“I’ve tried leaving my heart free to wander, but everytime…every single time…it always comes back…to you.”

I wanted us to be happy, but I also had an unhealthy definition of happiness. I thought of everything we were, and made it into everything you were. I did things that might make you smile, wrote poems that would light up your eyes. I was content to make your happiness my happiness.

But that just showed how little I understood about life, love, and friendship . You loved me, I know you did, so what would happen to you if you continued to see me giving up my everything just for you? I know you wanted to shower me in love, but I didn’t give you a chance. That affection turned into addiction, and nothing I did was ever done with myself in mind. That’s unhealthy, and of course this made you unhappy. But I couldn’t stop. I should have stopped, and the rational part of my brain was probably screaming at me to stop.

But I was gone.

I turned my love into conditioning, and before I knew it the only thing I could offer to you were the things you already wanted. I couldn’t grow with you, which meant my love couldn’t grow, our love couldn’t grow. Loving somebody is complicated at times, but at its core love is about sharing. I didn’t want to share anything with you, I wanted to smother you in my twisted fantasy. I wanted you to ask me for more and more, until things came full circle and I was demanding that you demand more from me.

Today I found myself thinking about you, and about where you might be. Than I thought about myself and where I’m at right now. I have no idea how I got to this point. How many mistakes have I made in the past 5 years? And how many of those mistakes were done with the intention of sabotaging my chance at happiness? But more pressing than my trip down memory lane is the immediate question:

“Am I happy now?”

Well, I’m happier today than I was yesterday. I think my weekend was a tad bit happier than yesterday, and I know that 2 weeks ago I was so unhappy that I wound up in the mental health ward of my local hospital after my boss called 911, worried about the last text I sent. It included my resignation and reason for quitting, which was something along the lines of “I don’t deserve to be paid for the shit work I do. I’m not the right person for this role and I don’t want to hold you back. You don’t need to cut my last paycheck, just think of it as a fine for being that asshole would can’t even put in a proper 2 week notice.”

This November has been noticeably worse than last years, which was just a tab bit worse than the year before that. I don’t remember November from 4 years ago, but I also can’t imagine things ever being good. I know things must have been good…at some point I must have been happy…right?

“Am I happy now?”

I’m…alive? I am working again, and I am writing again. And that writing has lead to me making some submissions for publication. Alas, I was submitting poems, essays and short stories to various journals, magazines and contests, only to be rejected 99 times out of 100

I’m not sure if I’m happy right now. If I had to give it a score, I’d say my life reflects my recent submissions for publication; 99% of the time I know my life is garbage, because I’m a fucking landfill of a human. But there’s still one, one tiny reason to hope. I wouldn’t call it happiness, but I’m out of options, and who knows? Maybe when you’re as empty as me, it’s better to make a bet on a slim hope rather than trying to stretch out that last, decaying piece of happiness to last me the rest of my life.

“Distance, like the stars from our Earth, the very same distance from my heart to yours.”

The twinkle in her eyes isn’t from stardust, diamonds or pearls; Her eyes shine from her own wonder, her curious nature for everything around her. A polished stone set in metals pales to capture the allure her eyes hold, for her eyes are to alive for such similes to hold a sliver of justice.

She is not a star, some solar entity floating in space, whose light takes lifetimes to reach those around her. She is home, in that comfortable sense of belonging to something that means everything. She is the familiar creak of decade old stairs in the way her smile crinkles around the edges of her mouth, she is both the soft touch of pillows you used to build forts with siblings and the firm cushion that captured so many tired tears…

A stare from her is the reflection you saw in the mirror when you were 10, before the world and the nightmares turned all thoughts dark and your image into a shadow, something to be feared and despised. She isn’t…she wasn’t just some pretty face, some human body to pass the time with, to float through life with. She was…brilliant in how she tricked a boy into loving himself, into thinking he had a real shot..I can never hate her…I can never hate anybody because she made me focus on me..and now I can’t look away, but I don’t like what I see..and she isn’t here to quell my demons, and I’m so tired of living in the dark…I’m tired of fearing death and fearing life, of being empty of anything aside from fear..I’m running on autopilot, and I just can’t do this anymore..I need someone to save me..somebody please tell me they can save me..

“I can’t stop shaking, and I can’t change. I’m setting myself up with every chance at success, knowing full well I’m going to fuck it up.”

I’m not doing anything that should warrant such an extremely negative reaction from myself. I’m eating a sandwich while I finish up some work, but that last bite…it’s hard to explain, but that bite made me feel so hollow, that it was all I could do to keep myself from crying. I took that bite, and immediately dropped the sandwich and just started shaking. I couldn’t chew, couldn’t swallow, couldn’t do a damn thing. I felt so small, yet so bloated. I wanted to disappear, but wanted someone to notice me, to tell me I’d be okay. I wanted somebody to remind me that eating a sandwich is a normal thing, and it shouldn’t cause a mental breakdown. But everything causes a mental breakdown now…I haven’t gone a single day without breaking…and I’m tired…

My body is tired. My back is screaming at me to get up and do something, even if that something is jumping off a bridge. My hands and face and mouth are all dried up, unsightly, scaly things. I’m sure my reflection is haunting, or at least a consistent visitor to every sort of nightmare the human mind can concoct, but I wouldn’t know for sure, because I avoid mirrors and glass windows and still bodies of water, knowing that if I saw whatever it is I have become, I’d do anything I could to destroy that monster…I’m so tired of being the monster…for once, I wish I could just be the hero.

