.
I want so much to be good, but I cannot outrun, outdrink, outfuck this fear, and this fear is making me bad. I can barely get out of bed in the morning.
Warning: May cause dizziness. Do not drink while taking this medication. But what does it matter, because I am graduating high school.
I am nothing like my mother. She was prom queen and head cheerleader. She was happy.
I think what happened on New Year’s Eve was some kind of rape, but I’m not allowed to call it that, and maybe it wasn’t. I should never have done tequila shots. My body feels numb, and when I sit in the halls and try to write a letter to him, everything feels rubbery and on its side. I used to roam these halls stoned and with my head up, and now I sit and watch.
I am sometimes good. My teacher tells me I am a fantastic writer with a bright future, that I would make a great teacher myself. I have the highest grade in her composition class. Something ignites in me when I write those essays, even the ones about The Ox-Bow Incident and Obedience to Authority. I can skim a book and still write a killer paper. I read literature in Connor’s car during break, and I highlight and underline what seems important, and this makes me feel strong and proud and pretty. I read the dictionary late into the night and copy down the words I like.
I still get stoned and pitifully drunk, but I do yoga, and I run, and I go to dance class, and I eat well, and men look at me sometimes. I think I am getting better.
I tell my therapist of my fears, that I am sort of paranoid – it always feels like something terrible must be coming. I wait for it, armored and defended and wondering, today? I imply that the boys I hook up with don’t know how to make girls come. She laughs at this, even though she is old. I say, this guy on New Year’s Eve did something mean and I have never felt the same. I feel like my insides are made of black glue and I cannot talk to people. She says, write a letter. I tell her some truths, how I am probably an alcoholic, that I drink even when I don’t want to and wake up in strange places. I tell her that I miss my brother and am afraid of my father, and that I love books and have written nearly a thousand poems. She smiles and nods and gives me this knowing look. She says, one day you’ll be free. I tell her, I think I have a concussion. She refers me to a psychiatrist.
Our lab sleeps in my room every night, because I think he knows I am afraid. He starts in bed with me and ends curled up on the floor in a perfect little circle. I leave my door cracked, because he gets up at 5am and will make me take him out if it’s shut. The house is empty without my brother and full at the same time. There is no more blaring music and strange voices and meth. There is room for me now, but I got used to taking up less space. I am fine folded into myself. Mom seems to see me more, now that he is gone. Mom seems lighter and prettier, her old self. She seems proud of me.
I write in my journal and swear off drinking and commit to losing the ten more pounds. I am aware that I am in pain, but it is far away and muffled and cannot come out. Instead what comes are rules and guidelines and promises to be better. Song lyrics and heart patterns and pot leaves and DON’T EAT. And I still write poetry. Of course I do.
I get drunk anyway, because I can’t not, and I feel guilty afterwards, and terribly hungover, and it seems that everywhere I turn I am looking for ways to punish myself. I remember drinking NyQuil and sherry when there was nothing else and swallowing strange pills just to see what would happen – how that must have meant something. I read a memoir about alcoholism, and it all starts to make sense. I take the quiz inside and answer every question, yes.
I sleep over at dad’s, in the top bunk in Jack’s room. Jack has a nightmare and cries for mommy, but I want to help him, so I crawl into the lower bunk and he stares at me with this pacifier in his mouth and his eyes so clearly happy, so clearly relieved that I am there, and this makes me believe it can all be alright someday.
I realize, I love children, and I am one of them.
These old letters from my brother from the woods fill my desk drawer, so I sit and read them and remember. When he left I cried in front of all of his friends, heaving pathetic sobs, and he got in the car shielding his face. I don’t think he’ll ever understand what he means to me. It was this that started to show me what my heart was made of.
My girlfriends tell me I should show my body more, not hide it in sweaters, that it’s sexy hot, but I never feel comfortable exposed like that. They walk around school half-naked and humming. I show my belly a little but refuse to wear low cut shirts. I can’t tell which feels worse – being invisible or boys staring. I say, I rather them fall in love with my mind. My girlfriends shake their heads, laughing.
We go to see Rocky Horror, but we can’t get in because Hannah isn’t seventeen, and so we get drunk at the back of the park, and some guys meet us. I take a few Adderall and we roll down the hill, and I hit my head hard on the concrete. I think I have a concussion, but I never see a doctor. I tell my parents, and they think I am paranoid. I know I am, so nothing happens. And before I hit my head, it had all been happening. He was there, and we were looking at each other, and it seemed to mean something. I don’t remember who he was – just someone looking, we were high and on the swing sets, and we were innocent.
