by Emmie Barron
Do you ever have those moments when you wish you could freeze time, if only for a little while? Moments when you just feel so completely happy and secure and whole? These moments come and go for me; what comes in between are raging storms, storms with a numbing chill that destroy me from within.
There are days I can’t get out of bed. I’m irritable and empty. My dirty laundry sits in a heap on the floor, and my garbage reeks from the takeout that’s been sitting in it for days. My body has no energy, no purpose. In my moments of clarity, however, I finish my homework, clean my room, update my family on my life–all things I should be doing everyday, or, at least, more often than I do.
My family doctor first diagnosed me with major depressive disorder around December of my sophomore year of high school, the year I lost thirty pounds in the span of a month. Busy with their own lives, my friends didn’t notice I only ate two carrots for lunch. They also didn’t notice when I left the lunch table early, without a word, and sat in the bathroom for twenty minutes. Or maybe they just didn’t care.
“I want you to take ten milligrams of Lexapro every night before going to bed,” my doctor had told me, putting me on my first antidepressant. “You may experience some side effects, such as increased tiredness, dizziness, or headaches. This is just your body adjusting to the medication. If it doesn’t go away, please give me a call.”
In March of my sophomore year, I told my mom I wanted to kill myself. That was only the beginning of a downward spiral.
“Oh, Sweetie,” my mom said, frowning, looking up at me from her iPad that probably had Facebook pulled up on it. “Don’t say that.”
My family didn’t understand. They tried to, though. My dad had a lot of social anxiety as a kid, and he always told me stories about how he wasn’t one to go to parties and would rather be alone in his room, listening to music. He tried to relate his own experiences to mine, which I always appreciated, but it’s impossible to understand what depression feels like unless the person has firsthand experience.
Sometimes I’d get into a depressive episode and remain in bed all day, not even getting up to eat. My room always looked like a tornado came through–dirty clothes littered the floor because I couldn’t even muster the energy to throw them down the laundry chute. I didn’t even bother making a path out of my clothes, electronics, and art supplies to get to my bed; I just stepped on my belongings in the hopes that I wouldn’t break anything.
My walls were covered top to bottom in random shit I’d collected since middle school, including posters of different bands, drawings I’d done, and a giant tapestry of New York City. I stared at the tapestry often, imagining what it’d be like to live there. I’d wanted to write books ever since I became an avid reader in fourth grade, and my dream had always been to be a famous, successful author. Writing was an escape of mine, along with art and skating.
When I was motivated, I occasionally worked on my artwork or writing. I had too many works-in-progresses to possibly choose one to finish, so I usually just started new stories and drawings. I’d done watercolor paintings since I was ten, but lately I was getting into pencil-drawing portraits. The few that I actually finished and didn’t hate were randomly pinned to the walls of my bedroom; the rest were scattered across my floor. My writing stayed on my laptop–I didn’t even let my closest friends see any of the stories I’d start to write and then abandon.
Sometimes during my depressive episodes, my brother, Ethan, would peek his head into my room, saying, “Gem. Dinner’s ready” or “Gem. Wanna watch a movie?” Sometimes, he would just come in, fart, and leave. I drew little caricatures of him, with giant fart clouds coming from his butt.
My mom and Ethan were similar in the sense that, to them, depression was this daunting presence far off in the distance. It was something they knew existed, but that was about it. It was scary and alien to them. They were the type to always be cheerful, and when they got in a bad mood, they could just snap out of it. It was rare to see my mom crabby.
My dad and I, however, seemed to be constantly battling our inner demons, though mine were much different from his. I never really understood what inner turmoil plagued my dad; I only knew it wasn’t quite depression.
I tried to explain how I felt to my family, but it was difficult. How could I explain feeling everything and nothing at the same time? It felt as though no one could ever possibly understand. I needed someone to know how much I was hurting, though, because I couldn’t describe it, or maybe I kind of didn’t want to. I thought I was a burden, as if my problems weren’t significant enough. My parents didn’t help when they’d condescendingly say, “Oh, Gemma, your life isn’t bad. There’re people that have it much worse.”
Contrary to popular belief, people with depression aren’t constantly depressed and don’t walk around with our symptoms on display. We laugh. We perform well in school. We crack jokes. We participate in extracurriculars.
