How is your depression?

“How is your depression?”

“Yesterday I couldn’t get myself out of bed.”

“What did you do?”

“I kept looking at the clock. Kept telling myself that at every hour I would feel more inclined to get up. I’d say Okay Karl give yourself til 8 then start going. 9, at 9 you must get out of bed. Now it’s 10 and you must get up because you have class soon and haven’t done the readings.”

“And did you finally get up?”

“By 11, yeah. But I didn’t want to.”

“I know.”

“How’s yours?”

“I yelled at Ron the other day.”

“What did you say?”

“Told him he was a ‘fucking low piece of shit’.”

“Olivia. What did he do?”

“Nothing. I was drunk again.”

“I thought you said drinking wasn’t an issue anymore?”

“It wasn’t that week.”

“What changed?”

“Nothing. I don’t know. I got a 60% on my paper.”

“The one you spent a month on?”

“Yeah. Went out to blow off some steam. Then blank.”

“Blank?”

“Blank. Whole night, gone.”

“That’s when you yelled at Ron?”

“Suppose so. I think he’s freaking out.”

“No shit.”

“I think he’s going to sleep with someone else.”

“You think?”

“I really don’t want him to leave me.”

The waitress walks over and asks if they want refills on their coffees. They both smile politely and shake their heads.

“Did you talk to your therapist about the drinking?”

“No. I didn’t think it was necessary.”

“Really?”

“No. Not really. I was ashamed. I didn’t want to say it out loud.”

“You said it to me.”

“Yeah. But you get it. How did the rest of your day go? After you got out of bed?”

“It was bad. I felt heavy. People kept staring at me like – like I was a slug leaving a trail of darkness behind me as I walked.”

Olivia laughed.

“It’s not funny.”

“I’m imagining you as a slug.”

They sip their coffees. Men and women pass by the coffee shop, rabbit-fur hoods over the heads, eyes fixed on the ground. The snow isn’t white like it’s supposed to be. It’s grey, polluted. Feet sink into the slush, footsteps heavy.

“Did you do the readings at least?”

“Most of them. I tried to participate. It felt like everyone was thinking the same thing about me.”

“What do you think they were thinking?”

“That I was stupid. That I didn’t know what I was talking about.”

“Did you know what you were talking about?”

“For the most part. But they didn’t know that. I kept telling myself to just shut up.”

“It gets better.”

“What?”

“I don’t know. That’s what you’re supposed to say, isn’t it? That there’s a light at the end of the tunnel? That it goes up from here?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

There’s a park across the street. The trees are bare, bone-like branches shuddering against the icy air. A small child in an oversized snowsuit runs ahead of her parents, slips and tumbles onto her bottom. Two dogs dance around each other, tongues hanging out, seemingly immune to the cold. One has spotted something under the ice, a leaf, or a piece of grass. It scratches its paws at it, determined to break through.

Three.

I like the cold. I sleep with my window open, fan on high, and naked, wrapped under my covers. I like to wake up in the morning, my eyes still sleepy and crusted at the corners and peak my neck out from the blankets and feel the cold against my waking skin. It’s raw. I’m missing rawness in my life. The ability to say, I feel that. I really feel what you’re expressing, by means of speech, art, prose, poetry, sex.

Unknown

The snow builds up. The difference is inconspicuous at first, but I glance away for a moment and when I return my gaze the white has thickened. It’s almost mesmerizing. I look out to the buildings across from me and I wonder who is sitting behind those foggy windows, looking at the same snow falling from the sky. A few flakes seem to hover for a moment longer than the others, as though they’re unsure of which direction to descend meanwhile the rest plummet confidently to the ground. It’s like a rain storm. Only it’s softer, more delicate and pure.

I remember many winters ago walking down the streets in December, the only light the street lamps illuminating our way through the snow and He was beside me. We were talking casually. I remember it had felt like something small had shifted in our world that day. I remember thinking how grand everything in my life was back then. But snow melts, and that moment feels like decades ago.

The Artist

Anne sat with her back rigid against the wood chair. Across from her, Dr. Bates vigorously ran his pen over a page, his eyes narrowed behind glasses on the end of his crooked nose. She watched his fingers scribble the date at the top of the page: 7 August 1932. The office was cramped, one window next to the door, and it smelled of old books and outdated theories. There were paintings on the wall that evoked a subtle energy to the otherwise dull atmosphere. A small radio was stationed on the corner of the doctor’s desk next to a photograph of his children. Anne’s mother, Mrs. Linch, sat nervously picking at her long fingernails in her lap the way she always did when she was upset. It was her one bad habit. Better to fidget with your nails than to be like Anne. Because there was something wrong with Anne — something that needed to be fixed. When Anne couldn’t focus on her homework, her mother’s hands were buried in her lap. When Anne was younger and the kids at school refused to play with her, her mother’s hands were in her lap. When Anne couldn’t sleep at night, when Anne’s teachers called home, when Anne climbed out her window that one December night and sat in her elementary school playground until the sun rose — a thin line jutting over the horizon — and she eventually came home to see her mother at the kitchen table, hands in her lap.

