I headed towards our table in the Cafeteria. My plate was overflowing with carrots and a jar of hummus on the side. A couple of carrots rolled off and plopped on the floor. It was one of those days where everything kept falling. I spilled my coffee on my jeans, I tripped walking into Intro to Psychology, and I was asked to cry in Theatre class. I wanted to go to bed and wake up and just try again.
I sat down and was the first one there. I stroked my hip. It still hurt from earlier that day. It had been a few years since the last time. I didn’t remember if I took my pills or not. Damn. Darkness was rolling in like a black fog and wrapping around my mind. I drowning and I needed a lifeboat. I picked up my phone and typed Therapist into Google with my long winding list of mental health issues. Maybe there would be a specialist. I crossed my fingers. I was a special kind of fucked up.
I looked at the time. It was almost 6pm and I was still alone. I shook my head. Over the last few weeks, all of the sororities reached out in their own unique invitations to their pledges. Valentine Hall Floor Three wasn’t the same ever since. Our family style dinner was shortened, awkward, or sometimes skipped. Even though I thought I didn’t enjoy our floor’s daily tradition, I missed it when it was gone. That’s a theme in my life.
My phone buzzed. I swirled my carrot around in the hummus and took a crunch. With my other hand, I slid the green phone symbol over.
Trina: Guess who I saw at the bar with this new hoe?
Me: I have no idea. There is a new girl?
Trina: Ya, Jessica Fabian. She’s a senior. We have Health and Safety together. Gag me.
Me: You don’t like her?
Trina: I haven’t talked to her.
Me: Then why is she a hoe? lol
Trina: I get a bad vibe, I don’t know. Lmao.
Trina: Not sure. So, according to the whispers in the hallways, she’s originally from the UK. She’s a fucking model. Literally a model. Her family bought the Carson’s farm so she’s lives pretty close to your house.
Me: Why do I care? Rivertown is a hopeless dump; it needed a new Tabitha.
Trina: Are you psychic? That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Nash was with her at the bar, with his arm dangling over her shoulder.
I felt as if Trina just hit me in the chest with a baseball bat. After a few seconds I wondered where that feeling was from. Was the truth wiggling free from the locked cage in the back of my subconscious? My heart fluttered when I thought about him. I sighed. I would need to move that finding a local therapist thing up on my priority list.
Me: Good for him. Nice to see that he’s moved on.
Trina: If you say so. Have you talked to her?
Me: No. I texted her a few times but she keeps blowing me off. She canceled Facebook and Twitter.
Trina: That bitch.
Me: Ya. I’m a little hurt. I don’t like feeling abandoned.
Trina: Oh no. Do you want me to fly out there and stay with you for awhile, Brie-Boo? I can, you know. Fuck school.
Me: No I’m fine. Thanks, though. You stay home and enjoy senior year. I miss being in plays. I’m only in one acting classes, the rest are boring requirements. Enjoy it while you still can.”
Trina: I’m worried about you. Does anyone there know how to spot if you need help? How did I ever let you move so far away…
I couldn’t bring myself to respond. As much as Tabitha blowing me off hurt, I understood what she was doing. I almost wished that I had the guts to do the same thing. I wanted to start over and wipe my past away like it never happened. But I loved Trina. And I was addicted to Nash. I couldn’t cut the cord like Tabitha did. Not all at once, anyway. Suddenly, my carrots looked like they had maggots slithering around on them. I pushed away my plate and buried my head in my arms. I didn’t care if I looked like a mess to the other students. I was.
“Staying up late with your future sisters?” Krissy asked. I heard her plop her plate down on the table. It vibrated on my cheek.
I lifted up my head. I didn’t know how could stomach Krissy at the moment. I decided I couldn’t. “Yep. I think I’m going to get going and take a nap.” I arose from my chair.
“Sit! Sit!” Krissy grabbed my wrist.
Get your nasty paws off me, you fake bitch. I yelled in my mind. I snatched my wrist back and hugged it to my chest. She was only an inch away from that raised silver line. Close call.
“Did you hear?” Krissy whispered. Her eyes darted around. “Charlene didn’t get into a sorority.”
I sat back down. I felt a swirl of pity and smugness in my stomach.
“Okay, like, she did a ‘suicide’ with her list.”
“What the hell is that?” I scrunched my face. My heart picked up speed at the sound of the word.
“A suicide? You just pick one sorority. The sorority you pick knows what you’ve done a suicide and takes a long hard look at you. The bad thing is that if they still don’t like you, you aren’t in a sorority at all.”
“That’s an incredibly offensive rush term. They need to change that.”
Krissy shrugged. “It doesn’t offend me. You know, this freaky boy from my high school did it. Suicide. He hung himself off a bridge and his sister found him. How selfish can a person be to do that? So selfish.”
