Official Sample of “Mental” for Literary Fiction Agents, as of 10/27/17

For Every Girl Who Fears She’s Broken

 

Prologue

I am a bag of chemicals. Sometimes I am only the slightest breeze; then, maybe I am more. If my life has any purpose, it is not in living for others. I am alone. I am unhappy. There is nothing new about this.

None of this may make sense to you, but it could still be true. No one I know tells the truth. Everyone I know tells me to find my own truth.

I am tired of being polite and wearing pearls. I am tired of standing in front of a room filled with children, a place where there can be no peace. If it is true that there must be a god, then mine saved me to write this down.

This is a very different type of book. I have a voice that can no longer remain quiet. I have a voice that can sing a song no one has heard before, but everyone somehow already knows. I will say what I think, even if I am the only one listening.

How can you really share an experience? How can you really understand another person? Spirituality and art are all there is. An honest expression is the only truth. What is real is subjective.

Who really cares about art or honesty or spirituality? Maybe they don’t really even exist at all. Maybe those things are just things you thought people were talking about when they were really talking about paying bills and growing up.

I have just spent a few hours reading this stuff that I just wrote. Even I was having a hard time following what I saying because words actually do fail the insane, and then people are forced to read between the lines of what they write.

Just know that this crazy person longs for someone to read what she writes and try to understand it the way that she tries to understand legitimate art from famous people she emulates.

Will someone someday think I was right about something? Probably not. People will probably use this “novella” to commit me permanently because unfortunately, I still have cadillac insurance.

Maybe it is just the typing of words that brings a faint peace. Maybe it doesn’t really matter if your sister or your mother or your students understand you, after all.

Maybe it is inescapable that the things I have written down will be interpreted as me going crazy and rambling about how unfortunate I am. I am mystified by people who actually think that they can write about life. Maybe it is

inevitable that I will survive on the brink of confusion for the rest of my life, and that it is just plain stupid to try and make sense of that.  

 

PART ONE

“You can search throughout the universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”    —Buddha

 

Chapter One

I went to sleep one night when I was seventeen and slept undisturbed for a few hours that school night in the middle of January during my senior year of high school. I woke myself up in the middle of the night during what I thought was a terrible nightmare.

My bedroom door suddenly flew open so forcefully that it slammed closed again. I opened my eyes. I saw my dad throw the door back open and walk into my bedroom, then slam the door shut again. I didn’t know why he closed the door at first because we were the only ones living in the house.

My father was smiling strangely to himself and I closed my eyes before he looked at me—so that he would think I was still asleep. My dad had been coming quietly into my room since middle school—so I thought at first he was just going to stand over my bed and look at me while I pretended to be asleep, like he had been doing since I was eleven.

But I was confused with all of the noise he was making. I waited. There was a huge cold stone in my stomach, waiting while he is breathing in and out, in and out, next to my bed…

He is staring at me while I pretend to sleep, but this time is different because I feel like something really bad is about to happen for some reason. I am afraid he is going to punch me awake or something.

I know somehow that I should not move an inch. I can smell the alcohol on his breath—it is very pungent, and I know that he is quite drunk and probably in the middle of a blackout. I am afraid.

Before I open my eyes, I feel his weight on my mattress and hear his zipper. Now I know what he is about to do and it is the thing I have been afraid of for years; but, especially most recently because during another blackout, he had told me that he wanted to be with a woman who was exactly like me!

I tell myself I’m overreacting and that this is just a nightmare. He is adjusting my body, he is taking off my pants and underwear, he is half-naked and so am I. What a terrifying nightmare I am having, I think. I wonder if I can wake up? But I cannot move.

He is silent. He is having his way with me, even though I haven’t moved a muscle. He is staring at me but has a far-away look, and I am barely peeking with my eyes because I want him to think he can’t wake me up.

I don’t want to confront him—he has become a violent man during this divorce. I don’t want to see what is happening to my body, and what I fear will happen to my soul.

I was so sad when I went to sleep, I thought, but every pore of my skin is hot and sweaty and depressed and shocked and terribly saddened with every flick of his chrissakes and every blink of his eyes and every curl of his lips. I am being raped by my own father! How will I survive something like this, and what if I get pregnant?

When he is finished, he simply gets off me, puts on his pants and goes back to my parents’ room, which is only his room now. He doesn’t say a word, and leaves without making any noise. He just quietly shuts my bedroom door and disappears like he was never there in the first place.

