a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
The day everything went perfect was the day she died.
It was the milk. The 2% all-natural organic milk, which had been sitting in the fridge for just a day too long. The milk’s expiration date was October 3rd. It was currently October 2nd, and this was a carton of very punctual milk, which had no intention of being late, fashionably or otherwise.
The voice, muffled in the distance of the line, said words. Words that were unimportant, like the milk, when not strung together.
The same day that the 2% all-natural organic milk was set to go bad. To spoil and curdle into undrinkable sludge.
To love her is death.
If someone had told me this ten years ago, I would have listened.
But faced with her silver eyes tarnished and etching me as we stood on the pier, a streetlight making her dusky skin gleam in hues of sadness and hate, I could not pry myself away. Every fiber of me knew that she was death, that I should turn around and salvage what was left of my life. But I could not move.
To love her is death.
Playing in the dirt
Dirt has always been part of me. From when I was a child, letting it spill through my fingers. Plucking struggling worms from the dirt and hiding them under rocks, where the sailing birds couldn’t find them.
A teenager planting a garden so I could eat what was grown by my hands. But the vines always sprang up from the dirt, too. Weeds with needle-sharp barbs that stung my fingers and killed the vegetables.
The skeleton books in my grandma’s library, covered in dirt because she didn’t understand what was inside and what was out. I liked the smell of dirt. It belonged there, scattered on the thin leaf pages full of the unexpected.
They tossed dirt on Theo’s shiny mahogany casket. She hid inside, covered in a thick layer of makeup to cover the blood, sealed in the cracks. They stuffed her in a dress she would never wear, brushed her hair into an unnatural wig. She liked her hair curly. They made it straight.
Curly scared them.
Her screams echoed inside the glass coffin.
I heard them.
She scratched her fingernails bloody on the hard case that kept her inside.
I felt the blood trickle down my own hands.
She pounded with all the strength and power left in her fragile body.
Bruises sprang up on my own knuckles.
I wanted to hold her hand, warm like it used to be. It is cold and hard now. Skin frozen and curled like leather.
She wanted out.
I wanted in.
Falling out of conversation
Voices fade in the dark, fingernails bite half-moon smiles as the chill creeps into my veins and spit out ice. Glass crunches between my teeth and pokes blood from my gums. Fog flickers and a shadow pricks my throat, trying to peel away my face.
Looking for a crack to pry open.
The twisting of a name
But she always liked Theo.
Some called her Dora. Or Teddy. They liked warping and twisting her own name until it wasn’t her own anymore.
But I called her Theo.
Weaving my brain back together
Stitching the parts that were torn apart
Filling in the fractures
Closing the cracks
Cold beauty, warm hate
She smiled, teeth covering the mouth that loved to spit poison words.
We sat in the twinkling dew grass, soaking into our clothes as the golden sky fell into purple. We’d regret it later.
She stood at the bank, curling and uncurling her scarf, calmly watching the river catch fire.
Bodies littered the ground, and girl skipped between the bodies holding a sword twice as big as her.
No one would dare say she couldn’t be a warrior.
Don’t be afraid to die in the rain
The skeleton tree
When I stared into the ground, I thought of the tree. The skeleton tree that stood, crumpled, in the grass, hidden behind tangled vines. So small and bent on top, but its roots twisted and spun into the deep earth.
Sick. I had it cut down after she left.
It hardly made a sound when it fell. But the roots hung on.
This is how the world ended. Not with a bang, but with a quiet ‘oh thank god.’
Looming behind the flickering shadows
Small at first. Growing larger with every word we spoke.
Treachery starved, it loomed, stalked, waiting for us to scratch out each other’s throats.
We knew it was there. But we ignored it, for as long as we could.
Until we couldn’t.
Memory of a phone
“Please, I need to talk to you.”
“Please, please. Call me.”
“I don’t know where to go. I can’t get out of here.”
“Talk to me, Evie. I’m sorry for leaving. Please call me back.”
I threw my phone in the trash after the first twelve interrupted the movie I had been watching. I dug it out the next morning.
I listened to her voice, whimpering and screaming and cursing my name for as long as she held on to her feeble existence.
The next morning, it was too late.
Reasons are the beads of an irrelevant necklace
A necklace she forced around my throat
“Because I want to” didn’t seem like reason enough to destroy my life, but did that matter?
The clasp was sealed
when she flew through the air
and her head smashed on the concrete in the street.
What a feather duster is made of
Dust gathers in clumps on the mantle.
I never noticed it before.
Now I sweep the feathers over the dust, scattering the tiny particles everywhere. They float through the air with tiny fluffs of feather.
