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Monday, July 10, 2023

"A Peaceful Portrait" by Nicole Bulanchuk - 2022 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist


A Peaceful Portrait 

By Nicole Bulanchuk



Staring directly into her own golden eyes in the mirror neither recognizing herself nor appreciating who she could be. She aspired to feel and think nothing. There was no future, only past woeful memories of all the bitter words she heard and all the words she begged to hear from him and anyone. She prayed and pleaded, for humanity and for God but nothing ever changed. Could her fight be over here?Her fight to survive, forget, and forgive? Was this the blissful end she fantasized about? Calmed, at last? Her mirror reflected who she was not. At this moment, her eyes glistened with agony and hopelessness; she needed to feel numb, nothingness, and evidently, the kiss of silence in her mindfreedom from herselfpeace, eternally.

           Slightly buzzed but tense with both of her fragile hands gripping the sink of her smaller-than-comfortable bathroom, in her smaller-than-comfortable studio in Brooklyn.Her black, slim, crop-top displayed enough cleavage to grab any attention. These paired with the skin-tight gray pencil skirt and her favorite 4-inch black stilettos that tied up her ankle. She was sexy and wild, as planned. In case the cleavage wasnt arousing for you, she had legs and ass men gush about. As degrading as this may sound, she regularly dressed desperate to be flattered and feel wanted by anyone.

           It was the American-red lip-gloss that would really make her stand out in a crowd, though. This and her butt-length, unnaturally curled blonde hair. A choker with a tiny, cliché, waxing crescent moon tightened her neck and a long silver pendant sun fell slightly above her breasts. Intentionally she wore this because her spiritual ex-roommate told her it would help her feel balanced. Intentions seemed to be flawed because here she wasabout to end her life.

           Her mind ran back and forth in that tiny bathroom in Bushwick, as one could imagine. She romanticized this night for too long,leaving everything becoming nothing but a tragic, melancholic memory. Finally, she would not have to worry about being alone; depression would be a distant past-time of her disgraceful pathetic life.

Oh my, what a wonderful feeling that may be to not feel worthless, lonely, nor disgusted with herself and to potentially be good enough for something

The end.

           She stared at herself. She internally mocked herself. How did she get to this point? He knew. They knew. She knew. Her eyes began twitching in the mirror as she stared deeply at herself, in an immersed trance of pure, painful, self-pity. She always wore too much makeup; the red gloss was about one quarter of what she wore. The rest included a bit of midnight blue sparkling eyeshadow, mascara, and penciled eyebrows to elude them as perfectly even. But she was beyond breathtaking, without it all.

           Tonight was the night. She had planned this for such a long time. Here it waited…in her mirror cabinet, upon her little bathroom wall, sitting in an innocent bottle waiting to be her peace.

           Reassuring herself, she was confident she had enough for success. Researching this drug, she knew it would be the right dosage based on her height, weight, age, and tolerance.It’s painless.Unbearablyanxious, stomach turning in waves, she kept staring into herself. Tonight, was the planned night. All the regrets, farewells, goodbyes, and apologies, handwritten and placed in envelopes, to all appropriate recipients with names clearly in red ink. They were neatly stored in the second drawer of her vintage desk, in a manilla folder titled, Please Send When Found.

           With matches, she lit her favorite three candles.They were strong and the bathroom smelled of all sweetness, serenity, and soothing solitude. Sounds nice, doesnt it? The bath was drawn, steam rising, candles crackling, the door locked tight, no music, instead comfortable silence; and she was still wearing this outfit to look her part.She moved her pills to the sink and checked her phone one final time. No calls, no texts, no snaps, nothing. No one cares. Alone.

           Meanwhile the bottle was tempting her next to the soap. As if it was speaking all the relief she craved, This is what you wanted. Now you will finally move on. This is what you deserve.Now you will finally be gone. She washed her hands with the heavenly lavender-peach soap and could not bear to watch herself. Staring at her pale hands she scrubbed the bubbles. A multitude of aromas circulated the room. After what seemed like minutes of rubbing her hands, and avoiding her taunting reflection, she finally rinsed them and again looked at her disgusting self in the mirror. You deserve this.

