CW // This content contains descriptions of self-harm, and also refers to themes of suicide. Please proceed with caution. If you are having depressive thoughts at the moment, please do not continue.
Press ‘play’ to listen to music.
[Wednesday 1:38 AM] Sarah
So do you want to talk about it?
[Wednesday 1:39 AM] Josee
[Wednesday 1:39 AM] Sarah
[Wednesday 1:44 AM] Josee
I’ve said everything I wanted to. I’m not sure. I think that I will be okay.
[Wednesday 1:45 AM] Sarah
Are you going to bed now? You should. It’s late.
[Wednesday 1:49 AM] Josee
Just some writing. I have a hazy story inside my head, and I’ve tried to write it out but the words don’t seem to mean anything. But in all seriousness, I think I just need some time to sort things out on my own. I’ll write later. I’m looking forward to it already.
[Wednesday 1:51 AM] Sarah
Great! I’m so glad to hear that.
An hour later
[Wednesday 2:51 AM] Sarah
You know something, Josee—you can always talk to me when you are feeling alone. You know? I was thinking about our friendship and what it means to me, everything.
Has it occurred to you that I know absolutely nothing about your life? The things you like, the kind of music you listen to, I don’t know of it. I’ve talked to you for so long but it’s dawning on me that each time when I do, you are just listening to my feelings. You’ve been a great friend, but some days you can be distant too.
Are you okay?
[Wednesday 2:56 AM] Josee
Hey hey, it’s all okay. All’s good here. (Why are you still awake?) Did I ever give you the impression I was not okay? I’m sorry if that was the case. I’ve never been comfortable in telling people how I feel. You don’t have to feel bad about anything. I feel assured enough that you are asking me if I’m okay. That’s more than enough for me, Sarah. Believe me, I’m okay.
[Wednesday 2:57 AM] Sarah
Okay, Josee. I believe you. I can’t wait for you to teach me how to paint tomorrow, can we please start with painting trees?
[Wednesday 2:58 AM] Josee
GO TO SLEEP LOL.
“I wish I hadn’t gone to sleep that night.”
Everything made no sense to Sarah. She cried occasionally, trying to make sense of her emotions, but she was getting colder and stiffer. It is well known that she and Josee had been friends for 8 years. She felt certain that there was probably a time, at least a few occasions where Josee was smiling, laughing, and having fun with everyone else.
She had also read stories from Josee. Josee was a great writer, she had a way with words that made things feel real. Some held a pessimistic outlook on life and development of irrational fears, some filled with anger and hurt. But Josee was alright. She was having a stable income and was advancing in her life. But Sarah also recalled a time she saw one of Josee’s artwork; a woman weeping in such silent and bitter distress that Sarah’s heart almost moved out to her. Yet all she could mouth to Josee was, “Your art is beautiful. I wish I could paint like you.”
Everything happened so fast, without warning. No one knew Josee had been mildly to moderately depressed with several episodes of major depression. At first, everyone else thought she was just having a bad day, perhaps it was seasonal depression. They hadn’t seen her sitting in her room using her tears as to ease the wounds she had inflicted on herself. And under all that summer heat, no one seemed to ask Josee why she wore sweaters and long sleeves. It seemed clear to Josee that her body was a canvas and the knife was a paintbrush, and the only paint colour she had to express with was red.
Letters. There were letters in Josee’s desk too. They found many letters in her handwriting. She wrote letters to her father, her mother, brother, Sarah, including some other friends too. They never sent them, and she wrote to them as if she was already gone, like she knew she was never going to see them again. In her own words too, in every letter, there was a common theme of her concealing how she felt. Damaged, unworthy, unseen, unheard, undeserving, broken beyond help… a cry for just wanting to be enough, to feel enough, that she was worth living in this place.
For there were so many days Josee couldn’t bear to be around people at work too; she would detached herself from work and tried to go solo whenever she could. It was always easier to not have to hide and lie to people that she wanted out. All of those feelings of not belonging, not being like everyone else, having to hide how the voices in her head makes life exhausting, isolating… it all made her feel small, ashamed, and tormented.
It was hard to take in. Sarah buried her face in her hands, mourning came as a sad song, soft and low. Josee had her great sides too, she could be cheerful, giddy and witty. The people around her felt assured, and when they reached out to her, she would politely decline things, laughed it off and change the subject. Maybe, maybe what Sarah never understood was, all this while, the writing, the art, the changing of subject, were all cries for help. She could canalise her feelings into a coherent one; she only knew how desperately she wanted to turn back time. Crying seemed to be the only sensible thing to do now.
The night of Josee’s departure
[Wednesday 2:56 AM] Josee
No, I’m not okay at all. Hey hey, it’s all okay. All’s good here. (Why are you still awake?) I’m scared of falling asleep. I’m scared of being awake. I don’t know what to do anymore, Sarah. Help. Please for help. I don’t think I will make it tonight. It feels so suffocating to be here. I feel trapped even when all the doors and windows in the house are wide open. I going to put a stop to it. I’m going to stop feeling this way. I just want that fucking noise in my head to stop. I will put an end to this. Every second of everyday, I think about silencing that voice. Did I ever give you the impression I was not okay? I’m sorry if that was the case. I’ve never been comfortable in telling people how I feel. But I want I’ve always wanted to know if I was a bother to you? You don’t have to feel bad about anything. I feel assured enough that you are asking me if I’m okay. That’s more than enough for me, Sarah. Believe me, I’m not okay. I want to kill myself tonight. If I don’t make it tonight, I just want you to know, thank you for staying with me all this years as a friend. I love you and I’m sorry.
Josee Lee Williams (11 March 1996 – 4 July 2021) died from an overdose. The last painting they ever found in her room was a tree in shades of red. Looking closer, through it all, the tree seemed like a sentry to the bloody landscape, the stoic guardian of so many souls, a beauty that encouraged the spirit to dance though words, to make odes to its branches that spread heaven-bound.And in the strong light of the new day, gives liberty for the senses in those moving leaves, the thousand green hues and the soft whispering in the wind that sings “You’re okay now, Josee. All is well.”
Having going through severe depression myself, I can say in my own case that depression isn't a fixed form, it comes it all sorts. What is heart-breaking though, is coming to terms with depression, my mind tries to reason with it. I force yourself to feel, to be vulnerable, to reach out to someone. It's hard, and it's painful. It's a cycle of self-hate I put myself in, and I disappoint myself. That's when the thought of killing myself seems 'worthwhile'. For when I look around and find that world has moved on, and I can't seem to catch up... a race I'm so scared of losing. I contemplated back and forth on sharing this piece. I understand the consequences that comes with sharing such a personal part of me, but it's not a piece of me that I am ashamed of. I just wouldn't know how people would take it. If you read this until the end, know that I am always 6 feet deep inside my mind, but I still keep living every single day.
I wrote this piece for many reasons, how depression is a silent killer, and it makes me realise how important it is for me to be grateful for my loved ones, as well as be aware of what I say to a friend or stranger. Because any moment now, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Any moment can be an event that impacts our lives one way or another. If you just need a friend, someone to connect with, someone to listen, I’ll be here. There are also many people who would care for you, please reach out. ♡
I was looking
for the key
but the door
[ Click to play recording ]
I heard myself whispering some words with a voice that was not mine. This place. This space. It’s empty yet filled. This floating path inside my head reveals the things that I encounter each day. Windows. Doors. Still, they are not quite the same this time around.
