"I swear sixteen was yesterday, but now I'm closer to twenty eight," I hear my sister Britney singing the lyrics from some new Instagram reel trend in the bedroom next to mine.
"You turned sixteen just yesterday," I mutter.
Britney has an amazing voice, and I think she can make it to the big record companies one day. One day, I’ll be in the crowd waving glow sticks and huge posters for her as she blasts out those original pop tunes. I am jealous of her, because I don’t have a special talent that everyone can admire. For now, even though it’s possible to make it big even as soon as tomorrow, Britney is a junior in high school obsessed with social media trends.
Flicking through my phone, my eyes track the email I've just received. My fingers hover over the icon, and I breathe in deeply. This is it. The moment I've been waiting for.
My job application results.
I open the email after counting five seconds, each second representative of the jobs and studies I’ve gone through so far.
Dear Miss. Hadley,
We regret to inform you that you have not been selected for the position of writer and editor with us.
I blink, feeling nothing and still processing the words. Then the rejection washes over my body. I wipe a hand against my face as the salty rivers run down my cheeks.
Of course. Of course they wouldn’t select me. When they could choose someone stable, someone able to handle a full time job without meltdowns. Someone without the label of a mental health illness reigning over their lives.
Running a hand through my hair, I stare into the distance, forgetting everything. Forgetting the plush carpet under my toes, the laptop on my bed with the boy waiting for my response, the church duties I’m supposed to attend to.
“Everyone’s out to get me!” I used to scream.
I used to tear at walls, claw people, choke on the tablets they tried to give me. They had to sedate me with injections. They had to clean me because I couldn’t even wash myself or go to the toilet by myself. For two months I lost control of my actions and full conscience. I used to close my eyes, walk along the hospital halls and feel with my hands for a shadow, calling out in the darkness for a voice to save me.
I thought he would save me, but nobody came. Nobody ever did.
The thoughts in my mind escalate and I wonder what would happen if I have another episode. What if I had to go into the hospital again? I heard a sermon recently about how when we suffer, we want to go back to the worse place we were because we cannot see the destination is worthy of the journey. Maybe this is just me freaking myself out but if I didn’t have to work or study again, would I be in a better place? Or would it be a reversal of everything I’ve worked hard to get away from? The instability, the late nights of crying myself to sleep, the loneliness within that cannot be torn apart by any satisfaction this world gives.
I'm clutching my phone and I realize my fingernails are digging into the phone case. Mindlessly, I press on apps and decide on going to Instagram to see Britney's reel.
She made a reel about me using that song, but she sang the lyrics herself in a cover song. As I gaze at the picture of myself at sixteen, tears blur my vision.
I’m smiling at the camera, with my best friend Gaia from boarding school making a peace sign over my head. We lived in another country then, where things were easier and simpler. My smile reaches my eyes, and I’m much thinner and happier in that picture.
“Marie! Look over there!” I still remember how Gaia wrapped an arm around my head since I was quite short and I smacked her arm, making us laugh as the photographer took the shot.
I don’t wait to see what picture Britney used of me in the reel. Whatever she chose, I’d look the same as I do now. Ugly, unwanted, useless. I put my phone down on the desk in front of me. Sighing, I scratch at the scab on my upper arm.
I look up and glance in the mirror adjacent to where I’m sitting, seeing myself now. Exhausted from the demands of postgraduate school, fat, ugly, and riddled with poor health. The reason why I went through three jobs was because I was not enough, because I could not handle my failures and I was afraid of never amounting to anything. I collapsed at my first job, was bullied at my second, collapsed again in my third. It’s all my fault and I don’t know how to make things better.
My parents’ health is getting worse too. These years of Covid have wrecked everyone’s lifespans. My mom could hardly get out of bed, and my dad almost had a heart attack. I need to find a job, so I can earn, but I also need to continue in a job for longer than three months. I don’t know if I can do any of this, I don’t know if I can handle the consequences of whatever decision I make.
I am afraid. I am ashamed. I am afflicted.
I glance at the door to the bathroom, where I could find a different sort of solace. Even before going there, I know I can’t stop myself but I wish I could do something else to stop this empty ache from spreading all over. I wish I had another solution, I wish I had another life. I wish I didn’t have to live.
"I swear sixteen was yesterday, but now I'm closer to twenty eight," I whisper.
A tear splashes across my phone screen as the beautiful sound of my sister’s singing fades, I head to the bathroom door and the reel comes to an end.