Deep in the greenery, masked by sunlight and noise, she tried to remember.
Slouched in a wheelchair, with an old, ragged green cloak draped over her, an old woman sat stone still in the middle of a quaint little meadow, surrounded by bushels of red and violet flowers, tufts of weeds that sprouted from the earth, and grimy, crumbling tree branches that hung over her head. Though to her, the scenery, the glowing blue sky, the sharp warbles of the songbirds, all of it hid a past of mystery and great turmoil.
The woman didn’t move an inch. She didn’t speak or even breathe, for her heart had fallen dead silent. Instead, she was submerged in thought. Encased in emotions and memories that stormed through her tortured mind like a swarm of locusts. While her body was motionless as a statue, her focus was pinpointed towards a lifetime of conflicts. Bursts of happiness that came and went like clockwork. An endless stream of farewells.
Before long, the woman’s constant stream of considerations led her to a place where she had longed to return for what had felt like several eternities. A wisp of feeling, a spark of suspense and revelation, a silent transformation of perspective that transformed the very ground her wheelchair was situated on into one of greater significance. During this process, there was no sound. No sight, no smell, no consciousness. It would have been practically unnoticeable to the average person, but this change in atmosphere could never have escaped the old woman. Not in a thousand years.
The meadow had changed astronomically in a mere fraction of a second. What had previously been a clearing of scruffy reeds and cluttered foliage was now an open barren field, dominated by a plane of verdant grasses so flawless and so evenly trimmed that it seemed almost robotic, with the only outliers being thin, droopy sprouts that could perhaps grow into enormous trees over the next several decades. The bird calls and dots of clouds had vanished from the sky, leaving only a sea of green and blue that stretched on and merged as far as the eye could see.
Suddenly, the earth began to rustle and whir. Footsteps became audible as they grew near. The old woman’s ears suddenly became alert, darting through the sounds of the world at a frightening speed, as a second pair of feet joined the commotion. Both sets of legs then broke into a run. They stumbled through the soft, gooey dirt and the lively grass that waved to them as they moved, until they arrived at a spot right next to the woman’s wheelchair.
“Mom, where are you going?” a young child’s voice asked. “Come back!” The two figures began to reveal themselves as they got closer and closer: a tiny girl with curly brown hair dressed in a white sweater and overalls and clutching a stuffed mouse, and a much taller woman wearing a brown shirt and ripped blue jeans who was fuming as she ignored her daughter’s pleas. As the two argued, neither one seemed to even notice the old woman, who, wrapped under her cloak, was indistinguishable from an inanimate object.
“Oh, stop following me, will you!?” she snapped as she took a seat on the ground. “You’ve been driving me insane for weeks now and I can’t take it anymore. I just need some time alone!” But the girl didn’t even seem to notice her request, instead holding up the stuffed mouse with desperate, begging eyes.
“Can you please play with me?” she asked. “Please!?” This, however, only sparked a new wave of rage in her mother. She gathered a mouthful of saliva and spat it right on the ground between the girl’s feet, before snatching the mouse from the girl’s hands and throwing it across the field. The young woman plopped back down on the ground as the girl burst into tears and ran screaming across the field to retrieve her toy. Once she did, she immediately returned to her mother’s side, holding up the mouse to her eyes a second time.
“Please,” she whispered into her ear, though her face was cold and devoid of any generosity. “Just once. I’ll never ask for anything else again.” The moment those words left her lips, something sparked in the mother’s complexion. The spasms of anger and impatience suddenly departed from her breathing and a curved smile formed on her face. Surely, she had finally changed her mind.
“Alright,” she whispered back. “Come on, let’s play.” The two of them promptly stood up, and after they spread out on the field the girl threw her stuffed mouse back at her mother.
“Catch!” she yelled, and the woman, with great enthusiasm, did exactly that, before throwing the mouse right back at her daughter. This went on for hours, with the two of them deeply engrossed in happiness, bathed in their own excitement, consumed in a moment of time that could never be fully described. The entire time, the old woman sat perplexed by the magic that was at work before her eyes. It was like, for a moment, the world had truly lit up with a sense of genuine joy, even if only for a moment.
“Alright, catch this!” the mother called, throwing the mouse high into the air with all her might. The girl watched in awe as the mouse sailed through the air far above her head, then chased after it as it rocketed to the ground. She giggled and held her stubby little arms out in front of her just as the stuffed animal landed in the blanket of grass, and once she retrieved it, she immediately raced back to her mother.
