content warning: suicide
Whenever I feel the sort of urge to kill myself on Saturdays, I try taking a walk instead. I get up from my couch, put on the only comfortable pair of shoes I’ve yet to wear the heels out of, and head down my building stairs that always smell like they need cleaning or as if they’ve just been cleaned. There’s nothing in between. Then, I’m off.
I take a right, then a left, then a diagonal path through the park to head downtown, past the places that I used to pass on my way to work, to class, to dinners, to dinner dates. All of the stuff I don’t do anymore. I see couples looking both ways before they cross against the advice of the traffic lights. I spend the most time watching the ones that I know I will never look like: the girls in the vintage Levi’s that don’t fit people with stomachs paired with the boys who’ve figured out how to keep their white, over-priced sneakers clean. Every time one of them passes me, I notice the woman reaching for the man’s hand, trying to get the message across that I should probably stop staring at her boyfriend’s ankles, which is admittedly, most of the time, where my gaze goes. I’m strangely attracted to men’s ankles, particularly when the trousers are so short that I can get a peak of the socks; even more so if the dude is riding a bicycle and has the cuffs unevenly rolled so they don’t get caught in the gears. Ankles make me feel something warm for once. It’s actually a good thing I don’t ride a bike because I probably would’ve accidentally killed myself on it by now, staring at ankles instead of street signs. Or maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing, throwing my life away for some goddamn, good bony ankles. At least it’d be a story.
I continue walking the streets that I used to frequent as an undergrad, smiling a little at the boys who are alone and who feel like they should be fair game before remembering that a preschooler’s lifespan occupies the years between us now; that I am nowhere near old but I will never be that young again. Memories start clogging up my eyes: the convenience store where I bought endless plastic water bottles and packages of dark chocolate peanut butter cups and sometimes other things if there was someone I was talking to who I didn’t want to leave; the now-closed Vietnamese place, where my nonfiction professor bought me booze at nineteen to celebrate my first reading during which I learned the strategies for being able to speak to a crowd while metaphorically cutting open a vein, next to the Italian restaurant turned dumpling place turned coffee shop where I first tried (and failed) to tell a boy that I thought I loved him; all of the corners where I said goodnight to someone that I was afraid of one day losing and that I now have.
I get caught up in construction outside one of the dorms that once played house to one of my favorite humans. Stopped, I notice an attractive guy with dark, tousled hair smiling down at a blonde gal with a thick ponytail just like the one I used to have; one not yet traumatized by twentysomething stress. It’s so obvious they want to kiss each another. I want to yell across, ‘Do it! Do it while you still can!’ But I’m depressed today, remember, not insane. So, I don’t.
Instead, I allow myself to be bumped by two girls carrying a pizza from the famous joint on the corner that I stopped going to once I graduated and learned what slices that cost more than a dollar taste like; girls who got extra piercings in their ears at mall kiosks when it was rebelliously appropriate at 15 instead of at the bougie, over-priced place in SoHo, like I did at almost 25, with a golden Amex and lots and lots of blood. I walk away, faster and faster, feeling tears springing to my eyes as I think about the person I would like to be holding hands with right now, the person I should’ve kissed in front of that dorm, the person who doesn’t even exist in the way that I want him anymore because I don’t exist in that way, either.
I walk into the grocery store where I’ve been a loyalty member for five years to catch my breath, hanging out in the frozen food aisle to see who else might show up because it’s too difficult to learn how to cook for one. I try to be optimistic but it’s mostly just widowers that even after years without still wear their wedding bands, or young men helping each other carry boxes of beers and jumbo Gatorade bottles because almost 30 will never mean the same thing to them as whatever it feels like it means to me.
Eventually, I make my way home with a week’s supply of yogurt to help swallow my pills even though the bottle advises me to lay off dairy. I listen to everyone in neighboring bars having the kind of fun I can’t remember how to have and cry in small spurts for people that I know I should be out of tears for and for reasons that really have no responses; itchy suddenly from my unwashed hair and untapped potential, perhaps. Closing the apartment door, I fill my stomach with an undercooked microwavable meal. I’ll end up throwing most of it out (which is a small improvement from not so long ago when I was throwing most of it up), and then I’ll drink water, because at least it will fill my empty holes and clear up my skin, because at least this all means that the knives spent one more day asleep in their protective sleeves.
Rachel A.G. Gilman (she/her) has been published in journals throughout the US, UK, and Australia. She's the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Creature, a columnist for No Contact, and was Editor-in-Chief of Columbia Journal, Issue 58. She holds an MFA in Writing, Nonfiction from Columbia University and an MSt in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford.
You can also find her on Twitter @rachelaggilman.