Perverse Satisfaction

“Shut down the gospel singers and
Turn up the old heartbreakers
I’m dying to tell you that I’m dying here.
Throw up the sickly joy and I’ll
Swallow the sweet self-loathing
I’m just dying to be unhappy again”

– Frightened Rabbit, Nitrous Gas

There was a time when I would have forsaken my own happiness for the sake of some misguided sense of self.  Life had dealt me a shitty hand, and goddamnit the world was going to know.  I took pride in holding that grudge, and a perverse satisfaction in spitefully clinging to the sadness.  The world wanted me to be a tragedy?  Fine.  I could play that part, and I could play it well.

Somewhere alone the way I decided that if the world was going to knock me down I wouldn’t get back up.  Even as it offered me hand after hand of opportunity and possibility, I stayed down.  I refused to accept its apology.  So I held on tight to the darkness it had thrown me into, refusing to look at the light.  I wanted people to know that there aren’t always happy endings, that sometimes life just sucks.  I wanted to teach people the lesson I had learnt all too early, and I would do it even if it was the last thing I did.  Even if it meant sacrificing my own life, my own shot at happiness.

I took satisfaction in being the tragedy, in being the cautionary tale.  In the sadness I knew who I was.

But I don’t want to be that person anymore.  Sure, the lesson still stands, but the world doesn’t need my help to make it any shittier- it does a fantastic job of that on its own.  If life is going to drag me through the mud then it’ll do it regardless of my own efforts, and I’d rather spend the time between sadness feeling happy.  I’ll take as much as I can get, because before long it’ll be gone again.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still scared.  I’m scared of trying and I’m scared of failing.  I’m scared of the not-knowing, of the uncertainty that comes with foreign territory.  I’m scared of putting myself out there and getting hurt, because it’s easier to live with the hurt you know than it is to risk the one you don’t.  I’m terrified of that.

But I’m also thrilled by it.

The Cashier

The Cashier

The cashier sits behind the desk and watches the world go by. Every now and then someone buys a Twinkie or comes in to pay for gas or asks for the keys to the washroom, and the cashier will smile and nod and say yes of course and thank you very much and the transaction completed the person leaves, and the semblance of life behind that dead-eyed glaze fades away. It wouldn’t take much to see past the mask; just a second of eye contact and it would be clear to anyone who cared to notice that the cashier is dead inside, has been dead inside for longer than they can remember. And yet somehow, due to the miracle of life, the cashier keeps on living, keeps on breathing, keeps on walking. Every day the cashier wakes up at 9:00AM, takes a shower, has cereal for breakfast, goes to work for 10:30AM, has a lunch break at 12:30PM and gets back to work at 1:00PM, completes the shift at 6:00PM and heads home, sticks a frozen dinner package in the microwave for the appropriate time, stirs it in a counter-clockwise motion with the fork when it’s done, sits in front of the television eating, then goes to bed. Like a body set to rest in a coffin one size too small, the cashier’s existence has been forced into a day-by-day routine which, while extremely uncomfortable, would take nothing short of a miracle to be freed from.

The cashier is not broken-hearted, has not recently lost a loved one, has never been diagnosed with depression or any other major medical disorder. There is no real reason for the cashier’s state, nothing the coroners or the newspapers will be able to point to and say “there: there it is, that’s why.” The closest anyone will ever come to the reason is when one of the cashier’s co-workers shrugs and says “life” in response to the rhetorical “how could this have happened” posed by another co-worker.

Life. Life is what has happened to the cashier. Things simply never fell into place for them. They never found something that interested them to the point of wanting to do it for the rest of their life, they never found someone they loved, or someone who loved them back. They never had a serious hobby, they never found that one thing that makes them feel alive. Things just didn’t fall into place. They fell apart.

There was never anything to distract the cashier from life, from the everyday toil of living. There was never any real reason not to enjoy life, except for the fact that life itself is not enjoyable. It is only when we find things to enjoy that we are content; everything else is just convincing yourself not to think about the unthinkable until you move on to the next distraction.

