This Is Really Happening
A Seventeen Magazine Best Book of the Year!
BuzzFeed senior writer Erin Chack hits you in the guts, the feels, and the funny bone all at once with this collection of personal essays that reads like Sloane Crosley for the Snapchat generation.
In turns hysterically funny and heartbreakingly poignant, Erin recounts everything from meeting her soulmate at age 14 to her first chemotherapy session at age 19 to what really goes on behind the scenes at a major Internet media company.
She authentically captures the agony and the ecstasy of the millennial experience, whether it's her first kiss ("Sean’s tongue! In my mouth! Slippery and wet like a slug in the rain.") or her struggles with anxiety ("When people throw caution to the wind, I am stuck imagining the poor soul who has to break his back sweeping caution into a dustpan").
Yet Erin also offers a fresh perspective on universal themes of resilience and love as she writes about surviving cancer—including learning of her mother's own cancer diagnosis within the same year and her attempts to hide the diagnosis from friends to avoid "un-normaling" everything.
Honest, hilarious, and totally unfiltered, this sharply observed memoir introduces Erin Chack as a strikingly original new voice.
Excerpt from This Is Really Happening
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2017 Erin Chack
THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING
True Stories by
Cancer is hard. Obviously. Watching less than five minutes of any Lifetime Original Movie will tell you that. When I got cancer at the ripe young age of nineteen, I had seen the movies and thought I knew what to expect. Losing my hair? That was an obvious hard part. It felt a bit like that scene in V for Vendetta when Natalie Portman is shaking in a prison cell while her captor unceremoniously shaves off her long chestnut curls, except afterwards I didn’t look like Natalie Portman and I didn’t get to blow up England.
Being very, very sick for months on end? Also obviously hard. At no point did I think that the nausea, the body aches, the mouth sores, the chills, the hemorrhoids, and the constant exhaustion wouldn’t eventually take a toll on my mood.
But telling my friends I had cancer? That was a sneaky-hard part, one Lifetime didn’t prepare me for. I guess I don’t know what I expected would happen when I let the people closest to me know that I was about to transform into a naked mole rat but with a smaller chance of survival, but I hoped the script would go something like this:
ME: Hello, friend. I have the cancer.
THEM: Thank you for letting me know, friend. Let’s go eat a pizza and resume our normal activities.
This, surprisingly, is not how it went. Telling someone you have cancer isn’t like updating them on some fact about your life, like you’ve decided to go to grad school or you’ve stopped shaving your armpits. Telling someone you have cancer makes them feel bad. Really bad. Like, “Why would you do this specifically to me during my otherwise happy life?” bad. It’s a delicate conversation, one that should be handled with care by a person who is good at it. I very quickly learned that, like dancing or knowing the right amount of spaghetti to cook, I was very, very not good at it.
When my parents called my boyfriend, Sean, and me into their bedroom to tell us the test results were back and I did, in fact, have cancer, I didn’t freak out. I sort of already knew, since this was the third test, just to confirm the results of the first two tests. Instead, I immediately turned to Sean and told him I’d need to borrow his Camry in the morning. He handed me the keys without saying a word.
The next day I drove fifty miles down the Garden State Parkway to a small New Jersey town where two of my closest college friends, Marly and Elena, lived. I wanted to tell my college friends first, figuring it would be the easiest. The initial lump discovery and subsequent tests had happened during the last few months of freshman year, so telling them I had cancer felt more like confirming a terrible suspicion than dropping a bomb.
How I attended a college four hours from my home and ended up making friends with two girls from Red Bank, New Jersey, is still one of the biggest mysteries of my life, but on that day, I was grateful for the efficiency. Two birds, one tumorous stone. Marly met me at Elena’s house, and the three of us sat on the front lawn ripping out fistfuls of grass while I told them, yeah, that lump was a lump, and yeah, I do have cancer. They hugged me from either side, and then we fell back onto the ground, looking up at the cloudless blue sky. It was a perfect May day.
“We have to call Olivia,” I said. They both nodded, look- ing into the middle distance. Olivia was my roommate, and the fourth of our quartet, but she happened to live three hours in the opposite direction. With Marly and Elena at my side, I repeated my script to Olivia, this time over a crackly flip-phone speaker.
Since telling my college friends had gone relatively smoothly, I got overconfident about telling my home friends. But what I didn’t account for was the fact that they had no idea that something serious had been going on while I was away at college. My insistent “Hey, can we meet up” text messages were taken as “I know we’ve only been home for a few days, but I’ve already rearranged my childhood bedroom thirteen times and I’m very bored, please hang out with me,” which they brushed off. So with one of my best friends, Reid, I took a more aggressive route.