I am just but a passive wanderer looking into a window. Ah. It offers me a glimpse of what takes place in that moment. I am merely just an outsider; a spectator being offered a view from a certain angle. I have seen enough.
But the door.
Oh, the door. One step, two steps. And passing through its doorway, it invites me in of what lies beyond. You might call it an entity that guides the arrival and departure of a being. Should such potential not lie in its grasp, the door might as well be windows, or even walls. Breathe.
I am still here. So is my heart—a door shut so tight. So is yours.
Our doors remain closed. It tells me of my rejection or of your seclusion. What if we open our doors? Will it welcome us into each other’s lives? Or will it engulf and imprison each of us? I have seen them frame farewells, joyful reunions, tearful reconciliations… But I can’t remember why mine is closed. Give me a moment. Let me recollect my memories here.
All right, I remember now.
I slammed my door on you. Like periods at the end of scenes of anger and frustration. Again. My door. It seems to be telling me something here. Almost as if it’s beckoning me to a haven now that the world around me has regressed in a state of too much demanding and wearying. Now I am feeling cold. It’s freezing in this nothingness. How I wish that your door would enclose me in love and warmth. How I yearn for your door to guard me solidly from perils and harsh weathers and the unknown. If I, if only I could open my door…
Will it admit surprises? Delights? Of fresh air, new beginnings for us, my dearest long-lost lover? Damn. Damn it all… I have lost my key somewhere. Counting my blessings, I have not lost my memories. I will find a way to open your door. For I have not given up. Once, I saw a door opened before me. Seductive and promising. That’s when I discovered you, I found you. I am also remembering that my doorways were never used to exclude or divide feelings; they had always been arranged in a way to bring focus on some vista of grace or beauty beyond… a glimpse of a rose garden, an enticing succession of rooms, or the upward spiral of a staircase; they reveal prospects to me—they led me to you.
Now I am no longer in my head. I am right here. I am right in front of your house, your doorstep. I must surely feel still the irresistible pull of what lays behind your door. Scattered thoughts of our youthfulness, your smile in the rain, the grace of your fingers touching the roses… I no longer want to be afraid of opening your door and mine, those small hidden doors in the deepest sanctuary of our souls. These doors inside us, if we fear too much of passing through them, we will be prisoners no matter which side of them we stand.
So please, will you open your door for me?
My voice trails off as I see your door open before I could knock on it.
This marks our moment of truth, a new point of our contact. And from here now on, we will go from one passage of our lives to another, retreating, arriving, departing, returning. I can confidently say this now, from the bottom of my heart, this has been an extraordinary, unforgettable moment for me. I believe what follows are not so much of the heartbreaks and hurt we have been through, of our frustration and anger—but of what our regained vulnerability set free, in our hopeful and pulsing heart, with every tear that washed down every happy face.
We are home—and together once again.
Free at last.
I have seen too much feelings poured out on my timeline. Seeing friends closing off their hearts. Sometimes I can't help but think that being vulnerable goes hand in hand with trust and acceptance, akin to being open to life and everything that comes with it. To feel no guilt and regrets in spilling our souls... I haven't reached that stage yet, but I don't wish to close off that possibility for me. Perhaps it is the perception that being vulnerable makes us more receptive to pain in misery. This isn't completely wrong... but learning to be vulnerable for me now, I think it makes me way more open to happiness. Today everybody takes calculated steps. People have stopped trusting others. Intentions have become questionable. Afraid of being hurt, everyone masks their vulnerabilities... I, for once, would like to live without any mask or filter. It's the best way to feel alive.
Hello, this is a first for me.
I'm not sure what you're expecting.
You're not sure what to expect from this.
But today, you'll listen to my voice.
[ If you have issues listening to the recording on mobile, I apologise. It seems to be working fine on the laptop. ]
What’s that? Oh. Of course, a clock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Sunrise. Sunset. It moves the day on until the afternoon and then, the first signs of the panic arrive. It starts with a discomfort in my chest, a tickling at first, almost unnoticeable. You would think that it’s a temporary feeling, it will soon go away but not for me. I have been familiar with this for far too long. Soon it mutates into something inside of me, sucking my life out. After that, it radiates into my brain. Feels like excess caffeine… then it sets in deeper.
I turn on my television. It’s the same old news. Propaganda in the too often used imagery of photos, videos, interviews comes in slow motion stirring up strong love for the children, family, community, and country—It’s quiet, unconcerning at first, you feel connected to them, you feel their pain and then all too quickly, too late for you to realise, the same love is weaponized. A love that grows so intensely and reshapes itself into hate as the “common enemy” is broadcasted on the screen. For when something on the news brings on one’s love in full passion, the “enemy” is perceived as inhumane, arrogant, and threatening, a circumstance for what is aptly known as pseudospeciation. An individual’s love quickly becomes hate for the “enemy.” The stronger the initial love invoked, the stronger the resulting hate. It’s news like this which becomes the norm. And everyday it’s getting harder to resist.
In another apartment not far away, on the 26th floor, you have your radio sitting on the carpet of your bedroom floor playing. It’s an old beat-up machine that you must have inherited from a relative, or you just happened to find it tucked away in a thrift shop. Either way, the radio volume still manages to level just above the traffic noise for it to compete with. You don’t know why you have it on either, part of a habit perhaps, perhaps it makes the apartment feel more ‘complete’. Because you can’t just sit in your room watching the walls no matter how pretty they have been painted.
Face it. You don’t care much for the songs that play either, I’m willing to bet you don’t even know if one song has transitioned to another. A few songs later, an advert chimes in. Just games of word associations you never signed up for. They have crafted their formula so well, taking normal words and saying their constructed phrases, over and over. These phrases echoed in your ear so often until you became something not much more than a biological automaton. Again, they are jocundly trying to convince you that their product can grant you happiness, they are luring you down a path that hurts the Earth. Why would you need protein shakes, and just how super did you have to be to sell toothpaste anyway? Are you so emotionally deficit you will buy their product just to elevate yourself?
Well, you see. My television, your radio—They both have something in common. Vehicles, for great drama, beautiful music or even redeeming words. But can you claim that for the vast majority of people, these devices are anything other than agents of noise? We are not listening to what they have to share; we are only hearing them to pass time.
Like the modern person I am, I begin my day being rudely awakened by the blaring of the alarm clock. I don’t suspect that my own body would be so uninspired performing the same tasks each morning. I just get up. Some days I don’t even bother to fold the blanket, it gets tiresome really fast. Then I brush my teeth. Check my cupboard. If I run out of coffee, simple, I just settle for tea but yet I can’t enjoy my breakfast because time is ticking away and my mind is constantly aware of it. I need to catch the cab so I don’t be late for work.
The noise follows me even as the cab speeds away. I’m stuck in a traffic jam. I look around to see angry people behind their wheels, their brows are furrowed, the traffic never gets any lighter here. It’s the age where everybody’s first move is to burst out of their apartment doors just to beat the next traffic wave. Funny. So much movement and yet the air has never been more stale and the roads have never been more congested. They’re pressing on their car horns again when the line becomes stagnant, fooling themselves that the movement of the traffic depends on the power of their horns.