Going into my senior year of high school, I felt secure. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but enough, and I got involved in clubs and activities. Being one of the only graduating students on my figure skating team, I got more ice time at competitions. There was something about being out on the ice alone that helped me forget about everything else. It made me feel alive. Skating was one of my solaces, and I was happy enough.
“One more year,” my parents would say, because they knew I needed to get out of Gladstone, a town of 5,000 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was pretty sure most people who lived there were delusional. It was the only explanation as to why so many adults in their twenties, thirties, and even forties cared so much about high school football. Plus, Gladstone seemed to produce a lot of racists. It was a town that praised Donald Trump and called gay people “faggots” as if they didn’t realize people who aren’t straight and white still deserve basic human rights. Most people who grew up in Gladstone never left, or if they did, they ended up coming right back.
On my first day of senior year, I curled my long, black hair to frame my apple-shaped face. I played with makeup a lot over the summer, having finally gotten my horrible acne under control. My eyebrows were filled in and my wings were pointed to perfection. My skinny 5’2 frame that had been recovering from my eating disorder was now filled out more. I could almost properly fit into cute dresses that desperately clung to my small but actually existent boobs.
It was a tradition in my family to get a photo of my brother and me on our way out of the front door on our first day of school, but this year it was only me; my brother, Ethan, who looked absolutely nothing like me, with his short blond hair, husky build, and long, straight nose, was sleeping in; his community college classes didn’t start until later. As we got older, our pictures changed along with our physical similarities: we went from hugging, to holding hands, to smiling and standing apart, to not even smiling.
That day, I smiled, while my mom cooed, “Gemma, you look so cute! Is it okay if I post this one to Facebook? Your aunt would love to see it. You’re gonna have such a good year. I just know it.”
My mom and I looked very similar, save for her bobbed brown hair. Our personalities were starkly different, however; I was quiet, reserved, and overthought everything, while my mom was loud and confident.
I thought I was doing okay. Getting out of bed wasn’t a huge challenge; I was eating full meals and hanging out with my friends and feeling whole. I thought this was my moment of clarity.
On Friday, October fifth, a shift occurred. It was silent but heavy and unexpected.
I went to the homecoming dance, the only one in my group without a date. My hairdresser gave me an intricate updo she claimed made me look like “a college girl,” and I did my makeup more dramatic than usual. My thighs and butt were strong from figure skating, so I wore a tight, black two-piece dress that revealed my belly button piercing.
“Hurry up,” my brother said through a fake smile as my mom snapped pictures of us together. My mom said it’d be nice to get some pictures of the two of us before I went off to college, although I hadn’t even applied anywhere yet. She and my dad had high expectations for me.
I drove myself to dinner. My friends and I ate at a small family restaurant.
“Gem, you look so good!” my friend, Jane, cried when I walked inside.
“Thanks. So do you,” I responded with a smile.
Jane was there with her boyfriend, Logan. Jane had been my friend since before I was in preschool. She was a small thing with flawless, pale skin, a tiny bird-like nose, and huge brown eyes that made it seem like she was constantly looking into your soul. Her brown hair was cut in a pixie-style, and she wore a vintage-looking lace dress. Jane was smarter than most people at our school, and she knew it. Logan was a small yet muscular guy with shaggy brown hair and bad acne. We were all in the same calculus class.
My other friend, Amanda, was also there with her boyfriend, Josh. Amanda and I went way back, too. She was the heaviest of the three of our small group, but arguably perhaps the prettiest, having long, blonde hair and striking blue eyes. She bounced from boy to boy, each one shittier than the last. I’d advise her not to talk to a guy, that he was only going to hurt her, but she’d ignore me, and I’d wait with an available shoulder for her to cry on when her relationship with the jerk would inevitably implode. It was a familiar cycle. In secret, Jane and I talked about how neither of us liked Amanda’s current boyfriend.
My friends were safe. They weren’t anyone I needed in my life, especially not at that time, but I got comfortable. Making friends wasn’t something I was good at.
When the waitress came to take our order, I said, “I’ll have the grilled chicken salad with Italian dressing on the side.”
“You need to order a burger, Gem. Put some skin on those bones!” Amanda joked. “You’re so skinny.”
“I don’t wanna be bloated later.” I forced a laugh, pointing to my exposed belly. To be fair, my friends didn’t know that I was in recovery from anorexia. Whenever someone joked about my weight, I just laughed. What else could I do?
