This story is by Michelle Newblom and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“But how do you prepare yourself to see someone you thought you’d never see again?” I ask, running my hands through my hair. “You don’t; you can’t.”
I remember the day because the weather forecast told me to prepare for rain when in actuality it was one of the sunniest days the city had seen in a while. It was hot out, and the bottle of pills clattered in my pocket. I passed by others dressed in jeans and jackets, clearly in the same mindset as I had been, expecting another dreary Sunday.
Autumn leaves tinted with reds and browns were often accompanied with a dull grey overhead, not a baby blue sky. I’d gotten used to the rain, and walking without the smell of newly-wet asphalt left a strange aroma that filled my nose and my mouth when I breathed in, unsettling me.
I strode by a brick wall that I’d often pass when I was in grade school. I remembered it once being bright and unblemished. Now, graffiti clung to it desperately, hues of neon greens and blues that were impossible to decipher. Trash littered the walkway. I stood there in disgust, wondering when the world had decided to cave in on itself.
Marching on though, like a soldier who knows there is a destination but is unsure if they will ever reach it, my subconscious took me to the river. My brain associated few places with comfort and familiarity, this was one of them. The clouds began forming overhead and I replaced my jacket. Yet, just as the materialization of clouds had made everything feel normal again, the figure before me reversed everything I thought ordinary of the day.
“Could I have handled things better before?” I ask. I want to know all the answers but at the same time I know I will never understand them. “Would it have worked out differently?”
I recognized him instantly. It had been five months since the last time we spoke. He was facing the water and his back was to me. He had the same jet black hair, wore the same faded jeans, and even had on the same flannel I had met him in, in this very setting. It was as if he hadn’t changed; a big part of me hoped he had.
Now, here was the crucial, deciding moment. Did I say something? Or turn and walk away? The decision wasn’t up to me though, because my feet had planted deep roots into the ground and someone was going to have to chop me down to move me. He turned around knowingly, as if he had the ax to set me free.
Having to live a life without Ian in it was something I never willed myself to imagine. I’d blocked out most of what happened at the end, there were too many harsh words exchanged and sleepless nights. At my mother’s request, I had gone to see a therapist, Dr. Villo. Even in my countless sessions, the possibility that I’d see Ian again wasn’t something that had ever come up… And here he was.
I didn’t answer, and he started walking towards me.
“Mel, wait. Look, let me talk. I’m sorry,” his eyes were piercing. Blue like the light sky had been a moment before, not the dark hue of an ocean.
“I’ll make this quick. I was a jackass. You knew it, and now I do too,” he took a few steps closer. My blood froze and my head spun, as if I had heard those words before. “But I’ve really missed you. I have. And I’m not asking you to take me back because well, that would be unfair. Could we just talk somewhere?”
“I’m, well I’m actually not supposed to be out of the house. My mom worries, but she’s at work on Sundays. So, not a public place. I’ll give you a minute, here?” He smiled at me and we sat down.
“He’s changed so much. I know that no one will believe me. Maybe you could give me advice how to tell my mother,” I finish.
“Melanie,” Dr. Villo says cautiously, an approach I’m not used to her taking on. “Exactly how long have you been, um, seeing Ian?”
“About a month.”
He captivated my heart all over again. Within minutes of innocent conversation, Ian was belting his peculiar renditions of songs. Adding in words that weren’t in the original, creating puns and dumb jokes that only I would laugh at, he was his own version of Weird Al. But he was my weird Ian. And I still loved him.
We were rolling in the leaves, laughing, and I found myself wondering why we ever left each other. He was still the same man I had loved, but he had grown into the stable version of himself I had always thought possible. If we waded in this time, rather than jumping into the deep end, we could slowly get used to the temperature. We agreed to meet every Sunday at the park, and I grew to love those days.
“Melanie, I need you to explain what you mean when you say you’re ‘seeing’ Ian,” her voice is gentle.
“We’ve decided to give things a shot. I know, call me crazy, but he has changed,” I explain.
The river was beautiful during fall, it always was. But the grass wasn’t supposed to be this green, the leaves weren’t supposed to be this red, and I wasn’t supposed to be this happy.
“I’ve missed you, you know?” He said, squeezing my hand.
“I do. I convinced myself I was over you, but I never really was,” I said.
“Me neither, Mel.” I laid my head onto his chest. He still wore the same cologne, and he hadn’t outgrown the plaid shirts. I was glad of that; the crisscross patterns had suited him well. Ian always went back and forth, like a seesaw with my emotions on one end, but now he was steady.
“Melanie. I need you to take a step back and remember what happened five months ago,” she says.
“I know, we had an awful breakup. But even if it were to happen again, I have the tools to cope with it,” I give her a reassuring smile.
“Sweetie. I-I don’t know how to tell you this without putting it bluntly.”
“Dr. Villo, please save the criticism. If I wanted that I would have just talked to my mother.”
“Melanie, you do remember that Ian was suicidal.” I look up at her.
“I know, Dr. Villo. He threatened it, many times,” I let out a stifled laugh, slightly uncomfortable that this topic has come up.
“I need you to think about why you came in to see me. You were incredibly sad, Melanie. But you broke up with Ian, you set yourself free.”
“I know that. But I loved Ian, even though I knew I had to leave him. That took an emotional toll on me.”
“That’s all true. But he ended his life, Melanie. And then you nearly ended yours.”
And now I remember the letter. I remember why I carry a bottle of antidepressants with me. I remember why his words sounded so familiar by the river. I was a jackass. You knew it, and now I do too. Thanks for helping me realize that, Mel. The world doesn’t need any more jackasses and you don’t need any more pain.
It’s as if an explosion occurs in my mind, because the next thing I know, the world is black, my head is thumping, and I am sprinting out of the office. I know Dr. Villo must be wrong. It is a Sunday, and I will prove it to her.
Even though I can’t feel them, my legs are moving faster than they ever have. I am past the ruined red brick wall. There was a reason I was locked up. I could make another human kill themselves, I could kill myself. I am to blame.
Today, the sky is dark and the rain is falling. Beads of water smack my face as I run to the river. I already know before I get there that no one is waiting for me. I come into the clearing, and it is empty.
“Ian!” I holler. My eyes dart around but there is no one here. The grass has only been flattened by my footsteps. I sink into it, my tears mixing with the falling rain, my chest heaving rapidly.
I pull at the grass and fall onto my back. I remember the phone call from his mother, the knife I tried to dig into my wrists, being pent up in the house to ensure I never harmed myself again. The letter, the reminder, the pain. My perfect month of Sundays is over, and I can’t seem to catch my breath.