This is not an efficient way to clean.
The vacuum roars in my ears.
The teeth chew up carpet and spit it out, clean and rumpled, dust-free and ripped to shreds.
Roaring fills my ears, echoing inside my head and gnashing its teeth at the bone of my skull, trying to break inside.
A tiny flame sparks into the air when I yank the plug.
Contents of a closet
Sweater. 24th birthday, green cashmere. Like my eyes.
Torn jeans. She knew it was my aesthetic. They look great with Docs.
Black ring. Like obsidian.
Sneakers, stained with cream soda from a summer afternoon. Hand holding in the warm honey sky.
Piece of glass, buried under a t-shirt. From the mirror in the hall.
My attempt at painting. Canvas, torn to strips of angry colors. Whoever said painting expresses emotion couldn’t be more true.
Favorite mug. Smashed until the cat’s face was in four parts. The mouth doesn’t even line up with the nose, because a tiny bit skittered and hid under the fridge.
Splinters of what was. What I wished could be. Dashed to shreds.
What I should have burned
The photos, first off.
But there were so many, they might just engulf my tiny home in flames and suck it deep into the ground,
holding me prisoner inside.
Things that last longer
Hi, Eve. I wanted to see how you were doing.
I miss you.
I thought a letter would be nicer than a text, or a phone call. It lasts longer. Anyway…remember those brownies I used to make? With your special ingredient? I left the recipe in the cupboard, next to the red pepper flakes. Make those for when I come back. I know they’re your favorite.
Sprinkles of paper
This is the easiest recipe in here, Eve, so don’t mess it up! Love you, see you soon!
Faded flowers are not pretty
I never noticed how ugly the wallpaper was.
Or how it peeled in on itself, starting with the corners, like a dying spider. There were cracks slithering in the walls, too, only those went deeper.
Afraid of the Dark.
In The Shadows.
Whoever comes up with these must be a poet.
I choose Freedom Found.
The smell of burning chocolate
I can’t cook. Or bake. Whatever.
The kitchen smells like a horrible blend of vinegar, sweaty cheese, baked apples and goats by the time I’m finished.
I try to throw the charred mess away but it sticks to the pan.
I throw the whole pan away. It’s not like I’ll use it.
I can’t cook. She knew that.
Grey meat laced with crimson
“For future reference,” she once said, staring at a smoking blender, “diamond is not the hardest substance known to woman. That would be dried chickpeas.”
She was even vegetarian.
Couldn’t stand looking at meat that was even a little bloody.
The evanescent belief confers the protest
And so, the marching of the tiny guilt molecules continues, chanting blood songs all the way.
Velvet in grey drips from the walls.
Wet paint is choking.
Thirteen strikes thirteen.
When I can’t inhale the poison anymore, I go to my sister’s and listen to her sob into the phone in the bedroom next door.
Mundanity of grey
A flicker of light, swallowed by the grey.
Why did I choose this color again? Just to remind me of the monotone that surrounds me, stamping on the tiny lights, squeezing until it’s too tight.
The cacophony of silence, and the warbling, haunting song of a single note.
Even my face, thin and dull and grey, drooping from the tired and the emptiness.
I fought the grey for a long time. Now the little clumps of dead and dust gather in the dark, swarming and scuttling where I cannot see, tossed and turned as they feed off the chaos. Relentlessly searching for things to hold and hold tight for themselves.
Selfish creatures. But I can’t fight them anymore.
Now I am their prisoner. My body is broken, mind caged in their claws.
Bone is cold and vindictive
Fragile, in the end. Snaps easily in the wind.
Smashes easier on ground that doesn’t catch you with open arms.
When monochrome color blooms
It is bright and livid, shooting its bleak rays ablaze, building heat behind my eyes and piercing my skull.
It is so sudden, I almost wish for the grey.
It is only the difference between the muted hue of rot and the explosive force of impact.
I don’t know which was worse: drowning beneath the waves, or dying from thirst.
A living beast that consumes everything
Does it really matter?
Irrelevant things to consider in this tiny mindspace I have carved out for myself.
It all ends in death, anyway. She proved that. Darkness, which is really just a mix of colors blended into a single thing.
The cat of all
Always curious, wondering where the next new thing would be.
Somedays prancing, somedays slouching, always watchful on the hunt.
Searching for the next best thing after life.
Glanced toward death and couldn’t break her round, inquisitive eyes away. A beast that roars in its victory? Of course, something to look for. Something to aspire to be.
Soft pink pads touch black blazing stone. The beast is roaring, thundering toward its target.
