by Anna Keeler
We’re Not Doing This Today
It never starts off with soft pecks on your neck and it is not a ticking bomb on your body. More often than not, it walks into your apartment and puts its feet up on the table like it was the one hooking on the corner for the rent check.
Habituality was built into the definition of anxiety and even Webster is powerless to stop it. The greatest pills in the world hold a council in the pockets of psychiatrists and are unable to come up with a solution. So instead of the ruined sack of delusional renaissance you are, you put on the face of jurisprudence. You try to rule out science and chemical imbalances with the sheer force of your glare and intimidation.
You grab your illness by the underside of its cheekbones and throw it into the corner until it develops the capacity to think about what it’s done. Instead of an apology, it comes back with a crowbar that it uses to crack open your skull, and you feel around for a soul or the color black or even a blood covered organ but instead you come up an engine: a pumping instrument that is cracked and broken but still poetic.
You’re encouraged to break it more and explore its contents.
And at last, you find out why you are the way you are because you were never chemistry; you were physics. You were pumped so full of theorems and proofs and variables too haute to flirt with gravity. Numbers refused to sign off their equal signs and instead danced in the rain of shock value and smoke. Degrees of lightning and irritant compounds fueled their own rhetoric and birthed the steampunk fantasy behind your eyes. You wrap the whole package in eight cylinders and push it back into eight cranial bones that never touched each other in the first place.
It wasn’t dismal. And then it was.
Illness found its way out of timeout.
Every wire on the ground became a snake and every dried up weave was a rat carcass and every movement under a street light, no matter how small, shapeshifted into the next thing that would trigger you. The next failure that will illustrate a bigger image of you as being mentally ill until you realize you were just born to take it.
So you take it like it’s your job and don’t ask to cuddle afterwards because you know that you have no authority here.
You dodge imaginary vermin and train yourself to love them while biting your lip at every lash and hiss at your backside.
And then you see them; the ones who milk the same breasts that you avoid and growing from their sweet, peachy milk. The girls who paint the anime damsel into their eye sockets and pray for vulnerability to piss inside their mouths.
They think that it’s cute to let rodents infect their skin and let the venom turn their spicy eyes into bean curd. They think this because their downfall was a choice, while you never had any choice but to sell it.
You became a prostitute wearing the coat of a doctor and lined your stethoscope with fox fur. The pink eye shadow and the six-inch heels made it all look so easy and desirable; how can you pass judgement like the baton you held onto? You slapped down that check on your landlord’s desk with the conviction of a woman with some strength. You were never strong but you were never weak. You were strong and weak.
And it doesn’t matter.
You realize no one wants you here and you also don’t want to be here and the only thing keeping your body stapled to the earth is that compulsive drive to wash away each day like you do your hands. Again and again until you can see the muscle that serves as your core gasping at the stratosphere for help.
Because you realize that you are not afraid of dying, or even living, but both dying and living, because each has the opportunity to rob you of the pity you keep folded in the cuffs of your t-shirts.
You’re jealous. And you hate the damsels. And the rodents. And the snakes and yourself but you never, ever, ever hate the illness.
Once in awhile it uses its nails to hollow out the guts that make up the gazette of your body and adds the notion of immunity to your glossary. You take on the shape of static riding on smoke that can appeal to the gears in every cloud. The atmosphere welcomes you as a grain of nitrogen and even makes your metal-clad self semi-transparent. From there, you have the authority of belonging.
From there, you can look down on the world.
With that freedom, you put your feet on its head and tell your illness:
“No. I won’t do this today.”
– – – – –
Anna Keeler is a poet and fiction writer attending Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. She is the assistant editor for The Chaotic Review, and was the 2016 recipient of the Arden Goettling Academy of American Poets Prize. Her work has been published or is upcoming on Poets.org,The Merrimack Review, Cleaver Magazine, The Writing Disorder, Sick Lit Magazine, Pidgeonholes Magazine, Unbroken Literary Journal, and more.