What is life? The term is so vague to me. Nobody understands it, though some claim they know how to explain it. Some claim they know what it feels like. Some claim they know the meaning it contains. Bull shit. That’s right, I said it. It’s a load of crock. Nobody knows anything, but they like to think they do. All my life I’ve been trying to figure out what life is about, but no one can give me a straight and consistent answer. I’m no philosopher, scientist, professor, what have you. All I do is work for the government in a lab, testing ground samples of the planet. Will somebody tell me what all of this is for? What it’s worth? What it means? No? I didn’t think so.
I am dead. But not really. Technically, I’m a living, breathing, swallowing, blinking, eating human being. And yet, I am dead…inside. I have made the ultimate decision, and that is to stop. I’m stopping everything and everything that was ever something. I have stopped walking…because there is no where else to go. And where I want to go, I can’t. It’s not possible. As if anything is anyhow. Thirty-two years and I’m giving up. Thirty-two years is far too long. God!—am I really this old? Can it really come down to this?—this feeling inside?—this hollowness gaping inside my stomach eating me alive. Ha! I sure know how to be dramatic. But I don’t know one thing about what it is to be anything that has anything to do with living the same damn thing every waking moment. Maybe I should clarify, Journal, so that you can better understand what the hell I’m talking about.
The sun was shining in my humble town Littleton, the day I was born. At least, according to my mother. I grew up in this town, along with my five older brothers, and no dad. Grew and stayed. My mother didn’t believe in moving, which I suppose was fine because I did have a sort of emotional connection to this place. I suppose you could call it beautiful, but it was more than that. It was this tingly, warming, calming sensation—how do you explain the feeling of home without thinking of a rectangular building with pointed tops? It was home, a place of belonging and acceptance, but not because of the people who resided there. It was the air, the smell of the air and when it moved about you, it seemed to give you permission to breathe, and when you breathed, you felt what it meant to be what it was you were.
Does that make any sense? I’m still figuring it out.
This was when I was a child, the simpler times. I never cared about anything that needed reasons and explanations. Like my mother and father. Why they divorced—it didn’t matter. It happened and that was all that needed to be known. Why my brothers smoked behind the garage after dinner, hiding it from my mother, and always blaming the smell on their jackets on the next-door neighbors. Why my mother never cried at the movies or at the news of a friend who had died recently. Why we never had a television set in our house. Why I had my own room and my brothers had to share. None of it really mattered.
My brothers and I used to play games around the house while Mother was off at work. My favorite was Wolf. My oldest brother would play the wolfman while the rest of us had to hide either in the backyard, inside the house, or on top of the roof—if you could get to it. I was too small to climb the roof by myself, but, if I was lucky, one of my brothers would pull me up on the ledge so that I could have access to the rest of the house’s roof. The two of us would hide by the triangular corner of my mother’s window. It was always night when playing this game. We remained on our knees, always ready to escape, and kept our eyes focused on the dark green of our backyard. I didn’t breathe. We had to be as quiet as the night—there was no breeze at this time, so that the oak trees never rustled, the leaves on the ground slept, and cars remained in their little garages. The only thing you could hear was the slight hum of the lightning bugs floating around the ground, their tails blinking on and off a golden glow. For a moment, the silence would be broken. Inside the house we would hear one of our brothers scream and a sudden rush of muffled movement probably inside Mother’s bedroom. Then nothing for about a minute. This is when my brother and I would watch the ground intensely. Emerging from the back of the house would be two figures: the wolf and the youngest brother—he always hid inside Mother’s closet. The wolf dragged my brother into the little garden at the corner of the yard and locked him inside the fence. The wolf would find all of us before making us his dinner. We kept our eyes on him, watching his slow movements, hoping that he wouldn’t spot us with his glowing eyes and special wolf night-vision. Making one last glance at his capture, he slinked back towards the house’s door. I watched my brother inside the garden intensely. He paced back and forth then looked up at us suddenly. He waved and we waved back, signaling him to stop, in hopes that he hadn’t given our hiding place away. We could attempt to rescue him. But the situation was extremely dangerous. There were, of course, two other brothers left. If we could all band together, we could corner the wolf and win. But that was always difficult to do, seeing as we had to find each other first, and that could lead the wolf to us. We couldn’t capture the wolf without all of us together.
