Main Girl in Pieces

Girl in Pieces

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Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge. A very long book but definitely worth the time. 
Categories:
Year:
2016
Publisher:
Random House Children’s Books
Language:
english
Pages:
416
ISBN 13:
9781101934715
File:
EPUB, 903 KB
Download (epub, 903 KB)

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8 comments
 
The Book Master
I loved the book, but this copy of it seemed to lack almost all punctuation.
13 January 2020 (07:25) 
lol
I really liked this book it was really emotional, although at the beginning I was kinda confused on what was happening but quickly figured it out
18 May 2021 (18:32) 
kai
love this book so much. very emotional
14 June 2021 (07:35) 
Elle
Ouchy, this one hurt. I stayed up all night reading it and I’m not sure if it was because I was so exhausted from staying up all night reading it or if it’s because this book just quite frankly gave me a major heart ouch, but I cried the whole day after finishing it. Don’t read this book if you don’t want your cold frozen heart to thaw out!
18 August 2021 (05:51) 
Kika
Really good book, I read it in 2 days because i really became obsessed with it. It´s really confusing in the beggining but as soon as you understand whats going on you fall in love with the story.
20 August 2021 (19:49) 
Jade
This book is amazing. By far my favorite book ever. She struggles and then helps herself and even makes new friends. It’s so inspiring read it rn!!!
18 September 2021 (03:43) 
hi
An absolutely beautiful book. My favourite, actually. It's so good, everyone should read it. I swear you will be moved by it ahhh !!!
23 September 2021 (13:19) 
Soggy_cereal
well gonna read it today! hope i dont break out haha
27 November 2021 (12:57) 

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1

Girl in Pieces

Año:
2016
Idioma:
english
Archivo:
MOBI , 3,29 MB
5.0 / 5.0
2

Disquieted Souls

Idioma:
english
Archivo:
PDF, 906 KB
0 / 0
PRAISE FOR




“Equal parts keen-eyed empathy, stark candor, and terrible beauty. This book is why we read stories: to experience what it’s like to survive the unsurvivable; to find light in the darkest night.”

—Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King

“Raw, visceral, and starkly beautiful, with writing that is at times transcendent in its brilliance, Girl in Pieces is a deeply affecting portrait of a young girl’s determination to survive in a world that has abandoned her and a mind that seeks the release of emotional suffering through physical pain. An unforgettable story of trauma and resilience.”

—Kerry Kletter, author of The First Time She Drowned

“A breathtakingly written book about pain and hard-won healing…I want every girl to read Girl in Pieces. Reading it is like removing your heart and leaving it in Glasgow’s very skilled hands.”

—Kara Thomas, author of The Darkest Corners

“Girl in Pieces has the breath of life; every character in it is fully alive. Charlie Davis’s complexities are drawn with great understanding and subtlety.”

—Charles Baxter, author of National Book Award finalist The Feast of Love

“Charlie Davis has been damaged and abused after several years of living on the streets, but she is fiercely resilient. Though it will appeal to readers of Ellen Foster, Speak, and Girl, Interrupted, Girl in Pieces is an entirely original work, compulsively readable and deeply human.”

—Julie Schumacher, author of the New York Times bestseller Dear Committee Members

“Kathleen Glasgow illuminates not only the anxiety of youth but the vulnerability and terror of life in general. Girl in Pieces hurts my heart in the best way possible.”

—Amanda Coplin, author of the New York Times bestseller The Orchardist

“Charlie Davis’s voice is diamond-beautiful and diamond-sharp, which, when strung together by a delicious story and memorable characters, creates a rare and powerful read. Kathleen Glasgow’s Girl in Pieces is a treasure of a novel.”

—Swati Avasthi, author of Split and Chasing Shadows

“An ex; traordinary coming-of-age story. An unsentimental and affecting tale of a girl who almost doesn’t make it to adulthood.”

—Summer Wood, author of Arroyo and Raising Wrecker

“Glasgow has written a Girl, Interrupted for a new generation. Her assured debut is a mad-girl story with new edges of intelligence, lyricism, and grit. From institutions to the streets to the secret razors we all keep, whether in our cupboards or our minds, the story of the mad girl is ultimately a story about being a girl in a mad world, how it breaks us into pieces and how we glue ourselves back together.”

—Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart and Abandon Me

“Dark, frank, and tender, Girl in Pieces keeps the reader electrified for its entire journey. You’re so uncertain whether Charlie will heal, so fully immersed in hoping she does.”

—Michelle Wildgen, author of Bread and Butter and You’re Not You





This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2016 by Kathleen Glasgow

Cover art copyright © 2016 by Jennifer Heuer

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

Visit us on the Web! randomhouseteens.com

Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at RHTeachersLibrarians.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Glasgow, Kathleen.

Title: Girl in pieces / Kathleen Glasgow.

Description: First edition. | New York : Delacorte Press, [2016] | Summary: As she struggles to recover and survive, seventeen-year-old homeless Charlotte “Charlie” Davis cuts herself to dull the pain of abandonment and abuse.

Identifiers: LCCN 2015044136 | ISBN 978-1-101-93471-5 (hardback) | ISBN 978-1-101-93472-2 (el) | ISBN 978-1-101-93473-9 (glb)

Subjects: | CYAC: Emotional problems—Fiction. | Survival—Fiction. | Cutting (Self-mutilation)—Fiction. | Abandoned children—Fiction. | Sexual abuse—Fiction. | Homeless persons—Fiction. | BISAC: JUVENILE FICTION / Social Issues / Physical & Emotional Abuse (see also Social Issues / Sexual Abuse). | JUVENILE FICTION / Girls & Women. | JUVENILE FICTION / Social Issues / Emotions & Feelings.

Classification: LCC PZ7.1.G587 Gi 2016 | DDC [Fic]—dc23

ebook ISBN 9781101934722

ISBN 9781524700805 (intl. tr. pbk.)

ebook ISBN 9781101934722

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v4.1

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Contents


Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication



Part One

Chapter 1



Chapter 2



Chapter 3



Chapter 4



Chapter 5



Chapter 6



Chapter 7



Chapter 8



Chapter 9



Chapter 10



Chapter 11



Chapter 12



Chapter 13



Chapter 14



Chapter 15



Chapter 16



Chapter 17



Chapter 18



Chapter 19



Chapter 20



Chapter 21



Chapter 22



Chapter 23



Chapter 24



Chapter 25



Chapter 26



Chapter 27



Chapter 28



Chapter 29



Chapter 30



Chapter 31



Chapter 32



Chapter 33



Chapter 34



Chapter 35



Chapter 36



Chapter 37



Chapter 38



Chapter 39



Chapter 40



Chapter 41



Chapter 42



Chapter 43



Chapter 44



Chapter 45



Chapter 46





Part Two

Chapter 1



Chapter 2



Chapter 3



Chapter 4



Chapter 5



Chapter 6



Chapter 7



Chapter 8



Chapter 9



Chapter 10



Chapter 11



Chapter 12



Chapter 13



Chapter 14



Chapter 15



Chapter 16



Chapter 17



Chapter 18



Chapter 19



Chapter 20



Chapter 21



Chapter 22



Chapter 23



Chapter 24



Chapter 25



Chapter 26



Chapter 27



Chapter 28



Chapter 29



Chapter 30



Chapter 31



Chapter 32



Chapter 33



Chapter 34



Chapter 35



Chapter 36



Chapter 37



Chapter 38



Chapter 39



Chapter 40



Chapter 41



Chapter 42



Chapter 43



Chapter 44



Chapter 45



Chapter 46



Chapter 47



Chapter 48





Part Three

Chapter 1



Chapter 2



Chapter 3



Chapter 4



Chapter 5



Chapter 6



Chapter 7



Chapter 8



Chapter 9



Chapter 10



Chapter 11



Chapter 12



Chapter 13



Chapter 14



Chapter 15



Chapter 16



Chapter 17



Chapter 18



Chapter 19



Chapter 20



Chapter 21



Chapter 22



Chapter 23



Chapter 24





Author’s Note

Getting Help

Acknowledgments

About the Author





For my mother, M.E.,

and my sister, Weasie





ONE




I can never win with this body I live in.

—Belly, “Star”





Like a baby harp seal, I’m all white. My forearms are thickly bandaged, heavy as clubs. My thighs are wrapped tightly, too; white gauze peeks out from the shorts Nurse Ava pulled from the lost and found box behind the nurses’ station.

Like an orphan, I came here with no clothes. Like an orphan, I was wrapped in a bedsheet and left on the lawn of Regions Hospital in the freezing sleet and snow, blood seeping through the flowered sheet.

The security guard who found me was bathed in menthol cigarettes and the flat stink of machine coffee. There was a curly forest of white hair inside his nostrils.

He said, “Holy Mother of God, girl, what’s been done to you?”

My mother didn’t come to claim me.

But: I remember the stars that night. They were like salt against the sky, like someone spilled the shaker against very dark cloth.

That mattered to me, their accidental beauty. The last thing I thought I might see before I died on the cold, wet grass.





The girls here, they try to get me to talk. They want to know What’s your story, morning glory? Tell me your tale, snail. I hear their stories every day in Group, at lunch, in Crafts, at breakfast, at dinner, on and on. These words that spill from them, black memories, they can’t stop. Their stories are eating them alive, turning them inside out. They cannot stop talking.

I cut all my words out. My heart was too full of them.





I room with Louisa. Louisa is older and her hair is like a red-and-gold noisy ocean down her back. There’s so much of it, she can’t even keep it in with braids or buns or scrunchies. Her hair smells like strawberries; she smells better than any girl I’ve ever known. I could breathe her in forever.

My first night here, when she lifted her blouse to change for bed, in the moment before that crazy hair fell over her body like a protective cape, I saw them, all of them, and I sucked my breath in hard.

She said, “Don’t be scared, little one.”

I wasn’t scared. I’d just never seen a girl with skin like mine.





Every moment is spoken for. We are up at six o’clock. We are drinking lukewarm coffee or watered-down juice by six forty-five. We have thirty minutes to scrape cream cheese on cardboardy bagels, or shove pale eggs in our mouths, or swallow lumpy oatmeal. At seven fifteen we can shower in our rooms. There are no doors on our showers and I don’t know what the bathroom mirrors are, but they’re not glass, and your face looks cloudy and lost when you brush your teeth or comb your hair. If you want to shave your legs, a nurse or an orderly has to be present, but no one wants that, and so our legs are like hairy-boy legs. By eight-thirty we’re in Group and that’s when the stories spill, and the tears spill, and some girls yell and some girls groan, but I just sit, sit, and that awful older girl, Blue, with the bad teeth, every day, she says, Will you talk today, Silent Sue? I’d like to hear from Silent Sue today, wouldn’t you, Casper?

Casper tells her to knock it off. Casper tells us to breathe, to make accordions by spreading our arms way, way out, and then pushing in, in, in, and then pulling out, out, out, and don’t we feel better when we just breathe? Meds come after Group, then Quiet, then lunch, then Crafts, then Individual, which is when you sit with your doctor and cry some more, and then at five o’clock there’s dinner, which is more not-hot food, and more Blue: Do you like macaroni and cheese, Silent Sue? When you getting those bandages off, Sue? And then Entertainment. After Entertainment, there is Phone Call, and more crying. And then it’s nine p.m. and more meds and then it’s bed. The girls piss and hiss about the schedule, the food, Group, the meds, everything, but I don’t care. There’s food, and a bed, and it’s warm, and I am inside, and I am safe.

My name is not Sue.





