She Isn’t Me
She walks in darkness, her steps echoing. Skin on concrete, or something less maybe, maybe bone. The gentle slap of pacing and dancing and collapsing time and time again. She approaches the light but never touches it, bathing in cold, infinite nothingness. She watches it like a screen, commentating — a back seat driver — or simply observing with the occasional reminder. I can hear her, she knows I can; I can feel her, she knows that, too; she revels in it. I think one day she will kill me.
A day like today maybe.
Driving lone, I rush to school, knowing full well there are more cops at the end of the month. I have a little silver jeep, it’s small and struggles to accelerate sometimes, but the moment we opened the door Christmas morning and saw it sitting in our driveway, I was proud to one day call it mine. My dream was to have it, but it was never in my dreams. Not the ones she gave me. Even now, speeding on the interstate — not much, just enough — the barrier seems so close. A few feet at most, a simple sneeze could steer me, I’ll trip on the barrier, flip and tumble. It’s a crash. They say I’ll hear it, I’m sure I will. I won’t care. The sound of metal bending and glass shattering isn’t important, but the feeling is. That feeling is back, the feeling she gave me. My stomach turns, my head is light and heavy both, my dreams are far too real. Even now, as I think I could crack my skull and let her seep out through my window, I can’t see my sweet little jeep totaled. In dreaming I drive something large, something dangerous and fast, but awake, I see the danger in being small. Fragile. It’s too heartbreaking to think it dented and smashed.
The others know what they’re doing, she tells me, but you don’t.
I get along to class just fine, an essay, exam, and remember to read, and now it’s time to go back. But never mind the endless possible wrecks and deaths cycling from her loose lips; some music can distract her enough for now.
A day like tomorrow.
“You know, you’re more likely to be crushed by a vending machine than to be attacked by a shark,” my brother tells me, as he does every time we mention the beach.
It’s strange but true, although I’m less concerned on the daily about vending machines than about car accidents and alcohol. Those are the real killers.
“Just stay on the beach under the umbrella,” my step dad says. “Or stay home.” He’s the one who wants us to go; he’ll never understand why I won’t be comfortable there. Although we don’t go to see the ocean often, his passion for being on the water shows strongly when we’re at the lake. It’s like it’s in their blood — the Californians — it’s like they’re part mermaid. I’m the furthest thing from ocean: a desert baby. She and I both like to keep it that way.
“I never said anything about sharks,” I told them.
“You just need to go to a good beach, a clear blue one, somewhere you can see all the way to the bottom,” my mother suggests.
Sounds great, except when the shark does appear, I’ll see it. I’ll watch it approach, heart pounding like a finger on glass, while she takes over. I’ll stare it down as it circles and charges at me, or it might just graze past me as if the toothy layers of what might be called its skin could taste the goosebumps riding on my flesh. Or maybe I’ll thrash and scramble for air to hyperventilate until she screams in my heart — It’s going to get you; this is how you die. Remember that dream? The one I gave you? The one where you scream and plea, trapped under the butt of a ship, watching the gaping endless abyss of death and teeth remove your humanity? All that’s left is an animal now, a scrambling animal that cries for help with no one to hear but me — long enough to deafen the pressure of drowning.
“That might work,” I tell her, “but not here where the water is too murky to see your own hands.”
“Well, sharks don’t like being around people anyway, so there won’t be any there.”
“It’s not just sharks. The undercurrent is enough to take anyone out, and I’m already not that good a swimmer. Plus, the saltwater is dehydrating under a sun that will literally give me cancer, and jellyfish and stingrays are everywhere.” They just roll their eyes at this.
You’re just ruining their good time.
The last time we went to the beach, I was brave enough with Mom’s push (such a baby) to get waist-deep in the water, but after maybe five minutes, my brother saw a stingray pass by him.
“That stingray was tiny, it wouldn’t have killed you,” my brother insists.
“And those jellyfish won’t either, they’re not lethal,” my step dad adds.
“Maybe not, but they’ll hurt like a bitch. Who wants that?”
She’s not a conscience, and she’s way too upfront to be a subconscious. She’s me, but a different kind of me. She is me who only wants to stop being me. She is me who tells me life sucks, I should just give up, but wait, don’t, you’re being selfish, your life isn’t bad, here have this guilt. If I don’t listen to her, she just gets stronger. If I fight her, she just feeds off the agitation. She inspires my story, the one I want to write but might never. It’s a fiction about a girl with monsters who are trapped attached to her soul. They torture her in every weird way possible — making cake smell and taste like mud and mold, whispering doubts and accusations in her ears — and in return, she is one of the strongest people in the world. Only if she can stand it. It’s fiction because pain doesn’t make you stronger, it just makes you in pain.
