Taking Stock: A Compilation of Photos from Shutterstock and Thoughts by The Modern Leper (Alternatively, “A Collage of Catharsis / Real Words, Fake Smiles”)

 

Why should I feel sorry for others if I’m not even supposed to feel sorry for myself?

I hate my body, but not nearly as much as my body seems to hate me.

It’s easier to believe in a God you can blame then it is to accept an indifferent yet unfailingly cruel universe.

Am I shallow for hating myself so much?

Find happiness in the little things, because the big things will invariably let you down.

Is it a sin to give God the middle finger?

If everyone could just stop pretending everything’s okay maybe we wouldn’t feel so guilty about pointing out when it isn’t.

Sometimes I feel like committing suicide if only to validate my own sadness.

The fact that I still haven’t been able to kill myself has now become a source of self-hatred in itself.

Self-pity is exhausting, but I don’t know how to reconcile with all the bad things in my life without giving off the impression that I’m over them.

You will never be everything you could be, far less anything you should be.

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Stepping Through & Looking Back

Stepping Through & Looking Back

“I don’t wish to be excused for this
My disguise and my excuses they have worn so thin
But may I ask, and answer honestly
What would you have done if you were me?”

– Frightened Rabbit, If You Were Me

I grew up an outsider.  Not in anyone else’s eyes, mind you – just my own.  I ostracised myself from society because I believed that I was different, and that being different was bad.  I was never bullied in school, and I was never purposely excluded or made to feel embarrassed, but all the same I never felt like I belonged.

A big part of it was undoubtedly my tumour.  Right from the get-go it steered me towards self-loathing.  When we first discovered it we were forced to move from Trinidad to Canada in order to get the appropriate level of care, and for a long time I blamed myself for the family’s uprooting.  It was a big change, moving from the Caribbean to North America.  There were a lot of stressful moments, and things were far from easy.  I blamed myself when anyone felt homesick, when my siblings had trouble adjusting, when I’d overhear my parents arguing over financial troubles.  That’s a pretty heavy burden for a seven year old kid to hold on his shoulders.

On top of that was school, which only got worse as the effects of my kyphosis, and its hold on my self-confidence, grew.  Whenever I’d look in the mirror I’d see an outsider, so I started to act like one.  I was antisocial, introverted, and weird.  I was the source of my family’s pain, and I was a loser.  Those were the thoughts that ran through my head day in and day out, convincing me of their validity.  Even when people would make an effort to include me, and I’d try and act like one of them, deep down inside some part of me would always know the truth.

Or what I perceived to be the truth.

I convinced myself that I would never be anything more than what my disease defined me as.  I was sure that was all there was to me, and that I would never amount to anything more.  And sure, it’s a great thing to realize that all your fears and worries are just in your head.  But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still there.

It’s one thing to realize that your thoughts can’t be trusted, it’s an entirely different thing to ignore them.  People always tell me that it’s about mental exercise, and that you have to keep the negative thoughts from taking over, but how the fuck do you stop yourself from thinking a thought?  Once you’ve thought it… it’s already there!  You can’t un-think it, you can’t stop yourself from thinking it.  There’s no filter for thoughts like there is for speaking.  Once you’ve had it you’ve had it.

So maybe it was all in my head, but does that diminish its validity?  I don’t know.  Because if I felt that way, then there must be a reason why I felt that way.  You can’t give a seven year old kid a spinal cord tumor and not expect him to come out of it with a few dozen psychoses.  And if feelings of insecurity and instability were the only possible outcome, what’s point in worrying about them?

I can’t just change the way I think and be done with it.  I can’t just erase fourteen years off of my life and pretend it never happened.  I can’t snap my fingers and make all these issues disappear, or suddenly accept that maybe the problem was in me all along and I still have a shot at normality.  I can’t do any of that, and even if I could I wouldn’t know how.

When you’ve spent your entire life trapped in a room by yourself, only to learn one day that the door was open all along, it doesn’t erase all those years spent sitting alone in the dark.  It doesn’t change the things you told yourself in that lonely void, or heal the mental scars of having been shut away for so long.  All it does is expose you to a life you’d forgotten, a foreign and unfamiliar reality which you’ve long since forgotten how to operate in.  And when that happens, when that door finally opens and you walk through, the best thing you can do is take it one step at a time.

