Why was it so goddamned bright?
I groaned as I sat up, supporting my weight with my elbows because my wrists were useless as shit. The room spun, white walls swirling into white tiles swirling into white sheets. Everything was washed in fluorescent lighting and disinfectant, making my head pound and my stomach flip.
It was fucking miserable.
“Don’t touch me!”
Why was someone always yelling?
My hands felt useless, heavy, a steady thrum of pain coming from my wrists under the motherfucking white bandages. I knew if I could claw them off I could get to the stitches underneath, could pull them apart, and my blood would be red. Red. To take care of all the stupid white.
“I can do whatever I goddamned want when you’re talking about my kid, Benjamin!”
“Daddy’s home,” I muttered to myself, weakly reaching for the cords attached to my chest, blunt fingernails scraping at bare skin until they finally came off. My gaze snapped over to the IV in my arm, and I frowned as I went to work on it next. I’d seen people rip them out in movies before, but this was one situation I hadn’t researched.
Apparently my research hadn’t done all that well, though. Otherwise I wouldn’t be in a fucking hospital.
I’d be in the ground.
“Your kid tried to kill himself, Jeremy! I think it’s about time someone did something about that!”
I snorted as I finally got my fingers to curl around the stupid, stupid IV drip. I wondered, briefly, if I could bust the vein when I pulled it out. Would it bleed? Could it kill me? Could i use the needle if it didn’t?
“Kill himself? Benjamin, please. He’s a teenager. They do this shit, they act out for attention.”
The door was open, which was something I hadn’t noticed before, but my uncle walked into the room and slammed it so hard the walls shook. I abandoned my mission in favor of bringing my hands up to my temples, wincing against the pain that started back up in my head.
“You can’t keep him from me!”
“Watch me!” Uncle Ben snapped, and for the first time I realized there were other voices. Nurses, possibly officers. My father had never been a fan of closed doors though, and I could hear him banging against the heavy wood. He had probably already marked himself down as the violent one.
My uncle turned around suddenly, and then just kind of...froze. His eyes were wide, his hair messy like he’d been running his fingers through it. “You’re...awake.”
I cracked a smile, even though nothing was funny. I was awake. I had failed. I couldn’t even manage to kill myself correctly. That had to be a new low on the sliding scale. “I’m alive,” I answered.
“Barely,” my uncle replied, and then for some reason...I was laughing. It wasn’t a sound I recognized, and at first I wasn’t even sure it was coming from me, but I was fucking laughing. It was broken, and hollow, and dry. And I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop until suddenly I was crying, and that was worse, because that hurt. It pulled at my chest, tightened my stomach, made my throat feel raw. Gut wrenching sobs that I couldn’t stop anymore than I could have stopped the laughter.
Uncle Ben was on the bed with me in a matter of moments, strong arms wrapped around my shoulders, and even though it hurt I clutched at the back of his shirt, buried my face into his neck, let him rock me like I was a child. And I cried so damn hard I couldn’t breathe. “Why?” I managed, hating myself for it, hating him for it, even just a little bit. “Why?! I was supposed to be done. I gave up. I gave up!”
He held me until somehow...I didn’t have any tears left. Until I couldn’t keep it up, and my breath was coming out wet and ragged, but there were no more waterworks. I felt weak, and empty, and like an absolute failure. “Because, you aren’t done yet.”
Uncle Ben pulled away from me, placed a hand on each of my shoulders, and made sure I looked him in the eye when he said, “Listen to me, Lakyn James. You. Are. Not. Done. Here.”
Suicide watch meant someone came into my room every hour. They turned the lights on, woke me and Uncle Ben who was sleeping in the chair, looked me over and asked me if I needed anything.
All I wanted was some damn sleep.
By the end of the second night I asked the nurse if the point was to keep me from trying again. When she said it was, I snorted and told her they might want to look into another method, because even someone who wasn’t suicidal probably would be after being woken up every goddamn hour. She didn’t think it was funny, and neither did my uncle.
I lost track of time, after that. I was there, but not fully present, not really interested. Disassociation wasn’t anything new, and the time passed quicker that way. Uncle Ben asked if I wanted to take a walk outside, get some fresh air. I didn’t, but even though he had phrased it as a question it turned out to be nonoptional.
I had to talk to a shrink, which didn’t go well. He wanted to know why I had done it. “Attempted” suicide. It was frustrating, because I hadn’t really attempted to do anything. I had failed. There was a difference. I was put on an outpatient treatment plan, which was shared with my uncle and not with me.