I am so beside myself that I do not move after he leaves the room. I do not put on my pants or underwear. I just fall back asleep like it never happened, telling myself it was just another one of my very vivid nightmares.

Chapter Two

Eve and I are “identical” twin sisters. Made from the same sperm and the same egg, easily confusing people we’ve just met, sharing a Jack-and-Jill bathroom in the same house. But, we are not the same people. She and I still have many different experiences, and still see things we’ve experienced together in very different ways.

If I could pluck them out of us and hold them in my hand, those differences would be almost as shocking to me as the difference between life and death. That is why I am writing this about her, about me. I have to understand her to understand myself, and understand myself to understand her. The simple differences are too complicated to tease out any other way.

You know, I’m just gonna confess up front. This isn’t all my work, and you would have figured it out had I pretended it was. You see, when my sister is out, I snoop around. One day, I found a bunch of her journals, and I have been borrowing from them ever since. But you’re okay with this sort of thing, right?

Think of me as a friend of yours who just stopped by on the way to a party and asked you if you wanted to come with. And you do want to come with. You aren’t sure that I’ll be able to drive you home because you know I love my liquor and pot a little more than the next kid. But you agree to go, anyway, because it sounds like fun and you are very bored and restless.

So, one night, at the beginning of last semester, Chloe, my sister’s best friend, and Eve had thrown this huge party at Chloe’s place. By the time she showed up, late as usual, my sister was the last in our group of friends to arrive. Eve had tried to back out of going at all, but Chloe had held firm that Eve had to at least make an obligatory appearance since she was a co-host, even if she was sick.

Eve got out of her car, stepped out into the darkness and the wind. She double-checked that her doors were locked before crossing the street and walking toward the loud music and the shrieks and giggles that was the party everyone was going to that night. She was alone, but her boyfriend, two best friends and friends from college were in there somewhere, making noise.  

She stopped to double-check her appearance, looked down at her faded jeans, the ones she had worn through high school and college, the ones with the rip in the left knee, the frayed bottoms and the hole in the butt which she had patched when she was 20. She had just recently started wearing those jeans again, had just recently been able to put them on again. Her shirt, too, was old and faded—familiar with it’s tired brown cotton, it’s lazy too long sleeves, it’s soft overwashed feel. She reached up her hands and felt her hair, so short now, barely enough to get messed up now.  

She felt about as ready as she was going to feel, and started walking again toward the sounds and the beer and the promise of vomit and pot.

People hung in groups in front of the apartment, talking and making racket. She scanned them for familiar faces, for recognition. Some of them were not old enough to drink, were probably still underclassmen, were too dressed up, too stiff, too concerned with looking cool—probably still striding the fence between going Greek and doing their own things.  

The ones dressed like war victims, with dirty hair and sunburned skin—those were the people she knew, her friends that still went to UT. They did things like drop acid and read poetry to each other, or started bands with names like “Lobster Bisque and the Nihilists” that never played any gigs but did have promotional bumper stickers, or spent the summer gutting fish in an Alaskan cannery, just for kicks.  

They saved up money to go camping for a month in South Dakota, or learned Spanish just to be able to buy drugs at Mexican prices when they backpacked through Monterrey. They still brought kites along with them for an all-day picnic/Frisbee fest at Zilker Park. They still thought that listening to music was preferable to watching it, even though they had been weaned on MTV.

They hadn’t made their minds up about how they felt about their childhoods, the concept of marriage, and had spent even less time paying attention to how much it costs to buy a house and a car and support babies.

They were a bit on the intellectual side, talking about welfare and grad school, politics and art, but without ever thinking they knew what they were talking about.

They were ambivalent about getting their degrees or contributing to a society that they had fundamental disagreements with, even though they weren’t sure yet just what all those disagreements were.

They were giving themselves time. They were interesting.   

“Hey, is that Eve? It is…how the hell have you been, girl?” said a slightly drunk guy who wore old army surplus shorts that were too big, dusty sandals and a faded red thrift store tee-shirt. He was clutching one of those refillable 64 ounce cups that say “The Hog” on them from like 1988 that some people still have–it was all cracked and hard to read, spilling over with cheap keg beer.