Between Paranoia and Perception

Between Paranoia and Perception

Say what you wanna say, any time of day, 
but don’t justify my truths and I,
It’s time for me to change, time for hope 
to bleed, time for love to sacrifice

– Stabilo, Beautiful Madness

A big part of anxiety – a big part of my anxiety, at least – is distrusting other people.  I have trouble believing people’s motivations and intentions are good and true, I have trouble taking the things they say at face value.  When people are nice to me I assume it’s either because they pity me or because they want something.  Probably not the best mentality to have in life, but there you go.

I’m sure part of this inherent distrust for others is a result of the fact that I have trouble trusting even myself: once I realised what I was capable of, it was only a matter of time before I came to the conclusion that everyone else was also capable of such thoughts, acts, feelings.  I know all the dark little motivations people have because I have them myself.  There’s also the matter of my low self-esteem to consider.  When you don’t even like yourself it’s hard to imagine anyone else liking you.  Compliments, companionship, acts of kindness are all met with bitter suspicion – not only do they fall on deaf ears, but they leave me wondering if it isn’t all some malicious joke.

The worst part of all this isn’t even my uncanny ability to rationalise these things – it’s the fact that half the time I don’t even have to try.  Admittedly that’s sort of the point of rationalising: when you’re really good at it you hardly know you’re doing it at all.  But I’d be naive to suggest that that’s all it ever is: my mind, grasping for straws and looking for shadows where they don’t exist.  As much as I’m loathe to admit it, as terrifying as it is to fathom, sometimes the paranoia is nothing more than perception.

No one is perfect.  Most of us try to at least achieve some semblance of goodwill, but at our core we are chaotic beings, prone to contradictions and faults.  Most of us have a decent enough grasp on our actions, but few can claim dominion over our thoughts, over the whispers and the intentions behind our deeds.  What’s worse is it’s rarely even that simple: sometimes we do what we think is right, even if we don’t feel like doing it.  We want to befriend the loner, not because we actually want to be his friend, but because it’s “the right thing to do”.  Our intentions are good, even if they’re not true.

Trying to puzzle out everyone’s intentions will drive you mad.  It’s an exercise in futility because no matter what you’ll never actually know if you’re right or not.  You could go on guessing and calculating till the end of your days, but sooner or later you’re going to have to accept that you’ll never know.  Even confronting them on the issue is ineffective, because unless they openly confess to having ulterior motives (which, let’s be honest, would probably never happen) no amount of reassurances on their part will quell your paranoia.

You can’t go through life living like that, always second-guessing other people’s words and actions.  In the end all you can do is focus on yourself.  Unless given an express reason not to, you need to learn to trust people.  You need to learn to judge them on their actions, and not on any imagined intentions.  It can be hard, exposing yourself to the possibility of betrayal and pain, breaking down your walls and showing them your vulnerability.  But the only thing worse than being betrayed by a handful of people is living under the assumption that you’re being betrayed by all.

As the old saying goes: “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice and you’ve shattered what little faith in humanity I had left, leaving me to roam the Earth in a permanent state of paranoia, incapable of ever trusting another human being again.”

│

The face of a blank white page stares back at me.  I am thankful at least for the small mercy that the screen is not black, lest it be my own blank face which fills my vision.  Nowadays it is no small matter to look myself in the eyes.  Only when I must make myself presentable before a run to the store for provisions and the occasional accidental passing glance do I find myself observing my reflection, and even then I never, ever make eye contact with that other.

The text cursor winks back at me, taunting my stagnation.  Like a metaphor for my motivation it flashes on and off, on and off, caught in a never-ending routine that gets old fast.  It stands out, black and bold and strong against the plain white background, but is swallowed up once more before anything of significance can happen.  Oh, and the best part: when I start to type the line disappears completely, only flickering back into its routine when I’ve run out of things to say.

They tell you the first step in overcoming writer’s block is simply to write.  Just write something.  It doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t matter if it’s any good or not, it just doesn’t matter.  As long as you’re writing.  I call bullshit.  Clearly whoever said that never actually had to struggle through sentence after sentence of unrelenting and unforgiving shit writing.  It’s painful to read, far less to write.  No matter what you do the words just don’t seem to want to work together, the sentences sound bland or repetitive, the whole thing feels forced and fake.  It’s like a sweater that fits too tight, or a piece of food lodged in your throat.  You want to take it off and feel the relief of your constraints being lifted, you want to spit it out and sing, but you can’t.  You’re stuck with it.

