Every so often, you find yourself in a clammy lecture hall saturated with the scent of body odor and a strange mixture of coffee and Windex, and your tobacco-breathed professor chuckles, grumbling something along the lines of “You guys are young – you can afford to pull an all-nighter or two.”
Breathe, you try to ease yourself, as your blood starts boiling, and you can feel the heat rising to your ears.
But you blend into the throng of chattering students flocking their way to the door, and a wave of vertigo hits. Suddenly, the laughter of your classmates seems miles away, and you find yourself back in the disgustingly white hospital bed exactly four years ago, the uncomfortably blinding fluorescent lights, a distant, raspy female voice screaming “Fuck you all, motherfuckers, I ain’t crazy,” and your racing, eighteen-year-old heart, your fluttering eyelids, as the same four words run over and over again in your head in a loop. Please end this pain.
Each of your legs weighs a thousand pounds, but you try to move them anyways and catch up with your peers as they yell over each other. “The midterm was so easy. I just showed up – I didn’t even have to study.” Your forehead crumples without your permission, and you quickly change the direction of your steps, knowing fully well that at any given point on the crowd, you’d be likely to overhear a conversation of a similar nature.
I wish it were so easy for me.
“Oh, stop it! Stop wallowing in self-pity. Listen to yourself!”
“Go away,” you mumble, and you speed up, trying to escape, knowing fully well that your efforts are wasted. “I’ve got enough to deal with as is without your shit.”
“As if,” she scoffs. “What, do you think of yourself as some war hero? Do you think anyone will buy that bullshit?”
You open your mouth, but quickly close it again. Her lips curl triumphantly, and she wraps a thin, icy arm around your waist. You begin to shake violently, and then your body freezes. You want to protest, but the waves of exhaustion are overwhelming, and every cell in your body is screaming, let it go.
She leans over, bending over you and moving her lips just above your ear, so close that each word leaves a burning kiss, branded onto your skin. “Just know that you’re never really alone. You always have…me.”
“Great,” you mutter, your low voice dripping with sarcasm, but your body has given up. Your legs give in, and you feel yourself sinking into the ground, into the depths of her cool embrace. Your chest heaves as sobs start to build from the pit of your stomach. You try to suppress them, but she rubs your arm, whispering, “No. Let it happen.”
And the inevitable happens. Eyes turn toward you, some with mild curiosity, some with a hint of pity, and most with impatience as they hastily look away, change direction, and rush forward and away to avoid the discomfort that you can’t seem to stop yourself from spreading.
“It’s best this way,” she whispers, still caressing your arm and shifting to allow your head to sink into her chest. “They’ll all see you for what you are,” and she dropped her voice to a low hiss, “Pathetic. Incapable of taking care of yourself. A baby. But at least you’re not living a lie.”
She ran her fingers through your hair, seeming to rejoice at your uncontrollable shudders. Then her voice changed, and her words had an almost deliberate hint of tenderness. “But you’ll always have me. Everyone else will come and go, but I’ll always be here.”
Your sobs become more and more violent, and you try to struggle, but she tightens her grip, squeezing your shoulders almost to the point of pain.
“But,” you gasp, and you take a deep breath. Then, you open your mouth, and whisper, “But they want to h-help me.”
“Help you?” She throws her head back with a raspy, harsh laugh. “Why would anyone want to help you? No one even knows I exist.”
You quickly look around in desperation, and her eyes flicker with amusement. Your arms are pinned down to your sides, frozen in her imprisoning embrace. You widen your eyes and scan, looking for someone, anyone, to help you break free. Help me, you plead with your eyes, knowing that your efforts are futile.
“Give it up,” she said dismissively, a small, wry smile twisting her face. “They barely even know you exist. And it’s better that way. Remember what happened last time you tried to tell someone?”
“But,” you gasp. But the color is returning to your face, and, miraculously, you have a morsel of strength remaining. But you know you have to save it for later. You have to catch her off guard.
“But, what? They couldn’t handle you. But who can blame them? I mean, look at you. You’re a mess.”
“P-people like me,” you protest. The shaking is starting to subside, and your hands start to clench involuntarily into fists.
“Yeah, like you,” She scoffed, and her eyes glinted. “Have you noticed that the only people who still talk to you are the ones you lied to? If they knew who you really were, no one, I repeat, no one would want to deal with your bullshit. Who would? You’re a worthless piece of shit, and you’re lucky enough that I’m kind enough to stay-”
“I DON’T NEED YOU! If being with you is the only option, I’d rather be ALONE!”
You expect her to tighten her grip on you, but you suddenly hear a thump, and a second later, you feel a searing pain in your head. But you now have more control over your body as you pull your head off the concrete and gingerly peel your body off the ground, rolling up and looking around.
But you begin to regain sensation in your legs, and the day seems a little less dim as you take a few steps and realize that you’re not completely incapable of walking. You quickly raise the side of your hand to your eyes to brush away the stinging tears, and suddenly the trees and buildings come into focus.
But you don’t feel alone.
You begin to fixate on little things, like the way the wind rustles as it tickles your neck, and the birds are chirping a little louder, and the trees look a little greener than they did yesterday, and the sun seems to be visiting a bit more often these days. And for a moment, it doesn’t matter.
You can manage now.
You may never be able to prevent her from coming back, but you can manage. You can learn how to challenge her.
Her words are not always true. They are only true if you become them.