“Mom, look, I caught it!” she exclaimed, but there was no one there to respond. A hush had fallen over the landscape. And that’s when she saw it. Her mother, a second ago so perfectly healthy and standing so perfectly tall, that had been the source of so much fury and exhilaration, was lying on the ground, a stream of thick, nauseating blood flowing from a jagged red line that dragged across her neck. The girl screamed and grabbed her mother’s shoulders, shaking her violently as new tears sprung up from her eyelids.
“What happened to you!?” she cried. “Mom, please, wake up!” But she never did, and never would, and when the girl pried her fingers open, she found a small pocket knife with a shiny golden handle, the tip of the blade caked with the same blood that was oozing from her neck.
The sight was instantly too much for the girl to bear, and she ran away from the field in devastation, but the old woman wasn’t fazed in the slightest. Her vision zoomed in on the mother’s mutilated, festering body one final time, before a dynamic shift started in the world and the memories began to flow once more…
Darkness. A black sky so unflinchingly dominant that nothing could be seen at all. Serenity. A state of eternal peacefulness, that left the outside world devoid of any motion. This was what the woman’s mind had summoned, until a reminder had come from someone close…
Wind. A faint whir that haunted the world, twirling through the ballroom otherwise known as the sky, growing louder and louder until it grew into an eerie and mechanized roar. Light. A mystical, liquid blob of gleaming brightness, that spread its sense of humanity as, while contained inside this otherworldly being, it bounded across the limitless ground that served as the boundary between darkness and nonexistence…
Far within the eternal midnight of her cloak, the woman watched as the light went from being translucent to distorted, dramatically evolving with every movement, every expansion, every pattern, until a picture grew on its body and started to move.
A transportation of the mind to the past.
Inside the ball of light, the little girl sat on a porch of a run-down house, still weeping intensely as her constant tears soaked her clothes and the concrete steps beneath her. She was alone in an unforgiving world, with no one to understand, no one to comfort her, nothing.
That is, until the voice came.
“You sure do cry a lot,” came the deep, sassy voice of another girl. The first girl gasped and looked around, trying without success to find where the newcomer was.
“Well, don’t just ignore me.” The owner of the voice was then identified when a second, taller girl stepped out of some nearby shrubs. She had bright blue eyes, long, wavy blond hair, and was wearing a crinkly green shirt and red pants that stretched past her feet. Stopping momentarily to brush leaves off her clothing and hair, she approached the first girl with a stubborn look frozen on her face.
“Why are you crying?” she asked accusingly. The girl sniffled and glared at her.
“That’s none of your business.”
“Sure it is. You’ve been bawling for an hour now and it’s been bothering me to no end. Sound carries a long distance, you know. So whatever you’re sad about, get over it!” The first girl was appalled at the second’s callousness. She promptly stood up and balled her fists in anger.
“Shut up! You don’t get to talk! You don’t know what I just went through!” But the other girl didn’t budge. She simply threw her head back and laughed mercilessly.
“Why, do you expect me to comfort you, huh? Maybe give you a motivational speech?” she sneered, sauntering over to where the first girl stood. “I saw a body on the ground earlier that got cut by a knife. Man, it was gross. All that blood leaking everywhere, plus there were flies all over the place -” She didn’t manage to get another word in before the first girl sprinted forward and shoved her to the ground. The second girl, her facial expression suddenly fresh with resentment, pulled herself back up immediately and lunged back at her adversary, her fists raised.
“Why, you little -” she suddenly stopped herself and they both took a seat on the ground. And that’s where they remained, for hours upon hours on end, watching the sky fluctuate in brightness and the clouds floating in and out of appearance. Considering the mending of a bond that had been severed before it even had a chance to manifest. And after a prolonged stage of pure nothingness, the second girl stood up.
“Walk with me,” she said solemnly. She extended her hand, and with much hesitation and internal deliberation, the first girl took it. Together they stepped out into the night, into the vast expanses of greenery and insect clicks that lay before them, in a state of sudden unity despite their confusion. The woman watched as they continued walking through the foliage, guided by one another and the impeccable lightning of the crescent moon.
Suddenly, the two broke into a rather abnormal run as the world displayed by the orb of light began to rapidly swirl and blur the scenery, as the time it displayed began to speed up considerably, taking reality itself alongside it.
Soon enough, the girls, with sweaty fingertips and shaky voices, apologized to one another for their reckless actions. Then, they started to constantly meet in front of the first girl’s house, playing with one another and laughing like there was no tomorrow. Every adventure they had, every journey they embarked on together, every struggle in their lives they fought through by holding onto each other, the light made sure to include it all. Years started to pass. More and more plants broke out of the ground as the house became entangled in vines, a forgotten relic that was nothing more than a rough landmark. The fields became overrun with crabgrass and dandelions. Still, nothing could be done to break the magnificent friendship that had blossomed out of grief and a desire to spread misery and loneliness.