This is the present noise.
Again, I am stuck in this traffic and even when I’m not the one driving, I loudly curse at the ones who cut the line. It creates a bond between me and the cab driver.
I imagine that while I am stuck among these metal boxes, you are watching down on us all in your apartment. I can picture your gaze down as you grimace at every blare of the car horn. Even all the way on the 26th floor, these noises are as strong as your radio. By then, you would have been ready, your neatly pressed clothes cling confidently on you, hair perfectly immaculate. You’ve already had breakfast and you turn off the radio before you leave. Like me, the noise still follows you.
See, we both continue moving about with piped-in music in the elevator and ‘on hold’ on the office telephone. But we don’t talk to each other at all, no. Just a couple of ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’, that’s it. I’m not sure why I’ve never thought about asking you out for coffee even though I see you quite often. But then again, you are always tied up with your phone, answering calls even after office hours. Whatever.
You relax by the jukebox at the bar and conclude your day with televised chatter. I can’t sleep here. I can’t sleep in the silence that descends when my TV is shut off. So I resort to machines that produce “white noise”. I open my window and the world of the night invites itself in, the rustle of the wind against the leaves or when it blows into my apartment, tinkering the loose glasswares, the distant sound of moving rubber against gravel, the muffled voices of the nightlife. They all calm me.
Silence has become a vacuum in which both you and I abhor. It is no longer normal or good in itself. It is only understood as the absence of noise. Before noise there were sounds, distinguishable from noise, because sounds came from the silence. Silence was the background for sounds.
Maybe it’s because we are city dwellers. Awash in constant noise, we become nervous in the country because sounds of the country—from crickets, birds and animals—are made against the background silence. There is also less talk in the country, because to interrupt the silence, one must have something to say. Here in the city, words are part of the general noise—one can say anything in order not to stop talking—and silence is always interpreted as awkwardness. There seems to be a fear that if the noise stops, the city will collapse in the silence.
Before the days of widespread TV, there was a notion that people would play the radio to make sure they are still really there. This proposition neatly reverses the old conundrum: If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound if there is no one there to hear it? This question presumes man exists and asks if sound can exist without man’s hearing it. Hold that thought. I’m going to reverse that presumptions and ask you this:
If there is no noise, how do you know—I know—that I am really here?
How would you know if I’m on the other side?
Solitude and silence are the crucibles of serious thought. To flee them is to flee the conditions necessary for the self-examination that makes life worth living. It is to flee as well the peace that can come only from the orientation of one’s life to the ultimate realities—realities that can intrude only when one is still and quiet and open to them.
What’s that you’re saying?
Oh. You’re telling me that you turn on the radio because you are lonely? Don’t worry, It’s the same for me. I just needed something to fill the loneliness, not necessarily something close to the physical. Noise somehow comforts me, it just tells me that the silence will not get me, it’s my shield against the enveloping silence. Are they just noise that we are both using as an atonic for loneliness? But the city’s rich, we have skyscrapers… and loneliness is a longing for something which should not be drowned in noise. Maybe if we started to quietly search for our own loneliness, we can begin to ask ourselves why we are lonely and for what. Maybe loneliness was supposed to let us know that we really have nothing adequate to our deepest longings—not in our friends, not in our family, nor in our worldly goods or pleasures.
In what then or in whom are we to find the object of our deepest desire? This is perhaps the important question we can ask, and maybe it can only be answered in the silence. Let’s hear it for the silence—would you join me?
I turn my head to gaze at you. You meet my look and you nod your head at me.
You’re smiling at me.
Is that a “yes”?
Now? Is it now? You have a really beautiful smile. Has anyone ever told you that? It is enchanting, in ways my imagination had not begun to dream of. Here, take my hand. Your fingers are soft, like wisps of cloud. Now I am noticing how your rhythms and gestures are reminding me of my own. It’s like we are linked by unconscious mysteries and benignly watched by the environment. It is almost as if we are walking at the unfurled edges of great waves. I am inviting you into my personal space, my bedroom, my mind. Something is different. The lamp has been shifted, the bed’s been angled in a specific way, the light streaming in through the window is not the same light I glimpsed last time I stepped in. I think we have just been welcomed into a world of softer sound, of stuttering laughter and sunlight… We are both giddy and uncertain now, we left the noise for the first time in years.
There is no superficiality to this—perhaps because there is no label to what we are feeling now. Right here, we only have us, stripped to our very bones, at our most vulnerable even, lyricizing the constancy of loneliness, of love, of light, attempting to negotiate relationships, memories and feelings, all of which forms us. This is our true nature. And it’s also right here, right now, our faces appear in the windows of each of our own hearts. I see your face. You see mine. We’ve been staring at each for a while now. You know what this reminds me? That even in the most glaring isolation, we aren’t really alone… you are here with me in this city.
Loneliness is a universal emotion, one that is deeply and sometimes painfully felt. Each of us feels lonely at one time or another. It is part of the human condition. More often than not too, we let the loneliness to be filled by artificial solutions. I believe that almost everyone one has cried out of loneliness before. And I hope that you do not take umbrage when I say you are not alone in this. It's not your fault that you feel like this. I am still breathing, and walking along my own forged path. It gets quiet sometimes, and—as bizarre as it sounds, I've realized that my experience with someone else's story is a lot like my own, and it might be a lot like yours. Not entirely, but you feel me, don't you? Some parts of our stories are starting to make sense, some parts have always made sense, and some... they still don't make sense. Maybe they never will, or will they? Just promise me you would never let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story.
Isn't it strange, knowing one day
the people we become are going to fade,
but what we create, will survive when we are gone?
So even if I just make a fraction of a difference,
I'm almost certain, it will have been worth it.
—Beth Crowley, Worth It
CW // Strong Language. [ This is a work of fiction. ]
“This can’t go on.”
It was one of those grim moments that mankind confronted every so often. The kind where one would experience a sudden severe drop in enthusiasm for living—where plans would turn stale and dreams became obsolete. Even worse, when the energy waned from the body and joy from the soul dissipated.
Life’s bleakness would soon take effect on Ethan’s work. It was alarming; he was struggling to get by. He shuddered at the thought of the unanswered emails piling up. Each forenoon he would have heart palpitations and tell himself it was going to be the same miserable day. Just another date to tick off his calendar. Every now and then, he would stare into the mirror. He recognised the eyes, but he was frightened of staring too long into it, he feared that they had become the abyss. But yet the mundane days never halted. His anxiety grew worse as they dragged on. Resolutions were dead. Finally the time came when he knew he wanted out.
He had been drinking again, but this time instead of the park bench as he so often did, he found himself slumped on the pavement. Weeds flourished in the broad cracks and brought forth splashes of unwelcome green to the city grey. The cracks on the pavement had certainly seen better days. How much of his unnoticed work’s agony he comprehended, he had not wished to think about, but he was fed up with work. Truthfully, he had enough of life’s unfair treatment towards him.
