Trigger Warning

Untitled, Zachary Vaughn

[Trigger Warning: Depictions of mental illness]

“Are you dead?”

My best friend is bitter. She has become my masked enemy. When I wake up and decide today is a good day to plug my phone in, it immediately vibrates with messages that don’t give warning. Her texts are bombs and they chip at the foundation I’m still building from the last round. I read them with shaky hands. ‘Are you dead?’ she writes over social media, and I note that seven other acquaintances have ‘liked’ the post. I stare at it long enough for the foundation to dismantle and disappear under my feet. And then I unplug my phone and retreat because I’m reminded that this is a war and I have just lost another battle.

“Where have you been? ‘Sick,’ again?”

My classmate has a coy smirk on his lips that tells me even when I reply honestly, he won’t believe my answer. He wants to believe that I am a rebel without a cause. I don’t tell him that my rebellion lacks integrity. I don’t tell him that my rebellion looks a lot like lying fetal position in the middle of an unmade bed, staring at the nearby wall. My rebellion has no backbone. It’s a lot like watching every minute tick by in the late hours before dawn and waking up in the late afternoon with nothing to show for it. It feels a lot like the sharp pain in the center of your stomach, when you’ve eaten too much or too little. My rebellion isn’t what he thinks it is, but it is causeless. So I smile in response, but it doesn’t reach my eyes. I wonder how he doesn’t see right through me.

“You’re missing out.”

My teacher’s tone is gentle, but obvious. She’s heard what my classmates say when my seat is empty. She also thinks I am a rebel without a cause, and she is here to put me in my place. She’s gentle, but wrong. She tries to dangle the lust of good memories and good friends in front of me, but I can’t tell her that the numbness has rendered me from feeling desire. When I hear that my friends are getting together, I smile at the invite and it doesn’t reach my eyes. When my phone buzzes beside me, I feel my heart race like I’m standing in a haunted house and something’s brushed up beside me. When I try to remember what it was like before, I am simply reminded that whatever it was, it no longer is. Instead, I tell her I will try harder. Then I run over her words until I’m drained and forget to charge my phone.

“You have to think about your future.”

My counselor is the easiest to read. Her face is accusatory. Her frown implies that she has given up. Her sentiments have been tossed out the window and she no longer has papers or pamphlets to help me ‘think ahead.’ I don’t mind it; the papers ended up in a pile with other work, anyway. She blames me for this and even though I feel guilty and helpless, I blame me, too. There’s a pile of papers that are Very Important and Need Attention Immediately and they consume my every other thought. Each assignment is a five-pound weight added to my shoulders. I feel malnourished and watch as the stronger kids lift these weights like feathers. As time passes, they grow heavier on my weak body. The dread increases. The ability to plan and execute is lost. I lie in my bed and think about my future that entails all the work I’ve been holding onto. That weight moves from my shoulders to my heart. ‘How can I get out of this?’ I think, and am miserable with the same answer that arises, again and again.

“If you do the little things, you’ll feel better.”

My therapist sits across from me with nude pumps on, perfectly manicured nails, and only slightly frizzy hair. She tells me how she lost weight with soup recipes. She tells me that even twenty minutes of light exercise can work. I struggle to tell her that the line she is drawing as the starting point for my race is miles away from me. I push aside greasy hair with polish-chipped nails and feel ashamed to admit that my starting point is always my bed. I blush when I say that I haven’t stepped foot in my shower in four days. I look away from her carefully fitted pantsuit and feel like I’ve just run a marathon.

“Are you home?”

This boy is undoubtedly naive, but the best-intentioned. He comes to my door with a smile on his face. He wants to ask me out on a date. Exhausted from an inward battle, I am asleep inside, a story above him. The consecutive knocks don’t do a thing. The doorbell doesn’t startle me awake. In my dream, Cupid is tied to a ball and chain, locked away near the end of a tunnel, and as I step closer and closer, the tunnel only expands. I sit down in damp darkness and give up the chase. I watch as the prisoner becomes a dot in the distance. I tell myself I wasn’t made to be his hero, anyway. When I find myself in class a week later, this boy avoids my dead gaze.

“I want to understand.”

My sister watches me with nervous eyes. I am uncharted waters and she is the boat swaying within me. I am off the map, but she is still desperately searching the colored paper. I am something familiar on the surface, but yet completely unknown to her. I try to explain that I, too, don’t understand. I am the ocean, and I cannot be calculated. I have no reason for being or doing. I try to explain that maybe this is the source of all the confusion, maybe this is why I keep crashing into the boat and causing chaos for her and our family. She frowns and looks away. It’s only after she leaves my room that I realize I haven’t said anything at all.

“You’re just lazy.”

My father has a frustrated scowl on his face, and I’ve never been on its receiving end. I don’t realize it, but as my eyes stare blankly ahead, I am retreating into darkness. My father’s scowl matches the one of the figure in my mind. They say the same things. Their tone is powerful. I used to fight their notions, their wild accusations, their filthy lies, but now I’m too tired and they seem right. ‘You’re just lazy,’ the figure says, and I nod. I don’t know who I am anymore, but they say it so matter-of-factly, I don’t question that this is what I’ve become. ‘I’m lazy,’ I think, and when I snap out of it, my father is no longer in front of me and I’m left with my new personality.

“Everyone gets depressed sometimes.”

My mother has bags under her eyes. She hasn’t slept in three days. Her hair is falling out. She is obviously sick, and I am obviously not. I watch as she continues with her day. I watch from my bed as she gets dressed, goes outside, interacts with everyone I’m avoiding. I watch for as long as I can, then I cry until I’m lulled into the only void that gives me some kind of break: sleep. When I awaken, my mother is downstairs nursing her swollen legs and I wonder how she does it. I tell myself I’m weak and the figure in my head confirms it. I add it to my ever-growing personality and then slip back into unconsciousness.

“I win.”

My only frequent companion is that dark figure. We play board games in a poorly lit room and he always cheats. He always takes the first turn. He always wins. He laughs about his victories and sweeps up the pieces, setting up for the next game. I never react to him. He tells me I’m a sore loser. I add it to my ever-growing personality and wait for him to take his turn. I still think I can win. I’m scared for the day I don’t.

About the Author

Nahal Amouzadeh · UCLA

Nahal Amouzadeh is an English and Gender Studies double major at UCLA. She is a section editor for FEM Newsmagazine, an avid memoir reader, X-Files fan, cat lover, and home decor enthusiast. Catch her on twitter (@nahalll) where she is likely shouting about one or all of these things.

About the Artist

Zachary Vaughn · Oberlin College

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