This selection, chosen by Managing Editor Krista Cox, is an excerpt from This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love. by Jennifer Wortman, released by Split Lip Press in 2019.
Excerpt from “Love You. Bye.”
Content warning for discussion of suicide
My turn at the new-phone counter, a black snake in the middle of the room. My heart thumps triply hard, stirred by the triple threat of a business transaction with a stranger in a shopping mall. The phone boy, like all the phone boys, is young, wily, and thin, a touch of cool in his short hair, his company-logo polo, white as the walls, strapped into his business-cas pants. I wave my prehistoric phone at him, a practical unnecessity but a spiritual must. He is my confessor and my phone is my confession. Forgive me. I don’t belong in this world.
Unsurprisingly, the phone boy laughs at my phone. Or maybe he’s just laughing at me, at my overreactive face, which I’m sure now conveys an excess of shame and fear. But it’s a kind laugh, and I fall for him a bit. Then he says, “Yeah, I don’t want to join this century either. But you gotta do what you gotta do, right?”
“Right.” I sigh, adding extra wind and a shoulder collapse for his benefit. He laughs again and I smile. He’s one of those clean-cut blonds with electric blue eyes I don’t consider my type until they aim those eyes at me.
Things turn serious: We talk phones. We talk plans. Radiating confidence and concern, he gives me choices, explains pros and cons. He helps me find the best phone and plan for me.
By the time I leave the store, I am in love.
Years ago, when I’d called the crisis hotline about my depression, the operator asked if I’d ever been hospitalized. I dropped my Cheerios box. “Are you going to hospitalize me?” I screeched. This was one of my lifelong fears, that I’d end up locked in a hospital because I couldn’t get my shit together. Sometimes I fantasized about it, that life would be easier there, my every move choreographed and assessed for its fitness, my weaknesses laid bare and swept up by routine. But this fantasy of escape belied its own trap: if I landed in a hospital, I would always be in that hospital, even when I got out. I imagined it as a marriage, that other institution, a public “I do” to my depression. Depression and I had dated off and on for years. And sometimes depression fucked me good. But I didn’t want to marry it, and the day I called that hotline, my depression seemed a final fate: an arranged marriage I lacked the strength to defy.
I was sick, alright. The twin tents of my hipbones, the siren song of kitchen blades, the mounds of trash I couldn’t take out because I feared going outside. The teaching job I loved that I soon would lose, because I’d not only lost the ability to function—I’d lost the will. Now I’d be taken away, as I should.
Still: “I don’t want to go to the hospital,” I cried into the phone. “Please.”
“You’re not going to the hospital,” the hotline guy said. “I promise. It’s just a routine question for our records. You’re okay. You’re okay.” He sounded not okay. “I’m sorry. I’m new at this. I handled that wrong.”
It was his distress, my concern for him, that had finally calmed me down.
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