Antoinette Perez – “An Infinite Amount of Directions”

Some memories aren’t as clear as the others, but the way things feel never really goes away.

Life could go an infinite amount of directions. From where you stand now, a quarter turn to the left could start you on a road completely different from the one you were just on. A lot of kids aren’t as lucky as me. And typing that just made writing this so much harder.

I’m generally a happy person. I don’t like long silences, preferring boisterous laughter to fill the space I’m in. Staying still for too long drives me insane. My happiness is found in the happiness of other people. I feel too much. Too much, all the time.

Admittedly, handling everything has gotten easier over the past year. Sometimes it seems like nothing ever happened. Like my life hadn’t almost disappeared.

Like scars, time fades. Sixth grade camp is a small blot in the space of my mind; all I recall from my first crush is his name. But I have some scars on my body that I still feel when I run my hands over them- stories that time won’t soon erase, and some I can’t afford to forget.

3:00, March 30th,  a close friend’s birthday, and all the girls were crammed in the building’s small bathroom to get ready for drama practice after school. We were putting on the Wizard of Oz that year; and Munchkin Land was the next scene we had to block.

The worst feeling in the world is watching someone cry about you. Tears usually equal pain, and pain means someone is hurt. Thirteen year old me didn’t want to hurt anyone, and I would regret opening my mouth for months.

“I wanna hurt myself.”

Now that’s paraphrasing if I’ve ever heard it. The writer in me doesn’t want to draw a curtain around the raw emotion and conversation itself, but the spirit of middle school me is pulling the reins of my heart; I don’t think she wants to recount exactly what spilled out of her that day.

Guilt. God, guilt spills out of every pore on my body when I think back to everything that happened. Of all the hard conversations that I had been the cause of. Ask any of my close friends; my eighth grade class was forced to grow the hell up because of me. A good majority of them reassure me that, “we’re closer because of it”. But they have an emotional maturity that young high schoolers shouldn’t have. Something forced into them because they loved me too much to see me die.

Writing has meant everything to me the last few years. Journals kept my thoughts and words neatly tucked away. Black ink spills across pages of filled notebooks. Diaries filed away in a box too heavy to carry now. I’ve gone back and read them a total of two times. Anymore and I don’t think my brain could’ve handled it.

Someone went out and told my parents. It wasn’t even a day later before my dad’s ringtone played through the aux of our car. To this day, I have no idea who spoke up, not a clue. At the time, I was terrified. My dad had gotten a call. From what I could tell, it was straight from my principle. Oh God, my legs began trembling, please Lord not now.

God doesn’t seem to like it when you pray for a longer amount of time to hurt yourself; which was very oddly not obvious to me, “Yes she’s right here.” A long pause. (Or was it medium-ish?) See this is what I mean by “memories fade.” I can recall how panicked I was. The alarms sounding off throughout my body; but not how many seconds left my parents’ had of a normal life. “Mhmm,” no words were said, but the vibe was so painfully obvious, “Okay. I’ll talk to my wife about it. Thank you so much.” The receiver clicks, and a short phone call changed my life.

“H-hey,” sweat ran down my neck, “Who was that?”

A deep exhale resonates from the front seat, “Mrs. Stewart” I wait for some sort of continuation, but my father is done talking. We pull into a parking spot close to the doors of our local Walgreens. I had asked to drop by and pick up some Nair. A school dance was coming up, and I didn’t like using razors. Actually, would soon be banned from ever being alone with one. But I can hold off on that for a while. Walking through the aisles felt surreal. Walgreens has a lay out of straight rows, each wall painted blindingly white. My stomach folded into itself, collapsing under the anticipation of returning home.

          I made quick work to get what I needed, but the walk back to my father felt like it was never ending. I was shaking, my bones felt cold, it felt like someone putting continuous weight on my abdomen. This was the first time I recongnized how someone’s heart could physically hurt. Every time I inhaled in, my heart jumped up to meet my breath. Holding it there, blocking off my throat. This is why some people hyperventilate in the middle of panic attacks.

          I slide into place beside my dad at the counter. His hands are shoved into his pockets, feeling around for his wallet. I notice when his fingers curl around the leather of it, the outline of a hand isn’t hard to make out. My dad doesn’t pull anything out, though. His hand stays inside his jean pocket. Just, resting there. That was not a good sign; it meant my father was thinking too much. His thoughts were distracting him from the task at hand, I’ve only seen this happen a couple of times. Usually about family back in the Philippines, or bills. He’d be chopping up vegetables and freeze. Just suspended in the moment. Held captive by whatever situation he was mulling over. That’s how I know my father is the most stressed.

