My body heaves with sobs, curled in a ball on the cold bathroom tiles. Eyes puffy, face red, upper lip shiny with snot. Fistfuls of damp Kleenex surround me. I’m wrung out like a wet rag. I empty my body of tears and lie, motionless and strange, exhausted. Sink further into the floor. 

I can’t move. I don’t want to move.

I close my eyes.

This is how to disappear.

• • •

I saw my first psychiatrist at sixteen. Dr. Leslie said I showed depressive symptoms, but not full-blown depression—“Not yet.” She took notes while I talked about too-early curfews, fights with friends, hiding in the school washroom to cry. I saw the top of her head, brown hair parted down the middle, more than I saw her face. I had never heard of apathy before I described it to her: no energy, little emotion, falling asleep at school. On my fifth visit, she prescribed Prozac. I sent my mother to the pharmacy. I stared at the half-green, half-white capsules, and wondered what colour they were on the inside.

The next therapist was the psychologist, with a basement home office. I bumped my head going downstairs every time, never learning.  The insurance coverage lasted three appointments. Then the social worker; clients weren’t allowed to wear shoes in her office. I spent a year stuck in the corner of a green vinyl couch, my stocking feet tucked under me, chilled but never saying anything. The psychiatrist, who sat low in her chair, floating head framed between two teetering piles of files. She questioned, accusingly, why I continued to talk to an ex-boyfriend who cheated on me. She told me about her friend who dated an adulterous man, her residency in psychiatry, her daughter. Between appointments, she texted to re-arrange the next one or confirm the time. During appointments, she texted her other clients, looking down in her lap as I talked.

• • •

Depression is a battering ram.

Shackled by twisted bed sheets, I missed days of work. I ate cottage cheese from the tub, and granola bars, letting the crumbs and wrappers drop to the floor. I played Johnny Cash’s Hurt on repeat, staring at the ceiling. When my roommate’s boyfriend was over, they giggled behind her closed bedroom door and I wanted them to stop. Just stop.

While camping, I tried explaining to friends that I felt weighted, and alone. I sat by the campfire swigging wine from a carton. I wanted to slip away while they laughed and shared old jokes and made up new ones. The lake’s glassy surface was black and still. How could the water be so calm?

I showed up tipsy to outings, black out drunk by the end of the night. I went home with strangers, the ones who bought me drinks, the ones who called me pretty. The next day I lay hung-over and collapsed, marinating in shame. I started to cancel plans. I stopped making plans. I hoped someone would notice, take my hand, say let me help. “Stop being a victim,” Lily said. “Suck it up.” She studied holistic nutrition. “You probably just need oxygen therapy.”

• • •

I escaped to grad school. Alone in a new city. Winnipeg was flat and bleak. The bitter winter air burned like ice against my face. I churned through my weeks, from class to the library to home. Slogging to and from the bus stop, the binders in my knapsack pummeled my back. I gazed at letters and words in textbooks and articles, and somehow strung them together to write essays and term papers.

I met Michael, who was tall with brown hair and a big toothy smile. We became friends, and one night we became friends who kissed. I avoided him long enough that we went back to being friends.

When I told Michael I was under water and far from shore, he laughed. “You must get hungry out there,” he mused. “I’ll throw you some sandwiches.”

When I told him the waves were getting stronger, he said he could be a rock, something for me to hold onto. My high tension line. “You ever been camping in the middle of nowhere? You think you’re as far from anything as anyone’s ever been, and then all of a sudden, there’s this clearing and a massive hydro tower. You know that you could, in an emergency, follow the power lines back to civilization. Well, maybe that’s me.”

I hated myself for crying every day, more so on the days I woke up crying. I drank my coffee black so I wouldn’t need to leave the apartment for cream and sugar. I washed three dishes at a time, wandered from room to room. The light bulb in the kitchen burned out. The thought of tracking down the superintendent to borrow a ladder to replace it exhausted me. I placed a living room lamp on the kitchen table, and cooked with a headlamp.

• • •

This is how I disappear.

I slump on the flowered velour couch, left behind by the previous tenant and balanced on three legs and a stack of textbooks. My weight crushes the corded seams, imprinting the backs of my legs.

Sunlight presses in between the blinds. I stare at the repeating pattern of shadow and light marking my arm.

I could call Michael. He could come over, open the blinds.

Lina Lau is a writer based in Toronto, Canada. Her work can be seen in Hippocampus Magazine, Skirt Quarterly, and carte blanche. Find her on Twitter @LinaLau_

© 2019 Lina Lau. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, August 2019.

Images from The Noun Project (credits: Vectors Point).




by Lina Lau
High Tension Line