Paint the Walls Yellow
by S. Makai Andrews
“Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them
or I’m gonna make them alive, but I’m just a fucked-up
girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind.”
—Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
At times I’m not sure if I’m doing these things because I want to or because I want the experience for a story to write about later on. I don’t know why I’m in this man’s apartment other than it seemed like a good idea. This happens more than I’d care to admit. I make a lot of decisions I don’t understand.
I’m fifteen and I’ll do whatever the fuck you want if you call me babe. I’ll be your babe as quickly as I’ll take a shot, and the only thing that’s going to slow me down is this goddamn New Testament homework that I can’t seem to wrap my head around. My mom bought me The Bible for Dummies when I started at the Christian school.
It didn’t go well. During chapel I’d think about which boys I wanted to sleep with, about how much I was going to smoke at the next party I went to, about who would be my next kiss.
I’m almost twenty and I took that pill because I wanted to see what it would do to me. Or maybe not. Maybe I just thought it would fit my image. My manic pixie dream girl life complete with an unfamiliar name and brightly dyed hair. What is a manic pixie dream girl, you might ask. She’s the batshit crazy character opposite the white male lead in every indie romance movie you saw in the early 2010s. She’s the girl who helps the main character discover who he wants to be and how he wants to live. She’s the girl he dates before finding the love of his life. And in case you were curious, he never picks the crazy girl. I hate this trope, and yet it’s so pitifully in line with my own existence that I can’t help but push my undoing into such a readily available form. It’s easier to do what people expect.
Some days, I love my own undoing. I want to be sick, want to be toxic. I love the edge it gives me. I thrive in my sickness because people start to romanticize it so much that, if anything, it makes me more desirable. The personality traits that come along with it give me something interesting to talk about. It gives me quirks, tricks, little things that I think are mine and only mine.
When I’m scared, I watch TV—this is one of those “quirks.” I watched Law and Order when I had an eating disorder. I watched Criminal Minds when I was suicidal. I watch the disasters happening around me and pray that they will make my own feel obsolete, or at least a little bit more manageable.
Some days I look in the mirror and I’m surprised by my body, surprised by the way the curves have softened and the bones have peeked out. My body is not my own. I’m so unfamiliar with it that for the first fourteen years of my life, I didn’t even know I had a birthmark. Not much bigger than a pea, the splotch rests just along my left shoulder blade. I had no idea.
I assume that at one point, my body felt like my own. I assume when I was a child I was attached to my belly, attached to fingernails and veins and flesh. But I don’t have a memory that spans far enough to remember any of this, so I’m really relying on assumption.
I can tell you that I knew my body wasn’t my own when I was eight. I was at the doctor when they told me I was overweight for my age. But I ate vegetables every day, ate healthier than any other kid I knew, so I decided that they were not in fact talking about me. It was my body, not me. It was separate. Something I could finesse and shape without doing any real damage to the self who I so often forgot I was.
In eighth grade, someone told me they couldn’t see my spine. I assumed it was because there was too much back fat. I couldn’t think of anything else. Plus, I couldn’t see my spine for myself, so I had to take their word for it. During my freshman year of high school, a friend who was always skinnier than I was gave me a pair of jeans that were too small on her. They fit me, but I didn’t see this as proof that all of a sudden my body was smaller than hers. For my body could not shift, could not grow out of a childhood of belly bongos and double-chinned photos.
I’m sixteen, sitting on my dingy dorm room floor, huddled around a laptop playing a bootleg copy of Brokeback Mountain. Most of my friends are visiting family this weekend and the only one still here is the blonde, doe-eyed southern girl. There’s a snowstorm all weekend in northern Michigan, and the thought of walking fifty feet in the snow scares us both. We’re used to the sun, used to sweat and sticky air. The cold is still too new.
