The Struggle To Love Yourself

Catt Liu

Mel wants to apologize. She’s sitting on a couch in the dark, cycling through memories like they’re mirrors in a kaleidoscope, trying to find the one she’s certain she should be apologizing for. But the particulars elude her. Maybe she’s missing something? Maybe she’s making all of it up? She leans back into the couch cushions. There’s a dead bird inside her chest. A shadow crawls along the wall.

She wishes she knew. She wishes she was confident and strong and that she knew and that she could just trust herself. But she can’t, and she knows it, and that’s just the worst thing in the world.

***

A close second so far as worst things go is her inability to communicate. To articulate for others what it’s like inside her head, the nature of her struggle. One night she tries. She goes out with her friends to a dance club in the city. She drinks too much at the pregame and is the last to walk past the bouncer, who eyes her ID for an extra handful of seconds. She watches her friends tumble through the front door in a thicket of sleeveless tops and tinkling bracelets.

“I’m SO glad you made it out, Mel,” one of her friends bellows into her ear, inside the club. “We’ve been worried you didn’t like us!”

Mel assures her this isn’t so. She tells the friend she loves her and the rest of the girls and that they actually are more important to her than she can properly articulate at the moment, which is true. They speak for some time about what they’ve both been up to since they’d hung out last. Mel tells her that she’s been working, mostly, just super busy. She leaves out that she barely does anything at work anymore, and is currently in the midst of her fourth pass in as many weeks through David Foster Wallace’s The Depressed Person, which provides her with a weird kind of comfort every time.

Mel tells her friend that it feels good to be out with her again, too. Then, when the conversation’s over, she escapes to the bathroom. She locks the door behind her. For five minutes she stands at the sink, letting the water run over her hands. The grout lining the mirror looks wet, vaguely biotic, and the soap dispenser is broken. She takes a breath and frowns at her reflection, hating how there isn’t any soap, wanting desperately to wash the makeup off her face: she can feel the oil building up beneath her concealer, the layers of dirt accumulating on her forehead. She feels like she’s walked through a spider web and she can’t get it off. Bass thumps through the soles of her flats. The air is a bath of sweat drink puke and germs.

Mel starts to shake. This is what she can’t make her friends understand: how physical it is. How can she make them know? How do you communicate this? How it’s like walking through a spider web, caught in something that you can’t get out of. No, how it’s like sinking — sinking slowly into a hole laced with spider webs, a grave of proteinaceous silk. How do you explain that? She wants so badly to be normal, and good, and happy, to be a successful woman, whatever that actually means. But she’s not any of those things, and she knows it, and having to pretend that she is registers as the third worst thing. She turns off the water, dries her hands on her jeans, and cuts out into a cab, not saying bye to anyone.

***

A week later Mel’s sitting at a small wooden table fingering the rim of a pint glass, hair contained in an approximation of style, doing her best to maintain eye contact with a man she’s matched with on Tinder. Mel hates going on dates much like she hates going out to dance clubs, but she forces herself to, every once in a while, because she knows it’s important, putting herself out there. She believes it’s the only way to overcome the things about herself that are screwed up — like constantly resetting a broken watch. She doesn’t even like beer.

The man speaks at length about his company, which he’d started with the goal of blah blah blah. His voice drones like it’s storing data. Its total lack of rhythm has the effect of a sedative, encouraging a certain darkness, clouds of it blooming from the corners of her mind.

“What’s wrong?” the man asks her midway through his story.

“Nothing, nothing,” Mel says. “Tell me more about your app.”

***

She gets home that night and sits back on her couch, cycling once again through the kaleidoscope. It doesn’t occur to her that maybe the person she needs to be apologizing to is herself.

Is it like this for everyone? she wonders, instead. It’s just so fucking tiring, having to work so hard at loving yourself. She sits back and watches the shadows on the wall. They slink like stray cats across the plaster.

You can do this, she thinks. You can love yourself. You can be happy. Tomorrow she’ll keep trying.

With a conciliatory exhalation she leans over and picks up her book and starts reading.

“The depressed person was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating this pain was itself a component of the pain and a contributing factor in its essential horror.” — DFW, pg. 1. TC mark

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