The brown suit he was wearing had crumpled beyond saving, his tie loosened so much it touched the gravel floor, and as the cold September wind howled, his trepidation grew. People walked past him with no discretion about their disdain, some threw him scowled looks, others threw coins in his face, a mockery of the poor. Ethan didn’t mind either way, for he was more affected by the cold. The frigid air had a way of keeping him in the moment, wicking away body heat faster than it was replaced. It was one of those days when the clothes he wore weren’t enough, when they felt thinner than they were.
His breaths rose in puffs. His arms hugged his body tightly. He didn’t realise then when the tears came out and his voice sobbed uncontrollably. It was strange to him, he had not cried for years. He had been strong enough for his mother when his father passed away; he was in pain but he did not cry. Yet, as he sat on the pavement in contemplation of the situation he was in, that was enough to spill the cup. This was what life had subjected him to. His memories of his youth haunted him, once when his mind was filled with such wonders of excitement, of the things he and his friends would do to change the world, all slowly but surely fizzled out under the wretched condition the generation before named the end of history.
He just wanted someone to listen. In the end, the man he turned to was a stranger. Not anyone he knew nor had he seen before but just a stranger who happened to be sitting beside him. He looked older than Ethan, his clothes were not torn, in fact it was relatively clean but he felt that behind his grey eyes bore great wisdom and experience. The man did not drink, neither did he say anything. He merely stared straight ahead, and saw through the passing cars. “Life’s not working out. I’m sick of living. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Ethan just rambled to him miserably whilst he fought his tears. “but I can’t find my purpose anymore. I don’t know which road to take anymore. Please, can… can you save me?”
At first the man seemed not to hear him. A long few seconds passed before he turned. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. He tilted his head and looked up at Ethan with caring eyes, making a tent of his fingers before bringing them to chin. He gazed at Ethan thoughtfully for a long while. Then rather promptly, he queried, “Was there a time where you were the happiest as a child?”
“I can’t remember.” Ethan responded quickly. He believed that the man was just playing along with him. Yet to him, also, came moments of doubt and indecision. What if this stranger could be the one? He wiped his tear-stained cheeks, his hands were rough and it felt its harshness on his skin. In the late evening, with a sinking heart, someone was actually listening to his plea. “A time where I was the happiest before…,” Ethan finally regarded the man in silence for a few seconds. “The beach. I was free of worries. It was just the sea and I. I remember seeing the colours in the sky change.” He replied without much hesitation, that was curious to him. It was the only thing he did that he was absolutely certain of.
The stranger then looked at the empty bottles of liquor and watched the moisture take shape on them. A soft smile appeared. “Do you fare well in taking instructions and following them for a day?”
“I believe so,” Ethan replied, prepared to do anything to get him out of his mess. He was used to the daily grind in the office. What harm could a stranger’s instructions bring?
“Very well, young man. Here’s what you have to do.” He leaned in and whispered to Ethan. He carefully instructed Ethan to return to that beach. Alone, no one else but him, in the following morning nine o’clock sharp. “Well, do bring along some packed lunch for yourself. Just remember, you are not allowed to read or write. No pencils or notebooks. And definitely, no communications device. Leave the mobile phone behind and absolutely, you are not to have any human interaction at all cost. You are to be in solitude. Promise me that.” the man then added, “Follow the tasks I’ve given you. Check the time intervals.”
He took a small notebook from under his coat, tore off four pieces of paper and began writing a few words on them. He folded them before he had them handed over to Ethan. Each paper had a time written on them. Nine o’clock. Twelve o’clock. Three o’clock. Six o’clock. The numbers on the papers were as mysterious as the way the peculiar man carried himself.
“Three hours? To check on myself? Like I am on medications?” Ethan asked with raised eyebrows.
He let out a soft chuckle. “You asked me to save you, did you not?”
And so it was on the next morning when Ethan would set out to his destination, a little lost. At last he finally arrived. He could see how lonely the beach looked. Nothing quite like the time he spent in the past. The sea looked gray and aggrieved as the north-east wind blew. He stared into the waves, the whole day stretching emptily before him. There were no buildings nearby and he became more certain that horror lay inside the sea. Intuitively he felt it in his bones, in the dryness of his chapped lips. “This is a mistake,” mumbled Ethan, the real point of his anxiety was now emerging. “Why did I agree to this?” Then he felt in his coat pocket for the first folded paper to follow its directive. “Listen.” was written on it.
Just a single word. He studied that one word. “Listen.”
For fuck’s sake, he thought, why did I bother to asking help from a stranger? The man was probably as drunk as him that night. How many beer bottles did he empty on that pavement? No, he was confident that the man was sober. Questions were running in Ethan’s head. The man had him to exclude communication devices and human interaction. What was there for him to listen to on the beach?
He shoved his troubles along with the paper into his pocket. With a deep sigh, he raised his head and closed his eyes. He decided that he would try to listen. To what, he wasn’t quite sure of it yet. Still, he listened. He strained to hear something, anything. There were no sounds but the riveted roar of the sea and the cry of seagulls. These sounds seemed familiar to him. Just as he was listening, a gust of wind howled at the trees and the leaves reverberated to its voice. He can’t help but to wonder now if all along, life had all these soundscapes, and he was missing out on them. Could it be that there were many more important things to do than just get a job? Could the old man be right?
He climbed a hill of sand looking ruefully out over the secluded beach. These days he was always short of money. From time to time, his mother would send him some funds, but he would return it to her because it was unfit for him to accept such monetary help. But this morning, it would be different for there were no other men but him alone in the sand kingdom. Here, Ethan was a king and the sand was his currency. And here the sea bellowed loudly that all other sounds were lost to show its respect for His Majesty. And yet, it came to his mind suddenly, there had to be sounds beneath sounds—the soft scraping of the sand drifting, the tiny whimsical whisperings of the dune grasses. Perhaps if one got close enough to hear their voices, there could be a story attached to its sound.
Without forethought, he crouched down and, feeling fairly amused, picked up a small seashell from the sand and brought his ear close to it. Here he unearthed that when he paid attention to the sound, there was a fractional moment in which time possibly froze. Everything pauses. It waits upon him. Life is still going on. But it also stops. How strange. In that short time of quiet, his racing thoughts came to a stand still. His anxiety dissipated. His mind rested as he felt his heart beating gently.
In genuine amazement, he gently placed the seashell back in its place, his ears picking up the sound of the sea’s deep growl. He pictured something that would go along with its temper. He found himself imagining the mythical sea creatures he read about in books of his childhood years and chuckled. He was also noticing how his thinking shifted. He was thinking of things bigger than himself—and that brought him a touch of relief. He decided he liked that feeling.
It was by noon the wind ushered the clouds out of the sky. The sun shone on the sea and it sparkled. It greeted Ethan with its polished and merry-like waves. The sound of the seashell discovery had stirred in him a latent hope for his situation. The sandwich in his hand he savoured too, had more flavour than usual and he wondered why he had never had it this good before. He thought he knew how a sandwich would taste, and yet, after he chewed slowly, he realised he hardly knew it at all. Appreciation translated on his face too when he added a Cherry Fizzie into a bottle of water, for he could hear the fizzles the tablet made upon making contact with water. The sound of its flavour released throughout the water, then turning it into something new. He heard it all. Fascinating.
