Several weeks ago, a girl I almost knew jumped off the George Washington Bridge. She grew up blocks away from me and went to the same middle school, a grade or two ahead. Our mothers once talked about therapists and treatment plans and I imagine bonded over having psychologically ill children.
My mother told me during dinner, her voice shaky, the edges of her soft face looking as if they were about to crumple. The words fell from her mouth and she stared at me with her glassy eyes, waiting for a response. I didn’t want to have one. I mumbled some generic form of condolence, hugged her, and went back to staring at my phone.
I scrolled through Facebook in the middle of the night and was instantly bombarded by images of her. Friends posted pictures, her green eyes gleaming, dark hair framing her face. Everyone becomes beautiful when they die tragically, but she always was. I read the notes people wrote, expressions of gratitude, sentimental anecdotes, and poetic excerpts.
I wanted to look away but I read every message and watched every video. This was not some sort of sick voyeurism; it was the crumbling of the web of lies I carefully built years ago. It was a sharp pull back to my early adolescence, to therapist’s couches and hospital stays, to moments I have pushed so far away I rarely regard them as my own.
I don’t talk about when I was sick. I’ve created stories that serve as bridges over the gaps in my life where illness took over and I’ve retold them enough that I usually believe them. I have the immense fortune to be well enough that I can choose to forget. I can eat too many scoops of real ice cream without panicking. I can lay in bed until noon on Sunday without feeling guilty for being lazy. I can look people directly in the eye instead of attempting to stare at the space between their brows.
When I turn 24 in a couple of months, it will mark 12 years since the last time I was hospitalized. Half my life ago. Since then, I’ve had my first kiss, graduated high school, navigated college, got hired, got fired, became hopelessly lost and somehow began to find myself again.
I’ve spent the last 12 years living for the experiences I missed, weaving moments together into a barrier for the past I did not want to be a part of. I’ve run miles in memories to distance myself from the person I once was. And in an instant, I was pulled all the way back, my carefully constructed wall crumbling to dust with the news of her death.
I’ll never understand how or why or even when I started getting better. It was imperceptibly gradual, like watching grass grow. There was never a moment when everything clicked, no epiphany that changed my behaviors. I don’t where I turned right and she turned left, how I escaped when she didn’t. But I do know that the time I have taken to distance myself from the trauma of my past has come to a close.
If the last 12 years were for running away, the next 12 will be for peeling back the bandages and unearthing the pieces of myself I hide. They’re for being a voice and a witness, for living not just for myself but for those still struggling and for those who once were. They’re for her, the girl I was almost friends with and the girl I almost became.
6 months from today, I will celebrate my 24th birthday during what will inevitably be a snowstorm, as it always is in New York in early February. I will blow out 25 candles, down (several) birthday shots, and eat a celebratory dinner at whatever new restaurant is trendy on Instagram at the time.
I will kiss my boyfriend, hug friends, and eat a slice of something decadent and chocolate-flavored. And finally, once the last goodbye is said and the remnants of the night’s smoky eye are wiped clean, I will look at myself in the bathroom mirror and marvel at the fact that somehow I made it here.
If you had asked me 12, or even 10 years ago, I certainly wouldn’t have thought I would.