a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
Why do you write so much, when you are so young? What does it matter?by Ashley Headrick (15, Washington)
They ask me why I write; I answer that language is the firmity of man.
When we uncover the buried remains of some neolithic society,
Do we know how they lived?
We see, of course, the means by which they stayed alive.
We see their weapons, how they hunted;
Perhaps we see the marks of disease upon their bones,
The scraping of clay into the walls of a hut.
[Content warning: psychotic episode]
That freckly Californian grass wheezed up bees. Outside my Jewish day school, hundreds of those striped scoundrels swarmed the sky lupines and kindergarteners alike, stirring the chaos of blooming youth. “They’re harmless alone,” Ms. Julia repeated every morning, as if our chattering ears were present. It was spring: the season of basketball, avocados, anxious tantrums, Passover, and gaga pits. Life was pollinating.
every morning i wake up with the same feeling
the feeling of existential dread
of being stuck in what is essentially a glorified hell loop
i wake up with a pang in my stomach
a mixture of hunger and despair
i look in the fridge for something to satisfy
but then i look up and it’s already time
Perfection: the state of being absolutely flawless, completely without blemish, 100-percent perfect. Coming from the Latin verb perficere, which means “to do completely.” A pretty common word in the contemporary world, one that is no longer used solely in the extreme, literal sense, as nothing is ever really perfect. I say it when I finish setting the table. Or when I pull a batch of fresh-baked cupcakes out of the oven. Or when I am putting together a particularly dashing outfit for school. I use this word even though I am fully aware that none of these things—the table, the cupcakes, the outfit—is truly perfect.
[Content warning: smoking]
The smoke quivered in my palm, that sluggish worm of fleeting echoes. Like a scarred hand to the trigger, I grasped the allure of death. But I didn’t want it fast. I liked slow things: roads, weather, gani-boiling, sex, and yes, smokes. “Get that damn thing out your mouth!” Kuraa shouted through the busted screen. I paid her no heed on the porch, drinking what little morsels life had to offer before dripping them out through cracked lips. I wanted to leave. Smoke made doors.
[Content warning: self-harm and suicidal ideation]
There was nothing to look forward to
Tomorrow looked like
Today looked like
The entire world was grayscale except for
In bright flashes of aching sepia and
Bursts of unbearable
And the weight of every single thing rested comfortably
Behind my eyelids
Breaking my spine
The house is pink.
Bright pink, as of strawberry lemonade on a hot day. Like the taste of peppermints in church, rebellious. It is the color of laughter, and people to share it with.
The window edges are scalloped in white, with detailed dragons and worlds of stories written out in the painted wood. On most days the curtains are pulled up, showing the ancient wooden furniture and warmly colored interior. Cookies left every morning by the open window of the kitchen, a few missing in the afternoon.
I am going to a place
Where I do not look in the mirror
And distort my own reflection
To see a broken little girl
And instead, I see a reflection
Of a girl who tried her best
Who persisted, despite
Who held herself together when
Falling apart was so
Funny the things you remember when it doesn’t matter anymore:
the lightness of trees, the wind
rustling, throwing back the ghost-curtains of
my room with eyes looking in, all alight in orange
while the sky fades out.
Yesterday, you were perched on my kitchen countertop, sharp-toothed smile decorated with the pulpy carcasses of whole strawberries. You looked like the lovechild of a geisha and an anglerfish and one of my nightmares, pale skin and reddened lips brightened by the light that swung from your forehead. When your deft hands plucked out another strawberry from the box, your mouth opened wide enough so as to house a small animal before you popped the fruit inside. Strangely, your hands were the most human thing about you, opposable thumbs and all.
Maybe you not yet
Have eaten. Wake up, wake up,
Today you lucky to be alive. No,
you much different than me.
But you once inside me too,
eat my food, drink my blood.
You know then I no know
what I do with you, evil
sinner in mommy belly. I don’t know
what choose, start thinking dead, dead,
dead until hear your heart boom boom
boom. Then finally I know.
[content warning: mentions of death, negative self talk]
the worst feeling / is knowing i’m about to die / death’s cold fingertips clutching my neck / coughing up blue dust / eyes blinded by the flash of light / i call for help, scream for it / down the stairs into the room / my father’s angry eyes / into the car driving off into the night /
“Does she even speak?” the kids nearby whisper to each other thinking that I can’t hear them. Or maybe they want me to hear. To respond and yell right up in their faces. To get offended and run out the door, slamming it on the way out. However, I won’t. I will continue to sit down and stay quiet, pretending I never heard a word.
