a space for youth writing & mental health discussion
a space for youth writing & mental health discussion
I’ve stopped trying to get out of bed, and I rest my laptop on my stomach. Water droplets form on the screen, hairline cracks creep up the sides. The glass melts into a sludge onto the keyboard, and I shut my laptop and pull the blankets over my face.
[content warning: body dysmorphia, eating disorders]
Twelve jellybeans. One hundred and thirty-one point seven pounds.
Three and a half squares of dark chocolate. One hundred and thirty-one point eight pounds.
(It’s alright. I’ll let myself go to one hundred and thirty-two if it makes you feel better.)
The first time I looked at the scale I gasped, a flashing one hundred and twenty-seven staring me down.
I grabbed rolls of squishy fat, grabbed them until they turned blue, purple, red, picking at the skin until it bled red, purple, blue. It’s still no use.
[content warning: self-harm, sucide]
I tell myself to breathe in and out. My fingers tap the desk - steady and fast like the sound of my beating heart. My left leg shakes like it always does when I am anxious as if there is a rumbling earthquake happening right below me. My parents stared at me with glassy eyes, looking at me without recognition. It was like they forgot I was their daughter, and I was instead replaced with some foreign alien from a different planet. This broken, red-eyed monster sitting in front of them could not possibly be the daughter they raised. I wait for the doctor to tell me their plan of action like a defendant on trial, waiting for sentencing. The air is thick and heavy with unspoken words, unshed tears, and a million questions.
“Ow, why would you do that?!” I exclaimed angrily, tenderly rubbing my stinging red cheek after getting hit.
Gio loomed over me, his shadow towering over mine as I stumbled to the ground, my hands behind me pressing against the cold oakwood floors of the house. My eyes widened as I saw his right arm raise once again, and I immediately squeezed my eyes shut while shielding my face with my hands and arms, bracing myself for the impact.
(waves crashing, wind whistling, sound of ocean spray, collision with midnight)
I would be lying if I said I didn't miss it. The unraveling. The scorned breath of the ash tray, the pooled black dripping from its sides like god, broken-hearted in the almond tree mistaken for a movie theater. But this is how we danced, our teeth born to sea, bodies sprawled against the wet part of the sand, singing the song of our mothers' broken heels.
One morning in summer, I wandered along the entrance of Sudi Causeway, which the poet Su Shi from the Song Dynasty built across West Lake. A scent of fried dough drifted from the entrance, beside which stood a small restaurant named “Cong Bao Hui”, the main dish that it offers for breakfast.
My mother has a small balcony garden. It is just the typical apartment’s balcony that people use for hanging clothes, about 2 feet in length and 1 in width, railed by transverse metal and mosquito nets. But from those rigid stone tiles, my mother is determined to make it a garden like she has always dreamed of. Like how in “family” there must always be “garden”.
This is the kind of rain that falls down in sheets, the kind that makes the sky into a blank, crinkled sheet, torn by jagged bolts of lightning and ripples of thunder. The light flashes across my textbook, and I think of the way it mimics a flickering flashlight. My father’s eyes dart between the smudgy road and the cars that are but blurs of red and blue and black with windows melting like ice cream.
[Content warning: disordered eating, body image, and suicidal thoughts]
A skeleton stared at me through the glass. Its eyes were sunken in, cratered by a deep blue. They watered. Its cheekbones were sharp, plump cheeks sucked away into nothing. Its lips were tinted purple, the corners settled in a frown. They quivered. Its skin was dull and pulled tight, showing each minuscule wrinkle. Goosebumps rose on its narrow arms, causing it to shiver against an imaginary breeze. Exhaustion weighed the skeleton down. The skeleton’s head struggled to stay up, bobbing on the too thin neck against its knobby, protruding shoulders. It clenched the edge of the bathroom counter weakly with blue tipped fingers. The skeleton’s eyes met mine through the glass, a tear sliding down the stretched, grey skin. It was lifeless. It was me.
[Content warning: death]
April 14th, 1912… Passengers, captain, crew, staff and Thomas Andrews himself impotently watched the once deemed “Unsinkable” Titanic sink to its culmination in the depths of the icy cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean taking down Her grandeur and glory.
September 11th, 2001… Americans and the rest of the world watched helplessly while two planes rammed into the World Trade Center, symbols of the economic monopoly of the Americans.
I kissed the tree in my front yard.
There was no tongue, no substance behind the kiss--just my pink lips against the bark.
I traced the trunk's gentle grooves, whispering a thank you to Mother Nature, my voice lost in the night.
[Content warning: eating disorder]
In the 6th grade he told me he loved me.
To be a pre-teen is to experience death while you are alive. The chaos of middle school hallways and the frantic commotion of trying to open a locker, could be enough for a brain to combust. Teenage girls get their periods and teenage boys experience voice cracks. Change is abundant and it started with him.
[Content warning: mentions abuse]
The nostalgic fingertips of childhood still extend out towards me to this day, grabbing ahold of me, flooding my mind with images of how I once saw the world. I regard these brief flashes of my past with a protective tenderness. This little girl is precious to me--I want to protect the good, I want to embed those moments into time so that they may never disappear.
My forehead was pressed against the cold window of the car. I looked up at the gray sky and tears rolled down my cheeks. Everything was wrong. The color of the sky, the streets I drove past, the faint smell of fish that lingered in the air. I started fantasizing about how I could make my escape. Perhaps I could splendidly jump off the car and hitchhike my way to the airport, and then, somehow, go back home, back to Bogotá. My chaotic fantasies were cut short by the loud honk of a passing minibus and evoked in me a single terrifying thought; today is my first day in a new school.