Another day with friends, not a birthday but a celebration. It turns night, but the world is not dark. It’s a new filter over my lens, a filter that changes with heart rate. It’s only a coincidence that it’s right now, as the sun sets, but the black edges of shapes sharpen and blur the outlines of their faces. My headache doesn’t help steady the lens, neither do my actual glasses.
“Do you want a slice of cake?” someone asks.
“Hm? Oh, sure, I guess,” I say.
“Well, it’s crumbling really bad, so we’re just eating it out of the container with spoons.”
“It’s fine,” I tell them, taking a spoon and shoveling some crumbs. I’m actually quite full, but they went through all that effort…
I stand quietly leaning against the counter, spoon cycling between my mouth and the cake, making passing smiles at the embodiments of energy I call my friends. They chatter and laugh, drink and dance, challenge and play. It’s a little smothering. This house is always cold, but on nights like this, I tend to take my jacket off and lay it on my purse. It’s in a pile in the corner with my shoes. Keep it together, or you might lose it, she says. The booming music of the game makes my head feel like a second thumping heart. You should sit down. I slowly pace around the kitchen island until, after enough tired smiles, I oblige and find a seat to pick, although usually it ends up being the floor or sneakily stealing someone else’s spot. They might want it back. They tend to be too drunk or find something else to distract them from caring about a random spot on the couch. Fair enough.
She seems rather tame today. Trust me, she began, as slow and smooth as a ninja, as if her voice wasn’t a voice but a pill crushed and injected by syringe, The headache numbs you from how hard I’m hitting.
I don’t understand her. Why is she here? Does she think I can’t take care of myself? Obviously. Not everything has to be so dramatic. It’s better to be prepared. I’m scared to talk back. It’ll make her real, it might open the door to give her a voice louder than the tranquil rush of blood through vessels. She will no longer be trapped beneath the prison of pretending she doesn’t exist. I speak now as if she doesn’t know I’m talking about her. What’s the difference then? The least I can do is try.
I hate you. Then you hate yourself.
So be it. Happiness and peace shouldn’t be so difficult to achieve; it’s your fault I’ll never find it. It’s your fault you’ll never find it. Whether you echo me or lead me, I know you’re not me, you’re a parasite, I’ll find a way to push you out. I don’t care if I’m poisoned in the process of killing you. I care. No, you don’t, you just pretend to. I care about you, Kaysha. You don’t need to be collateral damage in the rampage to destroy me.
… Yeah, I guess…
… Kill yourself.
I complained maybe once or twice to my family about certain school work. A crazy amount of reading, writing, pointless math, and whatever else. Why not complain? No one wants to hear it. It relieves a bit of stress, I think, but they always stop me when I say something about public speaking or interacting with people in general.
“That’s just a part of life,” they say. “Learn to deal with it.”
They’re right, I know, but I have been learning and still not dealing. It’s stupid, but I just can’t stand it. Memorize a speech, make a presentation, then put it together.
Oh shit, they’re staring. Did you choose the wrong shirt? Is it wrinkled? Should you have worn an undershirt? Is your bra showing? Your blush? Your face is red hot, you can feel it. It’s muggy in here, but you’re shivering. Is the screen too far away? What does it say? Oh, never mind, just bullshit it. They know you’re bullshitting. You can see it in their faces, but they don’t care. Why should they care? It’s just another shaky voice; another fidgeting hand; another hair out of place; another stutter; another repeated phrase; another nervous chuckle. Another pity grade. Drowning in air, vision is blurry. You should have researched more. You don’t know what you’re talking about.
You’re worthless. You’re weak. You’ll never make it, never get a job. You’ll fail and have to take the class again and again and again and again forever. Hell is not in flames surrounded by demons, it’s in flames surrounded by professors who judge you on how much you pace, say “uh,” and pretend to actually like people.
You got lucky this time. I’ll be back next week.