Jen S. is a nicker: short, twiglike scars run up and down her arms and legs. She wears shiny athletic shorts; she’s taller than anyone, except Doc Dooley. She dribbles an invisible basketball up and down the beige hallway. She shoots at an invisible hoop. Francie is a human pincushion. She pokes her skin with knitting needles, sticks, pins, whatever she can find. She has angry eyes and she spits on the floor. Sasha is a fat girl full of water: she cries in Group, she cries at meals, she cries in her room. She’ll never be drained. She’s a plain cutter: faint red lines crosshatch her arms. She doesn’t go deep. Isis is a burner. Scabby, circular mounds dot her arms. There was something in Group about rope and boy cousins and a basement but I shut myself off for that; I turned up my inside music. Blue is a fancy bird with her pain; she has a little bit of everything: bad daddy, meth teeth, cigarette burns, razor slashes. Linda/Katie/Cuddles wears grandma housedresses. Her slippers are stinky. There are too many of her to keep track of; her scars are all on the inside, along with her people. I don’t know why she’s with us, but she is. She smears mashed potato on her face at dinner. Sometimes she vomits for no reason. Even when she is completely still, you know there is a lot happening inside her body, and that it’s not good.

I knew people like her on the outside; I stay away from her.





Sometimes I can’t breathe in this goddamn place; my chest feels like sand. I don’t understand what’s happening. I was too cold and too long outside. I can’t understand the clean sheets, the sweet-smelling bedspread, the food that sits before me in the cafeteria, magical and warm. I start to panic, shake, choke, and Louisa, she comes up very close to me in our room, where I’m wedged into the corner. Her breath on my face is tea-minty. She cups my cheek and even that makes me flinch. She says, “Little one, you’re with your people.”





The room is too quiet, so I walk the halls at night. My lungs hurt. I move slowly.

Everything is too quiet. I trace a finger along the walls. I do this for hours. I know they’re thinking about putting me on sleep meds after my wounds heal and I can be taken off antibiotics, but I don’t want them to. I need to be awake and aware.

He could be anywhere. He could be here.





Louisa is like the queen. She’s been here, this time, forever. She tells me, “I was the very first fucking girl here, back when they opened, for God’s sake.” She’s always writing in a black-and-white composition book; she never comes to Group. Most of the girls wear yoga pants and T-shirts, sloppy things, but Louisa dresses up every day: black tights and shiny flats, glamorous thrift-store dresses from the forties, her hair always done up in some dramatic way or another. She has suitcases stuffed with scarves, filmy nightgowns, creamy makeup, blood-red tubes of lipstick. Louisa is like a visitor who has no plans to leave.

She tells me she sings in a band. “But my nervousness,” she says softly. “My problem, it gets in the way.”

Louisa has burns in concentric circles on her belly. She has rootlike threads on the insides of her arms. Her legs are burned and carved in careful, clean patterns. Tattoos cover her back.

Louisa is running out of room.





Casper starts every Group the same way. The accordion exercise, the breathing, stretching your neck, reaching to your toes. Casper is tiny and soft. She wears clogs with elfish, muted heels. All the other doctors here have clangy, sharp shoes that make a lot of noise, even on carpet. She is pale. Her eyes are enormous, round, and very blue. There are no jagged edges to Casper.

She looks around at us, her face settling into a gentle smile. She says, “Your job here is you. We are all here to get better, aren’t we?”

Which means: we are all presently shit.

But we knew that already.





Her name isn’t really Casper. They call her that because of those big blue eyes, and the fact that she’s so quiet. Like a ghost, she appears at our bedsides some mornings to take Chart, her warm fingers sliding just an inch or so down the hem of my bandages to reach my pulse. Her chin doubles adorably as she looks down at me in bed. Like a ghost, she appears suddenly behind me in the hallway, smiling as I turn in surprise: How are you?

She has an enormous tank in her office with a fat, slow turtle that paddles and paddles, paddles and paddles, barely making any headway. I watch that poor fucker all the time, I could watch him for hours and days, I find him so incredibly patient at a task that ultimately means nothing, because it’s not like he’s getting out of the fucking tank anytime soon, right?

And Casper just watches me watch him.





Casper smells nice. She’s always clean, her clothes rustle softly. She never raises her voice. She rubs Sasha’s back when she sobs so hard she chokes. She positions her arms around Linda/Katie/Cuddles like a goalie or something when one of the bad people breaks free. I’ve seen her in Blue’s room, even, on the days Blue gets an enormous box of books from her mother, pawing through the paperbacks and smiling at Blue. I’ve seen Blue melt a little, just a little, at this smile.

Casper should be someone’s mother. She should be my mother.





We’re never in darkness. Every room has lights in the walls that ping on at four p.m. and ping off at six a.m. They’re small, but bright. Louisa doesn’t like light. Scratchy curtains cover the windows and she makes sure to pull them shut, tightly, every night before bed, to block out the squares of yellow from the office building next door. Then she drapes the bedsheet over her head for good measure.

Tonight, as soon as she’s asleep, I kick the sheets off and pull the curtains apart. Maybe I’m looking for the salt stars. I don’t know.

I pee in the metal toilet, watching the silent lump of Louisa beneath her pile of covers. In the weird mirror, my hair looks like snakes. I squeeze the mats and dreads in my fingers. My hair still smells like dirt and concrete, attic and dust, and makes me feel sick.

How long have I been here? I am waking from something. From somewhere. A dark place.

The bulbs in the hallway ceiling are like bright, long rivers. I peek into the rooms as I walk. Only Blue is awake, holding her paperback all the way up to the ping-light to see.

No doors, no lamps, no glass, no razors, only soft, spoonable food, and barely warm coffee. There’s no way to hurt yourself here.

I feel jangly and loose inside, waiting at the nurses’ station, drumming my fingers on the countertop. I ding the little bell. It sounds horrible and loud in the quiet hall.

Barbero rounds the corner, his mouth full of something crunchy. He frowns when he sees me. Barbero is a thick-necked former wrestler from Menominee. He still has a whiff of ointment and adhesive. He only likes pretty girls. I can tell, because Jen S. is very pretty, with her long legs and freckled nose, and he’s always smiling at her. She’s the only one he ever smiles at.

He puts his feet up on the desk and pops some potato chips into his mouth. “You,” he says, salty bits fluttering from his lips to his blue scrubs. “What the fuck do you want at this time of night?”

I take the pad of sticky notes and a pen from the countertop and write quickly. I hold up the sticky note. HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN HERE?

He looks at the sticky note. He shakes his head. “Uh-uh. Ask.”

I write, NO. TELL ME.

“No can do, Silent Sue.” Barbero crumples the chip bag and stuffs it into the trash. “You’re gonna have to open that fucked-up little mouth of yours and use your big-girl voice.”

Barbero thinks I’m afraid of him, but I’m not. There’s only one person I’m afraid of, and he’s far away, on the whole other side of the river, and he can’t get to me here.

I don’t think he can get to me, anyway.

Another sticky note. JUST TELL ME, YOU OAF. My hands are shaking a little, though, as I hold it up.

Barbero laughs. Chips clot the spaces between his teeth.

Sparks go off behind my eyes and my inside music gets very loud. My skin numbs as I walk away from the nurses’ station. I’d like to breathe, like Casper says, but I can’t, that won’t work, not for me, not once I get angry and the music starts. Now my skin isn’t numb but positively itches as I roam, roam, looking, looking, and when I find it and turn around, Barbero’s not laughing anymore. He’s Oh, shit-ing and ducking.

The plastic chair bounces off the nurses’ station. The container holding the pens with plastic flowers taped to them falls to the floor, the pens fanning out across the endless beige carpet. The endless, everywhere beige carpet. I start to kick the station, which is bad, because I have no shoes, but the pain feels good, so I keep doing it. Barbero is up now, but I grab the chair again and he holds out his hands, all Calm down, you crazy fucker. But he says it really soft. Like, maybe he’s a little afraid of me now. And I don’t know why, but this makes me even angrier.

I’m raising the chair again when Doc Dooley shows up.





If Casper is disappointed in me, she doesn’t show it. She just watches me watch the turtle, and the turtle does his thing. I’d like to be that turtle, underwater, quiet, no one around. What a fucking peaceful life that turtle has.

Casper says, “To answer the question that you asked Bruce last night: you have been at Creeley Center for six days. You were treated in the hospital and kept for observation for seven days before they transferred you here. Did you know you had walking pneumonia? Well, you still have it, but the antibiotics should help.”

She picks up something chunky from her desk and slides it to me. It’s one of those desk calendars. I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but then I see it, at the top of the page.

April. It’s the middle of April.

Casper says, “You just missed Easter at Creeley. You were a little out of it. You didn’t miss much. We can’t really have a giant bunny hopping around a psych ward, can we?” She smiles. “Sorry. That’s a little therapist humor. We did have an egg hunt, though. Thanksgiving is a lot more fun around here: dry turkey, lumpy gravy. Good times.”

I know she’s trying to cheer me up, get me to talk. I slide my face to her but as soon as I meet her eyes, I feel the fucking sting of tears and so I look back at the stupid turtle. I feel like I’m waking up and going back into my darkness, all at once.

Casper leans forward. “Do you remember being in Regions Hospital at all?”

I remember the security guard and the forest of hair inside his nose. I remember lights above me, bright as suns, the sound of beeping that never seemed to stop. I remember wanting to kick out when hands were on me, when they were cutting away my clothes and boots. I remember how heavy my lungs felt, as though they were filled with mud.

I remember being so scared that Fucking Frank was going to appear in the doorway and take me away, back to Seed House, to the room where the girls cried.

I remember crying. I remember the splatter of my vomit on a nurse’s shoes, and the way her face never changed, not once, like it happened to her all the time, and I wished my eyes to tell her sorry, because I had no words, and how her face didn’t change then, either.

Then nothing. Nothing. Until Louisa.

Casper says, “It’s all right if you can’t remember. Our subconscious is spectacularly agile. Sometimes it knows when to take us away, as a kind of protection. I hope that makes sense.”

I wish I knew how to tell her that my subconscious is broken, because it never took me away when Fucking Frank was threatening me, or when that man tried to hurt me in the underpass.

My broken big toe throbs beneath its splint and the weird foot-bootie Doc Dooley put me in. Now, when I walk, I really am a crazy freak, with my nesty hair and my clubby arms and trussed-up legs and limp.

What’s going to happen to me?

Casper says, “I think you need a project.”





It isn’t true that I want to be like the turtle and be alone. What’s true is that I want Ellis back, but she can never come back, ever, ever. Not the way she was, anyway. And it’s true that I miss Mikey and DannyBoy, and I even miss Evan and Dump, and sometimes I miss my mother, even though missing her feels more like anger than sadness, like I feel when I think about Ellis, and even that, really, isn’t true, because while I say sadness what I really mean is black hole inside me filled with nails and rocks and broken glass and the words I don’t have anymore.

Ellis, Ellis.





And while it’s true that my clothes are from the lost and found, it isn’t entirely true that I have nothing, because I do have something, they just keep it from me. I saw it once, when Doc Dooley told me to stop watching the movie during Entertainment and come to the nurses’ station. When I got there, he pulled a backpack, my backpack, from beneath the desk. Doc Dooley is super tall, and handsome, the kind of handsome where you know he knows how handsome he is, and that his life is that much easier for it, and so he tends to be kind of easygoing with the rest of us, the unhandsome. So when he said, “Two boys dropped this off. Does this look familiar to you?” I was momentarily blinded by the whiteness of his teeth, and fascinated by the velvety quality of his stubble.

I grabbed my pack and sank to my knees, unzipping it, shoving my hands inside. It was there. I cradled it, sighing in relief, because Doc Dooley said, “Don’t get excited. We emptied it.”