I’m coming over, I texted him. I shoved my phone in the front pocket of my jeans and dragged my purple Trek mountain bike out of the garage. I’d had the bike since fourth grade, and when I rode it I felt like a circus bear riding a tricycle, but without a car a circus bear I’d remain. Before I swung my leg over the too-low seat, I got a text back.
OK but hurry we’re going out for Kirsten’s birthday in an hour, he said. Kirsten was Reid’s little sister and was turning fifteen that day. As I biked down the quiet suburban side streets, I wondered if telling Reid before a family dinner was a bad idea, but the wheels were quite literally already in motion. If I didn’t tell him, then I was afraid I would lose my nerve and never get around to it. I imagined running into him at the bagel store in town completely bald and mum- bling, “Oh yeah, I forgot to mention . . .”
When I got to Reid’s house, I ditched my bike on his front lawn and knocked on the door. I heard his dog, Teddy, barking from somewhere deep in the house, then the tap- tap-tap of his doggy nails on the hardwood floor growing louder until he was barking so close to the door that the knocker rattled. Teddy was a big white-and-brown-spotted mutt with a reputation for being the dumbest, sweetest dog in town. He once knocked over and drank an entire can of beer at a party in Reid’s basement when we were in high school. He was the drunkest one there.
“TEDDY!” Reid’s mom, Chris, yelled. There was a clicking of locks and then the door swung open. She stood hunched over, trying to restrain an excited Teddy by his collar.
“Erin! Hi!” She threw her free arm around me in a half hug and patted my back. “Are you coming with us to Kirsten’s birthday dinner?”
“Hi, Chris, hi, Teddy,” I said as Teddy shoved his snout into my palm, sniffing for invisible treats. “Nope! Just gotta talk to Reid real quick.” My heart suddenly began to race. “He’s upstairs, I think.” She turned her head and yelled over her shoulder, “REID, ERIN’S HERE.”
“OK, I’M UPSTAIRS,” I heard him yell back.
She rolled her eyes and dragged Teddy out of the way so I could pass. I ran up the stairs and caught Kirsten coming out of the bathroom.
“Happy birthday, Keek!” I said, and I gave her a hug. She looked just like Reid: blond and blue-eyed with a cleft in her chin—the kind of kids that come in a brand-new picture frame before you replace the display with your own less attractive family.
“Hey! Thanks! Welcome home! Are you coming to dinner?” she asked.
“Nope, I can only stay for a minute,” I said as I scooted past her to Reid’s room.
I knocked on Reid’s door and then entered without waiting for permission. He was bent over a suitcase on his bed, unpacking from school.
“He-e-ey,” he said, tossing a shirt mid-fold back into his suitcase to greet me. “We did it! We survived freshman year!” He walked over to me with his arms spread and scooped me into a bear hug, leaning backwards until my toes left the ground.
“Yeah, ha. Sophomores!” I said, once I was safely back on my feet. I wondered if I’d still be considered a sophomore if I never made it back to school.
“I’ve got a few days before lifeguarding picks up again. We should go hiking at Ramapo. Are you working at the pool this year?”
“I’m not,” I said, taking a seat on the edge of his bed next to the suitcase. I felt nauseous. Everything was so normal— working at the pool, hiking at Ramapo—like this summer was a movie and someone had just un-paused it. And there I was, about to un-normal everything, a girl-shaped tornado in his bedroom.
“Oh yeah, I don’t blame you. I quit Oradell. Got a job at Westwood instead. They have a snack stand, so it was an easy decision. Do you have anything else lined up for the summer?”
“Yeah, kinda,” I said. A swell of adrenaline took over,and I realized this might be my only window. “Actually, hey, remember a few weeks ago when we were Skyping and you asked how things were and I said good but I had to get some weird medical tests done and you said, ‘Hope everything goes OK’?”
“Yeah,” he said, pulling out a bright-orange Virginia Tech T-shirt. He used his chin to pin the shirt to his chest as he folded the sleeves.
“Ha, yeah. So, everything didn’t go OK,” I said.
Reid let the shirt fall and crossed his arms. “OK,” he said.
“OK, so.” I swallowed a dry, hard swallow. “I have cancer?”
“You have what?”
