I hear you’ve been smoking a lot. When Alex last visited he said he was worried about you. He’s so fucking hypocritical, though. He smokes all the time and even during school. But, I know he really cares about you. He just wants to make sure you’re okay. I’m writing you this letter in hopes that my absence isn’t too overwhelming for you and that you aren’t worrying about me because I know you smoke when you worry. I’m writing because I miss you and I’m sorry and I didn’t say goodbye. The day I came here, I thought it would be easiest if I didn’t tell you what was happening. You had all these expectations for me and how great I was going to be and Kat, more than anything I wanted to live up to them. But, I couldn’t and I didn’t want to let you down. I needed to be braver and stronger. I’m not trying to blame you for my being here. I’m just trying to explain.
The people are really cool here. You would really like them, but you would also try to save each and every one of them. Jason is really pale with faded blue eyes. He drinks a lot. His dad also drinks a lot and then he hits Jason. Jason’s dad is the reason he is in here, but Jason thinks it’s because he showed up drunk to his English final. At group the other day, he told us all about this one time his dad was teaching him how to ride a bike. He smiled at first, as he talked of the laughter and happiness they shared between them. But, all of a sudden, Jason’s dad let go of the handle bars and Jason fell. They went home right after that and Jason’s dad cracked open another bottle of whiskey and told Jason he was never going to be good enough. Jason cried in front of all of us. He isn’t your crying type of dude.
AJ is probably my closest friend in this joint; he could never replace you, though. AJ is six foot three and weighs about 220 pounds. He would’ve gone to a Division I school for football, but he had this problem where he wasn’t very good without doing a few lines before every game, and those colleges drug test too often. He gets the “pressure from sports” thing. Especially all the people watching. I always hated all those people watching, Kat. I liked when I could hear you yell my name from the bleachers, but then everyone’s eyes shifted toward me and my skin started to burn. My skin would start to burn and I felt like the rubber from my shoes was melting into that court and I got so distracted. You did always say that I get into my own head. But, I can’t help it.
Max is the quiet one. He sits in his room, reading his comic books, trying not to slash his wrists again. He doesn’t talk much, but he is really fucking good at air hockey. We play in the rec room sometimes. The scars on his arms really freaked me out at first. He is all carved up. There is no pattern to them and the marks are all different lengths. I had to stop myself from staring the first week when I was here. But, he noticed one day. He walked up to me and rolled up his sleeves, not saying a word and extended his arm toward me. I looked at him, his black eyes blank. I took a good look at his forearm, trying to understand the coping behind it. I smoke, he cuts. We never talked about that moment, but I never stared again after that. I never wanted to die, really. I just sometimes wanted to fall asleep and never wake up. Or crash my car into a tree. Or get under my covers and never get up again. I don’t mean to scare you. I’m just trying to explain.
Luke is always trying to kill himself. He hangs himself at least twice a day, but the nurses give him such thin clothing that it always rips when all of his weight tugs on it. He isn’t even allowed to use paper when a staff member isn’t watching. I always know when he wants to die. He talks to himself and bangs his head against the wall that connects our rooms, trying to push the thought out of his head. His mom and dad are pretty cool. They always bring brownies or cookies or some shit when they come visit. He never wants to see them, of course. But, they always sit and wait for about an hour until they finally give in to his wishes. They look pretty empty, the circles under their eyes are the first thing you see. His mom always has her hand over her heart, probably wishing it would slow down to a normal pace for just a moment, but a heart can’t really steady itself when your son wants to jump out of every window he sees. His dad always has a coffee in his hand when he comes, knowing he is going to need that extra bit of energy to get through the day. Pretty normal guy, one might think. But even as a smile is plastered across his face, his hand shakes real bad when he brings the coffee to his mouth, little droplets spilling out as the cup makes a long, shaky journey to his mouth. No one knows why Luke always wants die. All I know is that every time his parents come, I stay out of my room because the banging always gets really bad on those days.
I’m just trying to explain, Kat. I want you to understand, but at the same time, I want to spare you. You always put me before you, and I love you for that, but I need you to be okay. I need you to be happy, knowing that I’m doing my best to get happy too. I can’t help it, I wish I could. The doctors say there is an imbalance inside my brain. Not enough serotonin. They say that I need to learn to live with it because it’s always going to be imbalanced and that scares me. I’m scared of this place, but I needed to come. There is lots of white. The big guys who work here, prepared to restrain one of us if we fly off the handle, they wear white. I have to wear these gross white shoes that give me blisters and squeak too much when I walk down the white hallways. The fluorescent lighting makes the white blinding. Remember that day of the huge snow storm our junior year? I picked you up and we tried to go sledding, but the reflection of the sun in the snow was so blinding it gave us a headache. It’s kind of like that here…always blindingly bright and my head is always pounding.
I know you’re probably pissed that I told Alex and not you, and I get that. Alex was just only one I could tell because he wouldn’t be affected by it. He’s forced himself to feel nothing, so now stone walls are built up around him. He still cared about me, so he drove me here and gave me a hug when the nurse told him he was all set to go, but I know he isn’t worrying. If I had told you, you would have put everything on hold and I can’t ask you to do that. I’m attempting to explain now because you’re home from school for summer break and I know Alex probably told you. Please don’t have sex with Alex again. He always makes you cry after because he says he loves you and then, he says he doesn’t the next day and I really need you to be happy. I need you to be okay.
It was bad at the end of the winter, that’s when I came here. I was never sober and I really wasn’t going to my classes. I lied to you when we talked on the phone because I wanted to be strong for you and I don’t want you to worry. I never want you to worry, even though I know you always do. Alex always tells me that you check in on me and make sure that I’m doing okay because you know I won’t be honest with you. I don’t mean to lie to you about how sad I am, I just wanted to seem okay for you. It got really bad in March. I saw Bella at this bar near Northeastern. She didn’t see me, but I saw her. I don’t love her anymore, not like I used to, but I still want what I had with her. No crazy drama or high expectations, just a low key kind of love. I think seeing her made me sad because, well, she never cared as much as I did.
I used the weekly money my parents sent me on weed and booze. I know why I smoke. I can differentiate between when I’m recreationally high and when I’m high because I’m trying to feel anything besides what I’m currently feeling. I had a bong and a bowl in the back of my car, but no weed because I smoked myself numb every time I cried myself to sleep, which became every night. The anger and the sadness are more distracting than being high. But, why is it that I have this need to feel something else? Is it because I’m hurting so bad? Or is the thought that I’m so insignificant? Or is the stress of a school that drowns me in homework and pressure? Either way, it’s all fucked up. Friendships are formed because of it and people who can’t stand each other aren’t thinking about the hatred while standing in a circle passing it along to the next. Smoking weed isn’t what scares me. It’s the pain behind it. Why do I need to feel less? Why do we all want to feel something different? Anger is exhausting and I have too much homework to be able to go to bed at 10 p.m. after a long day of frowning. Sadness is too distracting and debilitating. Happiness is too inconsistent. Excitement is all too rare. So, I inhale in hopes that maybe when I come down from this high, things might be different. But, they never are. And when I realized things weren’t different, I smoked again- the sadness too overwhelming.
I’m just trying to explain. I’m trying to put into words how I felt, but that’s quite hard for me to talk about. It’s strange, though, I never had trouble talking to you about anything before. You are probably the best friend a guy could have, I hope you remember that. It’s funny because I’m really missing you quite a bit and it’s only been a month since I last spoke with you before I came here. I hope this letter is sufficient and I’m sorry I let you down. I really hope that you come visit. Come soon because I want you to meet Luke and he might be dead soon.
Written by Katherine McGrath