**Trigger warning: self-harm
“Perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take is to be seen as we really are-” Cinderella.
The prettiest people are the most pretentious.
That’s the difference between me and them. I know I’m broken. I know I need fixing. But the world isn’t a wish-granting fountain. We don’t wish for things and they magically happen. That’s the difference between fairy tales and the real world. Most people’s lives are fairy tales. I wished I had parents who would fight over me and a best friend that didn’t burn. A best friend that wasn’t burning in my mind. I don’t wish anything. Not anymore. I only have three lessons.
Lesson 1: Look out for number one always. People will always leave, especially when they realize you’re truly broken. They’ll think it’ll be cool to try to fix you for a while, until they realize they can’t, until they realize you’re not the kind of broken that can be fixed.
She wasn't coming back. Her car was on fire. She was on fire.
No one sat near me at lunch. My mum was gone. My dad left a long time ago. I was an outcast.
They whispered about me and thought I couldn't hear. Maybe they knew I could hear, but they didn't care. I was the cursed one. My father left and my mum was on fire.
She's still on fire, every day in my mind.
The ocean was drowning me. Going to school was my only escape. I couldn't be in the house. It smelled like her. I could hear her laugh and see her smile, but she was gone.
For the longest time, I thought it would have been better if he died. At least it would have meant he didn't choose not to be with us. I was wrong.
I know because mum's not coming back. And the pain is worse.
I was being sucked into this black hole, but I was the outcast. No one was reaching into it to pull me out. I was disappearing.
I was disappearing and then she showed up. Alexis showed up and the first thing I thought was, "Wow, she's beautiful."
She didn't care that everyone stared at her when she walked in and that it wasn't in awe. Where I'm from, different is synonymous to bad. Maybe that was what drew me in. The fact that we were both different, but she could own it.
She picked me out of the crowd and smiled. Her eyes crinkled and it illuminated her face. I hadn't been able to smile for what felt like forever, so when I smiled back, I wondered if mine matched hers. I wondered if my smile was as beautiful as hers.
She chose me.
We were sitting cross-legged in the middle of her room. I was sketching her. She wanted me to draw her. I don't remember much before my dad left. But I know I'll remember this. The girl trying to pull me out of the black hole. When I was done, she looked at me and smiled and then she said, "You're phenomenal, Mara." That was her favorite word. Everything she loved was phenomenal. I knew she was referring to the drawing and I wanted to tell her it was only phenomenal because it looked like her, but I kept quiet.
She read my mind. She knew I thought she was referring to the drawing because she said, "Not the drawing. You, you're phenomenal."
My world was crashing all around me, but she was my anchor. I should have been there for her. I should have tried to save her.
I let the ocean drown her.
Nothing about me is phenomenal.
Fire has always drawn me in, has always fascinated me. What kills you doesn’t make you stronger. You die. It killed the two people that ever cared about me.
I couldn’t go anywhere without people looking at me, looking at the scars from the burns that won’t heal, looking at the damage that I’ve caused myself. I see the look in their eyes. I see Mara, the broken one. I live in a house my mum left for me before she died, a house that suffocates me, but I have nowhere else to go. No normal person could ever see beyond the scars I have. They see my arms wrapped in bandages. Bandages that cover wounds, wounds that won’t ever heal. I look at people and I see the faintest glimpse of hope in their eyes, but not for me though. They know it’s over for me. I don’t wear short sleeves anymore. I can’t pretend I don’t see the stares.
Where I’m from, people name their children what they want them to become. It wasn’t hard to find teachers whose names were Tutor. My name is Mara, the literal meaning of bitterness. I guess my parents knew that was what I’d become. My mum said it was because she gave birth to me at the most bitter time in her life, but I brought her hope. I don’t know if that’s true, and now I never will. She said broken things heal. I’m not so sure. I don’t think it applies to me, anyway.
I used to attend those meetings for people in rehab centers, but I stopped going. I know I need fixing, but talking to them won’t fix me. “Tell me your story,” they’d say, but they never stopped talking long enough to hear it. Their dark memories were consuming them, but they wouldn’t stop talking. They couldn’t stop talking. Their stories were eating them alive. I wouldn’t speak. Not even if they begged me. The words were too painful. The stories were worse. I didn’t say them ever. I thought them, but they never came out. They were tearing me up inside, but I didn’t want to release.
Art is the only thing that was ever mine. My parents weren’t really mine. They were my parents, but they weren’t mine. I thought my mum was, but she didn’t stick around. She left me. Alexis wasn’t mine either. I thought she was, but I was sharing her with everyone else. I shared her until she lit herself ablaze, until I couldn’t have her in my arms. She was my best friend. She wasn’t mine to have, but I was hers and now that she’s gone, a part of me is too.
For the longest time, I wanted to scream. I wanted to say, “I’m not okay! Please look at me. Tell me how to be okay.” But the words jammed in my throat. They weren’t coming out of my mouth but, they weren’t going down my throat. They stuck there until I swallowed them. I buried them before they could choke me.
