My coworker asks me what I’m doing with my life, as if this is a question I know the answer to instead of one I ask myself every day. She also asks me why I don’t use my low reserves of energy to find a boyfriend. Through the haze of depression and chilling dreams, I know the answer to this.

I am trying to take care of myself. I try to take care of my skin because this is easier than taking care of what lies underneath. I grow aloe on top of my refrigerator. I shower in sixty degree water, nudge the knob further to freezing and shift the pressure higher so it feels like a hail storm. Cold water is supposed to be good for your pores and prevent breakouts. It’s not for breakdowns but at least it’s something. I know some things that are supposed to be good for you, aren’t.

I know some things that are supposed to be good for you, aren’t.

Maybe my hands are always soft because I wash them with cold water so often. I love washing dishes and I don’t have a dishwasher, so I have to do it by hand. So practical. This isn’t meant to attract men, the men my coworker wants me to date. Men who say, I can give you something to do with those hands.

My coworker says, you don’t have a dishwasher? You really don’t have anything, do you? You don’t even sound like a white person.

I am white, so I should have things and be able to do things with long white lady fingers. I should have strength and no fear. Yet sometime in fall I start to leave plates piled in tall towers in the sink, tired, saving my scrubbing energy for showering. I can’t fit a glass under the faucet to fill with water, so I don’t drink water for days. Every morning I rinse a single spoon to stir alcohol into coffee. I wonder if I am avoiding doing things that I love, or if I just don’t love them anymore.

My coworker says, you need to make time to do things you love. She also says, you need to stop letting people take advantage of you. I think if I had a boyfriend I wouldn’t know how to make time for him and he’d probably take advantage of me. Even without one, I don’t know how to do both of the things she suggests. I work on a rape crisis hotline, giving up weekend sleep to be woken up and cried to. I play guitar and sing for dementia patients in a nursing home who never remember my name or the fact that I was ever there. I am happy to be helpful but there is a weary frustration in this, this realization that I am most helpful when I am mostly invisible or replaceable, just a disembodied voice. There is something slightly terrifying in the possibility that I love to be only half important, so I don’t think about it.

I think my brain to body connection is broken. I mistake the heat from my laptop on my lap for the temperature of a cup of coffee that I’m not even holding.

I think my brain to body connection is broken. I mistake the heat from my laptop on my lap for the temperature of a cup of coffee that I’m not even holding. I just keep thinking, I can’t drink this while it’s so hot, and when I finally pick it up from the floor next to me it’s only lukewarm. I listen to playlists called “Rainy Day” when it’s not raining. I am not supposed to do these things and I am not supposed to be this sad sort of person. I am supposed to know what I am doing, always. People will never stop expecting me to know what I’m doing with my life, but I can never stop giving them reasons to doubt me.

A friend texts me to talk about life and she writes, sorry we’re talking about the weirdest most depressing shit.

I write, don’t we always. I write, that’s all there is.

On the back of a receipt I use as a bookmark, I write, I’ve started to think of meds in terms of serving size rather than dosages.

I buy ingredients to bake tomato frittata, but by the time I can bring myself to bake it, the spinach has browned and wilted. I throw it out and know I will probably not take the trash out for weeks. This is the first time in twenty-two years that I don’t cry chopping onions, and I think I have grown too apathetic for tears. I do not have to fake enthusiasm to gush to the nursing home residents about how delicious the frittata was, because they do not remember to ask.

Distantly, I’m impressed that I even bother cooking. Cookbooks shoved in my pantry have titles like slow cooking just for you because I am slow and alone. My coworker brags about how often her boyfriend makes dinner for her, only asking for a kiss in return. I try to imagine eating something that I didn’t watch someone make. I try to imagine kissing someone with mystery soup on my breath, what that might taste like, whose fault it would be if it wasn’t very good.

I’ve started to think of meds in terms of serving size rather than dosages.

I try to gargle mouthwash every night even though it burns. My tongue, my lips, the insides of my cheeks, everything feels like fire, roasting down to the root. I wonder if I’m allergic or if it’s supposed to hurt. I do this often in life, I expect something to hurt and go along with it. I do not question. I glare at the mouthwash like a bad boyfriend. A warning to save for the morning: Now that you’ve washed your mouth, watch it. Don’t ever say the wrong thing.

I worry about saying the wrong thing on the hotline. I worry about saying I understand when someone says it was my fault I wasn’t good enough, it is my fault I am so hard to love, if I were you I wouldn’t love me either. I know I cannot prepare a foolproof script for this, so I focus, as always, on practical things. If I get a hospital call in winter, I will have to scrape the ice from my car with superhuman speed to keep my response time under twenty minutes. In September I research proportions of vinegar-water to pour on a frozen car that should loosen the ice without ruining the paint. In October I start a strict regimen of arm workouts that should help me push-pull the scraper across the glass without breaking. I prepare well in advance for a whole new year of cold assaults. But even the best laid plans can be ruined, and I think I should have expected this.

A tetanus shot disrupts my arm workout routine. My arm is too sore to even wash dishes or practice songs for the nursing home residents. I don’t bother learning anything new, week to week. They sing along to “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” again and again, and I think how that title sounds almost demanding. Let me. A circadian rhythm that says someone else knows better than you how your heart works, that it doesn’t matter if it is broken. You have to love me because I am in love with you.

I cannot take care of myself and be in love with someone else at the same time.

I cannot take care of myself and be in love with someone else at the same time. But yes, your logic makes sense, if you love me then I owe you an equal exchange. Let me just put my brain and body to the side, on a shelf you have easy access to but I cannot reach. Pass go, collect your reward, you can’t be thrown in jail for taking what is yours. You can take only the body and leave the brain behind. That go was a go ahead, not go away, not no. I am used to wrapping myself in cloth that will be ripped off so I can be used like a gift I am giving you.

If you say I love you, I will not believe you. I will not dwell on happiness or gratitude. Those feelings are for you, loving one. I will not thank you for having feelings for me, for implying I am someone more than half important, worth having feelings for. I will skip straight to you’re welcome, I am glad I can be something that you need, I am glad to be of service.


Bethany Mary is a twenty-two year old ace who currently lives in Minnesota, where she studies gerontology. Some of her work can be found in Outrageous Fortune and The Fem.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.