by Justice Serai
Publication date: April 7th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Hope is an illusion meant to convince the broken to keep on living. That’s me. Broken.
My father pays heaps of money for doctors at the Norfolk Psychiatric Center to fix me. I’ve spent six months of my prime teenage years at this residential facility – a place for teenagers who’ve gone mental.
That’s me. Mental.
Just when I begin to feel myself fade away, a boy with a wolfish smile and mischievous eyes reels me in. Julian is broken too, but he believes in me enough for the both of us. Through him, I begin to experience this thing called hope. Doctors can’t fix me, my parents can’t either, but maybe it’s not me who needs fixing.
After all, mental is only a state of mind. It all depends on who’s doing the thinking.
“Hey,” Julian says. His carefree smile is gone, replaced with worry and skepticism. Lines on his forehead appear and instead of seeing mischief, I see something sinister.
Why is he sitting here? We drew attention to ourselves yesterday. I thought we weren’t supposed to do that anymore. I want to ask him, but it’s too loud in my head. Ringing and breathing and chanting. I wish I could find a brick and knock myself out. End this madness. Except it’ll only begin again when I wake up. That’s the worst part about being mental. You never know when it’s gonna start and stop. And no matter how good you think you’re doing and for how long, you know it’ll always come back.Usually at the worst times.Like church.Or your grandma’s funeral.
My mind turns back to the day I got a pass to leave the more restricted hospital setting to attend my grandma’s wake. The memory is fuzzy but from what I was told, I rambled, incoherently, that she sent me a message from the grave.
“The grieving process,” my relatives said, shaking their heads sadly. “Lucy took her passing especially hard.”
Most people would have trouble facing people again, knowing they made such idiots of themselves. I know this because people have asked me, “How can you face your friends and family again, knowing what an idiot you were?”
It must be part of my illness that I don’t care.
I notice Julian sitting frozen next to me. His gaze is set stubbornly on his tray of food – waffles with little dots of syrup in the squares. It bugs me that one is missing its share. I look away.
“Funny how such a small thing can have so much control over me,” he says, still staring at his food.
“Yeah,” I answer, non-committal. I don’t know much about control. Never had much of it to begin with.
“I used to love food. I lived with a Puerto Rican family for a while and they made the best rice and beans. And pulled pork. Mmm.”
He seems like he needs to talk so I don’t interrupt.
“But I ate too much and got fat. Kids teased me but I couldn’t stop.”
Julian and fat just doesn’t compute. Julian is lithe and strong and perfect. I plump him up in my imagination and it almost makes me laugh.
“Then I saw some guys wrestling in the school gymnasium,” he continues, “and it was like my world stopped. Just watching them made some of my anger deflate. So I decided I needed to do that. My obsession went from eating to not eating.” Hand shaking, he takes a bite of the fruit cup next to the waffles. “An addictive personality, Craig says.” He chews then swallows, but I can tell he’s waging a war.
I’ve fought that war – the war over my body, willing it to do what it’s supposed to instead of betray me in favor of stupid brain chemistry.It looks a little different but the feeling is the same. Right now, he’s winning. And I’m losing.
“Sometimes I think I’d rather die than get fat again.”
I furrow my brow. “If you kill yourself, you’ll go to hell.”
He snorts. “Who says we’re not in it?”
Touché. “You just need to trade your obsession with food for something else.”
I finally square my body to look at him fully. The last few days have been blurry, I’ll admit, but I haven’t seen him dying to work out, he hasn’t been to yoga classes, or art therapy, or even played video games.What could he obsess about now? “What’d you trade it for?”
His gaze locks onto mine, his eyes haunted, vulnerable. Looking like he’s using all the strength he has left, he answers, “You.”
I want to make people think deeply, feel wholly, and laugh and cry, just as I have.
I'm no stranger to tricky topics such as LGBTQ issues, adoption, disabilities, and mental illness, and I hope you come to love my characters as much as I do.
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