The next time you can’t sleep, take a nice hot shower. Let the water run a minute or two before you begin to wash. The steam will help get rid of the oil on your hands. Don’t think about your car’s clutch, how you invariably failed your own repair again.
You won’t notice the scratches until the water reaches them. Clean them well, that’ll make them hurt less. If you convince yourself there’s no pain, there won’t be. You learned that skill in middle school, when Danny Mako pulled your arm out of its socket on the soccer field at lunch but you didn’t scream. You finished the fight. Survived through 5th and 6th periods and the two-mile walk home, and you didn’t cry until you made it past the threshold where your mother found you and took you to the hospital where you begged her not to call the principal or Danny’s parents, and finally she agreed. That’s when you learned even adults lie, you could tell by the way her eyes turned dull as clay when she promised not to intervene. Remember that day. No one can take that away from you. You proved yourself once, you can do it again.
Try not to think of your faults. That’ll only make things worse, and when Rachel comes over she’ll sense it on you, a sourness the soap couldn’t wash away. And besides, she’ll already know you failed because the car’s still on blocks in the driveway, and the garage door’s closed, with no lights on, so don’t act like you know what the next step is, what you’ll fix tomorrow.
You have questions about the relationship. So, here’s your answer: The fact that she doesn’t mention your failures. That’s how you know she’s worth keeping.
You’ll stay up thinking about all these insignificant questions that feel insurmountable. That’s normal. You don’t get over that. The questions and regrets evolve, but the anxiety remains. You learn to live with it, same as how you learn to live with Rachel’s little tics — the way she unwraps her gum, careful, as if trying to teach herself origami. The way she breezes through stop signs. How she can watch a television show over and over and still laugh at expected punch lines. It’s just like the way she can enjoy a beautiful day. Admire how she smiles freely when you’re driving toward the ocean with the windows rolled down, her right arm reddened subtly by the sun. Look at your reflection in the rearview. Try to unload the anchors dragging on your neck, pulling your head down. Make a conscious effort, for both of us.
Don’t be jealous of Rachel’s ability to live. She’s closer to happiness than you are. That’s not ignorance, that’s wisdom. It’s a skill. It requires a ton of practice. It’s proof she’s willing to work at becoming what she wants to be, at becoming a better person. And really, you’re not perfect, so stop deluding yourself.
Listen, number one priority: Fix those self-esteem issues. Soon it’ll start to really sink in, become another layer to your skin. Epidermis, dermis, subcutaneous tissue, then below that, low self-worth. Pretty soon people won’t want to be around you anymore, so fake confidence if you have to. You don’t want to be alone again. When you’re alone, you see things clearly, and reality is terrifying. Hold these things in the way you tucked your dislocated arm inside your sweatshirt. Remember how, although attached to your body, the numbness made it feel like it wasn’t yours, a secret you were protecting for a friend. Hold your losses close to your chest.
Then, when the time’s right, force them back into yourself so you can begin to heal.
—Mason Schoen is a creative writing graduate student.