I lost my virginity practically blacked out. I wanted to get it over with. Afterward I asked Jane, is that it? She said, uh huh.
Jane tells me I should be dating men, that men know what to do. I believe her, because when I met her, her boyfriend was twenty-four, and we were only fifteen. I think I am supposed to be having sex the way she is, like a woman, but I don’t feel like a woman. I think what I have done is just fucking. Not love. I don’t really understand it, and it makes me feel afraid. You should see the way men look at her. I don’t know what that would feel like. Sometimes I think I am beautiful, but when they don’t look I take it as proof – there are levels of beauty, and I return to what I started believing at eleven. I am good at standing by.
I notice I have this great capacity for creating, but I do not come from a family of artists. I am not daring, and the stories I write are stupid. They are about boys and getting high. In fifth grade they were about witches. They don’t mean anything. How do I write something meaningful? What do I have to say?
I listen to music to try and understand. The Velvet Underground sing, you know her life was saved by rock n’ roll, and I understand this completely. Because I’m not afraid to die – the people all call me Alaska. Nobody gets when I say that, because nobody knows that song. I don’t understand my friends who only listen to hip hop. They are missing out on worlds. Everything changed when I heard Kid A. I play that Tool song, H., twenty-five times in a row, because it explains something inside of me. It makes me see branches and thorns and a dark misty forest. Deep rotting roots. My past life as a witch in the woods. I tell Jane’s new boyfriend Ray that I see auras in people, and he says, you are amazing, and his eyes mean it, and they scan my body. It’s the first time I see her jealous.
I devour books that might break me open. I need to feel something, because I’m beginning to not feel anything. When I was ten my mom took me to see The Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages, and my heart was broken for a month. I want that back. The books that are assigned in school, I don’t want to read. I read Joyce Carol Oates and Dave Sedaris, The Catcher in the Rye fifteen times. I remember the first time I read it, twelve, thinking it was a comedy. Sleep tight, ya morons! Now I understand.
I know I could be an excellent dancer, an excellent student, an excellent writer and daughter and person, but I don’t have the courage to try that hard. I think I don’t deserve to be that good. I think I am not that good.
I am trying so hard to be good. I am taking medication now and I see a therapist twice a week. I go to yoga and ballet, and I am getting really thin and pretty. I only smoke five cigarettes a day, unless I’m drinking. I’m a decent writer and I read literature and I worship music and I smile at people. I think I see beyond.
My therapist says, you have permission to feel sad, you don’t have to be good, you can stop now. I play with those velvety tassels at the end of the pillow and talk my way out of my emotions again, and she sighs and smiles neatly, and I think, I am just like my mother.
I stop drinking and smoke pot instead and occasionally take mushrooms and speed. I miss alcohol because it was best at untangling me, but I am afraid of the next morning. I start drinking again, and it works, but it is never the same as it was in the beginning, fourteen and wide-eyed at having found what I thought was magic. I am too aware now. I should never have read that memoir or told my therapist or gone to that AA meeting where I related to everything the woman said.
I am searching and desperate and insecure, and yet an eleventh grade girl tells me I am intimidating, that the other girls are scared to talk to me. I try to be nice to them at the graduation party, but they are fucking dumb and shallow. There has to be something more important to talk about. Is there anyone here who has something important to talk about?
My two best friends are guys, and I tell them, I think I am an alcoholic. Just don’t get so drunk, they say, and they often try to sleep with me. I haven’t let them yet. Adam reaches into my purse and asks, what are these? and I say, anti-depressants, and he gives me an uncomfortable look, a sad one, and we are never friends again the way we were throughout high school, when we were almost in love.
I see that I am afraid of love and chase the unavailable. I do not know how to be loved.
How do we learn to be loved? I ask my therapist. She tells me to look into my eyes in the mirror and hold it and at a five year old picture of myself, and I do, and it makes me cry a little but I don’t really feel it, and it doesn’t help me choose nicer guys. I tell her, I don’t think this medication is working, and she says, nothing will until you stop drinking and doing drugs and dieting and cutting. I tell her, I feel so numb. She says, you are. Do you want to wake up?