BY HAILI JONES
You are thirty-seven years old, but also ten, fifteen, twenty, two. Let’s start with thirty-seven then, the year containing all preceding years, the bridge to those that follow:
You judge yourself so harshly: piece of shit. Nothing you do is good enough. You want to write and not just write but have somebody read it. Complete the connection, open your arms, to welcome and also, to release. But. Then there’s: Everyone will laugh. People will hate you. Your family will disown you. The people who love you will quit loving you. The people you love will quit letting you love them. People will call you a slut. You’ll get arrested. You’ll be labeled a moral degenerate. You’ll never be able to run for office. Doctors will think you’re out for scrips. Your pain will be misinterpreted. People will come forward. You’ve got the details wrong. You can’t see deeply enough into any situation, let alone this one. Your judgment is flawed. You have blinders on. Your motivations are suspect. Very suspect. Your intentions are poor. You will do damage. You will fail. You will betray.
You want to get the surgery, to fix that old creaky hip and get on with living. A full hip replacement. Easy-peasy. Old people get them every day. But. Then there’s: you won’t be able to walk. You’ll have to use a wheelchair. If the first surgery fails, you’ll be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. If the revision surgery fails, you’ll be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. They can only shiv into the bone two times.
You have an autoimmune disease. It may or may not be polychondritis. You don’t want to let the fear destroy you, make you sicker. But then. There’s: Your face will cave in. Specifically, your nose—all the cartilage will fail and the bridge will cave in, the tell-tale saddle-nose deformity. Your ears will collapse. Shrivel up and give out. Perhaps you’ll go blind. Deaf. Maybe your heart will give out or your trachea. If the disease doesn’t kill you, the treatment will. Steroids are the only out but they leave you vulnerable to infection. More people die from infections than die of the disease, the infections secondary to treatment. Pneumonias, particularly. Various bacterial infections. Five- to ten-year horizon.
Maybe if you changed your diet.
Maybe if you changed your beauty regimen.
Maybe if you did tai chi.
Maybe if you exercised.
Maybe you took supplements.
Maybe if you believed in yourself.
Maybe if you hadn’t fucked up.
Maybe if you didn’t deserve it.
Maybe if you were a better person.
Maybe if you hadn’t fucked so-and-so.
Maybe if you hadn’t snorted/shot/smoked such-and-such.
Maybe if you wouldn’t have gotten pregnant.
Maybe if you hadn’t had that one abortion.
Maybe if you could handle stress.
Maybe if you had never experienced stress.
Maybe if you had never been vaccinated.
Maybe if your dad wouldn’t have left.
Maybe if you hadn’t gotten that part in the play.
Maybe if someone had listened to you.
Maybe if you would have listened to _____.
Maybe if you hadn’t called that girl a lesbian.
Maybe if you had been a lesbian.
Maybe if you had won that spelling bee.
Maybe if you would have won that scholarship to St. Paul’s.
Maybe if you would have applied to college sooner.
Maybe if you would have submitted your work.
Maybe if you would have worked harder.
If your work had been shit.
If your work had merit.
If you worked.
If anything about you worked.
Haili Jones is a writer and editor living in Portland, OR. Her work has appeared in Bitch, Hip Mama, andThe Notebook: A Progressive Journal for Women & Girls with Rural and Small-Town Roots. She also performs with Mortified Portland, spreads the lit-love in her community by facilitating creative writing workshops for Write Around Portland, .