The chair dug into her back. The stiffness held her body poised and upright, and she was overcome by an inexplicable need to liquify her hardened corpse. Dr. Bates fixed his glasses with his right index finger and looked up first at Anne, then at Mrs. Linch.

“You were saying Mrs. Linch?”

“Yes, Dr. Bates, I was saying how Anne is having a lot of difficulties these days. Anne, dear, isn’t that right? Trouble in school, they say she can’t focus on anything. At home she paces around the house all day. Mr. Linch and I just don’t know what to do with her anymore. Her brother, Jeffrey, says no one at school spends time with her – off in her own world, he says. You see, Dr. Bates, Anne is ill. Terribly ill. That’s why she’s here. We need you to cure her.”

Dr. Bates put down his pen and said, “Mrs. Linch, if you would join me outside for a moment, I would like to speak with you in private.”

“Of course, Dr. Bates.”

Mrs. Linch stood and followed Dr. Bates toward the door. On his way out, he turned on the the radio, smiled at Anne and left her alone. She glanced around the room again, from the grinning children in the photograph, to the paintings on the wall. One, in particular, was of a rural landscape with a rich, beaming sunrise, the brush strokes disordered and yet something in the painting seemed resolute. The voices on the radio suddenly made her flinch.

Next on is Tchaikovsky’s ‘Symphony No.4’”

The music began to play quietly at first and Anne shifted slightly in the chair. The sounds then filled the entire room, the sharp, clear blow of the saxophones, the delicate, contrasting hum of the flutes, and the rise of the ensemble as the rhythm increased. Anne was lifted out of the wooden chair, her arms spread wide as though she was an artist embodying her canvas. The fluidity of her limbs were the physical counterpart to the music, her feet darting lightly across the room. She forgot about her mother and Dr. Bates. She forgot about Jeffrey and the school teachers. She submitted to the deep, rawness of the instruments billowing through the piece. It was the day in the park, when the sun arose from the gravity of the night.

“I don’t understand, Dr. Bates,” Mrs. Linch said, as she and the doctor watched from the window outside the room.

Dr. Bates smiled. “Mrs. Linch, your daughter isn’t ill. She’s a dancer.”

The Cliff

Her skin felt like rubber. Elisa wondered how something so foreign could contain the beginnings of human life. She traced her fingers along her stomach and felt a momentary kick from inside her. She flinched, and moved her hand away. A sudden wave of nausea overcame her and she rushed to the sink. Her hands rested on the countertop and she wished Abilio was there. But Abilio was never there.

The evening light had long vanished, and the room swelled with darkness. Outside, the chimes sang to the gentle rattling of the wind, the tree crackling in uncanny dissonance. Elisa wiped her mouth and flushed it clean with a glass of stale water. She hobbled toward the front door, hand on her stomach, and as she walked the old, wood floors creaked beneath her feet. The air was bitter cold, but Elisa didn’t seem to notice. She walked down the rows of houses, all alike, lights off. She walked past the post office, the general store, and finally the Church situated at the outskirts of town. It was late into the night, the dirt streets bare, and Elisa kept walking.

Not far off, she came to the cliff. The people of her village called it Los Malditos, the cursed. As a girl, Elisa grew up listening to the old women of the village telling stories about Los Malditos. The legends were always the same, of people going to the cliff and never returning, of search parties exploring the surrounding area and one by one, they too were never seen again. Even Abilio was afraid of the cliff. Not even Abilio would come looking for her here.

She followed the unkept trail up to the cliff’s peak. The wind whipped at her skin, tugging at her hair, piercing at her eyes. Elisa looked down the cliff. Los Malditos, she thought to herself and she embraced it. She embraced her desire to plunge, to let the cliff devour her like it had so many before and she embraced her hatred for the thing growing inside her. She was prepared to give in when out from the darkness, crawling up the edges of the cliff she noticed a strange, formless figure, slithering its way toward her. Elisa stepped back. The creature was darkness, almost inconspicuous against the night but Elisa saw it. It had no eyes, no mouth, no nose, it was inhuman, and what it was, Elisa would never know.

