a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
He follows me everywhere I go. I could walk, run, or skip down the street and he would follow. There’s no discrimination between dark alleys or busy thoroughfares. The only thing that has meaning is his need to occupy my head, spreading the buzz up and down my spine and through every channel in my brain. I can’t remember what it's like to go a day without his nasally voice just behind my ear. His presence is an annoyance that bothers me daily but also doesn’t affect me at all. The buzz might impede my ability to think clearly, but it’s also unnoticeable. His leash on me creates dialectics that even I don’t understand.
And let me tell you - there’s little that’s scarier than not understanding what’s going on in your own damn brain.
In my time, I’ve learned that therapy is useful, but risky. My buzz monster is the only part of my life I’ve never shared. Some of my reasoning stems from embarrassment, but there’s also another factor - I’m possessive over him.
He may have chosen me to cling to, but now I choose him. Together, we make a pair. I don’t like him, but he’s comfortable and safe and familiar. In a world where so much is constantly changing and unreliable, he goes against the grain and fits what I’m looking for: sameness, consistency, predictability. He doesn’t have off days, and he’s never one to come with surprises or sudden changes. He is a constant in my life. I hate him and love him for it. “Hey,” he says.
“You’re doing that thing again. The thing I told you about.”
What do you mean? What am I doing? I observe my heart rate rise slightly as the once steady thump slowly transforms into an erratic bump against its jail in my chest. The worry fuels my heart’s inconsistent rhythm. Sometimes I feel as if my rib cage is the only thing able to restrain my heart from leaping out of my body. I cannot perform that task; each anxious thought merely eggs on my heart’s wayward mind. The matter is not helped by the buzz monster’s slow response time.
The few seconds that pass as I wait for his response are agonizing. The answer is even more painful.
“The thing with your legs. They point outward weirdly. I told you about this. Everyone’s looking at you, ‘cause it’s weird.”
I tilt my head down and view my steps as I walk. He’s right, actually. I don’t remember him telling me about this before but I wish I did, so that I could have avoided walking like a freak. I’m sure everyone is watching me.
You’re right, I say. Thank you for telling me. How do I fix it? I don’t want everyone to stare at me.
He snorts. “Just don’t do what you’re doing. You’re not a duck.”
Alright. I leave it at that. Even though he’s been extra critical today and I feel a bit hurt, I can’t really dispute his response. Besides, I have to focus on my steps. Walk. Lift leg up. Place it down again - no, not like that. Make it land straight. I envision two parallel lines along the gum-riddled cement. Strangely enough, concentrating my brain on this mundane task helps calm everything else. The process becomes streamlined - step, check, lift, check, place, check.
“Hi, sweetie!” I am home before I know it and Mom’s cheery voice comforts me. Lately, she’s seemed on-edge and irritable, so seeing her more relaxed quiets some of my worry about her. Buzz is more dubious than I am.
“She’s mad,” he warns me. “Watch out. She probably just had a big fight with Dad and you’re next in line. No, don’t look at her that way.”
I’m trying! I know my tone toward him is harsh. But I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. She seems perfectly fine to me, happy to have me home from school. Buzz’s criticism is bothering me today. The fact that it’s bothering me also bothers me.
Stop. He’s your friend. He protects you. This is helping you, remember? When he wasn’t helping you, your life sucked.
“Mia, honey? Did you hear me?”
I snap back to reality. “What Mom?” It’s not soon enough for Buzz, though. “Really? C’mon. I’ve already told you that she’s mad and that this could be bad. Like, let’s pay attention! Do you have a death wish or something?” Even though he’s just in my brain, I feel him shake his head. I’m hurt by his obvious disappointment, so I wince a little bit, sparking concern on Mom’s face. I notice that this pauses her words by just a few milliseconds. A slight delay, but still a delay. I’ve hurt her.
Come on, Mia. You’ve been home for not even five minutes and you’ve got Buzz upset and Mom worried. Get it together and don’t be an asshole. They care about you. Don’t treat them like this.
“I was wondering if you wanted a snack. I realized that today was meatball day and you usually want a home lunch. I’m sorry I forgot. Can I get you something now, though?”
I’m going to say yes, because I’m hungry, but Buzz talks first.
“You should skip,” he advises me. “Maybe your legs would turn in weirdly if you had less fat on your thighs. Missing a few meals won’t hurt you but it’ll thin you out a little bit. Can’t be getting fat, Mia. It’s unattractive.”
Yeah, that’s a good point.
“No, I’m okay Mom. I’m just not super hungry today. Thanks though.”
After a little more discussion, I get past the worry-ridden conversation and escape into my bedroom.
“Mia. Did you forget about this too?”
What? What are you talking about?
“Dude. It’s Wednesday, remember? Meatball day, whatever?”
Yeah, I know.
“Well, no, you don’t, because you literally just forgot. Jocelyn literally asked you for edits yesterday because her essay’s due on Friday and it sucks.”
Yeah, I know. But it’s only Wednesday...doing it tonight will be fine. Besides, I’m pretty sure Dude Perfect uploaded a new video today. I want to watch it.
“Seriously? It’s an honor for Jocelyn to ask you for help on her essay. She has the most friends right now. And let me remind you - you have none. No one likes you. Probably ‘cause you’re selfish like this. No one’s even going to want to be friends with you if you ignore them just to watch Dude Perfect like a baby. Five-year-olds watch his channel, anyways. Like, seriously, Mia?”
