depression

do you remember? // short story

The past couple days and rest of this week have been and are continuing to be pretty busy, which has been an additional struggle on top of the creative one for this 14 day writing challenge I've been putting myself through, trying to write something or publish something every day. I purposefully timed out this writing challenge to end just about the same time as I'm leaving for a trip, since I'm not sure if I'll have the time to continue publishing work while I'm gone, but hopefully this writing challenge will give me the creative boost I need to at least be storyboarding and brainstorming while I'm gone.  

In order to keep myself in the fiction mindset, I've been outlining and storyboarding a bunch related to an older ongoing project that I'm still hoping to finish at some point in time, but I've also been going back to older pieces that I've written a while ago when fiction came a little easier to me, looking at the style, voice, and some of the themes I was working with to see what I can continue to channel into my current work and what I've grown out of.

 

The piece below is one I recently went back to as I've been trying to rediscover and tap into my fiction energy. Originally published in my university's literary magazine three years ago, this piece deals with several darker themes, something that I've oddly always been drawn to in fiction, which is perhaps why I love dystopian and noir works so much. On top of that, it's still one of the better pieces I think I've written, perhaps because it's partially inspired by real life, though I do see myself having grown out of some of the more dramatic elements as I skim through it a few years later. If you were wondering what kind of fiction I skewed towards writing three or four years ago, this piece would be a prime example, haha.

 

--

do you remember?

“Yeah, honey. I’m just leaving now.”

 

Levi Anderson held his phone between his shoulder and his cheek as he navigated down the front steps of Hill Crest Church, the Minneapolis sunset in the background. He lugged a rolling crate overflowing with music books in his right hand, carried a guitar case on his back, and clutched a travel mug of lukewarm coffee in his left as he spoke in puffs of white mist.

 

“What about the kids? Oh, sure. I’ll check. Okay. I love you, Clarissa. See you at home.”

 

He paused near the bottom of the stairs to shove his phone into his coat pocket and then made his way toward the parking lot. Near the front, he approached a green Volkswagen Golf, already surrounded by a myriad of instrument cases and other boxes. With a sigh, he popped the trunk and began loading his car, starting with the things he had just brought out.

 

The cold fall air whistled around him as he packed up all of his things. Reaching up to shut the trunk, he heard the soft crunch of footsteps. Had he forgotten something inside? Before he could turn or say anything, he felt something cold and metallic pressed against the back of his head and drew a surprised gasp.

 

“Don’t turn around.” The higher-pitched, but masculine voice had a forced sternness. “Get in. Drive.”

 

With a racing heart, Levi obeyed, inching toward the driver’s side door. He cracked open the door with a shaking hand and slid in. He heard the door behind him open and shut, the assailant also slipping in, as he started the engine. Was this actually happening?

 

“So where am I going?” Levi glanced in the rearview mirror as he backed out of his space and pulled out of the parking lot. His teeth clattered as he let out focused breaths of mist.

 

“You were about to head home weren’t you?”

 

Levi inhaled deeply, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles as he turned onto the main road running alongside the church.

 

“About thirty minutes or so, if I recall?” the assailant asked in a suddenly conversational tone. “Strange that I still remember, eh, Levi?”

 

Levi no longer felt the muzzle of the gun against his head, but he still resisted the urge to snap around. “Who are you?” he strained himself to maintain a calm tone.

 

“You don’t remember me?” the voice whined. “Oh, Levi, I was sure you would remember me. It’s only been, what, fifteen years now? What a shame. You were so important to me, though.”

 

Levi’s mind started spinning as he made his way down the city streets toward the interstate. “Why don’t I remember you?” his voice was ripe with confusion.

 

The voice gave a bemused chuckle. “People did always mean so much more to me than I ever did to them. It reminds me of you and your siblings, actually. How are Caleb and Rebekah?”

 

“Just fine,” he replied tersely, making an effort not to react physically, but he was wracking his brain for any possible connection.

 

The voice laughed. “Do you still not remember me, Levi?” Then it became stern again, but this time it wasn’t forced. “Well, I better help you remember.”

 

He half expected to have the gun jammed against his temple again, but instead he felt the figure lean forward, his breath on his shoulder as he merged onto the interstate. In the rearview mirror, a sliver of his face was now visible, but all he could see was a single brown eye and dark hair. Still nothing.

 

“I was never cool enough for you to like me in school,” he began, his face to the ground. “I wasn’t athletic. I didn’t like Call of Duty. I was too weird for you.”