           The bottle bellowed until her golden eyes released droplets of water. Black and blue tears dripped down her cheeks. She saw an abandoned soul in that mirror, one who would never be happy again. A portrait of a girl who was never sincerely loved. Her mind spun with hateful thoughts.

           In rage, she smacked her portrait in the mirror and fell to the floor. Curled against the tub, knees held against her breasts, and her ass fully exposed, she wept. With the intensity of the hit, the sink shook aggressively and the pill bottle, along with her phone, fell alongside her.

           Swallow me. Its time. End this misery. I am peace. I am freedom. I am love. You need this. Its time. She poured her tears into her arms and allowed her hair to fall over her face and arms.Swallow me. Its time. The blonde hair he wanted was now covering most of her, past her knees, like a blanket. This was not her at this moment. It couldnt be. Who was she? I am your peace. Swallow me.

She tried to calm down before her departure.Her phone laid screen down, likely shattered, next to the peace, which was on its side, rocking back and forth on the cold bathroom tile. Grabbing the bottle, she held it tightly while she trembled. Ready when you are. Im here for you. Swallow me. Its time.

           Suddenly, the tile vibrated. Confused, she wiped her tears and snotty drips from her face, then noticed her phone. She crawled across the tile, picked it up, undamaged, she was getting a call from an old friend. She wiped her eyes once more, cleared her throat, waited a few seconds, anxiously debated whether she should answer. On the last ring, she slid the screen unlocked.




He-l-lo?”Gripping my peace firmly, I was shaky saying this single word I’ve said a million times.


Hey, Nik, whats up?


Oh, well, umm,I couldnt tell him the truth, I was planning to go out, but I think I might stay in.Nervously, Im surprised you called.


Yeah, I know, Im surprised you answered.Erick was a friend from high school, a lifetime ago now.


Im sorry about the last time we spoke. I really did not know what to say. To be honest, no one has ever told me what you saidand I didnt know how to handle it…”


Oh, its —”I began to reply before he persisted.


“…I never stopped thinking about you when you told me what happened. Not romantically or anything, just always hoping youre okay and getting better, finding your peace or purpose or anything. Ive read a lot about, a lot, ya know, these feelings, since we last spoke and I think I understand it now more than I did. I know you feel really misunderstood and alone. Well, youre not alone. You have at least me.


Thank you, I —


I know it may not be much but I mean, one is better than none…right? I really do care. I really do. Im not trying to date you. I mean okay, I was trying to be with you, why wouldnt I? Youre crazy smart, funny and oh my god, gorgeous…”


Thank you, thats —


“… But now I understand, as much as I can And oh my god. Im so sorry. I really am. I didnt mean to just be speechless and awkward when you explained the whole thing, ya know? I’m sorry…” He pleaded, “That musta hurt, you confided in me and I, I was really unhelpful and silent anddistant... I panicked, I froze, I-I-Im sorr—


It wasn’t the first time


—It’s okay.I gripped the bottle of my peace tighter and tighter


“…Is it okay? Are you okay? I dont know, I should have called sooner. I know, Im sorry. Really, I meant to call weeks ago, but somehow, I got the urge to call tonight. So, I just —hey.He nervously chuckled.


Unable to think straight, I blurted, So… what’s up, tonight?”


He chucked, “…Thinking about you,he paused, Not in a creepy way, though.


Flattered and blushing, with a raspy voice, Aw, thats really sweet of you…


“...You dont sound okay, were you crying?


No.I cleared my throat once more. Fuck.


Please tell me whats on your mind, please.No one had asked me that before and seemed sincere. I sat up a bit, surveyed the bathroom, then felt the peace in my hands dwell in its poison. I craved this peace.


Im okay.


So, its Friday night, youre not going out? You always do!


I chuckled slightly, Nah, Im not in the mood, I guess.” I glanced at my peace again as it sat patiently in my hand,“Ive been going out with these girls I met, like every night. I got ready and everything, took a few shots but I dont know,The peace bottle now taunting me and my stomach turning in knots. I was too sober for all this, I am lost in my mind again.


What do you mean?


Im just lost and fucked up in the head.


I’m listening, please.Is he?


I dont want to scare you…” You are.


