at fifteen i drew a map of my high school
and stuck gold stars on all the girl’s bathrooms -
this is the best one for crying , for hiding , for skipping class because you are afraid of the wrath of a teacher whose class you skip too often .
i used to sit in the stalls and draw hearts on the scars on my knuckles .
at fifteen i was afraid to raise my hand , to break the spell of invisibility .
i thought nobody could see me
and i liked it that way .
but today , on the edge of eighteen , feeling golden
i went to the bathroom that used to be the best room for hiding.
i went to wash my hands and check my makeup ,
not to run from any demons except the fullness of a lit class lecture .
and i expected to be alone ,
but i wasn’t .
she was on her knees in a stall ,
high school sophomore , sobbing and coughing and gagging .
when i came in she started gasping
and scrambled to her feet .
here she was , hiding like i had for so many years
and i was banging on the stall door .
because i have always been the unfunny tall one ,
unable to connect or understand or relate .
i have always felt like an alien , gasping words in a foreign tongue
before an audience of unforgiving strangers .
it isn’t funny ; it’s scary .
and when you are tired , kneeling on the tile floor of your high school bathroom ,
vomiting lunch and flushing ,
you understand more than anybody
that hell is not in the afterlife :
it is a place we visit on earth .
so i was banging on the stall door ,
praying she was a stranger .
she said , “ leave .”
and i said , “ god , i can’t .
hell is a high school bathroom .
will you talk to me .”
she was fifteen , blonde with scars on her knuckles and makeup stains on her cheeks .
i said , “ listen to me .”
i said , “ you are brave simply for existing .”
and she cried , and she cried , and she cried .
she said , “ i’m only fifteen and i’m sorry .
i didn’t mean to end up here , with a stranger staring me down .
i didn’t mean to be so ***** and worthless ,
but i don’t think i can do this anymore .”
i gave her a tissue.
she said , “ i’m failing math and english class and i have a D in science and my friends can’t stand me , and lunch is awful alone ; no one ever invites me to parties , and boys think i’m fat and i’m ugly and i’m lonely , god , i’m so lonely and no one can save me and nothing’s worth saving .”
when i was fifteen i used to practice writing suicide notes in my diary .
it was never serious ,
it was just an idea to play with when i felt unwanted :
letters from the deepest cracks of high-school society .
god , it was like looking into a mirror .
i saw the blush in her cheeks , the brightness behind her eyes , and the fading scars on her thighs .
high school sophomore , you know you will not be this girl forever .
beyond the unfinished homework and the test scores is an entire world worth seeing .
she said , “ i am in love with a boy and he doesn’t love me .”
i said , “ it’s the same for everybody .”
“ i don’t want to live , but i don’t want to die .
i guess i don’t want to do anything .”
she was fifteen and as wild as a poisonous berry .
i told her i could hear god in her raw throat and see infinity in her eyes .
there isn’t much you can say to a girl who doesn’t want to die ,
but at fifteen i didn’t feel like doing anything either .
i told her , “ a year from now you will see things clearer than you ever have before .
a year from that you will be back in the bathroom , looking at the floor and seeing ghosts .
there isn’t a lot you feel like doing , but right now you don’t need to .
i feel happy for you .
soon you will be lifting yourself from the floor of the bathroom , and walking swiftly in the direction of your dreams .
at the first sign of change you will feel your insides exploding .
it is beautiful ; there is so much to learn about living ,
so much to learn about humans and strangers and the feelings that keep us connected .
what is happening now is not worth forgetting .”
and she said “ i’m scared because i skipped class for the first time two months ago , and now i skip an average of eight classes a week . last month i smoked **** for the first time and now i feel guilty .
my best friend hates me . i don’t know what to do because i keep crushing delicate things with my fists . there is a scar the shape of a cross on my wrist, but last week I burned my bible .”
i smiled and looked in the mirror .
i told her ,
“ at fifteen i was just as lost as you are . i’m still lost , for the most part . i still want things i don’t need and feel emotions too deeply , but i’m learning .
and i learned a lot more by burning on the floors of bathrooms than by sitting in classes .
keep your face forward . trust everyone . you are living in the world like a wildflower , and you will be just as beautiful .
god , high school sophomore , you will find everything you are looking for .
just remember nothing matters
as much as you think .”