I took out my tender kit, the army medical kit that I’d found when I was fourteen and trolling the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store on West Seventh with Ellis. The metal box was dented, the large red cross on the front was scratched and losing its paint.

My tender kit used to hold everything: my ointment, my gauze, my pieces of broken mason jar in a blue velvet pouch, my cigarettes, my matches and lighter, buttons, bracelets, money, my photos wrapped in linen.

The box made no sound when I shook it. I dug deeper in the green backpack, but it, too, was dark and empty. No extra socks and underwear, no rolls of toilet paper, no film canister filled with panhandled cash, no pills in a baggie, no rolled-up-tight wool blanket. My sketchpad was missing. My bag of pens and charcoals was gone. My Land Camera, gone. I looked up at Doc Dooley.

“We had to take everything out, for your safety.” He offered his hand to me, and even his hand was handsome, with slender fingers and buffed nails. I ignored it, standing up by myself, clutching my tender kit and the backpack tightly. “You have to give the bag and the box back. We’ll keep them for you until you’re discharged.”

He reached out and tugged the backpack away, slipped my tender kit from my hand. He put them behind the desk. “But you can have these.”

Doc Dooley pressed the square of linen into my hands. Inside, protected by the soft fabric, are photographs of us: me and Ellis, Mikey and DannyBoy, perfect and together, before everything blew to hell.

As I walked away, pressing the photographs to my chest, Doc Dooley called out, “Those boys, they said they were sorry.”

I kept walking, but inside, I felt myself pause, just for a second.





My photographs are what I’m doing when Jen S. comes to find me the night after the toe incident: thumbing through them, greedy like I always am when I let myself think of Ellis, poring over the black-and-white images of the four of us in the graveyard, posing stupid like rock stars, cigarettes in the corners of our mouths, DannyBoy’s harelip almost invisible, Ellis’s acne hardly noticeable. DannyBoy always said people looked better in black-and-white and he was right. The photos are small and square; the Land Camera was old, something from the sixties, the first kind of Polaroid. My grandmother gave it to me. It had bellows and made me feel cool. We found some film at the camera store by Macalester College. It was a cartridge, and you slipped it into the camera, took the picture, ripped the film strip from the side, and set the little round timer. When it buzzed, you peeled back the film and there we were, old-timey and neat-looking in black-and-white, Ellis so beautiful with her black hair. And there was me, dumb little me, arms folded across my chest in my holey sweater and my hair all ratty, dyed red and blue in the real, color world, but muddy-looking in black-and-white. Who could look anything but gross next to Ellis?

“Cool.” Jen S. reaches down, but I wrap the photos back up in the linen and slide them under my pillow.

“Dude,” she sighs. “Okay, whatever. Come on, then, Barbero’s waiting in Rec. We’ve got a surprise for you.”

In Rec, the smell of popcorn clings to the room from the movie we watched earlier; the empty bowl rests on a circular table. Jen licks her finger and swipes the bowl, sucking off salt and bits of congealed butter. She makes oinking sounds. Barbero’s floppy lips curl. “Schumacher,” he says. “You kill me.” She shrugs, flicking her wet finger against the hem of her baggy green T-shirt.

She digs in one of the several “everything” bins, looking for her favorite deck of cards. The colorful bins are stacked on top of each other against the ivory walls of Rec. They hold playing cards, frayed boxes of crayons, markers, games.

A bank of three computers is tucked against one wall. Barbero fires one up and shoos his fingers at me while he enters the password.

“Here’s the deal, crazy.” Barbero flings a booklet at me. I have to bend to pick it up. He starts typing. ALTERNA-LEARN. THE RIGHT PLACE FOR YOU pops up on the page. “The good doctor thinks you need something to do to curb your anger issues, of which there are apparently many, and also your weird habit of not sleeping. So, looks like it’s back to school for you, dumbass.”

I look over at Jen S., who grins wildly while shuffling the cards. “I get to be your teacher,” she giggles.

Barbero snaps his fingers in my face. “FO-CUS. I’m over here! Here.”

I glare at him.

Barbero ticks off his fingers. “Here’s the deal: don’t look at anything but the school site. Don’t look at your Facebook, your Twitter, your email, anything at all but the school pages. Your friend Schumacher here has volunteered to be your teacher and she’ll check your quizzes and all that shit when you finish a lesson.”

He looks at me. I stare back. “You don’t wanna do it,” he says, “the good doctor says you have to start taking meds at night to sleep and I have a feeling you don’t wanna do that. She’d rather have you in here than creeping down the halls like you do. Because that’s fucking weird.”

I don’t want drugs, especially at night, when I’m most scared and need to be alert. Doctors filled me up from the time I was eight until I was thirteen. Ritalin didn’t work. I bounced off walls and stabbed a pencil in the cloudlike flab of Alison Jablonsky’s belly. Adderall made me shit my pants in eighth grade; my mother kept me home the rest of the year. She left lunch for me under plastic wrap in the refrigerator: spongy meat loaf sandwiches, smelly egg salad on soggy toast. Zoloft was like swallowing very heavy air and not being able to exhale for days. Most of the girls here are doped to the gills, accepting their pill cups with pissy resignation.

I sit in the chair and type my name in the YOUR NAME HERE box.

“Good choice, freak.”

“Jesus, Bruce,” Jen says, exasperated. “Did you skip that day in nursing school when they explained bedside manner?”

“I got bedside manner, baby. Let me know when you wanna try it.” He flops on the creaky brown Rec couch and pulls his iPod from his pocket.

One whole wall of Rec is a long window. The curtains have been opened. It’s dark outside, after ten o’clock. Our wing is four stories up; I can hear the whoosh of cars in the rain down on Riverside Avenue. If I do school, it will make Casper happy with me. The last time I was in school, I was kicked out the middle of junior year. That feels like a lifetime ago.

I peer at the screen and try to read a paragraph, but all I can see are the words fucker and pussy bitch scrawled on my locker door. I can taste the tang of toilet water in my mouth, feel myself struggling to get free, hands on my neck and laughter. My fingers tingle and my chest feels tight. After I got kicked out of school, everything went haywire. Even more than before.

I look around Rec. Like a fussy little mouse, thoughts of who’s paying for this nibble at my brain, but I push them away. My mother cooked meat loaf with onions and ketchup and hills of mash on the side, in a diner for years, before even that went away. We aren’t people with money; we’re people who dig for change at the bottoms of purses and backpacks and eat plain noodles with butter four nights a week. Thinking about how I’m able to stay here makes me anxious and afraid.

I think, I’m inside and warm and I can do this if it means I get to stay. That’s what matters right now. Following the rules so I can stay inside.

Jen’s fingers shuffle and flutter the cards. It sounds like birds rushing to empty a tree.





Casper asks, “How do you feel?”

Every day, she asks me this. One day a week, someone else asks me—Doc Dooley, maybe, if he’s pulling a day shift, or the raspy-voiced, stiff-haired doctor with too-thick mascara. I think her name is Helen. I don’t like her; she makes me feel cold inside. One day a week, on Sundays, no one asks us how we’re feeling and that makes some of us feel lost. Jen S. will say, mockingly, “I am having too many feelings! I need someone to hear my feelings!”

Casper waits. I can feel her waiting. I make a decision.

I write down what it feels like and push the paper across Casper’s desk. My body is on fire all the time, burning me away day and night. I have to cut the black heat out. When I clean myself, wash and mend, I feel better. Cooler inside and calm. Like moss feels, when you get far back in the woods.

What I don’t write is: I’m so lonely in the world I want to peel all of my flesh off and walk, just bone and gristle, straight into the river, to be swallowed, just like my father.

Before he got sicker, my father used to take me on long drives to the north. We would park the car and walk the trails deep into the fragrant firs and lush spruces, so far that sometimes it seemed like night because there were so many trees, you couldn’t see the sky. I was small then and I stumbled a lot on stones, landing on mounds of moss. My fingers on the cold, comforting moss always stayed inside me. My father could walk for hours. He said, “I just want it to be quiet.” And we walked and walked, looking for that quiet place. The forest is not as quiet as everyone thinks.

After he died, my mother was like a crab: she tucked everything inside and left only her shell.

Casper finishes reading and folds the paper neatly, sliding it into a binder on her desk. “Cool moss.” She smiles. “That isn’t a bad way to feel. If only we could get you there without hurting yourself. How can we do that?”

Casper always has blank sheets of paper on her desk for me. I write, then push it to her. She frowns. She pulls a folder from her drawer and runs her fingers down a page.

“No, I don’t see a sketchbook on the list of items from your backpack.” She looks at me.

I make a little sound. My sketchbook had everything, my own little world. Drawings of Ellis, of Mikey, the little comics I would make about the street, about me and Evan and Dump.

I can feel my fingers tingling. I just need to draw. I need to bury myself. I make another little sound.

Casper closes the folder. “Let me talk to Miss Joni. Let’s see what she can do.”





My father was cigarettes and red-and-white cans of beer. He was dirty white T-shirts and a brown rocking chair and blue eyes and scratchy cheek stubble and “Oh, Misty,” when my mother would frown at him. He was days of not getting out of that chair, of me on the floor by his feet, filling paper with suns, houses, cats’ faces, in crayon and pencil and pen. He was days of not changing those T-shirts, of sometimes silence and sometimes too much laughter, a strange laughter that seemed to crack him from the inside until there wasn’t laughter, but crying, and tears that bled along my face as I climbed up and rocked with him, back and forth, back and forth, heartbeat heartbeat heartbeat as the light changed outside, as the world grew darker around us.





Louisa says, “You’re so quiet. I’m so glad they put somebody quiet with me. You’ve no idea how tedious it is, listening to somebody talk out loud all the time.”

She’d been silent for so long, I thought she was sleeping.

Louisa says, “I mean, I’m talking to you, do you know that? In my head, I mean. I’m telling you all sorts of things in my head, because you seem like you’re a good listener. But I don’t want to take up your thinking space. If that makes sense.”

She makes a sleepy sound. Mmmmm. Then, “I’m going to tell you my whole story. You’re a good egg, a keeper.”

A good egg, a keeper, a good egg, a keeper—a cutter’s nursery song.





In Group, Casper doesn’t like us to say cut or cutting or burn or stab. She says it doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it: it’s all the same. You could drink, slice, do meth, snort coke, burn, cut, stab, slash, rip out your eyelashes, or fuck till you bleed and it’s all the same thing: self-harm. She says: whether someone has hurt you or made you feel bad or unworthy or unclean, rather than taking the rational step of realizing that person is an asshole or a psycho and should be shot or strung up and you should stay the fuck away from them, instead we internalize our abuse and begin to blame and punish ourselves and weirdly, once you start cutting or burning or fucking because you feel so shitty and unworthy, your body starts to release this neat-feeling shit called endorphins and you feel so fucking high the world is like cotton candy at the best and most colorful state fair in the world, only bloody and stuffed with infection. But the fucked-up part is once you start self-harming, you can never not be a creepy freak, because your whole body is now a scarred and charred battlefield and nobody likes that on a girl, nobody will love that, and so all of us, every one, is screwed, inside and out. Wash, rinse, fucking repeat.





I’m trying to follow the rules. I’m trying to go where I’m supposed to go when I’m supposed to go there and sit like a good girl even though I don’t say anything because my throat is filled with nails. I’m trying to follow the rules because to not follow the rules means to risk OUTSIDE.





When Doc Dooley told me two boys dropped off my backpack? Those boys, once, twice, I guess, saved me. And when he said they said to tell me they were sorry? I’ve been thinking about that.

