Eighteen

fiction short

The other girls are smarter. Did you hear that one go on and on about Prufrock? You didn’t get any of that from reading the poem. (You set it down every other line to take a hit, yes, but you still read it, and you still turned in a fine essay. The professor gave you a B+. She doesn’t get you yet.) The other girls might be lesbians. They all have short hair. They all talk in that pretentious drone, and they don’t smile back. They make literature out to be this grand cosmic force that, well, you think it’s that, too, but you don’t say it out loud because the cost of alienating people via intellectual snobbery far outweighs loving words by yourself. You learned a long time ago to mostly keep your feelings to yourself.

The other girls are prettier. Creamy skin and flowing hair – why do you keep cutting yours? The Hawaii twins down the hall and Emily and Shannon next door, who are so so nice but take it all in stride. How is it so easy? Is no one else anxious? Does no one else feel this tremendous loss and impending doom? You tried to articulate it to your friends in high school – even the more depressed ones just shrugged and pulled on the joint.

The Other Girls. They could drive you mad if you’re not careful.

Captain Morgans, that’s what Ashley and Liv always want to buy. They’ve got the credit cards courtesy of their rich midwest parents – your father is richer, but he doesn’t give you much spending money, just tuition. You keep overdrawing your account. You don’t get how it works. This is 2003. The internet isn’t yet what it one day becomes. So – Captain Morgans it is. Disgusting. Like syrup. Chased with Coke and Dr. Pepper. You’re getting fatter, your jeans are pinching, your face is bloated. You aren’t nice to yourself. Ashley teaches you to online shop. Bulimia never really worked in high school, but maybe it’ll work here.

Something strange happened to your body. Your left leg is hurting. You went to the gym here and it wasn’t the same. You tried a yoga class, and it felt like you were damaging your leg. You had that hamstring injury a few months back? Is that what it relates to? Did it hurt all summer? You can’t remember, you were drunk all the time. You can’t remember, you were drunk, and starting to sleep around, and you’d finally gotten skinny, size 4, new clothes, Ron Herman splurges and so proud of you parents and everything was clean and fresh and promising and this is it, your hard work paid off, you yoga queen and straight-A writer and every time you drink you black out and wake up next to some strange guy. You miss days at your summer camp job, you, who was so almost perfect. You who the children voted best senior counselor, we want her in our group! You let them all down, because you always do. A beast on your back. But you went to the orientation at Boulder – you’re going to college. You’ll get sober at 21.

It isn’t what you thought because you thought right away you’d find someone to love. You, always searching, to love and be loved. In a school of 30,000 these boys aren’t looking for that. Silly girl.

Math class. Hieroglyphics. Introduction to Russian history – what a bore. Linguistics 101. The professor is a bitch. You have lost yourself, you have flown away. And laundry? Impossible.

There was absolutely nothing pretty about any of it. What is an eighteen year old girl supposed to look like? Feel like? Some sort of pretty, but that was lost on me. I was plugged up and numb with too much Zoloft, dragging Bic razors across the insides of my forearms, wearing the same black velour sweatpants and Boulder sweatshirt day after day. Sober or not sober, it was all ugly. My heart was gone. Where did it go?

It was a time in my life that only by looking back upon can I barely believe. Can I barely breathe or feel again or write about without it making me squint and look away from my own life. A time when all I needed was a little love and innocence and for someone for once to quit lying to me and pretending I was OK, just because it was too vulnerable to say otherwise. but to tell me, it isn’t OK, and this must hurt real bad, but this isn’t your fault, and we love you. You can change. But no one said that. People either pretended it was all fine or else withdrew from me in judgment and scorn. My own father, ashamed of me. And why? Because for a little while, it was all so ugly? If I ever have a daughter, and she ever suffers the way my eighteen year old unfolded before me, I hope to God I can hold her and weep with her and rock her to sleep and not try to fix her but just let her know that I love her even more when it’s ugly and numb and infected and toxic and broken and bleeding and messy and compulsive and if she’s overeating or bingeing and purging or cutting her arms or letting men fuck her or blacking out drunk or chain-smoking Marlboros or wearing terrible clothes or throwing her life away, I will love her and weep with her and hold her even tighter. It is when it’s so ugly that we must hold on so tight.
I don’t know what lifted me out of it. Leaving home. Reducing the meds. Losing ten pounds. Making some friends. Some numbness left me and some was shoved way down beneath. When you get a chance to take a deep breath and not feel so trapped, you’ll gladly ignore the suffering that will one day still bang on your door and demand that you come out and fight.

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