i went to the crystal store the other week;
the girl behind the counter recommended chrysocolla
to draw out guilt, she told me
it was a pretty stone
like the shadows of trees cast
upon some body of water
i could almost see myself in its blue veins
i'll take it
every time my father sits down at the piano
i turn my chrysocolla over and over
in my hands
and wish the minor notes
didn't sound so much like my name
coca-cola falls flat in my throat
shallow cuts by christmas tree lights
i feign sleep in my unmade bed out here in the margins
i’d say goodnight
but it isn’t
i’d say i love you
but i don’t, i can’t
i’ll just cradle my cold stone
cold stone, not quite sober
god, i pray you don’t dream about me
i have eight minutes to harvest a poem from my desert mind.
less if my dad wakes up, tells me sleep is more important than whatever it is i'm doing, even if these little letters could save me; he wouldn't know.
seven minutes to create something beautiful. to inject into your body a heaviness most familiar to poets, to artists. to slowly glaze over your eyes with questions, messy questions, questions that some may say don't belong to little girls like yourself.
the hypothetical chime of a bell.
no beautiful poem, just the desperate beginnings of one.
it's early june
and i'm beginning to feel okay again
i guess i forgot what it was like
to be alive, and not just living
look at me! i'm alive!
i'm wearing green eyeshadow to match my hair
(tell me, what is more indicative of life than green?)
i'm holding conversations
smoking cigarettes in the parking lot
after open mic poetry
getting high and playing cards
and eating spicy california rolls with my fingers
i have friends
pretty friends who enjoy my company
isn't that so strange?
i think i like me.
my reflection doesn't hurt so much, not anymore.
when you look at me, does it hurt?
can you feel it in your shoulder blades, in your hips,
that comes with a wayward daughter?
mother, there is so much you don't know
so many secrets that sit heavy and cancerous in my throat
but that i must swallow down
for fear you wouldn't hold my hair if i didn't
but i'm still okay
or i was, until dad's cherry cola breath
carried me back to square one
barefoot in the middle of the kitchen, arms crossed,
i absorbed his sugar-coated existential criticisms into myself
and shook with emotions that lack names
took a guilt trip down a dead-end street
(some family vacation)
and now i'm typing out lines of poetry
in my bed while my family prays for me downstairs
they decided i was broken
when i could draw stick figures in the dust on my bible
i figured i'd be better off dead
than a disappointment, a burden
a girl consumed by shame,
made to believe she's incapable of real love
without some savior she can't bring herself to believe in
but no, she is learning that there is no place for shame
in her existence
she is learning that she is sacred
and not because of any blessing,
but because she breathes
she is learning that new beginnings are bitter to taste,
that change is violent,
but that it's worth it. every time.
i am worth it.
I don’t feel like a poet. Not anymore.
i searched my bedroom
for something sharp
to hurt, just this once
i want to hurt so i can watch myself heal
and maybe then
it'll feel better
i came across a hair pin
of faux gold
snapped it in two
and ran my fingertip
along its metal teeth
teeth sharp enough to hurt
hair pin against my arm
a dent, maybe, or a scrape
i never once saw red
maybe i am not brave enough
to press down, to not flinch
when my skin gives
to my frustration
that never seems to clear
shampoo in my eyes
my intrusive thoughts taste like
but they burn
last night was prom.
i didn't go.
i arrived home from Atlanta as the flower moon was rising.
i slipped on a little blue dress and scribbled around my eyes with black eyeliner.
i put on dark lipstick and sat on the stairs by myself.
i texted my friend for a cigarette. she didn't answer.
eventually i fell asleep on the sofa watching Phineas and Ferb.
i like to think i won queen.
clean and pretty (sort of)
i believe you'll find my white body
on the shores of a big blue one
or perhaps someplace else,
with pills dissolving halfway down my esophagus
either way, you will see me and you'll die a little
but not enough
because you're still alone
and i'm not Jesus
The girl who swims when she walks
Today is the thirteenth of April, the year 2022. Five days ago, if you asked me, "Greta, what do you want to be when you grow up?" I would have answered, "Dead."