He walked toward her with a huge grin. She recognized him as Martin, friend from the dorms and also a freshman history class, ex-boyfriend of a few of her friends, known to some as king of the water bong. She hadn’t seen him since two years before she graduated, and that meant about 3 years.

“Martin—“she hugged him, “what the hell!?” They laughed. He held her at arm’s’ length, squinting.

“I almost didn’t recognize you…cut all your hair off, eh? Did you end up getting into Columbia?”

“How’s the five-year plan going?”  she asked, hoping that he’d catch her bait.

“More like 6, it looks like. Hey, go grab a beer—the keg’s around back. Aaron and Steve and Mike are in there somewhere, too. And Chloe just introduced me to Sam—good for you, a grad student. Maybe we’ll start seeing more of you now,  huh?”

“Yeah…good to see you again, man. Later.”

Eve headed for the front door, smiling at the strange, drunk faces and trying to seem festive. She felt out of place, and tired. She felt sad about this. She smiled anyway.  

The tiny apartment was stuffed with bodies that huddled together on the couch, or pressed up against the refrigerator in the kitchen to watch other bodies take shots of tequila, or sat on the stairs talking and inadvertently preventing other bodies from climbing the stairs to the bathroom or to Chloe’s bedroom, which had almost surely been taken over by the potheads by now.

Too many bodies filled the two couches that Eve and Chloe had dumpster-dove for when Chloe got this place last year. And, even with the air-conditioner on, the combination of overcapacity and square footage always produced the feeling that they were throwing a party during August in hell. It was almost eleven, and things were really starting to roll.

Eve wanted to get stoned. Drunk first, then stoned. She knew that Sam did not

approve of this—she would try to sneak around him, but knew that he’d still know and be a little confused and disappointed. It was the same with her cigarettes, she thought, as she lit one and inhaled and stood in the doorway. He didn’t understand why she had to do these things.

She told him once that it was because she couldn’t think of a good enough reason not to, but he had gotten upset over that just like the time that she told him to make sure that she was cremated, instead of buried, in case anything ever happened to her.

Someone cranked up the stereo in the living room, and Eve watched people get up to dance. There wasn’t much room to dance, but they moved as much furniture out of the way as they could to make room for the flailing and stomping and tribal movements they were looking forward to.

They seemed so absorbed and oblivious, so happy to move, that it made Eve feel a little lighter. She would join them when she was drunk; she headed for the kitchen to find something to drink.

Drink. Drink. Drink, she thought to herself.  Need a drink. In the kitchen, she made her way past arms and legs and heads and torsos to the cabinet, got a glass, and excused herself to open the refrigerator to find her signature drink. She and Chloe liked to kid that they were addicted to screwdrivers; each girl kept a pitcher of the drink in her fridge at all times.  

“Thanks, girl.” she said aloud to a Chloe who wasn’t there, but probably was two steps away from passing out in her bedroom. Chloe said that drama queens always needed plenty of two things to smooth out the rough edges: screwdrivers and pot.  

She took a big gulp, closed her eyes. She remembered what her friend Jacob said to her recently when she told him that she hated herself now because she didn’t think she had any morals.  

He had said that she should stop beating herself up over cheating on Sam.

“It’s just one mistake. Everyone messes up.  You can’t build your identity around one mistake. Just try to find out why you did it, why you thought it was okay at the time to do it.

“Because you are a good person, and you do have morals. You proved that to me enough over the years, and I know that there is a good reason to explain why you did this. Try to ask yourself why.”   

“How will finding out why I cheated on Sam help me?” she had asked, not getting it, but thinking it might be worth trying because Jacob, her high school boyfriend and now other best friend, always seemed to have such a calmer, more successful approach to managing his own life.

Why? Why? Why? She asks herself in the kitchen. Nothing comes to her.  

“So, this Chinese couple are on their honeymoon,” a drunk teenager tells her friends while Eve listens. “And they’re really conservative and haven’t had sex yet ever, and so the husband says to his wife, ‘Tell me what you want…I want to please you.’ And the wife asks, ‘Anything?’ And the Chinese man says, ‘Anything.’  So the wife giggles and says, ‘I’d like to try a 69.’ And the husband looks confused and says, ‘Beef and broccoli?’”

Everyone within earshot laughs. Eve laughs.  She decides to leave the kitchen and find Chloe, and maybe get stoned with her.

