You Are Alive
by Keren Chelsea Guevara
You say the words out loud for the first time: “I want to die.”
You are lying down on the back seat of your mother’s car, and nothing has felt truer than these words. They taste like freedom, like breathing life into whatever dust is still left in your soul. No, they are not sad. The words are just words, the truth. They do not come with a hint of sadness or remorse. You just want to die, and that is that.
You do not see it, but your mother’s grip tightens on the steering wheel. She mutters a silent prayer to a god she cannot see. She chokes back on her tears. She says, “Why? What happened?”
There is an answer to this question somewhere. It lies in the scathing words of bullies, in the pressure to be perfect, in the failure, but you do not answer. Here is the thing: You do not want to answer it. If you dig deep within yourself to find the answer, you will have to face every living memory that has led up to now. Your bones ache of rickety age. Your lungs struggle. There is no time to reminisce. So you raise your voice in that way your defense mechanism demands. You say, “I don’t know! It just happened, okay? I just want to die.”
“Please don’t say that,” your mother says. “It hurts.”
This is where the gunshots are fired. You’ve got a gun for a mouth, and your mother has pulled the trigger. You want to become something more, or perhaps to say something more, but your words are bullets fired. The gunshots ricochet. Like this: “I just want to die, okay? It has nothing to do with you.” Like this: “Trust me, it hurts more for me than it does for you.” Like this: “I just want to die. I just want to die. I just want to die.”
You do not die that afternoon.
You have stopped saying it out loud, but everybody around you feels it all the same (but your eyes are empty windows that scream the same words). At some point, you have resigned to your bed—a void filled with such a loud struggle. You only come out of the room to eat, but even eating is a task you put off. You want to be something more, to say something more, but you lost the words at some point.
When your mother comes to see you, she has worry written (plastered) all over her features. She prays for you in the silence of her room; you know this, but it is as strange and as unfamiliar as happiness. Even as she takes a seat at the foot of your bed, you know she is uttering a prayer. You do not mind. You do not care. You turn to face the other way.
“Anak,” she says. Child. “How are you today?”
There is no answer that she wants to hear, so you lie. You say you are fine. You say you are fine, that you are just tired. And, sure, you can’t remember the last time you weren’t tired, but that doesn’t matter. You do not mention the death on your body, even though she can smell it herself. Neither of you mention that you are decaying.
Somehow, you do not die that afternoon.
You cry for the first time in your mother’s arms since death became your shadow. You want to rid yourself of this ever-looming thing, but it follows you around. In the kitchen. In the bathroom. In the bedroom. In corners of your mind even you do not want to explore. Still, you have tried so hard to hide it. Or to hide from it. You do not know the difference anymore.
“Please,” you say, “make all this pain stop. I don’t want to hurt anymore.”
You do not know whether you are asking for death or asking to remove death from your body. Is there a difference? Is there any other way out of death than death? Is there another way out of the sadness? Your eyes are tired and your throat is sore. You fall asleep in your mother’s arms. The last thing you see is her wiping at her tears.
You do not die that afternoon.
The years pass.
You learn to carry your grief in your pocket. You learn that not all days are bad days. You learn that even the days that aren’t bad days don’t feel good either.
You do not die.
Here is the thing about healing: it feels a lot like a thorn stuck in your chest. But instead of removing the thorn, you are looking for ways to keep the thorn there. You have to keep the thorn there. It is what keeps the death from moving from one point to another. It is what keeps death from swallowing you whole. Sometimes, the thorn feels a little bit too much. Sometimes, it feels like removing the thorn will be a much better option altogether.
But you remember the days without the thorn. You remember the stench of death and how easily it welcomed you.
So you hold onto this thorn. Stick it a little deeper into your chest. You take your medication when you need to. You visit the doctor. You hold on to love, even when you cannot see it. You tell yourself there is hope, even when you do not feel it. You repeat this over and over and over, until the thorn makes more sense in your chest. Until the thorn feels like home.
You do not die this afternoon. For once, you are grateful.
When you smile again for the first time in a long time, your mother cries. She thinks you cannot see and that you do not care.
You learn gratitude again, like a child learns how to take their first steps. It is a little scary at first, and you walk into it with your eyes closed. But as soon as your legs get a good grip of how to move, you open your eyes to look where you’re heading.
You say the words out loud for the first time in a long time: “Thank you.”
You are holding your mother’s hand as you say it. You are smiling. Some days there is still smoke in your lungs. Some days there is still an inevitable shadow. Some days, you are the shadow. But you learn to be thankful. You learn to mouth the words again, even on the days you are tired. You learn to mouth the words again, even when they feel foreign on your tongue.
You are holding your mother’s hand as you say this. The thorn in your chest is a thing that beats now. You are walking into the unknown with your eyes wide open.
You’re alive. Today, you are alive.
Keren Chelsea Guevara is a poet, student, and creator from Laguna, Philippines. Her writing revolves around the presence of God or the lack thereof, girls, depression, and love. Her work has been published in The Melanin Collective, Sula Collective, Germ Magazine, and The Fem Lit Mag. She published her first paperback poetry collection GIRL / GOD in 2018. One day, she hopes to make enough of a difference in the world. For now, she writes.