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“You just don’t understand, mother.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway. You’re a loser.”
“Why do you care anyway?”
“I’m wasting my time caring about you, and I have things to do.”
That was the last conversation I had with my mother before she departed on a business trip to China on Monday. I lay on my bed, fatigue filling my bones with air and no energy left to get up and start the day again. I fell asleep, tears dripping, dripping onto the bed. She never saw.The space between us was tangible and dangerously blood-tinged in my ears, leaving us both with invisible scars and tainted memories of each other. I didn’t want to admit to myself that these words cut into my bones and lungs like nothing else. The only thing I knew how to do in these situations was be stubborn as hell, with hard-hitting retorts that came out of my mouth. It undermined all the sweat and tears put in to create my flesh and blood. Hers. She didn’t deserve a daughter like me, one who couldn’t grow up to be compassionate and intelligent. Perfect. My mother’s head was prematurely filled with wrinkles, some lining her mouth and brows. Her hair was puffy, spilling onto her thin shoulders, just like mine, but hers has small white hairs on the crown.
I have her pictures with father, his arms around her torso. I used to have paper cards with pixelated images and glue. Each represented one emotion so that I could slip them on my blank face and pretend to be fine. Her face crinkled upwards in a rare eye smile, wind licking her midnight roots baked under the bleached sun. I wasn’t in the picture then. Her smile matched the card happy, and my only hope is to see it again.
These things just happened, as if my ugly insides had been overturned to become my outer skin hanging by a thread. I did the same thing with father too, except the stuffy air between father and daughter felt putrid in my veins somehow, every touch an electric burn until there was nothing left.
I used to not have all these complicated feelings and emotional jargon and just layers on top of layers like a bloated orange that I eat. It’s hard now to peel them off one by one to get a glimpse of my past that is my future. Once, I was simply a girl with big goals and dreams floating in her head, my hair in pigtails attached by a butterfly clip. I was the girl that lived in the suburbs, a town with houses on both sides of the street, the grass trimmed short on Mondays and Wednesdays by a strict schedule. Identical, the straight lines separating them fading away into the background as the cars whiz past my nose. I lived on the lone hill facing the ocean, with twilight sunsets making the water and world a mirage of red, orange, and pink, with the occasional baby blue in the cold mornings. In the spring, roses bloomed on evergreen bushes, leaves appeasing burning cement sidewalks with the shadows of dappled maple leaves swaying under the sun. The people are like that too. Identical, I mean, except it’s different in a way because people are not objects that can be built from our own hands. They are the seeds and product of love, patience and watering. Well, that’s what we are taught at least.
Now, I let my hair down, no embellishments to take off and show. Regardless, I was that girl, the one who wanted to prove that I was capable of succeeding even if my face was colored and my body average. Even if my mother said I was fat for my age. My memories are foggy now, but certain ones stick to my soul with their messiness. I remember feeling something for a moment. Now, it’s a never ending cycle of too much and nothing at all. Time is the only witness to the battle to force myself to move again like every other traveler did every second. I don’t want to rest for too long alone because of the permanent clouds dotting the thoughts.
Recently, something made me feel.
“Are you okay, Samantha?” My counselor had asked me, waiting for my answer. All I knew was that my mind was blank like a sheet of paper, but I needed to show that I had improved in order to return to class. I never knew how to answer this question. I was supposed to reach out for help. However, in the end, people can only get better by themselves. She always called me down during Calculus, where all the kids were violin prodigies, science bowl winners, or just plain ambitious, with an emphasis on all. On the outside looking in, normal would be at the tip of your tongue, but it was toxic behind closed doors. Best friend was a foreign word in my vocabulary.
Was I supposed to say that I was fine? That I didn’t have anxiety or that my mood changed color like the plastic ring stuck on my index finger? I guess so. My knee was bouncing up and down, and Ms. Petra’s eyes had followed the movement. I had to do things right for everyone involved. What was the best way to do this? That’s what I always thought in every situation, trying not to relax for too long.
I sat in a wooden chair covered by a red couch cushion, strategically there to provide comfort. I remember it was midday, with sunlight pooling in from the closed window in the cramped room, a large mac computer behind Ms. Petra. The message that the school cared about each student was written all over, with posters and prevention programs in place.
My hands were between my knees, mind brewing with half truths that were acceptable, as well as strategies to best optimize my limited time in and between my classes. Everything had to be better, faster, and more productive than last time. That’s the way the world works, spitting out imperfect beings striving for perfection, even though the definition of perfection keeps changing. I tried to lift the corners of my mouth and hoped my poor attempt didn’t turn into a grimace. I loathed the possibility of getting sent to the emergency room again.
It didn’t work, so I tried breathing exercises to stop the numbness behind my mask, the pressure of unshed tears threatening to leak. Except there were none there, dry in the first place. Nothing mattered, after all, yet everything I did was for college.
“Yes, everything’s fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, of course.”
I was again hospitalized in the emergency room for not being normal, my time up to prove myself sane. That’s what I told myself, anyway, as the doctor had checked my body for faded scars with his long, pale fingers, my skin tingling with the first hints of feverish glow. It seemed surreal, as if I was underwater, the liquid in between my ears severing the connection between reality and white space spanning distance. I didn’t want him to see the red slashes displayed on my wrist behind colorful hair ties almost healed with time. These were my battle scars, ones that were still ongoing inside as I fought to survive like always. I only hoped to live another day and for relief to come, just once.
My mother had come home from her business trip, cut short because of unforeseen circumstances. She had found the drawing on my dresser, creased again and again, as if it had taken a lot of thought and rumination to create the piece. A lone tear dripped onto the paper, leaving a wet mark. There was a girl with a butterfly clip in her hair, nothing but flowers caressing her ankles. Her hair was in braids with colored hair ties, no scars on her wrists anymore. She was smiling directly out of the 2d world, as if at someone and nobody at the same time. I’m truly sorry, mother. Just know that it was not your fault. I am really happy and strong now, and I hope you find peace like I did. I love you to the heavens and back.
Tenafly, New Jersey
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