“Would you just quit it?”
I glare at Self-Loathing as she paces the floor of my living room, wringing her hands.
“I can’t!” She wails. “I mean, just look at yourself!”
“What about me?” I demand, trying to pay attention to the Gilmore Girls episode playing on the TV that hangs behind her bobbing head as she crosses the rug once, twice, three times.
“You’ve grown out of another pair of pants, you lost most of the arm strength you built up last summer,” she says, ticking off the items on her fingers “I don’t know when you last looked in a mirror, but your skin is a disaster, and your book is in no better shape, your puppy probably hates you.” She stops, staring at me with her big, watery eyes. “I mean, how am I supposed to calm down when everything about you is just….is just…wrong?!”
I pause the TV and take a deep breath. She always gets like this after too many hormone cocktails. If I don’t keep an eye on her at all times she starts to get it in her head that everything is hopeless, and I get stuck with the unhappy task of calming her down.
“If I am so terrible why do you keep hanging around me?” I ask, patiently.
Big, fat tears well in her eyes and flow down her puffed up cheeks. “I don’t know,” she sobs. “I wish I knew—I wish I could find someone less pathetic to hang around, but I’ve been stuck with you so long…I—I don’t even know how to leave anymore!” And with one wracked wail she collapses onto the floor in a heap.
I pinch the bridge of my nose, suppressing a throbbing ache that has started behind my eyes. Every month or so it’s the same story, and it has been getting worse over the years.
When we were both girls, I vaguely remember that she only showed up on occasion—usually just to point out that my hair was frizzy, or that braces did not make me look my best. These days I have to put her out on the balcony just to get any work done.
“Tell me how to help you,” I say, trying to sound kind. “I would like to help you. Having you around is just…well…I just don’t think we’re good for each other anymore.”
Her words are muffled by tears and carpet. “What’s the point? You wouldn’t want to do it anyway.”
She looks up at me with red-rimmed eyes. “I…I’d like to do what we used to. You know. Cry together about how awful you are, and how you’ll never amount to anything, and then put on the most giant sweatshirts we own to mask our lumpy bodies and eat ice cream so that we can do it all again the next day.” I can see the light returning to those wet eyes as her voice gains strength and excitement. “Or—or we could get dressed up, put on some makeup, go out, get hammered and drive away every nice person who tries to talk to us!” Her eyes get wide and she jumps to her feet.
“Or we could sabotage your relationship!!!”
“NO.” I can’t keep it together anymore. “Look, getting drunk on wine and watching crap TV is all well and good, but I thought we discussed your impact on my romantic life the last time! You leave my boyfriend alone.”
She pouts and resumes her pacing. “You’re no fun anymore, you know that? We used to have so much fun together. Now you just ignore me.”
“Well, I didn’t think it was very fun,” I reply.
“So, what? You’re just going to sit there and pretend I don’t exist…forever?”
“That was the plan.”
She collapses into the armchair. “That doesn’t sound like a good plan to me.”
“Do you have any better ideas?”
“You could kick me out, then I would have no choice but to leave.”
I sigh. She’s right, and I’ve tried, but somehow she always finds herself back at my bedside when I wake up in the morning. Not every morning, not these days, but if not she usually shows up around lunchtime. “You know I’ve tried,” I mumble.
“Well we can just add that to the list of things you’re terrible at,” she suggests. “Silver lining?”
I roll my eyes, but don’t respond. We sit there for a minute. I consider playing the episode again, but I decide not to bother. I’ve seen it before, anyway.
“Can I ask you a question?”
I look over to see that she’s still watching me with those owlish eyes. “Sure.”
“Do you remember the first day we spent time together?”
I think about it. I mean, I already know the answer, but she has been so upset I want to treat this question seriously in an attempt to make her feel better so she’ll stop bothering me. “I’m sorry,” I say after a minute. “I really don’t.”
“That’s a shame,” she says.
“I was thinking that, if you could remember, we could figure this thing out and then I could leave.”
