Listen, I know I said I’d go to meetings. I know I said I’d get a sponsor. But I’m busy. My work is my meetings. My work is my sponsor. I know what your face looks like right now. I know you don’t believe me. Just listen.
So I can’t drink, and we both know why. I get too crazy. I can’t talk to you anymore, and we both know why. And I can’t hurt myself, I can’t keep hurting myself in the usual ways, that’s what you and everyone and the doctors say. So what am I left with? You’re asking me to just sit here, just stew in this reality, rot and fester until I’m gamey and ugly and I decompose into nothing. What am I left with? You said I could pick my poison. So I picked.
Did you know I can’t fuck either? I can’t. When I fuck I think of you, when I fuck I go crazy, I get told I want it too much, I’m too intense, or I’m not enough, or they look at me like I’m a ghost, or they tell me what to do and it makes me crazy so I can’t fuck. When I first got here I met a nice guy, he was nice, we fucked, he hurt me, but I told him not to stop, I told him I wanted him again and again and not to stop, but he did, he left, and when he left I went crazy, I slashed my arms with the complimentary corkscrew and the hotel charged me for ruining the sheets. I’m telling you this because I really ran out of places to put it, the thing in me, the thing that scares you, and when you take my outlets away it’s still there inside me gathering its strength and planning its next victim. You didn’t leave me with a choice.
It started one morning when I was jerking off in bed and I heard something at my window. I was settled into my apartment by then, I had started work, I liked my job and I liked the kids and I had been relatively stable for about a week. I stopped and looked up and saw this little brown squirrel perched on the screen, all spread out like a starfish, its mouth wide open and its teeth showing. I threw my vibrator at it. It didn’t move. I got up and went over to the window. I looked at it and said, “hey.” I knocked on the wall next to it. It still didn’t move and I just watched it hang there twitching and looking possessed and I finally poked the screen, poked it right in the belly and it just let go, fell backwards from my fifth story window, and landed on its back on the sidewalk, its little limbs still stretched out like a star. I opened the window and looked down. It just lay there on the pavement. I looked up at the branches of the tree next to my building and saw a couple more, all staring at me.
I got dressed and went downstairs to have a closer look. It was dead. It lay there with its eyes open and it was dead, it wasn’t twitching or moving at all.
Anyway, that was the first one, and I felt weird about it, but I kept on with my routine. I wasn’t fucked up about it. I was pulling it together. Work gave me stability. I found that I was pretty good at teaching, pretty good at appearing normal enough to be trusted with kids but just crazy enough for kids to like me. For the first time in months, I was feeling okay. And then it happened again.
We took the kids on a little outing to the park one afternoon. They had a blast watching all the dogs play – there are so many strays in this town, and most people here are assholes with them, randomly kicking them when they walk down the street, but the kids aren’t like that, the kids love them. Two little mutts were fighting over some cold cuts they’d presumably found in the trash, and the kids were loving it. They made a big circle around the dogs and started cheering them on and laughing. The smaller one, probably some kind of beagle mix, ended up losing, and came up to see me afterward, for some affection I guess or maybe to beg for food. I don’t usually touch the strays but this guy was so cute. And he had come right up to me, and looked at me with his big round eyes, so I couldn’t resist giving him a little pat on the head.
The moment I touched it the dog stopped being cute. There was a real difference in its facial expression, in its eyes. It immediately stepped back from me, turned around, and ran at top speed into a tree about ten feet away from us. It rammed into it head-first, fell down onto its side, got up, and ran into it again and again. It happened so fast that most of us couldn’t react and just stood there staring, but one kid did run up and try to hold the dog back once it had started bleeding. But it didn’t stop. It did it over and over until it didn’t get up anymore.
But listen, I didn’t realize yet that it was me. The incidents happened so far apart that I didn’t clue in right away. And anyway, it didn’t make sense – I had touched people, I touched people all the time, shook hands and brushed shoulders and kissed cheeks. Before the hotel incident I was sleeping around. So it wasn’t obvious to me that I was the one causing this behaviour in them. I didn’t know I was contagious.
So I wasn’t convinced yet, but I did have an idea, and when I went to get a coffee one Saturday and sat outside the café around the corner from my place, there was a little black cat lying in the sun next to my table. I wasn’t thinking I wanted to hurt it, in fact it even crossed my mind that maybe I should avoid touching it. But it got up, like it was compelled to come over to me, like I’d called it. I felt anxious, and crossed my legs to get out of its way, but it managed to affectionately rub its face on my calf. And when it did it looked up at me all of a sudden and it just got up and ran into the street in front of a car. The impact didn’t quite kill it and I watched as it slowly dragged its body to the side of the road to die. And I didn’t feel anything as I watched, and it was nice not to feel.
I wish it didn’t have to be this way, I wish I didn’t have to take it out on them. I don’t want to hurt anything. But I can’t keep it all inside. I go crazy, I told you, I think about everything and you and me and I go crazy and I just need somewhere to put it all. You don’t think I tried it on myself? One night I was poking and prodding and rubbing and scratching at my face trying to get it to work but I just stayed being me, the same as always, the same ugly thing inside and with nowhere else to put it and not wanting to cause the same trouble as always I dunked my hand into my roommate’s fish tank and watched them all jump out of the water one by one and land onto the floor where they flopped around and drowned and when they finally died I could breathe again.
To be honest I’m not sure I’m glad it doesn’t work on people. Of course it would be a circus and a nightmare if it did, of course I’m not interested in killing anyone. But you don’t know about this pain, and you don’t know about feeling it when no one else does. And again, if they say I can’t hurt myself, if they keep calling me crazy for it, what am I supposed to do with it? Sometimes I feel myself faking smiles and moods and entire personalities in order to appease complete strangers who know nothing about my life, and I wonder why they shouldn’t feel what I feel, just for a second, a minute, just to see. Of course they’d go crazy, just like me, of course they’d want to end it.
But with something so innocent, I know it should feel wrong, but it doesn’t, not really. And I know that’s what you’re thinking. You think this is unhealthy too, unhealthy like all the other things I’ve done, “unhealthy.” Who gave you the authority to decide what is good for my health and what isn’t? You weren’t good for my health. Not when you came into my life, not when you left. I’m taking charge now, I’m on my own and I’m doing what I have to do to survive.
I’m sure they don’t have happy lives anyway in this miserable city. Between the obnoxious tourists and the bitter locals these tiny lives get lost, just like mine. And you’re going to say I’m projecting my own state onto them, well of course, literally that’s what I’m doing, literally I can’t stop it and you told me to take care of myself, everyone tells me to just cope with what I am and so this is it, I’m coping. By kicking the pigeons that get in my way when I’m walking through the central plaza and then watching them fly into the stained glass windows of the cathedral. By shooing away seagulls that come for my snacks at the beach, purposefully brushing my fingers against their filthy feathers, and shutting my eyes as I take in their final, desperate squawks. Or by visiting the pet store at the mall on weekends and seeing how creative the bunnies get as they off themselves for their audience of traumatized children. You wonder, do I feel bad? For my tinder date’s cat, for the rats in the subway, for our class pet chinchilla or whatever I can get my hands on to appease the thing in me for just a while? Of course I feel bad. I am always feeling bad. They are an extension of me, we share a connection, and when the natural order allows me to die vicariously through them I feel certain of my strength. I am the only body on earth that can physically digest this illness. Which means I can also handle the guilt, and the grief.
Natalia Hero is a writer and translator from Montreal. Her short fiction has appeared in literary magazines such as Peach Magazine and Shabby Doll House. She is currently completing an MA in literary translation. She tweets @supernasst.