I’d valiantly strike any mirror with my fist and enjoy watching a kaleidoscope of my own blood run across the now serrated surface.

I’d bravely shatter any glass windows, gathering the broken pieces into a nice, sharp pile, and roll around in that bed of crystal needles in a stupid, childish attempt to cut my way through this terribly uncomfortable skin.

And I’d heroically smother any image presented by a calm waters surface, forcing it under in a wave of self-righteous rage, inflated fear, and layer upon layer of bravado to mask my doubts…I’d drowned anything shown in that waters reflection, even if it means spending the rest of my forever at the bottom of an empty Sea.

I’m not doing anything that should warrant how much I hate myself, but I’ve come to view my very existence as a crime, a blight on society. I am a monster, and the only acceptable kind of monster is a dead monster. I don’t want to be a monster, and I wish I could know what it’s like to be the hero, so really I’m just killing two birds with one stone, but in this case, those birds are just me and my reflection. I just have to take that stone, grind out a nice, sharp edge, slide that makeshift dagger across my throat, and watch as that monster in the mirror gets exactly what it deserves…and I can go out with a smile in my heart, knowing I finally did something good for the world; I finally became a hero…

“Doing nothing is something; it means accepting that falling apart is as normal for us as breathing.”

I built you a home in my chest by clearing out everything that was useless. My skin was paper, so I cut it away into tiny shapes of cranes, and you smiled as my flightless birds floated on top of the bathwater. You watched them only long enough to see as they made their way from one end to the other, so I won’t blame you for not knowing that water and paper birds don’t exactly mix. My ribs were bleached chalk, so I turned them into the seasons. During the summer they became the white letters littering sidewalks and flat driveways. As Autumn soaked the leaves that shimmering amber of hard liquor, my ribs found root in your gardens and became your second bloom of pristine Candytuft. When winter gave you nothing but a bitterly bright tundra, my bones turned into powder, as soft as moonlight, to gently kiss your rosy cheeks. And when Spring finally came, I flattened what remained of my ribs into cherry blossoms. They were tinged the palest pink at the stem, but you didn’t seem to mind, so I ignored the color. Even as that pink began to run red, I didn’t stop. You were still smiling, with every petal that filled the air you were smiling so wide… so of course I couldn’t stop, couldn’t slow down….how could I, when I was making you smile?

“I wanted to feel your warmth, so I let you set me on fire. Now I am ash, and you don’t think you did anything wrong.”

I was a kid, and you weren’t the adult I thought you were. I wanted to be cool, to be something more than what I was. You said you saw potential in me, and I wanted you to be right. You said you saw someone special, somebody who could be somebody. So, I let you take that body, MY body, piece by piece.

You started small, trimming my branches, taking those low hanging twigs to stoke your fire. I was more than happy to give you those things you wanted, to keep that fire going. I gave you everything, and when that wasn’t enough, you started to take things, things I didn’t say you could have. I know you saw me burning away, but you didn’t stop…It didn’t end until all my bark had been stripped away, and every one of my branches turned to cinders.

But maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe I’m projecting some of my current anger and fears into what we had. I know our past must not have been as bad as I remember it, that you can’t have been as bad as I’m remembering you now.

 

Or maybe I’m just trying to protect you, to protect me.

 

I can admit I didn’t like everything we did. I didn’t like how fast things seemed to progress, but I don’t recall every telling you to slow down. I didn’t enjoy being laughed at for wanting to go to my friend’s roller skating birthday bash, but I can recall ditching them to go looking for an “adult” party with you.

I didn’t enjoy the taste of alcohol. Every drink, even a sip, would make me gag. I thought I would throw up every time, and I know on many occasions I did, but that was just another part of the fun, the cost of a good time, right? The memories are fussy, but I can still remember you offering me drink after drink, never telling me I had to, just saying how happy it would make you if I would just relax, chill out, have one more drink, because it would be the next drink that would really loosen me up, and then I’d be having the time of my life.

I didn’t enjoy the smell of cigarettes. I hated the smoke, hated that little dot of heat so close to my mouth, but most of all I hated the taste. It felt thick, like I was swallowing honey. Only that honey was a bonfire. And the bonfire was missing all the elements that make them so great, like slow burning wood, clear summer nights, and friends who never shoved the bits of smoldering bark down your throat. A fire like that is no bonfire. If left alone it’s a wildfire, but when it’s set with clear intent, with a target in mind, I believe that is called arson.  

But you didn’t technically shove those cigarettes down my throat. No, you just calmly pulled out your pack of Marlboro Reds, stuck one in your mouth, then dangled another in my face, like it was some sort of treat. And you wouldn’t just place it between my lips. You made me beg for it, like a fucking dog. You would put it close and pull it back, blow some smoke in my face and let out a little laugh. You could tell, your friends could tell, anybody with eyes or ears or an IQ above 1 could tell that I didn’t like this game.