The cashier sits behind the desk and thinks about what they have decided to do once they get home. It’s the first real major decision they’ve committed to in a long time. The decision has no overall effect on the cashier’s behaviour or attitudes; it’s always been there, lurking just beyond the darkness in the cashier’s mind, waiting patiently for the day when the light would come on and reveal it, accept it. It’s always been there. It’s there in all of us. The cashier still smiles when customers come in, still makes the same lighthearted remarks when customers purchase something out of the ordinary worth acknowledging, still wishes people a good day and a good afternoon and a good night as they leave. The only difference is that now there is a sense of relief, of finality, of closure. Everything is on the table now. There’s nothing to hide, nothing to deny. The light is on, and what was once in the shadows, ignored and denied, is now welcomed inside and greeted like an old friend.

The cashier goes home, and sticks a frozen dinner package in the microwave for the appropriate time, stirs it in a counter-clockwise motion with the fork when it’s done, sits in front of the television eating, then goes to bed. There is a bottle of pills on the bedside table. It is empty.

Update# 14 – Thnks Fr Th Mmrs

Well there are (I think) 5 more fiction pieces to go in our little trip down memory lane, which is probably for the best because I’m feeling a little lost at the moment, and coming back to writing new posts on a regular basis might be good for me.  I’ve also come back to the Fiction Analyses, something I’ve been neglecting for some time now.  Right now I’m working on The Arboretum’s analysis, but there’s no guarantee it’ll be done anytime soon.

I’ve also come to a decision on Utopia, one which may change later.  I think I’m going to keep sharing it, at least for the time being.  Simply put: I like sharing it.  I know I got a little defensive when there was a lapse in the feedback last time, and I’m still wrestling down my ego to try and fix that, but you have to understand that this thing is my brainchild, and when have you ever known someone not to get a little crazy when it comes to their children?  As far as most parents are concerned the sun shines out of their kid’s ass, and metaphorical-writer parents are no different.  Still, it has less to do with that and more with my crippling insecurities, so I’ve got a lot to work on.

All that aside, I still enjoyed sharing it, especially when you guys gave feedback.  So I’ll resume sharing them in parts, picking up where we left off at Chapter 2.  This might not be for a while though, so don’t get too excited just yet.  I also might start sharing old posts on a more regular basis, because hey, why not?  They’re not doing anyone any good just rotting away in the back of the archives, so bringing them out into the light again seems the most logical course of action.

Okay, that’s all for now.  More to come later.

Good luck out there,

– TML

The Arboretum

The Arboretum

“I can’t stop thinking about her. I mean, we hardly know each other, but… it’s like I’ve known her all my life. I know it sounds stupid, but it’s true. I just… I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you just ask her out then?” His eyes flick up to meet the therapist’s, intense and irritated.

“You’re joking, right?”

“You never know-”

“Oh, don’t give me that ‘you never know until you try’ bullshit. I mean, shit, I already know you’re a therapist; you don’t have to keep throwing out cliché’s like that, especially stupid ones. You and I both know why I can’t ‘just ask her out’. You of all people know that best.”

“If that’s what you think. Personally I disagree, but…” he shrugs. “I just think you shouldn’t give up so easily. Who knows? She might surprise you.”

“Even if… look, even if by some miracle she did feel the same way, I’m not… ready for a relationship. I can’t… I wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of emotional stress.” His speech is littered with sighs and huffs, like the breaks in an old record that just keeps playing the same song over and over, desperate to be turned.

“Fair enough. So what do you plan on doing then?”

“I don’t know, doc,” he says, glaring. “That’s kind of why I’m talking to you, isn’t it? So you can tell me what to do?”

“Actually, no. I’m just here to listen, and to offer up suggestions where I see fit. But I already gave you my suggestion for this particular problem.”

“Alright, well give me another, why don’t you?”

“You’re certain you don’t want to be in a relationship with her?”

“Of course I want to be in a relationship with her, but I also want to commit suicide, remember? Sometimes what we want isn’t what we need. Or don’t need, in this case. I just… I want to stop having feelings for her. For anyone, really. I can’t take it anymore, alright? At this point I’d rather feel nothing than feel anything at all.”