I felt my throat tighten. I visualized clocking Krissy right in the orange, fake tanned face. But I wouldn’t go there. I just needed to get the hell out.
I sprang from my seat, grabbed my purse, and scurried to the door. I heard Krissy calling back for me, asking what was wrong.
If she couldn’t figure that out, then she was a whole other level of stupid.
On my way back to the dorm Trina called me. I let it ring. I knew I should at least reassure her that I was fine. It just was an awful day. I just didn’t want to talk to her. When I trotted up old-school stairs of Valentine hall, I wished to myself Leah wasn’t in our room. Solitude sounded like pure bliss. I turned off my cell phone ringer.
I creaked open the door and heard sobbing. Leah was sitting on her bed next to a pile of balled up tissues. In the door frame, I froze. I wasn’t sure if I should leave and give her space or sit next to her and ask her what’s wrong. What would Leah want?
“Girl, I’m sorry,” Leah said with a shaking voice. Lines of black mascara tears streamed from her chestnut brown eyes. I felt like I should sit down, so I did. I would need to activate my acting skills; I was never the warm and fuzzy type.
I put my hand on Leah’s upper back. “What’s wrong, Leah?” I stroked her spine.
“This is embarrassing,” Leah said blowing her nose. It sounded look a car honking.
“No, it’s okay. If you don’t want to tell me, I can just—“
“I haven’t lost weight in three weeks and I’ve been doing so well! It’s just not fair. My body hates me. I’ve been working out and doing my points!”
“Oh gosh, that sounds so frustrating, hun.” Was that okay?
“I wasn’t always fat, ya know? I was thin most of my life. That makes it worse, somehow. I’m not supposed to be that fat friend. I’m not!”
“Don’t listen to the number, I can tell you’ve lost weight. You are probably just gaining muscle.”
“Can I tell you something?”
“Sure, of course.” I tucked a piece of hair behind my ear.
“Don’t tell. Pinky swear?”
“My dad cheated on my mom when I was sixteen with one of our maids. I don’t know why he did that, I hated him for it. She was so ugly. My mom wouldn’t have known, probably, but he got that home-wrecker old maid pregnant.”
“I can’t imagine. I’m so sorry.” I gazed into Leah’s eyes. It was like a wave of her pain escaped them and crashed onto me. Such sad, pretty, eyes. Poor Leah. I thought.
Leah blotted her eyes with another tissue. The black lines stained her rounded cheeks. “They were going to get a divorce and that’s when the depression set in. I was kicked off my soccer team because of my bad grades which was just a a manifestation of my depression. I locked myself in my room after school every day, with a ton of junk food and MTV.”
“I don’t blame you. You had every reason to be depressed.”
“Yeah, that’s what it was. Untreated depression. The weight just flew on my bones from sixteen to nineteen. My parents never ended up getting divorced. I was so happy. For a week. They should have gotten a divorce.”
“On the outside, we look like a picture perfect family. Wealthy country club philanthropists with a college bound daughter. When the doors were closed, it was an an absolute nightmare. I gained over a hundred pounds.”
“Wow,” I said fumbling for a way to respond. “I had no idea.”
“I’ve been on every diet, Brie. I learned how to do makeup so that at least my face would look pretty. But, it doesn’t matter. Guys don’t look at me. Susan B. Anthony is rustling around in her grave, after that one. I’m sorry. It shouldn’t be important but as a college freshman. It is.”
There was an awkward break filled with sniffling.
I rubbed the back of my neck. “I can relate.”
Leah tilted her head. “In what way?”
“I have issues with food, too.”
Leah nodded. “Anorexia?”
“Not exactly,” I hesitated and then cringed as the words spilled from my lips. “Leah, if you tell anyone this, I will freaking kill you.”
“You have my permission to murder me if I tell.”
“ I have something called EDNOS. Eating disorder not otherwise specified. I’m on the anorexia side of things, but I am a healthy weight, so I’m not considered anorexic. I count calories and do weird things with food. I have my own list of rules. This is so fucking embarrassing right now. But you told me about your eating disorder, I just had to tell you. I’ve never known anyone with one. That has always been lonely.”
Dread swept over my body. Why did I just tell her that? I scolded myself. I had never told anyone that. Not ever. My father relayed the information to Trina when she was Thomas and Nash when he was Jimmy from next door, because he wanted them to make sure I was eating. Now I told another person. I felt naked. Yet, I felt a connection with Leah. Old war buddies, or something like that.
Leah let out a small chuckle. “Brie, I won’t tell a soul. If I do, you can tell all of Baylor U about my dad’s bastard and fugly mistress. And you spread a flyer, warning students not to be too sugary sweet to me. There is a chance that I might eat them.”
