Home > Girl on the Line(2)

Girl on the Line(2)
Author: Faith Gardner

“This was a cry for help,” she says.

“No.”

“It was.”

That she would dismiss this as a gesture makes me want to scream. But I’m too raw to scream. “Well, I guess you know me better than I do.”

“You’re being facetious, but I actually do. Because I’m your mother. I know every part of you—even the baby, the kid you were, that you forgot. You’ve always had to make the biggest statement. You’re upset? Throw a tantrum. Your sister is born? Start crapping in your closet and threaten to put the baby in the trash can.”

“And this is supposed to make me feel better . . . how exactly?”

“This is nothing in the big picture,” she whispers to me, petting my hair. “This was just—just a way to get us to hear you. And we hear you. We love you. It’s going to pass. You’re going to feel better.”

Already I know I won’t feel better.

“What if I actually wanted to die?” I ask her, not blinking.

She doesn’t blink, either, but her eyes glass over with new tears.

“Then that would be the hardest thing in the world to hear as your mother.” She wipes her eyes. “But luckily I don’t believe you.”

“Knock knock,” Dad says, walking in.

What the point of the “knock knock” was, I couldn’t tell you, because he’s now standing behind my mother with an ice cream sandwich.

“Thought this might cheer you up,” he says.

“She can’t eat that after getting her stomach pumped,” Mom says, standing up.

“Oh.” Dad stares at the ice cream sandwich and makes a face like he feels sorry for it. “You want it?”

“No refined sugar,” she says. “You bought it, you eat it.”

“I’m vegan, remember?”

“You only remind me every time I see you.” She grabs her purse. “I’m going to the cafeteria before I chew your head off.”

That leaves Dad and me alone. He drops the ice cream sandwich in the biohazard bin. He sits on the stool next to me and folds his hands together.

“You are so brave,” he says, wiping his eyes.

“Can we just be quiet for a little bit?” I ask.

Like for the rest of my life? I don’t add.

I adore my parents. But there should be a word for the unbearable burden of their love.

The last time I almost died was the best night of my life.

My favorite band, Girl Cheese, had come to town. They’re a three-piece all-female band I found online whose videos I fell in love with, who write adorable harmonizing vocals with lyrics about stuff like how delicious pizza is and thrift store shopping and bisexuality. The three girls are in their twenties and live in New York, dress like vintage princesses, and play glitter-painted instruments. I had been obsessed with them all year and they finally stopped through Goleta to play an all-ages venue. Jonah and I went. They played all my favorite songs. I bought a T-shirt and talked with Girl Cheese at the merch table for ten whole minutes. They were even cuter in person. They signed my record. It was magical.

At midnight, a bunch of us were hanging out in the parking lot—Jonah; Marisol; her boyfriend at the time, Lloyd; a few of Lloyd’s buddies, Wendy and Otis, who I know from film class. Otis said he knew of an apartment complex a few blocks away where we could sneak into the hot tub. So after a quick 7-Eleven run for Slurpees and Funyuns, we did, skinny-dipping in the dark and trying our best to keep our laughter to whispers.

Next we went out to the only restaurant open all night—a diner with tired-eyed waiters, soggy fries, and two Yelp stars. Wendy and Otis lived in my direction and offered to give me a ride home afterward. Usually I’d have to be home way before midnight, if my parents even let me go to a show in the first place. But now that my parents were separated, the rules had changed. I had no curfew. There were still rules for Ruby and Stevie, but my parents were too distracted and too guilty to enforce them for me anymore. It was after two in the morning. The streets were empty, the moon was bright.

Dear future self, I wrote on my diner receipt. Remember the gorgeous night that felt like morning would never come.

Wendy, Otis, and I rolled down the window so the barely cool dead-of-night freeway summer air blasted our faces, fresh. We cranked Girl Cheese and sang along, trees whipping by, shadows barely darker than the inky sky and twinkly star shrapnel. I remember the feeling of my heart in my chest, so strong, bursting with song; the grin on my face seemed permanent, joy coursing red through my veins. I sat shotgun, dancing.

And in one second—one second that now seems to last a year in my memory—Otis, who drove, eyed the rearview and yelled, “Oh no, you guys—”

Then there was a confusion of noise. Metal scraping, crunching, the grill of a semitruck crushed against the front of the car. Heat and the color orange exploded outside my window and a single thought accompanied by a quiet terror rang all throughout my being.

This is it.

Then the car was still, Otis’s door crushed against the median. My side of the car was still ablaze; it smelled like chemicals melting. Wendy screamed at us to get out. She climbed out the back door and Otis and I somehow immediately scrambled over our seats and followed her. We ran up the freeway, where traffic had stopped for the accident. We ran up the wrong away, away from the semitruck turned over on its side, a river of gas lit up in flames. Away from Otis’s car, where the shotgun seat was now burning. Wendy, Otis, and I held hands and watched as the whole scene exploded like an action movie and firefighters showed up and people stopped on the freeway stepped out of their parked cars to gawk and point. I shook, cold, in shock, and answered police questions. An ambulance came and took us to the hospital. Besides a small nick where my head had hit the windshield, and Otis’s mild concussion that caused him to keep asking “What happened?” and forced us to explain ourselves again, again—we were okay.

We had survived, what a miracle.

We had almost died, what a horror.

The accident was only a little over two months ago now. Even though I escaped without a scratch, it did something to me. My big feelings became colossal. The world now seemed, at times, unbearable. I was sick to my stomach from fear. I cried over nothing. I thought of death constantly—haunted by it, afraid of it, obsessed with it, drawn to it. These changes were easy to dismiss, because they built up over days, and weeks, and I’ve always been so much. I was already a loaded weapon. The accident just clicked my safety off.

 

 

Present


The crisis center doesn’t look like a crisis center. It’s a lavender Victorian in the south part of town. Unassuming, white picket fence, painted porch with a swing on it. There’s no sign on it. Just looks like someone’s house. On the inside, besides an office space set up in the front with long tables, volunteers hunched over old-school phones and speaking in quiet voices, you’d think people live here. We gather in a back room set up with folding chairs, strung with a Tibetan prayer flag, lined with built-in bookcases. It smells lived-in, loved, warm, historic.

Training for the hotline is two full weekends and every evening in the first two weeks of the new year, fifty hours total. Brutal. The first day I arrive I’m greeted by the training coordinator, Davina, an Indian American woman with long braids, tortoiseshell glasses, and a brilliant smile. I know her from the in-person interview last week, where she was so happy to have me join this small bastion of new volunteers.

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