A simple sandwich, oozing with just enough (too much) jelly speckled with flakes of strawberry seeds, white bread protected from the table by the thin paper plate, sits patiently in front of me. Leaning over the little meal, alone with nothing but the roar of the A/C mere feet from the table, I slowly numb her away. Expired, she whispers, expired, expired… The little strange ring of mold of bread around the edge doesn’t really exist. If my mother was home and I asked her to look, she would chuckle and say, “it’s not even a week over the sell-by date, the bread is fine.” The bread is fine, calm down and take a bite. A quick one, don’t taste it — is that what bread tastes like? I forgot — another bite, another, another, now it’s gone. Out of sight, out of mind.
Some chips will be safer, they’re more consistent. You mean they’re highly processed. How’s that much better? Yes, maybe that’s true. I’m always right. I’m just not satisfied with a sandwich, though. Maybe some fruit? I think Mom got berries and bananas. They’re mushy and gross, a couple days old. Don’t eat those, they’ll make you sick. Eggs, then. You’re a shit cook, they’ll make you sick. I guess I’ll stick with water.
With a cup of water in hand, I inch my way upstairs, ignoring her as she tugs at my gut like a child with its mother’s shirt, nagging my attention towards: that cup isn’t clean, you’ll get sick. She already knows I’m not using a dirty cup; I’m reusing the same one since there are no more in the cupboard. She stops tugging, but will yank once more every time I pick it up to drink from it. No, don’t, that bacteria sitting on the rim may have come from your own mouth, but it’s foreign now, and tainted. Like little worms it’s squirming, screeching in delight to infect your sensitive throat. Oh well, I guess. I’m already at the top.
My room is the warmest in the house and possibly the quietest. I think this is why Simon the cat prefers to lay in there. He’s curled at the foot of my bed, on my soft white blanket beneath the window. He lifts his head and blinks a dream away, greeting me; the room seems calmer with him there. Like a caramel prince dreaming of chasing pesky mice through cloud kingdom, the sun bathes him in a divine gold. I gently fall next to him, curled up on my bed, and watch him purr and dream the mice away. I wonder if little Simon speaks to him the way I do with her. He will wander outside sometimes, but I think I can see the moment he tells him to run back home, kitten, you’ll catch a tick. People say animals sense more than us; I wonder if Simon knows her outline like the smell of high blood pressure. A ghost you’ll never see because her shape is smaller than mine and she mirrors me perfectly.
Controls, you mean. So, you know you’re hurting me. Helping, you mean. Fuck you. Fuck you.
My stomach growls loud enough to twitch Simon’s ear. Go eat.
I sigh. “Fuck me.” I go grab some chips.
I tried once to be rid of her. I took meds, I don’t even know what they are now, and they sort of worked. She was gone; my mind silent, my heart empty. The first few weeks felt like happiness.
She brings me pain, but she also pushes me to be better, to work harder, to search for that happiness. I need her because without her, there is no me. There’s nothing.
It’s all or nothing with you and me.
One great thing about being an adult: I get to buy my own stuff.
One awful thing about being an adult: you have to buy you own stuff.
On my way home from school, I have to stop and get gas. There is a grocery store nearby, and I need something from there, too. I guess I’ll run in. Literally, if you can. I stop my little jeep in the best parking I can find. At least it’s between the lines, you maniac, but now is the hard part.
I look around, make sure no one is paying attention to me, that no one is just sitting in the car next to me, waiting. They’re going to grab you. At last, I think it’s safe and step out, quick to get away from the parked cars. Speedily, hurry, hurry, across the road into the store. The cars are waiting on you, stop wasting their time. Don’t touch anyone, don’t get too close at all or they’ll think you’re trying to pick their pocket. Or they might pick yours, might grab your purse.
Okay, made it past the front, now to fast-walk my way down to the hygiene section. Someone’s watching, they’re going to follow you. Just grab it and go. But I can’t decide. Too bad, don’t take long. So, I go to the snack aisle, too, to give myself more time to choose which shampoo to buy and because I need something sweet for the evening. You’re going to get fat like that. Raise your cholesterol, you’ll have a heart attack one day.
I keep careful watch who is around me. My parameter is never unobserved, whether it’s a creepy jerk or a family of four, I want to know. Not like you would do anything if someone was following or staring. You’re hopeless. I find no one pays any attention to me, not really. A strange glance or friendly smile, perhaps, but I’m unapproachable when like this because I don’t just feel frantic, I look it. Quick movements and awkward gestures make up the grout holding my brick wall painted “leave me alone, leave us alone, to live in peace, to live at least.“
Kaysha is currently a creative writing student at Augusta University at Georgia. Originally from Texas, she has moved to three different states growing up with the military. As an emerging writer, this is her debut.