Riding on the bus with your head held higher than everyone else’s, you started to feel the downpour outside filling you up. Martha had said there would be a time in your life where just as you’d start to say Thank god I’m alive you’d suddenly wish you weren’t. But what does she know? And, besides, it’s one thing to live and it’s another to actually do it and do it well.
In the morning, the dog wouldn’t shut up. This wasn’t unusual, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t any less excruciating. Please, pup. It’s not fair. It’s not fucking fair. You breathed the couch cushions to life, your rib cage billowing in and out beneath a stifling nest of plushy duvet covers. The dog plundered your face, begging unceremoniously for you to let her out. She was awake and insistent and too goddamn happy. You wondered how the two of you were ever best friends. Reluctantly, you staggered out of your warm burrow, gave the screen door a kick, and let her run, thinking Why isn’t there anyone to take care of me?
On the kitchen table was a note from your mother. It read, Hi Honey! There are muffins on the counter if you want one! I’m at work until 5:00! If you need me call! Hope you have a great day! If you get a chance maybe clean the bathroom?! Love you! P.S. Dinner?! You crumpled the post-it between your palms and threw it unapologetically into the trash. Today was not the day for exclamatory notes or ambiguous instructions or taco night. This was the day to chink yourself away little by little. This was the day to empty yourself one cell at a time. Still, as much as you tried to think of it as liberation, it kept coming through as extermination.
It was only the second day of spring break and you already hated being home. You missed the comfort of being left alone at your big university and not having to give anyone a play-by-play of your every move. For their information, you didn’t know when you’d be back or, hell, if you’d be back, but you were going for a walk and, no, they didn’t need to wait up. You felt badly. You felt really badly, especially as you passed that collage of them holding you in your pink onesies on your way out the door, that clanging screen door that hit with an insidious slam, and then you were gone. The pavement glistened damp, and you secretly missed them.
Most of all, you missed the boy. The boy wasn’t anything special to talk to, but he was still something. He had arms like rivers and when he walked by all of the hairs on the back of your neck stiffened with tiny electric jolts. He reminded you of James Dean and you had wanted to marry him from the instant you saw him singing karaoke at that slutty girl’s party. He was shamelessly obliterated, but it hadn’t mattered at the time. You only knew that you loved him for being so god-awful handsome and completely unconcerned with you. You put him up on a pedestal like an unattainable god, and somehow, by doing so, he swaggered and crawled down, around, and in to you. He was your Odysseus, and you acted like some nervous, fumbling siren the whole time.
The two of you were either together for an eternity or a microsecond. You can’t remember which. You recall how Martha sat cross-legged on her frothy dorm bed and screeched way too enthusiastically, Now we both have boyfriends! You never really considered him your boyfriend though. It was always something different. Like an iguana at the pet store that you could take out and stroke, but never really got to claim as your own. Then, when it finally found a real owner, you’d be left there staring at a vacant tank with salt swishy in your eyes, refusing to even look at the geckos in the aquarium over.
Getting dressed that morning had been difficult. Nothing fit right and everything felt transparent. You were certain that anyone who looked at you could see right through you, right into you. You couldn’t eat because it felt selfish. Selfish to give yourself nourishment, to feed your own egocentric existence while simultaneously depriving someone else of his or hers. His or hers. As much as it would hurt, you never wanted to know.
The bus ride there was one long crash. You felt yourself swell up out of your body with each turn, every sickening screech of the brakes thrust your heart way down into your pelvis, settling there like a burning rubber wheel yanking and churning away. The gears shattered inside you, the rusted bits floating through whatever sacred places still remained. Every lurch of the dirty bus brought images of the boy to your mind, the boy with his apathetic, lush mouth and the acerbic way he pinched your sides as if you were dough in his river arms. You thought of how your nose sat level with his Adam’s apple, how you’d watched it rise and descend with gravelly percussion. How he was too strong and not sensitive enough, but how it was what you wanted anyway and, in the end, it was what you got. You thought of how he’d promised he wouldn’t hurt you, and how you’d silently thought, But I can still hurt myself.