“Yeah. But I don’t, so I guess we’re going to have to figure it out some other way.”
“You could always try not being so awful.” She giggles at this idea.
I smile at her, in spite of myself. It is funny. I have tried that before, to little effect. The problem always seems to be that I think I’m awful in the first place. Self-loathing, and all that. But she doesn’t understand. Loathing is all she knows. It has made her a bit…weak. “Can I ask you a question?”
She blinks at me. “Sure.”
“Do you remember?”
She screws up her face, thinking. “Sort of…I mean I remember a feeling…of wanting to help. We were young—probably seven or eight or so. You…no, wait I remember! It was summer, and you were wearing a bathing suit, and someone pointed out that you didn’t have a flat stomach.”
“I remember that. I don’t think that was the first time.” I know the moment she means. It was a confusing one. I didn’t realize that I didn’t have a flat stomach, as I had no idea my stomach was something to which I ought to pay attention. Once it was pointed out to me, however, it became my new obsession. Somehow that memory had never felt like the one, though.
“What did you do?” I ask.
“I told you that the other girls were better because they had flat stomachs,” she replies.
She shrugs. “Seemed like a good thing to do at the time.”
“I don’t know,” she starts to get irritated. “I’m your Self-Loathing. Why don’t you tell me?”
“I think I always felt different, even when I was surrounded by friends and people who loved me, I still felt like I didn’t know how to relate to others.” Even as I say the words, I cannot fathom why I’m telling her any of this. After all, this current situation is her fault. But I just keep talking, because it is something to do. “It wasn’t until I was around that age that I thought of it as a bad thing. That it made me awful, somehow. I started to look for things that I could fix, so that maybe I would fit in and then that odd feeling of not belonging would go away, but it just got bigger and bigger, and I just kept trying to fill that hole of inadequacy until I began to hate myself for changing so much and hating myself for being so different in the first place, so no matter what I chose to do, I just…hated myself.”
“Okay,” she replies, “but why do you hate yourself now?”
I laugh without feeling any of the humor of it because the answer is just too ridiculous. “I hate myself for hating myself if you can believe it. If I hadn’t listened to you from the beginning, I wouldn’t be who I am right now. I could be…so much happier. So much nicer to myself. I just—I look in the mirror and I feel no connection to the person I see. It’s like I’m living in someone else’s body. I try to talk to people, and I don’t recognize the words coming out of my mouth, or my own actions. The only times I feel really like myself are when I’m alone, or with one of the few people with whom I actually feel comfortable. It is an exhausting way to live.”
She rolls her eyes. “I know, stupid. I’ve been here the whole time.”
“It might be less exhausting if you just embrace it,” she suggests and throws her arms wide. “Like ‘I’m Annie and I LOATHE myself!’ Just like that. Embrace my presence. I’m here either way.”
I stare at her in disbelief. “You know, that may be the first sensible thing you’ve ever said.” I throw my arms wide.
“I’M ANNIE AND I LOATHE MYSELF.”
She grins at me. “Feel better?”
“Ah, well.” She folds her hands behind her head and reclines back in the chair. “I didn’t have anywhere else to be tonight anyway. Are you going to play the show, or what?”
I reach for the remote and press play. As we watch in comfortable silence, I can’t help but think that I do feel a bit different—not better, exactly. But somewhere deep inside my chest, I feel something very tiny and very tight release. I know now that no matter how much I glare at my reflection, I’m never going to be able to go back in time and change the past. I wish on some level that I could just snap my fingers and change the present—and maybe I could—but something is stopping me. If I could just figure out what it is…
“I’m sorry, am I interrupting?”
We turn our heads in unison to see Fear leaning against the doorframe, sneering at us from beneath sharp eyebrows, porcelain skin slightly bluish in the light from the screen. I look back at Self-Loathing.
“Uh, oh,” she says, shrinking down into the cushions.
I return my attention to the TV and sigh.
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