“Gem, remember that time…” Jane started, but had to stop because she was laughing too hard to get her words out. “Remember…when we went to the buildings and you painted ‘ass juice’ all over?”
“Yes! Wow.” I started laughing.
“The buildings” were what we referred to as these abandoned buildings in Gladstone that overlooked Lake Michigan. They used to be offices for an insurance company or something boring like that and had been abandoned since the fifties. Jane, Amanda, and I would go there together in the summer to spray paint profanities in pretty purples and pinks. A lot of the locals would go there to smoke weed or get drunk. A fire pit had actually been moved inside one of the buildings. It was technically trespassing, but the cops never seemed to give a shit. It was amazing the things kids found to do in their free time in a town with no shopping mall and three McDonald’s.
“Remember when I spelled my name wrong?” Amanda said, giggling. Amanda often joked about not being smart. She felt that since Jane and I always got straight A’s and she didn’t, it automatically made her stupid.
“At least you didn’t forget your name one time during roll call,” Logan said. Jane laughed so hard she snorted.
We reminisced about the past summer, ate, chatted about classes, and stressed about college applications. I watched them talk to their boyfriends. The only time Josh acknowledged my presence was when he laughed at my joke about wanting to take shots of bleach instead of going to calc on Monday.
After we finished, I drove myself to the dance. It was held in the small cafeteria of our high school, which consisted of about 500 students. I walked in, paid $10, and immediately smelled B.O. and felt the vibrations of the speakers that blared out overplayed pop music. Uptown Funk, possibly the most annoying song ever created, started playing as I sat down at a table, waiting for my friends and their boyfriends. If you freaky, then own it. Don’t brag about it. Come show me.
I watched bodies gyrate against one another on the makeshift dance floor. Our school wasn’t known for throwing classy dances.
Jane and Logan eventually arrived, sitting across from me.
“Gem, come dance with us!” Jane insisted, trying to pull me up from the table.
Looking out onto the dance floor, I saw Amanda and her notoriously douchey boyfriend grinding against each other. She was screaming along to the song, while Josh’s face was expressionless as he held her ass and danced slightly offbeat. I remained sitting.
During the slow songs (“Bad Day,” “Sorry,” “She Will Be Loved,”) I didn’t get asked to dance despite desperately wanting some rando to come up and awkwardly ask, “Hey, uh, you wanna maybe…dance with me?” and him grabbing my hips too low, swaying to the music as though we actually liked whatever terrible song came on next.
I wanted to be noticed.
It was some weird, perhaps Midwestern, tradition to end every dance with the song “Cotton-Eye Joe.” So, as soon as I heard “If it hadn’t been for Cotton-Eye Joe” blast through the speakers, I headed straight for the door. My friends were nowhere to be seen–Jane and Logan had presumably left to have romantic car sex, while Amanda and Josh were probably off somewhere breaking up again.
I grabbed my jacket off the coat rack near the entrance. As I was walking outside, the person in front of me let the door slam in my face. Whatever. While zipping my jacket to protect my bare stomach from the chilly U.P. fall air, someone’s shoulder slammed into me. I caught my balance, but my phone slipped out of my pocket and landed face-down on the cement.
The guy who walked right into me didn’t say a word; he kept walking, hand-in-hand with some chick. I didn’t recognize either of them; they were probably underclassmen.
“Great,” I muttered, picking up my phone with a new large crack across the screen. Was I fucking invisible?
Walking to my junky red Pontiac Grand Prix, I blinked back tears. I sat in my car with the radio off for about twenty minutes, staring at nothing, thinking one of my friends would come find me or text me. Nobody did.
The parking lot had mostly cleared out, except for those underclassmen who were still waiting for their parents to come pick them up. I drove off feeling numb. I imagined what it’d be like if I wasn’t me, if I were one of the pretty girls who always got asked to dance and whose friends cared enough about her to send a text, letting her know what they were doing or to see if she was even okay.
I wondered what it’d feel like to be an actual whole human being, not some ghost everyone could walk right through.
When I got home, my parents were already in bed; my brother was probably out somewhere getting trashed with his girlfriend.
I grabbed a Bud Light from Ethan’s secret stash–my first beer–and any pill bottles I owned. It felt weird–I wasn’t hysterical or anything. My eyes were dry; my mind was clear. It was a moment of clarity, a moment when I saw everything as it was. Rather, how I thought it was.
