Tabula rasa

Tabula rasa. Blank canvas. I’m looking out of the large bay window, a coffee cup between my hands. The view is why I chose this place: looking down from a small hill, there’s an endless stream of wooden houses with the city on the background.

The weather’s just what you would expect of the area: foggy and mild. Not exactly cold, not exactly warm, I’m wrapped in a plaid shirt and a pair of jeans that were left behind. I wouldn’t buy Levi’s jeans new. My brown hair in a braid, I finish my coffee and lift up my laptop. The view outside should inspire me. Leaves turning colour, soft melancholy lingering in the air, the joy leaving with the last bits of summer.

I’m staring at the screen. Blank canvas. I can’t think of anything to write, so I light up a cigarette. I started smoking again, I think and mindlessly direct the thought at you. You’d be nagging at me right now if you saw me, I continue.

Kids outside are skipping and running, going to the school bus. I remember my childhood, wild and free, not a worry in the world. I also remember you.

We met the first day of elementary school. You were my best friend in less than a day, and we did everything together. We grew up and in high school the teachers would say we’d never make it out alive. We listened to records in your basement, smoked our first joint together. You taught me how to kiss after having done it with some dude from another class. During summers we wouldn’t work but instead we’d skateboard around, looking for trouble. We got caught for underage drinking and public peeing. We swam in the ocean in November. We attended your mom’s funeral together. The only thing we didn’t do was stay together.

After high school we went on to different universities. I moved to Toronto and you went down to University of Northern Texas to poke at dead people. I didn’t make many friends and spent my time writing. I mostly wrote to you. You replied every now and then, not too often, telling me you didn’t know how to write as funny or interesting letters. I didn’t care as long as you wrote me. I published my first independent collection of short stories and listened to jazz after school.

The first summer you visited me. It was just like before, just like we always were. You and I, forever together, forever wild and free. You were wearing a plaid skirt and a white t-shirt, I covered myself in a large grey t-shirt and hoped no one would see me. We hung out the entire summer, my rent being paid by daddy. We sat on the windowsill, smoking weed.

And then you left. I felt like an empty shell and didn’t really want to see anyone. I hardly showed up at school, and when I did, I always hung out alone. I wore big headphones and tried to make my walkman as visible as possible so people would take the hint and leave me alone. I wrote to you every week, you replied to me every other week. The ink in my pen ran out dozens of times.

After graduation you were transferred into a city that wasn’t all that safe. I was worried for you because the line of work you had chosen and the area they put you in. I kept writing and writing and never really got anything published, until one day. I came home and a letter was waiting for me. I opened it with a knife and peeked inside. The publisher had accepted my draft and wanted to publish my book! Confused and joyous, I called you. I didn’t care about the long distance fee.

There was no answer. There was no answer that day, nor the following day. I left you messages but got no answers, until your mom called me.

The funeral was in our home town. I was dressed in black, it was raining and I held a black umbrella above my head. Some cops from your district attended. I thought it was ironic considering the circumstances you died in. I couldn’t hold back tears. I couldn’t believe you weren’t there anymore.

After you died I stopped living. I got my book published but that was all I did. It didn’t sell well and I didn’t care. The publisher told me there was no deal for any other books that I might write, but I didn’t care. I had to go on welfare. My parents tried to look out for me but all they really did was make everything worse. I had lost my only friend in the entire world. The only person I ever cared about.

Months passed. Maybe years, I stopped counting. I ate beans out of a can and nothing else really. I had to move to a bad part of town and smoked weed most of my days. It wasn’t until a letter arrived that I knew something had to change. It was from you.

The letter was dated before you died. The mailman apologized for the delay, apparently the letter had gotten lost. I read it over and over again. I read every single word, every single letter, every space between the letters more than a dozen times. What I had thought only a dream was really true. You signed off the letter with three little words that made all the sense in the world.

That’s when I moved. I packed my backpack and took the milk crate with my records in it. The train took days but when it did, I knew I had to be here. Here where it all started, where we first met, where you lied in peace six feet under.

I looked at my laptop screen again and started typing. This was it. Tabula rasa. Blank canvas. New beginning.

