anger. depression. feeling of emptiness. mental health.

His fist hits me heavy and direct; but, I have invented this punishment. My taunts were finally answered because I needed the pain to wake the core inside of me. I have been dreading the days, dragging myself along the gravel as the sand from the desert kept on covering me like a blanket on a windy day.

***

“Wake up!” The alarm screams but my body doesn’t move. My eyes barely open but I blink once, twice, and focus on the popcorn ceiling and the 3-D cardboard dragons swinging from the thread taped to the ceiling. They’re plain and white but you can make out the shape and their severely large size. The paralysis inside my brain prohibits me to move my body, not because it can’t but because my mind chooses my body to remain immobile. “Get up!” The alarm screams but I keep on sinking into the mattress.

“Good morning,” Evelyne enters the room and throws a shirt my way. “Get dressed,” she huffs it as an order not amused by my immobility. Laziness is what she calls it but if it only was that. If it only was that easy and true.

“Today is not a good day,” I answer a question that isn’t asked.

“When is a good day!?” She shouts, lifts her arms, and lets them fall defeated and angry before stomping out of the room. Her heavy steps remain heavy on my chest and I continue to stare into the abyss of the popcorn ceiling. The mysteries that they whisper and nothing at all. Like the insides of my head: heavy, empty, chaotic, silent. A shifting loop of phases. The seasons of my mind but I figure maybe it is time to move my limbs. Maybe some activity will bring me back to life, spark that light inside my head, an ignition that simply needs a bit of a jolt. “I’m sorry,” my whimper of an apology as I enter the kitchen and notice the tears on Evelyne’s cheeks making their way to her mouth and she licks her lips wiping them away with her tongue. I can taste the saltiness of her tears. I can smell the cigarettes of my last night’s binge. If only I was able to muster the strength to do heroin, but cigarettes are my poison. I don’t even drink. I don’t have many vices. Only cigarettes keep my anxieties at bay, rather they push me over the brink and I spin like the helicopter’s wings. Spin, spin, spin, breaking through the wind before the wings fall off and I freefall to the pit of ridged stones.

“I love you,” a calm admission and she turns to meet my eyes. “I love you!” Evelyne shouts as if the words need to be shouted for me to register the pain in her heart. “You lie in that bed as if waiting for death. Are you waiting for death?”

“I’m waiting to feel something.”

“Waiting is a waste of time. Maybe stop waiting and start feeling.”

“I don’t know how.”

“Do you even love me? Can you feel that? Do you feel love for me?”

Darkness. With that question. With Evelyne’s question, the whole kitchen becomes dark. Overwhelming darkness because I finally reach the pit, hit those jagged stones, a strike, a jab that leaves me in complete darkness. What a relief to finally close my eyes.

“Ruben? Do you love me?”

“I don’t want you to go.”

“That’s not what I asked. Do you love me? Do you love me?”

***

Her tattoos sing a song. The bird on Evelyne’s forearm. The bluebird, sings a sad song, the scars that hide beneath the wings. The snail on her shoulders creates children’s tales full of fantasy and mystery. The mountains and the sky that wraps beneath, like a signature of her ex-lover, trembles every time she speaks. The earthquakes of her voice and words, but it’s a memory now. Photos only remain and I scroll through the catalog memorizing her smile.

***

I stared him down. I knew what I wanted, the outcome I wanted. And when you stare a man down, the stare is either welcomed or like others seen as a threat. I was seen as a threat. It was obvious and I targeted it to be the latter. The wrong message got conveyed and now the man is pushing through the crowd. His breath is somewhat sore and sweet. The glass of whisky still in his hand. He didn’t say anything at all but I knew I will get whipping as soon as he laid the glass down.

“Take it outside,” the barkeep commands, and I knew I have picked the right man for the job. So, I push my stool aside and lead us out. I counted for the darkness to overcome me quickly, faithfully with one strike, as the man was enormous and experienced. It would have not been his first attack and fight because he is a man that itches to get his heart racing, his blood pumping, and his rage actualized.

The first hit was hard but my feet didn’t give in. Like an aged tree, I needed few more swings of an ax to take me down. His hand felt like an ax and I finally tumble to my knees and then down to the concrete, and it felt like heaven because for once I finally feel something. Physical pain is what I needed. A blissful relief that I am human and alive.

As I lie, my cheek kissing the filthy sidewalk, and the guy’s inaudible shouts come through fog, tears begin to embrace me. How easy it is to feel the physical suffering, yet be so emotionally stunted. That’s where my tears birth, from the inability to feel emotions, to think emotionally, to be compassionate and inherently responsive. I lack all of it or at least I became absent in the emotional default.

***

“Yes, of course, I love you,” a text is so impersonal but I needed to tell Evelyne at least some resemblance of my feelings. The fever in my typing that I didn’t mind the blood trickling from my cuts, smudging the screen as I press SEND.

That’s all folks. Now it’s a waiting game.

***

Two days and still my text remains unanswered. The thought that I might have lost Evelyne forever grows an inkling of worry. I look at the bruised reflection of my face and I feel proud. I deserved what I have received. I deserved the punishment. I have done Evelyne wrong. All those times I have neglected to tell her what she wanted to hear. The fight was a good punishment. If I can’t feel her loss then might as well admire the cuts and bruises on my face. They are deserving. My rollercoaster of hurting Evelyne, incapable to tell her that I love her, incapable of feeling remorse for it, so the punishment is to take a few punches to the face. But she didn’t want to understand my pain for hurting her. My apology in the form of swollen lips and broken knuckles. I would send her a picture of it and the next hour she would be at my door worried and in tears. This time it had to be different. I had to make an effort. I had to feel.

So the text void of my bruised face photo, rather I finally said it, “Yes, of course, I love you,” but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. I had done enough to pull the last of Evelyne’s strings. Plus, I was ashamed to showcase that I have fallen into my old habits. I figured words might have been better even if they didn’t do the trick to make her come back. After all, she deserves better, someone better.

My signature is spaced and elaborate, taking over the allocated space and some, and I hand the admission slash consent form to the intake nurse. She shrugs and begins to review the form. With a faint grin, she asks, “Are you a voluntary patient?”

“Yes,” I reply and squeeze the straps of my overnight bag. It’s not my first time but feeling nothing and waiting to die is not a way to live. I hope Evelyne understands that but I leave her no apology note or a note of my whereabouts. I don’t want her to worry. I want her to feel better and happy even if it’s not with me.

I take my bag and the last of dignity and follow the instructions given by the intake nurse. Next steps: the assessment.

I’m sorry. I forgot to say goodbye to my dragons.

Maybe I’ll make another to add to my collection. Every visit requires a souvenir.

***

The folds are easy by now. It has become a habitual routine. The white dragons and paper-mâché, all become natural to me; my second skin.

“You’re got good at these, huh?” Jasper muses. Another regular in the unit and I simply nod and pass on the treasure. With his gift, Jasper smiles, a new toy to destroy as nothing lasts complete and perfect in his hands. He likes to smash things into pieces and I don’t mind making another ball of paper-mâché and another large dragon origami.

“Goodbye my dragon,” I exhale with ease as I pass on my dragon to Jasper and take satisfaction in seeing it being demolished by Jasper’s fists. No different than having my face smashed. It’s something of me or mine that gets punished and surfaces some form of induced feeling.

© Jacob Greb — 2021

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