Live Through This

The Mistake

A nonstory.

Illustration by Leanna

Illustration by Leanna

I. What This Is

This is a nonstory about an ugly mistake I made at an ugly point in my life, and how I tried to extract meaning from and nullify and prettify that ugly mistake by turning it into a story, uselessly pounding out the same words, the same scenes, over and over and over and over and over again. This is ugly.

II. The Mistake

I had a beautiful friend in college whom I’ll call L. because her name began with L and L is how I remember her: tall, bony, built of right angles. To spit it out: L. was very perfect and sociable and always had something interesting and intelligent to say, and she was very much into her things (literature, film, culture, people) and was constantly falling in love with a thing and then a few weeks later falling in love with another thing and using these things as fodder for her fiction, because she wanted to be a writer. Then L. fell in (serious) love with this notorious jerk called Teddy.* Then he dropped her, and her heart was broken. And while her heart was broken, I slept with Teddy. I did. I pursued Teddy, and I was unapologetic, and I refused to look at L. closely or with compassion: I refused to imagine her as a real person with real feelings—my friend.

III. People Try to Talk About Their Feelings About How It Feels to Be a Person to Other People, and Fail

ANNA (ME). There is a poem called “A Thirsty Fish” by Rumi that I used to carry folded in my pocket. Please, will you read it in full, here? I’ll recite a few lines in case you don’t—although I hope you do, because this poem is a ray of light. Here:

Show me the way to the ocean!
Break these half-measures,
these small containers

A fire has risen above my tombstone hat.
I don’t want learning, or dignity,
or respectability

This is how it always is
when I finish a poem.

A great silence comes over me,
And I wonder why I ever thought
to use language.

L. L. told me about a story that she’d read about a man who absorbs everything but he is empty, no innards, no nothing. She said that she believed she was the same: an empty vessel ready to be filled, but at the end of the day there is nothing, nothing inside.

TEDDY. Teddy said everyone says “I’m sorry” and doesn’t mean it. They say “sorry” and continue on in their shitty behavior. He told me that he’d learned to use the word sorry exactly as everyone else did, and that I should, too, “with honesty”—as simply a word spat out into the air.

(A crummy outlook. Still, I like thinking about words, and how or what they can communicate. How to reach other people, what reaching means. Like maybe your emotions bubble in your belly and you open your mouth and a word-emotion comes out and the other person opens up their mouth and swallows that word-emotion and the feeling is transmitted perfectly and honestly from your inside to their inside. Like passing Gushers through kissing: the sugary skin is the word and the gush is the feeling. Like a mama bird passing a worm to her baby, and in their automatic animal behavior, perfect love is transmitted. [If only.])


L. and Anna Try to Talk.

I once read “A Thirsty Fish” to L., hoping that it would help her get me a bit more. Maaan did I hate her response, which went something like Ooh, An-na, you’re so cute, look at An-na! My crunchy friend, my mystic friend. As I’d write later on, her response made me feel like I was just another one of her things, “an object to fit into one of her overstylized stories…an object to pick and then throw away.”

I could never understand why L., chatty and full of social graces, had chosen me, awkward and quiet, as a friend, but the point is we were friends, and she was consistently a good friend to me. I felt more and more those days that everyone I knew was like L.—just collecting things to decorate their personas like ornaments on a Christmas tree. I felt like we were all nothing more than our Facebook profiles. Delete delete delete and we would rewrite ourselves the next day. I hated that. I did not want to believe that that is all we were. That is why I held on to that piece of paper with “A Thirsty Fish” written on it—it reminded me that there was a time when people were more substantial, not flimsy like Christmas trees and Facebook profiles (granted, there were no Facebook profiles back then). It wasn’t a time that I knew much of anything about, sure, but I imagined that it must be better, more serious, less superficial. I imagined that God lived closer to the earth then, much like the moon.

Did I believe in anything? Nah. What was I doing? Nothing. Eating, compulsively. Swallowing food mindlessly because I liked feeling full, weighed down, because the stomach is prolly connected to the soul, right? I was obstinately refusing to pay attention to pop culture or any culture because I did not wanna become a Christmas tree. I was doing as little schoolwork as I could get away with because I did not wanna become like my philosophy-major peers, who were for the most part very loud and ego-y men who seemed more interested in the sound of their own voices than they were in Truth. (Now that I’m older and have distance from this bleak and frankly boring point in my life, it seems obvious to me that my disdain was a security blanket. I went to a super-academic Midwestern university that had a lot of really smart people—people like L.—who were just pumped on academics. I was scared: I felt dumb, shy, intimidated. Telling myself that I hated all this worldly crap—that I wanted to tune in to the capital-T True thing—was a way for me to try to block out my fears. Was I, like, pursuing capital-T Truth? Attending religious services? Astral-projecting? Nah.)

* Not his real name.