Who needed to learn calculus? Who needed to go to college to get some pointless degree? I didn’t want to get stuck in this cycle of constantly doing what I thought I should be doing, or what my parents wanted me to be doing instead of what I actually wanted to do. How would I ever make it to New York? I was just some Nobody from a town that produced a bunch of other Nobodies. And we all say we’re gonna go on to do great things, but you know what happens four, five years down the road? We end up right back where we started.
I opened the first pill bottle, pouring the contents out onto my bed. Lexipro, ten milligrams. Doing the same with the other bottles, I then counted out all the pills I had: seven Xanax, twelve Lexipro, six Nyquil, and three Vicodin.
My hand trembled as I reached first for the Xanax. I popped one into my mouth, chasing it with the beer. I grimaced at the taste. I swallowed another. Another. I started to swallow a few pills at once until I realized there were no more on my bed.
I wish I knew exactly what I was feeling at this point. Mostly lonely. But, honestly, being alone and feeling alone are two very different things; the only thing worse than being alone is being surrounded by a bunch of people and feeling alone. In a fucked up way, I felt at peace.
Crawling into bed, I pulled my comforter up tight to my neck and stared at the blue ceiling. The intro to Cotton-Eye Joe was still stuck in my head from hearing it at the dance, a strange contrast from I’d just done.
I stared at my New York tapestry for a while, my last thought being, I’ll never make it there, before I eventually drifted off into unconsciousness.
I couldn’t open my eyes. I tried, but I was trapped. My mind was fuzzy. Finally my eyes cracked open slightly. Everything was blurry. I couldn’t move, so I just fell back into a sleep-like state.
At about 2:00 P.M. that Saturday I was finally able to get out of bed. My dad was at the papermill because he was on call for work that weekend, and my mom had gone grocery shopping. I didn’t know where my brother was. My vision was still blurry. I stumbled down the stairs and into the living room like a drunk.
Flopping onto the couch, I tried to figure out whether what I was experiencing was real or a dream. My entire body seemed to be shaking. The gravity of what I’d tried to do hadn’t hit me yet.
When my mom came home, she saw me passed out on the couch. “Gem, what do you want me to make for dinner?” she asked, gently nudging me awake.
Seeing the look in my eyes, my mom immediately asked me what was wrong. “Don’t be mad,” I started in a small voice, “but I did something really bad.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“I … I took some pills,” I said quietly.
“Your … Lexipro?”
“All of them.”
“What?” My mom was in denial for a little while, but deep down I knew that she knew exactly what I meant.
“And my Xanax.” Seeing the look of horror on her face, I paused. Then, I said in an even smaller voice, “The Vicodin, too. And Nyquil.”
My mom cried a lot that day, but my eyes remained dry.
“You could’ve died,” she half-sobbed, half-scolded me.
By seven o’clock that night, my body had made a relatively full recovery. I still felt numb, but I could see and walk properly. It was as though nothing had even happened.
My dad got home a little while later, and immediately sensed something was wrong. From the living room, where I stared at the TV without actually watching whichever HGTV program was on, I heard my parents whispering about me.
“Are you serious?” my dad yell-whispered to my mom. “Jesus Christ.”
My dad came into the living room a moment later and sat next to me on our squishy leather couch. “Gem…” He sighed and ran a hand through his thin, graying hair. “Gem, why’d you do that?”
“You know what I’m talking about.” My dad looked much older than fifty in that moment. His worry lines seemed to be accentuated.
“I … I don’t know.”
“Did you want to kill yourself, Gemma?” he asked.
I paused before saying, “I mean, yeah. Yes.”
“Gemma, I want you to know how much we love and care about you. I wish you would’ve told us you were feeling bad again.”
“I’m sorry.” I wished I would’ve felt more sorry.
“We’re gonna get in touch with your therapist again,” my dad told me. I hadn’t been to therapy since sophomore year.
My mom made spaghetti for dinner because she knew that was my favorite. I made an effort to eat to please my mom, but it was as though I couldn’t taste anything.
Ethan got home at around nine. I figured he’d want to play his Xbox on the TV in the living room, so I got up and went downstairs. Our basement was arguably the creepiest place in the house because of the seven mounted deer heads that stared at you with lifeless eyes. I sat on the couch in front of the TV, looking at my reflection in the black screen. My eyes looked almost as lifeless as the deer.
