Have I started a war, or has there always been one waging within me?

Every time I think I’m okay, finally, I’m saved, for sure, this time, it ends with a step backwards. I’ve got a lot better, and now I’ve got worse. Nobody ever talks about what happens after they are cured. One step forward, two steps back. Will this ever end? It’s difficult when I can’t see where I’m going. So in tune with other people’s feelings, I can never figure out my own. I go through life believing I’m okay, then I snap. Only after the fact do I realise that I am not okay after all.

I don’t want to go back to feeling hopeless, but now I’m wondering if I’ve ever left that lonely place. Have I all this time been living a lie? Have I grown accustomed to my own numbed mind, and has it tricked me into thinking I am now qualified to aspire to be a competent human being? I do not know.

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A narrative essay written for UMN on how technology has integrated into our lives. I wrote this from the point of view of my little sister. Also, this was written right after I finished reading Flannery O’Connor, so if it is dark, that is why.

At seven years old, I stand on the porch, withdrawing into the inner compartment of my mind where I establish myself when I cannot bear to be a part of what is going on around me. From it I can see out and judge but in it I am safe from any kind of penetration. From it I can see my mother beating my sister to the ground.

This is because my sister cannot find her Nintendo.

Mother leaves her on the ground, and I watch as after a while my sister gets up on her own. She hobbles to Mother’s handbag, rummages through it and comes up victorious with a black Nintendo. I turn away from this vignette of my childhood with a frown. I do not linger on my confusion and try to erase the memory.

At seven years old, I protect my Nintendo with my life.

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Frozen air and a gleaming scythe, lighting a lantern and lending a coat. The child’s body tugged through an opening I hadn’t known was there, into a space I didn’t know had room for her.

“I am a monster born from dusk to dawn. What are you?”

“I am Rue,” the child says, all heat and hope. “Are you here to save me?”

It is hard to believe, this strange exchange with a child I was sent to kill.

I tell her of the outside world through these spitting words wrung in irony and tipped with anguish, with emotions that will one day swallow up the whole world.

The child takes them all in and says, “You look no more than a boy but better a man than most.”

My age­-old loneliness begins to crumble under pale hands and impossible smiles.

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This was the time I studied under a bigoted professor, withstood harassment, stood up to racial slurs, received unjustified grades, re-entered myself into a mental hospital and came to a conclusion that it is always easier to be brave for other people.

(I hasten to add that this happened a year or two ago; I only write about it now because I am able to be objective enough to not start crying about it.)

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I am seven years old and unsightly: overflowing cheeks and burnt skin from being made to swim everyday. Dad wants me to be a boy. He makes me dress like one, act like one, eat like one and live like one. I am stout and silent from abuse, obedient yet frustrated. I participate in outdoor activities I do not care about.

This is the world I live in.

Dresses and cute things are not for me. They are wrong and I will get scolded for liking them.

“You are ugly,” Mother tells me. “You will never amount to anything.”

I want to go out and play. My mother hits me for wanting this.

She calls me a brat, a perverted girl who will one day grow up to be a whore. She kicks me in the ribs and stomps on my back when I tell her I cannot find my Nintendo.

My dad hits me on my thigh. He just got home from work. He enters the bathroom where I am and hit me after I said something that made him angry. Hot tears fall down my cheeks, and I feel pathetic and dirty. I sit on the toilet half naked.

It is morning and the house maid is braiding my hair. I am clean and content and fat. I am eating a packet of Oreos. Some of the crumbs get on my shirt. I try to wipe them off but my fingers are dirty.

The black crumbs get smudged on the cotton.

My mother catches me. She stalks towards me and screams, “You fucking pig. You filthy dirty brat. What are you doing?”

I meet her eyes. My mother snatches the packet of Oreos out of my hand and slaps me hard across the face. She hits me again on my arm, and again on my thigh. She drags me out of the chair and throws me onto the floor. She brings out a long wooden ruler and sits down on the sofa in front of me.

“Get up, you wretch,” she says and prods me with the ruler.

I get up.

“Strip,” she says.

I cry and take off my clothes. I am standing in front of the house. The door is open and the neighbours are watching.

“Why did you wipe the crumbs on your shirt?” she says.

“It was dirty so I tried to clean it,” I say.

“You brat! Of course it’s dirty. You wiped your filthy hands on it! I am not giving you clothes again. I will make you stay naked, you fat fuck.”

I sob. I am fat and ugly and naked. I want to die.

“I was wiping my shirt because it was dirty,” I cry.

My mother smacks the ruler on the tiles, and I jump at the sound. My skin crawls.

“Why did you wipe it on your shirt?” she says.

I fumble for words and choke. My mother isn’t listening. No matter how many times I try to explain, she doesn’t want to hear the truth. I cry harder and louder because I cannot reason with someone whose only goal is to humiliate her own daughter. I am ugly and hated. I am standing in front of the house naked, and my mother makes sure I know that I am disgusting.

I am seven years old, and I want to die.

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President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates.

The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and convince myself that I am at the world’s largest Gryffindor reunion.

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Caw hurls the 143rd corpse onto the platform, his face contorting in disgust. His hands are all slippery, reeking of human stench. He cannot, for the love of his future, understand why he’s picked to intern for a lowly Mortician when, taking Caw’s rank into account, he could have chosen any prestigious job. Instead here he is, hauling corpses after corpses onto the Body Dock, before the waves manage to wash them up on Bone Beach and scare the sunlight out of the tourists.

Where do these dead humans come from anyway?

It isn’t until he takes off his hat and calls it a day (night, whatever) that he notices a barrel bobbing in the middle of the black ocean. The Mortician never told him about floating barrels, and for the three months Caw had been labouring his haughty arse, a barrel is the last thing he expects to see.

He decides to check it out.

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The moment Liam falls into Neverearth, the Mirths take him in. Berndt Mirth, a brother only in title, tells him that his attempts to return to his past life is more trouble than they are worth. And he would be lying to say he hasn’t once thought the same, back in Dolemrok, when he had been upset and alone with a dying mother, three siblings and an estate to look over. He had been barely of age when father abandoned him to serve the country. He couldn’t understand it then.

He refuses to understand it now.

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