 

Levi was speechless.

 

“Remember that basketball tournament your sophomore year? You and all the other guys threw me in the pool in all my clothes and I had to walk all the way back up to my room soaking wet.” He took a deep breath. His voice was pained. “And then your junior year, I was in your room and you told all the guys I was gay because I didn’t want to sleep on the floor.” There was a moment of silence before he spoke again. “Remember now?”

 

Levi swallowed. Bits and pieces had risen to the surface. He did remember, but he couldn’t put a name or a face to any of the incidents.

 

“The same year, you convinced one of my best friends that I was in love with her. She stopped talking to me. The next week she started dating you.” The voice gave what sounded like a stifled sob. “Then at prom, you and the other guys got wasted and hid the bottles in my locker. Remember now?”

 

“I—”

 

“Do you remember?” the figure lurched forward, his voice cracking halfway between a shout and a sob. Levi flinched, his breathing heavy. “Do you remember me?”

 

In his current position, Levi could see most of the figure’s face in the street lights. He barely looked different at all. Same eyes. Same hair. Same everything. His emotion-painted face was just how it had looked fifteen years ago. “Isaac…”

 

“You haven’t completely forgotten me, I suppose,” he whispered, leaning back. As Levi wove onto an exit ramp, Isaac began rhythmically tapping his gun on his knee, the sound of each tap lingering in his ears.

 

“Isaac, I’m so sorry. It was high school and if I had—

 

“Your apology is a little late,” he interjected, suddenly composed again. “Not that it changes anything. You can’t take any of it back.”

 

“Isaac, you don’t have to do this.”

 

“I know,” he answered as Levi pulled up to a red light. He raised his weapon and Levi braced himself, squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his clenched teeth. He heard the gun click empty and then silence before Isaac spoke again. “But I would never stoop that low.”

 

Levi raised his hand to his chest. His heart shook his entire body as he exhaled. “Isaac.”

 

“I just wanted to talk.” His breaths were weak and labored. “I just wanted you to understand.”

 

Levi heard the back door open and snapped around. Isaac stepped out of the car without looking back at him. “Isaac!”

 

Just then, the car behind honked loudly at him. Glancing forward, he saw the light had turned green. Turning around, another car blared its horn as the first sped past him in the next lane, then another and another.

 

“Better get going,” Isaac murmured as he kicked the door shut, meandering toward the oncoming traffic.

 

“Isaac!” Levi voice cracked, but another car led a blurred curtain of vehicles that blocked off his view. “Goodness,” he muttered as he stepped on the gas. Looking back, Isaac was gone, lost in a sea of headlights and metallic sheen.

 

As the street lights passed overhead, he couldn’t get it out of his mind. The gun could’ve been loaded. He could’ve done it, but he hadn’t, even after everything. Yes, he had abducted him at gunpoint, but Isaac had shown more character than he ever had.

 

Levi sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand as he braked and turned onto his street. Pulling into his driveway, he sat there in silence, staring at the clock on the console. He had been right. Thirty-one minutes.

 

Sobered, Levi shut off the engine and dragged himself inside, leaving everything in his car. He flipped on the kitchen light and tossed his keys on the table, leaning back on a chair.

 

“Levi! Oh my goodness!” Clarissa’s voice called as footsteps clomped down the hall.

 

“Hi, honey.” He couldn’t even force a smile. He felt so hollow. “What is it?”

 

“Look what Kira mailed!” she exclaimed, handing him a thin shred of yellowed newspaper. “It’s nearly ten years old so I almost didn’t recognize him, but I could hardly believe it when I did. How did we not hear about this sooner? You do remember, don’t you?”

 

Levi could hardly speak as his eyes glazed over the words. He covered his mouth with his hand and tears spilled from his eyes as he could only nod his head and clench the clipping.

 

Bright college honor student, Isaac Stone commits suicide. October 22, 2003.

broken iPhone screens

After a couple days of writing almost strictly poetry, it feels a little strange to be writing in more of a prose style again today, but then again, I think my prose has always skewed a little more flowery and poetic anyway. The process of writing this piece was almost the reverse of when I wrote 'roses,' trying to originally put this piece through a poetry filter when it ended up emerging as more of a prose piece.  