Part 10

We get married and I start using drugs again. At first you don’t notice, I snort, no needles, you don’t notice. I only do it when you’re not around, I have my secret stash that you don’t know about. I spend my days high and you come home while I’m sleeping it off. I always sleep a lot so you don’t suspect anything.

You start working late. Very late. I start using more. Snorting is not enough, I start shooting it up, I can’t tell what I did most days, I only know you’re not there, not besides me, not fixing me up like you promised. You smell of a different cologne every day, I’m too high to suspect anything.

Then I see you. Through the car window, there you are. With a man. My heart starts beating faster than ever, I can’t believe my eyes. You come out of the car, straightening your skirt, pulling up your stockings. You check your lipstick on the side view mirror and walk to the door. I’m standing on the balcony railing.

You come in and find me. You scream. I look at you. I’m standing so close to the edge.

Part 9

The social worker looks at me as if I was trash. I try to purge myself but all that comes out is filth, I can’t open my mouth without the filth pouring out. The clean, white halls in this building mirror my image, my shattered image, my lips are chapped and I weigh 38 kilos. You’ve arranged this for me, you’ve arranged for all these sessions, you’ve arranged for my health to be looked after, but I don’t think they can help me, I don’t need help. All I need is for you to come back.

The social worker tries to calm me down but I punch her in the face, I can feel my wrist breaking, the last of my heart go dark.

You run to the police station, you yell at me, you cover me in your arms and kiss me, all I can do is punch myself, again and again, you’ve come back but your face is disappointed, I can’t stand to see you this way.

 

Finally you’re back. Last year of med school, you’re about to graduate, you’ve bought us a beautiful apartment by the lake, you’ve got flowers in your hair and mascara around your soul, you’re about to save people’s lives, you stroke my hair while we watch the sunset. I curl up into a ball, so safe, so secure, falling through your arms.

You hide the letters that come in. From the police, from the social workers, from schools and jobs you’ve tried to get me into. I don’t need to see them to know what they say, they state I’m a failure, I’m a nuisance, I shouldn’t be allowed to live if I’m only going to waste precious tax dollars. I cry, I can’t help it, I can’t help to be a disappointment to everyone. I really try, I tell you and you know I’m telling the truth, you can always tell if I’m telling the truth.

When you finally graduate we have everything. We have the apartment, we have each other, you’re making money, I’m wasting tax dollars. You organize the flowers every day, I don’t understand how you have energy after a long work day, I barely have energy to take a shower before I go to the balcony to smoke. You tell me to keep hanging on, you keep telling me one day everything’s going to be beautiful, that one day we’ll fix me, that one day I’m going to have it all.

Part 8

I’m running. My sneakers have holes and I can feel pebbles in my shoes, I can feel my feet bleeding in the shoe too small for me. I’m running to the shore, to the big rock, but you’re not there. Tears fall down my face, I’m trying to look normal, I light up a cigarette and people look at me like I’m trash. I climb to sit on the big rock, my arms so thin you can put your thumb and index finger around them.

It’s summer, the lake alive, the colours so invasive I can’t comprehend it. I’m just trying to think, feel, anything, while you’re gone. You call me every day to make sure I sleep, to make sure I eat, to make sure I breathe, you’re busy with your studies, it’s the third year of med school and that’s a tough one, you keep saying with tears in your eyes when I yell at you.

I look at the lake and think about drowning myself, I light up another cigarette and cry. My walls are alive and I can’t shut them up. My basement apartment feels like a cage, smaller than ever before without you in it. You try to remind me you’ll be back in no time, that this is only temporary, that you just need to do the internship while I fall through the floor.

Part 7

Those days are now past. It’s autumn and we’re back to school. We sit at the back of the classroom, autumn air coming through the crack in the window. It’s our last year of high school before university. You already know what you’re going to do, you’re going to be a doctor and heal people and give them hope. I have no idea what I’m going to be, I can’t focus on anything except you, you’re the only thing I want. You tell me I should look into writing classes but I think you’re just saying that to be nice.

