Home > Girl on the Line(8)

Girl on the Line(8)
Author: Faith Gardner

There should be an opposite of déjà vu.

My astronomy class begins with a single slide. It’s a comic. A cartoon man gazes at Earth from a spaceship.

The caption reads, Warning: the universe may threaten your sense of self-importance.

That’s just what I need, I think to myself, not even the least bit sarcastically. At least some part of my suicidal ideation must be rooted in a tendency to take myself much too seriously. Is it any wonder the poem “Soliloquy of the Solipsist” was written by a woman who ended her own life by sticking her head in a gas oven?

How’s your first day?? Marisol texts me later as I sit waiting for my first Philosophy 101 class to start.

Good so far! I text back. I want to say more. There seems so much to say—how wide and pretty the campus looks in the morning, how I drank a black coffee for the first time and I didn’t hate it, all these grown-ups who seem to be accepting me as one of them even though I feel like an impostor—but I don’t know how to sum it up in a text.

I can see the ellipses that mean she’s typing.

“Don’t stop believin’, hold on to that feeling,” someone starts singing so loudly people shift to look at her. I look up and an immediate grin pulls at my face. Etta—the girl from the hotline—has slid into the empty seat next to me.

“Hey!” I say.

“That’s right, here she is, the dropout from the crisis hotline,” she says, leaning in. “I’m such an asshole, right?”

“Oh, come on.”

“I feel so bad but I just couldn’t swing that intensity.”

“No big deal. It’s not for everyone.”

“Do Willa and Francie and Davina totally hate me now?”

I don’t even have a chance to answer.

“I can’t believe you’re in this class!” she says. “This is going to be so fun.”

At this moment, the man I assume is our professor is just finishing writing this quote on the board: It is certain that we cannot escape anguish, for we are anguish.

“Is it, though?” I ask Etta, pointing to the quote.

“Fair enough,” she says. “Maybe fun is the wrong word. It’ll be meaningful.”

We watch as our professor writes the words You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.

“I’m going to stop talking now,” Etta says.

I hope she never stops talking, though. Both times, when Etta walked into the room I was in, she shifted the dull atmosphere into some kind of magic simply by being there.

I really hope she sticks around this time.




By the time I get discharged, the shame has rolled in. I wish I were dead from embarrassment alone. The clouds have lifted in the gray, the rain paused, and Dad gives me a ride to Ventura, where the facility that I will “voluntarily” commit myself to is. His car is older than him. It’s not a classic; it’s just a piece of junk. But something about the duct-taped vinyl and the many, many sun-bleached little trees hanging from his rearview feels like home. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent riding in here at my dad’s side.

I wipe tears from my eyes and roll down the window, welcoming the cold air on my face. The freeway makes my heart speed up, makes me tense up and tighten my seat belt. I tried to die and here I am bracing myself for a crash, afraid of dying.

Nothing makes sense.

Dad doesn’t speak, but I know I’ve hurt him. I’ve hurt everybody. God knows if or what they told my little sisters, who for some reason think I’m the coolest thing since ice cream. What kind of example would it be setting for them, to die like that? How selfish would I be to leave them? What is wrong with me?

“I’m sorry,” I say in a shaky voice, but my words get lost in the highway wind.

“Sorry?” Dad asks, like he didn’t hear me.

I roll up my window. “I said, I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What is this, an Abbott and Costello skit?”

He doesn’t laugh. Neither do I. Even humor is broken right now.

“What are you sorry about?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he says. “That you felt the need to do that. That I didn’t help prevent it from happening.”

“Isn’t your fault.”

“It definitely is.”

The difference between my parents couldn’t be better illustrated than by their reactions to today’s events. My mom insisted this was all a cry for attention and everything would be fine. She left early to go talk to my teachers, straighten everything out. My dad stayed with me every second, sighing and fighting tears and taking all the blame upon himself with frequent mutterings of, “All my fault.” Which gets annoying, too. Everything is about him. He can’t believe that this happened for reasons that extend far beyond the radius his parenting touches.

“Not everything’s about you,” I tell him.

The sunset is flamingo pink, flamboyant, and I resent it. Tell me how my ugly feelings can coexist in the same world as that sunset.

“I am responsible for this,” I tell him. “Me. Me and my stupid big feelings. Not your divorce or the fact you spanked me once as a kid or whatever you sit around feeling guilty about.”

“I should never have let you stay out that night you got in the crash,” he says.

He weeps with no sound. But right now it’s Niagara Falls all over his Hawaiian shirt.

“I’m going to be okay,” I tell him as he pulls into twenty-minute parking in front of the facility, whose name translates to “View of the Sea.” There is no view. There is no sea.

In my journal, I keep a list of words that don’t exist in English but should. Like yuputka, the Ulwa word for a ghostly feeling of something crawling on your skin. Or gumusservi, the Turkish word for moonlight gleaming on water. In Arabic, there’s a term for when you love someone so much you hope to die first so you never have to see them die: to’oborni, which literally translates to “you bury me.” I loved Jonah like that. I loved him to’oborni. Or, let’s be honest, love, present tense, because such a thing can’t switch off as soon as someone says it’s over on a phone call or after a bottle of acetaminophen.

There should be a word for what I feel at the mental ward—being afraid to die and wishing I were dead at once. But if there is one, I don’t know it.

I keep thinking of my sisters. How Stevie—so little, nine, with portraits she drew of unicorns all over her neon walls—has stars in her eyes for me. And that letter she wrote that she brought home from school that said I’m her hero. She drew my picture on it with my purple hair in her composition book and showed it to her class. And Ruby—thirteen, sullen since my parents’ separation, who now wears all black and listens to her headphones every waking second—told me I was “the person she hates least,” which was her special way of saying she adores the crap out of me.

My sisters hole up in my room when our parents fight.

My sisters rock my hand-me-downs.

My sisters, my darlings.

Imagine if I’d died—a giant girl-shaped shadow cast over their entire lives. Just another person who fucked them up.

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