Pain is a tool. That’s what I’ve learned in my fifteen-almost-sixteen years on this earth. You can wield it like a knife, or use it like a hammer to nail your life back together.
Or you can use it as a shovel, to dig your own grave.
I stole Dr. Marsheen’s pen. She doesn’t need it. It’s in a jar with a dozen others just like it. All of the pens, and the jar they’re in, are emblazoned with the company logo and name.
“Happy Trails: Your Trail To Recovery,” and under that, a big, smiling cartoon sun. I mean, what am I, eight? Why did Aunt Tracy send me to this place?
Dr. Lily A. Marsheen (the name on the business card on her desk) is outside, at the front desk with my aunt, figuring out copays and all that adult shit that I’m not supposed to know about (it might “stress me out”) but I do anyway. After dumping hundreds of dollars a month into therapy, Aunt Tracy should realize she can’t do shit to fix me. It’s like trying to put together a chopped up dead body with duct tape and expecting it to come to life, Frankenstein-style.
Tic-tic-tic-tic. I drum out some obscure rhythm with the clicking of the pen. I make a game out of it— recreating trashy pop songs with a pen. I could start a YouTube channel. The Happy Trails Pen Songs or some shit like that.
Unfortunately, Marsheen walks in, and stares at the pen in my hands, turning to her computer screen and tapping away. Probably taking notes on my obsessive clicking. I guess, in the end, that’s why I’m here. I just can’t stop clicking. I sync my clicking with her clicking. Tap (click). Tap-tap (click-click). Tap-tap-tap-tap (click-click-click-click). Tap (click). Tap-tap (click-click).
She glares at me through thick-rimmed glasses. They’re round, like Harry Potter, but rather than making her look almost innocent and iconic, they make her look stupid. And they’re dark green, clashing with her red-patterned button-down shirt and black sweatpants. Like she’s trying too hard to be casual. Gross.
Me, I’m in my staple clothing. Jeans, a random t-shirt, and a hoodie. Black Converse. One stud earring, in my left ear. And in the back pocket of my jeans, a shard of mirror, poking into my ass. Reminding me. Keeping me just uncomfortable enough that I don’t slip up and reveal something important to this badly-dressed bitch.
“Hi,” she says warmly. “I’m Lily Marsheen.” I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Lady, you think I’d come in here without even knowing your name? Bitch please. Her painted smile opens wide, revealing rows of almost-perfect teeth. Perfect except for the subtle line on her front tooth, where it was obviously chipped off and replaced. I wonder if it hurt. I hope it did.
I’ve already decided this will be useless. She’s smiling, her legs crossed, her eyes always darting back to her computer screen. Probably watching porn. Or taking notes on me. Or both.
“Not a talker?” she asks, sounding almost sympathetic. That makes me smile. I am a talker. Aunt Tracy could tell her that. I just don’t want to talk to her. Therapy is like being in court. Anything you say can and will be used against you.
It’s cold in here, even with my sweatshirt, but I won’t shiver. I won’t give Marsheen the satisfaction.
“Why are you here today… Clementine?” Marsheen asks, turning to her computer screen to read the name printed there. Clementine Emmanuel-Forsolaz. Two last names. No middle name. That’s me.
“Do you want the itemized list? Oh wait, no, you already have that. You know why I’m here.”
“But why are you here? With me?”
“So you do want the itemized list. Okay: major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, paranoia, ADHD, anorexia, psychotic symptoms, suicidal thoughts and actions, self harm… yeah, I think that’s it. Oh, and psychopathic… something or other.”
“That’s not what I’m asking.”
I stare at her perfect navy-blue-painted nails, coming to a thin point like mini-daggers. If I had nails like that, I could cut someone’s heart out. But my nails are bitten down almost to the bone. I can’t even open a soup can without using a spoon or something.
“I’m here,” I say, still staring at her nails, “because you’re the next name on my aunt’s list.”
“How many therapists are on this list?”
“I mean, I don’t know. I’ve been to eleven, including you. But God only knows how many more Aunt Tracy has stored in her underwear drawer.” I can hear her eyebrows raise before I see it.
“What do you mean by that?” I can also hear the disapproval in her voice, and I can’t resist a tiny smile.
“Oh, it’s just a phrase me and her use when we talk about keeping secrets. I’m sure you know the value of a good old fashioned underwear drawer when it comes to those kinds of things.” She grunts, sending a surge of satisfaction up my spine.
Everyone knows the power of secrets, especially those housed in a dark space full of undergarments.
“When did all of this start?”
I pretend to give this some thought. Rule #1: never give the same answer twice. It’s an insult to my creativity. So far, ages 7, 5, since my parents’ death, and 5th through 9th grade are taken. Damn. Fifth grade was my personal favorite “start date.” I’m sad to see it go, but that was what I gave to my last therapist. So fifth grade can’t be used again.
“I guess it’s been there forever,” I say. Could be true. I was going to therapy before the accident. ADHD. Not a big deal. Or maybe the real problem is just the PTSD, like my previous therapist, Kingfisher (his name was Luke, but I called him by his last name just to piss him off) says.