He searched for the second paper. Two extra words now, this time he was supposed to “Search the past”. Vague. Where would he begin? What would one search for in the past? What was the point of it when all his anxieties were linked with the present and the future? But the stranger told him to be here on the beach. Ethan told him it was a place that made him happy. It was then he began to wonder if he could return to the past; if there was still in his adversity the indefinable mystery that will draw him close to happiness? If he was going to search the past, he reasoned, then maybe he was supposed to stretch his hand out for—the pursuit of joy he left behind when adulthood caught up.
He knew that in the bitterness of his struggles he was now equipped with what seemed like faith. So he searched his memory and began working on indefinite impressions like a painter would. He was coming close in reliving a special moment as he enhanced the colours and bolded the outlines. He chose distinct events and recollected as many details as possible. He would then visualize how these scenes would be completed with clothed human figures accompanied by their gestures. Lastly, he would listen carefully for the exact sound of their voices as he remembered them to be. Then the tide went out as he made a choice to turn back time.
Ten years exactly, to the last swimming trip he made with his first love. She had already left this place. But if he closed his eyes and focused, he could still see her with clarity, exquisite with her clear pale skin and black shining hair. Her beauty was unparalleled. In fact, Ethan saw the entirety: The ivory scimitar of the beach where she chased after him, the sky smeared with sunrise paint, the great waves coming in. He felt the splash on his face and tasted the seawater when she pushed him into the cool waters. He heard her jubilant yell, “Got you now!” when she was caught up with him. For a reward, he had crowned her head with seaweed. Piece by piece he rebuilt this scene. It was clear and unchanged under the transparent vanish of time. Then it was gone. But in that brief moment, he saw it all. Again, like he was there. Back in time.
That gave him a little more confidence. So what are happy people like? Chances are, everything from having a heart of gratitude to inspiring people, along with all the minor details in between. What if Ethan took a leap of faith now? What if he deliberately went back in time and knock on happiness’s door, might there not be an answer, when the right person opens it and welcomes him in? Is that… what they call ‘hope’?
Time moved more quickly than he expected this time. As the sun began its retreat down the sky, his mind ranged through the past, reliving some episodes, uncovering others that had been half- or completely forgotten. Across all the years, he remembered events, and knew that he was the happiest when he had no expectations of anything, of anyone. He was beginning to understand and feel the sudden glow of warmth in his heart. It felt reassuring. He checked his watch and watched it turn three o’clock. The tide was out and the sound of the waves became a rhythmic murmur, like a gentle giant drawing breaths. Ethan remained in his sandy kingdom, his feet in the golden sand. He felt at ease—and a little self-satisfied. He thought he could do this more often. Maybe a stranger’s advice wasn’t so difficult to follow after all.
But nothing in his life had quite prepared him for the words which confronted him. It was not a gentle suggestion for him to listen or search the past. This one was more akin to an order. Reconsider your intentions. His initial response was wholly resistive, almost apprehensive. What would a stranger know about his own purposes? Who was this stranger to question his motives? Is it wrong for me to yearn for success? Ethan said aloud in his head, I want to be recognized for the effort I put in my work. Is it wrong to have at least one person to acknowledge that I’m doing my best in the office? Is it wrong if I want money to feel secure, to know that I don’t have to worry about a roof over my head and food on the table? What’s wrong with wanting to BE successful?
Somewhere inside his head, a small voice whispered, perhaps your intentions weren’t good enough. Or maybe, he had forgotten his purpose or motivation for his life. Maybe that was the reason it had been harder for him to get out of bed, why his chest tightened every morning and he tried to pull the blanket over him. Perhaps in his internal ‘bookkeeping’ system—where in one column in the ledger he recorded the good things that happened to him, and another where he kept track of the wrongs leveled against him, one side was accumulating at a faster rate than the other. The bad side had outweighed the good, and it affected him adversely.
The reality was initially hard for him to grasp. But it became easier to accept it when he let his guard down, to be emotionally vulnerable in that moment. He picked up a handful of sand and let it stream between his fingers. The sand was his pursuit of happiness. In the past, whenever he performed splendidly in his work, there had always been something spontaneous about it. It was never planned. No. It was something uncontrived. Something free. Lately, it had to be calculated. Deadlines to be met, quotas to be filled, meetings to be attended, people to impress—when did he start measuring happiness? And why?
In his heart, he already knew the answer. He had been chasing the rewards he hoped it would bring past the job itself. The nine-to-five had ceased to be an end in itself; it had become a means to survive the next day and to repeat the process. No longer was there a sense in him to give something, to help someone, to make an impact on someone’s life. No. They had been lost in a frantic effort to pay the bills.
For a long time he stood there in his ground, trying not to succumb to self-pity. He asked himself whether, in fact, whether his intentions were wrong. He found it to be true. For if his intentions were right, he wouldn’t be feeling the way he felt daily. It made no difference whether one was a lawyer, a teacher, a salesman, a stay-at-home mom or dad—at all. No one ever gained happiness with the wrong motives. A change had to take place. He was going to shatter his complacency to strive. Because there was nothing for him to lose anymore.
Almost magical, a certain calmness took over him as he breathed in the ocean-carried air. The percussion of the waves that had been his lullaby since before he was a consciousness wrapped in human form. Even as the sky grew darker and serious, he was deeply relieved and grateful that the notes, had been nothing short of a healing course. One that might well be valuable to anyone facing adversity. He had found a way of understanding that challenges would follow him for the rest of his life, but they will also come to pass.
He had learned to “Listen”. It steadied his frantic mind and anxious heart. He could breathe and slow down time. He had learned to “Search the past“. Recalling the blissful memories swept away the present nerves when he pulled on the thread of happiness from the past. “Reconsider your intentions“. This was defining point, a pivotal moment for him to cast his fears aside and reexamine his purpose in this world. But for him to do that, his mind had to clear. Why else then would the man insist on the hours of solitude for him? While Ethan may have only saw a tiny piece of all that was going on, the man probably lived through his own difficulty and survived. Those eyes had witnessed more pain, those ears had heard more crying, those hands had reached out to others, to touch them knowing that he would gain nothing from it.
And it’s in this revelation that the sound of nature’s movement, the sound of noise, the sound of Ethan’s heartbeat, the sound of life, all coagulated into a comforting sense of physical liberation. The sky was a blaze of crimson as he took out the last slip of paper. He read it and smiled. Then he let the paper blow away, reached down and picked up a fragment of twig. There on the sand, he knelt determinedly and casted his troubles. Then he walked away slowly, leaving his footprints behind, every step confirming his newfound longing. He was going to press on and see it through to the end. Thus the breeze came with that sense of balance, the wisdom to move yet at a steady calm pace. In the wind, the last slip of paper pirouetted and its words, “Leave your troubles here and don’t turn back.” drifted into a peaceful place.
My writing has been a way for me to travel through a series of snapshots of my life. As such, it has given me the opportunity to reflect on both what has been and what may be to come. It’s an unsurprising train of thought, perhaps, considering the changes that were taking place in my own personal life and others as well. It's oddly comforting too, knowing that I'm not alone in this, and there are plenty of other creatives who going through their own battles. Writing wasn’t ever supposed to feel exploitative, it was supposed to be an account of what I feel like we were all going through. It helped us to access complex thoughts and emotions, frame it through another scope. There's a sense of freedom in that. And heck, it's encouraging when someone tells you, "and I thought I was the only one feeling this way."
