by Laton Carter

Self-harm is not the answer. That’s what Megan Archibald says. Megan’s a poet and she writes poems on her phone. If you live in New York, you can go to one of her readings and she’ll get out her phone and start performing. She’s a performance artist too.

Self-harm is not the answer. The sentence was just sitting there — on the last page of her book, right under the part that talks about the author — waiting for me. It was like Megan knew I’d make it that far. Megan was waiting for me, and when I got there she was telling me not what the answer was, but what the answer wasn’t. This is before I looked her up online, before I watched any of her videos or knew that she has big brown eyes, eyes that are so full of sadness you know they must be telling the truth.

If you or someone you know is self-harming and you need someone to talk to, please know that there are people out there willing to help and listen. Below that there’s a phone number and a list of resources. The last thing Megan says is Don’t give up. This is all at the end of a book — it’s printed, it’s not something you swipe through while waiting for the bus. I thought: What the fuck do you know, but then I kept going back to that page. Megan’s eyes were still there, still with that same look. I pulled a sleeve back and looked. I bit my lip. I don’t cry because I’ve already done that. I guess I’m in the next phase now.

Thursdays nights Desi and I cruise for vegans. That’s a joke. We’re probably the only vegans in the whole town. Desi likes skinny white boys, and I’m just happy to be in the car. I used to wear makeup, a lot of makeup, but this was before I saw it as a cry for help. Megan flipped that switch. Now I don’t wear any. Everybody needs help, they just don’t know what kind. Everybody needs attention. Makeup is not the answer.

When you see your blood, what does that mean to you? That’s just the kind of question a counselor asks. Mine did. You’re stuck because you don’t want to see a counselor, and at the same time there’s nothing else you want to do. You need to talk, but the words aren’t right. The counselor says try writing, and you can’t do that either. The counselor keeps trying to get at something and then your time’s up. You can’t wait to leave but you’re also scared because you can’t stay. Everything on the other side of the door — you have to go back into it.

(Don’t say it was your cat. Say it was a bike accident. But remember to keep track — you can only have so many accidents — because people stop believing after a certain number. When you tell them, see if they look you in the eye. If they can’t, that means they know. Listen to how they say Oh. If the sound goes up, that means they know. They don’t believe you.)

I don’t believe people when they say You can do anything, you can be whatever you want to be. A life comes with boundaries. Most people move within their boundaries — they argue and make babies and work jobs they don’t like and then they die. Freedom is an illusion they don’t even think about. The hours of the day are placed on a conveyor belt, the world is a factory, and we’ve all forgotten what the factory makes.

I look at Desi and think of Megan. To live a life, mouth wide open — that means to smile. Desi does it without thinking. Maybe there aren’t boundaries. Maybe there are boundaries but they’re artificial and we see them only when we believe in them. I stick my head out the window. I close my eyes. I don’t sing but I taste the night air.


Image: Painting by Steve Johnson. Find more of his work on Instagram @artbystevej.