My head is home to a house full of people. These people are me; I am them. You
If you walk in the front door, the first room on the right belongs to O.C.D. Olivia.
When she hears the bell chime signaling a house meeting − where all my important
sitting at her desk fidgeting with an alignment of pens she planned to use to make a to-
so as not to crumple the pleats of her plaid skirt − takes out a note pad, and prints a
heading at the top of the page: the date, time, location, and company (even though the
last two are always the same).
When Selfless Sarah asks her if she would like anything to drink, she replies yes,
please, some iced water in a glass on a coaster would be delightful, thank you.
Selfless Sarah is a do-gooder. A can-I- help-you asker. An oh-no- I’m-so- sorry
sayer. A big-hug giver. She is genuine. When she asks you how your day is, she actually
wants to know. When you say it’s not going so well, and she says she’s sorry, she really
is. When you have good news and she congratulates you, she really means it.
No one knows anything about her personal life, but Philosophy Phil claims that
she’s so selfless for one of two reasons: 1. Her life is so good that she feels guilty about it.
2. Her life is so awful that she copes by busying herself with everyone else’s problems.
A lifetime spent seeing the world as it really is has left Philosophy Phil with a
compulsive hair-pulling disorder, and a patchy, graying beard. He spends most house
meetings sitting in the far corner of the room, under the shadow of a bookshelf, taking
tugs from a bottle of whiskey that never seems to run out. If the meetings’ conversation
is going in what seems to him a particularly stupid direction, he’ll sometimes
condescend to impart his wisdom on everyone else.
That’s rare, though. And the only person Philosophy Phil will speak to outside of
meetings is Arty Annabella.
Arty Annabella wears loose, ripped jeans, tight shirts without a bra, sneakers
adorned with doodles and paint splatters, and a choker with a stone pendant that she
carved herself. She’s always late to meetings, because she’s never in her room when the
bell chimes. She divides her time between her attic studio and the roof, writing and
taking photos and dreaming up films. Nobody but Philosophy Phil has ever been up to
see her work because Arty Annabella smokes, and everyone but him hates the smell of
Greenwich Gretchen once spat that Arty Annabella’s smoking does nothing but
isolate her from everyone else.
Attitude Ashley replied that that was probably the point.
Attitude Ashley and Greenwich Gretchen do not get along, and it’s not difficult to
understand why. Attitude Ashley has no patience for bullshit. Greenwich Gretchen is
chockfull of bullshit. Attitude Ashley deals with issues through confrontation. Greenwich
Gretchen is passive aggressive and quietly manipulative towards people with whom she
has problems. Attitude Ashley has seen the world; she went to public school. Greenwich
Gretchen has never seen past the diamond-studded bars that protect her privileged
universe; she went to private school. Attitude Ashley argues with people about cultural
appropriation and use of the n-word. Greenwich Gretchen denies rumors that her dad
got her into the Ivy League school she’s headed to next year. When someone makes a
joke, Attitude Ashley cackles and belly-laughs. Greenwich Gretchen titters.
Attitude Ashley and Greenwich Gretchen hate each other. Attitude Ashley really
hates Greenwich Gretchen. Most everyone, actually, hates Greenwich Gretchen … except
Empathetic Edmond. He pities her. Because he knows that late at night, when she’s lying
awake, even Greenwich Gretchen hates Greenwich Gretchen.
Empathetic Edmond is the heart of the group. He takes the time to listen to
everyone’s stories. He understands why the rich banker forgot to be a father to the son
he no longer has, and also why the homeless man became an alcoholic and lost his job.
His brown eyes are big and kind, his touch warm and gentle. He says a prayer for road
kill he sees while driving and cries when he reads the heart-wrenching morning
headlines that haunt him day in and day out. He is half convinced that earth is home to
an alien species only different from humans in that they have no souls. He cannot think
of another explanation for why some people do such hellish things to others.
Empathetic Edmond and Mommy Mari are similar in how much they both care.
Sometimes they cook dinner for everyone, and while they sauté shrimp, they discuss
how awful Beep and Boop must be feeling, how terrible it is that Fa and La had to
happen. Mommy Mari once split open her chin and needed nineteen stitches because she
was running barefoot in the freezing rain to bring Arty Annabella a raincoat. Arty
Annabella had been on her way into the woods to wait out the storm; she said that
getting a good photo of the rain droplets on the greenery was worth the cold that
Mommy Mari insisted she was bound to get.
Mommy Mari worries about everyone, but no one makes her more nervous than
Reckless Raj spends her life rebelling. Against what? No one is quite sure. She
drives ninety miles an hour through town, blasts crude music as she cruises down quiet
streets, and has been arrested for trespassing three times. She loves skydiving cliff-
jumping back-talking and drag-racing, screaming cursing fighting and fucking, drinking
smoking snorting and shooting. She has seventeen piercings, one hundred and forty-five
black-ink tattoos, and no one knows what her natural hair color is.
She’s almost never at the house, but when she is, she occupies herself by trying to
corrupt Nerdy Ned.
Nerdy Ned almost never leaves his room. He’s brilliant but strange as they come.