I giggled and Leah gave me a bear hug. Leah was such a hugger. It was almost my new norm to allow hugs. In the past, I never liked touch because, according to Dr. Jones, it reminded me that I was “there”. And what my brain really wanted me to be invisible.
“So,” Leah said sitting back. “Do you mind if I ask you about it?
“Do you see yourself as fat even though you are not?”
“That’s part of it,” I said nodding, “but, honestly, the biggest reason I do it is for control. It’s like, if I control the way I eat and how much, my life is my own. It started as another symptom of PTSD.”
“Oh my God, what happened?” Leah asked, grabbing her pillow and hugging it to her chest.
I shook my head. “I can’t.”
“So,” I said, eager to change the subject after brushing the surface of that memory. She would never get that story from me. “I never asked you what you think about house Theta.”
“Girlfriend, honestly? At first, I was a little disappointed, but I wanted to keep an open mind. Because, like, they chose me, you know? I didn’t feel a connection there and I actually put them as number 19. But of course, they don’t know that. Don’t tell anyone, okay?”
“I would never.”
Later that evening, Leah and I decided to drink some sour apple vodka with sprite and watch America’s Next Top Model. I felt a warm buzz in my chest after one cocktail. When I heard the soft grumbling sound of Leah snoring, I climbed up to my top bunk and laid my head on my pillow. I grabbed my phone.
Me: So. Who’s this new girl? 😉
Nash: Why haven’t you been answer me, you asshole? I’ve sent you a million texts. Called you, no answer. L
Me: I have this itty bitty commitment called College and this little activity called going Greek. Douche bag. I’m busy.
Nash: Mrs. Fancy Pants.
Me: Tell me about your new beau.
Nash: Please just text Trina. She went to the shop today to find me. She said she texted you and you said that you were upset about Tabitha ghosting you. Then she asked you if anyone knows about your issues at Baylor and then you never replied.
Me: Omg, she came to your work?!?!
Nash: Yes, it’s OK. I’m glad she did.
Me: I don’t like it….
My fingers were typing at a crazy pace and I felt the alcohol fire me up. I couldn’t believe that they were still trying to manage my life. I felt like I didn’t give Trina enough reason to freak. She was trying to manipulate me through Nash.
Nash: Okay. It’s 1 in the morning here, so I’m going to go to bed. I have to work tomorrow. Some advice… if you don’t like how Tabitha cut you off, don’t do it to Trina. She was really upset earlier.
Me: Omg, I didn’t talk to her for an evening. I’m such a bitch!
Nash: Whatever, Brie. Good night.
I sat up in bed. Nash never called me Brie. I was always Merritt. And I liked that. There were only two faces of Nash. Sweet and goofball. This was a new face. Was he giving up on me? Maybe it was because I was far away and there was a new queen of Rivertown. He never answered my question about the girl. I didn’t know Jessica, but I hated her. I fucking hated her.
I felt like a volcano bursting with magma. My face was burning and my heart was thudding against my rib cage. A little voice inside my head told me to control myself. I wasn’t far gone, it was only one cocktail. Then I remembered I didn’t eat dinner. My brain instructed myself to climb down the stairs, wake up Leah, and ask her to take my phone until tomorrow.
My fingers typed so fast. I had to make Nash worried so that he would still take care of me. Maybe he would lose focus on the Jessica hoe and keep his thoughts where they belonged. With me. I knew it was sick. It was a twisted little game. At the moment, I didn’t care.
Me: Truth? I had a bad day. So I took my trusty old eyebrow shaping razor and carved a little slash on my hip. The shape of a heart, just like my necklace. I feel bad about it. Okay? I threw the razor in the trash. It’s been years since I sunk down to that level. I found the number to a therapist and I’m going to call tomorrow. My dad has been asking me daily to do it, but I have been so busy. I need to put my health first.
Nash: Good. You need one.
Me: That’s all?
Nash: What else do you want? You sound like you have it all figured out.
Me: I don’t have it all figured out.
Nash: Nobody does. I have to sleep…
Me: You have it all together, Nash! You have are in trade school, you work at your uncle’s garage, you have money, you aren’t fucking crazy, and sounds like you have a new piece of ass. So there you go. You are perfect.
Stop. Control yourself!
Nash: What a bunch of bullshit. I am not perfect. I’m too stupid to go to college for dentistry like my brother. Do you know what that is like? No. You don’t see past yourself.
What have I done! Fix this.
Me:…you are not stupid…
Nash: You are acting jealous. I am allowed to date. I’ve moved on. I know that it was always you, me, and Tabitha, since 8th grade. But we aren’t kids anymore. You are going to have to deal with it, just like I’ve had to deal with it. That’s life.
