prelude to bus ride
A rainy street in Seoul at night. A walkway extends past a crosswalk. It is lined with trees, and is covered by a thick canopy of their leaves.


I spent the summer before I tried to kill myself working at a movie theatre.

It wasn’t half of anything, because the big screen wasn’t even a quarter of something. You couldn’t quantify magic like that, lightning and blackness. It leaked out eventually, I thought, but I mostly attended the concessions stand and never got very jaded. My mind, too, was a cinema. I pulled the curtains back and shot my thoughts in 1:85:1 widescreen, premiered them like a festival, and everyone loved it, it was amazing, it was the best summer of my life. I’d come home and make music with my sister, roll the phone cord as I called my girlfriend in Maine. I was the very best version of myself, big smile, pearly whites. I was so clean.

My parents liked to say that the world had folded me into itself, so nothing bad could ever happen to me. My forehead, they said, must have been dented from all its kisses. They liked me so much that summer. But summers like that don’t last. I sat on the steps in the apartment’s yard and stared at my nails which I hadn’t painted in a week and I asked myself, What do you want?, and the answer that came back to me was a resounding echo.

The summer before I tried to kill myself, I started dreaming about the mistakes I would make. I saw premonitions everywhere.

It started small. It started like this: I thought I might cut my hair. I stood barefoot in my bathroom and held my scissors with a great chunk of hair between the blades, stared intently into my face trying to find some sort of regret, some sort of pause, but there wasn’t anything. All I saw was the same newness, the same plastic sheen that had always been there. I put the scissors down, got mad, knocked them into the sink, poked them into the drain, thought better of what I was doing.

It got bigger. It got like this: I would stick my arm into tight places and lean my bodyweight onto it, trying hard to see where my resolve would falter, trying hard to see if this, too, would bounce off me same as everything else.

It got like this: I called my girlfriend in Maine and wrote the words I wanted to say to her out loud on a scrap receipt: I hate you, let’s break up, I cheated on you with three girls just last week. I also wrote: I love you, let’s get married, let’s have a baby, do you want to have a baby?

“Do you want to have a baby?”

She laughed into the other end and said, “What?”

I didn’t mean it, anyway. Not a word of it was true. I didn’t mean anything. I kept pointing fingers at different dogs, waiting for them to either nuzzle into my palm or bite down, but what’s a dog to care for a lousy bitch?

I thought about driving up North and also down South. I thought about painting signs with antinatalist slogans and walking the highway with them. I thought about going to the drugstore and getting movies from their bargain bin, really bad ones, three for five dollars with names like GOING TO CHURCH THIS CHRISTMAS and DEATHSLAYER ULTRAMAX: THE FINAL LAUGHING KILL. Fuck, that sounded good. A hundred of those bad movies. I’d watch them all in a night. I’d hang the CDs like curtains. I’d be the block’s scene queen, in my pink dress and pumps.

I got loose. I got wild. I got like a kid in a tilt-a-whirl, shrieking with glee, toeing the edge of nausea. I bought five superballs from that same drugstore and held them all five in my hand, flung them at my walls until my neighbours banged on them, hard. I was beautiful and purposeless. I went to parties and threw up in bathrooms. I called my parents once a week, then once every two weeks. It was nothing conscious; it was a slope I was slipping down. It was a tower plunged into the ground and I was walking down the winding staircase, running my hand along the cool stone.


At the end of that summer, I set myself straight like a bad bone. I cut my hair, but I went to someone to get it done. I gave the superballs to the kids down the hall. I started calling home again and let myself be soothed by my mother’s voice, like fingers running gently through my hair.

It was jarring, how fast I reigned myself in. It filled me with a bizarre sense of grief for the impermanence of my rebellion. I’d had my share of acting out, had glutted myself on it, frankly, for all of a few weeks before putting my head back down. With my head down I saw the cracks between my thoughts mirrored in the grout between tiles, the places where things stuck close to other things, like when I fell asleep and right when I woke up in the morning. In that second where I flipped the light switch to a dark room and had to take a split-second to adjust most of all. My face locked and twitched and spasmed. My fingers intertwined and bent at the knuckles.

I went to work. I stood behind the concessions stand and put on a big smile, bigger than the screens. I kept my hair up in a tidy tail. I wore lipstick, but not much. The time passed in great, ominous globs. I was as a needle to a record, my lunacy forgotten. I watched the buses passing on the street, rode them, sometimes, though never anywhere unfamiliar. I was a good girl.

The main point, the point of contention, the point my finger caught on when tracing the trajectory of my life on my bedroom ceiling, was how brief it all had been. The next summer, caught in a state of static, I tried to kill myself. That wasn’t the important part. The important part was the bus the night before. It was a good night, dark and lush and lovely. The air was redolent with blooming flowers.

I sat on the curb with my silver dress hiked up, the backs of my heels chafing where they met the straps of my thin heels. It was hotter than it had ever been before in town. All the radios were grinding their teeth about it. Record temperatures … Temperatures soar … Escaping the heat. The sky was heavy with the promise of rain, rumbling lowly with thunder.

I watched the bus round the corner. I picked up my purse, my phone dangling from my wrist. There was a split-second, as my foot hit the bus platform, as I brought up my transit card, a brief moment: A moment of odd silence, where everything froze all around me. Birds stopped with worms caught midway in their beaks, children paused banging their fists mid-tantrum down onto supermarket floor.

It began to rain all at once.

I thought about my life, my clean life, the decay of my summer. I thought about my silver dress, with the slight tear in its left seam. I thought about my friend Maisy, and how she’d gotten engaged. I thought about my girlfriend, who’d mailed me a letter and signed it off with a lipstick mark. I thought about consequence, and inconsequence. I thought this: Somewhere, there are wild horses standing silent in a field.

I started to cry. I didn’t start to cry, but I started to cry, silent tears slipping unacknowledged down my face. The man sitting across from me looked up, perturbed — “What’s the matter, sweetheart?” — but I clung to the pole, turned my face so my chin rested on my bicep. The bus shuddered around me.

Everything had an expiration date. Everything had a runtime. In the theater, I’d watch families and couples and lone cinema-goers spilling out of the screening room, eyes blown wide, in the ditzy and half-alive euphoria of a good hour and half spent in the dark. The heaviness in my chest doubled in intensity, tripled. I was the cleanest I had ever been. I thought I might go anywhere, follow anyone to the ends of the earth and further still for the sake of their mercy, might fall through endless verdigris in order to find real soil, real soil to dig my fingers into.

The bus, impartial judge of mundane things, held me straight.

It had all been so quick. The street winked up at me, the bell-cords swung. Strange and endless grief yawned and yawned again in my chest, like the ocean; the sky split itself open like a wound. In that haze I assessed: The bus, the man, the street, the bell-cords. My purse, heavy on my arm. I peered inside with bleary eyes. Slipping out of mind and into memory, I paced the perimeter of the hole I was to dig. Doubt tripped out of my mouth. I measured the depth of the hole with my eyes as one might salinity. At the bottom of the overturn I found this: A bottle of prescription Baclofen.