In my head, of course. Aloud, I’d tell you all the proverbial aspirations of my heart before it knew hollowness. You wouldn't think twice. I've worn these words out for years; it's the same script, only revised, redecorated. You'd nod your head, I'd smile, and the show would go on.
It's difficult to remember precisely when or how Death and I became acquainted.
The summer of 2020 was a happy one: mailing letters back and forth with friends, developing taste in fashion and art and music, reading books, growing my hair long, waking up early and drinking tall glasses of water. But I also tasted darkness that year, finding it sweet, even addictive. At night I hungered for it, playing sad songs with the lights off to intensify a mood. I never dreamt it could become dangerous; I only knew it was different and exciting. To feel so deeply!
Around the same time, I was discovering, and perhaps establishing, myself. I questioned; I poked fingers at all the soft, uncalloused places of my being and found myself confused. Everything-- all the prayers, all the parables, all the people I loved-- maybe weren't everything. I went to summer camp with my youth group and the pastor said following Jesus is "all or nothing". So, realizing I couldn't give my all, I chose nothing. But that terrified me. Attempting to comprehend "nothingness" is like falling in a dream, but never waking up. For the entirety of my life, I had lived and breathed for the God of the Bible, the Father of my father and his father. I was nothing if not devoted to this "gospel". What would be left of me if I walked away?
I got lost within my own mind. Seeking answers turned into seeking myself. My mother asked me, "What god do you serve now, if it isn't God?" I assured her I would live to love others, but became crippled by all the sermons insisting I am incapable of real love without Christ. At some point, I stopped questioning, stopped caring. I stopped wanting to be sure, because it seemed clear the certainty would never come. Instead, I turned to the world I knew, which I could reach out and grasp without questioning its actuality. I turned to myself, the girl I knew most, because it felt safe. I wrote poetry. I learned about people who looked different than myself, who loved different than myself. I made art. I redecorated my room. I picked up new instruments. I wrote letters to faraway friends. I shuffle-played songs that made me feel, memorizing Twenty One Pilots lyrics like Scriptures. I cut my hair and changed my clothes. I was happy sometimes; sometimes I wasn't. I bent like a willow to my mood swings. I became the center of my own universe.
It stung to prove them right, my parents and all the people who prayed fervently for "the pastor's daughter". I felt more miserable than ever before. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness... But I brought forth rotten fruit. Berries that stain fingers and sit flavorless in your throat. My father could smell the decay on me, and told me so. Since then, it hurt to even look at him. Still, I wondered: What if they are right? Maybe following Jesus is the only way to be alive. Maybe without Jesus I am dead. Dead in my trespasses, dead in soul and in body, dead in my plastic house, my cat curled atop my unmoving chest. Dead like a tree hollowed out from disease, a citrus cemetery.
In the summer of 2021, I dyed my hair orange and grew bitter. My mother cried often; every conversation with my father felt like a desperate attempt to bring his "Prodigal Daughter" back home. I spent more time with my face in my phone than I did with my family. It hurt me to hurt them, so I became a ghost. I didn't want friends or anybody; I'd be better off alone. The friends I had made, I ghosted. I told myself they'd only get hurt eventually, so it was better this way. All feelings of attachment for people disappeared; I even began to fantasize about losing my parents, family, friends and, in turn, receiving the sympathy of the world. I, too, longed for death. Death, clean and pretty and unforgettable. Death or relief, I wasn't sure, though I don't think it mattered to me; over time, the two became synonymous.
December was dark. The sort of blue-grey darkness just before the sun disappears entirely from the sky. Christmas was strange; I had anticipated bliss, but instead found myself just as hollow as I was Christmas Eve and every sunless day prior. I tore colorful paper from boxes and felt nothing. I tried on sweaters and wolfed down lemon sticky buns and felt nothing. Nothing but guilt and frustration that I couldn't be the happy girl my parents knew all sixteen Christmases before this one.