The house is empty.  It has been for a while now.  I’ve stopped keeping track of the days as they lazily float by, tiny white boxes on a checkered paper, seven-by-five, month after month, year after year.  It’s all just time, and it no longer has any bearing on my life.  It’s curious how quickly the things that once seemed so important, the fundamentals that made up the basis of your life, the structural guidelines society not only built itself around but thrives upon, fall apart and crumble the second you turn your back on them.  It really gives you a sense of how fragile everything is.

The lights are off, have been off since she left.  The blinds are drawn, haven’t been open for just as long.  As a result the house is always dark.  It makes it easier for me to avoid accidental run-ins with that other, and to turn a blind eye to the mess I’ve been living in.  I’ve been sitting in front of this damned white screen, like a moth to a flame, for as long as I can remember.  It’s the last bit of light left in my world.

I want to smother it out with darkness.

I want to coat it in the oil slick of my black words, to fill it with the dark whispers in my head, to corrupt it and corrode it and beat it senseless simply for being light in a dark world.  I love it.  I envy it.  I hate it.

I know that if I don’t do this, it will leave me too.

“I can’t stand to see you like this,” she told me that day, tears in her eyes.  “You can’t ask me to stand by and do nothing.  I won’t do it.”  I said nothing as she packed her things, standing in the bedroom doorway and watching her work, her body shaking.  I did nothing when she kissed me on the cheek, a gentle caress that felt like goodbye because it was, her lips softly brushing against my skin, her tears wiping off onto my face.  I made no move to stop her as she walked out of the apartment, her suitcase trailing behind, head hanging low.  I didn’t wave as she looked back one last time, just before pushing open the front door and vanishing from my life, her scarf blowing in the wind.

When she was gone I proceeded to trash the place, sweeping ornaments off of tables and counters, whipping dishes against the wall and taking feral satisfaction in watching them break apart, shattering against the wall and falling back to earth in pieces.  I kicked the furniture over, punched holes in the walls, drank myself into a state of inebriation so severe that I was unconscious before my rampage could go any further.

She doesn’t get it, you see.  No one gets it.  They all want another bestselling novel, another critically acclaimed masterpiece, but none of them want to wade through the grime and shit to get to it.  They all want the diamond at the end, but none of them want to press that filthy grit into shape, to have to suffer through the suffocating pressure of it all.

What they don’t understand is that what makes it great is that it’s real.  You don’t just make that shit up.  It comes from an ugly hole inside of you, a festering pit of putrid, rotten filth, like a gaping mouth demanding nourishment.  It is my God, my unforgiving, cruel, merciless God, and it demands sacrifice.

Without warning the laptop dies, and I’m left staring into the eyes of the other.

“No, no, no, no.”  I scramble for the cord, but I lean too far in my chair and it falls, taking me with it.  My head hits the table corner on the way down, and I’m out like a light.

When I come to I’m lying on my side, and directly across from my face is the laptop.

“You know what you did,” the other whispers.  I shake my head, tears welling up in my eyes.

“No.  No, I didn’t know.”

“How could you not have known?”

“I didn’t know!”

“Yes you did.”

“It was an accident!” I scream, slamming the laptop closed with such force that the screen breaks, scattering bits of the broken glass across the floor.  There is a moment of silence, in which my heave breathing seems doubled, and then I see him again in the largest of the broken pieces, staring up at me.

“She was only trying to help, and look what you did.”

“Please, stop.”  I’m sobbing now, tears and snot running down my face.

“LOOK AT WHAT YOU DID!” he screams, and I look.  God help me, I look.  In the dark I can just make out the contours of her figure, lying where I left her.

“It was an accident,” I say again, but now the words sound weak even to me.

“You knew what you were doing.”

“I didn’t, I swear I didn’t.”

“You were stuck in a rut, and you took your frustrations out on her.  She was just trying to help, and look at what you did.”

“I only wanted her to stay.  I didn’t want her to leave.”

“I bet now you’re wishing she had left though, aren’t you?  That’s why you tried to convince yourself she had.  Because you couldn’t face what you’d done.”

“I JUST WANTED HER TO STAY!  God, Jesus Christ, I just wanted her to stay.”

“Well she’s certainly not going anywhere now, is she?”

