Why is carbon a universal element? What is so special with the carbon-60 molecule to give everything life and purpose? What’s the point of people sharing matter with the stars, balls of magnificent flame verses mounds of tame flesh? Why are stars our cousins in this realm of being?
I’d only know.
It’s because stars explode, and so do people.
I would know.
“So why did you come in today, Devin? What brings you to my office?” Dr. Bradley Haven inquired like he did every psychiatric session, like he did to nearly every individual who passed into his office.
I sat in an uncomfortable loveseat facing a large desk that was reminiscent of the one I used to work on in the church. It made me want to take an axe to the dark stained furniture and slam the blade into the wood until splinters remained. If I closed my eyes, the weird, moldy scent of the basement would wisp into my nostrils like a crazed memory. I tried to glue them open until my eyeballs burned from dryness. I cracked my thumbs against my palms, the sound of the joints echoing in the small coven of the room. Brochures regarding safe sex, anxiety, PTSD, depression, and other mental health issues sat on the coffee table to my left like fancy parting gifts. Goodbye, have a nice day. Here’s a reminder of how screwed up you are!
I turned back to the man. His ebony skin glowed from the fluorescent lights, and his broad smile seemed welcoming in a way that most people would embrace. However, I found it almost startling he was smiling. It was almost setting me on edge, begging to know what he was smiling at and why he was smiling. A small patch of black hair stretched across his full upper lip, and he groomed it whenever he silently pondered my response.
Good thing I really didn’t have a reply to anything.
I nonchalantly shrugged and confided, “I really don’t know.”
He glanced at a stack of papers on his desk, his eyes scanning the pages quickly to really understand my case. I leaned forward to see if I could decipher Ned’s mom’s handwriting, but it is difficult to read cursive upside down. “Your mother sent you here, I see.”
“She’s not my mom,” I immediately retorted.
His brow peeked. “What is she to you?”
I froze. I mean, I didn’t exactly know what my relation was to her. Ned and I used to be in some contorted, weird relationship, but I didn’t think he still loved me after hearing about everything. I knew I wouldn’t want to deal with all of the emotional baggage. So would she be considered my ex’s mom? I shrugged again. “She lets me live in her house. I’m her son’s friend.”
“Oh, I see.”
“What brings you to my office, Miss Sebold?”
I began to rip my cuticle off of my right thumb. My eyes met his, and I wondered how to even begin. Let’s see, I’ve got daddy issues, been molested, been raped, fell in love with my gay best friend who died because of me, and might be in love with a guy who has abandoned me. Been depressed, paranoid, and anxious for the past—I don’t know—life?
“I don’t even know where to start,” I scoffed.
“Just go off of wherever you want to start with. This is about you.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“What made you want to listen to everyone’s problems? Are you just interested in people and their demons, or are you here for gossip? I mean, I’m not trying to be rude, but I’m curious as to what made you want to listen to us depressing saps all day.”
He admitted coolly, “I wanted to help people.”
I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms across my chest. “I’m just kind of screwed up, I guess.”
“Your friend’s mother said you were experiencing several panic attacks, severe anxiety, a touch of depression, and ‘bouts of paranoia.’”
I just stared at him.
“Are you not going to say anything to me today?”
“My dad said counseling was for people who really needed it—like the mentally ill. I’m fine. I’ve just been having a lot of stress lately. I’m wasting your time.”
“First of all, you aren’t wasting my time at all. You need help, and you accepted you need help by attending this session. This is honestly one of the strongest decisions you could have made to affect your mental wellbeing, and this will honestly help with the vomiting episodes also mentioned in the charts. This is all for you.”
I sat back and confessed, “I don’t want it to be about me.”
“Why don’t you want it to be about you?”
“Because it shouldn’t be. That’s just how it is.”
“Do you think this feeling of inferiority was instilled in you as a child? Did your father tell you that you should be hidden?”
I froze and glared at the counselor. “Too far.”
“Devin, if you don’t do this… you’re going to regret it.” His strong hands pinned my shoulders into the porcelain tub, and I vacantly stared at him—a rag doll underneath him. His fingers lightly petted the inside of my thigh, and I clenched my hands into taut fists by my sides, too scared to flee but too present to not rebel. I longed to shove him off of me, but I knew I couldn’t.
“It’ll be our little secret…”
I furrowed my brow and shook away the memories momentarily, burying them deep with lies and distractions constructed via imagination. If I could manage to shroud every memory with a veil of mystery, maybe I could survive another day.
“What part was too far?”
I shot to my feet and swept the brochures off the coffee table. I roared, “Stay out of my business! Not everyone and their neighbor needs to know my story. Not everyone should be able to see me on the street and know me as the girl her dad whored out. Not everyone needs to know me.”
