The summer I lived with Adam, the summer I spent hooking up with Caleb in various fascinating and (Mom, stop reading now. Just stop, there are things you don’t need to know about your kids) public places, the summer I worked in Public Relations, I started piercing my ear with safety pins.

In retrospect, I have no idea what the fuck the adults in my life were thinking. I had a different number of holes in my ear every time I came to work, and most of them were full of really unsanitary-looking pieces of fastener.

I wore a lot of long sleeved shirts that summer too.

***

It was still a summer away from my post-college unemployment, a handful of months that turned out to be surprisingly idyllic, full of renaissance faires and odd jobs and hookups and other people’s parents’ food. In retrospect, if that unemployed summer is what I was afraid of, nose to the grindstone and safety pins firmly attached, I wasted a lot of time and terror on nothing.

I was self destructing every way I knew how, and I had no way to even explain what was happening. I still don’t, I guess. All I know is I felt like a mannequin, a plastic doll of myself doing everything I could to reassure me I was still real.

Spoilers: it worked about as well as an umbrella in a nuclear holocaust.

I was slowly becoming invisible, and nobody but me noticed.

I couldn’t pin myself to reality, so I cut it into my arm, became my own runestone, my marker along the road to nowhere. Reminders of things I couldn’t be, couldn’t become, couldn’t let myself feel. Things I rationalized out of my life, intruding when I least expected them so I pinned them down, wrote them down, made them a permanent part of me when I didn’t want them at all.

When you’re invisible, you do whatever you can to be seen. You do whoever you can, if they see you, and you don’t look back. It doesn’t matter anyway; you’re a vampire’s reflection, a heat shimmer on a summer road. You’re not real, so nothing that happens to you is real. After a while, it feels so good to vanish that you stop wanting to be real.

There’s no redemption cycle here, no rehab. The summer ended, is all. Adam’s black eye healed, and the handprint over my ribs. The places I cut myself are only visible when I tan, physical scars to remind me that I am still, somehow, healing inside too.

Even the part of me I left behind is still, somewhere, healing. We are both more resilient than we think, and less.

***

Lot’s wife, looking back, lost her name and her life in a pillar of salt. Orpheus lost his Eurydice and Dante failed to retrieve Beatrice. But we bring something with us out of those dark places nonetheless.

I see you. I know you and I know the signposts of the road you’re on, the ones you read aloud and despair because you think you are unheard. Leave your imaginary prize behind; it’s not worth having. Take my hand, follow this red string and we’ll come out together.

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