I call all my therapists by their last name. I don’t want to be on a first-name basis. Rule #2: therapists are not your friends. You can’t confide in them, or listen to them, or cry with them, or hang out on weekends with them. They can try and try, but they will never be your buddy.
Anything you say can and will be used against you.
No truer words have ever been said.
I think fifth grade was when it started, even though I didn’t start cutting until after the crash. Fifth grade… when I had my first crush.
Her name was Daisy Long. She had wavy brown hair that stretched to her waist, skin the color of a vanilla latte.
And she was very, very straight.
No, of course my parents didn’t care. Aunt Tracy doesn’t care, either. My family is and always has been very progressive. My ancestors were Quakers, you know, all that shit about tolerance and love and how we’re all God’s children, blah, blah, blah.
I don’t believe in God. My parents would drag me to church on Sunday, but I paid so little attention that I don’t even remember the name of the place, or what branch of Christianity it was. My parents were good people.
And God killed them. So rather than mope around and blame some all-powerful fuckwad, I decided to own up to the fact that there is no one out there.
Their death wasn’t God’s fault. It was mine.
Oh shit, Marsheen was actually talking. Rule #3: always hem and haw ever so often so they know you’re listening.
That’s one rule I already broke. Fuck.
“I said, did anything happen to you at a young age?”
“Yes,” I say. “I was raped by my uncle last year, and he was so hairy I called him ape man.”
“Your uncle has been dead for years.” I grin; I can’t help it. I love making up random shit. Rape, kidnapping, bullying, sold to a circus because I’m left handed.
None of those are true. I mean, I am left handed. And I’ve had to deal with my fair share of Mean Girls and Jerk Guys. But I’ve never really been bullied. After my English teacher called me a “lezbo slut,” I moved schools before any of the kids even had a chance to pick on me.
“Maybe I was ‘hallucinating’ him,” I say, wiggling my fingers like a cheesy vampire in a school play.
“Your illness is not a joke,” Marsheen says, frowning.
You’re telling me, bitch. I live with my illness. There’s nothing funny about it.
“Well,” I say. “Aside from Ape Man, my uncle, the only trigger was my parent’s death last year.”
“Can you tell me about that?”
“No. I don’t remember.” That’s one thing I never change the answer to. I tell all of my therapists, every single one, that I don’t remember the car crash. As long as I don’t remember it, I don’t have to talk about it.
“Do you know why that is?”
“Because my brain can’t handle it,” I say, reciting word-for-word what my first therapist, Mrs. Young (she wasn’t young, and she didn’t even have the privilege of having “Dr.” before her name.) told me. “Jesus, don’t you have notes from any of the other therapists? Do you really need to know this again? Y’all need some originality. Seriously.”
“I need to hear it from you. So, you say your brain can’t handle it? That’s a brave accusation.”
Wow, that’s the first thing she’s said that doesn’t end in a question. I feel skilled.
“Just spitting back what everyone else says,” I say. “A wise decision, in today’s society.”
“And why do you think they all say the same things?” I stretch my legs into the air. Bor-ing.
“You have to go through it to understand it. Terrible but true.”
“So does anyone understand you?”
“I could argue for both sides of that argument. No one with any influence understands me. No one listens to kids.”
“It seems like you have a dark outlook on life.”
“Life has a dark outlook on me.”
“Is this boring you?’
“Not at all, I love answering the same questions over and over again.”
“So what would you like to do?” Marsheen says, catching on to my very subtle sarcasm.
“I want to play Coping Skill Flash Cards, I want to play off-brand Emotions Board Games. I want to talk about my problems until your ears fall off.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s nothing in this shithole of an office that I want to do,” I burst. “Except maybe shove your perfectly manicured nails up your white ass.”
I didn’t mean to say that. That was a definite mistake. Rule #... I lost track. Four? Eight?: never, and I mean never, say anything that tips off the therapist.
Marsheen’s eyes widen, and I’m not sorry to say that I get a large amount of satisfaction seeing her hands tighten on the arms of her chair.
“I-I’m going to talk to your aunt. I think— I think we’re done for the day.” I shrug and walk out of the room. Nothing I can do to stop it, right?
Two rules broken, and it’s only day one.
I get the feeling this is going to be one interesting year.
I wonder if I’ll see Marsheen again. But it’s not like it matters. The less time I spend in her stifling cotton-candy colored office, the better.
I can hear Aunt Tracy and Marsheen talk over the sound of the white noise machines. They’re a nice touch when you first arrive, but they can’t do anything to stop someone from listening if they really want to. I don’t know why they still have them. They don’t work. All that confidentiality shit is really just a load of bull. The flyers say “I’ll keep your secrets as long as it isn’t a danger to yourself or others.” Well, I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t a threat to myself or others.
I wonder if someone was listening to me. Pressing their ear against the door, leaning into the thick oak wood, desperate to hear the sound of my voice. To incriminate me for something. To spy, although why anyone wants to spy on me is lost to me. I mean, really. I’m just your average depressed teenage freak. Nothing special here.