This morning is typical. My alarm goes off at six-thirty, doenjang-jjigae for breakfast at six-fifty, and I’m out the door and in my mom’s minivan by seven-fifteen. My mom, who drives me to school every morning, is busy texting her friends on kakaotalk with a big smile. While her fingertips fly across the screen, creating tick noises that fill the car, I wonder how nice it would feel to be appreciated.
Last night I woke suddenly, startled awake by some small sound. I lay there, half asleep and frightened, thinking that perhaps it had nothing at all, but a tiny crackling noise said otherwise. It was something else that made me pause—a human sound, a quick intake of breath. God, my doctors said I was just being anxious and was stuck in Maladaptive Daydreaming again. It was another word of delusion—they said I was sick. But why, in the silences and muffled wind sounds, could I imagine each gesture and caress that I knew was taking place?
[content warning: body horror]
I meet my guardian angel at the racetracks, waiting in the betting line with feathered scarlet wings folded as a metaphysical foot taps to an impossible rhythm. He holds a handful of coins that have not existed for a thousand years in his closed fists and smiles at me with rows of translucent icicle teeth.
I tell him you’ve been here before and he says SO HAVE YOU and I shake my head. No. In my ear, a voice like a laugh: HAVEN’T YOU?
we are made up of atoms of unfairness, deception
atoms upon atoms upon nothing upon everything
how can we say that we are wondrous and all-knowing?
the imaginary negative value is too great; it outweighs all but anger
I claim imaginary, as infinity is an imposture
do not fear those with great power
for power breeds burdens and deathly obsessions--
they are strong, only in your eyes;
they feed upon glorified flattery, worship
In the ripeness of the morning
You asked, what are we but
purple skies, bruised and hidden
behind tasteless wine?
I did not answer you then,
being swayed by the clashing
air, bitter seeds and peels crushed
beneath my tongue,
my mind already tasting regret
I know of nothing more inspiring than
that of making discoveries for ones self.
--George Washington Carver
how can i speak with ten voices / at once, become
a billion / bodies bridged into the ground like salt / discover
myself twice / first as my name / then as consonants
Our palms lie against our heart and every heartbeat resonates and pleads to beat free of its cage. Through the rough wind the flag undulates and the red, white, and blue’s merge in their own cacophony. A thousand miles away, another flag of different colors, and another beat of different hearts echo through the sky. The words they sing along to are different, but the actions are the same. Yet in our society, the waves of inequality have risen to such a level that we are ignoring our similarities and straying far away from the shores of peace. These deeds belie the true meaning of life.
[content warning: self-harm]
i want to cut open this skin, tear it apart with my bare hands
trace my fingers along a coursing river
as i command it to stop. stop flowing. stop running on and on and on stop
giving me life stop making me feel this way stop
beating. (for me).
the earth opens its eyes somehow, it’s brighter down there
than the heavy lidded sky.
this solitude smells like sweetened suffering
i breathe it all in
i want to be at one with silence
i am my own mirror, i said
and in it i will see the bitter moon
an obelisk in a nocturnal wasteland
[content warning: miscarriage, graphic descriptions of blood]
i love you, you know?
i love you even more
than i ever did him, saw the
first blood forming in my eyes
as the tongs came out from
my legs, our juice spilt all over
the folds of my bed. it’s better this
way, they said, licking the blood
off my tired, glassy cheeks.
i sweat so much,
i think i cry through my skin.
are my eyes on my hands, do i
see through my fingers?
i can’t believe my hands
weep more than i do.
The rubber girl never breaks skin,
Not to preserve the pure, pink flesh inside, but
To hold herself in one piece.
Bruised, prodded, groped, shoved,
She is thrust across vices, the hot friction setting each one aflame--
Burning them from memory, from existence—
Leaving pieces of herself in her wake.
There’s an odd disconnect. You spend two years, no, more like seven, waiting for a sort of revelation. You can lie to yourself, tell yourself you’ve found it, maybe convince yourself it’s true. You’d like to think you know when you’re lying, but you know you’re never sure. There’s the subconscious, and then there’s the subconscious. They get mixed up and twisted together so easily that you begin to decide it’s just a matter of italics, like that means anything at all. It’s cold again, the key to unlocking all sorts of truths. Except the truths are in code, and you can only catch a few images, no significant meanings, until you decide nothing in your life has been interesting at all. But you think it has, only you don’t know.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.