This story is by Marshall Coleman and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
There I sat. Physically present. Mentally clogged. But still there, nonetheless.
Fortunately, everyone else was too. Unfortunately, so were their mouths.
“Ok, you ready? Let’s get up and get after it as they say, right?”
I doubted anyone said that.
“That’s right. You just need some fresh air I bet. On your feet.”
It was like they didn’t they know I’d be taking my mind with me if I left here.
“Breathe. Come now. Take a deep breath and then we might get somewhere.”
Whispers became contagious. As if talking about me rather than to me would somehow help.
“He’s not going to.”
“Well, if he doesn’t start getting somewhere we should drag him out ourselves.”
My gaze lowered back to the stark floor as they gave their solutions.
“C’mon now. Just sitting here ain’t gonna solve nothin’. It’s time to get up.”
“That’s right. Just gotta get your muscles moving.”
Each one of them just ‘had to’ say something.
“Honey, on the other side of that door is help. You’ve just gotta trust me.”
“Alright, I’m gonna count to three. One…Two…”
They spoke as if it was some personal duty or code of honor.
“Not sure why you’ve done this to yourself, but you don’t have to stay in here. It’s so dark and musty.”
“Yeah, really. I mean look at these bowed termite walls. That clouded ceiling. That God-awful gray. And that smell. You don’t want to be here. Do you?”
I took a deep breath. The exhale felt absent.
“Listen to me. We can both walk out that door. You can be free. You can say goodbye to every bit of it. All you gotta do is walk with me. You hear me? Get up and we can go out that door and be free. Do you believe that? Will you believe that?”
I didn’t budge.
“Well say something, please.”
“Speak up. Let us know you’re in there!”
“Don’t just sit like a lifeless doll.”
“Yeah, say something. Anything. Please!”
I sighed. “Well…” They all flinched. Startled and surprised as I lifted my head. “What if I feel lifeless?”
They all shifted in their uneasiness. Some of them started pacing. Most of them murmuring to themselves.
“You wanted me to say something. Well, look at me. All of you!”
Everyone stopped in shock and silence. No one let out even a breath.
“I believe all of you in some fashion. And I guess you’re not wrong. I believe in freedom. Running out. Getting to something better. Something to where I can choose to smile or frown or worry or have tears that could at least have the chance of being joyous. To go somewhere I can enjoy the blue skies, where I can walk and move along the open roads. Take delight in watching the birds taken by the gentlest breeze.”
My eyelids clenched together like a fist.
“But I also believe in reality. And this, this dark cave of space is my reality. You’re here. You see it. And I know you feel it. Building. Stirring. Swallowing.”
None of them knew what to think. How to feel.
“This is what I’m dealing with. I don’t know what you call it. Is it depression if I’m feeling dark and gloomy? Anxiety if I feel like I’m having a heart and brain attack? Suicidal if I feel like I wanna be over with it all? Well, what about if I’m having all three and none? What then? And how about when I don’t just think but, without a doubt, know I’m worthless? Like my mind adopts it as scripture. As my lifeblood. Or how about when I’ve been told both directly and indirectly that I’ve done a poor job? Or how about when I can’t separate what I do from who I am? Like when I want to do something right only to find out I’ve failed abysmally. Because it’s not only the truth of failure that hits. It humiliates my desire to exist. It’s not simply devastation. It’s annihilation. And how about this world? When it’s told me to get over it. To get thicker skin. Meanwhile, no one’s told me that the process of getting thicker skin might make me want to bust a final hole through my actual skin.”
Not one surrounding eye blinked. For a moment, I thought it couldn’t get any quieter than it did before. But only for a moment.
“Well, we can always help you-”
“SHUT UP! JUST STOP IT, PLEASE! I don’t care if I’m ‘supposed’ to move on. I don’t care if I’m ‘supposed’ to get better. Because now, right now, I’m not there. So stop trying to take me from here. Stop trying to find a fast fix. Stop with the advice. Stop helping. And I don’t know. Maybe just…start hurting with me.”
I sighed again. Some pressure lifted from my shoulders as hands landed on them. And there, together, we all sat.