by Cynthia Li
Art by Allison Huang
Issue: Paracosm (Winter 2017)
Content warning: suicide, panic attacks, misgendering.
Asking for help is brave and you deserve to stay alive. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. If you prefer texting, text “START” to 741741.
The author is mentally ill, although xe has never attempted suicide. Xe is non-binary, although xe was not assigned male at birth. This piece does not aim to represent the experiences of all mentally ill or transgender people.
Eighty-five percent of suicides don’t succeed. It’s what ze didn’t know when ze woke up in the hospital bed, world spinning, and knew that ze’d failed.
It’s been three days since ze came home, after ze was discharged from the hospital, and everyone’s been treating hir like glass. Ze hates it.
But at the same time ze craves comfort. Ze wakes up in the morning and realizes ze’s still alive. Breathes through the weight of living. Gets up and sees Bāba’s red eyes, wide soft beige hands wrapped around his coffee mug, knuckles white, and knows that ze’s the reason why.
How to survive after you’ve survived. That’s what they don’t tell you.
Ze signs into Facebook for the first time since ze came back.
It’s about eleven at night. Doctors said ze should sleep earlier, but ze doesn’t see the point. Ze’d stay awake having anxiety attacks until one anyway. Besides, it was summer. Ze could sleep in as long as ze liked.
There are about five unread messages and a plethora of random notifications from the pages ze’s liked. Most of the messages say things like haven’t seen you online in a while, are you okay? Which seems pretty typical. Ze writes something generic, yeah im ok, thx for checking in 🙂 and copy/pastes it to everyone. Only there’s the one at the top that reads RESPOND WHEN U SEE THIS RIGHT AWAY OR ELSE
Of course it’s from Sasha.
Sasha is one of hir best friends, a mostly-closeted black and chubby bi girl with severe anxiety and dimples and a small afro poofing from her head.
Ze opens the chat window and scans the other messages Sasha sent hir.
Sasha: ARE YOU OK
I TEXTED LUCIE THEY SAID YOU WERE IN THE HOSPITAL WHAT HAPPENED
THEY WOULDN’T TELL ME ANYTHING ELSE
Riley: ahhh im fine
(Ze’s really not.)
Sasha responds almost immediately.
Sasha: omg i was so worried, what happened???
Ze pauses for a moment.
Riley: can we uh talk abt this face to face its kinda personal
Sasha: sure, when are you free
Riley: basically anytime lol
Sasha: tomorrow at 3 at starbucks?? idk
Riley: yeah sure need ot ask dad though lol
take care of yourself friend
Ze gets up. Ze’s going to regret the committment. It’s a social interaction. Depression kinda makes you suck at those between the debillitating sadness and the lack of will to go.
“Hey Bāba,” ze says, poking hir head into his bedroom. “Can I go to Starbucks at three tomorrow? I can get Lucie to drive me.”
Baba looks up from his laptop. “Why?”
“The black girl?”
“Yeah.” Only she’s not the black girl. She’s hir best friend and someone ze can talk mental illness with, and ze’s annoyed.
“Is everything okay?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Ze can’t help sounding irritated and can’t bring hirself to apologize. “Good night.”
“Wǎnān,” says Bāba as ze turns and leaves.
Ze rings Lucie’s doorbell.
Lucie Chang is non-binary and bigender, and second-gen Taiwanese-American. Not the same as hir, ze’s genderqueer and slightly transfemme and Chinese, but pretty close.
The two of them met at the local queer youth resource center, where Lucie works and ze volunteers. They’re the local assigned-male-at-birth trans on-site therapist and icon. Ze’s still shocked that they’re friends sometimes because they’re so good at it and cool.
Ze’s lucky to have a resource center nearby and the older queer mentors that come with it. Ze’s lucky to have a supportive parent. Ze still tried to kill hirself.
Ze shakes the thought away as Lucie opens the door, arms outstretched. “Riley!”
“Lucie,” ze says, and hugs them. The two of them are close, but ze hasn’t really talked to anyone since ze got back.
They know, though. Bāba texted them after ze was rushed to the hospital. Lucie’s become a family friend over the years.
“Do come in,” they say, and open the door wider. Ze takes off hir shoes and breathes in.
Bāba had wanted to work from home the night before. It had taken a lot of pleading to convince him that ze was fine, and even then he’d insisted on dropping hir off at Lucie’s house so they could keep an eye on hir. It’s not that ze doesn’t like hir dad, he’s great at single- parenting, it’s just that ze doesn’t know how to deal with hir head and him at the same time.
“So. How are you?”
“Uh.” It’s not just small talk for Lucie, it’s an actual question. “I’m… not that great, actually. Because of. Y’know. Kind of depressed all the time. Annoyed at my dad, he worries too much.”
“I feel,” they say. “That’s fine. That’s pretty standard, really, judging from the other kids I’ve listened to. And myself.”
Ze exhales. “Could we not talk about it? I feel like my life’s been consumed by don’t-kill-yourself pep talks.”
“Sure. You wanna go someplace? The resource center’s open, but we can go wherever you like.”
“Not really,” ze says, shuffling. “Have you watched Daredevil? Sasha’s been bugging me to watch it all summer but I haven’t gotten a chance.”
“Oh my god, you haven’t watched it?” Lucie says. “I mean, sighted actor playing blind character, that’s bad. And incredibly amusing and/or I want to scream when they mess up things like cane technique, but it’s the best. Mango banana orange juice?” Lucie is a chronic hoarder of random juice.
Heather, Lucie’s cat, is lounging on the sofa when ze comes into the living room, and she narrows her eyes at hir and flicks an ear. She doesn’t move. Lucie vanishes into the kitchen.