My brother, however, decided it might have been a safe time to try to rescue the youngest one. He signaled me to stay quiet and stay put. I nodded and watched him slide around the corner and make his way to the slanted ledge leading to the ground. I peered around the window’s corner and watched the darkness make his figure become distorted. My heart began to race. This was the most exciting part: trying to save the captured and run to another hiding place before the wolf saw you. My brother crouched onto his bottom and scooted down the ledge until he was able to safely jump onto the grass. He stayed crouched for a moment, looking around carefully before making his way through the lightning bugs and towards the garden. Suddenly I heard a snap, quiet but definitely audible amongst the silence. It was on the roof! I froze, my heart stopped, and my breath moved so slowly I could barely feel it escape into my open mouth. I forced myself to peer around the window’s ledge once more, hoping that it wasn’t was what I thought it was. The darkness made it hard to see and the jagged corners distorted everything. But there he was. I could see him moving, ever so slightly, towards my hiding place. His hands, curling into claws, scraped the black tile. His arms were bulky and hung in front of his chest and to his sides as though they were too heavy to carry. His face was doused in shadow. The wolf continued skulking across the roof, right in my direction! I wasn’t sure if he saw me at all, but I was sure that he might be trying to scare me out of hiding. Down in the garden, my brother was able to rescue the other and noticed that I was trapped. The two of them started making noise, waving their arms up and down. The wolf turned his head to look and seemed to turn to attack them, but then slowly turned back to me. His steps became faster and this time I was sure he had seen me. I decided that it would do me no good to stay here. Jumping up, I made my way around the corner of the protruding window and ran to the opposite side of the roof. This might have made my brother’s nervous, seeing I was only six years old and if our mother found out, we would be in a whole lot of trouble. But the situation was dire and I had to escape. I had never gotten caught by the wolf and this wasn’t going to be the first.
The wolf moved quickly, paralleling my movements, as if he was taunting me to move towards the only exit. I took off my shoes and threw them down into the backyard. My bare feet could grab the tile easier, especially if I was planning to run. The wolf paused for a moment, not understanding the move I had just made. That was my queue. I ran down the front side of the triangular roof, hoping no one was outside to notice a little girl running around on the top of a house. I could hear the wolf move towards my previous hiding place, so I knew that I would be able to circle around behind him. A couple shingles shifted underneath my feet, but my balance remained stable. I was small and barefoot, this was a piece of cake for me. This time I could hear my brothers in the backyard call out my name, some sort of warning. All four of them were now banded together and if I could get to the roof’s ledge on the other side in time, we could capture the beast. I was determined. I made my way across the uneven tile, crawling over the other triangular window ledges. The wolf was right behind me now, though he was much more clumsy at crossing the roof. I was able to make it to the back side of the roof again, dodging around a chimney, but the wolf was closing in and blocking my only way to the exit. I decided to make an executive decision. I quickly made my way to the very edge of the lowest part of the roof, got down on my bottom and prepared to jump. I remember hearing my brothers calling out to me, telling me no. I even think I heard the wolf say something along those lines, but that’s only because he wanted to capture me and eat me. It didn’t matter. I had made my decision because this was the only way to win. I jumped. The grass cushioned my landing, the lightning bugs zooming out of the way. I rolled a little to alleviate the painful jolt running through my joints and up my back. Then I noticed the wolf crawling down the roof’s ledge. My brothers had surrounded me at this time, asking too many questions and were too distracted by my courageous jump than to recognize the opportunity we had in winning the game. I pushed them off and pointed at the wolf jumping to the ground and running towards us. “Get him!” I cried, and thankfully one of my brothers from inside the house had brought a sheet with him. The wolf jumped towards us, but we threw the sheet above him, engulfing his body. He thrashed inside, but it did him no good. We successfully tied the sheet in a knot and had him trapped. The wolf could no longer attack us again. We had won the game.
