you know what they say during drills. get under the desk, it’s safe. well, I’m the desk, stuck in the corner as the first wave hits, the dishes and pots hit the ground, my legs threaten to give way but not quite,
then silence. “it’s over,” says the child, crawling out from under me. I laugh, I work, I study, I write. but smile no more, because a bigger wave is about to come.
I’m not prepared, not for the breaking, the shaking, the dramatic screams that call for danger, I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. except I’m not, except my legs crumble under the pressure,
then silence again. the mother attempts to glue me back together, and I stand somehow with my wobbly legs and flustered face.
see, that’s the thing about earthquakes, they come unexpected, causing so much destruction in their wake, then gone like nothing ever happened.
I shouldn’t have to be scared of letting people know about me, but that was not what was going on in my head as I deleted this very poem yesterday out of fear that came from nowhere. Today, I found courage in myself to upload this again.
one person, then a group one voice, then a cacophony one blade, then a block of knives
to stab me, one beat, one laughter, one scream at a time
I run from the noise like a tortoise running from a hare into a corner where there is no border, where the noise only grows louder and the pain only gets harsher
until I don’t know where I am anymore I’m sinking but I can’t see the bottom, I‘m drowning but I can’t feel the water,
the distorted orchestra continues its concert and each musician rises from his or her seat and turns into a grenade the music stops
I’m back in my chair, arms wrapped around my head and tears running down my face
This poem was inspired by Sabrina Benaim’s “Explaining My Depression to My Mother.”
all I had to do was to leave the car,
but my hands froze, and my heart beat faster and faster until terror rose above me like a boat facing a threatening wave until the wave capsized the boat, and my breath stuck in my chest
and I said,
Mom, why can’t you understand that socialization is like entering a battlefield with a plastic sword, knowing that I will lose but charging anyway, because I have no choice, because people are everywhere
Mom, why can’t you understand that this war doesn’t kill me, but drives me further and further into a corner where I accept the swords with welcoming arms and a fake smile
Mom, why can’t you understand that you are one of the soldiers
Mom, I am scared, scared of the classroom, scared of eye contact, scared of the gym, scared of my dorm room, scared of my friends, scared of my family
Mom, I am scared, scared of people.
Mom, I want this nightmare to end. except it is real, except it only ends when I close my eyes.
the monster is awake. it is a bad day. it reaches inside my cage, it starts clawing me, I tell it to stop. it replies back, you deserve it. you are nothing, you are pathetic, you are despicable. I open my mouth to scream, but all that comes out is, I agree.
I make my way to the monster, because I deserve it. I deserve the monster. but the monster goes slack.
I turn around, and tied to a bar is a balloon. it is a good day. I say, the balloon isn’t real. it’s too good to be true. I am afraid of it, afraid it would pop, afraid it would float away.
so again, I make my way to the monster, because I would rather feel something than nothing at all. the monster lifts its head. our eyes meet, and I am not sure if I am the monster, or the monster is me.
it is a bad day. it is a good day. it is neither. I am not sure, not anymore.
Before anyone reads this story, I want to make it very clear that this story mentions suicide.
The first thing Harlow did when she woke up on a Tuesday morning was to check her Instagram. No notifications, but she pressed that little heart on the bottom of the screen anyway, immediately crestfallen at the lack of support, though she anticipated this long before she went to sleep. She clicked on her profile and scrolled through the dozens of posts, all of her singing into the cheap mic that her mother couldn’t be bothered to buy for her. It’s okay, she told herself. The tears in her eyes told her otherwise. She put on her best white blouse, then spent a little more time choosing which jeans to wear, but in the end picked her only black ones. It was unfortunate that her room was directly connected to the kitchen, because that was where her mother was waiting for her.
“Harlow Shin.” Her mother crossed her arms. “Are you going to that singing competition?”
Startled, Harlow stared at her. “How did you know?”
“I think I told you to stop. How many times do I have to explain that singing doesn’t make us less poor? Are you really that selfish? What about me, what about the woman that her dead husband left behind?”
Harlow pushed the front door open and ran out before her mother could say another word.
When she arrived at school, there was already a sizable number of people gathered in front of the auditorium, and she realized that she probably should’ve come earlier. She thought she caught people reluctantly glancing at each other as they made way for her. Maybe it was just her paranoia tricking her. Not everything is about me, she forcefully reminded herself.
The waiting room was full of people getting ready to perform, and she froze on the spot when she discovered Tara Abelman. Tara, whom she used to be friends with in eighth grade but decided to start the trend of abandoning her instead, stood with some of her equally popular friends, bending over and dramatically giggling. Harlow had nothing to do with them now. She tried her best to avoid them, but the room wasn’t large enough to stay out of their sight. Within a few seconds, Tara noticed her, and her eyes widened. She pretended she didn’t though, as she turned back to her friends and whispered something that was clearly audible to Harlow.
“Does she seriously think she has a shot at this?”
Claire, who was next to her, shot a glance at Harlow, and laughed. “Did you see her Instagram? She’s pathetic. Only nine followers and she’s still going.”
“Shut up,” a girl she didn’t recognize frantically nudged them. “I think she can hear us.”
Tara shrugged. “Who cares?”
The tears that managed to stay in all morning were now too heavy not to betray Harlow by dropping to the floor. She didn’t have time to adjust herself, though, as the host called her name from the stage. She was first to perform. She had no choice but to wipe her face the best she could and push past Tara and her friends to come up to the stage.
No one said anything as she tentatively fiddled with the mic. Not a single cheer. Not a word of encouragement. “I… I’d like to introduce my song, it’s called “Shadows,” and um…” Her voice broke. Hundreds of blank expressions greeted her. “I tried my best to make it reflect my emotions, like how fire and shadows work around each other, just like in all of our hearts…” She heard snickers. “So yeah. This is “Shadows,” and this is my favorite work as of yet.”
She cleared her throat once again and straightened the mic.
“… so I ran back to my fire
hoping it would burn brighter,
but the shadows—”
She stopped. She could probably keep going if she tried, but she didn’t want to. “She’s pathetic.” Claire’s voice echoed in her head, over and over again until she couldn’t hold it anymore, and she let go of the mic, excusing herself from the stage as ghosts of laughter followed her into the waiting room. She picked up her pace and ran into the nearest classroom she could find. She dug out a small, portable speaker that she bought for herself on her birthday. She turned it on.
Nobody wants to listen to her singing. Not her mom. Not Tara, who used to be her only friend. Now she doesn’t even have any friends. “Singing doesn’t help make us less poor.” “She’s pathetic.” Pathetic. She was pathetic. She doesn’t have anyone. Why should she? Why should she continue doing this anymore?
With that question lingering in her head, she slowly walked over to the window, opened it, and looked down, softly singing along to the song that played from the speakers, her favorite song. She hesitated for a second, then two, but she’s had enough, enough, she thought as that last word pushed her to the edge, literally at that, and she fell, fell to the ground. Nobody told her not to. Nobody could.
A loud noise followed, a deafening sound that a teacher in the hallway heard, to which she opened the door to the auditorium and screamed at Tara to stop, whose turn it was to sing. Students exchanged worried glances, some shocked, as they filed out the door and into the classroom, where the speaker was still going strong, and where the teacher was standing, looking out the window with her hands locked behind her head.
Tara fought through the crowd to push the teacher aside and looked down too, which she regretted as she turned around to face the silenced crowd with tears in her eyes, tears that Harlow spilled less than ten minutes ago. She wordlessly pointed at the speaker, which played ominously in the background, breaking through the atmosphere, which finally got the audience its owner yearned for.