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  • sarahf July 16th, 2013 11:45 PM

    ohhhh shit this is great. FINALLY i’ve read my own thoughts, felt and written down by some one else.
    love you anna,


  • jenaimarley July 16th, 2013 11:59 PM

    Anna, you are as brilliant as Rumi.

  • Drippingpixies July 17th, 2013 12:07 AM

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Melisa July 17th, 2013 12:13 AM

    I really love the way you write, Anna. It’s different — in a good way. xx

  • katmelon July 17th, 2013 12:26 AM

    really spoke to me. My depression, my emptiness, my imperfections, my need to think about everything before I voice it out.

    I love how you write. I wish I could be a writer too.

  • kolumbia July 17th, 2013 12:27 AM

    I feel the exact same way. I’m overwhelmed with guilt over something that happened two years ago. I identify with everything Anna writes. It’s so beautifully conveyed, and the language is perfect, and I just love it all so much.

  • I love Mark July 17th, 2013 12:35 AM

    That story was very helpful to me

  • onehandclaps July 17th, 2013 1:53 AM

    Woah. This is easily one of the most powerful (and personally affecting for me personally) pieces I’ve read so far on Rookie. Thank you.

  • Ella W July 17th, 2013 4:34 AM

    I.. Wow. That was pretty intense. My mind is kind of reeling at it.
    So far in my life I’ve not had anything that I’ve particularly regretted, but I know I will, and maybe this will help me.
    I love your writing Anna!
    Ella x

  • Glenny July 17th, 2013 5:01 AM

    This is SO beautiful. So poetic, so touching. I have to ask because I am one: are you an INFJ personality type, Anna?

    I relate to this mental state so much it’s ridiculous. Great writing. I love your work. I agree that this is probably the most powerful thing I’ve read on Rookie.

  • Sam July 17th, 2013 6:08 AM

    This is powerful, powerful writing.

    I have nothing else to say to express what I’m feeling but that. Thank you.

  • Sophie ❤ July 17th, 2013 7:26 AM

    This is just so beautiful! You finally wrote down some if my own thoughts- thank you, Rookie!

  • dragonfly July 17th, 2013 8:10 AM

    <3 this is so good.
    I can really relate to thinking and thinking and thinking before attempting to speak.

  • magenta04 July 17th, 2013 11:01 AM

    Best thing I have read on Rookie. I am in love with this story. Thank you.

  • Simone July 17th, 2013 1:46 PM

    The message that acknowledges how very difficult it can be to be compassionate but how important it is to do so could definitely count as a capital T truth. Thanks for the reminder.

  • kikikaylen July 17th, 2013 1:46 PM

    Insanely great. I love how the format flows so naturally. I’m happy you were able to make sense of your “non-story.”

  • fromanotherearth July 17th, 2013 4:36 PM

    This is so well written and intriguing, I really enjoy the perspective that comes with distance and age. I really love this story/nonstory.

  • Anna M. July 17th, 2013 7:11 PM

    hey thank you dudes for the encouraging words and i’m glad that it resonated. also thank you “coalesce” for commenting on my piece last month, reminding me to read more dfw!! i keep reading and rereading “girl with curious hair” these days! and amy rose toooo who sent me “little expressionless animals”! yeeeeaaahyeahyeaaahhhhhh

  • yumi July 17th, 2013 9:00 PM

    I don’t know how to say this in a way that truly translates my feelings about it… But I love your writing Anna, thank you for writing and sharing it.

  • kendallkh July 18th, 2013 12:27 AM

    wow this is seriously wonderful it has been a while since ive had enough concentration-ability to sit and read something longer than a few paragraphs but this was totally enthralling and interesting and great, thank you so much for writing and sharing it

  • Rivka July 18th, 2013 12:01 PM

    This is truly beautiful. Your way of writing is immensely poignant and powerful.

  • Julianne July 18th, 2013 1:14 PM

    Anna, I love your writing so much.

  • Mira July 18th, 2013 3:25 PM

    This is amazing and brilliant and I really needed this right now

  • loonylizzy July 18th, 2013 8:16 PM

    this is so beautiful i have chills… such amazing writing

  • allie.x July 19th, 2013 5:35 PM

    Amazing. Honest, moving and one of the best pieces I’ve read not just on Rookie but anywhere, ever.

  • abby111039 July 22nd, 2013 4:45 PM

    These are, like, my innermost thoughts put perfectly into words by an excellent writer. Well done, and thank you for sharing this; it’s something I could never do.

    The part about L’s story about the man who was empty inside really resonated with me as well. That’s exactly how I feel. </3

  • chunmun August 24th, 2013 5:23 AM

    <3 i am speechless

  • cryingflowers September 4th, 2013 4:12 PM

    beautiful thoughts omfg ^.^

  • gabriella551 October 1st, 2013 2:20 AM

    This story pulls at my heart strings I wish it was longer!