Alongside a picture of Bart from Simpsons and a mutation of Finn from Futurama; I pull the black pen over the greenish paint of the bathroom wall. I am normally intimidated by the thought of permanence. I never properly know what to say. It was placed across from the only toilet in the building that was meant specifically for MFA creative writers. Every girl who used the bathroom and every guy who took a shit would see it. No one could miss this.
Do you ever want to slam your head against the wall until it cracks open?
I leave and there’s no one waiting. The hallway lit by impure, too-bright overheads, is as thin and empty as it’s always been. Breaking a rule makes my stomach tingle, being honest makes my hand shake. I want to puke and run back with a knife to scratch at the wall until no one can see the awkwardness of my y’s.
No one would know though.
This isn’t like high school, where you see your classmate’s handwriting everyday on assignments you work on together. Or even like the end of my undergrad. Four years spent reading comments on pieces and you begin to learn how to read the awkward curves of the various i’s and k’s. They bring up a face in the back of your mind.
In graduate school, less than three weeks in, students and teachers would sit and shit and see nothing but y’s and w’s imprinted at eye level. But maybe one would be holding their workshop piece collection, with mine on top, and recognize the a of cracks coincided with the a in my name. Then they would come and find me and ask. Or maybe no one would recognize the handwriting but they would realize someone was in trouble.
What if they think I mean until the wall cracks open?
Finn popped into my head, his multitude of tentacles nearly encroaching on Bart’s territory.
What if they think it’s just another piece of art?
* * * * *
Can you tell me something happy?
Typing is easier. The letters line up perfectly. There is no reason to erase and rewrite the same phrase because it would always turn out exactly the same. Even if I had the knowledge of the underworkings of technology, could reach in and pave my own handprint, it would still be shifted back into proper position. All y’s with a nice end curve.
My best MFA friend at the time was once a teacher and it shows in his preparedness to lecture, as well as his eagerness at times to do so. I ask him a lot of foolish questions - why are there two pieces in the google drive? Which author is that? What DOES fugue mean? - but he never talks down to me. Never even questions why I wouldn’t know these things, even when I should. So typing another question is easy. Asking for something happy isnot anything that will make a lasting impression with him. Just another question.
Hmm a tell or like a gif.
We continue talking. I receive a gif and funny story about a swing set. He tells me that I am a good person, likely because he knows I don’t genuinely believe it. When he asks if I’m okay I throw out the expected answer that passes through people’s minds quickly.
* * * * *
I’ve gotten into anannoying habit (to him) of repeatedly asking one of my other MFA friends if he is okay. A portion of it is that I cannot read him, something I’d like to believe I can see a little more clearly than others. The s a d spells clearly across faces in a neat penmanship that borderson cursive but is somehow more legible. So I ask him because that is what I would want someone to do for me. The other portion of it is that I feel he is someone who would mean it when he asked me back.
You know those days when you can’t get out of bed without having a mental breakdown?
I throw out the line in a way that is not entirely too serious. Circled in blue as it comes out across the white backdrop of an iPhone. I don’t tell him that I haven’t eaten anything all day or that I’m almost out of my meds. It’s edging there, closer, and that causes me to panic, has me wondering if he can see the smears of writing on the back of my hands and realizes how ugly they look.
You should still go to the party though.
My words change the topic effectively and he doesn’t respond. There is relief in dismissing it, in knowing that he won’t think about it again.
* * * * *
My mother prefers phone calls over texts. She is familiar with the way my a’s and s’scurve on the page, has seen them since I’ve grown up. As a child I used to run to her with crayon versions of them in stories I had written about butterflies hatching in class. She saw them progress past the shaky curve around into a solid half circle that forms assuredly.
How are you doing? Really?
From her distance across the country she cannot see the notes that I have written on the back of my hand. There is no way for her to check my refrigerator and realize it is empty. My grocery list three weeks old, written in small print and pinned with a magnet that says “art” to the door to where my frozen chicken should be.
There is no finality to her question. She will ask again. Tomorrow it will be written out in straight letters over text. The day after it will be said again over the phone. I can change my answer and there is assurance in that. It does not have to be all ncompassing, has no sense of permanence.
