WHATEVER by Emma Estridge

WHATEVER by Emma Estridge

My mother calls and wants to talk about reality TV. I tell her I don’t care about reality TV, then apologize.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t feel like myself lately.” I used to be getting a degree in writing. I used to be a metalhead. But those are both things I used to be. I write very little now. I listen to nothing or monastic chanting. I do work on my computer, then laundry or the dishes. But it makes me cold all over to think that I am laundry or monastic chanting or dishes.

“That sucks,” my mother says. “Do you want to know how they vote people off the island?”

*

Lately I have been getting high in the afternoons and lying on my bed, but I like to think I’m not doing it like a stoner would. I like to think I’m after something important. Outside the window, sun dapples the poplar trees. But that’s only some shit I would’ve said when I was still a writer.

My roommate comes in and sits on my desk. We talk about a celebrity whose hair we hate, then she talks about a boyfriend she misses. The blanket is soft beneath my cheek. The air conditioner is gentle. I feel nice, like a spoon dipped in yogurt, then remind myself that I’m high. My face itches. My breathing becomes manual.

But the poplar leaves are still dappled with light in the morning, and when I pass my roommate eating cereal, I dance my fingers across her shoulders.

I have no idea anymore. I don’t know where to look, or maybe how.

*

I find a therapist online. She is affordable with mediocre reviews. We have a crackly video call.

“I feel strange,” I say. “Like every day I’m reborn as a baby. A different baby. Except that I remember all the things I saw and heard as the previous baby.” Then I’m embarrassed. “I used to be a writer,” I say.

The therapist’s cat is yowling. “You’ll have to excuse her,” she says. “She’s in heat.”

I don’t think she heard what I said, but I don’t repeat it, because it was only a metaphor for the real thing, for my actual worries: What if I spontaneously forget how to walk? What if, when I go through a doorway, the room I’ve exited ceases to exist? What if I’m experiencing psychosis, but with only domestic hallucinations? How would I be able to tell? Things that sound insane when you say them out loud.

She emails me a PDF of instructions. The first is Learn to sit quietly with yourself. I feel that we have already skipped a step.

*

I agree to meet a man from the internet named Mack. He kayaks. I ask him what other things he does.

“Eat, sleep, work.”

I ask him what he does for work.

“Build kayaks,” he says.

He’s requested that we sit on a bench at the edge of the park so we can watch people kayak down the river.

“I used to get published all the time,” I say.

“Uh huh.”

The backs of my knees are sweating. “I used to read all the literary writers.”

“Look at that one,” he says.

It looks like all the other ones to me. He explains its complex dynamics.

I turn my face away. I don’t want him to see that I’m jealous of the ease with which he does this.

A few seconds later, I forget what I was thinking about and turn back. I lick my ice cream cone. Then I remember and am agitated again.

*

“Take this away from me,” I say and dump my stash onto my roommate’s bed. I’ve decided it’s the weed that’s making me weird.

She keeps clicking on her laptop. “Where’d you get that?”

“It’s mine. I’ve been getting high every day.”

“Really?” More laptop clicks. “I had no idea. You know, doctors are saying it might be good for you. It’s all natural. Plants are good. Experimentation is good. How do you think those monkeys discovered Advil?”

“I need you to shut up.” I drop onto her bed. “I think I’m greening out.”

“Are you actually greening out, or do you just think you’re greening out? There’s science to support the theory that they’re the same.”

“You’re not helping.” My face gets hot and tingly, and I can’t stop imagining my corpse drifting through space. I don’t understand. I was fine before.

My roommate sucks from her giant styrofoam cup of tea. “Just stop thinking. Cats never green out from catnip. That’s because they take each sensation as it comes. They’re incapable of verbalization.”

I could choke her.

I gather what spilled from the bag and take it back to my room.

*

I get a new, expensive psychologist. She has a PhD in Philosophy and high online ratings.

“I feel that everything in my life is fleeing,” I say.

“You mean fleeting,” she says.

Then we have to be silent and paint tiny cups in her office, which is also just her apartment.

*

My roommate comes home. “I see that you’re writing,” she says.

“No I’m not,” I say.

“You literally are. Let me see.” She comes over and tries to look at my notebook. 