To avoid going outside we live off of the dorm building’s vending machine for the weekend. I have microwaved mac and cheese, and she has chicken-flavored ramen. This is also when I have my first ever Snickers bar, the first time in two years I’ve allowed myself to indulge in something so calorically luxurious. This is a manic pixie dream girl under rules—everything is contained, regulated, and so intentionally safe that I couldn’t rebel if I tried.
I’m nineteen years old, sitting on the edge of a power box at the bottom of the woods. I know he’s watching me from his dorm window. I can feel his eyes following me faster as I let this cigarette burn a hole in my lungs.
This is my safe spot, where I go to cry on the phone or indulge in a bad habit. This is where I go to avoid his eyes, the eyes of this boy-who-cheated-on-me-even-though-we-were-never-actually-together. My phone is buzzing in my pocket, and I know it’s him telling me he can see me, sending me pixels of myself zoomed in so close it’s almost a paint chip. But he knows it’s me—he can spot my black clothes and droopy eyes from far away. I’m mad he knows me this well.
Someone told me I’m not happy enough to be the manic pixie dream girl. That they’re supposed to be bubbly, constantly elated and overjoyed by the smallest aspects of life. That I display my sadness, my anger, too openly. I don’t give way for enough mystery, enough allure. The manic pixie dream girl can’t survive without it.
I saw the It remake at the start of fall, brought my popcorn home from the theater and snacked on it with the boy who came to sleep with me that night. The first time I kissed that boy, he had crackers in his mouth.
“Good that you don’t usually keep snacks in your room. It’ll keep you skinny,” he said. That morning I woke up to stale popcorn and bruises on my collarbone, my neck, my thighs. The next night, I smoked with a stranger on the street and gave him my phone number just in case. I ran up the tallest hill because I could. I ate more of the popcorn on my floor at 4 a.m. that night because it seemed like the logical thing to do. It squeaked when I bit down, so stale it turned into a pillow.
Olivia Gatwood, 2015:
Manic pixie dream girl says have you heard this record? Manic pixie dream girl says let me save you with this record… Hear that? That’s the sound of you becoming a better person… Manic pixie dream girl says I’m going to save you. Says don’t worry, you are still the lead role. This is your love story about the way I teach you to live. Everything they know about me they will learn when it’s projected onto you…
Stimulants recycle in and out of my system like water. A friend greets me every morning at 4 a.m. when we’ve started waking up to finish our work. She sets up the table with a pill at my seat and a pot of tea brewing alongside it. Nineteen wasn’t as glamorous as I predicted. It was less love, less joy—but more pills and glitter. I rely on these stimulants to get through the morning, a downer when I start to crash in the afternoon and everything makes me angry. Smoke a little, pop the pills that are actually prescribed to me, go to bed, and repeat. This is the month of October, which turns into November, and when the frost finally sets in that December, I’m still watching the sunrise every morning, wondering how anyone could sleep through something so beautiful. Nineteen was fake euphoria and drug-induced sleeps.
I decide at this point that I don’t need to sleep anymore. Sure, it’d be nice. I’d probably be in a better mood. But I’m doing just fine without it. Exhaustion makes me more sociable. Suddenly I’m talking to everyone in my classes and making friends with people on the streets. This is the pills, this is not me, and I know that. But isn’t that just all the more reason to keep taking them?
In ninth grade I watch Almost Famous in my room while I set up an ironing board to adhere the new patches I got to my denim thrift store jacket. I’m covering up the I HATE EVERYTHING quote that I scribbled on the back a year before in Sharpie. Now I have patches of cartoonish apartment buildings, bright colors popping off the light denim in a way that is just quirky enough for people to compliment me on it in public.
I’m going to wear this jacket with delicate lace, soft furs, and smeared makeup like Penny Lane. This jacket is the thing people will reference when they can’t remember my name. You know, the girl with that sick denim jacket? This jacket is my way onto the tour bus, my way to pretend I’m not fifteen, my way to talk to boys on the side of the road.
I’m so focused on Penny Lane the first time I see her that I leave the iron on a patch for too long. It starts to melt, adhering to the metal base as it turns into little strings of blue. I scratch off that patch and try again, burning my fingertips on the hot parts.
