Home > Girl on the Line(7)

Girl on the Line(7)
Author: Faith Gardner

“Earth to Journey,” Mr. Teasley said, snapping his fingers in front of my face.

I looked up, his wrinkled face eyeing me with slight disgust.

“Okay,” I said, forcing a smile.

“Okay?” He shook his head. “You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said. Forget it—you’re unreachable.”

He waved a hand in the air and turned to his briefcase. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and headed out the door, into the sunshine, the sound of laughter, and thought, I want to kill myself. I pictured it, too, in horrible flashes.

It was alarming to experience these thoughts the first time. Like some stranger had taken over my head. Like an uninvited guest had invaded me.

And then that guest unpacked its suitcase and made me its home.

The voice grew stronger.

I didn’t win a poetry contest at school: “Kill yourself,” it whispered.

Jonah and I had an epic fight because I thought he was flirting with Madison Jameson at lunch: “He’d be happy if you died,” it murmured.

I woke up sweaty, teary, my heart a frightening drum, flashbacks of the car crash, smoke and flames: “It’s a mistake you lived,” it said.

Marisol forgot to call me back. I couldn’t find my shoes. Look at this picture of my family from my junior high years, the way Dad’s hand rested on Mom’s waist.

“Nothing matters anymore,” it yelled.

The voice would be quiet for hours. Then something would happen, darken my inner skies, and it would come back, tempting me with an easy answer, a black hole to jump into, a trapdoor, a sweet goodbye.

Love is

a flame

that burns

your house



your house

is nothing

but a memory.

That was all the mess that led me here, to this hospital room, lying brain-sick in an adjustable bed. The memories of my diagnosis and subsequent downward spiral dizzy me. Mom and Dad left the hospital. It’s just me now, on my own to think about the worst thing I’ve ever done and wonder if I’m going to do it again.

Jonah worried about me. That’s partly why I wanted medication, wanted an answer, a reason. But then it turned out even medicated, something was wrong with me. Those morbid thoughts took over. I was a cloud-headed girl with mud in her heart.

The phone was to my ear last night. I stood in front of the mirror, a bottle of Tylenol in my hand, listening to Jonah cry and tell me he didn’t want to be together with me anymore.

“I’m just tired,” he said. “I love you so much, but this doesn’t make me happy anymore.”

“We were going to be together until we were saggy and gray,” I said.

“We were friends before. We’ll always be friends, you know that, right? I love you, Journey.”

“Jonah,” I said, looking for the right words, although I knew all I had now were wrong ones. “I want to kill myself.”

“Don’t be dramatic.”

It wasn’t drama, though; at least, it didn’t feel like it to me. That was the first and only time I ever said it out loud, but it had been rattling around inside me for months. I couldn’t see the future anymore. I didn’t know which version of myself I was.

This black hole opened up between my gut and throat, an ache strong enough to out-scream everything else, a big ball of the pain from my family being blown apart, combined with the smashing of tons of steel and red-hot flames that should have ended me, and now this—this ballooning, marooning dread. This utter loneliness and hopelessness that could, in a second, suck up all the color and breath from me.

I hung up the phone.

Yesterday, I decided I was going to kill myself tomorrow.

I compose a mental note to my past self as I lie in the hospital bed, reliving my poor life choices. It’s simple. To the point.

Dear past self,

Fuck you.

I have never met the doctor before right now, the doctor who apparently oversaw this morning’s stomach pumping while I was still unconscious, but her name is Dr. Jaikumar and she is evidently very disappointed with me.

“You know how close you were to not making it?” she asks, sitting on a stool next to me and watching me with brown, blazing eyes. “If it weren’t for a couple’s dog who went off trail after a stray tennis ball, you’d never have been found.”

I planned it that way, behind the sprawling oak at the lake. A place you can’t see from the road or the main path. I don’t know if I’m glad they found me. I feel like hell. I’m still ambivalent on the whole living or dying question.

“So you’re saying a dog saved my life?” I joke. Joking is what I resort to when I’m all out of ideas. The joke blows right by the doctor. She doesn’t even blink.

“We recommend transferring you to a facility for teenagers so you can be observed for three to five days. Since you’re eighteen, you just need to give us permission and I can start the paperwork.”

“What if I say no? Can I go home?”

“Or,” Dr. Jaikumar says, standing up and looking down at me like the sick thing I am, “we could do an involuntary watch here at the mental ward of this hospital. But I promise you, voluntary admittance to a facility for folks your age will be much nicer.”

That’s no choice. When involuntary is the only alternative, voluntary isn’t really voluntary anymore, is it?

I’m tempted to get salty with the doctor, but my throat still hurts, and I feel like I need to save what’s probably left of my voice for something more important.

“Did my boyfriend ever come?” I ask hoarsely.

She shakes her head.

“So . . . voluntary?” she asks.

Finally, I nod. She leaves me alone in the room and I don’t know what hurts more: my throbbing-with-nothing stomach, my scratched-raw throat, or my boy-shattered heart.

Just kidding. I know.




Today is my first day of city college, and I wake up nervous, trying on a hundred shades of lipstick before deciding to go au naturel. I come downstairs and Dad’s made my favorite apple cinnamon pancakes. I can’t eat more than a few bites, though, and it’s not just because Ruby is talking—loudly—about how cinnamon is legally allowed to have rodent hairs in it.

“Stop,” Stevie says. “Why are you so gross?”

Dad made Stevie’s pancake in the shape of a Mickey Mouse head, so this factoid is probably especially disturbing to her.

“How are you feeling, kiddo?” Dad asks me.

“Living the dream,” I lie.

When he’s not looking, the rest of my apple cinnamon pancake meets the compost bin.

“Delicious,” I say.

I go back upstairs and change my pants three times. Then I decide on a skirt. Which means my shoes are all wrong. Mom calls me to emphasize how proud she is of me, asks me to text her and tell her how my first day goes. Thank you, sure, I will. I love you, Mom.

“Journey?” Dad calls from downstairs.


I can’t believe I’m going to college. City college, but still. As I step out into the sunshine and get in Dad’s same old car, on a morning that looks like so many mornings before it, everything is different and there’s no going back.

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