She fled back to the village, back through the empty streets, past the Church, the rows of houses, and safe within her own home.

Elisa awoke the next day, still feeling uneasy from the night before. She decided to believe that her eyes had simply misled her, and that the legends of her village had corrupted her mind. Winter was now approaching, the chilliness filling the house from the outside in. Elisa was alone again, Abilio at work early and the bars late. She sat up against the headboard of her bed and felt something strange beneath her. Panicked, she threw back her blankets and saw that they were stained red. Her hands mechanically touched her stomach, but this time, there was no movement.

The Tiger

One of the principles of Buddhism instructs you to inhabit the way of the Tiger. The Tiger embodies discernment, gentleness, and precision.

I try to remind myself of this as I stand in line at the cash of Bulk Barn with my seven plastic sacks, stuffed to the rim, the weight dragging my arm down. The woman in front of me argues aggressively over her receipt, shoving it in the woman at the register’s face.

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“You charged me twice”. “No ma’am I-”, “Look here I am positive -”. Discernment, gentleness, and precision, I think. My arm acts out mechanically, the bags deadly weapons and I’m a hunter who’s spied its prey. In a burst of unsuspected rage I swing at the woman’s head and hear a satisfying thud as bulk meets flesh. I drop my bags on the ground and leave the shop, hands empty yet inexplicably hungry for more.

two.

We are always rushing to do something, to go somewhere. Rushing to catch the subway train as the doors are dinging shut. Rushing to catch the light as the hand flashes and the numbers count down to one. Rushing to be someone. To find someone. To figure it out before the person sitting next to us on the bus figures it out before us. I glance to my right. He’s an older gentleman, with rough, wrinkled hands clasping around the edges of his cane. He stares straight forward out the window across from us, but he doesn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular. His eyes tell a story, but I don’t know what that story is. I wonder if he spent his life rushing as well; but something in those eyes tell me he didn’t. If I were someone else, bolder, or more curious, I may simply have asked him. Instead I turn my gaze back out the window to the bleakness of the day and wonder what I’m going to make for lunch.

one.

They tell you that when you finish high school you realize how small of a world you were living in. They tell you that it all gets better once you’re the hell out of that place. The one thing they don’t tell you is that that’s only a half truth; and that no matter if you picked a university that’s six hours away, or twelve hours away, problems don’t just vanish. They’re lingering around like specs of dust nestled in a grey carpet: they may not be visible, but they’re there, and eventually you start to notice the stench.

The Addict

My desire for my next hit was, it seemed, as strong as Sylvie’s desire to save me like she had once before. She was looking at me in her same pathetic way, with a tear forming in the corner of one eye and her lower lip trembling. I scoffed and her eyes flashed up to meet mine saying How could you scoff when I’m sitting here crying. But I knew, although she denied it countlessly, that it was an act. Life was her own stage, and she, the star of the show.

I turned away from her to focus on the eggs sizzling away in anguish on the frying pan. For a brief moment I was pulled away into their scent, lost in the seductiveness of food. I once used to fall into Sylvie’s seductiveness, deep into the rapture of her beauty. I remember when she found me; like an angel swooning over the dying, the injured, the ones who can’t be saved and yet somehow, Sylvie saved me.

Golden locks dangle around her face, gently tickling my cheeks. It is the first thing I feel in a long time. She unwinds my fingertips from around the needle and places it gently on the table beside me. I can hear the music still, like the background soundtrack of a movie and Sylvie is the star. She presses her lips against my own and I think for a moment it’s a kiss until I realize she’s breathing life back into me. I hear shouting now, the flicker of movements above my head. I can feel their panic but to me the world is silent. 

Sylvie is there when I open my eyes in the hospital room. She’s smiling and rushes beside my bed and I say, who are you? She says, You almost died John. I say, Let me take you out to dinner.

John. She said my name accusingly. I watched her eyes glance toward my long sleeves, as though she could see right through them and I tipped the eggs off the pan and onto a plate. I sat down across from her and looked into those sad, brown eyes that looked right into me, seeing right through me. I forked my eggs around, pushing them from side to side. Sylvie let out a long, weary sigh, brushed those golden locks away from her face, wiped away the tears from her eyes and bit her lower lip as she reached out her hands and clenched my own and I stopped fiddling with the eggs and she said John. But this time it was different.

I felt the stinging in my arms, the stinging that was meant to fill me with ecstasy but had left me with the remnants of guilt because Sylvie was right. I let my fork fall against the table and locked my bony fingers into hers, against the softness of the skin of an angel and she pulled our hands up to her lips and kissed them gently. I could hear her voice saying You almost died John. I know Sylvie, I know.