I closed the door to the avocado green refrigerator, the metal alkaline bottle of water I grabbed grazing the photo of me and Apple kissing at the top of the Empire State Building. The magnetic frame shook. Next to it, a stupid plastic California Roll Sushi magnet held a white matte velvet card stock invitation. It was smooth to the touch, bracketed, five by seven inches, black and gray calligraphy. The words:
With hearts of joy and light, Mr. John Ambrose and Ms. Macey Evans request the honor of your presence THE WEDDING OF THEIR DAUGHTER Apple Evans-Ambrose TO Jenna Lee Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Adam Lee on June 8th at six in the evening
It didn’t matter what the rest of the invitation said; I wasn’t going. No dinner. No dancing. No nuptials. I glowered at the photo. I should really get rid of it. I sat at “our” retro chrome and red Formica dining table. The rusted chrome edge scraped at my forearm as I dug into my right foot. The sheets of skin came off in small fingernail-like chunks and I could feel where the skin had once attached. A tight burning sensation formed from the point deeper than the layer I meant to pull from. I was stimming. If I wasn’t anxious, I would leave my poor abused right foot alone, but once I pulled, the compulsion kept me digging into the layers. It always did. When I was a child, my feet would bleed and burn. Now, thirty-four-years-old, I can keep them from becoming bloody nubs most of the time—almost. I pulled on my white ankle socks; a speck of crimson showed evidence where I had gone too deep on the sole of my foot. I slid on my trainers; the cushioned support pressed aggressively into the wound, the deepest skin valleys always on the edge of the lateral arch, pressing into the ground or sole of the shoe. Every single time. The pain is a mixture of shame and triumph; it announces both I am here and I am shit. The pressure was building and not just the sensation in my foot. Why had Apple invited me to the wedding? It had only been six months. Six months. Six months. It seemed cruel after she left the apartment bare minus a stale bagel on the counter with a Dear John, or rather a Dear Jane, or more specifically— Dear Kandle, It was fun to live with you over the past five years, but you didn’t put a ring on it. I’ve taken everything because you took my youth. Enjoy your bagel. Sincerely, Apple There wasn’t any cream cheese, or butter to soften the stale bagel. The toaster, gone. The cruelty of Apple. If she were a real pome, she’d be a red delicious. Beautiful, shiny on the outside but insipid, mealy and banal. I wasn’t aware of this until our relationship mushed in my mouth like a stale bagel of regret. It seemed a fitting metaphor; I mused as I chewed through vignettes of our deceased relationship. I laced up my shoes. A five-mile run—along with the burning, stinging sensation in my foot—would keep the deeper thoughts at bay. Stimming always brought me back to my body, and the aftermath kept me there only as long as obsessive self-harm could. The remnants of my dead skin looked so white or yellow, depending on where the pull came from. Curious, one organ had multiple colors. I put all the large skin flakes into the trash. Even if I was the only one in the empty apartment, I didn’t need to leave my DNA in large piles of flesh.
“Stop picking your feet, Kandle!” Apple scolded, “It’s not good for you.” I would apologize, unaware that I was pulling. It was in those moments of overwhelm that a small white bubble on my smooth foot would create a compulsion to pick. Pull. Pick. Pull. I would peel until my feet were a rugged terrain and smooth no more, often not feeling it until blood emerged. “Stop picking your feet! It’s gross.” Apple would repeat this daily like a mantra. “Everyone stims, even you. Biting your nails is stimming,” I would huff. Apple shook her head. “We all have bad habits, but most of us don’t limp or bleed because of them—or leave piles of flesh behind.” “I’ll stop when I’m dead.” There were so many stimming memories just like that.