Dr. Haven failed to react and simply nodded his head. “I understand you feel vulnerable and confused right now, and that is okay. You should feel however you want to feel.”
I hissed, “Stop it.”
“I won’t ask about your father anymore. I understand that relationship is very volatile and probably harbors a lot of complex emotions for you.”
“No, stop with the counselor crap. Stop saying you understand how I feel. You understand I feel this way and that way. You don’t even know me. You can’t understand how I feel because, I’m pretty sure, your dad didn’t sit there and let people have sex with you and then beat the hell out of you when you didn’t abide. I’m sorry, your best friend didn’t hide his sexuality forever and then die in a car accident because of you. You don’t have your only friend isolating you for having a history that isn’t vapid. You don’t get it. Don’t even try to.”
He didn’t say anything.
“No one can get it. No one can understand.”
“I can’t deal with this right now.”
And then I went back to Ned’s house. His mom never asked me any questions or interrogated me about the situation. Her eyes nailed to the horizon as she drove with the radio softly playing a soft ballad by the Bee Gees. I furrowed my brow, expecting her to say something after the doctor said he worried about my emotional state and said she needed to consider placing me in psychiatric care.
Because I had suicidal tendencies.
But I thought everybody did.
She broke through my string of thoughts and confessed, “You’re going to have to keep your door open from now on, and you only close the door to go to the restroom.”
I turned to her as we parked in the garage. “I’m not going to do anything. It was just that one time.”
“These incidents are becoming more frequent, Devin. I don’t know if we can trust you right now.”
I sat in the middle of the living room on the loveseat, staring at the blank television with slumped shoulders. I didn’t know what to do as Jennifer and Edgar quickly pulled out the old baby-safe locks and fastened them on all of the drawers with cleaning materials. The knives were hidden in drawers and locked tautly. Everything was deconstructed to prevent another episode.I laced my fingers in my hair and combed through the tangles.
Did I ruin my sister’s childhood by protecting myself? Probably. No one should have to visit their father in prison, and no one should have to live with the person who locked him away, who framed him.
Did I ruin the Freys? Yes, I killed their only son. I killed the most beautiful, loving person in the world, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I tried to apologize several times, but his mother couldn’t even look at me without bursting into to tears. She yelled out that it should have been me. I should have been the one dead. I agreed full-heartedly.
And Ned… I ruined everything for him. I killed his best friend. I didn’t reciprocate his love. I made him separate from the love of his life. I made him do all of these things he never wanted to do. I made his life a living hell.
Lex walked into the room and inquired, “Mommy, why are you putting things away?”
“No reason. I thought I’d tidy up the place a bit.”
“Yeah, I thought I left out the cleaning supplies too much.”
“Well, Susan wants to know if I can come over tonight.”
“Babe, Daddy and I are going out tonight, and we need someone to watch Devin tonight.”
“I’ll watch her.”
I twisted my neck to see Ned leaning against the other side of the loveseat lazily, an arm dangling dangerously close to my jean-clad leg. Part of me begged for him to touch me, to let me know if we were still us. If he resigned to my flaws and mistakes. If he accepted my status as a slut. I turned back to the television when I saw Ned glance in my direction. I buried my chin into my chest and waited for his mom to decline or deny him.
“Thank you, Ned. I would really appreciate it.”
I clenched my eyes shut, begging for him to suddenly decline. Being alone with him was painfully awkward after his parents thought he and I were religiously sleeping together. It was difficult to say it really was just once, and maybe it could have been more if things had gone smoothly between us. Either way, it was hard to see him without having intense emotions and memories swarming around inside of my chest.
Eventually, the family left, abandoning me in the living room. Ned waltzed over to the kitchen and began to make some stupid microwave dinner that would probably taste frozen and plain. “You want one?” he dully asked as he tossed a box in the trash can.
“No,” I whispered, staring intently at the black television for the fourth hour in a row. I couldn’t take a reality outside of my own. Mine was absorbing me fully in a world I could barely keep track off. An imaginary land would just make no sense for distraction. I really should have fought my demons, but I was too tired.
Exhausted from nothing and everything all at once.
Ned nestled down beside me and spooned a little bit of pasta into his mouth. He inquired politely, “How are you doing with everything?”
“I don’t know. You?”
“I don’t know either.”
“Did you ever get used to it?”
“Not really,” I assured.
He gingerly ate his food in silence, staring at the same blank screen. I noticed how delicate he was with his utensil and how methodical everything was. The way he sat the empty plate down gently on top of a coaster with such care. I furrowed my brow and thought of the way he used to hold my hand so tediously, concerned as if my hands were so fragile like glass sculptures. The way his hands held me in comfort.