Life, you walked too fast
I don't know what I lost in the way today,
my existence looked blurry
when I peeped into myself.
TW // Suicide. Death. Psychological Abuse. [ This is a work of fiction. ]
“You poor thing,” He said as he bustled around with his smile. “You’ll never amount to anything. Don’t worry though, you’re good at hiding that part of you. Everyone around you thinks you’ve got it together. They won’t suspect anything with the way you smile, handle your job like a pro, and so much more. In the meantime, you can try to hope things get better so you can live longer, but don’t count on it, darling.”
I laughed nervously, forgetting that I was in the middle of painting something, I didn’t even notice that the brush hung limply against my fingers, fresh paint dripping onto the floor. I must confess that at this time I was a paranoid 30 year old filled to the brim with anxiety. I had just gotten home after seeing the psychiatrist and the last thing I wanted was to be regarded as the poor thing. “That’s not true,” I stammered, trying but failing to instill confidence with what I have left. “I will get better. You’re just not giving me a chance to. I’ll work hard. I used to have trouble waking up in the mornings but I do that now, don’t I? I am going to get better and happier. I am going to make new friends, see the world, and do the things that I love.”
I didn’t realise how fast I was speaking by the end.
He turned over to me, my eyes instinctively turned away, I could see from the corner he was still wearing his indulgent smile on his face. “If that’s what you think, darling. But let me remind you just how pathetic you are. Now, let’s see. I am going to ask you to play a game with me. We’ll take a walk down memory lane. I’ll ask you questions, and you answer. Will that be okay, sweetie?” His voice sounded sweet with poison.
My past had been a place I never wanted to revisit for good reasons. All those memories of traumatic experiences that have been painful and have left their emotional residue within me… Just how long had I been faking security? Even then, I didn’t want to give in completely, not especially when he was giving me a rub on my back, something that I didn’t ask for. I’ve been living with him for as long as I can remember. My conversations with him were something I’ve grown accustomed to and though I didn’t necessarily agree with the things he said, I just didn’t have the mental energy to start a debate with him either. As these thoughts ran through my mind, the only impulse I wanted to do was to shout at him, “Right now??” but nothing came out, my defiance clamped in my throat.
“Sure, go on.” I gave a despairing sigh, my hand instinctively putting down the paintbrush on a wood palette that rested on my art desk. All my thoughts of peaceful solitude fled my mind like scared children, my mind felt full of static like an old television set that has lost its signal. I was hesitant. Part of me was screaming to run away from him, but I knew it was futile to put up a fight against him.
His fingers left my back as he eagerly helped me to stand up, then carefully, he led me up the stairs to my bedroom and for an awful second, I was sure I nearly tripped over the steps when he let go of my hand. I could imagine then that there was an odd look on his face when I struggled to maintain my balance, almost as if it was farcical to him, that the odd look quickly morphed into a smile as he reached his hand out to help me. I apologized and he assured me that it was alright.
When we reached my bedroom, he had been nice enough to help me sit on the cushioned bed. I noticed he had arranged the pillows neatly too, and the sheets looked clean. Quite comforting to know he wasn’t staying rent-free. It took me a while to get used to the idea that I could carry conversations with a person who never got out to do anything for himself but only stayed indoors all day, all night talking to me. It made perfect sense to him, because he was still taking care of the house.
“Remember when you were seven and couldn’t fit in school because you stuttered?” He took a vanity chair and sat legs folded in front of me. My eyes went down to the floor.
“Yes, I do. They made fun of me because I was different. I couldn’t concentrate in class either because they were always picking on me, even when I—” My shoulders tensed up a little as I tried to get the words out. “Even when I paid no heed to their business. The teacher wouldn’t stand up for me because I was just too different. It wasn’t their fault though, I don’t hold any grudge against them, we just didn’t get to communicate properly.”
“On the contrary,” He cut in, his voice stingingly sharp. “You’ve got that wrong. They didn’t like you. That’s why they picked on you. Speaking of communication too, wasn’t it just as awful living with your parents?” He narrowed his eyes and glared at me as he demanded, “Admit that it was a living hell for you.”
He wasn’t wrong. It really was hell living with those two. They fought, every single day, over the smallest things. There were nights where I would lay in bed listening to their constant berating and insult at each other. The sound of clashing voices became familiar to me. I was confident that if I tried hard enough, I could recite all the things they said with their raised voices. It would start so quietly, small bickering over a dinner session gone wrong, or if my mother didn’t like how father would leave the chair unarranged after he used it. Those small jabs would quickly evolve into spats. Not long after, my mother would shout, my father would begin laying into her and the screaming would finally begin. No one could possibly fathom how a lot of those times left me with the emotional pain and scars I tried to bury. But at that tender age, the only thing I could do was shut the door tight and push my face into the bolster my ten-year old body wrapped around, praying that I could lose my hearing just for the night.
“It was awful. I was young, but I’m 30 now. I’m old enough to know that they didn’t mean to hurt each other. They must have inherited some trauma from their own past, causing them to surrender their self control, to have their primitive brains take over tasks that,” I took a deep breath. “—tasks that empathy and logic should have been custodians of.”
When I was 12, I would think of how I would be better for them. Get better grades. Never missing a class. Making them proud. Maybe, just maybe if I studied harder and aced school, they would then be proud of me and not have to fight anymore. Even when I was enduring the terrible cycle of pain, I wanted to grow up faster so I could be better for them. And I had intended to find out how I could end the fighting. I would read all the books that taught self-control with empathy and logic. I had hope. A hope to release my parents of their own brokenness into wellness.
Then one day, she just left.
Mother left, and I remained right where I was, with just books to comfort me.
He laughed out loud, the kind of mocking laughter a man makes when he’s already had you once. I imagined he made a face of forced acceptance. “But your mother left you and your father in the end, didn’t she? God. She must’ve been fed up with how much space you took up in that house.” He was twirling his legs with such energy as he said it.
I inhaled deeply, then turned my face upward to the ceiling and held it for a long moment before I replied. “Stop it. You don’t know her. She had her reasons.” I shook my head, got up out of the bed, and began to pace toward the bedroom window with the city view, the sky looked so liberating. “You speak of her as if you knew her inside out. You know nothing about my mother.” I said, trying not to gaze at the reflection.
“Oh, but I was there. I was there when you spent those countless nights crying, the kind of weeping that could break a saint’s heart.” He came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me, they felt cold. He brought his lips close to my ears and whispered, “I was there. Even with that incident with your father, I was there by your side.”
After a lifetime of loneliness, I could not imagine what would break my spirit more than it did after my Mum left the house. But I learned that it was also dangerous when you tempt fate with such imaginations. My father learned to manage his temper and he left me alone to figure out a lot of things on my own. Fortunately, I could do it. But I had not expected life to drive him to a state where he would set himself on fire when I was 19. I got the call from the hospital. I had never run as fast as I did then.