Tears catch in my throat. I know he’s right, but it hurts. I’m tired and drained and Dude Perfect has been inactive for three weeks while making this video. But he’s right. I have no friends and Jocelyn could be my way into a group. I resign myself to an hour spent leaving comments on yet another essay a classmate procrastinated on.
Yeah, I guess you’re right. But do you think she’s going to be mad if it’s late already? Like do you think it’s better to pretend I forgot instead of just being lazy? “Oh my god. I can’t. Just shut up. Literally stop talking to me. The least you could be doing right is pretending that you’re a normal fucking human being. I mean, I try to help you and then you act like this. Am I even getting anywhere, Mia? I swear that you’ve gotten less competent even with me advising you. Like, seriously? I’m surprised your mom even still likes you.”
My voice is quiet, even inside my head. I want to curl up and cry and let the tears out that I’ve been holding in all day, but Buzz’s stern and angry gaze convinces me against that. And he’d be right, too. No one wants to be friends with someone who cries over an essay that isn’t even theirs. That’s pathetic.
My MacBook could not be taking longer to turn on. The stupid light beams flash across the screen in varying colors. Buzz is irritated by this too.
“See, this is why we should have done this earlier, Mia. By the time this computer starts working, it’s going to be five o’clock.”
I know, I know. I’m sorry. I’ll plug it in, I guess. See if that makes it go faster.
He’s quiet. I am too. The silence between us is heavy and hot, filled with simmering irritation and the weight of a misunderstanding between good friends.
When the silence feels unbearable, I fill it. Buzz, are you okay today? I’m worried about you. Is it me?
A sigh. “Mia, I don’t know. I just feel like you don’t care about me anymore. I’m guiding you along like I always have, but you’re being weird about it. More hesitant of what I’m saying even though I’m just like I’ve always been. To be honest, I’m worried about you. You’re going to do something dangerous and reckless and then come crawling back to me wanting my advice again. If you want to walk like a weirdo, have at it. If you want to ruin your chances of being accepted into a friend group, go right ahead. I can’t help you if you don’t want to be helped.” The tears are coming now. There’s no stopping them.
Buzz, I don’t know. I’m sorry. I love you. I want you but honestly you piss me off. There’s actually nothing wrong with the way I walk. You tell me that stuff so that I keep you around because when I’m scared, I think I need you. That’s how I feel about it. And Jocelyn won’t care about a few hours. She doesn’t even care about her grade anyway. And I think you know that. So I don’t know what your deal is with-
“Mia, seriously? I’ve helped you your whole life and I continue to. The only issue with your walk is that you’re steering yourself straight into the danger zone with the way you’re acting. Jocelyn may not care about her grade but she’s going to feel like you don’t care about her if you push off that kind of stuff. But you know what, maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s better if I just leave you to fail, since it seems like you don’t even want me around."
That’s not fair Buzz. That’s not FAIR! My ears are ringing with the volume of my voice and my heart is hammering with the intensity of my words. I’ve never spoken to him this way before. You know what, fine. If you’re gonna be like that, I’ll do the same. You’re an asshole and you haven’t done shit for me. I don’t even know who you fucking are. Never bothered to explain that part. I bet you’re just some lonesome weirdo who needs someone to bother and so you chose me because I gave you a home. I fell for you for a long time and spent years under your lock and key. You trapped me. I’m not gonna do it anymore. Leave and don’t come back. You want to say, “Oh, Mia’s gonna come crawling back when her life sucks.” Well, I think it’s the other way around! I bet you’re the one who’s gonna come back like, “Oh, I’ll be nicer, I’m sorry, forgive me for I have sinned.” So shut the fuck up Buzz and go invade someone else’s head.
I take a breath. Air fills my lungs in a way it hasn’t before. My chin has stopped quivering and my hands have stopped shaking. And my head is quiet.
My head is quiet.
There’s no noise in my head.
In a way, it’s so silent that it’s loud. The absence of noise is making my ears ring as much as Buzz’s loud anger used to. I’ve read book after book where the same cliche is used - “the silence was deafening”. But now I know what they’re talking about.
My head hurts. My heart hurts. I hate him but I love him. I want him dead and the pain he’s inflicted on me gone, but I want him and his words back.
I want a redo for the past few minutes. I want to take it back.
I want to have said it earlier. I want to have made him leave years before today. I don’t know what I want.
Buzz? BUZZ??? Are you there? Buzz, I’m sorry. Come back, please! I want you. Silence. Dead, heavy silence. Regret fills my eyes and more tears spill out. Buzz?
- - - - -
“I know,” I tell Jocelyn. She’s sitting next to me, black heels tapping anxiously against the scratched stage floor. “I mean, you’d think that they could just show up and be normal for one day this freaking year. I just want a nice graduation. Feel like that’s not a big ask.”
I cringe, knowing that kinda killed the mood. But Jocelyn nods agreeably and continues the conversation. I am not listening. Out of habit, I’m tuned into my head, waiting for Buzz to tell me that I majorly fucked up but that he knows how to fix it.
He’s not there.
Opting to focus on me and Jocelyn’s conversation, I nod again at what she’s saying. “Like, yeah I know. They’ve caused trouble all year. And just look at Felicia, she’s all over Mark…” She continues on, but again I’m not listening. I’m not listening for Buzz either though. I’m just enjoying some silence. Even though the auditorium is full of laughter and cheering and crazy boys running around, I’m listening to the silence. It’s crazy that only a year ago, I didn’t even know that was possible.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.