a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
"Hi...? I’m sorry, I’ve never been here before. Is this the Cranium?”
The secretary didn’t raise her head. I cleared my throat and tried again. “I’m here about the Abyss. Is the boss here?”
The secretary finally looked up. She looked me up and down.
“Oh. Are you... the representative from the Frontal Lobe Department?”
I nodded. “Yes. That’s me.”
She studied me carefully. “Are you new?”
I frowned. I thought we were all new. It’s only been ten years since our system developed. We were all new. Then I remembered she probably dealt with organs like me on a daily basis. I nodded.
“OK, the boss is ready to see you now. Just go straight through this hallway. Last door. You can’t miss it.”
“Thanks.” I nodded, and continued on into the office buried in the deepest recess of BEDELIA.
“Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
The smell of sunflowers hit me as I walked into the boss’ office. They bloomed on the windowsill looking out over the rest of the Cranium.
“Hey. You’re the representative from the Frontal Lobe Department?” The boss stood at her desk and offered her hand.
Her white blond hair was smoothed into a slick bun at the nape of her neck, and her tailored suit hugged her figure. Her fingernails, though, were chewed down to the bed and she had dark circles almost painted underneath her brown eyes.
I shook her hand. “Yes, that’s me. Our department wanted to discuss with you the possibility of closing the Abyss.”
The boss nodded, sat down, and gestured at a chair for me. “OK. Tell me about it. Has it been growing again?”
I sat down and opened my briefcase. “Unfortunately, yes. The Abyss has been growing. And we believe that since BEDELIA is now 10 years into her trajectory, harmful factors around her are increasing— most prominently negativity on the Internet and the objectification of women in media and society as a whole.” As I spoke, I took out the papers I had brought, and spread them on the boss’ desk.
She didn’t glance at them. Her eyes stayed on mine. “All right. What will happen if it continues to grow? How much time has your department predicted we have left?”
“We’re worried that another four years of the Abyss widening at this rate may cause BEDELIA to collapse within it. And us along with it.”
The boss’s face remained stoic, but her hand tightened around her gold-tipped pen.
“BEDELIA would reach a point of no return, which in most cases results in an entire system collapsing within itself.” The boss still looked confused. “Falling to the ground. Suicide. Death.” These were words constantly repeated by both myself and colleagues during long department meetings, so much so that they no longer had an effect on me, although the boss flinched.
“Only four years?”
“Yes, ma’am. High school is statistically when most systems collapse, either mentally or physically. And even that is a generous estimate.”
“Alright… What does the Temporal Lobe Department say is the problem?”
“Well... It seems to be the issue of... body image.”
The boss’s eyes hardened almost imperceptibly. “This is an issue that many older systems deal with, but our BEDELIA is only 10. This cannot be the issue.”
I was inclined to agree with her. I wished I was able to agree with her. But I had the statistics laid out in front of her. There was no denying it.
The boss continued speaking. Her voice was level, but it rung in the almost empty room where the walls have yet been fully decorated.
“What do the other departments have to say about this? Have you contacted them?”
“Yes. Cerebellum, Diencephalon, Stem, and all the smaller sub-departments have conferenced with us. But...”
“They said that this is an issue that only... well, only you can deal with, Madam Cerebrum. Only you can bring BEDELIA around. Like always, you hold the fate of all of us in your hands.”
The boss didn’t flinch. “I have been trying to convince BEDELIA. Attempting to close the Abyss.” She paused, and said, with a hint of sadness: “It’s hard to convince a broken system that it’s whole when it doesn’t want to believe it is.”
I took that in.
No one wanted to admit what the Abyss was. We all knew too many examples of systems collapsing into the Abyss.
I took a deep breath and plunged ahead into uncertain waters. “Ma’am, we can no longer dance around the Abyss. We can no longer call it something else and pretend it’s not there; it is there.” I hesitated for a moment. The jarring, almost comical image of the chewed nails urged me on. “It is self-hatred. It is body shame. It is insecurity.”
The boss sucked in a deep breath. The words seemed to echo. They echoed in a deep, resonating tenor.
“Do not say that. BEDELIA is not insecure. She does not hate herself. She is merely... going through a phase. It will pass. The Abyss will close itself.” The boss’s voice was suddenly hard and sharp.
I watched her in silence. She stared back at me, her brown eyes cold and sharp. The eyes of a defensive and aggressive animal caught in a trap.
The silence echoed as well. It spoke volumes. Silence said everything left unsaid.
The boss looked away first, and stood up. “I have a meeting with the Temporal Department now.”
A clear dismissal. I nodded and got up to leave. “Of course. Have a good day, Madam Cerebrum.”
She nodded, and watched me as I gathered up the useless papers I had brought and put them back inside my bag. And watched as I turned to go.
I paused at the door, and looked back at the boss. She had sat back down at her desk and had closed her eyes tiredly. Without her piercing eyes on mine, she seemed, for the first time...Small. Shrunken.
For the first time, she was not the monarch who ruled over BEDELIA with an iron fist. She was not the controller of our system, who held all of our fates in her hands. She was just a solider, fighting for her system’s life.