          Or in this situation, sad.

          My palms begin to sweat. The plastic tube I was holding grows slimey. My hands were shaking. All three of these things combined, cullmulated to the dropping of the nair onto the floor. It bounced on the white tiles, sliding to a stop behind me. It was an awkward pause in time, like the kinds you have in conversation. Not really knowing what to do next, and diffusing the situation seemed impossible. Looking back, it honestly wasn’t a big deal at all. But that’s how anxiety gets you. Everything is a big deal. Every action, done or not. Every word, spoken or left unsaid. It doesn’t properly filter through my head.

          But anxiety grabs hold of me, a million thoughts raced through my head. Not one of them processed and dealt with properly. Each dark blimp in my subconscious sticking to my mind like bubble gum. The more of them I had, the more the mass grew. And grew. And grew. The feeling would seep down from my head to my stomach. The big glob of dread oozing from my mind to the rest of my body. Filling the rest of me with the darkness too.

          I’m paralyzed in the moment. And the rest of that interaction is a very cloudy memory for me. But all of sudden there was a cool breeze passing through my hair, and I was outside of that damn Walgreens.

          Relieved for a moment. Glad that no one pointed out how stupid I was acting in front of the register. Happy that my father didn’t seem all too embarrassed about me being his daughter.

          But the relief was short lived, the air taken out of my lungs when I recalled we had to go home next. This isn’t going to be good.

          I was very jealous of people who just knew how to be happy. How to stay happy, for more than a few fleeting seconds. The terrifying nature of my thoughts surrounded me like an ocean. A small raft, or rock, or any other metaphor, was the only thing I had to keep from drowning. I’d hold on for dear life.

          But doing anything for too long gets tiring, doesn’t it?

          The ocean roaring around me was black. An inky substance made of the negativity I felt every waking moment. Waves are hard to fight against. Letting go is sometimes a much easier, less painful, option.

          I ran out of the car as it pulled into the driveway. The honda hadn’t come to a complete stop yet; but I needed out. The small space was suffocating. I already knew what had been said over the short phone call. The whole ride home was hell for me, because I knew that the arrival wouldn’t be a happy one.

          And I was completely right.

          I booked it up to my room and snuggled up under three blankets, acting as if those layer of warmth were thick enough to keep out impending reality.

          But nothing keeps out reality. At least not for long. My mother and father knocked on my door. Huh, already starting out odd, I thought. My parents never knocked on my bedroom door. Never. They’re the adults in the house, they shouldn’t have to. The mood was set: they were cautious. And I tried to be. Halfway the conversation I couldn’t tiptoe around them anymore. My brain couldn’t spin a way around questions like, “Is it true that you want to kill yourself?” And “Why? What went wrong?”

          I’m completely serious when I say, the hardest thing to see are your parents crying.

          And thus started therapy, a huge expense for sure, but seriously helpful. It reminds me a lot of school. Being given coping skills and assignments that take months to build up. Working up to solid coping methods takes time. Depression takes away any energy you have to do anything. Getting up in the morning can be extremely difficult. Just as daunting as doing the SATs or breaking up with someone. Except, you’re already tired before you begin. Depression took over everything. I was tired and drained from the moment I woke up, to when I eventually fell asleep. When I was able to get it, sleep was my favorite coping skill. When you’re unconscious, you’re thoughts can’t get you. It’s a black prison, but better than the one my mind would create when I was awake.

          Unhealthy coping skills are much easier to pick up than the healthy ones. And so much easier to maintain, a lot of them are addictive. Alcohol, drugs, sex you name it. They’re all used to forget. An emotional anesthesia, totally numbing whatever demons we have to live with. I didn’t ever put anything into my body, I put stuff on it. More accurately, cut into it.

          I have scars on my body that attest to this. That remind me of everything.

          I relapsed twice. Meaning I quit for a couple of weeks, a month, and then ended up getting back into it. Physical pain became what brought relief to me. A way to express the pain, to see it, to distract myself from it. I’d honestly take a physical injury to an emotional one. A broken arm, to a broken heart. It wasn’t hard hiding the bleeding or the cuts. My old uniform required wearing sweaters, I’d just keep my sleeves down and go on my way. The skirts were a bit tricker, but they always brushed my knees so I would just need to be mindful when standing up.

