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the girl who doesn’t know what’s good for her is looking at me through the mirror

Artwork by Fatema Rahaman, staff poet and artist

Trigger warning: substance abuse

my first day of school,

I meet a dragon in the girl’s bathroom

she lounges on the floor and chokes on her coughs

and yet offers to share her smoke with me.

She bears it with a lazy grin.

(sometimes you just need to remember how to feel good.)

They warn us in assembly

with graves and graduation photos;

they shove bloody warnings

Down our throats until

we can no longer swallow

The word “fearmonger.”

they whisper in our ears as we close our eyes

To be afraid of the monster

under the bed

But to never ever ever look down at it.

(If you can’t see her,

she must not be able to see you).

they romanticize the suicides

until they have no more shame

To hand to the ones who

“didn’t know what was good for them.”

And oh, now it’s 

too late. poor child

(no one ever asked if Icharus was laughing as he fell.)

My first day of school,

I met the dragon they told me

would come for me in my sleep

on the floor of the girl’s bathroom.

She offered to share her smoke with me.

And I thought, they never told us this in assembly—

Never mentioned that the monster

would look a hell of a lot like me.

(come morning, we

will be whole again.)


In America, by the time they finish high school, half of the student population will have tried illegal drugs. As someone who has always been taught steadfastly that drugs are dangerous, and part of a religion where drug use is considered akin to a sin, I’ve never pictured myself as being part of that half. As I got to high school, however, much of the black-and-white elephant I had thought of it as fell away, to reveal the truth: drugs are not necessarily bad. People who do drugs are not necessarily bad people. In fact, a lot of the time the reason why my peers took to substance use was because of all the stigma surrounding it. My friend once told me she’d vaped consistently for a month because it was exciting to do something that her mother would freak out about if she knew. She didn’t tell me outright, but I knew what her words meant: control. For her, it was always about control: of being able to make a decision without feeling like she was doing it for her parent’s approval. After a while, she told me, she got bored and stopped, and never did it again. 

Her story forced me to reckon with the overblown sense of fear I felt in a room when someone mentioned drugs. We are warned and punished and fearmongered, but never educated. It is my belief that it would have been much more beneficial to me if the adults in my life had simply taught me about illegal drugs—what they are, what they look like, how to safely interact with them and people who use them—without starting and ending with “drugs are bad”. Hopefully, once the issue of substance abuse in America calls enough attention, we will be able to move forward in that way, and challenge the stigmas and stereotypes that are often more harmful than drugs themselves.

What you can do:

Keep a bottle of Narcan with you at all times. They are nasal spray medication that can counteract the effects of an overdose. 

Educate yourself on drugs and substance abuse. Know why they are harmful, but also understand why someone would use them.

Here is a good resource with more information:

Avah Dodson’s short fiction and poetry have won prizes and recognition in the Bluefire 1,000 Words Contest, the Royal Nonesuch Humor Contest, the Scholastic Writing Awards contest (National Gold Medalist), the Sarah Mook Poetry Contest, the Kay Snow Poetry & Fiction Contests, and the Betty Award Contest, among others. Her works have appeared in Incandescent Review, Echo Lit, Parallax, Voices de la Luna, Stone Soup Magazine, Highlights Magazine, Skipping Stones Magazine, DePaul’s Blue Book: Best American High School Writing, and others. She enjoys reading, going on walks with her cats, and k-pop (a little too much). She despises grapes with seeds and ukuleles. You can find her holed up in her room listening to Stray Kids or spending time with her family and friends.

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