I remember every face I meet and the name it owns. This seems like an interesting addition to a résumé and a useful parlor trick to use once the party is over. It should be but not when growing up and making mistakes in a city that fits in between a couple of hills we collectively decided to call mountains. The bodies of the faces saunter and snicker and carry on, passing by like it means something to me. It does. I remember every moment. The emotions they left with me. The secrets they told me. Annoyance makes my pulse radiate heat, just like how pavement feels on a southern day in July. Even though I regularly cut ties without much motive, I still reserve the right to selfishly froth in my own ill wishes. It’s only when they pass and I remain unnoticed am I shaken back into my senses. I realize it’s likely they’ve gone another day without thinking of me. It’s vexing to be overlooked. It festers and grows, turning real individuals into memories and ideas as flat as newspaper. No one has ever ignored me. They’ve just been walking past me, engrossed in their own valid thoughts.
When I look into a mirror, I don’t look at myself. I look at my lips. Red is the color of power and I am a slave to making sure they stay universally desirable.
When I look into a mirror, I don’t love the rest of myself. I try to ignore that mauve has made a home for itself below my eyes. Blue veins with green and violet branches cover my eyelids and hands in tangled, necessary system. Taupe pockmarks from scratching bug bites when I was a child season my ankles and wrists. Amber down sprouts in velvet crops beneath my spine and navel. Gunmetal shadows fill the absence of flesh around my collarbones and cheeks. A thin canvas of sallow skin pulls my colors together.
When I look into a mirror, I don’t always appreciate what I see. I’m learning to love my colors and celebrate the painting that has and has yet to come. Pinks and reds and nudes aren’t the only shades to admire. Our bodies are rainbows, fleetingly beautiful and priceless.
Everything I have ever loved has had a previous owner. I carry the treasures of others securely in the crook of my arm and pretend they’re mine. A jacket my father stained with sweat around the collar and cuffs. A pendant given to my sister made of onyx and gold. Field guides from thrift stores with inscriptions and bookmarks and cramped annotations. These are my pickings. Stolen nostalgia is piling up around me. It’s warming me through the winter, but I want to find my own way out. When will I begin creating my own trail of artifacts? Who will want to exhume my spirit?
For each of us, the symptoms are the same. The rushing heart, the twitchy little fingers, the swirling stomach full of nausea. I remember my sister telling me what hereditary means. “You’ll get it too.” And I did, I do, and I will until I don’t anymore. Most of the time it’s only a nuisance, gnawing at the frayed corners of my nature. When the conditions are right, its hooks sink in deep. The women in my family have taught me many methods of eradication. Watching her baby’s chest rise and fall in its sleep calmed my mother. Gardening gave her a sense of control in a world that wouldn’t love her for the right reasons. For my sister, exercise and routine quelled the pent up rage that comes from being silenced. I have yet to create the algorithm perfect for my own body, but I have been working on piecing it together. Free writing allows me to scratch off the thickened skin of my uncertainty. Warm water soothes and tames and washes away anything I can’t acknowledge just yet. Epsom salts and scrap paper come together to create a papier-mâché coat to shield me from myself temporarily. I can’t say that it’s a cure-all, but I’m so relieved to feel warmth again.
“If this is a life threatening emergency, hang up and call 911. For English, press 1.” 1. “To schedule an appointment, press 2.” 2. “Hi, my name is Kelly. How can I help you?” Hi Kelly. I need to schedule an appointment. “Okay! Can I get a name and a date of birth?” Angelique Peterson, 04/04/1997. “What is the reason for the visit?” Depression. “Do you have a psychiatrist you visit?” I have a psychologist. “So, what is the reason for the visit?” Depression. Specifically, medication. “Oh. Um, I can get you in on December 15th at 9 a.m. Would that work?” That’s over two weeks away. Is there any sooner time? “That’s our first available opening. Oh, and it looks like we don’t take your insurance.” Great.
Trying to get help while you still want to get help is half of the problem.
The living room was always dark and warm and safe; mom kept the lights in the living room turned off. Thirty minutes before I woke up, she’d turn on the heating unit to “get the chill out” for me. She let me eat my breakfast on the couch with a tv tray. She didn’t let my siblings do that as children. My love for my mother knew no bounds. I remember crying, begging, pleading to stay home with her. Each morning, tears filled my eyes as the lump in my throat grew larger and larger until my cries turned into hoarse hiccups. Sometimes she’d hug me and laugh at my “big crocodile tears”. Sometimes, with a fist clenched around a whisk or a ladle, she’d threaten me to keep crying. Sometimes she’d humor me, roll her eyes, and let me stay. I know she thought I was faking, but the pain was excruciatingly real. Like clockwork, my stomach would twist into a mass of tangled knots every morning. I was expressing my emotional pain the only way I knew how. Physically.
I was always troubled, wound up tight, and confused. I thought it was normal to have achey muscles from the constant tension of dealing with not only life, but also the barrage of self doubt. I thought it was normal to think about what this place would be like without me. Is that what would finally show them that what I’m feeling is real? I don’t want to die. I never have. “It’ll get better” is stuck deep in my ribs and I want to see what better is like. But there’s a point when you’ve been so overlooked and so beaten down that you wonder, “When will someone notice on their own?”
I remember saying, rather exclaiming, how blue the sky was that day. It was one of those skies with light, almost clear edges and a deep, worn denim center. If you could close off the fringe of your peripheral vision, you could fall up and in. Not a single cloud could catch you as you fell into the absolute blue, the heavens, the end and the beginning.
Just as I felt a tug around my core from above, I was snatched back by something mocking. A laugh. “The sky is always blue,” she said. I laughed and stammered and agreed and pushed it down deep. This was the beginning and the end, the beginning of the end. I felt that familiar tug away. This was when I knew, for certain, that we were different.