The year of the away message I dated all the boys I’d never meet. Everyone was somewhere else. Doing dishes, homework. Logged on but invisible. Hiding behind an away message culled from obscure liner notes. I’ve got a twenty dollar bill that says no one’s ever seen you without makeup before I knew how to paint myself for anything but the stage. The year my mother made us take off our ballet recital lipstick before going to ShopRite because she didn’t want us looking like street walkers. The year I spent on my father’s office phone, in love with strangers.
True Life: I Met My First Love on Hot or Not. True Life: I Kept a Boy From Suicide By Signing On at The Right Times. True Life: I Printed Out My Blog Entries and Glued Them Into My Journal Collages Like the Artifacts of a Lost Civilization. The year of MySpace profiles littered with auto-play third wave emo songs. The year I talked more online than I did out loud. The year Garrett was still drumming for the Medic and I wore paper bracelets from the VFW shows until they pilled and shredded off my arms in the shower. The year of the color black. Eyeliner, nail polish, corduroy, all black. Black leotard five days a week. Black soccer cleats. Black choral gown. Black marble notebooks, bursting. Sharpie all over my sneakers—Cobain quotes and cries for help. Help me / I’m alone again. Help me / no one’s listened in awhile.
The year there was a boy in New York who wanted to die and narrated each attempt to me. How his blood wouldn’t clot so he couldn’t cut. How he’d boil water and pour it on his skin. The year I met my first real boyfriend at the church carnival. Told my mother I knew him through a girl at school. Had her drop me off in the Payless parking lot. Didn’t ride the Ferris wheel. Didn’t cut my hair for months. The year I lied to everyone. We said it was Bridget Marquez. That she introduced us. Sat one row in front of me and to the left in Algebra II. Bridget with the red hair. Bridget with the big laugh. Bridget who rolled her eyes at the holy roller girls, and at me until I started passing her notes. The best part of an origin myth is its invention.
The year I prayed myself to tears. For my father’s leg. And once they took it, for my father at all. For him to come home. For him to get quiet. For home to get quiet. For my sister’s boyfriend to stop being such a fuck. For my boyfriend to stop being such a fuck. For someone to hear me. Just hear me. For there to be a god, any god, who listened to girls who couldn’t ask for what they needed out loud. That year I wrote daily lists of ways I was failing. Emily is boring. Emily is reckless. Emily is naïve. Emily isn’t getting out of here anytime soon.
That year I ran away to the reservoir every time the house got too loud. Smoked alone with my toes in the water. Wondered when the right time to speak comes. The year I only told the truth to strangers. The year they told the truth to me. Year we typed paragraphs hunt-and-peck, hungry for mirrors to show us our worst parts had stopped bleeding. Had never bled. Had never broken through the skin.
Emily O’Neill teaches writing and tends bar in Boston, MA. Her debut poetry collection, Pelican, is the inaugural winner of YesYes Books’ Pamet River Prize for women and nonbinary writers and the winner of the 2016 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Series. Her second collection, a falling knife has no handle, is forthcoming from YesYes in the fall of 2018. She is the author of three chapbooks and her recent work has appeared in Cutbank, Entropy, Hypertrophic Literary, Jellyfish, and Redivider.