The Tangibles

by Natalie Blank

The Tangibles by Natalie Blank Seventeen-year-old Rachel has her on days and her off days. She’s battled schizophrenia since eighth grade and sometimes decides not to take her medication. To avoid a relapse, she’s careful about when she skips and how often. But no matter how normal she appears, she’s still an outcast at school, a worry to her mother, and unable to let go of her father’s abandonment. She needs the intangibles, her make-believe friends, to fill the lonely gaps in her life.

Then she meets Arnold, a real person, who is accepting and adoring of Rachel, and can relate to the numbing side effects of pills due to his own struggle with ADHD and depression. At first, Rachel is hesitant to even talk to Arnold, but her intangibles encourage the relationship, every part of it, even the physical stuff. That is until Arnold convinces Rachel to ditch her medication completely for marijuana.

The higher Rachel goes with Arnold, the less she sees of her intangibles and the happier she feels. But things take a dangerous turn when she and Arnold befriend two classmates who take getting high to a whole other level. Eventually, Rachel’s untreated mind starts to unravel, bringing her face to face with the traumas of her past.




Social Issues


Amazon Kindle
Google Play




No one asked me to prom, so I asked Larry. And he responded no. Just like that, without explanation. I took it upon myself to ask him again and again until he gave me a legit answer. Finally, he said, “Rae-Rae, if you really want to go to prom, you’ll have to go with yourself or ask someone tangible.”

I wasn’t actually being serious with him. What could I possibly gain from going to prom other than public humiliation? Look, there’s Rachel, dancing with her imaginary friends! Even if Larry did agree to be my date, Larry doesn’t dance, so I’d be awkwardly wobbling with myself. To terrible music no less.

So instead, I’ll be sitting on the couch, watching Netflix with a bag of Doritos while everyone else gropes each other in overpriced dresses and tuxedos, wearing corsages that will die in a few days. What a great way to end junior year. At least Mom will be working, and I can hang out with Larry all night.

Larry is the perfect guy friend. And by perfect, I really mean perfect. He’s my shoulder to cry on, my reading buddy, the guru of tidiness, and the brother I never had. He makes sure I’m dressed and ready for school, that my hair is combed, and my teeth are brushed. Sometimes I forget to do these things myself, so Larry reminds me.

“Rae-Rae, are you sure you want to wear that?” Larry asks Friday morning of prom. I’m wearing a new tank top, and it’s a bit revealing. Or perhaps a bit too small.

“Is it my boobs, my butt, or my gut?” I ask, twirling around.

Larry scratches his chin, always stubble free, and says, “I think it’s all three.”

I groan and debate changing. “It fit fine a week ago.”

“Just wear a cardigan on top,” Larry says, pointing to the white one on the floor. It’s short-sleeved, so at least I won’t sweat. “And next time, don’t eat a whole bag of hot tamale chips right before bed.”

“Mmmm, but they were so good.” I slip into the cardigan. “Crap. This makes my boobs look even bigger.”

“Yes, but it slims everything else, so problem solved. You look great.”

See what I mean by perfect? Larry always knows how to make me feel better without being creepy, perverted, or mean. He knows how self-conscious I am about my weight.

“Will you help with my makeup?” I ask. “Just the eyeliner.”

“Of course.”

I sit on the edge of my unmade bed while Larry kneels in front of me. His lips smell like bubblegum, courtesy of the ChapStick he applies every twenty minutes. Larry has cinnamon-colored skin and large eyes like melted chocolate. He’s a beautiful hybrid, inheriting every stature benefit from his tall Norwegian dad and every exotic trait from his Ethiopian mom, most notably his sharp pointed nose. His parents are long deceased, taken captive by a desolate tribe in Africa. Larry, the sole survivor of his family, has found peace living with me. When I’m at school, he passes the time by reading or drawing in my notebook. His sketches are mostly of me, or at least what I would like to be. Tall, thin, and not crazy.

His devotion to me is unusual, but necessary. And if he wasn’t gay, I would be attracted to him, possibly to the point of liking him. But that’s impossible. None of my intangibles are ever straight, attractive, and into me like that.

He finishes one eye, then steps back to take a look at his work. Pleased, he continues with the other. “So, have you checked out the new neighbors yet?” he asks.