He’s afraid of germs and has the social skills of a cocky six-year- old. One time, he made
the mistake of talking to Empathetic Edmond in the kitchen about a game he made up: if
he is able to answer five high-difficulty textbook questions from the Fundamental
Theorem of Calculus chapter − without using the answer key, obviously − then he allows
himself to choose a super fun algebra-y problem from one of the easier chapters to do.
You know, the kind where all the mini math you have to do takes up the whole page!?
And you do all of this work and then get a super nice and clean answer!?
Empathetic Edmond is too kind to judge, but Attitude Ashley overheard the
whole thing and gave Nerdy Ned so much shit that he started crying. Fat tears leaked out
from under his round eyeglasses as Attitude Ashley laughed at his expense. Another
time, Nerdy Ned fell down the stairs in the middle of the night because he was studying
while walking − but then refused to let Arty Annabella help him back up to his room,
until she lathered her hands and arms in hand sanitizer. Twice.
And then there are the twins: Dreamer Didi and Scared Shitless Savannah.
They’re identical: both have wavy brown hair, blue eyes, button noses, and beauty marks
like Monroe. But they’re easy to tell apart if you look at their eyes. Dreamer Didi’s eyes
are like clouds: murky, unfocused. You can tell her that there’s been an accident, and that
she must get to the hospital right away because her sister needs surgery and might need
a blood donor, and her gaze will not meet yours head on. She’s always looking just past
you, into another world. Scared Shitless Savannah, on the other hand, has deer-in-
headlight eyes, oh-my- god-I- just-ran- over-my- neighbor’s-cat eyes, hand-caught- in-the-
cookie-jar eyes. You can tell her that you’re making PB&J for lunch, and she’ll turn to you
with her eyes shining with the alarm of someone who has just been in a jarring-but- not-
fatal car wreck.
Dreamer Didi wants to live in Paris. She speaks French to the waiters at Le Pain
Quotidien. She’s been planning a gap year since her sophomore year of high school. She
believes in true love, in best friends forever, in perfect places and unforgettable
moments. She spends her days with her button nose in a book. And when she finds a
story that makes her smile and cry and laugh out loud, she reads it over and over until
she can recite every line. She romanticizes the world in a way that is as unrealistic as it is
Scared Shitless Savannah has no idea what the hell she wants to do with her life.
And her brain never shuts off. Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you doing it?
Why is that important? Could you do more? Could you do better? Could you be better?
What if you can’t? What if you can? Does it even matter? Does any of this matter? She
agonizes over these questions all day. At night, she is haunted by dreamlike
manifestations of blank paper and empty smiles and wrong roads taken and drinking
wine alone. Scared Shitless Savannah does not embrace life like her sister; she fears it.
She fears all the ways she could mess up. She fears failing to make her existence on this
earth mean something. She fears hypocrisy. She fears finding love and losing it. She fears
how she will feel when she is one hundred and six years old and dying of cancer in a
hospital room and reflecting back on her life while nurses empty her bedpan. Every
other thought she has begins with What if? Her fear of regret is nearly crippling.
Nobody in the house besides Dreamer Didi speaks to Scared Shitless Savannah.
Dreamer Didi is the only one who has ever been able to walk away from a
conversation with her sister without a head heavy with worry and a heart aching with
anxiety; this ability does not come from Dreamer Didi’s strength, but from her naïveté.
Scared Shitless Savannah makes everyone forget the good things: the ways
they’re doing well, the things they like about themselves. She makes strong people cry.
She makes hopefuls feel hopeless. She makes life feel like one long fucking chore.
Flawed as they all are, the people living in my head make up my best me − all of
them except Scared Shitless Savannah. When Empathetic Edmond can’t deal with the
evening headlines, I cry and then ask Philosophy Phil to help me turn those tears into
beliefs. When I catch Greenwich Gretchen gossiping about Attitude Ashley, I channel
Arty Annabella and make Attitude Ashley a character in my next story. When Reckless
Raj gets me into trouble, I ask Selfless Sarah to help me prove to the people I
disappointed that I’m not as bad as I seem. When O.C.D. Olivia has a meltdown, I page
Mommy Mari − who comes running − to help her see the bigger picture. When Nerdy
Ned has been awake studying for forty-eight straight hours, I call Dreamer Didi to read
him a bedtime story and tell him that no one in Paris cares about Calculus.
But Scared Shitless Savannah? She offers nothing positive. She breeds stress and
anxiety, sadness and fear, self-doubt and self-hatred. She makes me forget how to smile.
And I want her gone. I want Reckless Raj to drag her kicking and screaming from
her bedroom, to force her onto a one-way flight to no man’s land. I want her dropped in
the middle of a desert, some place where people don’t go, some place where she can’t
find a new victim. I want her bedroom painted yellow and for a new tenant to take her
I thought for a while I wanted that new tenant to be Life-Loving Lily. But that
would be too easy, too perfect. I don’t need a cheerer-upper, a non-stop smiler, an
idealistic, unrealistic, happy-go- lucky giggler. I have all that − I am all that − in my own
way. What I need is a watcher, a truth-catcher, an objective perspective on my house full
of so many versions of myself. What I need is a camera and someone behind it, a self who
can wander through my mind, looking on with wit and empathy, so that I can begin to
better understand the ugly and maddening and beautiful mess that is erupting inside my
head every second of every minute of every day.