The initial idea for this piece came to me when I accidentally dropped my phone out of my locker while I was at the gym. At first inspection, all seemed to be well, but as I was getting ready to leave, I noticed some light refraction (really no other way to put it, haha) and realized that I had cracked my screen. My heart sank a little, seeing as I had already shattered my screen earlier this year and gotten it replaced, but my fears were quickly assuaged by a closer look that revealed it was only the glass screen protector that had a crack along its width (at least I think...I put it on slightly crooked, so it doesn't cover the entire right side, and the cracks only extended as far as the border of the glass screen protector, with the actual screen underneath not appearing to have any cracks, fingers crossed).

 

With a sigh of relief, I hurried home and almost immediately ordered another glass screen protector from Amazon to soothe my OCD, which was when I started to think about how much we worry and think about our phones, because any damage is readily visible and because we look at our phones dozens of times every day, while forgetting about so much of the invisible pain and suffering that people around us have gone through that we might never see, especially if it was in their past and they don't talk about it anymore, either because they've overcome it and it's truly behind them or because they live under the pressure of our American society which stigmatizes mental illness or any severe emotional trauma that people may have experienced. Out of those reflections, this piece was birthed.

 

Final thought: I've always been fascinated with pieces of writing, whether entire books, poems, essays, etc. that are titled after one single line or scene from its body, so I played with that a little with this piece.

 

--

broken iPhone screens

Maybe the most painful wounds we endure are the ones we cannot see, and the longest lasting scars the ones hidden beneath the surface of our skin. Because while sticks and stones may break our bones, words are the weapons that strike the soul. But the visual modernity of our minds is completely blind to these battles, and the casualty count is starting to rise.

 

If only we paid as much attention to broken people as broken iPhone screens, we’d be aware of these cardiac spider web cracks reaching into the pulmonary, fracturing our breath, dividing sighs from sobs. No insurance covers these kinds of operations, because this cancer hides beyond the infrared and the ultraviolet, existing in the invisible spectrums where they can be denied out of our conscious thought until they remain only as friendly shadows that cling to us, following us wherever we might dare go. Though banishable by light, our ethereal companions persist with us, because we don’t dare ask for help until, under the weight of these ghastly wraiths, our own selves are on the verge of shattering.

 

Instead, we scorn any outside aid and become the epicenters of our own internal earthquakes, covering up the cracks and emerging hairline fractures with masks made up of coping mechanisms and painted on expressions in an attempt to elicit other emotions from the depths of our being instead. We hide the damage inside to comply with the de facto laws that legalize blood and broken bones while prohibiting sapped spirits or any type of tears as permissible perceptions of pain.

 

Is it any wonder then that attacks to the heart are the leading cause of death, both external and internal, when we hear the death of data behind the sound of shattering glass but remain deaf to the fragmenting of that frail thing within our chests? Perhaps instead of spending so much time studying two-year upgrade cycles, we’d be better off investing in increasing the integrity and resistance of our own race, because while we gain less susceptible strains of Gorilla Glass to surround our screens, we lose the ability to guard what’s truly fragile, and remains of that revolution then is a world where we value external aesthetics and surface sheen while neglecting the internal necrosis that may never be seen and dares us to die from the inside out.

the suicide letter i never wrote

I've debated for a few days now about whether or not I was going to write this post, even before I wrote my last one. Is this reaching too far? Are people going to think that this is just to get attention? Is this even the right thing to do? After thinking for a long time, I decided that this post was indeed necessary for several reasons. It's not pretty, but it's reality. And people need to hear these kinds of things. But most of all, I think that this post needs to exist, because depression and suicidal thoughts are still so invisible. As I wrote in my last post, most people are pretty good at hiding their emotions if they want to, and in a lot of cases, you would never know that someone is contemplating ending their own life. Most people would never have pegged me as someone to have been suicidal, but I was.

That's why this post needed to be written. It might be uncomfortable for some. In fact, I know that it's going to be uncomfortable for some. So, this is your disclaimer. These are not easy things to read; these are dark things, but they are things that need to be said. 

And finally, this post is necessary, because I want to tell anyone who might be reading that if you are in a place like I'm about to describe or if you ever find yourself in a place like the one I'm about to describe, I'm here for you. I understand. You're not alone. Don't forget that. This world is better with you in it. Don't buy the lie that you're better off gone. You are loved. And remember that if things aren't okay yet, then it's not over, so if you're even thinking about questioning that, please talk to me. Your life is worth living to the very end. It's worth it. I promise you it's worth it.