I was pretty sure there was a cop too, and definitely a CPS worker. She talked in kind, soothing tones and asked the kind of questions I’d wished someone would have asked me when I was a child, alone, and hurting. Instead I was older, and tired, and finally I sat up and pulled my shirt off over my head, showing the scars that lined not only my arms, but my chest, my stomach, my hips. That showed my pain and my struggle. That showed my need for it all to just go away.
“Get him out of that house,” my uncle said when he walked with her to the hallway, in a low voice with the door almost closed. “Please.”
They released me two days later.
Uncle Ben took me home.
The first time I got dumped on my aunt and uncle’s doorstep I was four years old. I had a dalmatian backpack stuffed with clothes, one shoe, and a black eye that I promised came from running into the diningroom table.
Aunt Lily had let me inside with a bright smile and teary eyes. She’d bathed me, dressed me in one of Rick’s old shirts for pajamas, then fed me a grilled cheese and fruitsnacks. My parent’s didn’t pick me up for an entire week...and it’d been the best week of my life.
When I was seven, they left me for two and a half weeks. I got home to a locked door, found the spare key under the windowsill, climbed onto the kitchen counter and used the landline to call Uncle Ben. I got to ride to school with Juliet, eat hamburgers for dinner, and watch tv before bed. When my father finally came to get me...I ‘fell of my bike’ that afternoon.
When I was eleven, they left for the whole summer. Uncle Ben found me alone when he came to talk to my dad, surrounded by empty cups of ramen noodles and watching morning cartoons. He took me home with him.
Aunt Lily was really sick that year, and they’d made the livingroom into a big bedroom for her. Juliet and I played outside a lot, went to the pool, ran races, but my favorite thing had always been when the two of us would curl up on Aunt Lily’s bed and listen to Rick read her stories. Had we known then that it was our last summer with her...we would have done it more.
My parents showed back up just before the school year. Uncle Ben had taken me to get a real haircut, new clothes, and supply shopping. My stuff matched Juliet’s, like we were twins. For the first time ever, I was excited about school.
I knew my father was there that morning when I heard the yelling. Aunt Lily tried to keep me on the bed with her, but I was stronger, and I wanted to know what was going on. My father was upset, because Uncle Ben had enough on his plate, the last thing he needed to be dealing with was his brother’s pathetic waste of a son. Uncle Ben had been so mad I’d honestly thought he would throw a punch, but then my mother caught sight of me. She grabbed me by the ear to pull me out. I hated that. I’d always hated that.
After that, my parent’s gave me a strict talking to about who I was and wasn’t allowed to bother just because they were gone for a few days. I had to learn how to make it on my own sometime, I couldn’t crawl around other people’s feet and ask for scraps. Especially not Uncle Ben, after Aunt Lily died only a few months later.
It wasn’t that hard, really, to take care of myself. Weekends were the only actual struggle, because sometimes there was food, but usually there wasn’t. At least at school I didn’t have to worry about breakfast and lunch...but on Saturday’s and Sunday’s it was usually a game about what I could dig up.
I didn’t mind, when they left. In fact, I usually preferred it. They yelled, when they were around. Screamed and fought, blamed each other for random shit, blamed me. I definitely ‘fell down the stairs’ a lot less, when they weren’t home.
They weren’t home the day Uncle Ben took me to get my stuff, which seemed strange in a way, almost...anticlimactic. The house I’d grown up in was a modest size for Lee, and for all intents and purposes looked...normal. It wasn’t a crack house, nothing was cheap and falling apart, nothing was broken...There weren’t any real signs to the shit I went through behind closed doors. At least...not at face value.
I knew where to look. I knew which paintings were covering holes in the walls. I knew which windows had been replaced. I knew that even though the cabinets were filled with prescriptions meds, no one had any real need for them. I knew these things...but no one else had managed to see them.
There was a CPS agent and a Cop that came with us, both of which stayed downstairs, just in case my parents decided to show up. Uncle Ben said he wanted to be prepared, and I couldn’t say I blamed him.
Rick came to help too, armed with boxes and teary eyes that we all ignored like stereotypical men. I was glad Juliet had gone to school, because even though I knew I would have to face her eventually...I wasn’t ready.
I lead the way upstairs to my room with an odd heaviness in my chest. It wasn’t that I would miss the place...or that it had even the smallest of good memories to go with it...but that I’d never expected to have to actually leave. Everything felt...new, and the finality of it was different than it had been before.
I stopped short, once I opened my door, like I didn’t know exactly what would be in there. A few haphazardly taped up posters, a desk that was still covered in unfinished homework, more clothes on the floor than hanging in the open closet, my skateboard and backpack dumped unceremoniously by the door. My tv was still on Adult Swim, volume muted, and it hit me suddenly that my life had just...paused. Just like that. The signs that I had been there were everywhere, but if I had gone out the way I’d wanted to...