“That’s certainly a bold statement to make. Are you sure that’s how you feel?”

“No!” he shouts, pounding his fist on the desk and making the therapist’s pens shake in their mug. The therapist, having seen it all before and worse, does not so much as blink. The boy takes in a shaky breath, slumping back in his seat once more with an air of defeat. “No,” he says again, this time whispering the word. The expression on his face is indicative of hopelessness and exhaustion, as though the outburst has drained him. “Don’t you get it? I’m not sure how I feel. I’m not sure of anything. That’s why I don’t want to feel anything; then I would know. Then I wouldn’t have to be sure.” The therapist is silent for a moment.

“Have you been to The Arboretum yet?” he says eventually, picking up one of his pens and idly, casually fondling it.

“The what?”

“The Arboretum. It’s a lovely park east of campus. Beautiful this time of year. Late enough into autumn that the trees are all colourful, but early enough that they haven’t fallen yet. Not to mention it’s still fairly warm out. It’s a wonderful place to spend some time alone, to reflect on things and whatnot. I’d highly recommend it.”

That was how he found himself standing at the entrance, looking down the path to the other end. Almost as if the therapist’s words had been prophetic, it had turned out to be a beautiful day: the air was still, the sun was out, and there was only the faintest hint of a chill in the air, the promise of the coming winter. He looked out over what he could see of the park, and decided, somewhat begrudgingly, that the trees did indeed look beautiful.

It was the fifth week of university, and things had started off surprisingly well. His old therapist had warned of the dangers of a change in surroundings, of experiences, of his life as a whole, but he had also mentioned that the change might do him some good. The problem was that with such a drastic adjustment things would either go one way or the other, and for people suffering from depression things hardly ever went in the up direction.

“Call me whenever you need to talk,” his therapist had told him on the day of their last session. “You still have my number, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Good.” He had clasped the boy by his shoulders, giving him a quick once-over, trying to hide the worry in his eyes. “You’ll do good. You hear me? You’ll do good. You’re a good student, as long as you apply yourself, and the change in scenery might very well do you some good. Just keep your head up, and remember to call me the moment you feel it creeping in. Don’t try to be brave; you’re already brave as it is and you don’t need to prove it to anyone. The second you feel it creeping in you call me. Do not wait it out. Okay?”

“Okay,” he had said, fighting back the sob waiting in his throat, eager to be heard.

“Good boy. You’ll do fine.” He had hugged him then, which might have been a little unprofessional, but as his therapist of all of four years he doubted anyone could have blamed him. And now the tears did come, and he gave a little sniffle, his face buried in the shoulder of his therapist’s coat. He had felt safe, protected. And then they had separated, and he saw that the therapist’s eyes were misty too. He gave him an apologetic smile, and they shared one last laugh. “Be good to your new therapist, you hear? We went to university together; he’s really quite a good guy. Give him some time. Let him in. Don’t make him go through the entire painstaking process of prying you open that I had to go through. You hear me?”

“Yes,” he had said, his head nodding. “Yes.”

Yes. But he’d been unable to keep his word. His new therapist had turned out to be nothing like his old one. He wasn’t funny, or sympathetic, or amiable. He was detached, distant, cold, calculating. And even if he had been better, the boy didn’t think he would have been able to see past the feelings of resentment he harboured for him, simply for not being his old therapist.

But even after the bad first impression with the therapist, things had still been good. Better than they had been in years, in fact. He had made new friends, settled in to his residence comfortably, enjoyed his classes. Most of the time he was so busy that he would completely forget that he suffered from depression, that he had a mental disorder, that he was different. For the first time in his life, he felt like he belonged.

Then he had met her. They were in the same residence, and had several classes together. He had seen her around several times before, and something about her had made an impression on him. It was inevitable, really. Eventually, quite by chance, they struck up a conversation. It was on the way back to their residence after a class that they found themselves walking beside one another. And before he even realized what had happened, he was in love. The revelation came to him two days later, lying in bed at night and staring up at the ceiling, which one of the previous residents of his room had covered in dozens of those sticky glow-in-the-dark stars you could buy at the dollar store.