          It started with scissors. My family had already gotten rid of all sharp objects and medications in my home. Locks magically appeared on every cabinet in the kitchen. A baby monitor set up in my room around the same time as well.  So the blades had to come from school.

          My teacher didn’t monitor their desk too closely, because of this, swiping them from the counter wasn’t at all difficult. It started on my thighs, moving up to my wrists, then forearms. Those were the main areas. Very cliche places, I know, but I wasn’t feeling like being creative or original at the time. The pain was all I cared about. All I craved. Soon, I graduated to actual blades. Box cutters, taken from my dad’s tool box. Those cut easier, and deeper. Around this time my friends started noticing. I couldn’t avoid changing because of PE, not for long. I remember exactly who sounded the alarms about what I was doing to myself. I recall begging them to keep their mouths shut,

“Give me the weekend,” hysterical, I chase them down before they reached the main office doors, “Let me be the one to tell my parents. Please!”

          “No, Toni.” Her tone was definitive, “This isn’t something I can keep to myself” She turns around to face me, the action so swift that her hair whips around her.

          “I couldn’t forgive myself if you succeeded.” She motions to our friend who was going in with her. And then to the playground containing the rest of our class, “None of us could.”

          Needless to say, they had succeeded in making it known about what I was doing. Which sucked even more, because it turns out you can dip under ‘zero trust’ with someone.

          I never went to the bathroom alone, the door stayed open when I showered and then my body checked. I don’t remember a moment where I was by myself during this time. I started sleeping in my parents room, and was escorted everywhere I went.

          I didn’t have much of a personality during this time. Or maybe I did, but it’s not one that I would like to be associated with anymore. You, the person reading this, may not know anything about me. You may be a close friend who’s known me for forever, watched me lose my personality and then build a new one. Or simply a classmate, proofreading this before the final draft of our literary magazine is typed and published.

          Either way, this darkness that occupied every part of me, eventually reached my soul. Or heart. Wherever you believe the essence of a person resides; and tainted that too. Any light that had been a part of me was squashed by the inky blackness. I was left tranquilized.

          I went a couple months without opening my mouth. Not saying a word to the people occupying space around me. Conversation, when I had absolutely no choice but to engage in one, left much to be desired.

          “Should I get a shirt too? Or is spending ninety-nine dollars at Hollister overkill enough?”

          Why did I agree to going out today? My fingers fiddled with the edge of my shirt. I honestly didn’t care about anything my friends were discussing. I just really wanted to go home.

The three animated girls crowded near me in the changing area of our local Hollister. I was asked to go out with them that day. Dim Sum and shopping, it should have been great.

          But the monster following me around wouldn’t allow me to be happy. To enjoy anything without second guessing if it was real. It was hard trusting that my friends actually wanted me with them that day. It was hard believing that anyone would.

          “It doesn’t matter, I’ve got enough.” The decision made, my friend departed from the rest of our group to pay.

I was in an episode of depression. Mania is just as bad. Those sections don’t last as long, and it’s super blurry trying to remember them. But imagine having your brain and body set on fire. Thoughts don’t stop racing, but not in a sad, dark kind of way. A lot of them are positive and productive, but in an unhealthy way. My mouth raced faster than my head, saying absolutely everything that slipped into my mind. Offensive and rude? Completely. Delusional as hell? Always. My mood jumped from suicidal to, ‘I’m better than all you losers and it’s time you start knowing that’ A terrible superiority complex combined with a body that acted hyped up on speed wasn’t great. Even worse, is the slip back down to the dark place that happens soon after.

          You act normal, stable, for a couple of weeks- that’s all this cruel world gave me before I was thrown back into a darkness of my mind’s own making.

          I tried to kill myself soon after coming back from winter break. They were painkillers≥ I didn’t take enough the first time. The second time I put the capsules in my mouth, my best friend flew out of nowhere and then I was on the ground. She had tackled me. The most docile girl I’ve ever met. The sweetest, most gentle human being ever had clawed the bottle of pills away from my grasp and then body slammed me into the ground.

          Turns out I wasn’t the only one experiencing the pain of my self harm.

          I got treatment, I made some of my closest friends inside a psych ward for heaven’s sake. Life is weird, but it’s funny how stuff worked out for me.

          Coping is one of the hardest things to do. It doesn’t always go well- some days send me back to where I was a year ago. Trying is all a lot of people can do sometimes; and even that takes more effort than a normal person can imagine.

          I’m alive, and that’s a blessing. I can look over a ledge and be petrified of the drop again, and that’s an amazing thing because it means I don’t want to die anymore.