Why had Apple expected me to ask for forever? There were undisclosed rules with Apple. The hidden curriculum of our relationship couldn’t fit into all the fields of study taught at NYU. How had Apple moved forward so quickly? Me, I was stuck. The air was brisk on my run. The wind whipped through my hair and the echo of the sensation of my foot no longer registered. When I push myself, it silences the desire and pain. My breath became labored as I ran my fastest on the fifth mile. When I got back to my apartment five minutes earlier than expected, I huffed and puffed, attempting to unlock the door. Upon success, I stumbled in and fell on the couch. I opened my smart tablet to doom-scroll until the incoming call notification. It was time for my weekly video chat with dad. I laid back on the couch and held the tablet over my head. I fought the urge to take off my socks and shoes to pick both of my feet raw, even though I favored my right. My left foot was in waiting if things became too intense. “Hey dad.” I smiled as my father set up his shot. It was the same thing each week. It took a minute for him to get the phone situated. He’s never prepared. He talked and motioned dramatically with his hands. “You’re muted.” He kept waving his hands around emphatically. “DAD!” He looked and smiled. “You’re muted.” “OH!” He laughed and found the volume, set the frame, and leaned in. “I got the invite to Apple’s wedding.” He adjusted his gray hair, or at least what he had left of it. He was an Apple superfan; she lured him in with her charisma, and after our breakup, they still had weekly chats without me. I sat up, propelled by the feeling of betrayal. “What?” “You really should try a dating app,” said my thrice divorced father, scratching his paunch. I shook my head, trying to make sense of his non sequitur, and looked even harder at the screen for the answer. I hated sharing my dad with Apple as much as I hated receiving dating advice from him. “Met a real nice girl the other day. You could find one for the wedding.” I could feel the skin of my foot calling me. Pick. Pick. Pull. I ignored the sensation. My anger brimmed to the tip of my ears, red and hot; my anxiety butterflied in my chest. Pick. Pick. Pull. I stood up with my tablet at crotch level; I didn’t care about the sweat marks left behind from my run on my small teal runner shorts. “I got to go,” I said then slammed the tablet closed. I took my trainers off by stepping on the back of the heel one at a time, then slid one sock off at a time. The sweaty run had wrinkled my feet with dampness. I looked at the peaks and valleys of skin from the pre-run stimming session. I didn’t pick; I didn’t pull; I showered. The nearly scalding water ran over my body, from the crown of my head down to my feet and warmed the tile under my soles. I scrubbed with intention; every nook, every cranny. Pick. Pick. Pull. I fought the urge as the suds formed around my feet—I’m not. I stood on one foot and leaned against the cool tile wall to scrub my other foot. Pick. Pick. Pull—I am not. I stood up straight. I am not going. Slipping with the grace and ease of a T-baller sliding home and the soap underneath the terrain of my uneven soles sent me sailing backward, and I felt my head slam into the tile, the blood sticky warm. I guess I could stop. Crimson to pink swirled as the hot water moved over and around my crumpled body. The steam fogged the shower door. The urge had stopped.
Bright lights and beeping brought me back, and I didn’t have the urge, the sensation or need to pull. It had all dissipated. My head felt like a rock tumbler toy. The pounding was anything but rhythmic. There she was, next to my arm with the IV stuck into it—Apple. My eyelids fluttered to bring her into focus. Machines, lab coats, and overhead announcements caused my eyes and attention to wander. “You should change your emergency contact person” was the only thing she said to me. An orderly brought me breakfast. As he removed the cloche I noticed there, on the table in front of me, was a bagel with the option of cream cheese or butter, applesauce, a scrambled egg, and an apple juice. I smattered the bagel with cream cheese on one side, butter on the other. I pressed the two halves together and took a bite and looked through Apple. The chewy interior melted on my tongue. The apple juice was bright and crisp. “Seriously, Kandle,” she went on. Her words buzzed like a mosquito. I pressed the help button. A nurse in teddy bear scrubs came in. I asked him to escort her out. He obliged. I had finally shed Apple, and I’m not sure if it was the drugs, the head injury, her lack of compassion, or the hospital breakfast option, but I was free.
Thea Pueschel (xe/she) is an emerging writer and artist, a reader for Fractured Lit, and a 2021 Dorland Arts Colony Resident. Twitter: @pueschelthea.