“LEAVE ME ALONE!”  I grab the piece of glass and bury it in my neck, desperate to stop the voice.  And it does stop, at least for a moment.  Then it comes back, one final taunt barely intelligible from the blood welling up in my throat.

“I’m sorry, can I just cut in here for a second?”

“Hm?  Yeah, sure, go ahead.”

“Well, it’s just that… look, I’m not going to sugar coat it, Bill.”

I laugh.  “That’s what you’re here for, Mike.”

“Right, well- the psychotic writer plagued by his own demons, it’s been done before.  A lot.  Honestly by this point is a well-exhausted cliché.  And the story has no flow.  One minute it’s a monologue on writer’s block, the next it’s straight dialogue between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?  I mean, come on.”  He grins, realizes he’s being a dick, and tries again.  “Look, we know- I know, that from someone like you, this is fodder.  Compared to your old stuff?  This is amateur hour, Bill.  It’s good, but…”

“But not from someone of my caliber,” I finish.  He raises his palm in my direction, as if displaying what I’d just said.

“Exactly.  Not from someone of your caliber.  Truth is, you can do better.  I know it, you know it, everyone knows it.”

“So, scrap it?”

“Well… maybe not scrap it, but definitely back shelf it for now.  I’m sure we can work it into a short story anthology or something later on the line.  We’ll see what comes up.  Alright?”

“Alright.  Hey, thanks Mike.  I can always count on you to be honest with me.  Brutally so,” I add, and we laugh.  We talk a little longer, finishing our coffees and discussing other things, and then we say our farewells.

“Oh, Bill?” he asks, just as I’m turning to leave.

“Yeah?”

“What’s with the scarf, man?  It’s like, thirty degrees out there.”

I grin, making a bow.  “Dramatic effect,” I tell him, still bowing as I back out of his office, passing just beneath the mirror on his wall.

All the Way Up

All the Way Up

When you go up a bit, you gain.  When you go down a bit, you feel disappointed, gloomy, lost.  You can go all the way down to death, yet somehow there seems to be a difficulty in getting all the way up.

– Alan Watts

Life doesn’t end when you’re happy.  It’s not some game where the goal is to reach happiness, and when you do it ends.  I keep expecting this moment at which I realise “okay, yeah, I’m better now.  I’m happy.”  But that’s not how it works.  It’s just… life.  It’s existence.  You exist, and you continue to exist until you don’t.  It’s as simple as that.  No matter how bad or how good things get, there will always be a tomorrow, until there isn’t.

There are ups and downs, there are points where you’re not sure which you are and you’re left scrabbling in the dirt trying to find something that doesn’t exist, doesn’t need to exist.  One of the greatest struggles in life is not feeling sad, it’s not knowing whether or not you’re happy.  In today’s society happiness is synonymous with not only well-being but success.  “If you’re not happy, you’re not doing it right”.  The pressure of being able to answer “are you happy?” with a resounding “yes!” is quite possibly the source of more unhappiness than any other non-material reason.

People think that if you’re not resolutely, definitively happy, you’re doing something wrong.  They get so hung up on trying to achieve said happiness that they completely miss the point.  The beauty of happiness lies in its impermanence, and in the fact that it cannot be bought.  Searching for happiness is a paradox in that it defeats the very concept of the emotion.  You cannot find happiness: happiness finds you.

“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you.  But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

– Henry Thoreau

Happiness is not a thing in itself: it is a reaction to things.  And sure, you can try to surround yourself with the right stimuli, but it goes a lot further than that.  A big part of what makes happiness so appealing is the pleasant surprise it offers us, in that we never really know when it will strike.  Because while it’s true that certain stimuli can encourage happiness, it’s not because there is intrinsic happiness to be found within them.  The pleasure we find in certain actions, experiences, and objects is within us – and yet remains inexplicably (and often frustratingly) outside of our own control.

Trying to have a positive outlook on life, refusing to dwell on the negative, surrounding yourself with the right stimuli – these are all reasonably effective ways to increase your happiness, but only so long as you accept that no matter what you do it will never last forever.  If you allow your life to be controlled by an endless pursuit of contentment the strain of such an impossible goal will nullify any successes you have.

Life is not a path towards pure, lasting happiness.  It’s just life.  The majority of our time on this Earth isn’t spent oscillating between varying degrees of emotion- it’s spent simply existing.  Happiness is just an occasional (and often brief) respite from the otherwise uncategorised day-to-day living.

