Don’t Slouch Your Shoulders


They said, “Don’t slouch your shoulders so much, you’ll upset your mother. She has a tumor in her head, and it’s unlike any other.” I pulled my shoulders back and learned quickly how to smile, even when I didn’t mean it.

I learned to play sports and I never excelled but I played them all because my brother was into music and my dad seemed disappointed that he didn’t have a kid who played sports like he once did so I tried. I finally found a passion and a friend that made me smile real smiles that I meant with my whole soul, but everything about that dream fell apart before my feet, and that friend? She’s now deceased. She didn’t wear the damn buckle strapped across her seat.

But I smile, and I say buckle up, and I still don’t want to upset my mother, so I start to write in a journal — letters to a dead friend. I start to write words that hardly seem to make sense and I start to write with every bit of my heart bleeding through the tip of my pencil. I just write, and I say buckle up, and I don’t have many friends. But I smile, sometimes, and to be honest none of the smiles or friends are really real.

And then I met you. I didn’t know you for long, but I thought you were cute and I just had a little crush. I think you knew because at that party you took me downstairs. We kissed and I thought I’d be happy but I had a bad feeling because when I was fifteen, the sanctity of my body didn’t mean anything for one night that left me with endless nights of nightmares…and I didn’t tell you that because that’s heavy and I hadn’t even told my new best friend that, so I just told you I couldn’t do anything past kissing. You said okay, and I could feel the alcohol drowning my insides. You reached down my pants and I reminded you that I said no so you stopped to grab my face and kiss my limp lips. You said okay. I remember closing my eyes and I thought I might vomit, so I lay there. I didn’t know what happened until I saw you slam a door in my best friend’s face and found my pants around my ankles. I ran out into the street and I wanted to fucking die but I had to keep my shoulders up because if I upset my mother, things might get worse.

The words I wrote just sat there on pieces of paper that no one saw. They didn’t jump out to kill me and take me out of this disgusting world or help me to pick up the pieces so I go to see a lady who sits in a chair across from me and I sit on a big couch. She listens and she says she understands and I almost feel like I can smile again, but then she calls me Katie and asks how my older sister is doing and I don’t have an older sister and only my cousins, my fellow fourth grade classmates, and my dad ten years ago can call me CAIT-y. But I smiled. I said I felt all better. I didn’t need the cold sweat and the down tone of silence and heaving between sobs, I was just thrashing my entire life story at a woman’s feet who was in it for my money and she didn’t even know my name. But god fucking dammit, I smiled, and I held my shoulders back because my mom has put up with enough, and I cuss now because I am mad and I am hurt and confused but I still don’t want to fucking upset her.

I now see a man once a month and he speaks in a monotone. He doesn’t ask how I am or ask why there are scars across the veins on my wrist; he asks if the combination is working and I say, “I guess.” Without hesitating, he pulls out a pad of identical papers and tells me to take 2 of the green pills twice a day and one of the big white ones and in a few weeks it should kick in and I will be happy, and I won’t need to pretend to smile again; they will all be real. He said I’ll have more energy and motivation, so maybe I won’t slouch my shoulders anymore. So I take the pills and nothing that happened goes away and my best friend tells me I’m overwhelming and I can’t even fucking spend time alone with a guy because they all have the same power and I am weak and I know they can sense that. But I smiled, because if I didn’t, my mom would know something was wrong and I would upset her.

The pills don’t do anything but make me forget simple things and I don’t know if that’s because I took 12 last night so I could sleep or if I am just too far gone. I’m beginning to wonder what the point of this all is. Why the fuck should I smile when I am dying inside? I’ve been covering up every little blunder since I was little and I have absolutely no fucking idea who I am. I say buckle up, but my best friend is still dead, and the word “no” means absolutely NOTHING and my voice isn’t heard and my words will never amount to anything.

Today? I didn’t smile. I told my mom everything and I screamed and I cried until my throat burned. I punched the wall, I punched myself, I broke down in the middle of the living room floor, home alone, crying and I upset my mother who has a tumor in her head that’s supposed to stay small with specific medications. We are all just machines with glitches fixed by chemicals. I upset my mother, and my shoulders can’t bear the weight of my crumbling world even if they’re slouched.

I wiped under my eyes and smiled just now. It sure looked like I meant it and everything is fucking fine, but still, I never meant to upset my mother.

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