Sweetheart by Julian Shepherd

Art by Jade Pilgrom | Website | Etsy Shop | Tumblr | Instagram


I think I met you when I was very young, but I don’t quite remember the place or the time, so I count every brush as the first time, so slowly, like

empty swing set, broken door lock, shouting voices, house after house after apartment after dirty shared room. The whole of my childhood is our anniversary.

Love, do you remember the first time I couldn’t get out of bed because you were holding me, and murmuring in my ear that there was no point? Every time I get close to leaving you snap your long teeth and roar, look at me, you belong to me.

Mental illness is not romantic, it is unwashed hair and dishes from last month in the sink, it is a generation of poverty despite test scores off the charts. But you are there with me, on the bathroom floor sobbing, staring at the clock without noticing it tick, licking my wounds with a salted maw so they never heal. You are there, you are there, and what is romance but staying?

Oh, the shame of unclean love. The possession of a body in parts, divided into fifths and eighths and shared custody, you get Tuesdays and Thursdays and weekends and whenever you feel like slipping in unannounced, or hammering the door down in the middle of the night, or screaming in the next room just to remind me you’re there.

My therapist says you can’t personify something without a face, but you never manage to acquire one, even if you like to wear mine so much. You’re just screaming mouth shaded eyes nose tracing the back of my neck, only exist as a weight with figure and voice. I narrate our conversations and you watch, arms folded and nodding along like a director honing in an actress, pulling strings I did not give you permission to wrap around my neck.

Light shining out of your mouth like the moon is tucked under your tongue. Light glinting off your eyes so bright it makes me look away. What of our history of violence, the blood and tea stained scroll containing our rose scented legacy, primed for a cautionary tale but only coming out I love you, I love you, I’ll never leave. How do these things happen? How do we get from the kitchen of broken plates to the bedroom of Eros’ hymns? How do you ignore the cracked plaster on the walls in the hallways in between, roaming your own home like a ghost, unseen and unseeing. I write the sigil for blindness on my wrist and pray for rain so I don’t have to leave the house for days.

What of sanity? They will ask this. What of gardens and sunshine and showing up to work everyday?

People say they love my work, my phrases, my twist toward the darker edges of the universe, the strange bend unbend of an artist. Mostly I just hear you’re the most interesting thing about me.

Other people describe their depression as unruly pets, ever present storm clouds they keep on a leash, but whatever you are, you own, you own me and no other way around, and you put your thumb to my gums and make me sing like it’s our love song.

I reach out to touch your hand in the muted dark, soft and blue and the fuzzy indistinct of too­early­to­be­alive, and find that maybe you aren’t there, in the way I am. But you are there. You are there.

Julian Shepherd

Julian Shepherd is a sophomore at Ohio University, where she studies English and sneaks an alarming number of cats into her dorm.