How long would this room look exactly the way it did now? Constantly waiting for someone to come back to it...to finish that essay, do the laundry, change the channel...Would it have been frozen in some kind of morbid limbo forever?
There was blood on my bed, smeared on the nightstand, splattered across the floor towards the doorway. The dark dry puddles on my navy sheets where I’d placed my hands before closing my eyes. The rusty smears across the white wood of the nightstand where I’d dropped my razor blade, already lightheaded, barely able to move. The dark marks of imperfection on fluffy carpet, following the trail where I’d been carried out...
“Jesus Christ,” I heard Rick mutter from behind me, before he dropped the boxes he was carrying and pushed past me to get into the room. There was a trash bag in his hands, and he pulled the ruined blankets from my bed and shoved them in, but it didn’t matter. The mattress was white. That was almost worse.
So much blood.
“We don’t have to do this,” Uncle Ben said, his hand dropping on my shoulder and giving it a squeeze. “We can buy you new things.”
I shook my head. “No. I need to do this.”
It took all day, because I’d never really cleaned my bedroom out before. There was very little I ended up keeping, mostly my school things and my gameboy, but I didn’t want anything else. Not the furniture, not most of my clothes, not anything with...memories. I had a second chance I’d never really asked for, and I wanted to start anew. Fresh.
Eventually Uncle Ben left to drop off the boxes of stuff we could donate so we wouldn’t have to deal with packing everything into the car at once, which left Rick and I alone.
It was quiet, for awhile, until I heard the familiar roll of metal on metal. My head shot up, but it was too late to do anything. Rick’s thumbs were already undoing the locks on my vintage Spider-Man lunchbox, his brow drawn in confusion as he pulled out bandages, wraps, and neosporin. I watched the comprehension draw on his face when he reached the bottom, watched the tears pool in his eyes again, heard him inhale sharply before he dropped it onto the desk. The razor blades rattled, but didn’t come out. I wasn’t even sure how many were in there...a dozen, maybe? Backups. I held my hand out for it silently, but Rick just shook his head.
“Come on, man,” I tried.
For the first time in days, I saw an emotion flash across someone’s face that wasn’t concern, or sadness, or something that just looked lost. This was anger. Rick swiped the lunchbox up like I might have made a dive for it and narrowed his eyes on me. “Don’t even try with me, Lakyn! You think I’m just going to hand you this shit? Give you the thing that put you in the hospital to begin with?”
Fear. That was a new feeling for me, since I had woken up, but so real it was almost tangible. My fingers shook but I refused to drop my hand, to give up. “Come on, Rick. I won’t do it again, alright? I just...I need those...I need them.”
“Why?!” he snapped at me. “So you can rip up the rest of your body? As if you don’t have enough scars?”
My hands curled into fists and the gentle tugging of the stitches on my skin brought me back down to earth. I closed my eyes for a moment, then slowly opened them and glared at my cousin. All of it was his fault, somehow. “What the fuck were you doing here?”
“What?” Rick asked, confused.
“That night,” I demanded. “What the fuck were you doing here? I had it all planned out, no one was supposed to be here.”
There was a beat of silence while Rick stared at me before slowly shaking his head. “Juliet was worried about you.”
Juliet. I froze for a moment, processing, trying to remember the last thing I’d said to her, the last phone call, the last text. “I...all I did was tell her I loved her...”
“Lakyn...” RIck sighed, ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. “We see you, okay? We’re not idiots, we’re not blind. Dad’s been trying to get you out of this fucked up situation since you were eight. So yeah, when Juliet called me and said she was worried about you, I came over. Of fucking course I came over. Not to mention, how many times have you said ‘I love you’ to people in your entire fucking life?”
“I...” I didn’t know. I couldn’t count them, not because the answer was too high, but because...maybe I’d only said it the one time, or perhaps a couple before that...surely a couple before that...
My knees gave out and I fell to the floor without really thinking about it, leaning my back against my bed, staring at the dark droplets in the carpet. I didn’t remember it, not really, just my name. Over and over. My body moving like a ragdoll as Rick picked me up. Blurry vision and a spinning room before I finally lost consciousness. Before I thought...this is it.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered. “That you had to...I’m just...sorry.”
“Yeah, well,” Rick said as he sat the box back on the desk before he dropped down next to me. He sighed and rested his arms on his knees. “Don’t fucking make me do it again.”
