I know that everything in my mind says this is wrong, but I can’t resist walking into Shane’s room now that I’m awake.
I can’t remember what kind of nightmare I had this time, but it must have been pretty terrible because I woke up with tears on my cheeks and I was facing the wrong way on the bed. I soon realized that further sleep would be near impossible, because whatever fear that had woken me up was still preventing me from going back to sleep. I already felt shitty after staying up so late the night before working on my novel, so I should have known that I wouldn’t sleep well tonight.
Hopefully Shane is up and can help me stop freaking out, or at least distract me from whatever nightmare that woke me up.
I walk past the table and the fridge, somewhat expecting to see Shane standing in front of the open refrigerator, holding a half-full beer can and messing with her already-unkempt hair. It’s happened so many times, finding her standing in her underwear, the light from the open refrigerator casting a light glow on her face, that I almost envision her standing there anyway... but she’s not there. I keep walking until I reach the foyer, and stand in the exact spot where Carmen kissed me. God, that was a horrible week.
As I reach her room, the door slightly ajar, I pause. I really don’t need her to freak out on me, or at worse, still be harboring some anger towards me. I apologized after the mess that was Carmen, but I’m afraid she’s still wary of me.
I move the door a bit, letting the soft light from her bedside lamp leak into the hall. Once I realize she isn’t going to yell at me to get out, I open the door a bit more, and I can just hear the faint sound of the shower. The steam from her bathroom is flooding into her small bedroom. I wonder how hot she must have the water, because even when I put my water on full blast, I can never get the steam to do more than cloud up my mirror for a few minutes. As cautiously as I can, I step into her room and sit on her bed. I’m not really sure what I should do. I don’t want to wait for her, and then give her yet another reason to be mad at me if she thinks I’ve been spying on her or something.
Quietly, I knock on the door that leads to her bathroom. Just a few short taps, as if I’m as unsure of my actions as I am of her reaction. As I stand in her bedroom amidst the piles of discarded t-shirts and bras, jeans and shoes, I wonder if I shouldn’t just leave as quietly as I came and try my best to go back to sleep. I feel like a fool standing outside of Shane’s bathroom at 2 AM in the morning… and besides, I’m not really sure why I thought this would ever be a good idea.
I run my hands through the hair that Shane cut less than a week ago. I feel the lightness on my neck, as though the old me has been lifted off of my shoulders. I close my eyes as I remember how Shane looked at me after she had finished the last cut. “You look badass,” she had said with her trademark half-smirk, looking at me with pride and something else I couldn’t quite identify. Of course, I had chosen that moment to smile like a fool, mumbling out an embarrassed “Thank you” as I could feel the heat of a blush rising up to my shoulders and my cheeks.
She had been in front of me, half-squatting on the floor, her heels the only things supporting her as she held the comb and brush in her hands. My discarded hair was flowing all around my chair on the floor. After staring at my hair for a few more long seconds, Shane had stood up and brushed the random flyaway hairs off of her grey sweats, and then offered a hand to me to help me get up out of the kitchen chair I had been sitting in. As I stood up, her hand had skated across my arm, sending shivers over my skin.
It’s at this moment, as my skin starts to get goosebumps again from the memory and from the fan blowing in Shane’s room, that she turns off the water. I can hear her bare feet walking on the fake linoleum floors, and I know she’s going to walk out into her room any second now. I try and situate myself on the bed to look like I’m sleeping, and less like I’m some creepy stalker roommate who was waiting for her to get out of the shower.
My short hair tickles my arm as I lay on her bed, sprawled out so it looks like I’ve been here awhile. I can smell the ghost of the shampoo she uses on her pillowcase, and I take a sharp breath in as I see the glow of the open door from the insides of my closed eyes.
I can hear Shane’s footsteps falter as she must see my form, dimly, by the bathroom light. She must think I’m crazy. I don’t blame her. I’m not sure why I thought this would be a good idea in the first place.
“Jenny? Is that you?” I hear the rustle of what must be a towel. I lay there for a few more seconds, not daring to move. I don’t want to seem too eager to talk to her, so I wait. She stands there in the half-dark, most likely freezing. She walks forward slowly and puts a hand on my shoulder.
“Jen. Wake up.” She doesn’t shake my shoulder, but her hand, warm from the shower, doesn’t move away, either. I open my eye a fraction and see her bending over slightly, her wet hair causing droplets to fall on my face. I open my eyes.
“Shane.” I try to sound like I have a hangover, gauging her reaction as I do. She doesn’t seem to be too fazed by finding a girl in her bed. It must be the fact that it’s her roommate and friend that she looks so surprised.
“What are you doing? It’s 2 in the morning.” She looks at me closely, and I try not to meet her eyes for more than a few seconds. I know she sees something in my eyes. “Are you okay?”
I want to tell her something I’ve never said to her before, but I push my words back and shake my head. I am nowhere near okay.
“Hey, Jen.” Shane’s eyes look weirdly soft, which freaks me out even more than when she was mad at me all last week. I’d rather have Shane showing a strong emotion than being nice. It’s easier to know where she is and what she’s thinking the colder she is. When she’s vulnerable like this, I feel the opposite of relieved.
She puts her hand around my shoulder, not quite touching it. I’m reminded of the night that Carmen kissed me, when Shane did the same thing: not quite touching me, but not moving away, either. Always in the middle, much like Shane is with our friends. As her hand stays a few centimeters from the exposed shoulder under my tank top, my heart starts beating faster.
“What happened?” Shane must think Carmen did something to me, I guess. But she’s wrong. I haven’t talked to Carmen since she kissed me.