It was when he realized that he was in love that the real trouble began. Suddenly he couldn’t stop thinking about her, couldn’t think about anything else. When he was with her things were great, better than great, but like a lantern in the night when she was gone the darkness would descend upon him and swallow him up, making him feel more alone and lost than ever before. It was as though he had finally gotten used to living in the dark, and then suddenly she had come into his life and changed all of that, reintroduced him to happiness, to the light. And when she was gone he was all the more aware of the darkness, once more susceptible to its effects, the effects he had just gotten used to, had begun to learn to cope with.

And then suddenly things weren’t so good anymore.

The wind picked up, scattering several yellow and red leaves across his path. He shivered, an unconscious reaction that had nothing to do with the temperature, and stirred from his thoughts. Okay, he told himself, don’t think about any of that. You’re here to distract yourself from your problems, not rub them in. He started to walk without knowing where he was going, simply allowing his feet to take him down what appeared to be the main path. The road broke off into smaller trails in front of him, but he kept on going forward, deciding he would make it to the end first and then see about exploring the smaller ones later.

He passed by people walking their dogs, couples walking hand in hand or arm in arm, with eyes for nothing but one another, old people bundled up tight in weathered coats and jackets that you could tell had seen them through many winters, their faces obscured by oversized sunglasses, joggers whose hot and heavy breaths stained the air like miniature clouds that dissipated into the world they were born into only seconds after their creation. Some of the people he passed would give him a smile, and before long he was returning those smiles, sincerely if not consciously.

He stopped for a moment to watch the antics of three squirrels, chasing one another up and down trees, back and forth in the grass. He knew chances were they were probably fighting over food or territory or something, but he told himself that they were just playing.

Eventually he came to a pond in a small sectioned-off area of the park, hosting several signs that warned of the dangers of stepping on the stones, which were allegedly unstable. He made his way over to the bench in the middle of the area, sitting down and closing his eyes. He sat like that for a moment, each deep breath of cold air like a cleansing wave that swept over his mind, erasing all his thoughts until his head was clear. When it felt right he opened his eyes, looking around as though expecting some sort of visible change to the world, but finding nothing. He stayed a moment longer before standing, the joints in his legs complaining from the cold.

Further along he found a fountain, hidden behind a wall of hedges that ran alongside its border. The pumps were still running, but he decided they would probably shut them off once the temperatures dropped low enough for the water to freeze. There were four statues standing at each corner of the fountain, and it seemed to him that they were watching over it, cold sentinels indifferent to the water’s antics. He looked at each of them in turn, and then took his place among them at the head of the fountain. He watched as the water shot upwards into the air, breaking off into individual droplets but still a part of something greater, never wholly separated from the water as a whole, always readily accepted back into the masses once their flight ended, cascading back down through the air and getting lost in the sea of thousands of droplets just like them, inescapable from the masses.

He walked down the smaller paths, among hedges and flowerbeds and modern art and benches dedicated to people long gone. He wondered what they thought of that, that their legacy was summed up in a plaque on a bench in a park, a name that might be ignored by those who sat there or read by others but almost always forgotten, always lost in a sea of names, all indistinguishable from one another without a face, a hand, an identity to nail it too, and he wondered if they thought anything of that at all, or if there was nothing to think.

He walked under the trees, under the beautiful canopy of colours, the light filtering through and colouring the world around him in a sea of hues, all warm colours despite the chill in the air, in his bones. He wondered about the irony of that, and decided that if he had been a writer he could have found a good metaphor in there somewhere, but as it was decided not to look too deep into it, and left it for some other poor sap to find, to ponder.

He marvelled at the beauty around him, of the tiny snapshots of life, and suddenly it occurred to him that he wanted to share it with someone. And of course he thought of all the couples he had seen pass by, and he thought of her. He reached into his pocket for his phone, what he would say already taking shape in his head.

And then he stopped.