“What are you staring at?”
Our eyes locked as I murmured, “You.”
He shook his head and buried his face in his hands. “Devin, what are you doing?”
I bit my bottom lip and continued to stare at him. I needed comfort, I needed him to just tell me everything was going to be okay. I could have cared less about anything physical; I just needed mental support.
He flicked on the television to Scrubs, a show he and I used to watch as a joke on Friday nights because we needed to laugh. We silently watched the episode, no laughter escaping either of us. I wondered if he would have laughed if I wasn’t sitting beside him. “You excited for college,” I stated.
He smirked and chuckled. “Yeah, I’m ready to get out of here.” He must have seen my chin dip as he immediately cleared up his statement. “Not from you, but from like here in general. You know, get away from everything that—”
“Reminds you of me.”
“Don’t worry, I understand. I don’t want you to be reminded of that night either. I don’t want you to have to go through hell every time you see my face.”
He laid his head upon my lap and closed his eyes.
Startled, I pulled away abruptly.
His hand rested on my knee and massaged the tendons lightly. “It’s okay. I’m not going to do anything. I’m just using your thunder thighs as a pillow.” His eyes became thin slits as he continued to watch the television. His blond-brunette hair tickled the insides of my arms as I stiffly sat still, just staring at his sharp, angular jawline and edged profile.
My fingers combed through his hair loosely, tousling it into a mess.
“Am I a pet to you?”
I paused, pulling my hand away from him.
I continued lacing my fingers through his hair until he fell silent, his breath slowing down. I began to halt again, afraid to wake him, and then he whispered, “Why didn’t you ever tell the police?”
I turned to the corner of the room and whispered, “No one would believe me.”
“I would have.”
I glanced at him from the corner of my eye, and a smile appeared on his tawny face. He motioned for me to come closer, and I leaned forward, our noses touching. “What?” I whispered.
“I’m glad you’re… I guess, okay.”
“I’m just glad you’re here, okay?”
And then he turned back to the television. I blew into his ear, and he snapped back to me, blowing in my face with his pursed lips. I lurched back to evade him, but one of his strong hands pulled my neck forward. A current of air forced me to close my eyes, and then I heard his heartbeat. His chest pressed against my ear as he sat up. He genuinely asked, “Have you slept well since that night?”
I shook my head, our eyes locked into each other.
“Neither have I.” He sat up and pulled me onto his lap, straddling him awkwardly. My hands fell on his shoulders as he leaned back and nestled on the edge of the couch.
“What are you doing?”
“I heard that cuddling is supposed to help you sleep better.”
“Really? What a load of shit.”
“Yeah, I know.”
I obediently laid down next to him, my face only a fraction of an inch away from his. I edged away from him to the lip of the couch, and his strong arm wrapped around my waist, not pulling me closer but keeping me from falling from the couch. His eyes were clenched shut, and he slowed his breathing. The blue noise of the television barely whispered against my back as I memorized every freckle and pore of his glowing face. I remembered his tiny acne scar on his left cheek. I memorized how beautiful the wrinkles from scrunching his brows were. I remembered the soft curve of his cheek into his eye.
“Go to sleep and stop staring at me,” he whispered, his warm, sweet breath cascading over me.
I shook my head and closed my eyes, but I felt as though I was the one being watched. I was the one being analyzed and deconstructed. I was being seen and observed. I flicked opened my eyes, and a green eye and a blue eye greeted me. He whimpered, placing his palm on my cheek, “I’m so sorry.”
A month passed, and I still looked swollen and blackened in the face and the body. Part of me wondered if my body gave up in healing the hematomas and just decided to leave them there as tiny scars. “You didn’t do this.”
“But I should have been there to stop it.”
Our eyes bore into each other, and I didn’t know what to expect to come out of his mouth anymore. Here he was hating me one moment but then making me fall in love with him in the next moment. I couldn’t handle it.
He leaned in, and his lips encompassed mine. He pulled away quickly and murmured politely, “Sorry, I shouldn’t have.”
“Do me a favor,” I whispered into his chest.
“Remember me as I was not as I am.”
And then he kissed me again. This time with passion—be it passionate sympathy or passionate longing, I didn’t know the difference. His hands gently cradled my jaw as he maneuvered underneath me, and his hand slid back to the back of my thigh, massaging the knots out of the muscles. He stopped and whispered in my ear, “I may not be in love with you, but I will always love you.”
I buried my face in his neck.
And I fell asleep next to him on the couch, and I woke up to him still entangled around me. Someone placed a blanket on us, and I smiled, burrowing closer to him. I murmured, “Me, too.”