“I, um, I have cancer. Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I probably won’t die, they said. Like, from this. I mean, I will one day. Everyone dies! Anyway, sorry.”
Reid blinked a couple of times, and his face reddened. “You have cancer?”
“Yeah, but it’s OK. Are you OK?”
He shoved his suitcase over and sat down next to me on the bed.
“No,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” I said again.
“Please don’t say sorry for having cancer,” he said, pushing the heels of his hands into his eyes.
“Sorry,” I said. “I mean—shit.”
Reid lay back on his bed. “Wha—what does this mean?”
“Cells are rapidly dividing—”
“No, I mean, like, do you have to start chemotherapy?”
“Yes,” I said, lying down on the bed next to him.
“The day after Memorial Day.”
“That’s this week.”
We lay in silence staring up at the ceiling. I listened to our syncopated breaths and wondered what I was supposed to say next. Finally, I turned my head towards him. A tear rolled down the side of Reid’s face and disappeared into the pattern of his bedspread.
“You don’t have to cry,” I said.
“I’m not doing it on purpose,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“Stop saying sorry.”
“So—sooo sore. I’m so sore from biking here.”
“Shut up,” Reid said, but he was laughing a little.
“OK,” I said.
Reid crushed tears against the corners of his eyes while we lay there, until finally his mom called up the stairs.
“REEEID, KIIIRSTEN, IT’S TIME FOR DIIINER” she
Reid took a deep breath. “OOOK,” he yelled back down.
Together we stood up from the bed and then turned to face each other. He had stopped crying but his eyes were red and puffy. I threw my arms around his middle and squeezed.
He sighed and pressed his cheek on my forehead. “It’s going to be OK,” he said. I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or himself.
“Yeah, totally, you’re about to eat a delicious meal with the fam,” I said. “What’s better than that?”
He frowned. “You know what I mean.” Reid looked down at his shirt.
“OK, well. I gotta change,” he said after a beat.
“It’s cool, I’m gonna take off,” I told him. “Text me if you need anything, I guess.”
“Yeah, you, too,” he said.
I left his room and shut the door behind me, pausing for a minute at the top of the stairs to let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. When I made it to the landing, Reid’s dad was walking by.
“Erin! You’re home!” he said, grabbing me by the shoulders and pulling me into a hug. “Are you—”
“No, not coming to dinner. But thank you!”
“No, I was going to say ‘alright.’ You look upset.”
“Oh,” I said, “Yeah, I’m fine. Just gotta get home. See you!” I left before he could say another word.
On the bike ride home I decided to stop at the woods near my old elementary school. It was late afternoon and the sun cast a warm yellow light on the tops of the trees. I hid my bike in a bush and followed a path to a stream where as a kid I used to flip rocks over looking for newts just so I could feel them wriggle in my hands for a minute before releasing them again. I walked along the stream until it fed into the ice-skating pond, long since thawed in the late spring weather, and sat on an old rusted metal bench.
Sitting in front of the pond I thought about the time when I was ten and I made my neighbor, also called Erin, take a pit stop there as we were walking home from school together. It was an unseasonably warm winter day, but a slick layer of ice still covered the surface. The no skating sign was hanging from the pole, squeaking in the breeze, but I told the Little Erin (she was two years my junior but we were the same exact height) I was going to see how far I could walk on the surface. She stayed near the edge while I moved towards the middle of the pond taking light, sure steps until—crack—the ice broke and my leg shot through. In that instant I was absolutely sure that I would get trapped under the ice, banging my fits against the frozen surface while the cold slowly took me. When I snapped back to reality, I realized I was standing in water no deeper than my ten-year-old knees. It was more of a marsh, really: a foot of mud with a couple of inches of ice water on top.
Up until now, that was probably the closest I’d ever come to death.
Back at my house I called Sean from the landline phone. “Hey,” he said. “How’d it go?”
“Not so good,” I said. “I might’ve ruined Kirsten’s fifteenth birthday.”
“That bad, eh?”
“Wait,” I said. “Reid just texted me. It says, ‘I’m currently crying in the bathroom at Pancho’s Burritos.’ Fuck, man.”
“Oh wow. Yeah, I guess that’s a thing that’s gonna happen.”
“I can’t do it again. It’s too shitty. I can’t keep, like, bumming people out.”
“Yeah, maybe we gotta try being more casual about it. Maybe if we tell people in a way that’s not intense they won’t have intense reactions.”
“I’m down to try it,” I said. “I’m down to try anything.”