The cat doesn’t know this new friend is its hunter.
The cat doesn’t know it is prey until it is too late. Teeth have clamped over fragile neck and snapped it, dragging the corpse far until it rips and tears.
Her dreams crumbled along with her bones. And what she looked up to, what she admired, was the death of her.
The milk is still due
Because the cat never drank it
before the world grabbed her and tore her apart
The next new thing
You are hereby given an eviction notice and notice to vacate, on or before 10/29, the apartment and equipment within, which premise is now occupied by you.
We inform you that we have chosen to terminate your tenancy and you are required to surrender possession of the premises described above.
If you do not vacate the leased apartment by 10/29, as well as hand over all possessions of the leased premises to the landlord, we would have to unfortunately consider judicial proceedings and you will be liable for all the fees and costs caused in such a case.
“master of spreading the grey”
What I shouldn’t have burned
She gave it to me as an apology, before breaking into my car and scratching the sides.
I could use some money right now.
Warmth in cold
The city loves me in ways no person ever has. It listens to my fierce footsteps, the stomping of my boots against the dirty pavement, the clicking of my heels when we went on our first date, and now the trudging of my sneakers (homeless).
It sees me smile ear to ear when I see the windows on its skyscrapers reflect the orange glow of the afternoon sun. It empathizes with my frustrated groan long past midnight when I can't flag down a taxi to take me home. It hears my satisfied sigh in winter as the first sip of a morning coffee warms my throat and thaws my freezing hands. It celebrates with me when I'm on top of the world and cries for me when life gets hard. The city sees and hears and feels every moment of every day of my life. The city understands.
The city is always quieter at night. And in winter, when everyone is hiding behind bundles of turtle sweaters and scarves. When snow falls, it is heaped and stained with filth, pale twinkling quartz to dark chunks of dirt. When the sun clamps its stinging hands on the clouds and forces them to the side, it shoots its slanting warmth on the snow and burns it deep into tiny sparkling rivers.
Burnt into a memory of the cold.
Hiding undesirable accumulations
Misery is stuffed into the alleyway corners of the city. It dulls the sparkle considerably.
It has soaked into sidewalk cracks and into graffitied walls.
Etched in every gaunt and dejected face that has given up on life getting any better than mean survival on mean streets. Garbage, damaged bodies and damaged minds. Each has a story that could snap your heart in two, so don’t ask.
Normally I would pass through with my windows up, doors locked, music on.
Now I am one of them, too.
The singing of old sneakers
They take me not where I want to go, but where I need to go, or perhaps nowhere at all.
Walking, running, meandering and sprinting away from that place, to a place I never thought I would return to again.
Humming metal monster
My sister’s car, old and stale in its old new-car scent, musky leather and deep-fried takeout mingling in the air.
Dark concrete road flying like a treadmill under the bumping wheels, screeching and howling.
She’s not driving. No, I’m in the driver’s seat, my hands around the wheel. And I catch a few floating question marks from the flying chaotic mess of my mind.
How did I get here?
Where am I going?
When did my sneakers grow too tired to sing?
Knots in an old oak tree
This tree is like a grand poem of the living world, a king that encourages the spirits to dance though the woods. It sports countless knots, twisted into hard lumps, and its clever roots slither and spin into the deep earth. This tree is a silent observer of all that has been.
Humidity encases me as I slump into the seasons of leaf litter, soft and embracing its transformation into loam. Shoots of bright grass stretch upward, striving to gain the upright poise of the surrounding fields. Moss, too, grows soft and blanketlike, providing a crash mat for the grass shoots in case they were ever to fall. This dead stuff beneath me is going to provide new life.
Why can’t it be the same way with me?
Vast open free air
Wind sings loudly hear, dancing with the leaves of the tree.
It fills my lungs with cold, clean freshness.
I inhale deeply. It carries the smell of smoke. I can hear crackling and laughter from somebody’s barbecue nearby.
This place is so different from the city. So quiet. Here I can concentrate on individual sounds. Like the coos of birds calling out to one another. The rattling of cicadas. The whispering breeze. The sorrowful wind, wailing in the woods.
It gives me an undertone to hear my thoughts, slow them down and pick apart each one.
Here I can see the colors. More than just grey.
Here I can embrace the wildness of what flutters in my head. The pure chaos of all of this.
Questions and unfixed answers
Maybe this is okay. I wasn’t with her when she was buried. I felt it, but I wasn’t with her.
Maybe this is okay.
I can’t stop what is happening. I can’t forget it all.
I can only let the fire rage, let it all burn away into memories.
Lock those in a tight box and open it only when I feel safe.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.