Of course, the wolf turned back into my older brother again and so we had to let him out. We would play this game almost ever night my mother was gone until one of my brothers injured himself, breaking his leg and cracking his skull from falling off the roof. He didn’t run barefoot like I did, and his foot slipped on one of the loose tiles, falling backward onto the driveway’s pavement. Since then, we were never allowed on the roof at all. Not even during Fourth of July when the fireworks would go off in the neighborhood’s park a couple of blocks away and we could see them perfectly from the top of our house. When I got older, I would sneak up there in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep and lay there thinking and dreaming. I would write little stories in my head, sometimes acting them out loud. All I wanted was to live in my imagination. Growing up was a disappointment. I promised myself when I was thirteen years old that I would never lose my imagination like grown-ups did. My imagination was all I had. It was the only thing that kept me inspired. Kept me going. Kept reality far from me.
I wish I was able to keep that promise to myself. I wish I could live in my imagination and not in this miserable existence people call life. It’s not what I want. I don’t think it’s something I can continue doing. I’m thirty-two years old and my imagination has been run off by worries and responsibilities, disappointments and destroyed dreams. If only I could stop everything.
“You have a way with words,” the man said. If I were to describe to you my dream man, this would be him. This man, sitting across from me in the tiny diner called Mom’s Pizza and Pies in the small town called Littleton, had chocolate-brown hair, silky and straight, hanging just below his eyebrows and swept to the side. He had these amazing sapphire-blue eyes that seemed to penetrate into my soul every moment my eyes met his. His nose was straight, his skin slightly tanned, rose-bud lips, and a smile filled with perfectly straight, white teeth. One might think he was a manmade human, genetically forced into perfection. His hands also caught my attention. Hands are very important to me. They were a man’s hands, worked, strong and browned with the very slightest of blue veins pulsing from the skin. Those kinds of hands I could only dream to touch me. This was the man of my dreams. I never thought that these things happened in “real-life.” Real-life—whatever that means. But there he was, sneaking a peak at my free-writing, and talking to me about the weather and small-town news.
You have away with words, he had said. And all I want to say is, “Not really.” The only way I have with words is the screwing-them-up way, swapping the order of them in a sentence, speaking in the way as though I can’t speak my own language. My excuse is that my brain is too fast for my mouth. My fingers, on the other hand, can keep up. That’s why I feel more compelled to write. It seems the only way I can really express my thoughts. I’m assuming many writers can empathize. But I am not a writer, though in some other life I might have been. I’m an engineer who works in a lab testing dirt samples for the government. Interesting, isn’t it? And yet this blue-eyed man, sitting across from me at this boring diner, points out the one talent I wish I had, which was the ability to be fluent with words—and to end the corrections I always received from everybody else—and this man says I have a way with words.
It was probably the most wonderful compliment I had ever received in my life. That’s not to say that I believed him, of course. But it was nice to think that he thought it was true. That someone could understand me. We met on many other occasions, Mr. Blue-eyes and I. That wasn’t his real name, but it was the name I had secretly given him. Some days we’d meet at the park and read together. Other times, we would talk from midday to sunset. Watching the sunset with him was something that I can only describe in one word as…filled. Filled with and of everything. Sitting on the grassy hill with my dream-man, watching the sun set into the horizon, red cascading across the sky, filling the white clouds with red-gold hues, the trees in the distance hiding the burning sun as it fell down, darkness creeping forward from behind, until all of the red-gold spikes of color dissolved behind the trees, returned to the sun and left the sky in darkness. For a moment of a second, there was darkness. Then the stars blinked into existence, lighting up the night sky like little fireflies. Like little lightning bugs.
And there I am, experiencing this filled with everything moment with Mr. Blue-eyes. The one person who understood me. For the first time ever, someone understood me. He wasn’t someone who thought I could be fixed, corrected, altered. I hated that. I hated that people thought they had the right to do that. I figure it’s in their nature to tell someone when they’re wrong. Any chance to display their superiority to one another, and they jump at the opportunity. But not him. Not this man, Mr. Blue-eyes.