Words. Words have always fascinated me. The way they flow, the way they sound, the way they look. Everything about them captivates me and intrigues me into wanting more. Words can build statues out of sentences, or they can create people out of paragraphs. Infeasible concepts that everyone says is just fantasy can come to life with the click of my keyboard. Anything can become possible. The whole world is at my hands when I have words.
You sigh as you hop into your bed, and think about how, after a long day of Zoom classes, you have to stare at your computer screen some more as you write college essays. On top of homework, chores, and other responsibilities at home, you also have to figure out how to write 500 words about why you want to move from the temperate Bay Area to plow through six feet of snow to attend class at the University of Michigan. You want to just write, “Because I want a college education and I want to make money when I grow up,” but you know you can’t write that, because you’ve put in too many hours and you’re too close to the end to let your frustration show now.
[Content warning: eating disorders]
I had been staring at the yogurt for over an hour. The bowl was filled to the brim and sat a few inches in front of me on my desk. It was taunting me. I could imagine closing my eyes and sliding a heaping spoonful of that thick, cool, creamy yogurt onto my tongue. I giddily anticipated the way it would melt away in my mouth, slip down my throat, and land into my empty waiting belly; my stomach growled in anticipation.
But my arms were paralyzed. I couldn’t lift my hand and reach for the spoon. There was an angry voice in my head louder than the quiet pleading of my empty stomach.
Words hold power. And words of power often begin at an individual's roots - heritage, ancestry, descendance. Yet there is an irony in that the same words that hold power, if not clear and obvious, can be rendered useless.
As an adolescent, ‘identity’ was a word that lingered with me. It’s important. Being true to yourself was emphasised and hammered into me - and those around me. A true emphasis on striving to become a name with a face, not a face within the crowd. Yet each time I'd write down ‘Who am I?’, unending blue lines stared back at me.
I was neither fair or dark - somewhere in between. Born and bred on Australian land and soil, yet on my back lay the weight of distant, cross cultural ancestry. My father's side is a clash of European and Aboriginal descent, my mother, Maori and Maltese.
They call us visionaries. Sorcerers who tailor statues with a flourish of the hands, weavers who stitch dreams with gold gossamer thread, virtuosos who sleep in the skies and marry the clouds. They call us adventurers. Voyagers who foray through unmapped territory and chart the paths for others on crisp scrolls. Daredevils who juggle knives and speak in tongues of flame. They call us nonconformists. Rebels who cannot be bound by ropes, chains, or promises.
The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live –Confucius
If Confucius was right, then my mother lived delicately, treading a tightrope as thin as the slices of her twice cooked pork.
When she ate her first American hamburger, she had complained. “Ai ya. Why is the meat so big and thick? Where is the Americans’ refinery? With a hulking piece of meat like this no wonder they all in debt. Americans cannot save.
On the other side of my tiny town is one of the most well respected poetry presses in the country. I have been told I have what it takes to make it all the way, the whole seventeen blocks. But seventeen years have come and gone. And even the three blocks to the grocery store feel like an odyssey of epic proportions.
It’s funny how we measure life in blocks. We turn even the most mundane measurements into vertical distances, towers and poems. Civilization has always been very dense. Ancient Ur was only .27 square miles. And stacked precariously high, the Encyclopedia Britannica occupies less than one square foot.
[Content warning: strong language, discusses suicide]
The day is the 7th of December, 2020. Finally the last year of Trump’s presidency, maybe the beginning of his autocracy. The year is nearly finished and Christ(mas) is coming soon.
When America was born, the founding fathers made it clear that "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I used to be afraid of scarring.
My mom always told me not to pick at my pimples because that would only leave scars in the future, when my acne subsided. What she meant was that even though my face was less-than-presentable now, I could save my future self from having a permanently below-average face, riddled with scars.
She made it seem as if scarring was the worse thing that could happen, worse than my current state of acne—which had occupied both my cheeks, my forehead, and sometimes the tip of my nose, like it was the only the it wanted the world to see—because scarring was permanent. Because my future self would regret the mistakes my past self made. Because somehow, for some reason, my future self would be more fragile than my current self—and wouldn’t be able to bear having these scars on her face, even though my current self had to carry the weight of having more than 30 marks on her face that screamed “ugly” and “unworthy” to society.
It's taken twenty springs and autumns, and I've only now come to accept it. I am an absent-minded pessimist who lets sadness seep in every now and then, but actively tries not to bring it up in conversation. The walk we took after our evening class, I don't recall the name of your new basketball team or what I said when you told me your dog was sick. I remember the crackle of leaves underneath our boots, the out-of-ordinary red of your nose, and the shock of your frost-bitten fingertips touching my forehead to release the stress creases. I won't remember the road we need to take but I remember the sequence of songs we need to play along a car ride. I can lie still beneath the open sky and engage in hour long games of pareidolia - a candy floss machine that poofs up a high necked poodle or a distorted pineapple formed of panicky clouds. Nothing cancels pessimism like escapism.
A year ago, I thought the world was ending. Anguish tainted every waking moment a bitingly toxic shade of green, as that of the sky when a tornado brews. It was inescapable; no matter any temporary joy, a hint of chartreuse always remained.
That's how heartbreak works, after all, infiltrating every last nook and cranny with a noxious smoke that slowly eats away at already chipped paint covering up everything you've avoided confronting. The varnish always cracks. The lies, the secrets, the insecurities, everything always seeps out like pus from a septic wound eventually.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.