Above: Excerpt from “The Girl in the Cabinet (I Read What You Wrote and I Hate You)” by Melissa Chadburn
Colleen checked me in at the desk. She could tell I had been crying. We were on nodding terms, exchanging decencies and small conversation every time I scanned my card into the Elmhurst YMCA, but she was one of my only friends in that town and I say we were friends because if she wasn’t there, I was concerned and I told her and if I wasn’t there, she was concerned and she told me.
I was on a sigh month. A flight landed me in the greater Chicago area to lose the weight I wasn’t disciplined enough to lose at home (hence the YMCA) but the spark had been tamped out. There was no kindle. I was lost. Again and again and again. I felt like I was exhausting everyone around me. In my possessions was a chest cold that would not quit and an agent who used a measuring tape like my dad used a belt, threatening the consequences of poor choices. Though my dad would never, my agent showed no mercy.
I told Colleen the wind was unforgiving on my walk over, that I was fine, and work was going well. All three were lies. There was a part of her that envied my life. She was a girl out of California, a single mom with a son she had young; she hadn’t left Illinois in years. I was the model from Alaska, the girl who walked to the gym in combat boots, my life burst with freedom. I wasn’t going to break her heart, even if the pieces of mine rattled in my chest cavity as I slugged my way into her workplace.
Over the years of shrinking myself, many hours have been spent on the belt of a treadmill, looking down, watching the black whirr under my feet, disappear and appear again. Its lonely. Its uninspiring. Its monotonous. I would’ve run outside but this was Illinois in February. Fuck that. The only break in the monotony was the pair of matte headphones I wrap over my ears, drowning out the humming belt, the grunts of the lifters, and anyone offering me a towel while sweat beads pool at my chin. On this particular day, I was listening to Ted Talks.
I overdose on Tony Robbins. His low, clogged voice is like a hallelujah chorus to my ears, making my dopamine receptors fire off in short bursts of motivation. But I wasn’t feeling him. What the fuck do you know about my life, Tony Robbins? I can’t afford your retreats. Al Gore is in the front row of your talk, for Christ’s sake. I’m not Al Gore. What the fuck am I doing? Why am I running? I hate this life, I hate this life, I hate this life. The beads of sweat mixed in with beads of tears. Why am I crying again? Should I go tell Colleen? Hit the red button. Fuck, I wish there was a red button for life. You’re going to fall, Jasmine. Hit the red button.
I hit the red button.
Grabbing my phone, I opened up Tony Robbins, his voice still booming through my headphones. My fingers clicked out. I had a full-blown panic attack in the middle of a YMCA. There are worse and deeper places to fall down, but that felt like my Marianas.
My legs were shaking as I took off to the locker room, careful to avoid anyone who would feel compelled enough to inquire. The wooden benches didn’t care what I was going through and they stared at me as I wiped my face off with those shitty brown paper towels that are half sand paper, half elementary school.
I was spent.
But my headphones were still on. And a song played. And it calmed me down. And I went back to the cardio room. And I sat on a stationary bike, knowing if I didn’t lose the weight, I would lose my job. And I pedaled.
I went back to the Ted Talks. This time, I hit ‘random’. And a woman who looked like my high school English teacher was on my 4 inch screen.
Lidia Yuknavitch. The beauty of being a misfit.
While she spoke on her own experience of never quite feeling like she fit into wherever she was, I couldn’t help but think of my own feelings of not belonging. How I was on this stationary bike, trying to fit into a mold.
There has never been a time in my life where I felt like I was allowed in the room. Every journal I’ve ever owned has been filled to the edges with sentences laden with my poor self-esteem.
She finished her talk:
“You can be a drunk, you can be a survivor of abuse, you can be an ex-con, you can be a homeless person, you can lose all your money or your job or your husband or your wife, or the worst thing of all, a child. You can even lose your marbles. You can be standing dead center in the middle of your failure and still, I’m only here to tell you, you are so beautiful. Your story deserves to be heard, because you, you rare and phenomenal misfit, you new species, are the only one in the room who can tell the story the way only you would. And I’d be listening.”
I got off the bike. I said goodbye to Colleen. I walked home. And I wrote.
The next month, I lost my contract. I said goodbye to Chicago. I flew home. And I was heartbroken, so I read.
Literacy; communication that is thousands of years old: my safe haven.
I can’t tell you how many years I’ve been the “girl in the cabinet” searching, meandering the world for some sort of belonging; some answer to if I was all alone. It was an early exposure to Kim Rich then Emily Bronte and then Joan Didion. Friends for nights when I didn’t have any, friends for nights when friends are exhausting and I can’t fight the fact that Costco overwhelms me and I’d rather wait in the car. Older sisters for mornings I’d wake up with an aching heart, mothers for when he didn’t pick me up from the airport, or the bar, or the mall. Therapists because being poor means no health insurance. Teachers because you can learn from others’ mistakes. This is where I find my comfort, where my parts fit into the parts of others and I feel both relief and sadness because I went through that, too, but then, so did you. And we both didn’t deserve it. And sometimes we both didn’t know any better. And herein I belong and I cry because I found that place over and over in the pages of a book. And I crawl out of the cabinet, no razor in hand.
I’m done shrinking myself. I’m tired of being lost. I’m ready to be found again “dead center in the middle of my failure” with pages of writing. This time, my own.
Are you listening?