We sat in silence for awhile, and some of the weight I had felt coming in was off my shoulders, and although part of me still wanted to reach for the lunchbox...I knew I could wait. I would have to, at least until everyone’s eyes were off of me.
“You don’t own a computer, do you?” Rick asked after a while, and when I glanced at him I realized he was looking at my desk too, though more at the empty spot in the middle.
He laughed and tilted his head towards me, grin stretching across his face. “Where the hell is your porn?”
My conditioned innocent response failed miserable under the gaze of a college freshman, and Rick arched his eyebrows until I caved. I bit down on the smirk that threatened to appear as I reached under my bed and pulled out my mostly unused travel suitcase, throwing back the top once it was free. It was mostly magazines, a few dvd’s that I had managed to get my hands on, lubes, condoms, the works. RIck gave a low whistle, and then we were both laughing so hard we were doubled over and holding our sides.
And it wasn’t okay...it was so far from being okay...but maybe it was the start of getting there.
I got my own room, which wasn’t surprising because my uncle had a big house, but was because I was still technically under suicide watch. My own space seemed like a leap of faith, and one I wasn’t quite sure I deserved.
“So, no closed doors,” Uncle Ben stated, and I shrugged my shoulders because that much I figured. “It won’t last forever, I promise, you just have to...”
“Not try to off myself again, got it,” I muttered, and watched my uncle try to recover from it. I winced slightly, sighed, and backtracked. “Uncle Ben I’m...sorry. I’m still not...my system hasn’t really rebooted yet.”
He nodded and sat down the box he was carrying, stepping back to look the room over as a whole. I’d left my furniture, but it wasn’t a big loss given my new room was already furnished. Bed, dresser, television. It was more than enough. The walls were white though, and most of my posters had ripped coming down, which was leaving me with an itchy feeling under my skin.
“Rick’s going to be staying in the room across the hall so someone can...in case you need something, in the middle of the night.”
“Oh, dude,” I groaned, rolling my head up to look at my uncle. “Don’t make him-”
“I didn’t,” he interrupted. “He volunteered.”
Great, I thought bitterly, pull the guilt card. Make me feel fucking bad about it. “At least don’t make him wake up every fucking hour.”
“Language, Lakyn,” he tried, but it was halfhearted, and when I looked over at him there was a small smile on his face. “Juliet should be here in a moment and then I’m going to go make dinner.”
I stared at a spot on the wall for a second while I took a deep breath and tried to steady my nerves. It would be my first time seeing her in almost a week, and even though I had known it was coming...it still felt like a lot. “Okay...wait, can you cook now? When did that happen?”
“...Maybe I’ll go pick up some Chinese.”
“Good idea,” I decided, and then I was listening to the footsteps in the hallway, Juliet tentatively calling for her father. I kept my eyes pinned to the wall as he patted my back, listened to him step out into the hallway to talk to her.
He was gone for a moment or two before I ever managed to turn around. Unsurprisingly, Juliet was just..waiting, leaning in my doorway with her arms crossed. She looked older somehow, than the last time I’d seen her. All tight clothing and low cut shirts, her long hair straight and falling down her back, somehow seeming like she was almost old enough to drink instead of barely old enough to drive.
Her blue eyes had the same teary look in them everyone’s did these days, and she blinked furiously before she pointedly glanced away from me. “I’m mad at you.”
“That’s fair,” I whispered.
“Is it though?” she asked, and we both ignored the hitch in her voice because we both knew we wouldn’t be able to deal with it. “Can I really be mad at someone who...who...”
This time she was the one who closed her eyes and took a deep breath, visibly calming her nerves before she managed to look at me again. “I’m mad at you,” she repeated. “But I also love you and I’m...so glad you’re here right now. So...we’re just going to...move on, okay?”
I nodded, a little quicker than I meant to. “Yeah. Alright. We can do that.”
“Okay,” Juliet replied, and ran a hand smoothly through her hair before she reached into her back pocket and pulled out a small, silver, cigarette case. When she opened it and offered me one, however, I knew the difference between cigarettes and joints. “Wanna smoke?”
“Fuck yes,” I replied, and happily took one before she smiled and lead the way out to the back yard and into the shed that had been Aunt Lily’s art studio. Everything was mostly packed up now, had been since she’d gotten too sick to work, but it was still furnished.
Juliet settled down into a comfortable looking seat by one of the windows, picking a lighter off the sill and handing it over to me. We lit up together and I took the longest drag of my life, dropping my head back against the wall.
“You need some posters,” she decided, blowing smoke out in my direction.
“I know,” I muttered. “I really fucking hate white.”