by Annaya Baynes
I try not to think of you anymore. Most days it works. I have a chosen family that takes up so much space in my heart that the pain has nowhere to stay. It’s the nights that give me trouble, really. I don’t even have to fall asleep to have nightmares. No figment of my imagination can compare to my all too real memories.
There was a time when you were like a malicious shadow, ever present, ever threatening. You crept at the corner of my eye, made it hard for me to trust anywhere, anyone. I stayed inside like a bird in its cage. I thought losing my freedom was better this time because it was my choice, but was it? You were more present than ever, so I suffocated myself in my closed-box apartment. I couldn’t understand how you found yourself in my mirror as I brushed my teeth or sitting on the countertop as I made dinner.
People understood for a long time. They were kind and loving even when I couldn’t do that for myself. They’re the reason why the shadows hadn’t swallowed me. It came close one day. You had been haunting me nonstop. Sometimes I would even hear your voice. That pushed me over. In the height of the night, I locked my door and settled in my bathtub. Then I watched roses bloom from my wrists. I let your shadow slowly fall over my mind. Dark. Darker. Darkest.
The next thing I saw was the bright lights of the hospital room. To be honest, I wasn’t happy to still be there. I make the decision to leave, to end the pain. Then I felt the tear-soaked faces of my friends on my cheek as they made me promise never to do that again. I snapped out of my fog and resolved to do better by them and myself.
If this were a fairy tale, that would be the end. I lived happily ever after. Truth is, it lasted less than a year. Then came the anniversary. If I was a hermit before, I went to the opposite end of the spectrum then. At first, I would just go out with a few friends, reclaim the night that once terrified me. When the alcohol coursed through my veins, I could forget. So I went out on my own more and more.
My nights became something of a routine. I’d go out, get drunk out of my mind, dance on someone, go home with that someone and use and be used. It didn’t bother me that these strangers reduced me to the pleasure I could give them because I did the same to them. It was simple in my mind, really; if I felt good, I couldn’t feel bad.
It wasn’t the drinking and sex that pushed my loved ones away. They could convince themselves that I was just having fun. It was when I turned to drugs that they couldn’t see the same woman that I was before. It wasn’t even a conscious decision to take them. I was in a bathroom with some guy whose name I didn’t care about enough to ask for when he brought out these little bags with the tiniest pills I’d ever seen. I popped one to keep the pleasure rolling and I popped every chance I got after.
The thing about drugs is they’re addictive. It seems silly to say because of course they are. You learn that in grade school. Don’t do drugs. I was one of those girls who thought my health teacher was preaching to the choir. I would never do drugs; I was a good girl. How our experiences change us.
I thought because I wasn’t sharing needles in some crack house that I was somehow superior. It’s not like I was on meth. But I was definitely an addict. My nights were the only times when I could be numb, when I could forget, so I let my nights bleed into my days, let the dark bleed into the light until my life was gray. I thought I lost the shadow, but instead I became one.
I was unresponsive in the alley next to a bar. I had OD’d on E. Looking back, I wish I could say it had been a particularly tough night, but I had just popped pill after pill because it was fun. I almost died on the way to the hospital. This time when I woke up, no one was waiting for me. That was more sobering than almost dying. I had pushed them all away, friends I’d had for years, in exchange for people only good for cheap thrills. Sitting under the blinding fluorescent lights my life never looked so dark.
I went into detail about all that not to blame you but to show you how far I’ve come. Blaming you for my actions gives you control even now. You didn’t have control over me then and you don’t now. I reclaimed my life. By all intents and purposes, I should be dead. My death could have happened three different times: with you in that basement, bleeding out in my bathtub, or curled up on the dirty ground with artificial happiness mingling with my blood. Knowing I should be dead had a morbidly positive effect on me. I went to rehab ten times. I met my fiancée and I’m marrying her in June. I’m sober three years now. I’m happy. There are even days when I can not think of you at all.
Five years ago, I fell in love with you. Five years ago, you became obsessed with me. Five years ago, you kidnapped me while I was out with work friends. Five years ago, you hurt me and hurt me until you thought I was broken. Five years ago, you whispered in my ear that no one else would ever want me now. Five years ago, you died in a police shootout when you tried to make me eternally untouchable.
Today, I’m free.
Annaya Baynes is a senior at The Pingry School. She is passionate about creating works that focus on the all-too-often marginalized. Annaya writes mostly poetry and short stories, but she is working on a novel.