We tried it on our friend Joe first. Sean had met Joe through skateboarding, and I had met Joe through Sean. He lived a town over and only hit us up either to skate or eat fast food. It was a simple relationship. You knew exactly what you were getting when Joe called.
And one day, before Memorial Day, Joe called. I was sitting on Sean’s bed flipping through an issue of Thrasher, and Sean was watching videos on his computer when his phone buzzed. He flipped it open without breaking his eyes from the screen.
“Hey, Joe,” he said. “I’m just hanging at home—Yeah, she’s here—What’s up with you?—Oh, Tuesday?” Sean looked at me. “Uh, one sec.” He covered the mouthpiece with his palm. “Hey,” he whispered to me. “I’m gonna do it.” He shook the phone to indicate what he meant. I nodded.
“Actually, uh, Joe, I can’t skate Tuesday. I have to go with Erin to the hospital because she has cancer.” Sean looked at me wide-eyed and shrugged. I shrugged back. “OK— Sure— OK, bye.”
He hung up.
“What’d he say?” I asked, amazed at how quickly the conversation had ended.
“He said, ‘OK cool,’ then he asked if we wanted to go to KFC.”
We stared at each other for a moment across the room.
And then we burst into laughter at the exact same time. “WHAT?” I said.
“I swear!” he said.
“OH my god,” I said. “That couldn’t have been more casual. It’s like you told him I had a dentist appointment.”
“I know. Insane!”
“Classic Joe,” I said.
Sean shook his head. “I told you: If we are cool about it, people will be cool about it.”
We met Joe at KFC an hour later. Before leaving Sean’s house, I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I was on strict dietary restrictions from my oncologist: no fast food, no salad bars, no fruit without a peel, no sushi, no steak tartare—basically no foods that could risk giving me an infection. I still looked forward to hanging out at KFC despite not being allowed to eat anything. Hanging out at fast-food restaurants was what we normally did, and I wanted more than anything for everything to remain normal.
At KFC Joe and Sean ordered a pile of food and I got a bottle of water. Once they had their trays, we picked a booth at the back of the restaurant and settled in. With a flurry of paper wrappers and cardboard boxes, I found myself sur- rounded by the intoxicating smells of greasy potato and meat products. My eyelids fluttered.
“Sucks you guys can’t make it Tuesday,” Joe said. “We’re driving down to Sayreville to skate the park and then going to the beach after.”
“Yeah, next time,” Sean said.
“Yeah,” said Joe. He was pushing potato wedges into his mouth two at a time. I could hear their crispy fried skin crunch with every bite. Suddenly the PB&J in my stomach seemed very lonely.
“Oh my god, those wedges look so good,” I said, my mouth watering.
“Have one,” Joe said, sliding the container over to me.
“I wish,” I said. “But I probably shouldn’t.”
“Why? Are you on a diet?”
“Yeah, well, the doctors said to avoid fast food so I’m trying to be good about it.”
“Doctors?” Joe’s eyes flicked between Sean and me. “You sick or something?”
Sean and I looked at each other, brows furrowed. “Joe,” I said, turning to him slowly. “I have cancer. Sean told you on the phone.”
“THAT’S WHAT YOU SAID?!” A little piece of potato tumbled out of Joe’s gaping mouth and landed on the tray.
“Yeah, dude. What’d you think I said?”
“I don’t know! I kinda stopped listening after you said you couldn’t skate! You said it so casually I assumed it wasn’t important.” Joe sank his head into his greasy hands. “Oh my god, this is terrible.”
“It’s OK, I’ll be OK,” I said. For a moment I felt like I had been transported back to Reid’s bedroom. Please don’t cry, I thought. Please, please, please.
“No, I mean,” Joe looked at me through his splayed fingers. “I can’t believe I found out you have cancer in a fucking KFC.”
I stopped telling people after that. They got upset when I was serious and they got upset when I was casual. It seemed like the only way not to upset anyone was to avoid the subject completely. And that strategy worked for a little while. But then, like with all forms of procrastination, time caught up with me.
I had my first chemotherapy treatment, then my second, then sometime around the third or the fourth my hair started falling out in clumps. Eventually I shaved my head. My oncologist wrote me a prescription for a wig that I never filled. For me the idea of wearing a wig felt like someone telling me, “You are very sick, but try not to look like it.” I did, however, wear beanies and hoods, a mid-June look that probably drew as much attention to me as my shiny, bald head would have.
