“Fall down seven times, get up eight.”
Heavy raindrops pound on the hood and windshield of my car as I roll down the street. The roaring engine of my Mustang and the deep booms of thunder battle against each other, fighting for dominance. In the end, the storm wins as I pull up in front of a house and shut off the engine. After taking a deep breath and readying myself, I open the door and step into the onslaught of the rain.
I race to the front door of the house before me, using my jacket as an umbrella to shield myself from the rain. The door opens before I reach it and I dive through, smiling with the small rush.
“Have fun out there?” my best friend, Casey, asks. Her strawberry blonde hair is pulled back in a loose messy bun, and she’s still in her pink, satin pajamas.
I grin. “Of course,” I say, the hidden duh underlying my words. She rolls her eyes and smiles, then jerks her head to the kitchen. I follow as she lumbers her way through the doorway, enjoying the sweet aroma of French toast and bacon.
After meeting Casey in the hospital, we became quick friends. Her life became fucked at the same time mine did, and we decided, why not enjoy the fuck up together? After getting out of the hospital, and rehab, Casey invited me to her house for breakfast on a Monday morning, and I’ve been going every Monday since.
Her mom smiles as we step to the breakfast bar. “Good morning, Lynn,” she chirps in a cheery tone, a wide grin stretching her face.
I smile in return. “Good morning, Mrs. Henderson.” I slide onto a stool beside Casey, leaning my forearms heavily against the bartop.
Mrs. Henderson peers at me, her green eyes narrowed in both thought and suspicion. I shift under her gaze, looking anywhere but at her. Somehow, she has this strange way of telling something’s wrong with you just by looking. Even if you have a great poker face, like I do.
She shrugs as if nothing’s wrong and turns back to prepping breakfast. Every so often, though, I can feel her eyes burning holes in my head.
After a quiet, somewhat lazy breakfast, Casey and I go up to her room to finish getting ready for school. I lay back on her bed, staring up at the glow in the dark stars taped to her ceiling. She puts on some Eminem as she starts tearing through her closet, muttering curses as she flings articles of clothing behind her.
“I almost relapsed last night,” I blurt out, keeping my attention locked onto a tiny, tiny star trapped in the middle of a cluster of bigger stars. That’s how I feel sometimes—trapped by my own mind, or by everything in my life. School, therapy, the loss of everything and everyone that I had loved... I squeeze my eyes shut, unwilling to deal with the pain.
Casey’s quiet, her rummaging not as wild as before. After a moment she says, “No Bullshit?”
I nod, knowing that she’s looking at me. “No Bullshit.”
“What stopped you?”
I sigh and drag a hand down my face. “My dad,” I say. “I didn’t want to go back home and have him see me like that. Again.”
I look up and Casey’s staring at me. After a moment she nods and says, “Okay.” Then she turns back to her disastrous closet.
Casey and I have a “No Bullshit” policy. After getting out of rehab, we decided that we’d tell each other everything that involved our addictions. Casey had problems with cocaine, and after my brother killed himself almost a year and a half ago, I became an alcoholic. Our policy is simple: we never bullshit with each other. If we have any urges or come close to relapsing, or we do relapse, then we have to tell each other.
Twenty minutes later, Casey’s dressed, her makeup done, and ready to head out for school. We say goodbye to Mrs. Henderson and, using our jackets as umbrellas, we race out to my car. After slamming the doors to the Mustang shut, I turn the engine over and smile as the engine roars. I pull out onto the road, taking care of the rain that’s still coming down heavily.
I swear as the sight of orange construction cones come into sight. After growling and muttering, I turn right, following the signs for the detour. I completely forgot that most of the roads on my route to school would be reconstructed.
When I roll to a stop at a red light, I can’t help but stare at the short building before me. It doesn’t look like much, but I became who I used to be on the inside. It’s covered in faded tan, black, and white paint, with a yin yang symbol painted into one window and Han’s Black Belt Academy painted in another. There are advertisements for different deals and seminars, as well as a painted list of what the martial arts school has to offer.
There was once a time when stepping inside the dojang made me feel warm and happy and safe. Now, as I stare at it and ignore the light as it returns to green, shame washes through me. I long to return, to wrap myself into the folds of my dobok and tie my belt around my waist. I miss the hours of practice and training, of the many classes of training in forms during formation. I miss Friday night sparring, where I had an hour and a half dedicated solely to my favorite part of martial arts.
I’m ashamed that I won’t ever step through those doors again. How can I? I was supposed to be strong, to be brave. But after my brother’s suicide, I turned tail and ran. I couldn’t, and still can’t, bear to go inside of the dojang. My brother trained right along with me. It was his home just as much as it was mine. How can I ever go back there when I know his ghost will haunt me?
“You okay?” Casey asks, staring back and forth between me and the dojang. I swallow thickly, then nod. After checking that there’s no oncoming traffic I make a right-hand turn, pushing the pedal to the floor as I speed away from my past. As much as I try to fight it, though, I can’t help but look back in my mirrors.