**Trigger Warning: mentions of self-harm, death, and suicide
STRAWBERRIES AND JELLY BEANS
The past few times I have scoured my scalp for grey hairs, I have found white. The last time I checked, three stark white hairs grow in the roots among my curls.
I do not grey.
So why white?
One white hair for my grandmother whose hair was white at sixty and gone at seventy when the chemo treatment was unsuccessful. White for her thin pale skin, for the teeth before they rotted inside out, for the bedsheets she died in, for the dress she was buried in, for the lining of her coffin, and for the snow on the January day she died on, white.
My grandmother held our family together with paper-flaking fingers. It took her feeble body caving in for us to see her as the solid pillar she had always been. When my grandfather argued with his children, including my mother, over petty rings and inheritance, I went to the fridge to find comfort in strawberries and jelly beans: grandma’s two favorite things. He didn’t know how to keep it stocked without her. All that was there were white empty shelves and black licorice flavored jelly beans left.
That was when I knew she was gone.
The second for my father’s hospital room, for the clean blank slate on which we started over, the white for the van he worked in, the white for his knuckles when he held onto the white kitchen bowl, spilling red from his mouth in the back of my car.
I hated myself for hating hospital rooms. I realized he was sick when I forgot to visit and had to be reminded that he missed me now. I realized we were friends when the concept of him missing me seemed strange and friendly. I bought him a card once, and couldn’t think of what to write, so I left it blank but for my name, a cold, empty white.
And the third, for me. For the mountain of papers that shut me up, that said “you’re healed with this money, so stop being sick.”
For the robes of the doctors that operate in heads and minds, white for the piano keys that made me feel alive, for the moments of light in a sea of black, for the sheet music I couldn’t read, for the class rooms and waning moons that gave me any routine, for the pills when they left the red bottle, for the label that defined me, and the white lies that reminded me I wasn’t worth the truth to some.
I do not grey.
When I was in 7th grade, I heard that a fellow female student had written a bomb threat on the bathroom mirrors with her menstrual blood.
My first thought was that I hoped I got my period soon so I could hate the school has much as she did.
So long as our class criminal intended on blowing up the entire school, I didn’t mind, for if my bullies suffered, I’d pay the price and sacrifice my own life for justice. At 12 I felt I’d seen enough.
When I did, eventually, get my period, I wondered how she used her body’s ink, as it didn’t seem easy to write with.
On the days we were doomed, the police officer who taught me ‘boys will be boys’ stood guard by the entrance, irritated, another cry for help painted on the mirror. Another lie, another false alarm, another girl reaching into her pants and using her only resource to scream to the reflection because it was the only one who listened. Another day and nothing to worry about.
Nothing to worry about, echoed the parents.
Nothing to worry about, echoed the teachers.
Nothing to worry about, echoed the administration.
I was nothing to worry about, echoed the corpses with cut wrists, the gentle giant of our school toppled and rocked the foundation with his suicide. The RIP statuses, the funeral preparations by parents burying a son. Blame it on his state of mind and not the environment. We, said the town, are not the problem. We had our rules, you see; we don’t want our children involved with police. If one life falls in between the margins of the anti-bullying laws and the stacks of homework, who’s to say who’s to blame?
My friends at other high schools joked that their school was built by an architect that designed prisons, therefore modeled after such.
I said that my peers were designed after prisoners, and acted as such..
My prison gang was the rejects, the uglies, and the disabled. We were not the blonde hair cliques trading lunchboxes with red apples, we were not the tattooed and the badass, we couldn’t rap or breakdance. We still excused ourselves for cursing.. We were the ones that watched the populars stroll from the view inside a locker and the bottom of the stairs. They always looked taller when we were pushed at their feet but I swear to God, they were not giants.
We rioted in the quiet stalls when we wrote poetry and foul language; we rioted with blood on bathroom walls with things we didn’t have the strength to say yet. We gauged our ears with sharp bracelets until life’s ink told us to stop and we leapt down stairs so no one could push us We laughed on every painful step so as not to give the prison guards the satisfaction of seeing us break.
We were the nothings they always had to worry about.
Another big thanks to Ali Zagame for sharing her beautiful poetry with us and our community. If you haven’t already, check out part 1 of her poetry selection. You can find more from Ali at her website, Facebook, and Bandcamp. Be sure to give her some love in the comments!
Always remember you are not alone.
You are loved.
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