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Sat, Feb. 29, 2020. 11:16 p.m.

I never know how to start these. I don’t want to sound dumb.

When I was 14, my appendix burst. All the mess spilled out into my abdomen, starting the fever. Doctors explained that no one knows for sure what the organ’s actual use is. Something to do with bacteria. The second it burst, the pain went away. Like how it’s so scary when a balloon pops, but it’s glad it doesn’t have to stretch to hold all that helium anymore, now it can just sit all flaccid. The infection got worse, of course, but the moment of relief made it seem okay, so they sent me home. They didn’t know about the burst, so I sat bathing in my own bile for a week. 

I came back and lit up under the MRI. Got admitted to the hospital. Got a couple of infections. I never knew more love than being nudged awake by a nurse to have my drain removed. They went in laparoscopically, and my umbilical cord spilled out. I was reaching for my mom.

About a year later, I had my first kiss. I wanted to burst and be taken care of. I wanted the fever and the nausea, the lovesickness. But I didn’t have the organ that sorts through the mess. They say it’s not evolutionarily necessary. Maybe I should have let the sepsis hit.

Mon, Jul. 6, 2020. 11:17 p.m.

I don’t know how to see beautiful things anymore. I used to see them by writing them down. I’d look at the way blue turns to green when I walk my dog under the oak trees and I’d write it down, starting my own library of beautiful things. I haven’t seen a lot of beautiful things lately. 

I read that Herodotus thought that lions could only give birth once because he thought that cubs claw their way out of their mother’s womb. I wondered why my mother had me. I wonder how she kept on cauterizing and, in the same breath, told us not to touch the hot stove. I think about how the cautery felt when they had to stick my umbilical cord back into my navel, like someone packing a pipe. 

I picture my mom smoking a cigarette in the delivery room, bleeding, sweating, sore, weary, terrified. 

Instead of poetry, I try to write fairy tales. I want to write about relief; of the young Dawn with her rose-red fingers creeping up in the horizon; the exhausted, nicotine-shiver that you get on the bike ride home after you kill the monster. I want to write about Calypso’s loneliness, how she let Odysseus go when she knew that he still loved Penelope. 

I don’t see beautiful things anymore because my night terrors are unscripted. Chekhov’s gun comes screaming out of my throat every morning; I’m already in the third act of my life at 21. Before the intermission, you can see what causes the nightmares. By the end, the motif has gotten old. My sister hears me screaming in my sleep, but tells me, “I usually just try to ignore it.” 

Sun, Aug. 16, 2020. 12:12 p.m.

Spiders are always falling in my hair while I’m asleep. I can’t bring myself to sweep up their webs from the corners of my room. It makes me wonder when someone will get tired of me and sweep my bed away. We all just want a warm place to sleep.

“And besides,” I say to the landlord, “You’d rather have spiders than flies, right?”

I think of that urban legend about the girl who never washed her hair, and how spiders made a home in her hair-sprayed beehive. There’s a poem or a joke here somewhere. Maybe if I go a few more days without bathing some bees might spin honey out of my matted hair.

Thur, Oct. 29, 2020. 1:23 p.m.

My psychiatrist asks me how my mood has been; I say that I’ve always been sad, that sadness is my only friend. On the unfamiliar good days, I can remember that I still have the sad bits of me to talk to when I’m not happy anymore. It’s the Kafka joke, the old doodle in a kid’s notebook when they learn about Prometheus — I don’t really have a reason to feel alone with this crow keeping me company, even if it’s pulling at my entrails the whole way home. 

I wish I was a better writer. I don’t know how to say that it was really beautiful when my next door neighbors fixed their car, how they cheered and hugged each other, their masks making their glasses fog up.

I don’t play well with others. Please don’t be mad at me. I’m a dog that bites. My blinds don’t close. I didn’t want to tell my landlord because I was afraid they’d think I was complaining, and I didn’t want them to come into my room.

I want my body to be perfect. I’m tired of counting my blessings. I’m tired of crying my eyes out every night. I wish people could see my loneliness like a witch with boils on her nose, mixing love potions alone in the woods. My psychiatrist asks me how my mood’s been; I say 6/10.