“No. But I’m sure they’re perfectly normal.”

“Maybe they’ll have a daughter or son your age. Someone you could talk to at school.”

“Yeah, and maybe we’ll have sleepovers and be instant best friends.”

Larry sighs and steps back, satisfied with his work, but not amused by my sarcasm. “I’m being serious.”

I roll my eyes, not getting his point. “That’s something Mom would suggest.”

“Rae, that’s something anyone would suggest.”

I love it when he just calls me Rae. It makes everything he says afterward feel right, even if it’s not.

After I check my makeup and my body one last time, I rest the back of my head against his lap while he massages my temples and brushes his fingers through my light-brown hair. We never rush the mornings, as it’s my favorite time of day to be alone with Larry.

“I wish I could just stay home today.”

“No, Rae-Rae. You don’t want your mom to get suspicious.”

“She’s always suspicious.”

“You know what I mean. If she finds out you’re skipping, she’ll start bringing Mrs. Martin around more. Or worse, she’ll make you go on the shot.”

“She won’t put me on the shot. She knows how I feel about needles.”

“Yes, but you still need to be careful. How many days has it been this week?”

“I can’t remember.”

“Oh, Rae-Rae.”

“Oh, Larry.”

“Oh, Mrs. Martin. How she smells like soup.”

I cover my mouth to muffle my god-awful chuckles. “I know, right?”

Larry is always able to end a serious conversation with something randomly hysterical. But my laughter jolts to silence when Mom knocks on my door as though preparing for a police raid.

“Hey, what’s going on in there?”

“Nothing,” I say, quickly grabbing my phone. “Just watching a funny YouTube video.”

She enters, even though she didn’t ask permission. She’s always trying to catch me in the act, openly conversing with Larry, but Larry usually warns me if someone is coming.

I lift my head off Larry’s lap and quickly show Mom my saved “funny cat compilation” video. She smirks and rolls her eyes, always seemingly annoyed by anything that amuses me, from my phone in particular. I mean, who doesn’t laugh at cats who jump away from cucumbers? She drops the laundry basket she’s holding on the floor and proceeds to throw every piece of clothing into it.

“Hey, some of those clothes are clean.”

“Then hang them up. And how about using your bookshelf for all these books instead of having them in piles everywhere?”

“I’ll clean everything up later. School?”

“Yes, I know. I’m driving you.”

“I can walk.”

“Yes, but I don’t have to work until noon today and I would really like to drive you so we can talk. Unless there’s someone else you were planning to talk to?”

She looks around the room, obviously not noticing Larry, but still suspicious of his presence. I smile politely, grab my backpack, and walk to the door. “Nope, we can talk all you want.”

“Did you take your medicine?”

“Yeah. You can check my pack again if you really want to.” The skipped pills just end up flushed down the toilet.

“I don’t need to check.”

“Good. Now let’s go so I can get through this stupid day.”

“Why is it stupid?”

“Because it’s prom tonight, and most girls are going to be leaving early to get their hair and nails done, so the whole second half of the day is pointless.”

“Oh, honey, are you worried you’re going to be the only junior at school this afternoon?”

“No. It’s just dumb. All of it.” I slink around her and jog down the stairs. Mom takes her time, always in observation mode. Always trying to find fault.

And me, I’m always searching for new ways to fake it. I’ve learned so much about my condition over the years that I know how to play the game and cheat if need be to live a somewhat normal life. It’s the medicine. Whether I’m on or off. I don’t like being on. It’s a sad, mundane world when you’ve got a pole through your head, blocking out all the pretty people just dying to be your friend. While honest to the extreme, people like Larry are a crucial comfort when the tangibles don’t want anything to do with you.

Do I hate them? No. I just can’t relate to them. Or connect. The tangibles I deal with daily are quick to judge, and they make assumptions about me without taking the time to get to know me. So I do what I can to tolerate them. I have to live in their world. And in their world, having “imaginary friends” when you’re seventeen is not acceptable. Even if your imaginary friends are better friends than they are.

My therapist once asked, if given a choice, would I live solely in the intangible world? I wouldn’t answer the question because even with her, I have to cheat to stay in the game. But if I was forced to answer, I would say no. Because certain intangibles aren’t super nice and friendly like Larry. And they could always come back if I were to go off my medicine for too long. Unlike Larry, they’re not out to help me; they’re out to hurt me.