 

Because it wasn’t a game.

 

I know my mistake, and I hate myself for that mistake. But I’m also able to admit that it wasn’t just me. I was naive. I wanted my old life and you. I never thought they’d be mutually exclusive. Even when I felt the tugging, I just convinced myself it would all work out. I’d smoke a few cigarettes, to look cool, but then I’d stop. I would drink some when you took me to parties so that I would fit in, but then I’d stop. I would kiss you, and let you get to second base in your car because I didn’t want to be a prude, but then you’d stop. I would let you talk me into staying the night in a hotel over a holiday weekend, and I would let you join me in the shower, and I would let the hot water wash away my arguments, because after a few minutes you’d stop. And when I decided to stop drinking at your birthday party, so you said you’d drink enough for the both of us…and I fell asleep on your couch…and I somehow woke up in your bed…and it was dark, but I could feel you trying to position yourself on top of me…and I was still buzzed…and I wanted you to have a good birthday…I wanted to be a good lover…I didn’t want to think about not wanting it…because I was so sure you’d stop…

I didn’t say no. I didn’t cry or scream, punch or kick. I didn’t do a damn thing. I might as well have been a fucking baked potato, for all the difference it would have made to the situation. So it was my fault. It had to be my fault. I was wrong to feel betrayed, because it was my choice, my lack of action, my inability to tell you to fuck off.

But I was a kid, and now I’m not. I might still blame myself and hate myself for everything, but I’m grown up now. In fact, I’m still growing up. I learn more every day, and accept more of myself every day. I’m far from being wise, but I’ve gained just enough knowledge to see the past for what it was.

 

It wasn’t all a waste. There were some good days, mixed in with a lot of ‘meh’ sort of days.

I know it wasn’t all bad.

But you…are just as terrible as I’m remembering you, and probably even worse.

I’ll still blame myself, because that’s part of who I am, but I am done making excuses for my memories.

And I’m sure as hell done making excuses for you.

“I’m not going to waste my time screaming into the void. I’m going to find you, plant my feet, and from my own mouth, say the words I need to hear the most.”

I wish I could tell you

How much I miss you

Without it having to feel

So pathetic.

 

I don’t expect you

To return to me

Any of the things

I gave to you.

I just want a chance

To say the things

I’m still feeling.

 

You don’t have to listen.

Even though it’s your name

Whispered between my breaths,

You don’t have to listen,

Because those words

Aren’t for you.

 

I want to tell you

How much I miss you

Because I’ve finally learned

How different that is

From feeling like

I need you.

 

So I miss you,

But I don’t need you

Anymore.

“I want to give you pretty things, like seashells, forehead kisses and promises I’ll never break.”

My smile isn’t what it used to be. I’ve managed to put some miles on my smile, which is inevitable for anybody who’s ever allowed another person into their heart. That sounds negative, but it’s a neutral fact of life. Honestly, if I were to meet an adult whose smile shined as if it had never been touched, I wouldn’t trust that person. Nobody would trust that person. We would all call that smile “fake” and take everything that person told us with a grain of salt.

A smile isn’t beautiful for how big or bright it is. A smile is beautiful for the soul behind it. My smile as a kid was a big, goofy smile, with every one of my teeth out on full display. It was innocent and genuine and reflected my good fortune to have amazing parents and siblings and friends. Now my smile is a thin line that barely curls at one end. I hate showing my teeth, or even opening my mouth, so I know my smile must look miniscule compared to when I was a kid.

But I’m still smiling. I like to listen to NPR in the mornings and at lunch, and after getting through the dense political stories, they always have a lighter piece that makes me crack a smile. I like listening to my coworkers talk about their kids, and when I see the pictures of their birthday parties or trips to the beach, I can’t help but point and chuckle and smile along with everyone in my office. I like watching stand-up comedians, and short skits on YouTube, and re-runs of Who’s Line is it Anyway, and since I’m often (always) watching alone, I laugh out loud, and my mouth can’t stay closed, so all my teeth are showing, and my lips are curled up, and I can feel my cheeks lifting, and my dimples showing, but I don’t even think about it in the moment, because I’m just enjoying the moment.

I don’t have a smile at work while I’m trying to make month end adjustments on my balance sheet, but I smile a bit when it’s finally done. I don’t smile when I’m prepping up dinner for myself, but I know that when I take that first bite of a new recipe, and it’s not a complete failure of a meal, I feel a sliver of pride, and I eat my dinner with a smile on my face. I don’t smile when I’m driving to and from anywhere. I don’t smile when I’m out shopping, or shoveling snow, or applying for new jobs. I don’t smile during Autumn, nor in the weeks following the New Year, and never, ever, on May 3rd. I don’t smile more often than I do smile, but the fact remains that I do smile.

So, my smile isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still there. It’s a bit smaller, and the moments when it comes are further and further apart, but it’s still there. And as more years are added to my life, I’m sure my smile will shrink and shrink even more…but it will never fully disappear.

My smile isn’t what it used to be, but I’m still smiling, still hoping, still living. I’m still here, and that has to count for something.