About five minutes later, I heard footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Gem, what’re you watching?” Ethan appeared at the bottom of the stairs. He walked over to me and frowned when he saw that I hadn’t even turned the TV on. “Wanna watch a movie?” It’d been awhile since my brother and I hung out. He was almost always with his girlfriend.
I hesitated before saying, “No, that’s okay.”
“Okay, well, Mom doesn’t want you to be alone so I’m either gonna sit here and watch you stare at nothing, or we can watch a movie.” Of course Mom had already told him.
I sighed. “What movie?”
“Star Wars.” He knew I hated those movies.
I laughed for the first time that day. “I’d rather die.”
Ethan looked like I slapped him. “Gem, don’t say that.”
“You always laughed at my jokes about wanting to die before!” I protested.
“It was funny because I thought you had your shit under control,” he said, exasperated. “Now every time you joke about wanting to drink bleach, all we’re gonna think is, ‘Shit, is she actually gonna do it?’ Do you know what it’d do to the family if you killed yourself?”
Stunned, I didn’t respond. Tears welled up in my eyes. It was the closest I’d come to actually feeling something like regret.
Ethan sighed and sat down next to me. “I’m sorry.”
We both stared silently at our reflections in the black screen. Finally, Ethan broke the silence by asking, “Did you write a note?”
“Yeah,” I responded. “It said, ‘I’m doing this because I hate how many people like Star Wars even though it’s objectively terrible.’”
Ethan laughed and shook his head. “You’re fucked up.”
That night we watched stupid comedies on Netflix (Napoleon Dynamite, Superbad, Step Brothers) until about 3:30 A.M.
The next day I slept until noon. After quite a bit of mental motivation, I finally got up and changed into stretchy workout pants and a sweatshirt–my typical practice gear for skating. I grabbed my skates and headed for the door.
“Where’re you going?” my mom asked, stopping me.
“What do you mean? I have practice.”
“Are you sure you don’t wanna text your coach? Tell her you’re not feeling well?” she suggested, furrowing her brow. “I can make you lunch.”
“I feel fine.”
“Physically fine.” I grabbed my car keys. “Beth said she’s gonna put me on the harness today to practice my axel.” Beth had been my coach for about five years.
My mom sighed. “We need to talk about this later.”
“Talk about my axel?”
“This isn’t funny, Gemma.”
“I’m sorry.” I gave my mom a kiss on the cheek. “Bye.”
Everyone at skating greeted me as though nothing was different, but I’d changed. I smiled half-assedly at my skating friends as I headed for the locker room to put my skates on. Sitting on the wooden bench, I breathed in the stench of sweaty feet and found it oddly comforting, the familiarity of the shitty locker room in our rink that didn’t get nearly enough funding. I wiggled my feet into my skates and laced them up tight.
When I stepped out onto the ice, I could tell the Zamboni must not have been functioning properly again because of all the grooves left from an earlier hockey practice.
Beth skated up to me and said, “Go warm up. I’ll take you after Janel.”
In no mood to form coherent sentences, I nodded and skated off. I warmed up by doing a slow lap around the small rink, the cold air making my eyes water. I gradually picked up speed until other skaters around me were indistinguishable blurs I had to dodge. Tears streamed down my face from the cold that hit me like a slap to the face, but it woke me up.
I sped up, trying to not think about anything and just focus on the burn in my thighs and the air on my face. But as I went faster, the storm did, too, chasing me until all of my shit started to catch up with me. Faster.
I thought about the guys who ignored me at the dance, and instead of being apathetic and empty, I felt a pang in my chest. Faster. I dodged another skater. Faster. The storm finally unleashed its wrath, pouring down over me: My friends who didn’t really care about me that much and my family who just didn’t understand. Faster. And then the fact that I tried to fucking kill myself just to make all of it stop.
I was gasping for breath when I finally came to an abrupt stop, grabbing the edge of the boards to support myself.
I stared at my reflection in the glass; my cheeks were bright red and my hair stuck up all over. My nose was dripping. The tears were no longer just from the cold air hitting them.
I felt guilty and sad and lonely and a million other things, but all that mattered was that I felt alive.
Emmie Barron is currently a sophomore studying English at the University of Michigan. She has written many fictional short stories, and this is her first publication. She plans to pursue a career in writing. In her free time, she teaches creative writing to children in Detroit through a program called Seven Mile Arts.