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Katie Milburn Is Alive (short story)

I, Katie Milburn, am alive. I’ve been awake nearly two days and I’m pretty sure I want to die, but I’m also pretty sure that right now, in this moment, I’m alive. 

So that’s terrifying. 

Lots of things are terrifying, I think. Which is kind of the problem. I mean, look at the universe. Nobody really understands the beginnings or the ends of it, or if it even has beginnings and ends, and I think, well, isn’t it kind of subjective?

Like, before I was born, hell, even for several months after, nothing really existed for me until something tipped over and I was a person and then my universe began and I was conscious and real and burdened with an entire life I never asked for. 

And then you think well, I’m going to end one day, and then the universe might as well end too because I won’t be around to experience anything beyond that. 

So I’m not saying we’re all universes, bumping into each other and occasionally making out with each other, whatever, except I kind of am, and if that makes me big headed I don’t really care, I’m a universe, universes are big. 

Universes are also full of stuff. I mean, they look empty but there’s still a bunch more stuff than you realise tucked away in the pockets, you know? And so we’re born and we start collecting stuff like a snowball running downhill and some of it is good stuff, hopes and dreams and days on the beach, but there’s a lot of bad stuff too and that’s where you find your own personal planet destroying meteors. 

The first time you get dumped. The first time you realise that nobody’s going to save you and you’re really in this alone. The first time you cry just because existing, just existing, is really hard and nobody’s telling you how to do it but everybody expects you to know. Each meteor hits and breaks you into fragments and your universe gets all cluttered up with these fragments until it’s impossible to traverse without getting bombarded with them, and if you’re mixing your universe with someone else’s you have to try to figure out how much of the detritus you want them to absorb. 

So I’ve been awake nearly two days now and I’m pretty sure my universe is going to end soon because it feels all stretched at the seams and I’m tired. I’m so tired. I’m like some kind of absent god who’s just popped in to check on her creation and it’s like, Christ, you know, someone made a mess of the place. 

Except it’s my mess. Well, some of it. We collect other people’s messes too and add them to our own and eventually we can’t tell whose is whose and maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be but maybe we lose a bit of ourselves every time that happens because I don’t think I like the person other people’s messes have made me into. 

I’ve probably returned the favour tenfold, but it’s not really something you can measure. I’m kind of not a great person really, but again, how do you measure that? Is anyone keeping score? Besides, this is my universe, and I’m allowed to be slightly biased in favour of myself. Even if I hate myself, I’m allowed to, because I am my self. 

So my universe is full and empty and I’m tired and I want to die because I think then it’d be black, like, proper pitch black, like all the suns have gone out at once, like, blowing out all the candles and making one giant wish and that is for some damn peace and quiet. Quit bumping into me with your universe sized dilemmas and desires, I’m too old and too everything to care. I am trying to make space and you are making that very hard to do. 

Not a specific you. Everybody. Everybody just stop orbiting for a moment and let me breathe. 

I think it’d be nice to be very small, with very small problems, but I’m not, and I don’t know a damn soul who is. So please bear with me whilst I scream into the void a little because I have a name and I’m alive and I’m bursting and I’m spit and glue and recycled atoms and that terrifies me and I think I’m allowed to be terrified because endings are scary, even happy ones, because they make things stop, and I want that but going from infinite to the end of a sentence is a bit of a mindfuck. 

So it’s five in the morning in my universe and in a bunch of other people’s universes too and I guess that’s kind of a comfort because it means a bunch of other people have watched the sun rise with grit in their eyes and bile in their throats and they’ve all thought, damn, it’d be a lot easier if I didn’t have to do this anymore. 

And some of them won’t. Boom, whimper, whatever – universes stop existing everyday. People decide the mindfuck is worth it, becoming past tense is worth it, and I think – like I can hear the birds singing and there’s objectively a finite amount of times I’m going to hear that and that number is unknowable unless I’m the one who makes that decision and quite frankly I’m an idiot and shouldn’t be put in charge of that kind of thing. 

I am big and small and full and empty and tired and awake and alive because the only other option is to be nothing at all and I think that might be worse. 

At least, like, it’s enough to make me pause. 

Universes end. People end. I will end. Full stop. No more words. 

And I’m damn tired. 

But dammit and fuck and a million other expletives because the universe, my universe and the universe we all bumble around in, it’s this utterly ineffable thing and that’s really frustrating. If it made sense, you could approach it logically, but it doesn’t, so you can’t. 

It’s just dumb and weird and everyone just seems to accept that or at least manage to tamp down the fear enough to go about showering and driving to work and brushing their teeth and just – all this stuff and the universe ticks on and it’s all mad, isn’t it?

So, dear reader, dear fellow universe, I want to die sometimes. Because I’m tired. Because I’m scared. Because I don’t know enough about anything. Because because because. 

But none of the becauses are big enough to topple a universe. Not yet. Maybe not ever. I spin wildly outwards always and my insides churn. I listen to bird song. I don’t sleep. 

And I write these words and our universes collide like oil slicks on the surface of the ocean, shimmering and iridescent and beautiful and maybe a disaster too. 

And if there’s a point to this, to any of this, it’s that. In being human, whatever that means, we are beautiful, and we are disasters, and we are and are and are for as long as we can be. 

I, Katie Milburn, am alive. And so are you. What are the odds of that, I wonder? 

Of all the universes you had to bump into, you bumped into mine.

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