Time out, you as the reader say. What is the point of this story? You are tired of waiting for a point. I guess, as the author, I owe you some sort of explanation. Here goes nothing…

So, Eve is a young woman who has just recently had a breakdown, which her friends and family and new therapist have attributed to her career as a high school English teacher. She has major doubts about this because her grandmother and uncle on her dad’s side committed suicide, and her grandfather and mother are alcoholics. She is afraid she is a suicidal alcoholic.  

She has been diagnosed with Major Depression, and takes Wellbutrin. She sees her therapist regularly, but lies to her so that she can feel better about herself. But the problem is, she doesn’t feel better about herself for long. She thinks about death too much. She also hates herself, but I think I told you about that already.

You might be wondering what caused the breakdown. Me, too.


Chapter Three

Well, I hope you can excuse my writing style. I’m trying my best; but, to tell you the truth, this is my first shot at writing a novella…I know you’re probably not surprised to hear that, but I thought I’d admit it anyway. I hope I’m not ripping that guy Salinger off too badly, but I probably am because Catcher in the Rye’s my favorite novel and I’ve read it about a million times. That’s an obvious exaggeration, but you know what I mean.

There’s a character in that novel, at the very beginning, who throws the football around with Holden Caufield. That guy has the same name as my father. Really, I’m not kidding. First and last names, just not spelled exactly the same. I couldn’t believe it when I read it either, any of the times I’ve read it. It just blows me away. That’s one of the reasons it’s my favorite novel.

My dad’s a sad case. A real-life, quite depressing, mystery of a man. He’s the guy I told you about earlier, the one whose mother and brother committed suicide, the one who treats my twin sister like a red-headed stepchild, for some unknown reason—you’ll see what I’m talking about soon enough. Anyway, back to that party…

“Changes in latitude, changes in attitude…if we didn’t laugh, we would all go insane…” drones the voice of Jimmy Buffet on the stereo in the hallway as Eve makes her way up the stairs, sipping her screwdriver generously. Who brought over a Jimmy Buffett CD? She’s always hated Jimmy Buffett. She’s always hated climbing stairs.   

“Well, well, well…Eve! Where the hell have you been?” says another drunk human who is sitting on the stairs. It is a girl named Adrienne who used to work with Eve at a convenient store on campus, before Eve left to beef up her education resume, back when Eve cared about those things. She stopped returning Adrienne’s calls two years ago, too, not wanting to answer questions about how her new job was going.  

“Adrienne. Hey!” says Eve with a huge grin, looking from all outward appearances like she’s pleased as punch to see the girl. Maybe she is because the alcohol is kicking in and making her think that life is great, that it’s always been great and always will be great.

“What’s the haps, chica? Still corrupting the youth?”

“Ha, ha…actually, I’m on medical leave.”

“What do you mean?”

“That the job was driving me crazy. I’ve been diagnosed with Major Depression.”

“Oh, God…Really? That’s horrible. Are you feeling any better now that you don’t have to work there anymore?”

“A little…Hey, what have you been up to?”

“Well, I graduate in May, and I’ve got this kickass job lined up in San Francisco. I’m going to be making beaucoups doing what I love, and I’m also engaged. My fiancé is moving to California with me.”

“Wow…Good for you, girl! Where’s the lucky bastard?”

Adrienne points to a handsome guy who’s passed out on the stair behind her.  

“Nice. Hey, have you seen Chloe?”

“She’s in her room, I think.”

“Okay, I’m going to go check on her. Good to see you again.”

“Later.”

Eve keeps climbing the stairs. She decides that she’s always hated that girl Adrienne. Hated her pudgy little body and her dull mousy brown hair, her bad taste in clothing and her tactless droning conversation. Adrienne can go to hell, thinks Eve. She wishes all manner of evils to be visited upon Adrienne, then stops herself because she feels guilty. I’m the one going to hell, she reminds herself, for what I did to Sam.

She reaches Chloe’s door, and it’s closed, but Eve smells the pot and smiles. Chloe has a poster on her wall, “How to Be an Artist,” by Sark. Chloe is still in college, studying art. She makes big murals in muted earth tones, abstract things that are veiled and beautiful. She experiments with sculpture and metals; she is smart and pretty. She dyes her hair: black, red, blond, brown, in a continuous cycle. She has lots of casual sex, and is a collegiate athlete. In many ways, she is Eve’s hero.

Knocking once and then opening the door, Eve says “Hey, y’all,” to the stoners on the floor.

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