And sometimes I forget to put my seat belt on.

“Seriously, Rachel?” Mom asks, reaching over to do it for me. Her dark brown hair wafts my face. Even though she showers twice a day, that antiseptic hospital smell seems to follow her everywhere.

“I was going to do it.” I catch myself before I roll my eyes. “I was going over history questions in my head.”

“Do you have a quiz today?”

“Yeah, on the dynasties of China.”



She smiles, for the first time that morning, and puts the SUV into reverse. My mother is attractive despite the forehead wrinkles, probably caused by scowling so much, and random gray hairs she dyes away every six months or so. She has high cheekbones, animated blue eyes, good teeth minus the coffee stains, and a classic button nose, but she looks older than forty-five. More like fifty-five. Being an ER surgeon takes a toll on your skin when you don’t see daylight enough, and your sleep schedule is a mess. She constantly laments about needing a face-lift. I think eight hours of sleep a day would work better. And maybe cut back on all the coffee and soda.

“You did an excellent job with your makeup today,” Mom says. “Did someone from school teach you?”

“YouTube videos.”

“Oh. Right. YouTube. Nowadays, you can learn anything from YouTube.”

“Not everything.”

“So, let’s talk about prom.”

“I’m not going.”

“I know that. I didn’t expect you to. I was just wondering if you wanted to do anything this weekend since I have Saturday and Sunday off.”

“When does the pool open?”

“Not until Memorial Day weekend.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“We could drive up to your grandpa’s lake house if you want to swim.”

I shake my head. “I need to study this weekend. I have AP exams next week.”

“Oh, yes, that’s right.” She taps her nails against the steering wheel while we wait at a red light. I turn to the right, noticing a man and his dog run by. Anytime I see a grown man with his dog, I get really sad.

“Anywho,” Mom says, pulling me from my depressing thoughts. “I wanted to talk to you about the new neighbors. They’re still settling in, but I met both the husband and wife. Very nice, respectable people, both lawyers. They work long hours.”

“Great, so you’ll never see each other.”

“They have a teenage son. He’s going to start school on Monday.”

“Why bother? School is stupid after prom. Unless you have AP exams.”

“It’s important for him to feel welcomed and to get to know people.”

“What does this have to do with me?”

“You should meet him.”


“You could use this as an opportunity to work on your social skills.”


“He’s not going to prom either, so maybe you could go over and introduce yourself and maybe play some basketball outside?”

“I don’t play anymore.”

“I wish you would. You were so talented.”

“Yeah, until I started passing the ball to imaginary people.”

“That was before you were medicated. I bet now you could—”

“I don’t want to introduce myself to anyone! As soon as he, whoever he is, finds out I’m a freak, he’ll either make fun of me or just ignore me like everyone else does.”

“You don’t know that. And you’re not a freak.”

“Whatever. Can’t I just study this weekend?”

“If studying is all you want to do. I just thought it would be nice for you to talk to someone your own age.”

“You sound like Larry.”

“Larry?” Mom grips the steering wheel like she’s trying to strangle it. “Larry? Have you been talking to Larry again?”


“You’ve been skipping, haven’t you?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“I’m going to start monitoring you again.”

“You don’t need to do that.”

“I will do whatever is necessary—”

“To make me feel like a freak? Because that’s what it feels like when you interrogate me about my pills.”

“I’m not interrogating you. I’m just asking questions.”


I bite my lip, halting my next thought from slipping out. I want to tell her that she’s wrong, that she’s a control freak, and this is why Dad left. But it would hurt too deeply to hear me, her only daughter, say such things. But mean things and the truth can’t always be separated.

“Okay, fine,” she finally says. “You haven’t mentioned Larry in awhile. That’s all.”

“You know the medicine doesn’t make them go away completely. The medicine just keeps them from talking to me. From distracting me.”

“We could put you back on a stronger dose.”

“And turn me back into a zombie? Mom, please, I’ve been good all year. No episodes. Why can’t you trust me?”

“I do trust you. I don’t trust them.”

“Don’t worry about them. They don’t control me.”

