a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
The metallic air hangs heavy with the deafening silence of war. I cannot hear, nor see, nor remember; I am as ancient stones underground must be – laying still and unmoving in the earth as extreme pressures crush them; having experienced so much that all they can bear to be is cold, ashen granite. Into this abyss comes, as from a faraway fantasy, birdsong; a high trill of youth, hope and light, reaching me in my darkness. The sound feels strange in this grey, bleak desolation, like the ghost of happiness, like a figment of some faithful imagination. All at once, I am pulled back and my senses are assaulted, making me dizzy and turning the edges of my awareness fuzzy as nausea settles into the pit of my stomach.
When Zoe stepped off the bus this Friday, the sky mirrored a baby boy’s nursery walls, if the baby hadn’t arrived home from the hospital. Water-stained stucco townhouses stood as they always did with fake rock painted over front doors, and english ivy creeping up towards the shingles. November air whipped through the 14-year-old’s chestnut hair and ruffled a small folded wad of loose leaf paper clenched in her hand. The shaky “To: Mom” written in blue-inked lines wrinkled in the wind. She checked her necklace clasp resting on the nape of her neck and started to plod home, each foot barely advancing more than three inches after the other. The gray trees that looked like the grim reaper’s fingers did little to console her somersaulting stomach.
I am not the kind of girl people write stories about. I have no desirable qualities or fatal flaws, but I am prevalent. I am ordinary. I breathe air, drink half-filled dreams out of lukewarm cups, and eat when I am due for a proper nutrition break. Every day, I follow a routine, but sometimes I break it–never to the point when I am beginning to feel clumsy–and I occasionally forget to double-knot my off brand shoes. On school days, I am average but unsolvable. No bullies, no friends, no philosophical thoughts to ponder upon until the lunch bell pops the bubble
hovering over my head. When I go to the library afterschool, I take as many books off the
shelves as I can make time for and caress their spines with my fingertips, crack them open to
smell the raw memories etched on each page. I do not read any of them, and I forget their titles,
but never the textures of their unreachable worlds.
[Content warning: eating disorders]
At night my hands multiply. I shift through the kitchen, pantry to fridge to hidden nook and cranny with them bared into claws, and they grow eyes and minds and greedy hearts that desire indiscriminately. Anything goes. There’s no need for nitpicking because this freedom is my right through a day played by a numbers game: simple addition is grape by grape, nice linear plot that settles my nerves, never noodles or rice (God forbid a tablespoon of oil) because that is exponential and we’ll have to start over, fresh clean slate at zero, 0, tomorrow. Zero is nice because I can add it an infinite number of times, 0 to 00000000000000, and it will be the same. This equation I’ve got down to a tee, good old 0 + the free-for-all that is night, and my stomach. Rules begone (only until dawn) and I follow my multiplying hands, their greedy eyes and minds and hearts so ravenous, so eager to gorge it’ll all have been a dream by the time I wake, memories swallowed whole beneath the uncounted, unmeasured, unbound high of leftover dim sum takeout and unthawed ice cream.
Morning and these two hands steeple in prayer to the neat square of nutrition labels. I wait for nightfall.
The mother is sullen. Sleepless nights drew maps around her eyes. Enervative months
bulged sacs around her waist. Her fingers tremble from the night before. She feels
exactly where her muscles flexed, where her joints folded, and where her nails clawed
deep. She’s losing focus, so her husband releases it for her.
To my stepmother by Xujia Guan (China) *
I killed her one night, when nobody else was around. I cannot remember if the moon and stars were gleaming above our heads, maybe, maybe not. I did not look at the sky when I killed her. I was so focused on my task that the world became a blur.
The only clear thing I can remember is that it was dark and that except for her tears it was silent. A thick, pasty silence that enveloped us like a blanket.
I was scared. I knew what I had to do, but I was scared. It was my first killing, my first murder. I didn’t know what it would do to me.
[Content Warning: self-harm]
Looking in the mirror, Anna stared at the reflection, a reflection that wasn't hers. It couldn't be her. At least, it wasn't a version of herself that she recognized or cared about. And honestly, she wasn't really staring at the person across from her. She was staring at everything she was insecure about. Her eyes traced up and around every bump, every freckle, every hair and nail, and scar.
She spends her days trying to imagine herself as someone else, someone more attractive or more appealing to look at. She tries not to dwell on the things she hates, but sometimes she slips. Today was one of those days.
Lane by Lucy Dillenbeck (16, Chicago)
[Content Warning: mention of drug use and implied motor injury/death]
When the hitchhiker opened my car door, her eyes were like an animal’s, fearful and wild, darting every which way like she expected something to jump out at her.
She clicked the seatbelt closed with bitten-down fingernails. “Go,” she whispered.
I did. It occurred to me right then that I was probably making a terrible mistake, but she didn’t seem dangerous, not yet.