We took a trip to the mountains for a few days. When we returned home, I dyed my hair fuchsia pink. I remember listening to Lizzy McAlpine and feeling good. It was sunny. That night, my mother and I watched one of my all-time-favourite movies, "All The Bright Places". I cried, like I always do. I wrote a poem afterward. It was surprisingly hopeful.
New Year's Eve, I worked a shift at the grocery store. The morning was pleasant; I did my eyeliner with little dots and pink eyeshadow to match my hair. But work was long and draining. It was approaching ten o'clock as I made my way to the neighbors' backyard party. I remember stuffing my face with m&ms while the men assembled the fireworks, and leaving with a stomachache before it was time to set them off. A sudden, tsunamigenic wave of sickness had come over me, one perhaps more emotional than physical. I remember crying in my bedroom as fireworks exploded outside my window, as the clock struck midnight. I thought I might throw up all the chocolate I'd eaten; even more violent, though, were my emotions. My mind fixated on the space between the top of the high school bleachers and the earth. What would it feel like to fall such a distance? How long would I hurt at the bottom? Would it be enough to end me?
I must have listened to Sonny and the Sunsets' "Too Young To Burn" twenty times that night.
I worked the night of New Year's Day, as well. Upon my arrival home, I sat at the kitchen counter, headphones blaring, and worked on a colored pencil portrait until my father insisted I get some sleep. It was helpful to focus on something outside of myself; but still, I was unwell.
Nothing felt real. I wasn't myself. I cried for five nights straight.
The second of January was a Sunday. I was a volunteer in the toddler classroom that morning at church, and the kids seemed equally as disconnected as myself. I cried once they had all been reunited with their families, feeling as though I'd failed, not just the children and their parents, but everyone close to me.
The third of January, my brother took me to the local Asian grocery and restaurant. We talked about life and shed tears over steaming bowls of fried rice and Vietnamese pho. I washed unsaid words down with canned milk tea, and then we strolled around the grocery for a bit. I almost purchased a women's restroom sign for my bedroom door, but, laughing, changed my mind.
As the intrusive thoughts worsened, I reached out to my friend Rose, fearful of myself. On the fifth of January, I arrived home from work to find a basket at the foot of my bed. It was spilling over with little things that I love, which Rose, to my amazement, remembered. The basket included my favorite candies, stickers, cow-patterned socks, a journal, and that women's restroom sign from the Asian grocery. Rose left me a heartfelt note, reading, "Find those bright places." I cried, but it was different somehow. That night, I fell asleep with dry eyes for the first time in the new year.
The following week concluded our winter holiday and set in motion the second semester. I walked into school unsteadily, feeling like an entirely new person. I couldn't focus. I cried in class, frequently fleeing to the restroom. I have memories of sobbing against my steering wheel in the student parking lot. I felt, still, like nothing was real, like I was not truly there, in my body, at my desk. With three AP courses, my work piled up.
Strangely, the following Saturday, I woke up feeling okay. Almost good. I was not dissociating, nor was I seriously considering leaping from the high school bleachers. I dressed and practiced drums, feeling as though I'd woken up from some ridiculously long fever dream. It was puzzling as to why I, so suddenly, felt alright again.
I had therapy on Monday. I remember uploading to my private Instagram, "Good morning, everyone. Waking up on a therapy day after a two week long fever dream... what unfortunate timing." At my appointment, we put together a safety plan, which I later decorated with dinosaur stickers and taped to the wall space above my record player.
In the following days, our family said goodbye to my eldest brother as he took off for Thailand.
Mid-January, my parents and I took a short cruise. It was my first cruise, and I hated it. For the entirety of the three days I was trapped in a state of dissociation, and growing more and more frustrated that I could not feel anything. I would sit and stare at the ocean for hours, waiting for some sense of awe to surface; it never did. I tried forcing it with poetry, and songs like Lorde's "Oceanic Feeling", but the feelings never came. I felt hollow and increasingly bitter. There were enjoyable parts of the vacation, but overall it seemed my sick brain and I had sabotaged what my parents intended to be a relaxing getaway.