Evan and Dump. Were they sorry they saved me from the man in the underpass who was trying to mess with me? Were they sorry when the winter turned so fucking cold here in Minnie-Soh-Tah that they couldn’t NOT take all three of us to live with Fucking Frank? I was sick. We couldn’t live outside in the van any longer. Evan needed his drugs. Dump went where Evan went. Were they sorry I wouldn’t do what Fucking Frank asked? (What he wanted all the girls in Seed House to do, if they wanted to stay.) Were they sorry they didn’t let me die in the attic of Seed House?

Sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry.

I cut that word out, too, but it keeps growing back, tougher and meaner.





Louisa doesn’t come to Group. Louisa meets with Casper in the evenings. Louisa has phone calls at night; she presses herself against the wall in Rec, twirls the cord between her fingers, the toe of her glittery ballet flat petting the carpet delicately. Louisa can come and go as she pleases, she doesn’t need a Day Pass. Louisa whispers in the dark, “I need to tell you, you aren’t the same as us, you know? Look around. These sheets, this bed, our meds, the doctors. Everything here speaks money. Are you listening?”

Her bed creaks as she shifts, leans on her elbow to face me. In the half-light, her eyes are egg-shaped, shadowed underneath.

“You need to prepare yourself, is all I’m saying.”

But I let her words glide over me, smooth and warm. She turns away. Money, money. I don’t want to think about where it’s coming from or where it isn’t.

I just want her to go back to sleep, so I can eat the turkey sandwich I’ve hidden beneath my bed.





The door to Group whooshes open. Casper sidles in, takes the seat next to Sasha, who wriggles and smiles at her like a puppy. Casper’s wearing brown pants and her elf clogs. There’s a red bandanna like a headband in her yellowy hair. Moon earrings, pink cheeks, she’s a goddamn rainbow.

I wonder what she was like in high school. She must have been a good girl, the kind that holds her books over her tits, always has nice combed hair, bites her lips when she takes a test. Probably on yearbook, or math team, maybe debate.

But there must be something else, something under Casper’s scrubbed surface that we can’t see, like a hidden hurt, a tender secret or something, because why the fuck would she make being with us her goddamn life?

She passes out paper and markers and we tense up. When we have to write, we know Group will be rough. She makes us put the pens and paper on the floor, do our accordion breathing. I can’t concentrate. I’m watching the clock on the wall; I get to leave early. Today I get my bandages off. The thought of it makes my stomach flutter.

Casper says, “I’d like you to write down what you say to yourself before you harm.”

Blue groans out loud, runs her tongue across her mouth, flexes her naked feet. She never wears shoes. Silver rings glisten on three of her toes. From across the circle, she looks as young as any of us, but up close, in dining hall, or Rec, you can see the hard grooves at the corners of her eyes. I haven’t drawn in such a long time, I hardly ever go to Crafts, and looking at Blue is hard because she makes me ache for my pencils and charcoals. There’s a something in her that I want to put on paper.

I don’t write anything at first, I just make little lines with my red marker and then I sneak looks at Blue, to sketch her, lightly, faintly. It feels good, my fingers holding the marker, feeling my way around her cattish eyes, the fullness of her mouth. It’s a little awkward, pressing the paper against my thighs, but it’s like my fingers never forgot what to do. Like they’ve been waiting for me to come back.

Blue’s mouth is so full. My own lips are kind of thin. Ellis would say, You have to accentuate. Take my chin in her fingers, press the cool lipstick to my mouth. But it never worked. It never looked right on me. I didn’t see someone with a beautiful mouth. I saw someone who had lipstick on the skin of her face.

My brain starts to circle, circle, even as I keep drawing Blue. There are things happening that I don’t want to think about, not right now. Words happening, like sorry and attic and underpass and hurting me.

Sasha sniffles. Francie clears her throat.

My pen writes OUT. GET IT OUT. CUT IT ALL OUT. I put a big red X over the drawing of Blue’s face, crumple up the paper, shove it under my thigh.

“Isis.” Casper folds her hands, waits for Isis to read from her paper.

Isis picks at her nostrils, her face reddening. “Okay,” she says finally. She says, so softly it’s almost a whisper, “Why can’t you ever just fucking learn? This will teach you.” She squeezes her eyes shut.

Francie says, “Nobody. Blank. Who cares.” Rips her paper in half.

Sasha’s body is so warm from crying a weird heat shimmers off her and I shift my chair a little away. I can feel Blue’s eyes on me.

Sasha looks down at her paper and chokes out, “You. Fat. Ass. Fuck.”

Bird-quick, Blue is up and across the circle, yanking the paper from beneath my thigh. She glares at me from the middle of the circle.

Casper looks at her evenly. “Blue.” A warning.

Blue uncrumples the paper, smooths it flat. As she scrutinizes it, a smile spreads across her face, slowly. “Is this me? This is pretty good, Silent Sue. I like that you Xed me out.”

She shows the paper to the group. “She erased me.” She crumples the paper back up and tosses it in my lap. I let it fall to the floor. On her way back to her seat, she tells Casper, “She said it better than I could. That’s pretty much what goes through my head when I self-harm. Erase me.”

Casper turns to Sasha, but before she can start, Blue interrupts her. “You know, Doctor, it’s very unfair.”

“What’s unfair?” Casper regards Blue. My face starts to heat up. I look at the clock. Just a few minutes to go before I can get up and leave, get these clubs off.

“She never has to say anything. We all have to talk, spill our fucking guts out, and she doesn’t have to say shit. Maybe we’re like a little comedy show for her.”

“Group is voluntary, Blue. If a member doesn’t want to speak, she doesn’t have to. In Char—”

“Tell everybody what you wrote on your paper, there, Silent Sue,” Blue says. “No? Okay, I will. She wrote, Out. Out, cut it all out. Cut what out, Sue? Pony up. It’s time to pay the piper.”

Fucking Frank wore heavy silver rings, malevolent-looking skulls he was forever buffing across his shirt until they gleamed with perfection. His fingers were stained and singed from lighters and they dug into my neck, lifting me off the attic floor. Evan and Dump made kitten sounds behind him, but they were just boys who needed drugs. It was freezing outside. April had dropped a surprise snow that turned into freezing sleet. That was the worst kind of weather to be outside in: icy water that froze your bare face and turned your fingers to stiff husks of bone.

I should’ve known when Fucking Frank greeted us at the door that he wouldn’t let me stay for free. I should’ve looked closer at the faces of the girls on the ripped couch as Evan and Dump carried me in. In my stupor, my lungs like cement, my eyes blurry, I thought they were just stoned, their eyes gone hazy. I know, now, that their eyes were dead.

Just do it, Fucking Frank said that night, my breath disappearing in the tightness of his fingers. Do it, like the other girls. Or I’ll do you myself.

If you were a girl, and you were at Seed House, and you wanted to stay at Seed House, there was a room downstairs with only mattresses. Frank put girls in the room. Men came to the house and paid Frank, and then went into the room.

OUT. CUT IT ALL OUT. Cut out my father. Cut out my mother. Cut out missing Ellis. Cut out the man in the underpass, cut out Fucking Frank, the men downstairs, the people on the street with too many people inside them, cut out hungry, and sad and tired, and being nobody and unpretty and unloved, just cut it all out, get smaller and smaller until I was nothing.

That’s what was in my head in the attic when I took broken glass from my tender kit and began to cut myself into tiny pieces. I’d done it forever, for years, but now would be the last time. I’d go farther than Ellis had. Wouldn’t fuck it up like Ellis had: I would die, not end up in some half-life.

That time, I tried so hard to fucking die.

But here I am.

The music in my head makes my eyes cloud over. I can barely see Blue with her smarmy face and her fucked-up teeth but as I walk toward her, I can practically taste what it will feel like to grind that face into Group floor. My body is weirdly heavy and light at the same time and a little bit of me is leaving, floating away—Casper calls this dissociation—but I keep lurching in Blue’s direction, even as she kind of nervously laughs and says, “Fuck me,” and gets up, alert.

Jen S. stands up. She says, “Please, don’t.”

On the street, where I used to live, I called it my street feeling. It’s like electrical wire is strung tight through my whole body. It meant I could ball my fists and fight for the forgotten sleeping bag by the river against two older women. It meant I could do a lot of things just to make it through the night to another endless day of walking, walking, walking.

Casper’s voice is even and clear. “Charlie. Another altercation and I cannot help you.”

I stop short. Charlie. Charlie Davis. Charlotte, Evan said, his eyes shiny, drunk, smears of my blood on his cheek, that night in the attic. What a beautiful name. He kissed my head, over and over. Please don’t leave us, Charlotte.

My father taught me to tell time by telling me how much time was left. “The long hand is here, and the short hand is here. When the short hand is here, and the long hand here, then it is time for Mama to come home.” He lit a cigarette, pleased with himself, and rocked in his chair.

The hands on the wall clock in Group tell me it’s time to get my bandages off.

I lurch, the stupid bootie catching on the rug, until I reach the door. I let it slam shut behind me.





It’s one of the day nurses, Vinnie, who does it, his big hands chapped and methodical. It’s chilly in the Care room and very neat. Paper crinkles beneath me as I settle on the table. I look at the glass jars filled with tall Q-tips, the bottles of alcohol, the neatly labeled drawers. Vinnie has a silver tray all ready with scissors, tweezers, clips, and creams.

He pauses before he begins unpeeling the pads on my arms. “You want someone here? Doc Stinson’s done with Group in fifteen minutes.” He means Casper.

He gives me his special smile, the one where he opens his mouth and bares all his teeth. Each tooth is framed, like a painting or a photograph, in gold. I have a sudden urge to touch one of those shining teeth.

Vinnie laughs. “You like my sweet teeth? It cost a lot to get this smile, but it cost a lot to get this smile, if you know what I mean. You want the doctor or not?”

I shake my head, No.

“Yeah, that’s right. You a tough girl, Davis.”

Carefully, he unwinds the gauze from each arm. He strips the long pads from my left arm. He strips the long pads from my right arm. They make a wet, soft thwack as he tosses them in the metal trash bin. My heart beats a little faster. I don’t look down yet.

Vinnie leans close as he tweezes and clips the stitches. He smells silky and brittle all at once, like hair oil and coffee. I stare at the ceiling lights so hard dark clouds form over my eyes. There is a kidney-shaped stain on one of the panels, the color of butter heated too long in a pan.

“Am I hurting you?” he asks. “I’m doing the best I can, girlfriend.”

There’s the sound of trickling water. Vinnie is washing his hands. I lift my arms up.

They’re pale and puckered from being wrapped up for so long. Turning them over, I look at the red, ropy scars rivering from my wrists to my elbows. I touch them gingerly. Vinnie hums. It’s an upbeat tune, with a lilt.

I’m only another day to him, another hideous girl.

“Okay?” He rubs cream between his palms and holds them up.

Underneath these new scars, I can see the old ones. My scars are like a dam or something. The beaver just keeps pushing new branches and sticks over the old ones.

I nod at Vinnie. The cream has warmed in his hands and feels good against my skin.

The first time I ever cut myself, the best part was after: swabbing the wound with a cotton ball, carefully drying it, inspecting it, this way and that, cradling my arm protectively against my stomach. There, there.

I cut because I can’t deal. It’s as simple as that. The world becomes an ocean, the ocean washes over me, the sound of water is deafening, the water drowns my heart, my panic becomes as large as planets. I need release, I need to hurt myself more than the world can hurt me, and then I can comfort myself.

There, there.

Casper told us, “It’s counterintuitive, yes? That hurting yourself makes you feel better. That somehow you can rid yourself of pain by causing yourself pain.”

The problem is: after.

