The frantic conversation with my mother began with me babbling about copycats and clones and collapsing.

It ended with her saying, “You know, your grandfather was schizophrenic. According to the family gossip at least. Back then, they didn’t put labels on things the way they do now. But he would have hallucinations and problems with his short-term memory. If we had insurance, I would get you set up with a real psychiatrist, but… Your school should have some sort of program. Do you want me to call them and check or would you feel more comfortable asking a guidance counsellor yourself?”

I walked into first period late. I had spent the morning writing the same question (who are you?) on thirty separate post-it notes and sticking them in random places. On my desk. On my mirror. Inside my diary. Inside the interior of my car. And once I arrived at school, inside my locker.

Since the redhead never occupied the same room as me at the same time, I hoped I could get a written answer from her.

“Aanshi,” Janvi singsonged in between second and third period. “So are you going to ace this chem test or miss out on your chance at Harvard and live in a cardboard box trading bacon scraps for blowjobs?”

Joking around was the last thing I felt like doing, but if my copy could play the part of me, I could play the part of a functioning human being. At least for the length of a school day.

I had a quick, last minute study session with Janvi before chemistry started. I passed notes with Jai the old fashioned way during sociology. I even beat three pairs of boys in badminton with the help of Kiara.

After our winning streak, I dropped my stinking sneakers at my locker. The same pink paper square sat inside, so I almost overlooked it, until I noticed the first two words crossed out, leaving only the last one: You. 

Her answer to WHO ARE YOU was YOU.

I grabbed the sheet and scribbled out more questions against the bumps of my locker, but it turned into paragraphs too long to fit onto such a short scrap of paper. I crumbled the note into a ball and peeled off a new one that said, “Listen to the voice memos.”

I extracted my phone and recorded a voice message, saying, “I don’t get it. When you were with my friends, I couldn’t get to my friends. I couldn’t get through the door to the library and I couldn’t text them either. And when you were with my mother, I couldn’t get inside the house to her. Why can’t I contact anyone while you are with them? Why can only one of us be in the room at a time?”

Passersby glanced at me, but not for long. Other students snapchatted in the halls all the time. They made musical.lys and youtube videos. Talking to myself looked normal to teenaged eyes.

After storing the phone in my locker and twisting the lock, I avoided the temptation of checking back between every period to give the redhead time to access the messages.

“Why the hell are my texts unread?” Jai asked when we seated ourselves front-to-back in history. “Are you ignoring me on purpose or are you accidentally breaking my virgin heart?”

“I left my phone in my locker.”

“Why don’t you get it? Ask for a bathroom pass.”

“I left it there on purpose. I didn’t want any distractions.”

His eyes rolled toward the ceiling. “I know you’re an A plus plus student, but you’re taking this college admissions thing too far. Relax a little. You’re going to start seeing things.”

I did see something. When I opened my locker after the final bell, I grabbed my phone to scroll through the voice memos, and I saw a recently added message.

I inserted my tangled headphones and pressed the play button. After a two second hesitation, a voice that sounded identical to mine said, “You only exist when I’m not around. It’s like a dream. The dream-you only exists while you’re sleeping. When you’re awake, the dream-you is useless. You can argue that dream-you doesn’t even exist during waking hours because no one can see her. They only see you.”

She paused, giving me a second to digest. My first instinct was to show someone, everyone, as proof. But they would call me crazy. They would say I recorded it myself.

The voice resumed: “Maybe that’s not the right way to put it… You’re taking chemistry. You know there’s three phases of matter in liquids. Solid. Liquid. Gas. It’s the same with humans. Three phases. The solid, concrete phase you’ve had for most of your life, the one you consider normal. A liquid-like dream phase, which is what you’re experiencing now that I have arrived, where you’re half there and half not. And soon you’ll reach the last phase. The gas. The mist. The nothingness. You’ll evaporate. I’ll be the only thing left.”

I heard her words, the graceful lilt of each syllable, but the entire time I was thinking about what my mother had said about my grandfather and about what we’d learnt about schizophrenia in health class a few years prior. Most people were diagnosed in their teens and early twenties. They suffered from delusions, like that they had superpowers or that the FBI was following them. They also suffered from hallucinations, like seeing non-existent faces or hearing ghostly voices.

My cheeks burst with colour as I shuffled toward the guidance office and introduced myself to the secretary. She scribbled down my name and asked my reason for visiting.

“I just have a quick question for my counsellor regarding, uhm, psychotherapy. I was hoping I could make weekly appointments.”

Her round face nodded. “Her shift ends when the school day ends, but she’s still rustling around in her office. I think she could fit you in quickly. Take a seat and I’ll see.”

I sat facing the hallway. I never believed in the stigma against therapy. Kiara went twice a week. My father went before he died. I would have considered going years ago if our insurance covered it, but mom had been working off the books with pay checks that barely covered the mortgage.

Just as I was growing comfortable with the idea of spilling my heart to a shrink, something caught my gaze through the rectangle of a window. A burst of red hair. She was back. She was close. And when she came close, I became invisible.

I knocked that thought from my mind, reminding myself of its ridiculousness, but when the secretary returned with the counselor she scanned the room like she didn’t see me. “Sorry about that,” the secretary said to her counterpart. “I guess she changed her mind.”

When I returned my gaze to the window, I saw myself smiling.

Desai Thoughts MEdia.

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