Mon, Nov. 23, 2020. 3:46 p.m.

When bats are in the womb, they cover their faces with their wings. I think I must look like that when I’m crying. All sinewy, paper-thin tissue. I feel bad for them, how they’re the only mammals that can fly. And how it must be nice to do what they can do, but they must feel like they don’t fit in. I wonder if they wish they looked more like birds or acted more like mammals. If they’re embarrassed by the way that they were born.

Sat, Dec. 26, 2020. 4:59 p.m.

Self-aware, but to a fault. Not insightful, just too self-aware, watchful like a schizophrenic cat guarding her stillborn from predators, amniotic sac smelling good enough for a wolf to eat even if it doesn’t count as a kill. I get that she still wants to protect her daughter, but it’s dead anyway, so who cares?

Don’t know what my stillborn represents in this metaphor. Maybe my anxiety makes me stand guard to protect nothing, or maybe my mom is the cat and I’m the stillborn, like she’s Frankenstein and I’m the monster who wasn’t meant to walk the earth. That’s the thing, I’m always outside of myself; I related to people through tinny headphones, learned textual analysis from Take This To Your Grave like the stupid virgin I was then and still feel like on the inside. Popped-cherry smoothies and all that, you know? 

Lately, I don’t know what matters anymore; if my life is interesting enough for a memoir, if anyone would underline the parts about the four stray cats who live in the complex right now, who we all set out bowls for, the more generous renters buying heated doghouses and hot water bottles for them. I think some of my neighbors let them inside when it’s snowy like this, but then I see them running around at night. I worry that they’ll freeze to death but not enough to ask my mom to let me let them in. I’m afraid she’ll get mad. I read firsthand accounts of the USSR and feel like being a part of a community means taking care of cats you don’t know. We don’t own the property we live on so we don’t bat an eye at the cats collecting their taxes in tuna cans. 

I’m lucid enough to walk the dog but depressed enough to suck sugar through my teeth in bed at night, the chocolate making me have wet dreams about Courtney Love and Christine Chubbuck and environmental disaster. Maybe I’ll stop having nightmares when they dig them out of my teeth. I think 21 is too old to make my mom schedule my dentist appointments, but I think I’m rotting. I dreamt that a boy wrote his name on a wall and was trapped inside his house forever. Not sure what that implies about credit cards or diaries with my name on them. Not sure if this is what my professor meant when she said confessional poetry. 

Tue, Dec. 29, 2020. 8:10 p.m.

On Sunday night, I’m content. Dog next to me in a warm bed in a cold room, snow on the ground outside, no homework, watching dumb videos on my phone, the stray cats somewhere outside skulking. I used to dread winter because of how long the nights got, how much time there was for my nightmares to move in.

Still, I think it’s romantic that when the nights are long and cold, the most hopeful thing in the world is a newborn in a manger. We make a show out of how dark it gets by stringing up lights. I see how carefully my dad wraps our presents and I know that money doesn’t measure love, but I know how hard he works and I can feel it when he goes looking for a book I asked for. Maybe that’s just the Catholic consumer in me. I like giving people presents. It makes me think that they’ll have an easier time remembering me.

Reading my poetry out loud makes me believe it less. I hated listening to bad poets at my old university talk about how hard their parents’ divorce was when my parents’ divorce was a godsend. My sister told me about how she loved “Wrath” or “Salesman” while all the rich white kids loved “Gatsby,” and I thought that’d make a good poem about growing up in the recession. But then again, we’d read all the stories about Jesus washing people’s feet and then go to the nail salon to underpay whoever washed ours, so maybe being the poorest rich kid is kind of like being the smartest dumb kid — not special, just stupid. 

Sun, Jan. 24, 2021. 7:06 p.m.

I went to the emergency room last week because I thought I was sick again. Maybe I wanted it to be like it was seven years ago: 14 and glad to have my own room, not 21, keeping my mask on but peeling off my shirt, hoping the nurse doesn’t think I’m ugly underneath. I suck in anyhow.

Daily Arts Writer Mary Elizabeth Johnson can be reached at