It was around this time that our friend Jordan, another skate friend turned friend-friend, called Sean to hang out one night. Sean and I realized that Jordan had somehow slipped into the pile of people who didn’t yet know I was sick. We figured he wouldn’t take the news too hard since Jordan and I were new friends and he was deeply committed to not caring about anything. But still, we reasoned that showing up to his house completely bald could make the needle on his Fuck-O-Meter jump from “Not Giving One” to “What the—?”
During the car ride to Jordan’s house, Sean and I tried to put together a game plan.
“Should we tell him right away?” I asked.
“No,” Sean said, gripping the steering wheel and keeping his eyes on the road. “I think we should wait for an opportunity after we’ve settled in.”
“You don’t think that’s weird? To be hanging out with someone for an hour or two and then get told, hey, I have some incredibly serious news?”
“I’m not saying it’s flawless. I just think it’s better than showing up at his house with awful news and then expecting to hang out like everything’s normal after.”
“But what if there’s never a good moment?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Sean said. “Let’s just hope there is.”
We were both quiet for a minute or two after that. As Sean merged onto Route 4, I wondered why I was even going over to Jordan’s in the first place. My treatments were only supposed to last six months, and it would probably only take a month or two after that for my hair to start growing back. Maybe I could just avoid him for the better part of a year. Sure, he was one of my favorite people, the kind of guy who could make you laugh so hard in the vegetable aisle of a grocery store that you had to sit on the floor to stop yourself from peeing. But in that moment cutting him out of my life seemed less painful than having to tell him.
Before I knew it we were in Jordan’s room watching bad TV. Jordan was lying on the floor on his side propped up on his elbow and flipping through channels while Sean and I sat on the edge of his bed. I was wearing my beanie and a sweatshirt with the hood up to hide my baldness, but after being inside for a while I felt a little river of sweat snake its way down the back of my neck. I tugged at the hood.
“There’s. Nothing. To. Watch. Ever,” Jordan said, switching the channel with each word. “I swear, television is like one giant contest to see who can make the worst show.”
“Should we go somewhere?” Sean asked.
“I’m down,” I said, imagining the crisp night air cooling my sweaty skin.
“Go where? There’s nothing to do ever,” Jordan said, looking at us over his shoulder.
I knew he was right. We were teenagers in suburban New Jersey. There were a finite number of fast-food restaurants, and we’d hung out at every one of them.
Jordan kept flipping. “Being alive is so boring,” he said to no one. Then finally he found some clip show where a comedian reviews Internet videos and asked, “How’s this?”
“Yeah,” Sean said. “Fine.”
“I don’t care,” I said.
Jordan put the remote down. “Thank Satan,” he whispered to himself.
As if on cue, the show cut to commercial. Jordan let out a long, sad, “Nooooooo.” He rolled onto his stomach with his face mashed in the navy carpeting. I sighed. This night was going nowhere.
Just then I felt something hitting my thigh. I looked down. Sean was patting my leg with one hand and pointing at the TV with the other. On the screen was a commercial for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Little bald-headed children were smiling at the camera from their hospital beds. I looked at Sean. He nodded at me in slow motion, his eyes crazy. “This. Is. It,” he mouthed.
Before I could object, Sean was clearing his throat. “Uh, hey, Jordan,” Sean said.
“What?” Jordan said without lifting his head from the carpet.
I wondered where Sean was going with this. He was a terrible improviser. I held my breath.
“Aren’t bald kids sooo weird looking?” he asked.
Jordan’s head snapped up. He looked at the TV, at the adorable children on screen, and then turned to Sean with a face twisted in absolute disgust.
“What. The fuck. Is wrong with you, man?”
It’s incredibly unusual, but there are times Sean and I are so in sync it’s like I can hear his thoughts inside my own brain. This was one of those few and precious times. I knew exactly what to do next.
“Jordan,” I said.
I waited for him to look at me and then, very slowly and without breaking eye contact, reached up and peeled back my beanie and hood, revealing my own shiny, bald head.
Jordan’s face melted from disgust to absolute horror. “What the FUCK?” he screamed. He rolled onto his side and clutched his knees to his chest. “You guys are sick!”
Sean and I roared with laughter until we were doubled over and slipping off the bed. Sean rolled onto his stomach and pounded the floor with his fist. I lay on my back and wallowed in the rare but beautiful pain of laughing so hard it hurts. I could feel the fibers of the carpet itching the skin on the back of my bald head.
“WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?” Jordan yelled over our laughter, as if we had been planning this prank for weeks and had called St. Jude’s to play a commercial on a station we might be watching on a random Wednesday night. He was still curled up in the fetal position, looking at us with huge, horrified eyes. “I can’t believe you shaved your head to make a fucking joke!”
“Jordan!” I said, trying to catch my breath. “It’s not a joke. I have cancer!” I could barely get the words out.
“It’s true,” Sean said, wiping tears from his eyes. “She does. We didn’t know how to tell you.”
Jordan uncurled his knees from his chest. He sat up and looked at us. “Wait, seriously?”
I felt the laughter get sucked out of my chest. “Yeah,” I said, still lying on my back. “Seriously.” Suddenly I missed the pain in my stomach.
“Whoa,” Jordan said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.”
“Pretty sure we’re the ones who should say sorry,” I said, sitting up.
“Are you going to be alright?” Jordan said.
“I think so,” I said. “I had a few treatments already.”
“How are they?” he asked.
“Fucking terrible,” I said.
“Fuck,” said Jordan.
Some splashy music played from the TV, signaling the show had returned. Jordan looked over his shoulder at it.
“Do you want me to turn this off?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “It’s OK.”
The three of us turned towards the TV, but no one could really pay attention after that.
I had another treatment later that week, and, like the treatments before, it completely laid me out. It felt like I had been hit by a truck, only while the truck was rolling over me it also gave me the flu. My muscles and joints ached. The inside of my mouth burned. I was tired and restless, sweating and cold. I felt like a prisoner of my own sick body.
Three days after the treatment I still felt horrible, which was around the time I normally would start to feel the life creep back into my toes. It was on that third day I got a call from my high school friend Dana. She wanted to know if I was interested in grabbing lunch at the deli between our houses, our ritual dating back to elementary school. In an effort to not give into how bad I felt, I told her sure, as long as she picked up a sandwich for me and brought it to my house. I’d pay her back, I told her. She agreed, so I rolled out of bed and pulled on my new uniform, a beanie and hoodie. Dana didn’t know I was sick, and, as I waited for her to arrive, I decided I wasn’t going to tell her. I didn’t have the strength.
When Dana got to my house, she didn’t comment on my appearance, probably figuring the beanie-hoodie look was something I’d picked up at college. We sat at my kitchen table and unwrapped our sandwiches: chicken cutlet on a round roll with lettuce, tomato, and mayo—the same order since sixth grade. Dana dug into hers, but I could only pick at the bread on mine. Chewing hurt. Everything hurt. And as the moments passed I became increasingly exhausted by having to pretend I felt fine.
“So school was good?” Dana asked as she poured herself a glass of iced tea from the fridge.
“Yeah,” I said, resting my head in my hands. “Yeah, all good. You?”
“Really good! I think I’m going to apply to be an RA next year. You know, free room and board. Plus you get to live in a single, so.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Totally. Single.”
I wanted to tell her that she’d be great at it, that her upbringing as an only child had given her a low tolerance for bullshit and a high dose of self-respect, both essential qualities in an RA. But instead I yanked the cords of my hoodie tighter around my face and struggled to keep my eyes open.
Finally, I excused myself to use the bathroom. Once I’d lowered myself onto the toilet, I peed with my head resting on the sink. I sat there much longer than I needed to, trying to gather up the energy to get up. I pulled my pants up, washed my hands in slow motion, and shuffled into the hallway. Before turning towards the kitchen, I caught a glance of my parents’ bedroom and spotted the bed, perfectly made and glowing in a shaft of midday sunlight. The fluffy stack of pillows was calling my name. It wouldn’t hurt to lie down for a minute, I thought. I turned away from the kitchen where Dana was still eating, walked down the hall to my parents’ bed, and lay facedown in pillows that smelled like my mom’s shampoo.
One minute turned into five, and five turned into ten. Soon, I lost track of how many minutes had passed. As I faded in and out of sleep, I vaguely wondered if Dana thought I was having sandwich-induced stomach issues, but I also didn’t care. I was too tired to care, or to do any- thing other than lie very still. Then I heard my mom, who had been putzing around the house, come into her bedroom. She let out a tiny gasp, surprised to see a body in her bed, and I thought for a second she might yell at me for leaving my friend alone in the kitchen. Instead she pulled the comforter over me and drew the curtains. It made me feel both very old and very young, all at once.
I heard my mom walk down the hallway, into the kitchen. I heard her greet Dana and ask if she knew what was going on with me. Then, as I drifted off to sleep, I heard her calmly do the thing I had messed up so many times.