Ze seats hirself, taking care not to smush Heather’s tail. Ze runs hir hand down her head. Heather turns her glare to hir, and a little purr rumbles in her throat.
Lucie comes back with two mugs and sets them on the coffee table. Ze picks hirs up and cups it in hir hands. The mug says DOWN WITH CIS.
This is familiar. This is good.
For the first time since ze got back, ze is breathing.
Well. That didn’t last long.
Ze curls on the sofa. Hir brain is utterly numb and ze doesn’t know what ze was thinking when ze agreed to hang with Sasha because ze’s horrible at committment. Ze wants to sink about seventeen inches into the cushions and disappear, preferably forever.
Lucie sits next to hir and ze can’t make hirself pretend ze’s okay. This doesn’t help at all.
“You okay?” they say.
Ze makes a small non-committal sound and sits up.
“You don’t look well.”
“I’ll be fine,” ze says.
“You still going to Starbucks?”
Ze shrugs. “Probably.” Ze’d feel incredibly guilty if ze didn’t. Ze doesn’t want to ditch Sasha even if it makes hir feel worse.
“It’s okay to not do things if you’re not up to them,” Lucie says gently.
Ze shakes hir head. “It’s fine.”
“You can back out anytime,” they say. “I’m sure Sasha would understand.”
“I’m going,” ze says, and leans back into the sofa with an exhale.
Ze sucks at this.
“See ya,” Lucie says, grinning at hir from the driver’s seat. “Call me when you’re done, yeah?”
“I will,” ze says, and climbs out of the car.
Sasha sitting there when ze comes in, scrolling through her phone. Ze sits next to her.
“Hey,” ze says, making hirself smile.
“Riley! ” Sasha spins to face hir and ze can’t help but actually smile, which feels completely wrong and strained. “Omg, are you okay, what happened? Hug?”
They lean into each other. “Your hair’s so good,” ze says.
She snorts. “It took forever. But thanks.”
“You’re just so hot all the time and I can’t compete.”
“I am,” she agrees. “And so are you. We’re both winning this thing. Wanna order something?”
Ze shrugs, so they get mochas (cold, with whipped cream). The cashier calls Riley ma’am. Ze sighs inwardly as warm shock trickles through hir chest, ze got misgendered not as a guy this time, ze’s transitioning in the right direction. But at the same time—
“It’s Mix,” says Sasha. “Ze’s not a girl and you’ve got to respect hir just like you would any guy or lady.”
The cashier frowns a little. “Anything else?”
“It’s fine,” ze tells Sasha as they hang around, waiting for their drinks. “Thanks, though.”
“Cis people,” she says, waving a hand vaguely.
Ze grins. “So what’s up?” ze asks.
They chat a bit about Sasha’s life and that art camp she’s going to later. The barista calls out their orders. They collect them and sit back down.
“What happened to you?” Sasha says.
“Oh, uh,” ze says. “Depression stuff.”
“Oh,” she says.
“I was hospitalized.” Ze fiddles with hir straw. Sasha drums her fingers on the table.
“Is it. Uh. Well. D’’you want to talk about it?”
“Are you okay with talking about it? It’s kinda stressful.”
Ze hesitates for a moment. Ze doesn’t want to worry Sasha, especially since she’s also anxious, but she wants to know, so—
“I attempted suicide at the end of June. Got hospitalized for a week, though it wasn’t as bad as people said it would be. Like, bad nurses and misgendering and denying me hormones and stuff. I read about another trans person who didn’t get them. Guess I got lucky.”
She exhales. “Good. You deserve that.”
“It’s fine,” ze says.
“Take care of yourself if you’re having a hard time, okay?”
“Yeah.” Ze shifts hir hands on the cup more and doesn’t look up. “It’s not your fault. Like, Lucie only knows because my dad told them. Not because I told them and not you. Don’t feel bad about it, I didn’t want to scare you.”
“You can talk to me if you ever need help.” She doesn’t make eye contact. Ze doesn’t particularly want to either.
“You too.” Ze cracks a half-hearted grin and messes with the cup some more. “Dunno. I’m kind of freaking out over the reading assignment for APUSH, I haven’t even started yet—”
“Oh my god, same,” she says.
“‘I’ll use this summer to recharge,’ I said—”
“I mean, I have no idea how I’m going to deal next year, it’s going to have so much more homework” —Sasha inhales her mocha— “and I’m already stressed over a reading packet.”
“I’m regretting all my life choices.”
“I know, right? And then my mom wants me to take the SAT in August.”
“Oh my god,” ze says. “I still haven’t signed up for anything.”
She waves a hand. “You’ll be fine, it’s just that everyone’s been advising to take it early, no big deal. But like. School. Sometimes I lay in bed late at night and panic.”
“Same,” ze says with a grim face, only half joking because honestly, there isn’t anything better to do with mental illness than send memes about it to your other mentally ill friends. “I’ll toast to that. To 2 a.m. panic attacks.”
They bump their plastic water-beaded cups together, leaving partially-formed circles of condensation on the table.
Ze’s horrible at talking about hir mental illness to people, ze thinks as ze waits outside the café for Lucie. It’s hot but hanging by the door would be awkward, so ze decides to suffer for a while.
The post-social-interaction exhaustion creeps up on hir and ze stops smiling. Hir brain has returned to its normal state. Anxiety starts bubbling in hir stomach again.
Ze thinks about all the things ze has to do by the end of summer and doesn’t know what ze’s doing with hir life. Ze was kind of counting on the whole death thing to work.
Ze closes hir eyes. It’ll get better. One day ze will wake up and the world will feel real.
It’ll get better.