When I found him in the ward, I could not recognise him. It felt strange to see this man who bore the resemblance to my father looking so lifeless on the bed. He looked up at me with his brown eyes flashing through the layers of pain—the eyes that were the only part of him I could recognize among the mass of white bandages and tannic acid that covered his burns. “They’ve told you I can’t survive, haven’t they? Don’t end up like me, son. Don’t make the mistakes I did because I lo—”
I never got to hear what he said until the end.
I’m not sure if anything would have changed if he had finished his sentence. But I recall, in that ward, I held my father’s hands in mine, closed my eyes and shed tears. The pain of my mother’s absence and my father dying with the wrapped burns, penetrated my soul. I struggled to make sense of it.
The one time I needed someone, Dad slipped away from my fingers, and Mum was harder to find than empathy at a psychopath conference. Somehow, that was when I started seeing him visibly too, at this time, this entity began to take shape.
From the outset, I put him in his right place in my mind, he was merely a friend of convenience and nothing more. But even then, I wasn’t so sure if it would stay that way. Somehow this being just found a way into my home and made it a comfortable place for him, for us. In fact, I was neither accommodating nor welcoming to him, but he seemed to be there at my lowest moments when no one was. Even if he was not particularly uplifting with his words, he was the only one there with me. It was not too long before he got involved with some of the new people I was getting to know. When things turned sour, and it was often, I had to force him back into the house and forbid him from following me outside. I wasn’t sure how many people had noticed how clingy he was around me then, and I certainly could not have told them of all the misery that lay behind my face, the pain that never left me, and the wounds that never really healed.
It was funny too because I would remember the hours I spent to get him to communicate with me on the same wavelength, but he always had a way of making everything sound so cynical. He was always trying to be nice, forming and giving me ‘helpful’ opinions at my worst times in the worst places. With all the effort he went through to be supportive, he sure had a way of making my own efforts to resume a normal life to appear insignificant. He said everything he did was for my own good. The longer I was with him, the more obvious as to what he was trying to teach me: Give in to him, and I will feel euphoria. It sounded too good to be true, so I never took up the offer nor did I even experiment with that idea. But hell, he stayed in my place for another 10 more years, trying to make everything about him and us. In his head, he said the two of us were soulmates—that we were perfect for each other. I didn’t want to believe all that because there were other things that had my attention.
Nothing could be more boring than the exercises assigned to me by my psychiatrist who checked on me three times a week. “Do something you enjoy! Depression can push you to give into your fatigue. It may feel more powerful than happy emotions. Try to push back and do something you love—something that’s relaxing, but energizing. It could be playing an instrument, painting, hiking, or biking. You told me you love to paint so paint the things you love. The next time we meet, you can tell me about it.” I’ve heard that a million times during therapy.
And then he would let out a chuckle each time I would look in the mirror as I try to motivate myself. Each time I would remind myself that I was loved, he would cheer me on, lead me to a false sense of security, only to say “Just kidding!” a few minutes later, followed by a snarling laughter with a slap to the knee. Nothing could be more frustrating than to try to write positive notes to myself only to see him correcting my spelling, turning my “I am worthy” into “I am unworthy” on the pieces of paper. Or to be writing poetry with him looking over my shoulders where I had to make words rhyme with “sad”, “depressed”, or “useless”, and he would make a scene if the poem wasn’t good enough for his standards. Or, worst of all, to sit facing my dressing mirror and have him touching me without my consent and reminding me that I didn’t need anyone so long I had him in my life.
“I have always been with you, and I am so fond of you, Chris,” whispered him cheerfully, “I just know you’ll be much happier with me. Forget the people that say you need proper help. You just need me to take care of you. And I will, I will love you so much that you wouldn’t find hope in anyone else but me. Because all this time, no one was there for you at your lowest except me. I tried to be there for your Mum and Dad. Too bad they broke too easily, but you? You’re special. You had always been the resilient one. It was so alluring, enticing.”
His grip on me was getting tighter, it had gotten more tense than the usual grip-and-whisper sessions we had previously. Usually, he‘d be all sarcastic, then start to apologize before he planted kisses on my cheek and my forehead. The room lights too seemed to be dimmer than normal. Also, why was his breathing getting heavier and his face getting closer as if he was going to kiss me on my lips? I had to get a glimpse of his face…
“Oh my god.”
I froze as soon as the words escaped my lips. When I looked at his face, what greeted me was the perverse pleasure gleaming in his eyes, his facial expression almost dehumanizing. Did he always look this twisted?
“What’s wrong, sugar?” His voice was low and icy.
“Oh my god. To think it had always been this way. It is ironic, is it not?”
“That for years you stood by my family, all the years that my parents were at each other’s throats, that the only thing that kept us from giving into our inner demons, was you.” The strangest thing happened, I felt his grip becoming looser. “I’ll never be good enough for you. But what I never understood was, why didn’t you let me die after all this time?” Only then did I remove myself from his grip entirely.
“Don’t you understand? You can’t die. I need you to be alive so I can feed on your misery. But it’s not just me. This isn’t a one-man show. This is a team effort! Don’t you realize you played a part in this too?” Where was the cynicism in his voice?
“Played a part in what?” I was surprised by his question until I remembered how I was letting him have his way then. I had allowed this person to take control of my life and the people around me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but as I stared into his eyes, I realised now that he was never meant to stay in this place. He wasn’t supposed to have this much power and control over me. And that all along, a truth was emerging: I wasn’t afraid of him; he was afraid of me. He was afraid that if I started seeking help in the right places, that if I had reached out to somebody for healing, then he would have nothing on me. I’m sure, though, that if I had reached out to even one person that cared for me – that saw my worth – it would’ve been enough to get rid of him. He would simply have to accept that I was bringing in other people and interests that gave me joy, and no one would have believed his word against mine.
When I look back now at those days of my childhood, time was distorted: But I knew that the periods where I couldn’t explain the things I felt, the occasions where my parents struggled to be civil in their own home, he had always been watching us. He drove my father into a state of apparently uncontrollable anger. And even when I grew older, and became somebody, I eventually had to go home again, and when I did, he made sure I paid a heavy price for my hours of happiness.
I can’t remember what I’d done this time; I just know I had been trying to paint a future. By admitting that I needed help, I was making a new start and taking the initial step towards the hereafter. I wanted to draw a line under the sorrow of my childhood, to relegate it firmly and irrevocably to the past—the past where my heart knew my family belonged to.
Even when he stood so close to me I could see every detail of his sneering face, I saw my own reflection in his eyes—broken, but not defeated. I still found him extremely intimidating and my feet were trying to take steps back. Yet I did not move. I did not want him to think for a second that I was afraid of him. I wasn’t anymore. I simply brought my hands to his face and touched his cheeks, almost caressing it and I said, slowly, in a normal and assuring voice, “I’m sorry for not being kind to myself. Today, I am forgiving myself. I am forgiving you. Not because you deserve it, or have stopped the grief that lingered. Today, I am forgiving myself, because I deserve it. I was never so sure, but I know now that I am the bigger person here. I’m alive and I’ve got a chance. And I choose to let go. I am letting you go.” I was so tired that it was a real effort to speak.
Depression moved his lips to have his say.
But nothing came out, tears welled up in his eyes.