He was the man I was to marry. The love I felt for him was overwhelming. I never thought a feeling like that could or would exist, just like I never thought he could exist. Every day felt like a dream, being married to Mr. Blue-eyes. I was twenty-six when I married. My mother adored him, my brothers respected him, and my brothers’ wives appreciated him. I lived my life with this man of wonder, and everything was filled with happiness. For a while.
I cannot explain very well what happened next. This is where things got a little muddied. Or maybe a lot…muddied. Nothing changed. My life as an engineer working in a lab testing the same dirt samples every day; the same, if not slightly different, results each time; waking every morning with the same sun rising in the distance; the same sex every day—there’s only so much you can do; the same holidays; the same weather changing in the same pattern—summer, fall, winter, spring, summer; breathing the same air in the same town on the same planet filled with the same contempt, suffering, unhappiness, war, monotony. It was all the same and no meaning. No meaning and all the same. Same meaning. Meaning nothing.
I loved my husband, my mother, my brothers. But these feelings, very real feelings that I cannot describe, changed something inside me. Killing me. Rotting me. I could feel so much all at once and not feel anything at all. Unanswered questions would consume my mind, questions that I never thought mattered. Life was what it was. And one must continue to be apart of it because that’s what makes people happy. Right? I couldn’t accept it anymore. I couldn’t accept anything anymore.
Soon I began to think I didn’t deserve anything. I didn’t deserve this wonderful man who had become apart of my life. I didn’t deserve the loving mother who had worked hard in bringing me and my brothers up. I didn’t deserve the carefully protective brothers and their patient wives. I didn’t deserve to be apart of anything. The thoughts that ran through my mind were like rampant flames burning every other passionate, hopeful, dreamy thought that used to reside there. Every negative emotion that ever existed in the world came into me and burned a hole so wide and so black that I became a vat of barrenness.
It happened that fast. Like lightening tearing the innocent sky on a stormy evening. At first, I tried to come to terms with it, fight it off, find the logic in it all. I tried to find the happiness that used to live inside my thoughts. I tried to recall what it was like to feel something like happiness. Tried to remember. So hard to remember these days.
My husband tried to save me, tried to be the hero people always yearn to be at times like these. But, you see, there is nothing to save, nothing to rescue. It’s already gone. I tried to help him understand this, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t. He was a stubborn man. And I hurt him. It was the only thing I could do, to wake him up, to open his eyes and see what needed to be seen.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he once said. And that was fine. He was honest, and maybe there was a chance that he finally got it.
“Then don’t. Don’t stay around with me. Leave me, if that’s all you can do,” I had said.
Nope, he didn’t get it.
“What is wrong with you!” he shouted. He never raised his voice to me. “What happened to the woman I married? The one I fell in love with? What are you doing to yourself?” He was referring to the raw cuts on my forearms. I had started cutting myself, if only to see what it was like. The feeling of not feeling was killing me. I wanted to test myself by using a knife on my skin to see if then I could feel something. Nothing.
“You can’t understand anything, can you,” I said. “You never understood me anyway. Why try now?” I wasn’t meaning to be hateful.
The sparkle in his eyes was gone. I was killing him along with me, and I couldn’t allow that to happen. His blue eyes that were once vibrant with life and joy had now faded to a grey. I couldn’t let him die. I had to let him go.
“You’re right,” he said, the tone in his voice sounding of resignation. He always sounded like this after these arguments, but it never meant he was quitting the fight. “I don’t know you anymore. You’ve gone to a place where I can’t reach you.” Then, as if a rush of a one-last-chance emotion punched his chest, “Come back! Please, my love, I only want you. I can’t live without you. We can fix this, we can fight what ever this is together!”
I didn’t answer. I hadn’t gotten through to him, and there was no point in continuing this argument.
He stood by the doorway of the kitchen and stared at me with those grey-blue eyes. Staring at me…something I hated. I couldn’t look back at him, couldn’t look into those dying eyes that reflected his crushed heart. He needed to go away.
“I love you,” he said, and it might have been the last thing I heard him say. I don’t remember.
I continued to look out the window, the sun dying below the horizon.
“Why?” I asked. But he was already gone, leaving the doorway empty and cold…like me. Only maybe there was a trace of warmth left from where he was standing, but it soon disappeared with the air.
