24 November 2020

Content warning: Mental illness, self-harm, suicidal ideation, cannibalism, biological descriptions.

Dip my brain in iced water, dearestit is too hot.

I think it will hiss as it plunges, like a saucepan left on the stove for far too long, wisps of steam rising from the edges of the pail. Soap it well, leaving my brain in the lemony suds for weeks afterwards (for there is much poison to be drawn out) before drying it between the snow-white folds of your towel.

Is it done, dear heart? Has the ugliness gone, leaving me pudding-soft and cool to the touch?

No. No, of course not, how very stupid of me. As though it were that easy, as though my sickness were slight enough for ​soap and water to wash out.

Never mind. We will keep trying.

Do you remember us studying Greek tragedy at school? You never understood why I loved it so obsessively, why I learned whole verses by heart and recited them for comfort sometimes, like Bobby Kennedy after they blew Jack’s head off. Frankly, I would like nothing more than to be the plaything of some vengeful god, tangled in cosmic forces too insidious to overcome. I blame myself for ​everything​, you see, run over my nineteen years in my mind with a fine-toothed comb, finding ugliness because I am expecting to. What a relief then, if I suffer not because I am weak, but because I am fated to.

I know, I know that it’s silly of me to tell you all thisas if you could make me betterbut I just can’t help myself. I cling to you so hard it leaves your forearms red-gouged, hoping against hope that this might be it; it might be you; you might do what none of them could and heal me. God, I’m sorry. What an unfair, unasked-for burden to place upon your head, sweet boy. The cure is in the house, I must keep reminding myself. Not brought by other hands from distant places, but by its own, in agony and blood. I wonder if Aeschylus was right about that one, you know. Lord knows I’ve tried, but it’s just so hard.

So go into our garden for me. You know that my mind is always quiet in gardens, as it is in temples and by oceanssomething about the rich damp of the soil, that exquisite expanse of sky above. Carve off slabs of aloe; snip mint and mustard-flower; pick lavender and lemon-balm. Once your basket brims with feathery greens, grind it all into a thick paste in your mortar and pestle. Wrap my brain in a poultice, letting the herbs dye grey matter green, drawing out evil like pus from a wound.

Did that work? Oh. Well, we have no other choice, then. I’m afraid you must hurt me now.

Unspool each cortical fold—careful, now—and lay my unwound brain lengthwise upon your kitchen table. Run your hands against the rubbery surface, tugging this way and that, checking for deformities and mutations. For I am convinced there is something very wrong inside my twists and turns—there ​must ​be. Some hard little thing; a tumorous pebble leaking ugliness like an oil spill, muddying the clear blue waters of my mind. I imagine it will look a bit like chicken liver, the heart of my darkness, that it will pulse red-hot and alive against your skin. Kill it for me, will you? Stake it through like a vampire’s heart, bury it in some darkened corner of your garden, and return my quietened brain back into me. Perhaps that will break the curse; perhaps I will then be well.

Or perhaps I will never be well, which is what terrifies more than anything else. Oh, how I wish you knew what it felt like—what my mind tasted like. It can get terrible lonesome in there, and no words I have can explain how or why the irrational can feel so rational, why bleakness springs and swells on sun-yellow mornings, how the fear sometimes grows so sharp, so keen, I want to tear my flesh into ribbons and claw myself out from inside my body.

Fascinating, isn’t it, that humans cannot feel each other’s pain? You who I know best, you who have partaken in my body and my blood, even you will never feel my pain as you do your own. Now, this is of course as true for physical pain, but that comes with tangible reminders. I can press your fingers against my burning forehead, smear you in my blood and pus, show you black bruises against brown skin. This feels different. I ask you to believe me when I say this is as bad, if not worse—and you do believe me sweet boy, which is more than most have done—but in the doubtful pre-dawn dark, I sometimes wonder whether that is enough.

So do this for me, if you will. Taste me.

First, julienne thin strips from my frontal lobe, frying them until their edges crisp and centres turn a tender pink (no spice—I am best paired simply with salt, I think). Then roll me around on your tongueslowly, letting the flavours blossom.

Do you taste it? A decade of self-hate, pooling like rancid oil? The sour-milk tang of worry, of chewed lips, scratched arms and nails bitten to the quick? One particularly bitter, gristly bit from that time I lost something I had wanted so much, and decided—quite calmly, without any ceremony—that I should die? I wasn’t lying, you see. It really did hurt.

I want you to stand witness to my pain, to taste its every nuance and inflection, and to know how terribly, unspeakably cruel I have been to myself.

This at least you can do.

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