And then his grip loosened, then released entirely, and he let the phone slip from his hand back into his pocket.

And he continued to explore the park, alone.

Six days later he found himself sitting in his therapist’s office, staring at a painting hung on the wall directly above and behind the psychologist’s head. The painting is abstract, but sometimes we don’t need to understand something to know what it means.

They’ve been sitting in silence since he came in, the boy staring absently at the painting and the therapist staring intently at the boy.

“You knew,” the boy says eventually, his voice soft.

“Yes.”

“You knew it would… change me.”

“Yes.”

“…How?” The therapist shifts in his chair, and the resulting sound of leather rubbing against leather is reminiscent of an awkward childhood that no one will ever talk about, that no one will ever acknowledge, will ever make eye contact with. Sometimes it’s just too late for a wound to be bandaged. Sometimes when it heals it becomes a callus, and nothing more ever comes of it.

“It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t know what I wanted,” the boy says, his voice quiet and submissive and indifferent. “I didn’t know.”

Eventually, maybe in another week or two or even three, The Arboretum will grow cold, and people will stop coming, and it will be empty. And even when spring rolls around again, something will have changed, something that the returning warmth will never be able to thaw.

Fiction Analysis: Sandman

I cannot go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.

– Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)

Sandman

Inspiration:

There isn’t much to say with regards to this story’s inspiration, because I have no coherent memory of actually coming up with the idea for this one.  I sat down one day and the words just poured out of me.  I completed it in one sitting, which is pretty impressive by my standards: usually I’ll drag out the writing process for weeks or even months at a time until my motivation is all but gone.  Despite the lack of planning it still ended up having a lot of depth, and I’m really happy with how it came out.

The closest thing I have to offer by way of inspiration is that I like beaches and I like existentialism.

Summary & Meaning:

The first thing you have to understand is that this entire story is metaphorical.  The beach isn’t real: it’s a metaphor for time in a non-linear form.  The narrator has died, and the beach he stands on is the middle ground for his entire life, stretched out before him in past, present, future.

In the first paragraph he describes the place he’s currently standing, a.k.a. the present.  He describes how the water rushes up, wiping away all the impressions he’s made in the sand.  There are two ways to interpret this: in the first the water represents death, and the imprints he’s left in the sand are him, symbolic of his life being swept away.  The second interpretation is on a slightly larger scale: the water represents the passing of time, and the impressions are the sum of the impact of his life on earth.  Both are a little depressing, perhaps, but from his standing point he sees it as a cleansing process, a chance to do away with any earthly sense of self-importance or ego.

“The water rushes up with a sound akin to that of a mother’s call, familiar and comforting in its embrace, and as it washes up over my ankles soaking the cuffs of my rolled-up jeans, the earth beneath me shifts and I sink deeper into the ground.”

From the void we are born, and to the void we return.  The water (the void, or simply death) comes for him with open arms, a mother welcoming her child with open arms.

He then looks to his left, to a young couple sitting on the beach.  This is his past, a vision of him & his lover in their glory days.

“The nearest of my neighbours are to my left, close enough that I can see them but far enough that they are out of reach, a memory in passing as I look over my shoulder. It is a young couple, lying on a beach towel, in one another’s arms as they stare out over the sunset.”

Naturally this vision has him feeling very nostalgic, and he gets pretty emotional.  He releases a single tear, a testament to the time they spent together (it’s quality, not quantity, otherwise he’d be an absolute mess with snot and tears and shit just running down his face), and then nods, releasing the tear in a proper farewell.  There’s a whole thing about the tear falling into the ocean and becoming part of something bigger, but I’ll leave that up to your interpretation.

He then turns right, to the future without him.  He sees a mother and her two children, and (you guessed it) this is his wife and children, living on after he’s gone.  They’re farther away, and the image is blurry because the future is harder to see than the past, but their presence is powerful nonetheless.  She looks up (she can’t actually see him, of course), and he waves to her, saying his final farewell.  She raises her arm and waves as well, but not physically- it’s a symbolic farewell, one that means she’s finally moving on from grieving, accepting that he’s gone and coming to peace with that fact.