Soon after, we divorced.
I saw my mother cry for the first time. She never told me why, but it was quite obvious she was hiding it. Her eyes and nose were swollen red, cheeks damp, and she quivered when seeing me. All the same, she pretended to be composed in front of my brothers and their wives. My brothers had lost their sense of humor, and the wives gossiped behind my back. I knew they meant no harm, that their love for me hadn’t faded, but I knew they were talking about the way I looked. I had stopped eating and so my body had become skeletal. I also continued my “cutting habit”, bringing it down to about once a week. All for the sake of exploration, really. Exploring the human body and its limits. Venturing into the unknown. A load of bull, isn’t it? I do it because I want to feel—testing to see if I still can. Eating is a necessity for those who are living, you see. I am already dead. Why waste the food? It should be given to someone who needs it, deserves it, worked for it. I’ve done none of these. And no one can convince me otherwise.
I once had a very memorable conversation with my oldest brother’s wife. She was beautiful. Something to envy with red-gold hair and bright, crystal blue eyes. My other brothers called her the pretty princess that didn’t belong in our rebellious family. I liked her, though. She was kind and smart and proper. All these perfect little attributes one could admire. One day, after my third brother’s wedding, she was telling me about her job in a hospital, taking care of the mentally ill. Ironic, and I say this with a smile.
She couldn’t understand why these people felt the way the felt, how lost they were, and how hopeless life seemed for them.
“I don’t get it. How can anyone feel so selfish to think that they are unloved and take their own life?,” she had said.
I stayed quiet and she continued unnoticing.
“I don’t think I could ever feel that way. Ever feel so lost in my own emotions to think there is no way out.” She looked at me now. “Other than suicide.” She tossed the word into the air as though it was a feather. A steal feather that was light as air, yet brushed my skin with its sharp edges. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“I can see why someone would kill themselves.” It just spat out of me, like vomit. Oh, hell. Now she’s going to wonder if something’s wrong.
But she didn’t say anything. She did stare at me, however, with eyes of confusion and curiosity. She nodded her head, attempting to be agreeable, even though there wasn’t really anything to be agreeable about.
“I guess I don’t get it,” she said flatly. Of course she doesn’t. Who can understand these things, these strange thoughts, voices, roaring at you and with you, provoking you and teasing you, choking you and squeezing you until breathing is something that only exists in a dream.
I wish I could better explain this. I really am messed up. But not in the way you think I am. Not in the way the world thinks. I feel too much and nothing at all. What sense is there in that? No sense. So I’m not crazy, I’ve just realized something that others ignore…in order to be happy, in order to live a full life. A full life of what, though? That’s my question—because nothing means nothing, and there is no meaning in anything. So, what the hell! Why can’t I do what I’m doing?—because some person deems it unhealthy. Bull shit.
I’ve been dangerously balancing on the edge of figuring out the answer to life. However, because of my “studies” I had been encouraged to live with my oldest brother and his wife and six year-old daughter. I am thirty-one years old and I am sharing a room with a six year-old. It doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. The child reminds me of myself at one time. She is adventurous, vibrant, imaginative, filled…with everything. Everything I once knew, but no longer have. She brings memories back. She reminds me of what happiness is. She smiles at me, cuddles with me, though she shifts a lot because of how boney I had become, and tells me stories she writes in her mind. She seems to be part of another world separate from mine, as though I’m looking at an image encased in unbreakable glass and I can’t touch it, smell it or feel it. But all I want is to be on the other side.
I can’t. I am dead already.
Since I had quit my other job and remain on the support of my mother and oldest brother, I have spent many days sitting at the park, watching the sun come up and come down. Some days I will take the girl to school and pick her up later. I would sit, walk, breathe, eat the food my brother’s wife would feed me, throw it up later, lay in bed, but never sleep, though sleep is all I really want. It’s the only peace I can think of. One day, I decided that sleeping pills could do the trick. I took the whole bottle and feel asleep.
Amazing, sleep is. It stops the mind, brings peace and happiness. Until you wake up. It’s like you are ripped out of heaven to only be brought back to hell.
