Janey and Her Bad Brain

Janey and Her Bad Brain

Janey and Her Bad Brain 1620 1080 Mary Mattingly

Janey is standing at the corner of University and Main, wind blowing through stringy bottle-blonde locks. She is contemplating clapping a hand over her eyes and walking straight into the moving wall of noise. Janey is also a cherubic infant, curly brown hair and big brown eyes, crawling on her hands and knees to the living room table where she hoists herself up on her feet to the applause of adoring aunts and uncles. Janey is an infant and a young woman standing at the corner of University and Main.

Janey is nineteen the first time she swallows Vicodin. It is a warm blanket she can wrap herself in, which lets her curl up into a ball and allow waves to pass over her, warm and sweet. She imagines she is on a raft and softly rocking. The noise inside her head quiets. Instead of the winter winds that rattle the thin glass of the windows in her college dorm, she’s taking a guided meditation through tropical breezes and white ibises and iguanas resting in the fronds of palms.

Janey is twenty-six and with her friends, laughing at a bar, drink in hand. Her friend Dave cracks a joke and they all howl, pile on, desperate to make their own imprint, build on the bit. The joke becomes an elaborate story, growing until it bears the thumbprint of everyone there. Janey laughs along with her friends. Janey feels so much love for them it feels like her heart might implode on itself, a black star. Alcohol makes her eyes shine. Yet, her knee won’t stop jiggling and she’s buried in the hole of her own mind. It’s why her smile is a half-smile, no teeth, and why she always says “What?” when people direct a question her way.

Janey sees pill bottles as doorways, wide and fresh, gently beckoning. Janey climbs inside and there she is, running through meadows; she is swimming with sharks who bump her gently with bottleneck noses. Janey wants to stay in the warm place, but the warm place is always too temporary.

Cars hurtle past: red Mazdas, black Corvettes, white Porsches. Not that Janey knows the difference. She used to make her dad laugh with her inability to identify certain makes and models. He holds the toddler Janey in his lap and they go to the Woodward Dream Cruise. He points out different designs and tries to teach her. Janey giggles and laughs and clasps his index finger with her tiny ones. Janey’s brain never absorbs the information.

Janey is twenty when her dad has surgery to fix a broken shoulder. She is twenty when he doesn’t take all of his painkillers.

Some people have brains that push them forward. Some people have brains that allow them to see into the future and that pain is temporary. Janey’s brain whispers sweetly to her and directs her attention to the beauty in slanted sunlight. It also screeches at her to zigzag into traffic.

Janey is a teenager at the Seventh Grade Mixer, watching some of her peers get their first kiss while no one will even ask her to dance. Janey is also a college sophomore in the backseat of a car with a boy, who has big lips and swoopy blonde hair. Janey closes her eyes and lets him kiss her and smiles as soft lips trace a warm trail down her neck while a pale hand reaches up the front of her blouse. This is one of the only times Janey truly feels wanted and free. Janey chases after these boys until they hold up their hands, signaling not me. Not anymore. So, she moves onto the next warm body until she’s been run through.

Janey is an ice cream cone melting in her hand. Janey is a traffic light flashing yellow, then red. Janey is your favorite mix CD from 2003–she still works despite the scratches. Right?

Lately, Janey’s been stockpiling her antidepressants. Lately, Janey’s been mixing her pills with alcohol, chasing the muted warmth of bottleneck sharks. It’s never enough.

Janey is standing at the corner of University and Main. Traffic roars. She closes her eyes and curls her toes, teeters forward.

Janey is also a seven-year-old learning to ride a bike, her stick legs hugging the sides. Janey’s father coaches her, runs alongside her until he lets go, letting her find her own legs. Janey’s father also receives a FaceTime call more than two decades later–a crying Janey, confessing she’s been prescribed Lexapro. And he is worried for his daughter, but she is states away and there is nothing he can do.

Janey stands at the corner of University and Main. A couple with a baby push past her. Janey opens her eyes. The baby stretches its tiny fingers toward her, wiggles a wordless hello to the pleasure of its mother and father.

Janey wants a house and a husband and a white picket fence and a dog. Janey also wants to swallow white capsules until she pukes, floats away. Janey is still learning how to ride a bike.

She waves back.

Header photograph © William C. Crawford.

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