TW: Mental Health and Suicide/Self-Harm
My breathing keeps the rhythm of the beat. While my hands and feet create the tempo, banging against every inch of this box. There are no windows, no doors, no emergency exits. In my bed, I snuggle up under covers, but in the box my teeth chatter as a constant chill runs along my spine. It’s dark in here, but I still have a perfect view of the neighbor’s house across the street. You would think that the thickness of the walls would keep the voices out, but I can still hear her footsteps creak against the floorboards as she comes closer. The banging of her fists on the box permeates the walls. Her cries for me to get out add a sweet melody to the song I’ve already began. I want to leave too. But he’s boxed me in and left me here with all my thoughts, my second grade math equations, and the vivid memories of the moment that led me here. Who knew my mind could have better security than Alcatraz.
“Nina!” I don’t understand why I have to knock and yell at this girl’s door every time I come up here. I didn’t like to invade her privacy, but I opened the door anyway. “Nina, you didn’t hear me calling you?”. I thought the tone of my voice would be enough to snap her to reality, but she turned around slowly from the window. I had to climb over piles of clothes and heaps of dishes to reach her bed.
“Hello? Earth to Nina. Where are you right now? Space?” I said as I poked her in her side.
Through a smirk and a terrible British accent, she said, “Wouldn’t space be the perfect getaway? Unfortunately, you’ve summoned me back. What do you want?”
“Everyone is downstairs waiting for you to join the party. Let’s go!” I threw a sweater at her which left something sticky on my hand. I wiped my hand on her face, “You should really clean up in here.” I held my breath as I hiked over Mount Everest to reach the door.
Seeing who she’d become made my heart violently lurch, sending sharp pains throughout my chest. My sister has a tear for each one of my laughs. When I smile, I know she frowns. For every ounce of optimism I have, she has a pessimistic thought restraining her. There’s nothing I can do to rescue her from the boundaries of her mind because I don’t know how she was sent there in the first place. There was nothing anyone could do for our mother or even her mother. From generation to generation, we passed the key from one mind to the next to keep us trapped in our infamous box. Our lifelong sentences were only cut short with blades flowing down the length of our arms, aimless bullets, or worn out hearts no longer capable of supplying the box with fuel to run.
Navigating the world from the inside of the box was still difficult for me after all these years. But I knew how much this party meant for Noelle, so I trekked down the steps and made a beeline for the corner of the couch that was surprisingly still open. While I twiddled and plucked away at the few eyelashes I had left, Box Nina paced from wall to wall fervently listening to conversations and patiently waiting to pick up on all the comments of my enemies.
“Hey Nina! Come here, you’re so big now” Aunt Mae yelled through big red lips.
“We know how big we are Aunt Mae! We don’t need a reminder.” Box Nina scowled. I strolled across the living room whispering under my breath “Breathe in. Breathe out.”.
She smelled like hairspray and Newport cigarettes. How delightful. Aunt Mae stepped to the side after squeezing the air out of my lungs. And there he stood. It had been 10 years, but his smile still took up half his face. He had somehow gotten bigger, and his skin had darkened from a Red Oak to Walnut.
“Hey cousin.” His words cut me where his fingers last touched me. Box Nina was set into a frenzy. I stood, frozen. I had been catapulted back to a helpless 5 year old Nina.
“Where’s Nina? Did she go upstairs?” Noelle yelled. She was always two seconds too late to save me from encountering him. “Oh, there you are. Come over here for this picture!”
Before they could lower the phone from taking the picture, I turned the corner and bolted up the stairs.
At least I had tried.
“Thank you, Aunt Mae. I think Nina and I can finish cleaning up from here.” I closed the door behind my aunt and sighed through a smile. “Nina, wasn’t that the best party you’ve ever been too.” I yelled up the stairs. I can’t wait until she goes to college and graduates, so we can do part two. I thought about dragging her downstairs to help with cleanup, but I’ll reward her with alone time since she came down for the party.
I was only 90 pounds, but my eyelids alone felt as if they weighed a ton. I could hear my lungs scream with each breath I took. My neck could no longer support the weight of my head and it rolled along the edge of the bathtub. My curls, wet with perspiration, clung to the sides of my face. It was happening. I was escaping.
Here, I was again. Being a big sister and invading Nina’s privacy, but there was no way I was getting in bed without showering. “You have 10 seconds to open the door, 10…3…0”. My vision blurred. My palms became slippery with sweat. My screams rang from the deepest parts of my gut and bounced off the tiles of the bathroom walls.
Dazed, I fumbled through the hallways to my phone. The 911 operator coached me through heavy sobs and chest compressions until EMS arrived.
The antiseptic smell and jarring white beams of light in the halls of the hospital brought back painful memories. I know I just needed to talk to her, I could help this time. The doctors spoke to me in a language I couldn’t understand, but luckily the nurse was there to translate.
“Nina has been stabilized, but we are unsure of when she will wake up. When she does wake up, she will need a heart transplant within a year as her heart sustained significant damage from the overdose.”
“Oh, thanks” I stepped passed the bearer of bad news and quietly took a seat next to Nina’s bed. I didn’t know what to say, but maybe my voice would wake her. Could she even here me?. The tears streaming down my face provided no answers to the millions of question I had right now.
When Nina was little, I would sit and read to her for hours. I searched the bland hospital room for a book to read, but only found a seven year old issue of Time’s Magazine collecting dust in the windowsill. I opened my phone to find an eBook, but my fingers gravitated toward the Bible app which I hadn’t opened in years. We didn’t talk much about God or religion, but I had heard a thing or two about His son and how He could perform miracles.
“Jesus…work your magic.” I whispered as I scrolled through the app. I didn’t know where to start, but I knew we needed to be rescued from the trap of the box. So, I searched the word rescue in the app, and it brought me to Psalms 91.
Here we are again. I was almost out, but of course Noelle was there to save the day and return me to the warden. I sat with my back against the cold walls of the box tapping my fingers against the ground at a beat to match the slow and rhythmic beeping from outside. When I first was confined to these four walls, I tried my best to escape. I clawed at the walls until my fingertips bled. I searched for a sliver of light. I ran my hands against the floors to see if there was a secret door. I cried. I screamed. But still I remained. Now, I find my spot against the wall, and I relax until Outside Nina needs me to listen for the enemies. But, just as I was entering the peak of my resting period, I heard Noelle’s voice.
“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.”
What is she talking about? What God? I stood up and pressed my ear to the warm wall.
“For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease” Noelle was crying and barely whispering. “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings”
I wanted to keep listening, but the walls became too hot to stand nearby. But I could hear the rhythmic beeping coming from outside picking up its tempo and drowning out Noelle’s voice.
“Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday” Her voice was almost completely drowned out by the fast-paced beeping. There were other voices too now.
I looked at my arms and could see the sweat falling and pooling on the dark floor of the box. I did a double take. This was my first time ever being able to see inside the box. There must be light coming from somewhere. I looked up and there it was. A small crack in the ceiling.
“How did that get there?” I stretched my hands and jumped to try to reach the ceiling.
I felt outside Nina being jostled around while Noelle’s screaming competed with the speeding beeps.
I tried to remember what Noelle was saying, it was something she said that caused the box to open up. All I could remember was, “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety, he is my God, and I trust him.” I shouted and repeated this louder and faster as the crack spread and expanded across the ceiling.
“Get the epi ready and charge to 200!” a loud voice screamed.
That was the last thing I heard before the beeping became one steady stream and the floor dropped from beneath my feet. I fell quickly, blinded by an overwhelming amount of white light.
And then, there was nothing.