Up All Night

When I was twelve, everything
demanded angst. Girls in camp
would gossip about their latest
antidepressants, how hard it is
to come down from a Zoloft high.
They were strange and fashionable.
I could not help but think I was
diseased for wondering whether
they touched themselves. One girl
in particular was a mainstay in
my preteen porn. She had small
breasts and thighs and the kind
of ass you could bet a modeling
career on. It did not phase me
that she never had a
single conversation without
bringing up either her depression
or the high-pressure singing career
that was landing her in therapist’s
offices. Bodies that thin are easy
to fetishize. After camp, I turned
on the Playboy network and every
woman was her. I wanted to disappear
into their high heels, inhale
every blood-bleached lip liner
in the recesses of their makeup
bags. Nights, I would try to invent
my own unhappiness. There was no cereal
in the cabinet, my mom does not love me,
I cannot wear a bathing suit without
wondering if the rest of the world
is secretly disappointed in how fat
I’ve gotten. Everything
smelled like shame. I wished I could
have cut off my breasts, called myself
Andrew instead of my original birth
name, but no woman ever earns friends
for publicly questioning her gender
identity. So instead, I stuck to
invisible miseries. Adolescence is
easy to commodify. Only during
adulthood does the process of
becoming lovable end in some kind
of death. Every time a stranger
tells me about the importance
of looking happy, a knife carves
invisible nations in my throat.
I am completely
unable to breathe in my new skin.
My teenage self had spent years
shaping itself through the lens
of self-hatred. It knows nothing
but the threat of suicide, mental
hospitals, the blood test
for lithium levels on the calendar.
The first time I ever disappeared
was an accomplishment. I knew what
it was to wake up with a noose around
my neck, day after day, to walk into
a day camp and be able to think of
nothing except what kind of prescription
I can bum off my psychiatrist next.
Somewhere along the lines, the act
became too frighteningly organic.
Every poem was a violence against
the self. Picture cigarettes.
Picture knives, Tylenol boxes,
a rope cupped into the heart of
my palms. There is something
embarrassing about sadness.
It throws you into alleyways.
It coaxes you into believing
you will not be missed when
your body is dangling from
strange bridges. There is
no accounting for the wreck
that has resulted from my
invisible miseries. But that
was yesterday. Today, I am
employed, flirting with men,
active in a community of writers
that encourage something other
than blood. Just the other day,
I revisited a poem my seventeen-
year-old-self wrote in the middle
of an eating disorder. The girl
in it does not die. She is saved,
again and again, by something she
can neither understand,
nor articulate. Rescue narratives
are their own language. Their bones
know no geography. They are not
interested in the singular
confessional of adolescence,
nor should they be. Depression
is finite. I do not know what
will be there for my body at
the end of this, but it does
not matter. The world’s small
kindnesses allow us to go on.

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