I do not add the qualifier: enough.
* * * * *
Hey girl - have you read my piece yet?
My friend in the BFA acting program doesn’t respond to the text I’ve sent her repeatedly. I know what she will say either way. She is busy, she has acting classes and multiple jobs and just got back from a wedding out of state. No matter that she said she would read it weeks ago or that she would read it on the plane.
I want to be mad at her. I had listened to her crying about her break up and then her joy a few weeks later at her new relationship. We had talked numerous times over the phone, me swallowing, her lamenting. I wanted her to answer one of the times that I called.
But how can I?
I had gotten closer to the truth with her than I had with anyone else. Had managed to let the “not feeling okay” slip past the iron gate that was my lips. But that was not telling her. That was not making her understand. There is no law that says she has to understand what I am trying to tell her. I could drag her across campus, to a building she never went to, point to the bathroom wall, already there for two-months-and-who-knows-exactly-how long. It was just ink.
I could scratch it into my stomach to give her something to see. My H’s are quite pretty, easy to carve in three simple strikes over and over until the skin is red and raw. I rarely drew blood and they always healed. When they didn’t, they were pock marks across my stomach that would forever look like slightly discolored freckles. They were just scars. It all felt easier and less permanent than letting it pass my lips in a voice that would likely crack and be too quiet, would need to be repeated.
It was never supposed to happen again.
* * * * *
It was the one thing I never felt the urge to rewrite.
Journals from when I was a child were thrown out or ripped apart because I didn’t like my handwriting. Flowers, pinks, purples, all tossed in as ashes with the food rubbish and paper waste. I could likely fill a bookshelf with the amount of pages I had deemed unworthy due to my terrible scrawl and my all-consuming need to find perfection. Words upon words have been discarded again and again. But I only wrote one draft.
I’m sorry Mom and Dad.
It’s too hard.
I can’t anymore.
Please forgive me.
I love you both so much.
I’m so tired.
I’m not strong enough for this.
It would be the most permanent thing I had intended to write. The last thing I had ever meant to say. Someone was meant to find it and give it to the parents across the country. I look back on the sloppy i’s that are not fully capital and whose top and bottom are misaligned. How the words are off center and do not create equal white space on either side of the page. In a non-manic state, I cringe at its inability to stand up to the task I had assigned it. My hand twitches on the side of the page on instinct but I never rip it out.
No matter how many there are.
* * * * *
Do you want to go to Kogi with us?
I wonder if it is the lack of knowledge that makes the writing burn in my throat like acid. Every time I see them I want to explain how much their friendship means to me. That I was in class contemplating which way to kill myself – where to buy the meds, what road to step into, where to jump from – before they invited me out. Included me. Said I was a part of the gang. I did and still do want to cry.
Voicing it seems easier now, six months after the last time I was pinned with a number and the doctor’s b i p o l a r stained the sheets with my name on it [shorter than c h r o n i c d e p r e s s i o n and carried much more weight than b o r d e r l i n e p e r s o n a l i t y d i s o r d e r, but there were still not enough s’s or e’s for m u l t i p l e s u i c i d e a t t e m p t s]. The papers were stowed in my “important papers” accordion file on the top of my bookshelf, along with the files from five of my eight other hospital stays.
The first time I had swallowed pills they had just been small red Motrin tablets that went down easily even without water, could not have killed me despite what I wanted. I did not know. How suicide sits in your body, weighs down the back of your mind. How in giving up for one moment, one time, I was starting a cycle that would haunt every decision I would make. How it would bleed through the s’s and a’s of classes start today written on the back of my hand. Would taint the i’s and the r’s of sign up for martial arts. So that every time I made a new friend, I felt they had no idea who I was until I showed them the way my y’s curve at the end of the multitude of sorry’s I have written.
I have tried to kill myself.
That is all I can think about as I shit and consider responding to the note that has been written in black ink and uneven handwriting, underneath my original message on the bathroom wall.
The wall or my head?
Kayla Williams is finishing up her MFA at CalArts in California, working on a short story collection about depression. She is bipolar, prefers to go by she/her pronouns, and has a King Charles Spaniel named Addie.