Impulse spurred me. “Please, ma’am. Think about what I have said.”
“Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay”
“Bedelia, we’re home!” Mrs. Bai’s voice called from the front seat.
Bedelia Bai rubbed her eyes, and sat up groggily. She got out of the car and stretched before shutting the door. Her sister Belladonna walked in front of her, her hair curled and dressed in a shimmering blue blouse. Belladonna turned around, her elegant features shining as she called for her sister to hurry up.
Belladonna was tall, statuesque, and beautiful. Effortlessly.
Bedelia thought about the fat on her own stomach, quickened her step, and followed her glamorous sister.
As she walked into the house, Bedelia caught her own image in the mirror her mom had hung near the shoe rack. She paused in front of it.
She felt an age-old disgust whenever she caught a glimpse of herself, yet she couldn’t seem to stop looking.
The Abyss widened with a spike in rate.
“burn and rave at close of the day"
Two days later, I received a request to meet with the boss again. This time, even the boss’s secretary looked strained as she ushered me into the boss’s office. Her eyes, and the dark circles under them, spoke of sleepless nights at the office. The secretary’s eyes pleaded silently as she walked me into the boss’s office.
She was waiting for me when I walked in, the smell of coffee almost overpowering everything else. The sunflowers were wilted.
The boss looked no different from the last time I had seen her, but her eyes held a crazed fire. The eyes of a wounded animal, fighting for survival.
She looked at me, and I looked at her. Her eyes searched mine, but she found nothing but determination.
She accepted this.
A small voice came from her: “What do we do?”
I hesitated. I knew what BEDELIA needed. I knew what she wanted. But how could I help her, when I was just a measly part of her? Even the boss, ruling as the Cerebrum, controlling BEDELIA’s every move, couldn’t help her this time.
Maybe it was because even the boss believed that BEDELIA was broken. Her words from before echoed in my ears: “It’s hard to convince a broken system that it’s whole when it doesn’t want to believe it is.” Broken.
I looked up, and stared into the boss’s eyes once more. They spoke of helplessness, of despair, but also of defiance. Almost as if she were saying: prove it. Prove that BEDELIA can be saved.
Maybe that was why the Abyss couldn’t be closed. At least, not just by us. Maybe it was time for those of us inside the system to step back. Maybe it was time to seek outside help.
Maybe, this wasn’t just BEDELIA’s fight.
“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
It was movie night. Bedelia sat behind her sister, on the sofa, and once again felt the green-eyed monster gnawing at her heart as she stared at her sister’s toned thighs. Her sister seemed to glow, even in the dim-movie-night lights. Belladonna turned back, and caught Bedelia looking at her, although Bedelia averted her eyes.
Belladonna recognized this look.
Belladonna got up and sat down next to Bedelia. Their parents didn’t notice, and the movie continued. Belladonna rested her head on Bedelia’s small shoulders.
“Have I ever told you the story of how I was bullied?” Bedelia shook her head, shocked. Who could ever want to bully her beautiful sister?
“Well, when I was a freshman in high school, I had this one friend. She constantly said horrible things to me. How I was too skinny, how I was never going to get a thigh gap, how I had no curves at all.”
“What? Who would say such mean things?”
“I know, right? Then later, a bunch of my friends also started saying stuff like this. Sometimes, these comments weren’t even directed at me. But I still felt targeted because the flaws… well, they sounded like mine. And at first, hearing them say this really hurt. I started believing them. I let them overrun my life, and I was just so angry and frustrated because I thought I could never be beautiful. It got so bad that sometimes I just wanted to end everything, because being dead seemed better than living as an ugly person.” Belladonna sighed. Then she smiled. “But later on, I stopped seeing myself that way. In a way, I sort of realized that that friend of mine was right. I was never going to have a thigh gap. I was never going to be able to have perfectly straight legs. And you know what? Maybe I’ll never have curves either.”
“So what? You’re still super pretty.”
Belladonna lifted her head and cupped her sister’s tiny, innocent face. “Exactly. I will be beautiful no matter what she says. I don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. The world can say whatever it wants about my body and my looks, but it’s MINE. And at the end of the day, no matter what they say, I have to deal with this body and this face. So why waste time hating it? I just accepted the fact that my body isn’t the perfect body and that it will never be. I stopped weighing myself every morning, I stopped staring at the mirror for hours at night, and I got rid of these ‘friends’ who thought that it was all right for them to point and judge other people’s bodies.”
“The truth is, Bedelia, as long as a body is healthy, it’s beautiful. And as long as you are confident, you are gorgeous.”
Belladonna laid her head back on Bedelia’s shoulder. Tears welled up in Bedelia’s eyes. They sat there for some time, even after the movie ended.
“Do not go gentle into that good night."
Back at my desk in the Frontal Lobe Department, I sighed. For the first time in a long time, the messages that came to my device wasn’t warning me that the Abyss was getting larger at a faster rate.
It would take time for the Abyss to close completely. Or even just to stop widening. A long time. But BEDELIA wasn’t hopeless yet. And all of us, both inside and outside the system, were holding out for her.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.