I cut. I cut because the word became too large. It became an ocean. It wanted to drown me. I needed to hurt myself before it hurt me.
I’m not an artist, but I know a thing or two about art, my art anyway. And I know it’s meant to mean something, but I can’t be an artist. I can’t take pride in my artwork because it’s who I am. The worst parts of me, the darkest part of me I’m too busy denying. The parts of me I’m too busy trying to avoid. The other artworks I have seen are ‘masterpieces’. Pretentious people splashing paint on something and it automatically becomes art. There’s no story behind them, but people ‘awe’ and ‘ooh’. They wouldn’t do that for my sketches. They’d look at them with disgust. No one wants to hear the story of a broken girl.
I go for a jog. I can’t be with my thoughts. They’re suffocating me. I forget I’m still in short sleeves as I leave the house. I don’t feel the cold air as it stings my wounds. I don’t feel anything until I see the stares all over again. They’ve seen them before. I’m so sure, but they look at me with pity and disgust, wondering how I could do this to myself. I wonder what they’d say if I told them this is how I deal with the pain.
I want to scream. I want to run back, but I’ve gone three blocks already and it won’t matter, so I sit on the pavement. The air is suffocating me, but it’s better than the words. It’s better than the voices.
“It’s not always this bad. Things get better. Anything is better than dying this way. We can’t make the pain go away ourselves. Christ helped me. Find whatever helps you.”
I almost want to scream at the voice. I want to ask her how she knows, who she is, even though it’s very unlikely I will. But she walks away. Not before I notice her eyes or the scars on her arm. She’s a survivor.
This time I run back. I almost don’t notice the stares. In a way, I’m a survivor as well. I run until I’m inside the house.
Alexis gave me her story. It was the only thing she didn’t burn. I think she’d want me to be okay.
I have her timeline from at least a year ago. I shouldn’t have taught her how to self-harm. It isn’t dealing with the pain. It’s letting the ocean drown you.
Beautiful but broken girl meets Mara.
Mara fills her up, gives her all the love she wants.
Mara is just like her.
Beautiful but broken girl changes.
She falls apart even more.
They both do.
They’re not happy anymore, but Mara doesn’t want to see it.
Mara runs away with beautiful but broken girl.
Beautiful but broken girl does drugs.
Mara can’t help her. Even though it’s all her fault.
Mara calls beautiful but broken girl’s parents. She doesn’t want her to die.
Parents are angry.
Beautiful but broken girl is too broken now.
Mara goes home.
Beautiful but broken girl emails her. Her heart is bleeding.
Beautiful but broken girl lights herself ablaze.
The whole world slips away. But first it drowns her.
It disappears, and so does she.
Two happy people met, and they made her. She was a mess. She didn’t think she was theirs because she was such a horrible mess.
I was born into a broken family. I don’t think my dad ever loved me, but I know my mum did. She just left too soon. Her car tumbled over and over again and was licked up in flames. I roll up my sleeves and look at the scars running up and down my arms. My stories. My pain.
In the living room, I select a sketchpad and dark pencils Laura from the bookshop gave me, a friend of my mum.
I think about Laura and the lady on the pavement. Random acts of kindness.
Lesson 2: Be kind to people. Love someone (even if you think they don’t deserve it). We don’t always deserve what we get.
I test the pencils on the page. I let the creativity flow through me.
I draw a girl with eyes so thunderous.
I don’t remember being so angry until I draw her. I was too broken to be angry.
Alexis sings in her beautifully broken voice, I wear my heart on my sleeve. My lyrics are who I am. I should have listened to her lyrics.
I sketch and time gets away from me.
As I flip through the pages, Mara becomes more real. Her skin looks more damaged. Her eyes look haunted.
I don’t speak. I’ve never been good at saying the right things. But I’m good at this, or at least I think I am. I think I’m meant to do this forever. My mum used to say when I found the thing I’d be in love with forever, I’d know. This is it. My body begins to cramp and I feel pain, but the good kind.
I play her song over and over and hear her voice break over and over, and it hurts that she was in so much pain and I couldn’t do anything about it. It hurts so much. She gave me all of her when I was still trying to navigate the pieces of me.
I go back to drawing until I see her. I see the person I had become, the person I don’t want to be.
And then I draw her, the Mara I want to be.
“I don’t want to be Alexis. I don’t want to end up like she did,” I whisper because I need to hear myself say the words. “I don’t want to die.”
People should hear my story. People should know about me. They should know about girls like me and Alexis. Laura from the bookshop said to ask for help with whatever. She looked like she meant it. I don't know what I want to do with this, but I'll find out.
The pencil falls to the ground and my fingers are numb, but I’ve never felt more alive. I don’t even care that they’ll reject me. They need to hear our story. I owe her that much. I owe it to myself.
Lesson 3: It’s okay to be a mess. It’s okay to be shattered, but remember to pick up the pieces.