I am not my body. I reside in my body. I take up space inside my body. But when I smoke, I’m not ruining my lungs. I’m just ruining a pair of lungs. I don’t have ownership. There’s nothing to remind me that this backbone is the only backbone I will ever have.
When I used to hurt myself—that is, when I used to hide a razor in my sock drawer—it didn’t feel like I was hurting myself. My arm was detached from my being. It was an act of homicide, not suicide. It was just a convenient spot to carve away. A stray limb. I could barely even feel it happening.
Fireball from the handle without a bendy straw. Sex with boys who know how to gaslight, sex with boys who care too much and still end up ruining it all. Sex and makeup kisses, glass blunts and too many pills. This is how, at nineteen, he reminds me that I’m far too broken for anyone but him. Hawaiian punch vomit that looks like I’m coughing up ribbons of blood. A pillow with a spot stained red, nearby a smear of eyeliner across the left edge. A friend down the hall throws up in her laundry basket while my roommate comes home to collapse, half-naked, on her chest full of winter clothes. I text him and tell him what’s happening, and he responds while hooking up with a girl at a party that he wishes he was there to cuddle.
Bob Weir married his manic pixie dream girl. She was only a teenager when they first met, a groupie of the Grateful Dead who found her way onto their tour bus. Years later she would give him two daughters.
I’m seventeen, kicking at a foot-high pile of snow with my boot. I’m angry, too angry for seventeen. I’m pissed at my nonfiction writing teacher, pissed I didn’t get into my dream college, pissed I have to leave my friends, pissed at myself for being so goddamn pissed off all the time. I wear black clothes and dark lipstick to match my new “pissed off persona.” It does the job. People take the hint. My crayon yellow hair seems to work against me though—it cuts into the darkness. But I want to be hard, stone cracked and formed into Michelangelo’s sculpture of the pissed off art student.
I’m five years old, asleep on a big outdoor stage under an oak tree. Soccer balls fly by one side of me while kids toss sand at each other on the opposite end. It’s kindergarten, and I’ve already shut down. I hate school and I hate meeting new people and I miss Mom so much I’m not sure how I’m still breathing.
A teacher comes to wake me up at the end of recess, telling me I slept through all the fun. I rub my eyes, groggy. I forget where I am for a moment. I forget how to stand up, how to walk, how to talk. All I know how to do is sleep. So I stay still.
I’m afraid of falling too quickly into this trope, afraid of becoming the TV dinner, ready-to-eat version of myself. A boy tells me he’s interested in me because I scare him, because I’m mysterious and I don’t take shit from people, and he might as well have just said he wants me because I’m a manic pixie dream girl.
Kate Hudson researched groupies and rock stars’ wives of the 1990s to prepare for her role as Penny Lane. “You look in their eyes and you see a sadness. You can tell how much they lived, and how jaded it gets in that world. But, at the same time, they knew what they were getting themselves into.” She researched the dream girls.
Olivia Gatwood, 2015:
Dream girl, your almost broken accessory… Good girl, just bad enough. The convenient thing about being a magical woman is that I can be gone as quickly as I came. And when you are a whole person for the first time, the movie is over. Manic pixie dream girl doesn’t go on. There is no need for her anymore.
Sometimes I test things. Pull out one of the lighters from my bag and see how long it’ll take for something to catch. Cinder blocks, in case you were wondering, simply don’t. Shower curtains, on the other hand, burn fast. Unless they’re plastic, then they flop together at the seams and melt. Cedar wood roasts but doesn’t burn without constant heat. Sage is hard to stop once it begins.
I burned a circle on my thigh when I was hiding a cigarette from a cop car at fourteen. Burnt a piece of my hair when it got caught on the blow-dryer before school. I’m not a pyro—I’m not going to set the school on fire or burn down my house. It’s nothing like that. I just like to see how quickly things can disappear.