Like now, what is happening now. More scars, more damage. A vicious circle: more scars = more shame = more pain.

The sound of Vinnie washing his hands in the sink brings me back.

Looking at my skin makes my stomach flip.

He turns. “Round two. You sure you don’t want someone else here?”

I shake my head and he throws me a sheet, tells me to scoot back on the examining table, motions for me to pull down my shorts. I do it quick under the sheet, without breathing, keeping the sheet tight over my plain underwear. My thighs prickle up, goose-pimply from the chilly room.

I don’t think I’m afraid of Vinnie, but I track the movements of his hands carefully, bring my street feeling to the surface, just in case. When I was little and couldn’t sleep, I used to rub the bedsheet between my forefinger and thumb. I do this now with the underwear, the soft pink underwear, brand-new, left on my narrow bed with a little card. There were seven pairs, one for each day of the week. They had no holes, no stains, and they smelled like the plastic wrap they came in, not like funk and piss or period blood. Thinking of the underwear, feeling the clean cotton in my fingers, makes something shift inside me, like the loosening of stones after one is plucked from the pile, a groan, a settling, an exhalation of air—

“Nurse. Ava. Bought. Me. This. Underwear.”

I don’t know why I whisper it. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know why words have formed now, I don’t know why these words. My voice is scratchy from not being used. I sound like a croaky frog. It’s a long sentence, my first in I don’t know how many days, and I know that he will dutifully log this: C. Davis spoke in a complete sentence while bandages being removed. C. Davis spoke about not having underwear. Patient does not usually volunteer to speak; Selective Mutism.

“That was mighty nice of her. Did you say thank you?”

I shake my head.

When I cut myself in the attic, I was wearing a T-shirt, underwear, and socks and boots. There was so much blood, Evan and Dump didn’t know what to do. They wrapped me in a bedsheet.

“You should thank her.”

I came to Creeley in hospital scrubs and slippers. Nurse Ava found clothes for me. Nurse Ava bought me brand-new underwear.

I should thank her.

The gauze and pads from my thighs look like stained streamers as Vinnie holds them up and lobs them into the bin. He pulls and clips with the tweezers.

It’s the same as my arms: it doesn’t hurt as he removes the stitches, but my skin twinges, prickles, as he pulls the tweezers up and out.

In a rush, it happens again, only this time it’s remembering what it’s like to cut, and cut hard. The way you have to dig the glass in, deeply, right away, to break the skin and then drag, and drag fiercely, to make a river worth drowning in.

Oh, it hurts to make that river. The pain is sharp and bleary all at once; curtains part and shut over your eyes; bull breath from your nostrils.

It fucking hurts, hurts, hurts. But when the blood comes, everything is warmer, and calmer.

Vinnie catches my eye. I’m breathing too fast. He knows what’s happening.

“Done.” He watches me carefully as I sit up. The delicate paper beneath me tears.

Ladders. The scars on my thighs look like the rungs of ladders. Bump, bump, bump as I run my fingers from my knees to the top of my thighs. Vinnie’s creamy hands are very dark against my paleness. It feels nice. When he’s done with my thighs, he motions for me to pull up my shorts and hands me the blue-and-white tub of cream. “You apply this twice a day. That shit’s gonna itch real bad now that it’s out in the air. Gonna feel tight and kinda prickly.”

I hug the tub to my chest. I can still feel his hands on my legs, the gentleness of his fingers on the ugliness of me. I kind of want his hands back, maybe curving around me this time. Maybe just being so light on me that my head could kind of fall against him, and I could stay there awhile, breathing him in, no big deal, heartbeat heartbeat heartbeat, like with my dad. Pressure builds behind my eyes.

I wipe my face, ignoring my trembling hands. Hot. My body is starting to heat up. I feel afraid. Vinnie clears his throat.

“Everybody’s in Crafts, girl. You want me to walk you there?”

“Room.” I hug the warm tub to my chest. “Room.”

Vinnie looks sad. “Okay, baby. Okay.”

—

Louisa is not in our room. They’re all at Crafts, bent over gluey Popsicle sticks, bags of buttons and yarn, reams of glittery star stickers.

My eyes are fierce with water and I bury my head in my pillow so no one hears me. My body is so, so sore from my wounds. I want Ellis, the Ellis who would dab my cuts and steal wine from her dad so we could cry together in her room, sipping from the bottle and listening to our music, watching the solar system night-light rotate and glow on her ceiling. Because when you’re hurt, and someone loves you, they’re supposed to help you, right? When you’re hurt, and someone loves you, they kiss you tenderly, they hold the bottle to your mouth, they stroke your hair with their fingers, right? Casper would be proud of me for my rational thinking.

I’m in a place filled with girls who are filled with longing and I want none of them. I want the one I can’t have, the one who is never coming back.

—

Where do I put them, these dead ones, these live ones, these people who hover about me like ghosts? Ellis once said, “You were too young to lose a dad.”

A little over a year ago, Mikey cried on the phone to me, “She never cut, that wasn’t her thing. Why did she cut? You were right there.” But he was miles and states away at college and didn’t know what had happened between Ellis and me. It was the last time we talked; after that, I was on the street, becoming a ghost myself.

My mother is alive, but she’s a ghost, too, her sunken eyes watching me from a distance, her body very still.

There are so many people who are never coming back.





When I’m done, when my body gets that worn, washed-out feeling from crying too much, I get up and stumble back down the too-bright hall to the nurses’ station. Vinnie was right, my scars itch horribly.

The outside of me is on fire and the inside of me is empty, empty. I can’t cut, but I need something taken away from me, I need relief.

Vinnie gives me the gold smile from behind the nurses’ station. All of the nurses have photographs pinned to the cubicle wall behind the desk. Kids, tons of them, chubby ones, skinny ones, unsmiling teenagers, and dogs, lots of dog pictures. Vinnie’s girls, they must be the ones in the frilly white dresses, with the dark, dark hair, just like his.

I point to my own hair, that awful nest. Just smelling it makes me feel sick, all of a sudden. I want it all gone, that last bit of being outside.

“Off,” I say hoarsely.

Vinnie holds up his hands. “Nah, nah. You wait till you earn your Day Pass, girl. Then you go out with the others, go to Supercuts or something. I’m not touching no girl’s hair.”

I pound my fist on the counter, lean in. “Now. Has to be now.”

“Puta madre,” he says under his breath.

He jerks his fingers to the Care room. “Come, come. And don’t cry, neither. There’s only one way with hair like that.”





In the cafeteria, it’s Isis who speaks first, her little mouth opening, macaroni and cheese sliding back onto her plate. “Holy fucking Christ, Chuck, check you out.”

Blue begins to laugh, a deep, infectious sound that startles Francie, who sits next to her and never eats. Francie smiles, too. Blue says, “I hate you, Silent Sue, but you look a shit-ton better. Almost human.”

Even Vinnie whistled as he ran the electric shaver across my scalp, my hair falling in heavy clumps to the floor. “A face! The girl has a face,” he said.

I peered at myself in the Care room mirror, a real mirror, a long one on the back of the door. I kept my eyes above my shoulders, just looking at my face, but not for too long, because I started to feel sad again, seeing me.

The girls get quiet as I start eating. You wouldn’t think it would feel strange to show your scars to a group of girls who are nothing but scars, but it is. I keep my eyes on my plate.

I’m going to rifle the lost and found for a long-sleeved shirt after dinner. I feel exposed and cold. I miss my ratty mustard-yellow cardigan that I used to wear before I left home. It kept me hidden and safe. I miss all my clothes. Not my street clothes, but my long-ago clothes, my band T-shirts and checkered pants and wool caps.

Isis swallows. “Christ, Chuck, what’d you use? You really went to fuckin’ town.”

Isis has a terrier’s thin, nervous face. She twists the shaggy loops of her braids through her fingers. The others wait. From the end of the table, Louisa gives me a faint smile.

I loved the breaking of the mason jar. You had to strike it hard, because it was thick. Unlike other glass, mason jars broke in hunks of curved, gleaming sharpness. They left wide, deep cuts. The thick pieces of glass were easily washable, savable, slipped into the velvet pouch and hidden in my tender kit for the next time.

Thinking about it fills me with anticipatory shivers, like how I felt in the Care room, which is unacceptable, Casper says, a trigger, and I can see some of the others now, like pale Sasha with her sea-blue eyes, beginning to frown. Blue and Jen S. wait, faces blank, sporks in the air.

I think I want to tell them, I think I want to talk. I feel a humming in my chest and I think I might have some words, maybe, though I’m not sure how to order them, or what they would mean, but I open my mouth—

From down the table, Louisa speaks. Her voice is throaty and lush; the band she sang for was called Loveless.

“Glass.” Louisa gathers her dinner things. She is a peckish eater; just a little bit of this and that, and she never stays for long. “She used glass. Breakfast of desperate champions.” She shrugs at us, wafting to the trash can with her cardboard cup and plastic plate and spork.

The air around the table stiffens at first, as each girl thinks, and remembers her favorite implements. And then the air loosens.

Isis resumes eating. “Hard-core, Chuck.”

I fix my eyes on my glistening mound of macaroni, the single row of green beans, the brownish pool of applesauce.

“It’s not Chuck, Isis. It’s Charlie. Charlie Davis.” My voice isn’t hoarse now. It’s clear as a bell.

Jen S. says, “Whoa. Somebody’s got a voice.”

Blue nods, gazing at me. “Things,” she says, sipping her coffee thoughtfully, “are about to get interesting around here.”





Casper smiles at me. “Big changes,” she says. “Talking. Cutting your hair. Bandages off. How do you feel?”

I reach for the sheets of paper on her desk, the blue ballpoint, but she says, “No.”

The turtle has paused in the tank, like he’s waiting for me, too. His tiny body bobs in the water. Does he like the little ship at the bottom, the one with the hole big enough for him to swim through? Does he like the large rock he can hoist himself up on and rest? Does he ever want to come out?

I pull the hoodie I found in the lost and found box tighter around me, close the hood tight around my face.

Ugly, I tell her, my voice muffled and my face hidden by the hood. Ugly. It still feels ugly.





It isn’t that I never noticed exactly, that Jen S. disappeared every night as soon as Barbero fell asleep on the Rec couch. I mean, she would tell me. “I’m going to the bathroom,” she’d say, her long ponytail falling across her shoulder as she leaned in, looking at what I was doing on the computer. “My stomach is really acting up. I might be a while.” Or, “I’m just gonna go jog the halls. I feel a little pent up. Be good.” And then she’d go.

I was, weirdly, getting a little caught up in this class thing. I had finished twelve units so far, putting me near the middle of a mythical senior year. It was kind of satisfying to click SUBMIT and then wait for Jen S. to come back and do the grading with the secret password. School, it turns out, is super easy once you remove all the other kids, asshole teachers, and disgusting shit that goes on.

So I’m waiting for her, and waiting, and sort of watching Barbero snore on the couch, when it occurs to me she might not be doing exactly what she says she’s doing. But before I can even think about what she might be doing, I think about what I could be doing, while she’s gone and Barbero is comatose.

It only takes a few minutes. I open another window, set up a Gmail account, wrack my brain for his last known email address, enter it, hope for the best, and open the chat box. I haven’t talked to him in over a year. Maybe he’s there, maybe he’s not.

Hey, I type.

I wait, picking at my chin. My head feels a little cold now, with all my hair gone. I pull my hoodie up. He has to be there, though, because it doesn’t say Michael is offline or anything.

And then there he is.

OMFG is that rlly u

Yes

R u ok

No. Yes. No. I’m in the loony bin

I know my mom told me Your mom told her

I’m wearing clothes from the lost and fucking found

Im at a show

Who?