I have come to despise hospitals. The smell of steel and icy floors, medicine and chemicals, sterile and stale air. It was more than I could bare. But they kept me there, like a captive, talking about me as though I didn’t exist. They would be right, of course. I’m dead already. It infuriated me, nonetheless. How could my family put me through this? How could they allow this to happen? All I want is to sleep, dammit! Let all the swirling madness in mind take a break. Let the logic breathe for once, instead of continuously fighting being overwhelmed with hatred and sadness.
But they can’t understand. Just like Mr. Blue-eyes, who no longer has blue eyes, but have changed to a dead-like grey. No one can understand. Only I do. I am a waste of space, I have no purpose in life, and life is nothing more than specific patterns continuing in the same exact circle over and over. I can’t recall anything from my past. I am thirty-one years old, thirty-one years too many. I was able to convince my family to allow me to move back to Littleton. They had all moved away, but I wanted to return to where I had once known happiness. They agreed, trusting that maybe it was best for me. The little girl was sad to see me go, and for a moment, I thought I felt a sense of guilt leaving her and my brother and my mother. The look in her eyes, the sense of wonderment and understanding filled me with a moment of grief. And for that brief moment, I thought I could finally feel something in that black hole which continued to burn and consume. For a fleeting moment in that girl’s eyes, I saw peace and acceptance and, just maybe, freedom. And then it was gone, just like that. Unfortunately, as all little girls do, they grow into the same monotonous cycle every human being calls life.
So much going through my head…so many thoughts, so many voices. If only they can be silenced…
The sun shines so amazingly here, feels so warm. If there is anything to be said about the sun, it’s the only thing I can feel: its gentle heat against my cold skin, the way it bounces against my hair, the way it blinds me with its compassionate light, allowing me to ignore the pain and suffering for a possible instant. The sun was shining when I was born, my mother had once said. The sun sees everything, touches everywhere, and yet, is not affected by the agony afflicted on the people of this earth. I’ll never understand how people survive, living each day in sadness, ignoring its ever-unmistakable presence and calling it life, and a life they want to live. I am thirty-two years old and life has killed me, taken me apart by the seams and filled me with a rotting emptiness nothing can fill…and does fill.
If I were to tell you my story, Journal—if I were to “have a way with words”—it would be this:
The sun warmed the dead inside of her, filled the void with its heat until she thought she almost felt a glimmer of life. Only a glimmer, though, as the clouds crept across the blue sky, hiding the sun from her, keeping its golden light from touching her skin, her hair, her blinded eyes. She was standing on a bridge above a sparkling river, in her home and humble town Littleton. No one crossed this bridge on Sunday afternoons. Everyone remained home: socializing after-church groups had tea and little cookies, kids played in the backyard, all quite aware of the darkness that lurked inside their heads, the ever-present dimness of life that was easily overlooked by everyone and no one. So she stood alone, looking over the river, beyond the trees and towards the horizon where the sun was making its continuous journey. Even the sun never changed, but she couldn’t help but feel that she wanted to be apart of it, that it was where she belonged somehow.
A cool breeze went by, encircling her, playing with the ends of her hair—maybe it said “breathe”, but she wasn’t quite sure. She barely noticed the goose-bumps prickling her skin, she barely felt the heavy, metal coldness in her hand. It would have been heavier, had it been anyone else. But this was for her, this was where she was going, to a place where she belonged, where she could sleep, where she could feel peace. The thought of it brought a smile on her face and, for a moment, she thought she recognized it as something similar to happiness. She gazed at the dark grey lake, taking in its repetitive movement, and lifted her gaze to the horizon. Always the horizon. It attracted her and consumed her mind, or what was left of it. The sun escaped the clouds and doused her in its warm, golden light. It beckoned her, called to her, and for the first time in her life, she knew where she was going.
And for that first moment, peace. Pure peace. Everything else, gone. Finally.
Life has been an interesting adventure. But all things end in time. We all move on. We all die. Some sooner than others. What’s wrong with that? Life is meant for those who are living, not for those who have already died. I was dead. I suppose, Journal, that’s all you needed to know.