Nicole, please talk to me.


I couldn’t say another word.




Erick,I sighed —fuck it, once more, I want to die more than anything. I want to feel and think nothing. Thats it.


There was a loud silence.


Finally, he stuttered, T-Thank you for telling me thatIm sorry you still feel that way. After all this time, fuck me —Im sorry. Did you ever talk to someone? A professional? I just want you to know that life may seem shitty, and you may have all these feelings, but it will pass. It does. It always does. Is it about your ex? God, you know hes garbage, dont you?


Its not just about him. Yes, Ive seen a professional. Doesnt help me. Im sorry, too. For this conversation. Im depressing, I know. Theres a lot of reasons why.


Okay, its okay, look, what are you doing right now?


I looked down at my peace. I gently placed the bottle on the ledge of the tub, Sitting…”


What are you wearing?


Okay, really…”


No, Im serious,He quickly added, You said you got ready to go out? Just go out if youre dressed. Feel the vibes. If it's lame, whatever, go home. At least you get out of the house and out of your head.


I was going to take a bath…”


Take one tomorrow, its Friday night! Youre a fun, and attractive girl in Brooklyn, get out of the house! Wheres the party? I wish I could come meet you but Im deep in Jersey tonight.”


Okay, okay, I dont knowits at some club in Bedstuy. Im just tired. Tired of it all. Tired of —


Please just go out. For me? Please? Who knows what might happen? It might be the best night of your life.




Silently, I got off the floor. I, again, looked at myself intensely in the mirror while holding my phone to my face and listening to him wait for my response. For someone who cried hysterically for 30 minutes I didnt look too disheveled. Sure, I needed to reapply my lip-gloss and mascara, maybe some more foundation and concealer to cover the tear lines. Fix my hair a bit; dry shampoo is practically magic. It doesnt matter anyway. Death is inevitable. It’s hopeless. Im not worth anything. Whats another night of loneliness and disappointment if I will eventually be dead?


Seriously, it could be fun this time. Have a drink or two then leave, you dont need to go crazy. Trust me. Reset your mind tomorrow. Just get out of your head. Please.


I wanted to cry again as he spoke, and I kept staring at myself in the mirror with my phone pressed to my ear. His pleads pierced my heart. My eyes watered. What did he know about how I felt? My thoughts? My pain? What did anyone know? I do want to be better. I want to try but I cant escape these echoes in my head. I’m not going anywhere.


I looked so broken in the mirror at that moment, I imagined cracking my skull against the mirror and suffering through the blood loss, finding comfort in the way the streams of my dark blood would run along the light tiles and down to the main hallway of my apartment. Peace.




Yeah, Im sorry,Flinching, stuttering, shaking, and battling my mind, Youre right, maybe, I-I should just get out of my head. What time is it?


Its close to 11:30 now, 11:26.


Oh, well, the show started at 11:00.


So just leave nowGo have fun.You will. Dance your ass off. Please, go? For me?”


In a deep sigh, I mumbled, “Fine, for you.”


“Good, great! And Ill talk to you tomorrow, right?


Iadjusted my outfit, blew out the candles, and reached into the warm bath water to drain the tub, You will.I think.


Okay, good. Youll be okay. I know you will. God you are so fucking unique and amazing. I hope you realize that. Pleasedo not hurt yourself.


Thank you,Briefly pausing, I hope you have a good night too. In Jersey, as fun as that could be.I laughed calmly and shortly after he did, too.


Yeah,I miss Brooklyn, and I miss you…Anyway, go, go, have fun and be safe!


Okay, okay, I will, Ill try. Thank you, Erick. Talk tomorrow?”


Promise?He waited patiently for a few moments as I took another deep breath.


I promise.


           The call ended. I picked up the poison pills from the tub ledge and brought them to my room. I placed them in the second drawer of my desk just below some folders. Then, I scurried through my tote-purse to find make-up, quickly reapplied my face, glossed my lips and puckered them, grabbed my leather jacket, finished my bottle of Jameson straight from the bottle, and then raced to the club off the G.


I was exhausted from my own reflection.


I never told him this, but I think over time he knew. Erick, you saved my life that night.


Thank you.    

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