Firemouth Club called Flycatcher U know Firemouth? U wd lk them

My fingers hover above the keys. I miss you

Nothing. My stomach starts to squeeze a little. A little bit of the old feeling is coming back to me: how much I like-liked Mikey, how confused I was that it was Ellis he wanted, even though she didn’t like him like that. But Ellis isn’t here anymore. I bite my lip.

I look back at Barbero. One of his legs has drifted to the floor.

Michael is typing…then: Ill have mom bring u some of T’s clothes

His sister, Tanya. She must be out of college by now. Mikey’s house was always warm. In the winter, his mother made fat, soft loaves of bread and big pots of steaming soup.

Chat says, Michael is typing. He didn’t say he missed me or anything. I take a deep breath, try to stifle the growling little voice in my head that tells me, You’re dirty and disgusting, idiot. Why would anyone want you?

Im coming up in May for a show at 7th Street Entry with this band I work with. Be there for two days. Can u put me on some visitor list or something?

Yes! I start grinning crazily. My whole body has turned to feathers, I feel so light at the thought of seeing Mikey. Mikey!

Michael is typing: I hv to go, show ending have class tmrow I cant blv its u u have a phone # too? and I am up and running to the phone on the Rec wall, where the number is written in black Sharpie ink, along with NO PHONE CALLS AFTER 9 P.M. NO PHONE CALLS BEFORE 6 P.M. I’m running back, repeating the number in my head, when my bootie gets caught on a plastic chair and I go sprawling. Barbero’s up in a flash, quicker than I’ve seen him move, ripping the buds from his ears. He whirls around. “Where’s Schumacher? Where the fuck is Schumacher?” As I try to scramble up, he’s busy, reading what’s on the computer.

He presses his fat finger on a key and the computer screen fades to black. Mikey disappears.

“Back to your hutch, rabbit. I’ve got to go hunt down your friend.”





Barbero and Nurse Ava found Jen S. in the emergency stairwell. Her stomach wasn’t bothering her, and she wasn’t doing laps. She was, Louisa informs me later that night, doing Doc Dooley.

I’m under my sheet. When I blink, my eyelashes brush against the fabric. I grunt at Louisa.

“They’ve been fucking for a loooong time,” Louisa whispers. “I’m surprised they didn’t get caught sooner.”

Down the hall, there’s a flurry of activity: phone calls being made, Jen S. crying at the nurses’ station. Louisa says, “Too bad, really. They’ll kick her out now and fire him. Or maybe he won’t get fired, just reprimanded. He’s only a resident. They fuck up all the time.” She pauses. “I hope Jen doesn’t think they’ll get together on the outside, because that is not going to happen.”

She peels the sheet from my face. “You’re young, so you don’t really understand.” She hasn’t taken off her makeup yet. Her mascara is smudged beneath her eyes.

“He chose her because she’s easy. We’re so easy, aren’t we? Hell, I thought I found the one, too, once.”

Tentatively, I say, “Maybe…he really liked her, though.” He could, couldn’t he? Doc Dooley is a dreamboat, he doesn’t need to troll on damaged girls. He could get anyone he wanted.

Louisa’s eyes flicker. “Guys are weird, little one. You never know what floats their boat.” She places the sheet back over my face and climbs into her bed. Her voice is muffled now, like she’s under her own sheet. “I let this guy—I thought he was so beautiful, and kind—I let him take pictures of me. Then he turned around and sold them to some freak site on the Web.”

Is she crying? I hesitate. Jen S. is really sobbing out there now and I can hear Sasha starting up in her room, a low, mewing sound.

This whole place is a world of sobbing girls.

Louisa is crying. The whole fucking hallway is crying, except me, because I am all cried out. I kick off my sheet and climb out of bed. Mikey was so close and I lost him. I lost him.

Louisa mumbles, “They should tell you, right when you get here, that that part of wishing is over. What we’ve done, no one will love us. Not in a normal way.”

Her hand snakes from beneath the sheet, groping in the air. I step into the cradle of her fingers. Her nails are painted a glossy blue, with tiny flecks of red. A sob catches in her throat.

“You need to understand, little one. Do you understand what it’s going to be like?”

I do what people say you should do, when someone is hurt and needs help, so they know they are loved. I sit on the edge of Louisa’s bed, on top of her Hello Kitty bedspread. She’s the only one of us who has her own bedspread and pillowcases and a selection of fuzzy slippers peeking from beneath the bed. I peel the pink-and-white sheet off her face slowly, just enough so that I can pet that hair, that wonderful riot of hair.





I think of Jen S. later, after the hall is quiet, after she’s been taken back to her room to pack, to wait. She’d been screwing Doc Dooley this whole time. Where did they go? Did they use the Care room, did they spread the crinkly paper on the floor? Did they do it on the table or always in the stairwell? Was it cold? What did they talk about? They’re both so tall and good-looking, clean-faced and sexy. I picture them pushing at each other and the insides of my thighs get warm. And then Mikey is in my head, his blond dreads soft and never gross-smelling, smiling at me and Ellis from the old lounger in his room, letting us get wild and play music as loud as we wanted. I was never with Mikey, but I would have tried, I mean, I wanted to, so much, but he loved Ellis. The boys I found smelled like burned glass and anger. Dirt streaked their skin, and tattoos, and acne. They lived in garages or cars. I knew those boys would never stick. They were oily; they would slither away after what we did in a dirty back room at a show or in the bathroom of someone’s basement at a party.

Ellis had a boy. He had wolf teeth and a long black coat and he fucked her in her parents’ basement on the spongy pink carpet while I listened from across the room, cocooned in a sleeping bag. He left her things: silver bracelets, filmy stockings, Russian nesting dolls filled with round blue pills. When he didn’t call, she cried until her throat was raw. When she mentioned his name, Mikey would look away, and you could see his jaw get tight, his face darken.

Thinking about bodies fitting together makes me sad and hungry for something. I roll over and press my face into the pillow, try to make my mind go blank, ignore the itching of my scars. Louisa sighs restlessly in her sleep.

I don’t want to believe she’s right.





Jen’s mother is dough-plump, with round cheeks and pinched lips. Her dad is a fatty, the zipper of his coach’s jacket straining across his belly. Her parents stand in the hallway, watching us apprehensively. In a little while, Nurse Vinnie herds us into Rec and locks the door. We won’t be allowed to say goodbye to Jen. The girls flit about the room, pulling cards and games from the bin, setting up with Vinnie at the round table. Blue stands at the window. Her dirty-blond hair is tied in a messy knot today; the tattoo of a swallow gleams faintly on the back of her neck. After a little while, she murmurs, “There she goes.”

We rush to the window. In the parking lot, Jen’s father heaves two green suitcases into the trunk of a black Subaru. The day is gray and cold-looking. He tucks himself in the driver’s seat, the whole car sinking down with the weight of him. Jen towers over her mother like a bendable straw. Her mother pats her once on the arm and opens the rear door, leaving Jen to fold herself into the front, next to her father.

She never once looks up at us.

The car melts into traffic, disappearing down the long block of cafés and bars, Middle Eastern trinket shops, and the place where they sell twenty-two kinds of hot dogs. Mikey worked there one summer; his skin radiated relish and sauerkraut.

The sky is pulpy with dark clouds. There have been a lot of storms lately, unusual for April. The sound of Blue’s voice brings me back. “Poor Bruce,” she says softly, pointing out the window.

Barbero is standing in a corner of the parking lot. He’s not wearing scrubs today: he’s wearing a light blue hoodie and collared shirt, jeans and white sneakers, just like any other guy on the street.

“Oh,” I say. Then, “Oh.”

He liked Jen. His name is Bruce.

He’s got little wire-frame glasses on that make him look not so…oafish…but kind of…nice. Blue and I watch as he wipes his eyes, climbs into his own car, a rusty little orange hatchback, and drives away,

“Poor, poor Bruce,” Blue murmurs.

Bodies fit together. And sometimes they don’t.





Isis fingers the Scrabble tiles. Her nails are bitten down even farther than mine. Her tongue works at the corner of her mouth.

“Almost ready, Chuck.” She yanks a tile from the board. “Almost.”

I fiddle with my tie-dyed T-shirt and flowery hippie skirt. Mikey’s mom did come by with a box of Tanya’s old clothes, left over from her Deadhead phase: tie-dyed shirts and flimsy, whispery skirts, hemp sandals and grandma shawls. There were some old sweaters, though, too, and I’m wearing the best one: blue argyle cardigan with silver buttons in the shape of acorns. I didn’t get to talk to Mikey’s mom. If you aren’t on a visitor list, you can’t get in, and I don’t have a visitor list, since I broke the rules. I don’t know who would come, anyway, except for Mikey, but that’s weeks away. Casper promised she’d put him on my list. Otherwise I know there’s just one name on it: my mother. But I don’t expect her to come, and Casper doesn’t mention it.

When the phone in Rec rings, everyone looks around for Barbero. The phone only rings up here after a caller has been approved downstairs against a master list. Callers have to be checked against a list approved by your doctor, and only at the doctor’s discretion.

Still, we aren’t supposed to answer the phone by ourselves. “He must have gone to the shitter,” Blue says, shrugging.

The phone keeps ringing. Francie nudges Sasha. “Get it.”

“You get it.” Sasha resumes Connect 4. No one likes to play with her; she cheats.

Blue heaves herself up from the couch. “Wimpy Bloody Cupcakes,” she says to us. That’s what she calls us, every once in a while: Bloody Cupcakes. We could all be so cute, don’t you think, she said one day in Group. If we didn’t look like fucking zombies! She raised her arms. Her scars made her look like a rag doll horribly resewn.

“Crazy Hut. Who is calling, please?” She twists the phone cord in her fingers.

She drops the phone so that it hits the wall, ka-thunk, and dangles, helpless, on its white cord. “It’s your mother, Silent Sue.” She returns to her paperback, wedging herself into the stiff green couch.

I stop breathing. Isis is pushing tiles and muttering under her breath. Francie is busy watching a movie.

My mother. Why would she call? She hasn’t even come to see me.

Slowly, I walk to the phone. I press the receiver to my ear and turn away from the girls, to the wall, my heart beating like fucking crazy in my chest. “Mom?” I whisper, hopeful.

The breathing is thick, raspy. “Noooo, Charlie. Guess!” The voice threads through my body.

Evan.

“I pretended to be your mom! Her name was in some stuff in your backpack.” He pauses, giggling, and suddenly switches to a honeyed, high-pitched voice. “Hello, I need to speak with my daughter, please, Miss Charlotte Davis.”

I don’t say anything. I don’t know if I’m relieved or disappointed.

“We had to take your money, Charlie.” He coughs, a splatter of mucus. “You know how it is.”

The empty film canisters in my backpack, the one he and Dump dropped off. The canisters I kept what little money I could scrounge in.

Evan is asthmatic and the drugs and the street do nothing for him. I’ve watched him curl up into a ball, wheezing until his face is purple, pissing his pants from the effort to not pass out. The free clinic only gives inhalers with medical exams and they won’t look at you if you’re high and Evan’s life is about being high. He’s from Atlanta. I don’t know how he got all the way up here.

I keep close to the wall so the girls can’t hear me. Hearing Evan’s voice is taking me back to a dark place. I try to breathe evenly to keep in the moment, like Casper says.

Carefully, I say, “I know.”

I say, “It’s okay.”

I say, “Thanks for bringing my backpack.”

He coughs again. “You were pretty messed up in the attic, you know? I thought me and Dump was gonna shit our pants. All that, like, blood.”

I say, “Yeah.”