The pressure to be happy, fully-functioning members of society is nothing more than a pipe dream: an unachievable goal meant to keep people on their feet.  It’s a false promise of gold at the end of a rainbow of lifelong servitude and struggle.  We’re raised to believe that if you work hard, pay your dues and act the way you’re supposed to act then eventually you’ll achieve a state of comfortable happiness.  Without this goal in mind people would have one less reason to slip into society’s mould of the perfect citizen, the perfect person.

The truth is this: there are no perfect people.  No one is happy all the time, and no one should expect or be expected to feel that way.  You can’t go through life constantly trying to put a gauge on your happiness, constantly asking yourself “Am I happy?  Am I happy?” because chances are you’re not- and that’s okay.  A big part of life is simply living, whether you feel happy or not, whether you feel any definitive emotion or not.  You could be the happiest in your life right now and you’d still wake up tomorrow, almost assuredly back at square one.  Life doesn’t end when you’re happy.

So don’t stress yourself out trying to determine if you’re happy, or figuring out why you’re not.  Take each moment in stride, appreciate it for what it is.  Find solace in knowing that times of struggle won’t last, and learn to appreciate happiness while you have it for the very same reason: it will not last, so enjoy it while you have it.

Update # 15 – Stepping Stones

Update # 15 – Stepping Stones

I’ve had a lot to think about these past few weeks, not least of all where I want to go with this blog.  I didn’t consciously decide to take any time away from the writing, but sometimes when life gets in the way of something it’s a good idea to use it as an opportunity to step back and really look at what you’re doing.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but what it really does is put things in perspective.

Just to be clear, I haven’t stopped writing – far from it, in fact, because progress on my novel (quality-wise, not so much quantity) has been better than ever.  I’ve solved several plot-holes, laid the foundation for more solid story lines, and uncovered several key truths about my characters.  The work has been slow but rewarding, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.  My writing isn’t in question: the blog is.

The last non-repost/scheduled content I published on this blog had me grappling with where I wanted to take things.  Settle for casual blogging and lose the expectations, or dig in and make it work for me.  Fight my writer’s ego and accept that this is just a hobby, or struggle with the stress and the anxiety that comes with the pressures of blogging out of necessity.

My little trip down memory lane had an unexpected consequence: I was drifting away from the blog long before I actually stepped away.  The lack of fresh material on my part made it a lot easier for me to disengage, and by the time real life got busy I was all too eager to use “no time” as my excuse for the lapse in blogging.  The truth is I’d lost interest, lost sight of my initial intentions for this blog: no intentions at all.

Back when I first started there were really no expectations – no outside expectations, at least.  No one was reading anything I wrote, and I didn’t give a damn.  It felt good just to put it out there, to get it off my chest.  Sharing my work was a bonus: what I really wanted was to share my feelings.  The blog showcased all the things I couldn’t say anywhere else, couldn’t tell anyone else.  It was a venting platform, pure and simple.

It was only as I began to get traction, to get regular readers and meet people whose own blogs I read in turn, that complications arose.  Soon I was tracking followers and likes, engaging with the community on a whole new level.  I was far from obsessive, mind you, and it wasn’t like it was a problem.  But I lost touch with that initial honesty, that quiet self-care.  If I’d upped and gone in those early days, no one would have noticed.  There’s something kind of beautiful about that kind of anonymity, about that level of casual detachment.

It’s only now that I realise just how much I miss it.  I’m not ignorant to the benefits of being involved: the feedback, the support, the friendship.  This blog has been instrumental in my growth and development not only as a writer, but as a person.  It will always be among my most important stepping stones in life, but I can’t make it my platform.  There are far more steps to take, and for all its charms this one is far too small for what I have planned.

I’m going to take this blog back to its roots: a casual place where I can express my thoughts and feelings without engaging any ulterior motives.  This doesn’t mean I’ll intentionally step away: it just means I’ll only do as much as I feel motivated to do.  If I’m not feeling particularly keen on checking in for a while, I won’t.  If I don’t feel inspired to write, I won’t.  If I feel like sharing more fiction, I will.  If I feel like keeping you up-to-date on my novel, I will.  The main thing is that I don’t feel required to do anything.  I refuse to be motivated by stress or my own fears of perceived outer expectations.  From here on out, I’ll only be checking in when and if I feel like I have something to share (or if I’m in the mood for some of my friends’ work).