I hunch over so she can’t. “I don’t do that anymore. Get out of my face. I’m just taking notes.”

It’s the beginning of a story about a horse. It starts, The horse liked it when the girl brushed his flank, as much as a horse can like anything. It’s nothing. It’s not something philosophical like what I used to write. It is something this new person, this person who is out of touch with reality, would write.

*

“The last time I took an edible,” I tell Mack, “I thought God wanted me dead because I looked too much like Eve.” We are in his car with no air conditioning. We pass a dairy farm, a Pepsi factory, a shoe store.

“What about now?” he says.

“I feel it coming on.” It’s a lie. My eyes aren’t even dry. I turn towards the window and watch sun twinkle off the pavement.

“God didn’t kill Eve anyways,” he says. “He just made her life a little harder.”

We go into a grocery store. Mack buys a baguette and we walk around tearing off chunks. I stare deeply at limes. I finger the stickers on bananas. I feel that I could be anywhere doing anything. I could be in Arkansas farming pigs. I could be in Argentina with a man who builds canoes. I could be in school for writing, or I could be working as a janitor. I feel lightheaded, like I’m staring into an abyss. I think, These are the thoughts of a person whose life has derailed completely. But even the thought is hollow, capable of drifting over the edge.

I say, “I think we’re going to get married.”

“It’s unlikely, but possible.”

He looks lovingly at a peach. “I got rid of my kayaks,” he says. He reaches out to touch it.

*

My roommate and I fight, then don’t. I hate reality TV, then watch a little and like it. I take edibles. I take edibles and have a coffee. I take edibles and have a coffee and an Adderall. I feel different each time, but also the same.

“It’s because they’re all from the earth,” my roommate says. She’s drinking a strawberry wheatgrass smoothie and eating a Crunchwrap Supreme. “They’re all leaves. Adderall is made from alfalfa or something. And so are you, technically.”

*

I beg the philosopher psychologist to give me something that will make me better.

She furrows her brow. “Are you depressed?”

“I don’t know!” I say. “You’re the psychologist.”

She says that getting outside might be helpful.

“If you think it’ll resolve my issue.”

“I don’t think that.”

I refuse to leave her apartment until she gives me the name of a guru who does nature retreats.

It costs $400 for him to take you into the woods. My roommate comes too so that I can afford it. We sit on straw mats in between some trees. We do nothing. I feel the same as I did before.

“This is a fucking joke,” I say. “I could be doing this in our apartment.”

“I think it’s okay,” my roommate says.

The guru shushes us.

I can feel the blood moving behind my eyes. “I can’t believe I’m sober right now.” I want to knock something over, but the only things around are the trees and the guru. “I’m unsettled all the time.”

“Om,” the guru says.

I stand and start pacing. “I have been caged from everything I hold dear.”

“What is the cage like?” my roommate asks. Her face is scrunched in concentration. “Where is it?”

“I don’t know!” I throw my hands up, but no one is looking at me.

“I think my cage is my reluctance to let things express their true nature. Like when I stop the cat from eating bugs.”

“Are you serious?” 

“The cage is in my childhood home.”

I move away from her and hover over the guru. “I don’t even know if I’m real,” I say.

He looks at the sky boredly. “That’s a crazy thing to say.”

“What if nothing I see is real either?”

“Then close your eyes,” my roommate says.

I kick my straw mat. “Look at me!” I scream. “I’m having a crisis! My life is fucked!” I shake violently. “Everything is horrible!”

My roommate laughs. “Whatever,” she says.

The guru wipes his nose. 

I want to start sobbing so they’ll look at me, but I can’t. My anger is pretend. A nothingness, deep and cool, moves through me. I stop shaking. I need to pee. I’m having a thought—What will I eat for dinner?

Because there is nothing else to do, I sit back down.


Emma Estridge is a writer from South Carolina who attends Wofford College. Her work has been published in Assignment, So to Speak, and The Interlochen Review. She has a Seinfeld habit and a cat named Birthday. He bites. You can find her on Twitter @emma_estridge.

Art by Bri Chapman

Read Next: LIKE NIGHTSHADE AND PERIODONTOLOGY by Rebekah Bergman