Mom nods, trying to maintain her composure. She drops me off at school, says goodbye and good luck with the quiz. Poor woman won’t shed a tear in front of anyone, not even me. Sometimes I think she needs therapy more than I do. She could use a real friend. Hard, though, working twelve-hour shifts.

Every day, when I enter my overcrowded, sports-loving high school, I lift my head high, not to feel proud, but to be aware of my surroundings. Most students are aware of my condition, and the majority of them simply do the “nice” thing and ignore me. Then there are a few girls in particular who like to torment me by either tripping me, pushing me, or making fun of me. I’ve been seemingly normal for the past few years, but they still remember eighth grade and find joy in humiliating me. Because of their personas and the way they dress, like hanging butt cheeks are in style, I’ve nicknamed them the “tangiwhores.”

Today of all days, I can be thankful they’re distracted by prom, so I walk by unnoticed to my locker. I have history first period. Once I get this quiz out of the way, the rest of the day should be pretty easy. That’s until I see Mrs. Zuckerman, the school psychologist, coming toward me.

“Rachel, how good to see you today,” she says, her overly stretched smile making me want to vomit. I can smell the coffee on her breath. And it never smells like good, fresh coffee, more like eight-day-old coffee that’s been sitting in the sun, getting bathed in by birds and bugs.

“Hi, Mrs. Zuckerman,” I reply less enthusiastically.

“I’m glad you’re here a little early because we have a new school nurse, and I would like you to meet her.”

“Mrs. Baker is gone?”

“She’s on maternity leave, remember?”

“Oh, right.”

“It’s important you meet her substitute.”


“I don’t think I need to explain why.”

“I take my medicine at home.”

“Yes, but you come to the nurse quite frequently.”

“For headaches.”

Rachel. Please.”

Ugh. No point in arguing. I can always get a late pass to first period. But all this nonsense is messing up the study session I’m having in the back of my head.

I follow Mrs. Zuckerman to the nurse’s office, avoiding the whispers from the tangiwhores. Anytime they see me with the psychologist, they instantly assume something is wrong. Take her away. Lock her up. Dose her good. Seriously, it never ends.

The near three-minute walk to the nurse’s office is a complete waste of time because nobody is even there.

“She’s stuck in traffic,” the attendance secretary calls from the main office across the hall.

“Thank you,” Mrs. Zuckerman says. “Alright, you’ll have to meet her later.”

The bell rings.

“Can I get a late pass?”

The secretary writes me the pass since Mrs. Zuckerman suddenly needs to be at a meeting. These women are always messing my day up. Larry would never make me late for class. Then again, Larry never comes to school with me. He never leaves the house. 

“There you go,” the secretary says, handing me a green slip.

“This is an unexcused late pass. I should get a pink one if it’s excused.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll write you a new one.”

As I wait for the correct pass, the principal’s door opens, and out struts this stunning Native American woman dressed like a senator, but with the face of a Hollywood actress. She has beautiful flawless skin, luscious red lips, and shoulder-length black hair straightened to perfection. Even Larry, with all his artistic skills, couldn’t make me look like that. He’d be like, Rae-Rae, you need Jesus to look like that.

She turns around, flipping hair like it’s part of her movement pattern, and reaches a hand for a young man, who I assume is her son. She guides him out the door and then returns inside the room, shutting the door behind her to talk privately with the principal.

With long black hair shadowing the sides of his face, he takes a seat on the other side of the main office. My high school has a decent mix of ethnicities, but rarely do we see any Native Americans. I could be mistaken about his heritage, but even if I am, I’ll just pretend he is what I want him to be. I do it all the time with my intangibles; I can certainly do it with the tangibles. Especially since I know he’s not going to talk to me.

But we do have that moment. When he brushes the hair off his face and stretches his head back, he pauses and looks right at me. And like fire and snow, we don’t know what to do with each other, and we definitely don’t speak, but we can and will remember that we had a moment where we looked into each other’s eyes and saw another person. I can’t say what he saw in me, but I saw sadness in him. A longing to be understood. And while I wanted to see more, my late slip was finally prepared, and I had to go to class to fail a quiz because the minute I saw him, I forgot every single dynasty of China.


↑ Return to Top ↑