He’s so quiet that I almost don’t hear him. “Was it Fucking Frank? Did he…did he finally come after you? Is that why you did it?”

I scrape the wall with what little nails I have left. Fucking Frank and his black eyes and those rings. Seed House and the red door where girls disappeared. He had boxes of sugary cereal on the shelves, and beer and soda in the fridge, and drugs in special locked boxes. He had filthy skin but teeth that gleamed like pearls.

The men who came to Seed House for the room with the red door, they had hungry eyes, eyes with teeth that moved over you, testing, tasting. That’s why I hid in the attic for so long. Like a mouse, trying not to breathe so no one would notice me.

I say, “No. No, he didn’t get me.”

Evan sighs, relieved. “Yeah, okay, that’s good, yeah.”

“Evan,” I say.

“Yeah?”

“But he’s part of why I did it. You know? Like, the straw and the camel. Everything. Do you understand?”

Evan is quiet. Then he says, “Yeah.”

I wonder where he’s calling from—skinny Evan with his bad lungs and ripped pants, the funny houndstooth sport coat.

I ask him how he found me.

He tells me this is the place they send all the nutty girls. He tells me, “Dump and me found a ride to Portland.”

The night they saved me in the underpass, Dump broke a bottle over the man’s head. It happened lightning quick. I saw a boy’s terrified eyes appear over the man’s shoulder and then the bottle in the air, gleaming against the yellowy lights. I picked slivers of glass out of my hair for days afterward.

Dump was mesmerized by the glass that glittered in the palms of his hands. He looked at me and his smile was a deep, curling cut. Bloody splinters of glass sparkled on the tips of his black boots.

The man who messed with me was at the bottom of the underpass, a lump of motionless, dark clothing. Evan wrapped me in his coat.

Evan tells me, “I just wanted to make sure you were okay and shit, you know?”

They said, Holy fucking shit. They said, We’ve got to get the fuck out of here. They said, You crazy fucking bitch, you can’t be out here by yourself.

“You were cool and all, for a wacko.” Laughter and coughing.

They walk-dragged me to a van and hauled me into the back. The seats had been taken out; the flooring was damp and there were patches of dirty carpet thrown over rust holes. Evan and Dump were keyed up, eyes popping, hands shaking. Did we fucking kill that dude?

I stayed with them for seven months.

Evan will die on the street, somewhere, someday. I have seen what he will do for a high. I have seen the sadness on his face when he thinks no one is looking.

“So, yeah, also, I wanted to tell you, and, like, I’m sorry and all, but I took your drawings.” Evan clears his throat. “You know, that comic book you made. I don’t know, I just like it. It’s cool, you know, like, seeing me in there. Like I’m famous or something. I read a little every day.”

My sketchbook, he has my sketchbook. Dump would say, Make sure you give me a cool superpower, like X-ray vision or something, okay? I wanna see through chicks’ clothes.

My heartbeat picks up. “Evan, I need that back. Evan, please?”

He coughs and gets quiet. “I’ll try, you know, see if we can get over there, but I don’t know, we’re leaving kinda soon. It’s like, I just really like that book. I don’t know. Makes me feel like I exist, seeing me in there.”

Evan, I say, but only in my head.

“You get out, you come up to Portland, okay? Like, head to the waterfront and ask around for me. We do good together.”

I say, “Sure thing, Evan.”

“Later, gator.” The phone goes dead.

Isis is nibbling at a new tile. I fold my hands in my lap. These are my hands. They have taken food from Dumpsters. They have fought over sleeping spaces and dirty blankets. They have had a whole other life than this one here, playing games in a warm room, as the night keeps moving far from me, outside the window.

Isis says, “How’s your ma? That musta been weird, huh?”

She has spelled ball. It took her ten minutes to spell ball.

I tuck my hands under my thighs and bear down on them. The pressure against my bones feels good. He has my book, but I have food, and a bed.

“She’s excellent.” My voice is mild and uncomplicated. “Going on vacation. To Portland.”





When I told Casper it felt ugly, do you know what she said? She said, Does IT feel ugly or do YOU feel ugly, Charlie? Because there is a difference, and I want you to think about what that difference might be. It will be integral to your healing.

They really fucking ask a lot of you in this place.





In Group, Casper asks us, who are our friends? Do we have a community? Is there someone we can talk to, who makes us feel safe, on the outside?

She asks, Who keeps your secrets?





You know, I know who I am. I mean, I don’t know know, because I’m only seventeen, but I know, like, who I am when I’m with people, or when they’re looking at me, and putting me into a slot in their mind. If you have one of your class photographs, I bet you can find me. It won’t be hard. Who’s the girl who’s not smiling? Who, even if she’s between two other kids, kind of still looks like she’s standing alone, because they’re standing a little apart from her? Are her clothes kind of…plain? Dirty? Loose? Kind of nothing. Do you even remember her name? You can spot the girls who will have it easy. I don’t even have to describe them for you. You can spot the girls who will get by on smarts. You can spot the girls who will get by because they’re tough, or athletic. And then there’s me, that one, that disheveled kid (say it, poor) who never gets anything right, and sits alone in the cafeteria, and draws all the time, or gets shoved in the hallway, and called names, because that’s her slot, and sometimes she gets mad, and punches, because what else is there? So when Casper says, Who keeps your secrets? I think, Nobody. Nobody until Ellis. She was my one and only chance and she chose me. You don’t know what that feels like, probably, because you’re used to having friends. You probably have a mom and a dad, or at least one who’s not dead, and they don’t hit you. Nobody moves away from you in the class picture. So you don’t know what it feels like to every day, every fucking day, be so lonely that this black hole inside is going to swallow you down, until the one day this person, this really beautiful person? comes to your school and she just seems to not care that everyone is staring at her in her black velvet dress, her fishnets, her big black boots, wild purple hair, and red, red mouth. She comes to the door of the cafeteria on the first day and she doesn’t even get in line for a tray, she just looks around the whole fucking zoo of second lunch period and suddenly she’s walking toward you, that big red mouth smiling, her enormous black backpack swinging down on the table, and she’s digging out Pixy Stix and Candy Buttons and sliding them to you, you (your pencil frozen in the air over your sketchbook because this could be a joke, some elaborate plan by the jocks, but no), and she’s saying, “Christ on a crutch, you are the only fucking normal person in this hellhole. I’m dying to get high. Wanna come over after school and get high? God, I like your hair. And your T-shirt. Did you get that here or online? What are you drawing, that’s fucking angelic.” That’s what she called things she loved: angelic. This pot is positively angelic. Charlie, this band is angelic. And it was like the world was coated in gold from that moment on. It sparkled. I mean it was shit, still, but it was better shit, do you understand? And I learned secrets. I learned that underneath her heavy white makeup was a quilt of acne, and she cried about it. She showed me the bags of junk food in her closet and she showed me how she’d throw up after eating too much. She told me her father had had an affair with her aunt and that’s why they moved and that her parents were working on it. And her name wasn’t really Ellis, it was Eleanor, but she decided to try something new when she moved, but oh God, don’t say it in front of her mother, because her grandmother’s name was Eleanor and she had recently died, and her mother would have a fit, an absolute fit, and Oh, wow, Charlie, your arms. Did you do that? It’s kind of beautiful. It makes me a little scared, but it’s kind of beautiful. I met this guy named Mikey yesterday at Hymie’s. The record store. You ever been there? Of course you have, look at you. He invited us over. You wanna go? He’s got, like, these angelic blue eyes.

And in her room, with the wild blue walls and so many posters and solar system ceiling, I could tell her anything, and I did. Charlie, Charlie, you’re so beautiful, so fucking angelic. Her hand in mine. She wore white flannel pajamas with black skulls on them.

And that was that. My secret keeper.





I did have this teacher once, in the fourth grade. She was totally nice, even to the bullies in class. She never yelled. She just let me be, really, she never made me go out to recess if I didn’t want to go, or to gym. She’d let me stay in the classroom and draw while she worked on grading or looked out the big square windows. Once, she said, “Charlotte, I know things are so hard right now, but they’ll get better. Sometimes it takes a while to find that special friend, but you will. Oh, gosh, I don’t think I had a really good-good friend until I was in high school.” She fingered the little gold heart on a chain around her neck.

She was right. I did find my special friend. But nobody told me she was going to fucking kill herself.





Every night, Louisa scribbles away in one of her black-and-white composition books. When she’s done, she caps the pen, closes the book, and bends over the side of the bed so that her hair tumbles over like a waterfall and I can see her neck, unscarred and pale, faintly dusted with down. She slides the book underneath the bed, says good night, and pulls the bedspread across her face. Tonight I wait until I hear her breathing flatten into sleep before I creep out of my bed and sink to my knees on the floor.

I peek under the edge of her bedspread. Underneath her bed are dozens and dozens of those composition books, all her secrets piled neatly into black-and-white rows.





I should make a correction. I don’t want to be misleading. I say that Ellis killed herself, but she did not die die. She isn’t in the ground, I can’t visit a graveyard and drop daisies over well-tended grass or mark an anniversary on a calendar. There were drugs, there was the wolf boy, and she slid very far from me, the wolf taking up all of her heart, he was that greedy. And when the wolf was done, he licked his paws, he left her gaunt, my Ellis, my plump and glowing friend, he took all her light. And then, I guess, she tried to be like me. She tried to drain herself, make herself smaller, only she messed up. Like Mikey said, cutting wasn’t her thing. I imagine her room soaked in blood, rivers of it, her parents fighting upstream to get to her. But there was too much, do you understand ? A person can only lose so much blood, you can only starve the brain of oxygen for so long, or you can suffer anoxic brain injury after hemorrhagic shock, which emptied out my friend and left only her body. Her parents sent her somewhere, a place like where I am, but far, far away, across whole states, and tucked her into her new home full of soft sheets and plodding, daily walks and drooling. No more hair dye, no more fucking, no more drugs, no more iPod, no more clompy boots, no more fishnets, no more purging, no more heartbreak, no more me, for Ellis. Only days of nothingness, of Velcroed pants and diapers. And so I can’t can’t can’t do what I am supposed to do: touch her, make it better, brush the wild hair from her face, whisper sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry.





I have to do something or I will explode.

Talking to Evan, finding Mikey, waiting for him to come visit me, thinking of Ellis, I miss miss miss so much.

I find them all in Crafts, bent over the long plastic tables, Miss Joni walking around, murmuring in her deep, warm voice. Miss Joni wears purple turbans and lumberjack shirts. When I came to Crafts the first time and just sat, doing nothing, she only said, “Sitting’s all right, too, girlfriend. You just sit as long as you want.”

I didn’t just sit because I didn’t want to paste sparkly stars on colored paper or blend watery paints, I sat because my arms hurt. My arms hurt all the way to my fingertips and they were so heavy in their bandages.

They still hurt. But today when Miss Joni says, “Dr. Stinson and I had a little chat,” and slides me a beautiful, blank pad of all-purpose newsprint paper and a brand-new stick of charcoal, I greedily clutch the stick in my fingers. Little sparks of pain shoot up and down my forearm. My scars are still tender and tight and will be for a long, long time, but I don’t care. I breathe hard. I work hard. My fingers take care of me. It’s been so long, but they know what to do.

I draw her. I draw them. I fill my paper with Ellis and Mikey, Evan and Dump, even DannyBoy. I fill every last piece of paper until I have a whole world of missing.

When I look up, everyone is gone except Miss Joni and she’s turned the lights on. It’s dark outside the window. She’s sipping from a Styrofoam cup of coffee and scrolling on her pink phone.

She looks up and smiles. She says, “Better?”

I nod. “Better.”