 Though I know she cannot see me, I still feel my heart flutter as a chill runs through my body.  I smile, and now the tears flow freely, and I know what must be done.  I stare a moment longer, the wind tugging at my clothes, picking up particles of sand that sting against my skin.  And then I raise my arm, and I wave.  She stares a moment longer, and then, though I cannot see it, she raises her arm too.

He begins to dissolve into sand, becoming a part of the beach and taking his place amongst the entire history of man, amongst something greater than himself.  He looks back at the footprints he’s left in the sand, at his past, and smiles.  But the last thing he sees are the footprints that lie before him, the footprints of his wife and children, who will continue on long after he’s gone.

Sandman

Sandman

My feet sink into the surface of the shore, the sensation of thousands of grains shifting beneath my weight strangely relaxing.  I wiggle my toes, massaging the cold, damp sand around and further disturbing the perfection of its smooth surface.  The water rushes up with a sound akin to that of a mother’s call, familiar and comforting in its embrace, and as it washes up over my ankles soaking the cuffs of my rolled-up jeans, the earth beneath me shifts and I sink deeper into the ground.  The wave withdraws back to the safety of the ocean and in its wake all the imperfections I’ve dug into the sand disappear, mended by the gentle caress of the water.  The sun dips down into the horizon, the first of its body disappearing beneath the waves far off in the distance, and what remains is like a drop of food colouring in a glass of water, the dyes spreading out across the sky as the light is soaked up by the mass of clouds, reflecting into a beautiful blend of purple and yellow and orange shades.  The water is cold, not so much that it is uncomfortable to stand in, but enough that the beach is almost empty, even more so now that the sun is setting.

The nearest of my neighbours are to my left, close enough that I can see them but far enough that they are out of reach, a memory in passing as I look over my shoulder.  It is a young couple, lying on a beach towel, in one another’s arms as they stare out over the sunset.  They are quiet, the kind of quiet that takes years of being together to master, the kind of quiet that resides in comfort rather than awkward pauses, the kind of quiet that is not passed with the panicked attempts at an attempt to revive a dying conversation but rather which calmly buries it in passing and moves on to the next one, hand in hand and heads touching, silent in their understanding of one another.  I look back at them and smile, my eyes welling with tears.  A single drop escapes, rolling down my cheek and hanging briefly on the ridge of my chin.  I bow my head in a kind of nod, and the drop falls, caught up in a rising wave and carried back to sea, lost among the millions of other stories like it, becoming part of something more, something greater than itself.

I turn my head to my right, where a single mother and her two young children, a boy and a girl, play at the water’s edge.  They are well away from where I stand, their figures little more than blurs of movement in the distance.  Even so, their delighted laughter carries across the beach as they skip in and out of the waves in the shallows, the water just above their ankles.  The mother chases her children playfully, their shrieks of joy punctuating a symphony of seagull cries and the soft roar of the ocean meeting the land.

She looks up suddenly in my direction, standing up straight and tall.  Her children pay no mind, continuing their game with one another as they run circles around her still figure.  Though I know she cannot see me, I still feel my heart flutter as a chill runs through my body.  I smile, and now the tears flow freely, and I know what must be done.  I stare a moment longer, the wind tugging at my clothes, picking up particles of sand that sting against my skin.  And then I raise my arm, and I wave.  She stares a moment longer, and then, though I cannot see it, she raises her arm too.

The wind is picking up now, and I feel my body break down, becoming a part of the whole.  I bring my hand up in front of my face, and watch as it turns to sand, falling through the air and scattering in the wind, lost among the dunes.  No, not lost.

Found.

I look back behind me, at the footprints I’ve left behind, and I smile.  But the last thing I see is what lies ahead, the footprints that will go on without me.  She has returned her attention to the children, their voices reaching me in more ways than one.  Though it feels like they are miles away, I still feel as though I am right there with them.  My smile is the last thing to go, suspended in the air for a moment, and then whisked away with all the rest, carried far and long over the horizon.