Happy Boxing Day, dear readers! I know it’s been a minute. Maybe I’ll provide more of an update one day, but, simply put, I lost interest – in this site, in writing, in everything. That’s one of the side-effects of depression. If you suffer from it, you know that losing interest isn’t exactly how it feels. I won’t go so far as to say the color went out of everything, but there seemed to be less of a reason to notice color. Fortunately, that old sadness has retreated to its dark corners, replaced by my first love – writing.
As it’s the giving season, I thought I’d share with you lovely readers what moved through me recently. This piece was inspired by a prompt from my writers group. The parameters of the prompt were that it had to be three pages or fewer in the romance genre featuring a teacher character, a cloud, the sentence “You must be kidding me” and an optional flying stove. Some lines are lifted directly from old journals.
Oh, and because I’m extra, I made a Spotify playlist of all the songs mentioned or referenced in this piece. You can listen to it in the player below.
The Soul Felt Its Worth by Ross Marshall
I haven’t seen the sun in over a month.
You would say I’m being dramatic, if you were still here, but that’s how it seems. The clouds came with December, coating the city in snow. Now the lights glow in the misty rain. It’s keeping people at home – that and this horrible year; not one ride request has buzzed my phone all day. The wet blows up from the river below, slickening this overlook. I turn my face away and dream about you.
Before I got up here, I was driving around the empty streets, revisiting our old haunts and trying not to listen to that song that talks about how this city screams your name. The road bifurcated by trolley tracks led me to the dead-end street with that abandoned house you were too afraid to explore. Half of it is gone now; I watched workers send an old stove flying into a dumpster. I wanted to tell you when I got back to the apartment before I remembered you wouldn’t be there. It feels so much smaller without you and your memories.
The wind howls, or maybe it’s my soul. Sooo dramatic, I know. I grab the metal railing and rock myself back and forth, wondering if a fall from this height would kill me. I wish I could get rid of these thoughts. Thinking a thought is just a thought is easy, but it’s harder to believe. I’d have an easier time believing in miracles, but I haven’t seen any bushes burning lately. With how these clouds are watering this city, I doubt I will tonight.
I refocus on the twinkling city across the river, on the wharf and think of my friend teaching in Taiwan and all the times we smoked there before he left. He recommended I try this exercise he does before each class when I’m overcome with ennui. He takes in a big breath while raising his arms over his head and wiggles his fingers as he brings them down, saying, “I’m happy, and I love teaching! I’m happy, and I love teaching!”
My right shoulder pops as I raise my arms, but I can’t bring them down because I recognize a pressure materializing at the bottom of my sternum. I’m not happy, and there’s nothing I love. I barely like driving, but at least it provides some semblance of motion. I hate this. I don’t know why I’ve been so off. I know it’s not recent, and it preceded your departure. Why is each month getting worse? Cold air tries to make its way into my lungs, but the pressure spreading through my chest won’t let it. Why can’t I get better?
The hillside below the railing looks too inviting, so I slip and slide back to my car.
I wind down the Mount and cross the bridge. The grey river reflects the cloudy sky. I get in the lane for Bigelow and drive too close to the retaining wall holding up the Bluff. My whole body feels like when your foot falls asleep. My knuckles threaten to shred my skin as they tighten around the steering wheel. Panic grips my chest, the pressure halts my breath. It used to incapacitate me, this pressure. If I woke with it on me, the weight would keep me in bed for days. You never understood my sadness, and I couldn’t be honest enough to explain it. My breathing is shallow, and I can hear my heartbeat in my ears. When the exit ramp comes up, I consider flooring it straight into the jersey barrier. I wonder if I’d crash down onto Crosstown Boulevard or if my car would just crumple around me.
I turn the wheel before I can find out.
I pass that park with that weird piece of art on the way to your old job. I always wanted to stop and explore it with you, but I never asked because you were always in a bad mood after I picked you up from work. Was that because of the job, or because you were coming home to a lump like me? Maybe my bad vibes were infecting you. Maybe I am being dramatic. I just know I didn’t deserve your love. I decide tonight’s the kind of night to explore it, and if I don’t get a request by the time I get there…
Well, if there was ever a night for a miracle, this would be it.
I get to the five-way intersection and do a U-turn that would be impossible on any night except Christmas Eve. I pull into the park and drive past the huge pieces of twisted yellow metal that are supposed to be french fries. I park and stare at them for I don’t know how long. I only notice time has passed when the rain stops tapping its inconsistent counterrhythm to the wipers’ steady thwup, thwup. I look past the empty passenger seat you used to sit in. An old stone wall lit by the moon’s slivering light separates the park from another steep drop. I get out and my boots sink into the soggy earth. The pressure on my chest increases. I feel like I’m strapped to a shop press as I clamber onto the wall. There’s no railing here to separate me from a fall. I think about separation, about how I chose to separate myself from you. Looking down, I don’t feel that usual dizziness of vertigo. The wind freezes my marrow as the rain returns. It will be nice to put an end to this crushing pressure.
I don’t deserve anyone’s love.
I dangle my foot into the dark.
A familiar chirp calls me back to my car. My phone glows from its mount on the windshield.
“You must be kidding me,” I whisper, gaping at the phone.
A shiver ripples from my tailbone up to my crown and I collapse into the seat. My soul sobs, and in this moment, I believe in miracles. It can’t be a coincidence that the only request I got today was when I was a literal step away from death. I stare at the name. It has to mean something. I catch my faint reflection in the darkened windshield; my brown eyes – you used to call me Doe Eyes – are sobbing, too. I try my friend’s exercise again and breathing comes easily, the pressure all washed out in the rain.
Although I’m not happy and I don’t love much right now, this moment is enough to make me wonder, to believe in something other than separation. If I was wrong about miracles, maybe I was wrong about deserving love. Maybe I couldn’t love you because I’d never offered it to myself first. My thoughts may be just thoughts, but I realize that means they have only the meaning I give them. I can choose to give meaning to thoughts of self-love instead of self-destruction. When I do, I know happiness will follow. Staring kindly at my blubbering reflection, I choose to offer myself love. I hug myself in a way you never could, in a way you never will.
I dry my eyes on my damp sleeve, merge back onto the barren boulevard and head to pick up the passenger that shares your name.
The writers group is in the process of collecting some of our writing prompts for a booklet. If you’d like to donate to the cost of printing, I’d be forever grateful. You can do so through PayPal.
Happiest of new years, dear readers!