I am standing on my balcony smoking when the track ends. There’s a ten second pause. I’m crushing my cigarette between two fingers, otherwise as still as a statue.
I can’t recall now which song it was that started it, perhaps Nick Cave because I listened to him a lot back then (when I was seventeen and angst-y and way too serious). Maybe it was another number, something that reminded me of you, someone crooning out a bluesy tune in a raspy voice. It makes no difference either way.
When it’s over, and there’s nothing but silence – nothing to pull my focus away from myself, I break down, fall to my knees and sob into the tiled floor. At the time, I didn’t know what I was crying about – it seemed unfair to me that a song should end so abruptly, and that nothing could fill the silence it left behind. I whisper to myself – nothing lasts nearly long enough, and this is why I’m sad. This is the gist of it. Things change, they end, and I am only capable of observing their passing from my tower up high, my little balcony crowded with umbrellas and fresh laundry and shoes and nets with onions and all those other normal things families keep out of sight.
One, two, three seconds. Another song comes on. I’d get up and stop the music altogether if I had any strength left in my body, but it’s all been drained by the sobs. The tiles are cold and sticky on my cheek, and the smell of the floor is less than inviting. Still, I don’t dare to move. I think about the last few days, what I’ve done, how I’ve acted. I think about the doctors, my mother holding me down on the bed as I’m screaming my lungs out and pleading for her to leave me be. I think of throwing couch pillows at my uncle when he tried to enter my room. My friends’ faces as I change in front of them and their eyes never leave the wasteland of my forearms. Danny’s expression as he hands me a glass of mulled wine, make up smeared all over his face in a feeble attempt to make me laugh again. I accept the offering, and endeavor a smile. The scene is embarrassing for all of us.
I get to a point where I think I truly hate you because you’ve reduced me to this blubbering mess of a teenage girl. You’ve introduced me to pills and psychiatrists. To life. To pain. I’d say love as well, but we both know I’d be lying.
There was a moment on that balcony when my thoughts were perfectly clear, though. I knew what you’d done, to me, I knew how wrong it was and how wrong I was in playing the Devil’s advocate every time someone told me you’d never do me good. But I insisted my crippling depression had nothing to do with you, and how could it – after all, you’d been so understanding and gentle and patient with me. But you were, as always, only covering your precious little ass.
I hear a click of the front door lock and try to muster up some strength to get up and pull myself together. In the end, I decide it doesn’t matter anyhow. I’ve already made an effort to show everyone just how crazy I’ve become. My father’s head appears in the crack of the door and it takes him a while to notice the ball of limbs that is me, crumpled on the floor. He curses under his breath and bends to pick me up, all the while mumbling something about colds and winter and look – the floor’s damp and filthy. I let him envelope me in his arms and carry me, not without difficulty, to my room. I’m a big girl and he’s not as young as he was when I used to climb onto his body and do somersaults while holding his arms.
He leaves me in my room only to reappear a few moments later holding a huge box. I’m not curious in the slightest, but pretend to be interested anyway because of the expectant look on his face.
„I’ve got you an early Christmas present,“ he smiles. I finally pull myself up on the bed into a sitting position and reward him with a sad frown that’s supposed to be a smile. I don’t say anything.
My dad lowers the box into my lap. He’s making all kinds of excited noises and rubbing his hands together with pleasure. I take my time unwrapping the gift – partly because my reflexes have been dulled by the meds, partly because I don’t care either way. The sellotape is everywhere, it’s not easy to get to the gift beneath.
Then suddenly, I’m angry – I’m ripping the paper and the tape and unwrapping it as you’d expect a kid to do on Christmas morning. Dad’s eyes are glinting with pleasure as he mistakes my rage for excitement. When I’m finally done, I see a picture of a vintage-looking radio on the box. It’s made of wood, and looks like those old radios from the sixties, but it’s got a built in CD-player as well and I have to admit, even as indifferent to life as I am, that it’s beautiful.
My hands reach into the box and pull the radio out. I shuffle with paper and tape a bit more, and then he takes it from me and asks where he should put it.
„Put it anywhere, I don’t care,“ I reply.