          But some people don’t always get a second shot at living. And it’s one of the saddest realities that exist in this world. Help doesn’t always reach everyone, at least not on time.

          Call suicide selfish if you’d like; and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. The pain of one individual just passes from them onto everyone they love. And yeah, it sucks for absolutely everyone involved. Not just the person who’s sitting in their room contemplating throwing themselves in front of a bus. Trust me, I know that. I watched my friends get hurt because they had to stand by and watch me fade into nothing. My parents stress out over medical bills, admitting to me that their biggest fear was having to bury their child.

          But I didn’t believe any of that.

          There was some sort of veil pulled between me and logic. Ergo, I had none. An impenetrable partition that forbade me from accepting the love that people sent my way. It was like having a dog that wouldn’t stop following me around. Trailing me, it’s bark and snarls influencing what I thought of my family.

          They don’t love you, it would tell me, They only take pity. Who would want the suicide of a child on their conscience?

          Fighting back was impossible. From the moment you wake up to when you’re eyes fall back closed, that damned monster would be right there at your side. It gets exhausting trying to argue back. A constant debate going back and forth with the ugly beast, at the beginning I tried my hardest to remember that people loved me.

          But it didn’t let up. It’s growls and insults were a broken record that didn’t want to stop. They don’t love you, this was its catchphrase at this point, no one will!

          “That’s not true,” I find myself talking to it now, facing the thing that had been tormenting me for so long, “They care! Mom and dad always say so.”

          An ugly chuckle emanates from its throat, People lie. It gets up and stalks towards me, a terrifying personification of the insidious darkness that lived inside me. You’re such a burden. You’re the reason why everyone around you can’t be happy. You ruin everything.

          The mutt regards me with disgust. And they say God doesn’t make mistakes

My already nonexistent self esteem spiraled lower the longer this animal remained near me. I believed it, every single thing it would tell me. The vile comments sunk into my mind, planting roots that sometimes still bother me today. It’s what made it impossible to look in mirrors. I was seeing myself how that dog saw me, it was what the darkness wanted me to see.

I thought everyone I loved would be better off if I wasn’t there to inconvenience them. If their biggest headache, would just disappear. I didn’t see suicide as a selfish choice then. I deluded myself into believing that it was some sort of twisted selflessness. I wanted to stop being an annoyance, it wasn’t fair to my family. Or my friends.

I became convinced that they wouldn’t care. My family would be okay, they have each other. My little brother would grow up and take my place, they’d patch themselves together eventually. But it was hard believing that anyone else would even notice. I thought that I was too much to care about. Too annoying, too sad, too ugly, too stupid, too everything. And I was tired of feeling that way.

I was tired of waking up to numbness. Feeling nothing, walking around like a robot. Observing no color, no joy, in the world around me.

And if I ever got relief from the emptiness, it was quickly filled by pain sent straight from hell. An anguish that burned inside me, it ate me up from the inside out. I wanted it to end.  I wanted to stop feeling so much hurt, and self loathing. I wanted to give myself a break. I hated it. Being alive, being me. As far as I was concerned, God shouldn’t have given the green on my creation.

That’s the selfish part. That’s mental illness is; you can’t think right. It took a lot, but I got the help I needed to start repairing the way I think. The way I saw myself.

But I worked towards that light eventually. I started laughing again, and not the faint, forced kind anymore. It was real, and loud. Oh god I missed being loud. I promised myself, I would never go quiet again.

I got back into talking and passion for things I used to love filled me again. After being mute for so long, the feeling of opening my mouth and speaking was too good. Too good to ever stop again. It’s why I don’t stop talking, why I can be so loud. Because I know what it’s like to live silently, and it sucked. Especially for someone who, as a young girl, had been so bright and excited.

I hadn’t felt excited about anything for so long.

Slowly, the world started regaining its color. I rediscovered hearing people laugh and allowing myself to hope. Because hope is an insanely beautiful thing, and incredibly powerful too.

If I had decided to not say anything, if no one had ratted me out, I would most probably be dead. Life may go in an infinite amount of directions, and I’m glad I followed the road signs leading me here. It takes an unbelievable amount of effort, support, and maintenance, but I was able to get that scary dog under muzzle and leash. It’ll never fully go away, I can’t stop being anxious. I can’t get rid of the way chemical imbalance makes me feel. But I can control it, tame it. Shut the stupid mutt up when it starts making noise again.

I’ve made a promise to not waste the second chance I’ve gotten.

And I hate not keeping promises.

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