But I can’t shake the feeling that someone was listening. I can almost imagine the sound of their breath, controlled and even to blend in with the white noise machines.
In the corner of my eye, I see a shadow, and I whirl around to face it.
The hallway is empty.
Back to listening to Aunt Tracy and Marsheen.
“Keep bringing her here,” Marsheen says. “I think the other therapists she’s been to are right, she does seem to display some psychopathic tendencies.” Ah. So that’s the word I was looking for earlier. Tendencies. “I think it would be in her best interest to attend a behavioral school.” I winced as I could almost picture Aunt Tracy nodding. She couldn’t do this to me. Didn’t she know how much I needed my friends? “I know a great one, it’s called Forest Step. I know the principal and his daughter. They are good people”
“We’ll look into it,” Aunt Tracy says, bringing stinging tears to my eyes. No. She can’t. She can’t do this.
Seeing another patient coming down the halls, I duck my head down and sprint (as inconspicuously as possible) to the bathroom.
No matter where you are, they always have a bathroom. My safe place.
I sit on the toilet seat with my pants still on. I feel the sharp dig of the mirror in my pocket. The perfect mirror. Broken, but perfect.
Perfect for what I use it for, anyway.
It’s too easy. The first time it’s hard. You gasp. Tears fill your eyes. But soon, you can slice yourself open without feeling a thing.
“Dad, do I have to go?”
“Yes, Clementine, we’ve been over this. You are a bright student, and you need Dr. Lakely to help with your ADHD or else all of your talent will be wasted.” I scoff.
“It doesn’t work. Obviously.”
“It takes time,” my mom says patiently. “You’ll see.”
“No buts, Clem! Come on! If you just gave Dr. Lakely a chance, we wouldn’t have to be here! You’d be fine!” In a split second of horrific clarity, he turns to me, and I see my mom’s mouth form an O.
“Dad!” I scream, as the huge pickup truck slams into the front of the car.
That’s about up to where I remember. There was a small piece of the car left— this piece of mirror. Rather than give it to the doctors, I kept it.
That car had been with me my whole life, all 13 years, so much so that I even named it: Beastie. Not the most creative, but it worked. And after these thirteen years, Beastie was crushed into a pile of scrap metal. What does it say about me that my first thought was not of my mom, or my dad, but of the car.
Poor Beastie. And then I remember feeling the pain in my head, a migraine level headache that hit my brain like a sack of bricks. Like a slap to my face, worry for my parents hit me.
And then I screamed. I begged the doctors to let me see my parents, just for a second. They said no way, both me and them were in too unstable condition.
I remember the next five minutes in a red haze. Ignoring the pain flooding my body, I crashed into my dad’s room (the closest to me) and immediately regretted it.
His eyes were closed. It was the only part of him I could see, the rest of his body was blanketed in white bandages. In several places, you could see where his wounds were bleeding through. I glanced at his heart rate monitor and watched, mesmerized, at the painfully slow, delicate beats. At that moment of shock, my whole body froze. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t hear anything but my own fast heartbeat in my ears. I wondered if I could give some of my heartbeat to him, so we could share, and his could be faster and mine could be slower, right where they are supposed to be.
I never saw my mom until they wheeled her out under a sheet. They tried to hide it from me, but she ended up being wheeled right past my room, and as she passed, an eerily convenient wind blew the sheet back so I could see her face.
I might be a crier, but I’ve never cried as much as I did when I saw that. First my dad, brain dead but his heart still beating. At least he was alive. But my mom… I never got to say goodbye. My dad, I did. And after that, well I just figured that I couldn’t lose both my parents. That was against the laws of nature.
Apparently nature took a day off. I went home with Aunt Tracy.
And here I am, several months later, with a bleeding wrist and a shining piece of Old Beastie in my other hand.
This right here is real therapy. The red lines on my wrist are like lines on a receipt, tallying up all the debt I owe to my parents that I never got to repay.
Everybody tries to find what I use. But I protect this with my life. If someone were to find this, I would lose the only part of my parents I have left. It’s only been a year, but even their memories are fading, like photos on a roll of film that is slowly being overexposed to the sun.
Oh sure, people tried to find this thing. Tried to bust me, expecting to find a hobby knife or something. But they never found this. The last remnant of my old life. Sometimes it was in a shoe, between the pages of a diary, in my mouth. The result was always the same.
They never found it. Or they found one of my many decoys, decorating spots in my room where I know they will look.
My soft cries are on mute. I learned how to cry silently a long time ago, so here I am. Crying silently in a stall in the girl’s restroom in the place that’s supposed to help me, but instead just makes me wish I could die. Die the way you die in fairy tales, floating away on a puffy white cloud, or climbing a ladder into the light.
I want to float away. Maybe OD on sleeping pills, so I can drift slowly into oblivion.
Just like a fairy tale. A peaceful death. A painless death.
But I don’t deserve that. My death should be long and slow and agonizing.
Just like my parents.