I can still see the hurt that flooded his face the moment I said it. And instead of feeling sorry for him, I can only remember a rage blinding my eyes and giving me the strength to stand up and push him – literally, push him – away – him and the radio, and scream, and shout, and cry, as he was standing half way to the door looking at me as a scared child. I was angry at him because he thought a simple gift, a radio, would make me happy. How could it? Hadn’t I only minutes ago cried my eyes out because music never lasts long enough? How could he not have known? Looking back on it, I can see how mistaken, how insane, my reaction had been. But in that moment, I could only feel pressure. A pressure of being well again, of being the daughter he had known and wanted back. A pressure of forgetting.
How could I ever do it, I wondered, when you were always in the cracks in the wood, you were always in the silences between two songs, you were everywhere and nowhere at once, and I couldn’t see a time when I’d be rid of you.
The radio put away on my desk, dad leaves the room and closes the door on my yelling. I shut up the moment he’s gone and a guilt so great washes over me, it’s all I can do not to reach for a knife or a scalpel or whatever the Hell else is sharp that I have in my room to try and dull the pain. Isn’t medication supposed to help in these situations, I wonder. Isn’t that why I agreed to becoming a zombie? If not even medicine can help, how can I get rid of the monster inside? Get rid of you?
It will take a long time from that moment – it will take years – for me to come to terms with what happened. Between my dad and me, between my parents, between me and my friends, between the two of us. It will take a long time for the open wounds to morph into scabs and for me not to think you perfect anymore. It will take even more to make me realize what you did, and how it played a part in the absurdity that was my life back then, back when – I still considered you kind.
It is over and done with now, the pain is gone, and I am happy. That is perhaps the only reason I am able to write this down. Able to admit that I was unfair, and hurt many people along the way, because of you.
Because you taught me how to be everything I’d promised myself I wouldn’t become.
Because you were the Beast disguising himself as the Prince.
Because you couldn’t teach me how to love, so I ended up hating instead.
Because of you – you – who were the only person in the world I couldn’t hurt.
I rearrange the pills on my desk, by the radio. The apartment is quiet, my parents are at work and my grandmother is taking a nap in the other room. Should I do it?
I think of the words we’ve exchanged, all those vain attempts to coax a reaction from you. Any reaction. I look at myself in the mirror and try to smile.
Who have I become? Is it someone I can live with? What is it I call life now, anyway? Is it you? Can it be you?
To keep my hands busy and away from the pills, I fashion a necklace. The work soothes me somewhat, gives me an out from endless thinking. My eyes fall on the radio, and I heave it on top of one of the bookshelves, clear a space for it, make room for the possibility of recovery. I notice the electric chord is way too short to reach the socket. I leave it dangling.
I will plug in that radio once, and make it sing. A raspy voice will fill the small volume of my room as I sit in it, with you on the other side of the bed. We will talk and laugh, and I will think everything has fallen into place. Resentment will come later. With more pills, with helplessness, with anger. All that I am writing of now will come later, except for that melody snaking itself around my body and strangling me in the one moment I chose to let down my guard and show you the way inside.
It will be difficult to try again, to learn to love anew. I will do it, though. I will hike through a forest of doctors. My body will survive the onslaught of side effects. My chin will remain unmoved by the gossip and talk of the people around me.Because of you – who made me as strong.
I will condone your actions for years to come, and see you again, and then I will be through.
Because of you.
But also, more importantly, because of me. Because, despite it all, I know how to forgive, and I have forgiven the girl I was then, I have made a tentative peace with myself. Because I know I couldn’t have known better.
You are gone now. I cry. Put a song on repeat. Maybe it’s Nick Cave. I don’t remember. I call a friend. Tell my mom to fuck off. Tell my dad to stop trying to comfort me.
You are gone now. I don’t cry. I put a song on repeat and smile, then laugh. Congratulate my reflection in the mirror. Hug my dad, then my mom. Go out with my friends.
Fall in love again.
Who was it that said – fail again, fail better? I can’t remember, but take their advice all the same. When I return home, I smoke a cigarette on my wide-opened window. Think of other times I saw the smoke mingle with the cold January air.
I get up and change the tune. No repeat, this time.