Each day that passes I feel stronger and stronger about you. I skip classes because I can’t keep up. I go to the doctor and they give me more pills. You bring me apples and make sure I eat. I have no idea why you keep me so well, why you take care of me, and I cry at night when you’re not with me. When you see me cry for the first time you hug me and kiss me, and then it happens. You tell me you love me. And it breaks my heart.

I don’t say I love you.

 

Last day of school, you’re graduating with top scores and you’re wearing a white dress like an angel. Your hair is white and long, it sways in the wind. I stand further back, dressed in torn jeans and a hoodie. My scores were too low to pass, the principal made some stuff up, just to get me out of her face I’m sure.

You have a job for the summer, I don’t. I wait for you to come by, but sometimes you work late and I don’t see you all day. I stop eating. I panic and cry and write on my walls. I can see them caving in, and I can’t stop it. Only you can keep the monsters away.

Sometimes you find me in the middle of the night, you have your own key, I’m sleeping on the floor, wrapped in your favourite sweater, I’ve started drinking again. The ashtrays are full of cigarette dumps, my life in shatters. All I live for is you.

Part 6

Every day you meet me by the big rock at the shore. Every day after you’re done with work. I don’t work, I weight 42 kilos and have to take 7 different medications daily. You don’t care, you smile at me, a smile so bright it even beats the midsummer sun. Every day you grab my hand, hold me tight and press your soft lips against mine. You bring me food, strawberries, and make sure I eat. You make sure I take my pills at the right time. You make sure I breathe.

Every day we go to my apartment, my small basement apartment with a window with bars. At first I’m ashamed to take you there, I haven’t cleaned up in weeks, the flat smells of mildew and my walls are plastered in post its and pieces of paper that contain random scribbles and drawings and mostly nothing makes sense. The first time I take you there I’m so nervous I feel like vomiting, I can’t hold it together and I think you can tell. I open the door and the stink comes out so strong. You don’t mind, you step in and your presence warms up the place. Without asking you start cleaning up, my dirty clothes go into the bin, the beer cans and pill bottles into the recycling. But what makes it all better is your radiance, the beautiful light shining right through you, illuminating everything around you.

I lie down on my bed and you join me on my freshly washed sheets. You hug me and kiss me and tell me everything’s going to be okay. And I trust you. I trust you. We fall asleep and you cradle me on your branches.

Part 5

From that day onwards, you visit every day. You bring me food and sweets. Your hands are soft when they touch mine, and they take me to places I’ve never been in. We talk about the world and how things are. You don’t ask me questions about what happened, I think you know at least something. Maybe the nurse told you. I don’t care either way, I’m happy you’re by my side.

 

July 17th is a warm day. We run out together. I have decided I’m ok and we escape. We run, smiling and laughing. I keep imagining the fat nurse’s face when she finds my empty bed. By the time she does, we’ll have escaped and our plan has worked perfectly.

The escape car waits outside. It’s yours, you’re already 18, it’s more expensive than I can ever afford. I sit on the passenger’s seat, and you drive us to the beach. The sun is setting. It’s the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.

This is the important moment. This is the moment that changes everything from that point onwards. You look into my eyes, I can feel myself blushing. I say I have to tell you something. You say what is it. I tell you I think I’m in love with you. You look into my eyes, seriously. You unfasten your seat belt and sit back, staring into the sunset. I’m scared, I can’t move, what’s going to happen? Did I ruin it? I start touching my hair like I do when I’m nervous and your high heels make a sound when you turn towards me. I’m wearing my shorts and a tank top.

Then it happens. You take my head between your soft hands, and you lean in. I can’t believe my luck has changed. My heart is pounding and I can barely breathe from anxiety and happiness at the same time. You grab me by my hips and pull me towards you. We kiss, your lips taste of watermelon and I’m thinking how I haven’t showered in days. But my hair’s grown back, and I’m not as skinny anymore, and you pull me to the backseat. I simply can’t believe what’s going on when you take off my shirt and start taking off my bra. I’m crying, we keep making out, and your hands are everywhere.

This is where I belong, I think and take of your shirt and bra, you’re skinny but in a different way than I am, you look healthy and your collar bones are beautifully sticking out of your flesh.

You whisper in my ear and from that moment onwards, we’re one.