When she said “I love you” I knew she was just saying it to make me feel better. She didn’t know how to respond to me. She knew I liked her—loved her—and she thought it would simplify things to say she reciprocated. Her words were a kindness not fully meant. And every day I resented her more for not having the balls to tell me how she hated me to my face. I didn’t need her to hang around me out of pity. I didn’t need her empty encouragement. She didn’t actually mean it.
No one could.
I wasn’t worthy of her love. I wasn’t worthy of anyone’s love.
Every night I stared at the bottle of sleeping pills in my bedside table. And every night I ignored the whispering voice that told me things would be so much better if I never woke up.
I didn’t know what would be worse, to come back as a ghost and find that nobody missed me. Or to find that they still kept up the facade of pretending to care.
So every night I closed the door to my nightstand and told the pills that I was stronger than them.
When the bottle emptied gradually over time, I chose not to refill my prescription. Nights were spent sleepless, tossing and turning, trying to find an escape from the whispers in the back of the mind, that told me maybe if I were better I would be worthy of her love.
Bags began to form under my eyes and even my thickest concealer could not cover them. A yawn became permanently etched on my face. She asked me one day if I wasn’t sleeping well. I brushed her off. She asked if the pills no longer worked. I turned away as I confessed I hadn’t taken them in weeks. I couldn’t tell her why. Not without her knowing that I was an impostor.
I stepped away so that her concerned hand fell on empty air. I didn’t want her pity and I wasn’t worthy of her concern.
When I came home there was a full bottle of pills on the counter. And a note. A letter of concern and well wishes. She told me I wasn’t weak for needing help to sleep.
In a rage I threw them into the trash.
An hour later I fished them out and scraped away the used coffee grounds that clung to the label.
I sat on my bed, my legs crossed beneath me, a full water bottle at my hip and the pills in my hand. Take one pill by mouth at night as needed. I twisted the pill bottle and stared down at the little blue tablets in my hand.
I shook one out into my palm, then another. Soon the whole bottle lay in the cup of my hand. Twenty-eight pills. Enough for four weeks.
I didn’t ask how she obtained them. What lies she had to tell.
It wasn’t the first time she’d filled my prescription.
I heard the creak of the floorboard outside my door and I poured all but one back into the bottle with a guilty rattle.
“Hey,” her greeting was gentle as she let herself into the room.
I rolled the pill between my fingers. “I hate them.”
The bed dipped. “Oh honey, no. They’re—”
“I hate them. I told you I stopped. Why—” I shook my head. “Thank you for caring, but please take them with you.”
“I thought… maybe I could stay.”
I dropped the pill back into the bottle and snapped the lid into place. “You can stay. The pills can’t. I can’t.” I swallowed hard. “I can’t trust myself around them.”
I pushed the bottle into her hand and didn’t shy away when she pulled me into a hug. I let out a shaking sob into her bosom. “I’m so scared.”
I could hear the cogs in her brain turning. Her breasts heaved against my cheek every time she took a breath to say something and deflated with a little sigh when she rejected her response. “You know I’m here for you, right?” Her hand smoothed my hair and she stroked it several times while I cried. “Why wouldn’t you say anything sooner?”
It was my turn to reject phrase after phrase. I didn’t deserve her. I didn’t trust that every word of love and support wasn’t a lie. I didn’t want to burden her. “I had it under control.”
“You didn’t need to be alone, I want to be here for you.”
I slid from her grasp. “Just get the pills out of here. I’m better on my own.”
“I can’t leave you by yourself . Not after… not after what you just said.”
“It’s okay. She was just extra loud tonight.”
“She?” The overbearing concern in her voice was back. The judgment. That half whisper that was afraid of committing to her words in case she said the wrong thing and made it worse.
Well, she already thought I was crazy. “She’s the one who tells me I’m less than. My personal trickster. Or maybe my trickster is the one who tells me I have meaning.”
“You do have meaning.”
“It’s sweet, you know. That you care. That you think you can hide the truth from me. It’s okay. I’m strong. You can tell me that I’m broken. You can tell me that I’m crazy. It isn’t anything I don’t already know.”
“You’re not…” She cupped my cheek in her palm and looked me directly in the eye. “You aren’t broken. But you’re never going to believe me unless you believe it yourself.”
I dropped my gaze to my lap. She was right. I didn’t believe her.
“I want you to look at yourself in the mirror every day. I want you to say this out loud. ‘I’m not broken. I’m smart. I’m talented. I have a big heart. I’m beautiful inside and out.’” She ran a finger down my cheek before standing. Her lips were soft against my forehead. “Can you do that for me?”
“It’s not true. I’d just be lying to myself.”
Her smile was soft and sad and I felt guilty for the fresh worry lines that were forming. I would have to look into an anti-wrinkle serum for her so that she could maintain her flawless skin. “I don’t care. Promise me?”
“Fine. I promise.”
“Do you want me to stay?”
“I’ll be downstairs if you need me.”
The pills rattled in her hand as she walked off.
I waited ten heartbeats, then a minute, then the clock ticked past the next quarter of an hour before eventually rolling over into the new hour. I forced myself to climb from the bed and shuffle to the bathroom. My reflection stared harshly back at me and I could see the trickster shining out of its eyes pointing out the scar on my cheek from where a dog bit me as a child. One that no amount of makeup cake on could conceal. It pointed out the slight pudge to my belly. It reminded me that I had to work two jobs just to keep up with my bills.
The words stuck in my throat. “Mnotbrokn.” I drew in a deep breath and massaded my eyes with the heels of my hands. “I’m not broken.” I lowered my hands and looked myself in the eye. “I’m smart. I’m talented.” The words were rushed and not much louder than a whisper. “I have a big heart. I’m beautiful inside and out.” They felt wrong on my tongue. Foreign. My reflection mocked me reminding me that I was broken. I repeated the words again and again, louder each time. Every time they still felt false on my lips, like lines I was reciting for a play and this was our first off-book rehearsal.
I fell asleep almost immediately that night. And the next morning when I went downstairs she was on the couch. She’d spent the night here, my silent watchdog, even though she had her own bed not half a mile away. I pulled the blanket up around her shoulders and tucked it around her. When I washed my hands in the bathroom sink, I mumbled the phrase to myself. I said it every time I looked in the mirror.
And one day, when I looked in the mirror, my own reflection met my gaze.
The next time she told me she loved me, I believed her.
And when my insomnia resurfaced, the little blue pills returned to my bedside table. They’d lost their power over me.