Today I’m excited to meet with Casper. I want to tell her about Crafts, and what I drew and what drawing means to me. I think that will make her happy. But when I push open the door, she’s not alone. Dr. Helen is with her.

The turtle is hiding inside the sunken ship.

Dr. Helen turns around when I enter the room and says, “Oh, Charlotte, please sit down, here.” And she pats the brown chair I always sit in. I look at Casper, but her smile isn’t as nice as it usually is. It looks…smaller.

Dr. Helen is a lot older than Casper, with lines at the edges of her eyes and rouge that’s too dark for her skin.

“Dr. Stinson and I have been reviewing your progress, Charlotte. I’m happy to see you’ve made some strong strides in such a short time.”

I don’t know if I’m supposed to answer her, or smile, or what, so I don’t say anything. I kind of start pinching my thighs through the flowery skirt, but Casper notices and frowns, so I stop.

“You’ve been through so much, and at such a young age, I just…” And here, weirdly, she stops, and kind of sets her jaw and says, very sharp, to Casper, “Are you not going to help at all with this, Bethany?”

And I’m still absorbing Casper’s name, Bethany Bethany Bethany, so it takes a while for me to understand what she’s telling me.

I say, “What?”

Casper repeats, “You’re being discharged.”

Dr. Helen talks then, about a special sort of psychiatric hold that allowed me to be treated at the hospital, and about my mother having to meet with a judge and sign papers, because “you were a danger to yourself and others,” and insurance, and my Grammy, who I haven’t thought of in a very long time. All the words kind of bang around my brain as my heart squeezes into a tinier and tinier thing and I ask about my mom, but it comes out in a stutter. I bite down on my tongue until I get a faint, metallic taste of blood.

Casper says, “Your mother’s not working right now, so there isn’t any possibility of coverage. As I understand it, some of your stay has been covered by your grandmother, but she’s unable to continue due to her own health and financial care issues.”

“Did something happen to my grandmother?”

“I don’t know,” answers Casper.

“You talked to my mother?”

Casper nods.

“Did she…did she say anything about me?”

Casper looks at Dr. Helen, who says, “We’re working as hard as possible to locate resources for you. In fact, Bethany, how are we doing on the bed at the house on Palace?”

When Casper doesn’t answer, Dr. Helen flips through the pile of papers on her lap. “There’s a halfway house that may have room for you, possibly as early as next month. They specialize in substance addiction, but that is one of your subsets. You’ll need to stay with your mother before then, of course, since you can’t stay here. No one wants you back in your previous situation, no one.”

Previous situation: meaning, homeless. Meaning, Dumpster diving. Meaning, cold and sick and Fucking Frank and the men who fuck girls.

I look at the turtle. His legs twitch, like he’s shrugging at me: What do you expect me to do? I’m a goddamn turtle trapped in a tank.

Outside the window, the sky is turning hard and gray. Fucking Frank. A halfway house. I’m being sent back outside.

When I say it, I sound like a little baby, and that makes me even madder. “It’s still cold outside.”

Dr. Helen says, “We’ll do everything we can, but is there absolutely no possibility of long-term reconciliation with your mother, even with counseling? She’s agreed to house you until a bed opens at the halfway house. That says something to me, that she’s trying.”

I look at Casper in desperation. I think her eyes are the saddest things I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Very, very slowly, she shakes her head from side to side. “I don’t see any other option, Charlotte. I’m very sorry.”

Once my mother hit my ear so hard I heard the howling of trains for a week. I get up and walk to the door.

Casper says, “We’re not abandoning you, Charlotte. We’ve investigated every possible option, there just isn’t—”

“No.” I open the door. “Thank you. I’m going to my room now.”

Casper calls after me, but I don’t stop. My ears are a sea of bees. Our rooms are on the fourth floor, Dinnaken Wing. I pass by Louisa and go into the bathroom and stand there for a while. Louisa says my name.

Then I step into our shower and pound my forehead into the wall until the bees die.

When Casper comes running in, she grabs me around the waist and pulls at me to get me to stop. I take her beautiful yellowy baby bird hair in my hands and I yank so hard that she cries out and pushes away. I slide to the floor, warm blood trickling down to my mouth.

I say sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry.

Feathery strands of her hair flutter in my hands. I’ll never be beautiful or normal like Casper, and just like that, just realizing that, out everything comes, all she ever asked of me.

I tell her: After my father died, my mother curled up into something tight and awful and there was no more music in the house, there was no more touching, she was only a ghost that moved and smoked. If I got in her way, if the school called, if I took money from her purse, if I was just me, the yelling started. She yelled for years. When she got tired of yelling, she started hitting.

Casper blots my face with a cloth as I talk. Louisa wrings her hands in the doorway. Girls pile up behind her, pushing, trying to get a look.

I say: She’s been hitting me for a long time. I say: I started hitting back.

I say: Please don’t make me go back outside. I tell her about the man in the underpass, he broke my tooth and broke me, and it hurts swelling out of me, but I give it to her, all the horrible words in my heart—about Ellis, about Fucking Frank.

I stop. Her eyes are watery. I’ve given her too much. Two orderlies muscle through the crowd of girls. There are little pinpricks of blood at the roots of Casper’s hair, little blips of red amid the yellow. They help her up and she doesn’t say anything to me, just limps away.





A TIMELINE


A girl is born.

Her father loves her. Her mother loves her father.

Her father is sad.

Her father drinks and smokes, rocks and cries.

Into the river he goes.

The mother becomes a fist.

The girl is alone.

The girl is not good in the world.

No one likes the girl.

She tries.

But her mouth is mush.

Stupid girl. Angry girl.

Doctors: Give her drugs.

Lazy girl. Girl is mush on drugs.

Mother hits girl. Girl shrinks.

Girl goes quiet. Quiet at home. Quiet at school. Quiet mush mouse.

Girl listens to radio. Girl finds music. Girl has whole other world.

Girl slips on headphones. World gone.

Girl draws and draws and draws. World gone.

Girl finds knife. Girl makes herself small, small, smaller. World gone.

Girl must be bad, so girl cuts. Bad girl. World gone.

Girl meets girl. Beautiful Girl! They watch planets move on the ceiling.

They save money for Paris. Or London. Or Iceland. Wherever.

Girl like-likes a boy, but he loves Beautiful Girl.

Beautiful Girl meets wolf boy. He fills her up, but makes her small.

Beautiful Girl is busy all the time.

Girl hits mother back. They are windmills with their hands. Girl on street.

Girl stays with Beautiful Girl, but wolf boy leaves drugs.

Beautiful Parents are angry. Beautiful Girl lies and blames Girl for the drugs.

Girl on street. Girl goes home.

Beautiful Girl texts and texts Something wrong Hurts

Girl slips headphones on. Girl slides phone under pillow.

Beautiful Girl bleeds too much.

Girl gets messed up, too messed up, broken heart, guilt.

Girl breaks mother’s nose.

Girl on street.

World gone.





I’m staying here, but I don’t know for how long. I’ve been released from individual sessions with Casper. My paperwork and discharge dates are being sorted out. They have another emergency stay from a judge while they work out an arrangement with my mother and with the halfway house.

Casper is still kind to me, but there is something else there now, between us, a distance that makes my heart ache. My sorrys start up again, but Casper just shakes her head sadly.

Vinnie checks the stitches on my forehead every morning, clucking his tongue. Blue calls me Frankenstein in a horror-movie whisper. I go where I’m supposed to go. At night, I just pretend to do my online classes. I’ve tried to message Mikey when Barbero is busy or napping, but the only response is an empty white chat box. I watch the Somali office cleaners at night, drifting across the windows in the building next door, pulling their carts of solutions and mops and cloths.

The sky is postcard dreamy now, the clouds less full of rain, the sun a little stronger every day. If I look farther out the window, between the towering, silvery buildings, I can see the endless terrain of the university and, beyond that, the snakelike wind of the river that leads to St. Paul, to Seed House and being hungry and dirty and hurt and used up, again, because I have nowhere else to go.

—

Sasha is making popcorn. Vinnie has brought in tiny canisters of powdered flavoring: butter, cayenne, Parmesan. He cooked a pan of brownies at home and Francie is helping frost them. The room phone rings. I’m blazing through the channels, one by one, until I hear my name. Vinnie wiggles the phone at me.

I listen to the breathing on the other end before I tentatively say hello.

“Charlie, you didn’t put me on the list!” Mikey.

I almost drop the phone. I grip the receiver in both hands to keep it from shaking.

“I told you I was coming! You were supposed to put me on a visitors’ list or something. I’m only here for one more day. I’m here for the show later tonight and then we go in the morning.”

“I did put you on the list!” My mind races frantically. Did Casper forget? Or did they just take him off since I’m going to be leaving? “Where are you? I need you. They—”

“Hang up, Charlie. Is there a window? I’m in the parking lot out front!”

I hang up and run to the window and press my face to the glass. A shock of orange catches my eye. He’s standing in the parking lot, waving an orange traffic cone in the air. When he sees me, he lets the cone fall.

Mikey looks the same somehow. He looks open and worried. And safe.

There’s a light rain, droplets glistening on his dreadlocks. He looks bulkier, though he’s still small. He holds out his hands, as if to say, What happened?

The glass is cold on my forehead. Vinnie is playing Go Fish with Sasha and Francie in the corner. Blue is on the couch, humming to herself.

My face is swimming with tears as I watch him in the falling rain, his mouth open, his cheeks red.

Vinnie says pointedly, “Charlie.” Blue stirs on the couch. She joins me at the window.

“A boy.” Blue’s breath makes a foggy circle on the glass. “A real live boy.”

Sasha and Francie throw down their cards.

The first time Ellis brought me back to her house in the fall of ninth grade, after we’d known each for about a week, she didn’t blink an eye to find an older boy already there, in the basement, reading comics with one hand and stuffing the other in a bag of salty pretzels. There were anarchy symbols Magic Markered on his sneakers. He looked up at Ellis, his mouth full of pretzels, and smiled. “Your mom let me in. Who’s this?”

He was wearing a Black Flag T-shirt. Before I could stop myself, I said, “I’m about to have a nervous breakdown.”

He put the comic book down. “My head really hurts,” he answered. He waited, his eyes gleaming.

“If I don’t find a way out of here!” I yelled, startling Ellis at the bar. She glared at me.

The boy laughed and yelled back, “I’m gonna go berserk!”

We sang the rest of the song while Ellis rifled through her parents’ mini-fridge. She was a little miffed, you could tell. She didn’t like that sort of music. She liked goth and mopey stuff, like Bauhaus and Velvet Underground. Nobody else at our school could recite the lyrics to “Nervous Breakdown,” I was sure of that.

But she shouldn’t have worried. Mikey always loved her more.

“Oh,” Sasha and Francie say in unison as they gather at the window.

I push up the sleeves of my sweater and press my arms to the window. Can he see my scars, all the way down there?

Mikey covers his face with his hands. I remember that gesture. He used to do that, a lot, when Ellis and I did things that overwhelmed him. “You guys,” he would say tiredly, “stop, already.”

Vinnie stands next to Blue and groans deeply. “Shit.”

“Girls,” he grunts. “Goddamn girls and boys.” He raps on the glass roughly, making Sasha jump back.

“Go!” He shouts to Mikey through the glass. To himself, he mutters, “Don’t make me call anyone, son.”

He turns to me. “You! Put down your damn arms.”

“It’s like that movie!” Francie exclaims. I’m waiting for Mikey to take his hands away from his face. His T-shirt is soaked from the rain.

Sasha starts to cry. “No one’s ever come to see me,” she wails. Vinnie mutters “Shit” ag