Soon after our return home from sea, I went to the theater to see an anime film called "Belle" with Rose. It was lovely.
In the following weeks, I felt okay-ish. Suicidal thoughts were quite normal, however, and newly characterized by fantasies of drowning. Hopelessness began to swallow me. I didn't think I'd ever be capable of love again. I no longer cared about anything or anyone, and I knew it, and I was ashamed.
I filled my time and head space with art and music, because creativity made me feel more alive than anything.
At the same time, I remember becoming consumed with wanting to be my old self again. Dangerous nostalgia. I made dodie's "When" my anthem, particularly the pained lyric, "I'm surrounded by greener looking time." I resented myself, and the present, with incredible intensity.
In early February, our youth group traveled to the mountains for a winter retreat. The lake was beautiful; it was my most favourite pastime to sprawl out on the dock, the sun warm on my skin. I was bothered, however, by the retreat pastor and his words. His scattered rampages on homosexuality, gender dysphoria, modesty, gender roles, and other topics made me almost nauseous. The predominantly white, southern, adolescent crowd clapped and affirmed every word. It's worth noting that our church was the only church with people of colour, as well. I felt repulsed by the man at the pulpit, and by this culture with which I had identified for so many years.
Though I was unsettled from the retreat, I felt unusually upbeat for a time. I made lots of art, took myself to the library, hung out with new friends.
But then I spiraled again. I was sick, but told myself I wasn't "sick enough". I felt stuck between well and unwell, and it was eating me alive. I journaled frequently, took baths, listened to "Jigsaw" by Conan Gray and felt fragmented, incomplete, broken. I was hateful. Selfish. Missing the girl I used to be.
I was sick with fever for a bit. I was scheduled for a shift at the grocery store later in the week, and thought I was well enough to work it. It was only a four-hour shift, but within thirty minutes I felt horrible. I reached out to a manager and received a sharp, "OK, and?" in return. My superiors made me stay for another hour or so, throughout which I cannot recall a single customer because I was so disconnected from myself. Not a single person asked me if I was okay, though my shoulders were hunched and I couldn't even offer them a "goodnight" without it sounding choked. Dissociated, sick, tired, and in tears, I resolved to quit that week. After clocking out, I sobbed in my car for thirty minutes in the grocery store parking lot. There was a man parked nearby, who I was sure could see me. I didn't care. I drove home blurry-eyed and exhausted.
Into March, I felt like nothing was real, including myself. I felt like a girl of lies. I made myself sick. I wanted to drown. I was empty.
One afternoon, I hung out with my friend Ken. We went to the thrift store and to the Asian mart, then played Minecraft and ate ramen noodles. I drank a little can of Vietnamese coffee and felt alright. The caffeine "high" didn't last long, though.
Even on better days, nighttime would cut me open again and again. It was as though I was living multiple lives: One in the day, another in the night. Then, the intrusive thoughts began intruding on my daylight hours. I remember it was mid-afternoon, and I was dressed for one of my final shifts at the grocery store. All I could think about was cutting up my face. I wanted to carve it up like a jack-o-lantern, to drag a blade across my skin and watch the blood drip from my jaw. I almost did. Work, however, kept me from satisfying my thoughts. I couldn't be late, so, face intact, I left to play cashier for a time.
On the eighteenth of March, only days later, I participated in an open mic poetry night and ate dinner out with new friends. It was one of the best evenings I'd experienced in months. In the same weekend, I went bike-riding in the city with my dad and had a picnic with church friends. I felt high on life. Then, I managed to convince myself I was experiencing a hypomanic episode. I don't believe I knew how to let myself be happy. And so the weekend bliss was brought to a halt. I uploaded to my Instagram, "I am a girl torn in too many pieces and rotting, picked apart by anyone and everyone only to haunt their teeth when they smile all big and white and wolfish." I remember crying and listening to various versions of "The Swan" from "The Carnival of the Animals"; I was overcome with the guilt of hurting my parents, feeling as though I'd ruined my life and my family. I needed to do something completely fucking insane. I wanted to hurt and I wanted to disappear. Every week, my therapist would say I was "walking in incongruence"; I don't think I know how to walk any other way.