Maybe I’m still uncomfortable with being tied down.  Maybe the modern leper in me is still itching for an amputation, and squirms at the thought of settling.  Maybe it’s his voice in my ear, weaving tales of romantic detachment.  It’s entirely possible this is nothing more than fears of inadequacy, doubts on whether or not I could handle taking things to new levels.  But if that’s the case then I need that casual safe-space all the more for it.  This is going to be the battleground on which I tackle my insecurities and anxieties, and I can’t be adding fuel to the very fire I’m trying to fight.

 

Memoir into Madness / Ashes

Memoir into Madness / Ashes

She’s the girl you see in lecture hall, the one at the far end of the room with whom you make brief eye contact once and whose eyes haunt you night after night as you lie awake in bed staring up into the darkness. She’s the girl you pass by as you make your way down the airplane’s rows, looking for your seat, and who occupies your thoughts the entire flight though you never see her again. She’s the girl you pass in a crowd, whose face seems to draw your gaze like a moth to a flame just before it is blown out by the wind, as much gone from sight as it isn’t from mind.

You pass her and you find yourself thinking, I could love you. I could be there for you, I could know you, I could hold you in the night and stand by you in the day. You imagine a life together, you construct a personality for her and a situation in which you happen to start up a conversation, and your eyes meet and you fall in love. The flame is gone, but the fire’s only just started.

It hits you one day, but you only recognize it later if at all, like the delayed development of a bruise from a punch inflicted during a drunken bar fight several nights before. The faces have piled up, the stories lie atop one another like slides on a projector, each word and letter blurred and unidentifiable from the next, until all that is projected is a mess, a shapeless blob of dark figures faceless in the crowd. You forget where fiction ends and reality begins, and some days you can’t distinguish memories from imaginations, fantasies from realities. But the faces keep coming, the stories keep rolling out. I could love you. You fall for face after face, and some of the old ones make reappearances, surely a sign that they are significant, a sign that you are meant to be. Coincidence is a foreign concept, fate is all you know, blind to the irony of your own ignorance, the tragic flaw in your beliefs ever evasive beneath your nose.

You’re convinced in the existence of true love, of destiny, and yet the impossibility of this is reflected in each face you fall for. But you ignore it, so preoccupied with falling in love that you don’t realize that you’re not. And the fire rages on.

You no longer sleep at night, spending the time vainly sorting through the stories, trying  to organize and sort them in order of likelihood and appeal. Your days are no better, and you lose your grip on life as you trade it for something that doesn’t exist. You feel alienated from the world, which inexplicably remains stagnantly contradictory to the fantasies you entertain, as though it has betrayed you.

You stop making eye contact with the people you pass by, afraid you’ll feel that all-too familiar click again, that brief cry which echoes on inside your skull for an eternity afterwards, adding to the already deafening screams of those who have already contributed. I could love you. You fear your head will split open at the seams if you fall another time, and whether through your own imaginings developing a placebo effect or simply a symptom of the sleep deprivation, you suffer raging migraines on a regular basis. Your appearance acts as a reflection of your descent: your eyes are permanently shadowed, the sockets hollowed; your skin pale and at times clammy; and your hands shake so violently that you have developed a habit of firmly gripping onto whatever is in reach to still them, lest they betray your weakness.

The fire consumes you. Soon you stop going out in public altogether, only making runs for food and other necessities before scurrying back to your room like a rat fearing capture. You imagine you can feel them staring at you, their eyes boring holes into the back of your skull, cracking open the bone and exposing the stories hidden beneath, pouring through the holes and flowing out into the air like black ink in water. Your secrets, exposed. Vulnerable. You start imagining that you can hear their thoughts, their cruel whispers behind your back as you pass, hissing their contempt for you. They can see it, they know you are pathetic, you are unlovable, you are unfaithful. They see you for what you are and they laugh and sneer.

You sit on the edge of your bed and pick through your stories, broken and incomplete, feebly lifting them like dead things, half expecting them to come to life in your hands. But when you loosen your grip they drift downwards like fragile, crumpled ashes, as lifeless as they were from the start. They litter the ground, empty husks and hollow duplicates of something living and beautiful. They offer you no consolation. You stare down at the fragments of lives you have never lived and will never live, and you whisper five words, your voice hoarse and broken, scarcely more than an exhale, the sound of a dying flame, the final snuff of a fire as it is forever extinguished.

I could have loved you.