When you walked through the translucent doors, they told you they’d be with you in a moment. You sat in a green plastic chair and peered over outdated magazine covers. Some actress had just had a baby. She was smiling and preening. You scuffed your worn sneakers over the speckled linoleum floor and tried to breathe. When they called for you, you forgot who you were. You surely couldn’t have been the girl they just summoned. No, they must have been mistaking you for someone else. You couldn’t possibly have a name. You didn’t even have an emergency contact person. For all anyone cared, you were a nonentity.
Still, they led you by the elbow and showed you to a sanitized white room with a window. You lay down and stared out of that square portal like it was your last chance at salvation. You might have even prayed, but you can’t remember now. All you really recall is the prosaic look on the doctor’s face when she asked if you were ready and how all you could do was nod. Someone gave you some kind of sedative and the sun outside began to flicker away. No one held your hand.
When you first found out, it was during the middle of finals week. You remember crouching down in the third stall of the women’s bathroom on the third floor of the west
dorm building and staring blankly at the bold little line shaking between your fingers. You took seven more tests in the matter of an hour before your hands went completely numb. No matter how daunting your Calculus final seemed, you knew it was nothing compared to how you had just pissed your way to paralysis. Within the next week, you had aced every one of your exams, been accepted into the Honors program, and begun to deal with the fact that a little person was suddenly splashing around inside you. You told no one and no one held your hand.
Over Christmas break, you didn’t see the boy. In fact, you didn’t really see anyone. You had decided to study abroad during the winter interim. The French loved you for your nonchalant demeanor and insightful fashion sense, as well as your seemingly pencil-thin frame. You didn’t tell anyone about the thing growing inside you. For a month, you lived blithely and tastefully, without a care in the world, and somehow managed to never drink a sip of wine without anyone noticing.
When you came back from France and started the Spring semester, the boy was gone. He’d moved, somewhere like San Francisco or LA, you can’t remember which. You never really got all the details because the two of you were never really together. He was your iguana, and you could only stare at the empty tank with a raw welt slowly blistering in your belly. He’d never know. He had disappeared. And if it was going to be like that, then there was no reason to keep expanding.
On a bitter day in early February, you called a clinic back home. They gave you information and figures that made you cringe in many, many ways. They offered you one opening: the first Friday in March, your second day of spring break. You were being pragmatic. Even when Martha asked you to go to Cancun with her, you were being pragmatic. You scheduled the appointment and told Martha that you needed to save your money. She, like, totally understood.
It took ten minutes, but they made you wait an hour before you could leave. You lay on a cot in back and let a few drops escape the corners of your eyes and slide down your unsuspecting face. The nurse came in with her head tilted to perfection. She sat beside you while you whispered over and over, It’s not fair. It’s not fucking fair. When your cheeks finally dried and your eyes grew stiff, she gave your hand a good squeeze and led you out into the brutal sunlight.
The bus ride back was smoking and crispy from the crash. Your hands played dead in your lap. For a second, though, you actually felt okay. You remembered that at least you were alive. Sometimes it feels good to just be alive. Sometimes it’s all you can ask for. You sat up a little bit straighter in attempt to make up for leaving behind a piece of yourself—a tiny, nothing piece of yourself. You tried hard to think of it as resilience, but it kept coming through as reduction.
Outside, the buildings and skyline faded in and out of focus as your eyes blinked blurry again. The water welling up behind your eyes mirrored the spring drizzle slipping down the bus windows outside. A few quick breaths and then you were fine. A scrolling bank marquee told you that it was almost five o’clock. You thought spaghetti for dinner sounded alright. Maybe you would have a nice glass of milk. And after dinner, maybe you would go to bed early and dream about boys and iguanas. Maybe he would come back to you and maybe this time he’d be sensitive and lasting. Maybe you’d find out if the thing inside you was a his or a hers. Eventually, maybe it would all be okay. You didn’t really know, but spaghetti for dinner sounded alright, and sometimes that’s all you can ask for.