“Oh look, it’s the ninja!” one roommate says to me every time he sees me. I can sneak by him even in the kitchen, which is the room with the front door, and he’s told me that sometimes the only sound he hears that tells him I’ve left is the sound of the door closing. I know how to walk by the people in this house and have them not hear or see me, how to close a door silently, how to stay in my room and make so little sound that nobody is sure if I’m here or not.
I know how to disappear.
I’ve lived my entire life with the persona. It’s beyond my words to write in full about the disassociaton aspect of it – the little child that took over in my stead, to handle the abuse – so this will be a little disjointed.
But I know how to look at this body as a foreign object. Though I can’t do it anymore, I know how to watch it from the sidelines; watch it perform real life while I am just a shadow on the side. I know how to ignore pain, feeling like I’m on the brink of passing out or dying before I’ll stop. I know how to curl myself up into the smallest space necessary. Flick my eyes to the ground, stand in a corner, wrap my arms around myself, and not move until someone gives me permission to exist in the space that I’m in.
I wait for permission. And even when I have it, it never seems enough, not for my terror that I am taking too much, or that at any given moment I will be informed that it was a joke, or that I broke some unspoken rule, or that the rules have changed. The rules always changed in my family, there was always that invisible trip wire that changed right into wrong and said now you’re gonna get it.
I do not ask, and when I do, I punish myself. When I lost my bus card and had no cash on me, I texted my platonic soulmate for directions on how to get home. I knew she’d offer to drive me, I knew it was manipulative, but I could not ask. That is taking up space, it is something far more than I deserve. And if she had no offered, I would have continued my walk home, I would have walked the two hours in the dark, because that is what I deserve.
I don’t know how to speak. I know how to say no, no, I’m fine and maybe when the danger’s past I’ll tell you what was wrong. Maybe. I know how to go from crying to a grin from the time it takes to hear a key in a lock and the door opening. I know how to be always tired and never upset.
I am terrified at the smallest slip up, not just something that would reveal all the problems I have, but something that would reveal that I’m human. I am sorry I am human, I’m sorry you have to know that I eat and sleep and need to use the bathroom, that I bleed every month, that I get dirty, that I exist. I am sorry that I am not more bone than skin, and sorry that I ever do anything that calls attention to the fact that I’m here. When my roommate told me that he can be in the same room and not know I was there until he hears the door closing as I leave, I wasn’t upset over the idea that I don’t know how to call attention to myself when entering a room, I was upset that I can’t close the door more quietly.
I have fantasies of being a ghost. The relief of not having a body, of not being seen, ever, of being able to exist around people and drink in my fill of company while not really being there seems a blessed relief. But I also want to exist, I want to take up space and be concrete and real. I am a person with an eating disorder who will starve myself in the company of others, only to horde food on my own; needing this silent rebellion. My roommates like to share food, but I can’t do that; I am panicked over both taking from other people, even if it’s offered to me, and panicked at the idea of anyone taking from me. I feel greedy when I am in my room eating, many times not because I’m hungry but because I want to feel that I possess something, that I both possess the food in my hands, and the right to eat it, and the right to my body to do this. This is the first time I’ve ever gotten to eat without the watchful eyes of my mother, critiquing what I eat and the quantity of it, and it is a guilt-inducing pleasure knowing that whatever food I have is mine, with no one to judge me for it.
But existing outside of that small space I create for myself, existing in the eyes of others, is impossible for me. I explode all these words onto the internet while I sit at the mall, my arms tucked next to me, my legs crossed, my body hunched over. I am always in the position of an apology, leaning back or forward if you are even in the vicinity of me, as a way of saying yes I know I’m here I’m sorry for it, I’m sorry I am in your way.
I am tired. I am so, so tired of my secrets, of wrapping infected wounds up tight in strips of skin I cut from more hidden parts of myself, hoping that no one will notice. I am tired of the shallow breaths I take in life, hoping nobody notices me. I am tired of living so on edge that if I’m listening to something on my computer and accidentally pull the earbuds out, I will panic, hitting mute as fast as I can, shaking over the idea that I have made anyone in the house aware of my presence. I am sick of spending most nights with my light off, so nobody knows that I’m there. It’s in the fact that these are the little things, the smallest, most insignificant ways a person can exist, that make me so tired.
It’s not going to change. My whole life has been the persona of a quiet, albeit strange and disconcerting, little Christian girl, and pulling off the mask and shouting “Surprise!” would have no effect. I know, I tried, in high school, to confide in people in some small way, only to be met with “No you’re not!” and a smile at said they would never believe me. I am already packaged and labeled and defined in a certain way, I wear the only clothes I have ever had because there’s nothing else here.
But I am tired, and I feel my strength ebbing out of me every day, my muscles tightened and cramped from trying to maintain life in this small space. I’m fucking myself up like this, perpetuating problems for myself that will only get worse and worse as time goes. I am so tired and in so much pain I want to scream and cry, but I can’t, because that would be taking up space and I’m not allowed. So I stitch myself closed, and I play the persona, and I hide, because it’s all I know how to do. And I go through each day with the only accomplishment being that my heart is still beating, and I hope that it’s strength doesn’t give out.