They say sadness masks itself behind anger, yet anger never comes unless in direct self defence, and so perhaps I can credit this natural passivity with his willingness to cry and feel pain, to let his sorrow teach me more about my true nature and how fragile I was as a human. He turned, and I saw his back. I don’t remember if I have ever seen the shape of his back. He then let out a cry that almost broke my heart and as the last note of his cry trailed into the air, I began to experience inner peace. I didn’t feel so alone. Somehow, I was going to make it.
I don’t really remember what happened afterwards, all I knew for certain was that I never saw him again. For the first time in the longest while, I slept peacefully that night. As I began to drift into slumber, whimsical dreams of myself painting in a flower field while Mum and Dad laughed like strangers falling in love in their earliest exchange greeted me. I saw what resembled enrapturement to me. Extraordinary it was.
When I woke up the next morning, I searched for a photograph of my parents’ wedding in their bedroom. There it was in their dresser buried underneath a pile of old clothes. I held the photograph in my hand gazing on its yellowed surface—it was the most perfect memory of those two and I chose to have their smiles etched in my heart. I chose that photograph because in that moment, they were the couple they should have been, would have been, had it not been for the stress of life. In that 1987 snapshot, their unwarped personality was something so golden and sacred I wanted to cherish it forever. If I had been a great painter I’d sit with an easel and attempt to paint their marriage with splashes of love. But instead I just let the photograph make an impression on my memory. I saw my mother’s tenderness and my father’s youthful spirit. I needed those memories to stay with me, I needed them to soothe me when the bad ones threatened to erase all traces of those people I held dear, even in their absence. I wanted to recall everything that made them beautiful to keep me alive.
I wanted to live on.
I cannot recapture the past any more than I can escape it. But some of us can hope for love as well as understanding. When the world opens its eyes to mental health awareness, understand the weight it carries, and validate a person's state of being and emotions, everyday life will be a shade more pleasant. They say that Depression is just inside my head—they’re not wrong. Well, not entirely. But maybe through this story you will see just a glance of how Depression can be, and how terrifying it is as a physical manifestation. This is how Depression talks down to me and I want to fight it. To disregard a person due to their mental health is injustice to me. All too often, even when we are hurting, we jump into defense, anger, and sarcasm quickly and no one leaves the conversation as a victor. We give in to anger, instead of stepping away. We join in the crowd, instead of thinking for ourselves. We forget ourselves. Does this mean I'm wrong? Does this mean you're wrong? That's not the point. I just hope for all of us to be kinder, more compassionate to others. The world needs more love. It can be done; a simple message that you care for a stranger online or even a text to a friend to remind them how blessed you are to have them in your life. "I hope you're okay"—this sentence alone saves even just one person. Not everyone will read this message and agree with it, and that's okay. I still want to thank you for reading it. I hope you have a nice day wherever you are.
In the corner of the room, a young man sits on the faux grass, his hand holding a letter he had written. He seems crestfallen as if he shared a personal conversation with this letter. For its content, while painful, holds a glimpse of what he was like before he came to realize who he is now.
Holding a couple of people close to him, he is ever so grateful of their presence in his life though his actions hardly reveal and his voice don’t vocalize enough. He knows he is not the person past lovers fell in love with, or sought for. The girl they fell in love with was a lot more desirable and loving. Though complex in thoughts like trying to solve puzzle pieces in her mind, she got anxious over the years about herself, about himself.
The obsession over the tiniest details, the increased rigidity and aloofness. Perhaps in the public eye and of his safety concerns, he allows flickers of the young girl to pay a visit, but she doesn’t overstay her welcome back at his place when it’s just him alone in the apartment. For the most part now, that girl is gone. How can anyone possibly love him and stand by him despite the drastic changes of identity he has gone through over the course of time?
He clasps the letter close to his heart and feels a sting inflicting him, invading his space making him wish he had ignored his voice. The suicide attempts. The thoughts of erasing others, and ultimately himself becomes the bane of his existence. Days of unconsciousness and panic attacks were better off masking the ill manifestations. The countless promises he has made to himself where he would get back on track, but he’s still trying. With all his effort, he is pushing through.
Time and time again, he is reminded of how his body wasn’t that of his own. Society incites a slow painful death on him, with the repercussions of his anger like a cherry on top. Words are not much aligning with his actions of late, the language between everyone he tries to love in a state of confusion and complication. His presence shrinks when the words “I love you” leave his lips for they searched hope desperately, like a scavenger would and waits to feed on the dead.
The glassy stares.
The emotional unavailability.
The sleepless nights.
It’s on him.
The rejection he gives out to people gets exhausting and depressing, and mostly, just nothing to his family. With trust comes trauma, with trauma comes intimacy issue, with intimacy issue comes pain, with pain, comes an unwanted feeling in the center of his world. Some days he cannot comprehend why he abhors himself and vehemently rejects the care of others. Out of fear, maybe. Out of love? For who? Himself? Himself.
“Closets kill. They suffocate us. We drown in the refuse of our own lies, lies that say we’re alright. We’re only alright when we can be seen for who we are.”—David Husted
He sat in prim on the drafting chair, legs crossed, and fingers intertwined over one knee. On his desk sits a pot of artificial flowers, plain, and arranged poorly. He gazed at it. It was in his favourite colours, green in three shades; creamy mint, dark shamrock and dark mint green. Though it was cardinal sin and faux pas for him to own one, it saved him the thought of having to keep it alive with water and sunlight; an appealing prospect for him who seemingly lacked the innate ability to keep living things alive. He wondered if that’s all his life would ever be. “They will never know, will they?” he simpered, before sighing.
Working on his articles, he slouched in the drafting chair as he typed. Occasionally, he would catch himself doing it and straighten up, pushing his shoulders backwards and the small of his back upwards and in, sitting taller, more alert. He told himself that he didn’t want to wind up as a hunchback in a few decades time, but within a few more minutes of typing, it slipped his mind and he resumed his slouching posture. The way he sat lacked inspiration and he looked like a heartbroken man; an impression not helped by his empty stares into the room.
He had never come to terms with who he was, fearing from the backlash and ridicule that will hit him like a torrential downpour. He knew he was far from a perfect human being. He was calculative even though he constantly overthinks. Somehow, he had a way of carrying himself in a callous manner around people he had no regards for. First impressions of him were either aloof, distant, or stand-offish. Even so, he had made countless mistakes. To change himself was something he grappled with – or about anyone. Deep down, underneath that indifferent expression, or smiling face sometimes, buried a part of him that doesn’t heal from past heartache.
There was always a part of him that had a hole. Others would have emotional scars, but not him – he was still bleeding because his heart feels strongly for the pain of others. The thing was, regardless of the pain, he had a perspective that living with an incomplete soul is a form of death, and he would rather be a humane human in pain than the art manikin he owned. He had a hard time dealing with and getting himself out of the hell in his head. With every mistake he committed, he became stronger, more knowledgeable, more wary, but also harder for him to be fully open to a person. Love and feelings and relationships were never black and white or palpable. It took grounds and patience for him to apprehend these things, and regrettably enough, his realization of all these things forced him to close off from people who cared and loved him.
Stuck in the closet, somewhere in the back of his mind, he felt it was only the beginning. The beginning of an inexplicable pain, the suffering and the endless conga line of emotions that were in store for him. As of now, what only mattered to him was making through the next day.