Myla dyed my hair green. It didn't bring me the fulfillment I had hoped for.
At this point, if you asked me, "Greta, how are you?" I would say, "I'm sorry." Sorry for everything I'd done and everything I hadn't done; for everything I am and everything I am not and everything I will never be. I listened to dodie's "Sorry" and though about drowning, drowning, drowning. I wanted to be alone.
At school, we were reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I have never resonated with a character so deeply as I resonated with Edna Pontellier of this novel. I felt as though Chopin wrote the book about me. Every part of Edna's existence echoed through me with the familiarity of the voice in my own head. Throughout the novel, Edna is evolving, and it appears the world is not evolving with her. In the end, readers hold their breath as she tosses her clothes to the sand and drowns herself in the sea. I skimmed that chapter again, dazed. I was her, I was Edna Pontellier; now Edna Pontellier was dead. I didn't know what to do with myself.
In class, we discussed the grave conclusion. A girl exclaimed, "I was amazed at how peacefully she drowned! When someone drowns in the ocean, they don't drown from the water, they drown from their own blood as the salt cuts up the insides of their lungs." At this, I fled to the restroom and sobbed against the tile wall for nearly thirty minutes. I returned with a swollen face concealed by my black disposable mask. No one asked if I was okay. We moved on. I felt ill.
Therapy was difficult. I talked myself in circles. She told me we can't avoid the subject of God forever. Sitting on her couch every Thursday became more anxiety-inducing than relieving. Even still, I knew I needed help, so I went.
I had a psychiatry appointment on the seventh of April. The doctor handed me a questionnaire. I remembered filling it out years before, and asking my mom, Do people really get that sad? I don't even think I read all the questions; I just checked all the boxes that reaffirmed I was still only a child. This time, in April, I asked my mom if I could talk to the doctor alone. I'm sure she, too, missed the version of me who couldn't even spell "suicide". The doctor told me about pills; I didn't tell her I was afraid of throwing up. She prescribed me Prozac. I listened to Taylor Swift's "the last great american dynasty" on the way home and gazed at the clouds and felt nothing.
I was apathetic. A little bottle of blue pills can't put me back together. I was wrong, though.
After five days, something was different. I went to the park and felt at peace with the trees and squirrels. I genuinely enjoyed time with my family. I went to the beach with friends. I laughed and it felt real and almost alien.
Night still feels slower, stranger, but even then I think I am okay. I am thankful for therapy and those little blue pills. I don't want to drown. I still think about death often. Occasionally, I miss that darkness that became like a home to me. But then I remember that I don't belong there. There are places I have never been where I already belong, and they are places spilling over with light. I don't know where I am going, or who I am, but I am a little more alive now and I think that is enough.
5 foot something, maybe more
everyone says good morning here;
even the trees with their dark, mossy fingers
i think the grass is greener here;
i’d like to sprawl out
and bask in the sun like a cat
without a thought to my hair
or the man watching from the park bench
i‘d like to laugh loudly at nothing at all
because i can
i’d like to smile at strangers
with every imperfect tooth,
to cross my legs on the sidewalk
and talk with the squirrels
a jumping spider
scuttled across my knee
and i didn’t scream
i think i grew a little
in the park this morning.
i think i grow a little taller
when, like the flowers,
i realize i let my shoulders hunch
when it was cold
A thought bubble or something
I know you think I’m weak
That if you cut me open I’d bleed pink lemonade
Me and my voice, we’re small, that’s true
I think that’s why I prefer myself in ink
Because on paper my words are big and beautiful and don’t fit in your plastic containers
When you look at me, do you expect me to
bow for the ants under our sneakers?
To get on my knees so they can run around
inside their castles of dust?
I can want to die and not wish to stain my carpet red can’t I?