We met in the psych ward, your hands shaking jello off your spoon, face mask covering everything but your eyes as you glanced at me, then back to the plate. I watched the birds as they flew past the window, wingtips grazing glass, and said what the hell. I introduced myself, put my hands in my lap so my bandaged arms were out of view. I asked about the face mask like an idiot. You told me you had chugged cough syrup and didn’t think you’d be getting a cold anytime soon.
We met in the common area after dinner, swapped stories of where we grew up: me in the torn-up part of town, you in the suburbs. I walked you through taking showers with microwaved cups of water when the gas got turned off, wearing your winter coat to bed when the heat went out next. You showed me cutting yourself in places out of sight since you were eleven, not eating for days, running away from home and sleeping in parks. We showed each other sneaking out of group therapy and setting up a game of Scrabble, fingers grazing as we reached for tiles, both of our hands stopping in place, and me looking at the way your blonde hair cascaded over your face, your eyes now watching mine.
It was waking to find you sitting at the foot of my bed, hair haloed by moon and pepto pink Chicago sky coming in through the window, whispering what you were up to so as not to wake up my roommate. It was making room on my bed for you and finding out what was wrong, covering your mouth as you cried so we wouldn’t be found out. It was yanking the blanket over our heads when the orderly came down the hall with a flashlight to make his fifteen minute rounds, breathing so shallow we could pass for the dead. It was the kiss we shared, silent, shifting our bodies so no part of us wasn’t touching the other.
They let you out first, you leaving me with your number and a hug that wanted to last forever. I spent the next couple of days holed up in my room, thinking of the things I’d say to you once they let me out.
You skipped your first therapist appointment to be with me once I got out, us biking the trails and cutting through Chicago alleys, riding down the middle of barren streets and reaching out hands till our fingers intertwined as we rode. I staved off suicidality with our weekly hangouts, breathed through dissociation and panic attacks that left me incapable of completing even the most basic of tasks.
I went off my meds ‘cause I couldn’t afford them, walked miles to your apartment and buzzed you out. We snuck up to the roof and lay supine, legs intertwined. Watched the sky’s tentative blue segue into the pink we once knew. I told you of the unreality of my days and you said you’d collect my thoughts into a great pitcher, that you’d drink them up for me. I told you I didn’t want you to bleed with me, and you opened your mouth to say something but nothing came out.
I took you down to my old neighborhood, charted the places that made me. The exact plot of dirt in a barren baseball field where the bullies held me down and taped firecrackers to my body before lighting them all with an old Bic, losing feeling in my hand for a half hour, ripped-paper skin that bled onto dirt. I showed you the manhole I used to pry up, the one that led to a city-wide tunnel system. Where I’d go when the AC gave out in the summer, or else a place outside of M & D’s verbal assault jurisdiction. I showed you the convenience store I used to rip off honey buns from when there was nothing in the house and even the Catholic charities weren’t willing to help.
You took me to your old neighborhood: immaculate lawns and empty houses, parks you used to populate late at night, us sitting there and you pulling down socks to reveal ankles dotted with constellations of scars, your inner arms tallied like an inmate counting down the days till their release. So much scar tissue it almost looked like regular skin.
You kept me out of the psych ward and I kept you out of your head, escaping the places that housed us to be out on the road together, peeking over shoulders to make sure no cars were coming, everything around us buzzing too fast, never stopping, and the way you would laugh out loud and remind me of taping playing cards to spokes to make motorcycles of bikes. It was like that, those summer nights together, just the two of us, pedaling off and into the darkness.