So, this is the suicide letter I never wrote:

Dear Someone,

It’s been a long time. We haven’t talked in quite a while, and I sincerely hope you’re well. It’s been, what, six years after all, and a lot of things have changed since then. I’m graduating college next semester, I’ve adventured around the world, I’ve learned another language, I’ve had boyfriends break up with me, and I’ve even had friends die, so I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t even know what this is about.

This letter is something that I’ve been meaning to write for a long time, and I think I’ve finally decided exactly how I want to say everything that I’ve been holding in for so long. And as a result of how long it’s been, it doesn’t really matter to me if you respond to this at all, as long as you read the whole thing because this is something I need to do to finally lay this chapter to rest. This is your copy of the suicide letter I never wrote. I’m going to be blunt. You played a large role in that.

Did you know that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US? Did you know someone dies by suicide in the US every 13 minutes? That’s a lot of people. And most of the time, it doesn’t look like it does in the movies.

Sometimes it’s a million little things that build up. It’s the teasing. It’s the joking. It’s when you know they’re laughing about you. And it’s when your friends don’t do anything about it. It’s when they tell you to man up or not to take everything so seriously. It’s when you start to feel like a joke, so then you wonder if anyone would miss you if you just disappeared. And then you start thinking about just how you’d do it.

You think about the knives in the kitchen drawer. You look up with veins you’d have to cut and how long it would take. But that might be too messy. So you wonder, what about pills? But you want it to be fast and you definitely don’t want to get sick in the process and risk it not working. What about car exhaust with the garage door closed? You’ve seen that in crime shows before. What about just a plastic bag? Those are the kinds of things that start running through your mind when it all starts to reach its boiling point.

But obviously I’m still here.

Still, that doesn’t mean that everything just goes away because you couldn’t do it. The depression stays. And then the anxiety attacks start. After all, if he was like that, why not everyone else? You start waiting for people to betray you, to drop you just like he did, to just all of a sudden be done with you. And then there goes your ability to trust people, especially other guys, because you’d never want to relive that all over again. You even start to wonder if your complaints and concerns are “valid enough” to be entertained. That’s how most people who’ve reached that point feel, you know. You feel like you should’ve just toughened up a little more. You wonder why it hurts so much, why it matters so much. And then you start to wonder why it was even such a big deal in the first place.

But those are lies. It was a big deal, because the places you’ve been are darker than any you could have ever imagined, and the demons continue to haunt you even after you’ve stepped into the light. They return to torment you in every moment of darkness, every moment of fear. And every time they come, you fight like bloody hell to cast them out again, because you know that if you beat them once, you can do it again this time and the next time and the time after that.

That’s what it looks like, or rather, what it doesn’t look like. Because all of it is unseen. The battles, the wounds, the scars, they’re all invisible, just like the would-be blood on your hands and the hands of others. That’s what it looks like.

That’s what the last six years have looked like.

Actions have consequences and these are the results of yours. So, I don’t care if you say you didn’t know or you didn’t mean to. You don’t get that privilege. You never get to tell the bruised and battered, the survivors, that you didn’t hurt them. Because it’s not about you or your pride or your feelings. It’s about theirs, their struggles, their tears, their pain, not yours. It’s about their life.

And that’s why letters like these are necessary even if they might seem to be the epitome of selfishness. Because letters like these are the result of lives made into hell. Because the survivors don’t get to just graduate high school and move on with their lives. The survivors don’t get to forget about everything that happened in blissful ignorance. No, it continues to follow them everywhere and some remnant of it may continue to follow them for the rest of their lives.

So, yes, perhaps letters like these are a little selfish, but that’s irrelevant and anyone who’s gone through the same things will without hesitation say that they don’t give a damn. Because sometimes letters like these are what it takes to fully heal, to close a chapter of life so riddled with darkness and pain, to finally be able to tell those responsible what kind of part they had in all of it. So, if letters like these are what’s necessary, if letters like these are what survivors, what I need to purge the rest of the darkness, then so be it. Because all I want to do is get rid of the last of the shards of this that are still lodged deep inside me, so I can finally leave that behind.

So at the end of the day and at the end of this difficult letter, I want you to know that I’ve forgiven you, that I’ve forgiven you for all of it. It was absolute agony what happened. I reached a point of feeling like life was no longer worth living, but I’m better from having been goaded to that place. I’m stronger. I’m kinder. I’m wiser. And I’m a survivor.

So, I’m not thanking you for what happened, because I descended into hell and back, but it didn’t destroy me. It didn’t break me. It made me strong. Because sometimes you need the darkness to be able to see the light.

Regards.