I shake my head and try to say, no, that’s not it, but my voice suddenly won’t work. I find that my hands are shaking and my throat feels constricted. I can’t concentrate on what I was going to tell her. I was going to tell her what my dream was about, but as soon as I tried to remember what had happened during it, a sense of dread started in the pit of my stomach. I try to talk again, but my mouth is dry. I see Shane lean over out of the corner of my eye. She seems to be checking something on the bed next to me. The towel is still draped around her, but barely. She doesn’t seem to care.
As I dimly notice that her towel is slipping further down as she reaches for something behind me, my heartbeat reaches a crescendo and my vision goes black.
I wake up submerged in water.
Well, not exactly. I’m sitting in the shower, and my neck is right in the stream of spray, almost suffocating me. I cough and choke on hot water and steam. I have no idea what is happening, and I try to blink droplets away from my eyelashes. I vaguely register Shane’s lithe form in my side vision. She’s standing with her arms crossed, but she’s not looking at me. She seems to be muttering something under her breath.
I cross my arms over my chest. I’m only wearing my bra and underwear, but Shane must have put me under the shower with my clothes on at first because my clothes are in a damp pile on the floor next to her feet. I feel vulnerable and nervous. I’m not sure how much time passed since I passed out. I’m not even sure if that’s what even happened. I feel a scream building at the back of my throat.
“Jenny?” Shane looks towards me now. She’s changed into a dark blue t-shirt and black jeans. Both are slightly wet. I wonder what stupid things I did while I was basically catatonic. I hope it wasn't anything too embarrassing, because I'm already half-naked in the shower. I don't need anything else making me anxious. I keep my arms tight across my chest, practically hugging myself to keep from shivering. Although the water must be at as hot as it can, I’m shivering. I’m shivering, and I’m not sure why.
My throat constricts and tightens, almost as if I’m going to cry. I turn my head so that I’m out of the line of spray, and look up at Shane. She’s barely looking me in the face, her clear eyes showing concern and something else more clouded. Her mouth is set in a hard line, like she’s trying hard not to say something. I try to find my silhouette in her eyes, see myself looking back at me through the reflection of her misty eyes. It’s as I notice this that I also register that the steam from the shower is muddling up the room, making Shane’s hair curl ever slightly and my own hair stick to the back of my already-sweaty neck. The musky condensation in the room sticks to my neck and my face, but I still feel like I’ve broken out in a cold sweat. I can’t shake the feeling that something is very wrong.
I unhook my arms and try to slowly stand up. I grasp the edge of the shower door, feeling the slick metal slide underneath my fingers. My feet feel like they had fallen asleep, and my legs have pins and needles in them. I’m lightheaded as I try to take a step out of the shower, the water still running behind me. I lose my balance, and almost fall face-first into the tiles, my hands splaying out as Shane catches me by my forearms.
We stand immobile for a moment, not looking at one another. I glance down at Shane’s bare feet as she pulls me up to stand upright. I look up at her, not sure what just happened. Had I had another blackout episode? No, I can remember everything distinctly. I can still feel the ghost of the shower water spraying on my back, reminding me that Shane must have put me in the shower to wake me up. The shower keeps pouring out billows of steam and streams of water behind us.
I look at Shane, my eyes pleading and most likely bloodshot, thinking she must have an answer as to why I feel like my world is tilted backwards. She always has answers. She always knows what to do. Even when I felt like I didn’t know who Jennifer Schecter was, Shane knew. She knew me well enough and close enough that she helped me find myself when I was lost. She always has the answer.
There is a look of dread on Shane’s face as she looks me straight in the eye for the first time tonight. She motions towards my legs. My knees knock together as the chill of my now-cold skin sets in, the sticky sensation of my sweat on my skin a vivid reminder of why Shane needed to put me under the shower in the first place.
I feel sick as I look down and see the thin lines of my scars form words on pages in a book that I don’t want to read.
This must have been why I woke up. It must have been, but I just hadn't realized that my nightmare had already come true. The whole time I thought I was dreaming, I was actually trying to escape the nightmare I knew would start up again as soon as I woke up. Waking up wasn't a respite from my nightmares; my nightmares are simply mere fantasies compared to the literal hell I am in.
This must be the nightmare I am living.
As I stare at the gashes I’ve made, some unknowingly and some deliberate, during the past few months, my heartbeat becomes tangible in my numb hands and my throbbing headache. All I can hear is the slap of the water on the glass door of the shower, and the pounding of my blood in my ears. I see lines, some erratically crisscrossed and some deliberately outlining deeper, darker bruises from my past. The ones that I made when I first wondered why my life was spiraling out of control. The ones that I made at age 17 when I first realized that my desires made me an outcast in my family and my society. Although I hadn’t known exactly what I was yet, or who I was attracted to, I realized the consequences that my actions would cause. And for that I was heartbroken.
I am reminded, vividly, of my past. I can hear my mother yelling at me to pull my life together. I can see my father’s face, all hard lines and sharp angles, looking down at me, willing me to see why I’m such a failure to them. I put my shaking hands on my legs, rubbing the cuts, lines that tell stories of the valleys and mountains I’ve climbed, all mirroring the highs and lows of my own life. The angry, irritated skin is red where I’ve touched it. It stings slightly as my salty tears fall down my cheeks and onto my legs and down to my stomach as I sit with my head cradled on top of my knees, holding my shins together with my shaking hands.
Ashamed of how vulnerable I feel, I put my face in my hands. I’m not sure if I’m trying to block out the horrible reality that I’ve relapsed and cut again, or if I’m trying to protect Shane from seeing how broken I really am.
This is the only thing I can focus on: I’ve relapsed. I’m a failure. I can’t even last a few days without slipping back into the desolate wasteland I too often find myself in. I’m not strong. I’m just Jenny, stupid Jenny, the girl everyone loves to hate and thinks is crazy.
And they’re right.