We were in the backwoods of Tennessee, and the road wove in and out of thick tangles of trees. Sometimes a cliffside would slink out of the woods and catch me unawares. I’d grip my steering wheel hard and my heart would pound in my ears as loudly as one would expect driving parallel to certain death.
There's something so… perfect about a pattern. Something that seems almost universal, or basic. Fundamental. Interlocking lines making shapes, and more shapes, a thousand squares and triangles and parallelograms interwoven and completing the order of some higher being. They keep me grounded. Away from the substance and unnecessary complexity. Parallel lines bring calm and perpendicular ones strength. In here, I can lie down and watch the patterns swirl along the stones, geometries churning like shadows cast from a great distance. In here, I can breathe unfettered and pour my life into the patterns. There is nothing but what is inside. The simplicity of a straight line keeps the rest at bay.
The silences were growing longer. He was eating breakfast. Two slices of bacon, and an egg. He stabbed his fork into the yolk and made it weep.
In the living room, his wife watched TV. The presenter’s nose was too small for his face, and he was swamped by the folds of his chin. She wore baggy clothes and no make-up. The midday sun cut soft lines across the table. It was April. It was Sunday. There was a war on. The birds were coming back out, slowly, shaking off treads from a long winter.
The world, for some unexplained reason, was plunged into another Ice Age. Hundreds of blankets of snow wrapped every corner of the world. The once bright sunlight grew weak as it tried to pierce through the never-ending clouds. Snowstorms were frequent, keeping any living creature from staying out too long. The winds howled constantly, singing in agony at the state of the world.
Preserved in caramel sugar, memories of my sister melt like candy on my tongue. She vanishes into a sharp sliver in my mouth, cuts and draws blood, disappears before I can carve her into my flesh.
I remember meeting a baby as a child, a heavy head supported in the crook of my elbow. I remember the way her eyes opened wide and searching, perfect and ready to find the word ‘gullible’ on the ceiling. Her tiny baby’s fist curled tight around my finger, grasping. I remember my lips shaping her name—something pretty, melodious and ringing—even as it fades away. Two syllables, sharp consonants softened and made sweet by round vowels. Something with an A sound. It started with a K, or maybe a D.
[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.
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.
Shoes by Alex Tang (18, Ohio)*
[content warning: self-harm]
What do you want me to do with your shoes? Answer me. I swear to god I’m not joking this time. See the giant recycling bin in front of me? Your tactical boots are about to go in it.
If you want me to keep them for you just tell me but don’t just lay them out like that on the window sill. It’s not like you’ve never left stuff at my place before. Remember when you left your hockey stick in my closet and had a game that day? I’m sorry I didn’t hear you banging on the door. I was sleeping with my headphones on. I woke up to your texts and ran to the courts with the stick though. You probably borrowed someone else’s stick so it worked out in the end didn’t it.
I'm sitting on the seventh storey bathroom floor. I blow smoke rings on the collar of the boy who tells me he loves me. There is sawdust between my nails, and the boy tries to say something but takes a sigh instead. My lovers have learnt not to make a burning woman bleed more ash. Ma messages. She says: come home. And maybe this is falling apart.
Jovian Marble by Dana Song (New York)
A Second Look at the Fifth Planet
I have always been of the firm opinion that Jupiter is made of marble.
One need only glimpse this stunning planet—with its eddying colors, its mottled swirls, the patterned stripes that make it look as though someone took a paint-dipped brush to a bowl of water and swirled it around inside—to get this impression. I am told that Jupiter is made of gasses, similar to the composition of the sun, but that just does not seem right to me. Its surface is far too intricate to be made from something as simple, as incorporeal, as a concoction of gas.
Dear Alana by Saya Shamdasani (19, Maine)
The desk wobbled as I set my forearm on it. It always did. Alana said it added character to the
wooden desk. I found it frustrating. We were different in that way. I hate winter because the cold suffocates me, Alana loved winter because the cold liberated her.
I leaned over and pulled out my ink pen, the one my father bought me for my twenty-second birthday. It was a sad birthday. The first without her. I reached into the side drawer of the desk and found a piece of paper. My ink pen grazed the surface of the parchment and I began:
“-but loneliness is still the time spent with the earth.”
I can see it from my garden overlooking the buildings, the green bushes blushing with spring flowers. I see it creeping through abandoned hallways of some school where the sunlight leaks through the roof and the day yawns open in an awakening. Sooner or later, I know, like everyone, that the houses will sleep in the embrace of darkness in the pitch-black night.
She lived in her own world. It was less of a world though, and instead seemed to resemble a shadow more. She lived in a shadow. It followed her around like a puppy-eyed dog would to an owner. It lingered in the corner of every classroom she would be sitting in the back of. It would watch her as she got into the back of a car after a tiring day of school. It would question her as she got home and barged straight to her room in a clear state of distress. It would stare at her as she stared in disgust at herself in the mirror. It would judge her as she crawled into bed and slowly started her soft weeps of the night.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.