Annalise (avoids her problems and) is perfectly fine.

She has a(n un)fulfilling job (that doesn’t use her degree). She works hard (because she can’t make it more than two weeks without a paycheck), arrives early (because her anxiety wakes her up at 4am and she can’t go back to sleep), and stays late (so other people won’t question her commitment to the company). She did well on her recent performance review (she tells herself), especially when you consider that her coworkers are some of the best in the field.

Annalise talks with her parents frequently. She exchanges messages every day with her mother (since her mother finds it necessary to ask how Annalise is doing so she can disapprove of her decisions).

Annalise recently began seeing someone (in order to get her father off her back). He’s a (not so) funny guy. She (doesn’t think she) feels like they have a true connection, and on their last date to a movie (of his choice), she confessed that she might be falling in love with him. (She knew she wasn’t, and never would, but also knew he was nice enough and that it would make her family and friends really happy for her.) She’s lucky to have him, she reminds herself.

(Annalise has financial stress. She worries that she wasted her time in college and that she’ll never be able to make the mountain of student loans go away. Annalise feels like she’s letting her younger self down. She didn’t think it was possible, to feel so much dread after over two decades of cautious optimism. But now, just a few years into the real world, she spends most of her nights laying on her mattress staring at the ceiling.

Above all else, Annalise does not think about the night her roommate nearly died by suicide. Somehow she was able to talk her down, but she didn’t know what to say after that. Annalise and her roommate have grown apart since graduation and she feels bad about it. She thinks of reaching out but she still doesn’t know what to say. One night she checked an obituary database hoping she would laugh at herself later for having done such a ridiculous thing.

The thought comes to her, as it has for a few months now: She doesn’t really like herself. Annalise flicks it away, knowing it is a distraction. She knows where going along with it would take her. If she had the courage to speak the thought aloud, people would crawl out of the woodwork to express their dearest concern and offer to meet for coffee that they will later cancel. It would be nice, to feel their interest. To know she is taking up space in their heads, that she is thought of. But it would only be out of pity, she knows. Annalise clears her mind, adding that it would be grossly irresponsible to run along with that traitorous thought because it’s wholly false.)

Annalise (isn’t that sure she) likes herself very much.

(The next time the thought knocks on her door, Annalise hesitates before engaging the deadbolt: Could the way she scratches her nails into her abdomen when she does something unbelievably careless count as self-harm? No, Annalise assures herself. The marks are gone in a few hours. Plus, she has never once considered reaching for a razor or actually scratched hard enough to draw blood. She’s just too hard on herself, she admits. It’s nothing like that. She’s just had a rough few months, with all of the transitions. A rough year, at most. She’ll get past it.)

She always finds a way to be happy. (It’s just more difficult now that the responsibilities are greater and impact her livelihood, instead of something more abstract like her GPA.

There’s enough misfortune in the world, Annalise knows. What is one person’s unhappiness, honestly? In the grand scheme of things, does it make that much of a difference? Is it of any note? Sure, she knows one could argue that one affects two affects five affects twenty affects one hundred. But what if the one wants to affect zero? What if the one feels like a zero? Would that be a gift, of sorts, in a world of excess? Too much exploitation, too much dissatisfaction, too much vitriol, too much too much. How different is anything, anyone, without one simple one? With a one that is practically a zero?)

Annalise wakes up on time, without an alarm clock (because she rarely sleeps, and wakes up every hour or so). She works out (by forcing herself to roll out of her bed) before getting ready for another day of work. She enters her office with a smile (because she knows people don’t have the time for long personal conversations at work and) because she (knows it) is (nice to look) happy. (What does she really have to complain about?) She has a great job, a great family, and a great life (she repeats, hoping it will stick and become a belief).

Annalise (avoids her problems and) is perfectly fine. She knows this (because she tells herself this truth numerous times each day). She is perfectly fine. (She has to be. She must.)

M. J. Ryan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and lives in St. Paul, MN with their spouse.

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Every Day Fiction