I had to read his words a few times. I couldn’t believe it. Tabitha and I had fought. Billy and I fought. I fought with Trina at least once a month. Nash? Never.
Me: I’m scared.
Nash: I’m not with Jessica officially. I’m not ready. Happy?
Me: No. I’m not happy.
Nash: And what’s new about that?
I could no longer handle that conversation. Letting a frustrated growl escape my lips, I hopped off of my bed. I rummaged through my waste paper basket and retrieved my pink plastic razor. I never felt so ugly. Like I had spiders crawling all over my skin.
I snuck out of our room and headed for the bathroom with the razor tucked under my shirt. My mind swam. Did I just really get in a fight with Nash? My brain screamed.
Startled, I jumped when I heard a door open.
Char scowled when she saw me. She was wearing a light blue, men’s button up shirt and white boyshorts underwear. Her shirt was buttoned crooked and her short brown hair was a greasy mop on top of her head. She pointed at me.
“How’s the loser sorority?” She cackled. It was clear that she was either drunk or took a handful of pills. Maybe both.
“Fine. How’s your sorority?” I pretended to be surprised. “Whoops! I forgot.”
“Bitch, I don’t give too shits.” Char puffed out her chest. She was usually a jerk, but she was extra feisty that night.
“Ya, ya. Stop making fun of my house and I’ll lay off. Fair?”
“What’s under your shirt, Kansas? Looks like the outline of a needle. Doing a late night pokey-poke in the bathroom? I knew you were a fucking drug addict. You are so skinny.”
What was next happened like a blur. Char lunged at me and I held out one of my arms to stop her and kneed her in the abdomen. She let out an “oof” as the air left her lungs. She grabbed my hand that concealed the razor, tucked under my shirt.
“Let me see it!” Char demanding, sending drops of spit splattering on my cheeks.
“No! Get off!”
Char slammed me against the wall. She tried to rip it out of my hand, but I held on to the plastic part. Char recoiled. I gasped and allowed the razor to fall from my hand. It clinked when it hit the tile.
A bright red line was slashed across Char’s palm and crimson droplets pitter-pattered on the white tile beneath our feet.
“Are you okay?” I grabbed Char’s hand and held it so I could see. It didn’t need stitches. And I knew a thing or two about cuts. “Listen, it’s going to be okay. I don’t want you to get in trouble for having a guy in your dorm and for…whatever narcotics you are on…so just go back to your room. I’ll be back with gauze–”
“A concealed weapon? Why, Kansas?”
“It’s not. It’s an eyebrow shaper, Char. I was going to the bathroom to do my brows.”
“I should call the police.”
“Go and call then, I don’t care! If they have video footage they will see you lunging at me. If they don’t, it’s hearsay.”
Char clutched her hand to her chest and bit her lip.
“I’m sorry. It was an accident. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“That’s what they all say.” Char’s eyes instantly welded with tears. “You’re all fucking liars! All of you!”
What is she talking about? I wondered.
Char dashed back to her room and I retreated to mine. Without thinking, I went to the window and tossed the razor out. There was no way I would find it now.
I gathered my hair up into a ponytail and twisted it into a bun. In the orange glow of street laps pouring through our dorm window, I could see my reflection in my full length mirror. I scowled at myself. I was losing weight I didn’t need to lose and gave myself a new scar. I told someone a secret that I wanted to hide, I pissed off Nash, and I hurt Charlene.
I wondered how many steps it was to the top of Valentine hall. It was 12 stories. That is tall. I pondered if the janitor locked the top door to the roof or not. Dangerous thoughts.
Brianne, shut up, you dumbass! I yelled at myself. My reflection rolled her eyes and shook her head. I knew that I would never find out how many steps it was or if the door was locked. I couldn’t make my final exit. Not now. Even if Trina and Nash were annoying.
I would never die while Nash was alive. My ghost would be restless. I would spend eternity trying to find him in the darkness of hell, knowing that he was destined for light. He was an angel.
I stared into my reflection’s eyes. The truth was bubbling up again. Maybe I would allow it to be acknowledged for a little while. It would be okay. I was in California. He isn’t around. He’ll never know.
“I’m in love with James Nash,” I whispered to my mirror. My reflection nodded slightly.
I usually act in front of my mirror to critique my facial expressions. I would have to remember my appearance for a love stricken character, if I ever get cast again.
Relaxed jaw. Soft brows. Pale cheeks. Miserable eyes.
“Come, gentle night; come, loving, black-browed night; Give me my Romeo; and, when I shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night…”
Leah stirred and I scrambled back up to my bed. I felt my temples throb as I thought about the damage control I would need to do the next day.
Will I ever learn? Alcohol and insanity just don’t mix.