More years passed. Seven, eight, nine, ten. A decade now separated the current moment in time and the day the two first met as young children. They were now teenagers, deeply caught in life’s responsibilities in their most gruesome forms, staring into the stars every night as they pondered their future.
Or, perhaps, if there even was one.
And then, like a brutal slap to the face, misfortune struck like the devil it was.
“I’m moving,” the second girl said out of the blue. The first girl’s eyes flew wide open and
she held a hand over her mouth.
“A week from tomorrow.” They were both seventeen, and they were nestled in the field where the first girl’s mother had died all those years ago. The news was too much for either of them to handle, so rather than speaking, they held each other and cried all night long, until the sun rose and there were no tears left to shed.
A week later, they met on the field again in absolute, perfect silence. Mourning a relationship that simply wasn’t meant to last.
“Truth be told, I’m really gonna miss you,” the first girl said as it suddenly dawned on her how lonely she was going to be. Her friend raised an eyebrow and shot her a quizzical look.
“You know you didn’t have to say that, right?” she replied, a feeling of annoyance suddenly creeping onto her. The first girl looked away and nodded in response. But after a few more agonizing moments, with each wasted second more frustrating than the last, the second girl finally broke the silence.
“I’d die right here if I could. Just like your mom. I don’t want to start over with nothing,” she remarked to herself, her voice soft and strained.
“You didn’t have to bring her up,” the first girl grumbled.
“Yeah, I know. But I meant it.”
“I know. And so would I.”
“Mm-hmm.” And the next morning, she was gone. Just like that.
The body of light was on the move again, shimmying across the pitch-black horizon like an exuberant small child on a playground. The woman watched, her own mind astonished by the tricks it was playing on herself, as the only provider of vision in the abyss where she sat spread its boundaries and began to grow in size.
And it only continued to grow as the darkness grew heavier and more prevalent. But the light carried on. Assimilating into the air, introducing itself to the ground, using every particle in its fight against the never-ending urge to forget. Before long, the darkness had been completely eradicated and the light flourished through the sky around the old woman, bringing her into a different plane of human connection altogether.
More voices, just like before. Only this time, they were limited to a pair having an exchange. Instead, the air was enthralled with hundreds of people, conversing and laughing and moving through their lives with a sense of determination and purpose that seemed too unbreakable to be true.
The woman’s eyes fluttered open and she gave her new surroundings a brief glance. Her wheelchair was pushed up against an old, gritty brick wall next to a door and a series of windows, shielded from the ferocious downpour of rain by an overhanging roof. Her cloak did next to nothing to shield out the cold brought on by the weather and the hollowness of nighttime, but she didn’t seem to notice.
Indistinct chatter. Familiar sounds that worked their way out of the hodgepodge of noise. A young man and woman, both of them seemingly in their early twenties, huddled in striped scarves and gray wool coats, rushed by the old woman, shivering more and more with every step they took across the puddle-ridden sidewalk. The young woman then promptly turned, grabbed the handle of the old woman’s wheelchair, and, following the man’s lead, pushed her into the building she had been leaning against through the now-open door. Once inside, a sigh of revelation came from the young couple. They were now standing under the blinding, twinkling lights of a restaurant, and all three of them were immediately taken aback at how crowded the area was; themselves and several other customers were squeezed next to the entrance, waiting to be let in. Waiters panted and yelled orders at one another as they traversed in and out of the narrow walkways between the twenty or so tables, holding massive plates of food in both hands. Between the overwhelming shouts of the patrons, the unrelenting stress put on those in the kitchen, and the screams of hungry young children who had run out of what little patience they had, to say that the restaurant was a place of misery would be a practically comical understatement.
“I still don’t know why you dragged me all the way out here,” the young woman mumbled to the young man. “It’s busy, it’s loud, and we had to walk twenty minutes in the rain to get here. We should’ve just stayed home.” To her surprise, the man let out a small giggle as he shook his head.
“No, you needed to get out of the apartment,” he replied sullenly. “I don’t want you sitting by your computer all day.”
“What’s wrong with that? I like sitting by my computer all day.”
“It’s bad for your eyes.”
“That’s a myth!”
“Well, either way, that’s the only thing I see you doing. You’re not eating, you’re not sleeping, you’re not talking to me. It makes me feel so lonely.” They both fell silent and internally glared at one another, allowing their pain to be masked by the liveliness of the restaurant and knowing that they couldn’t hold the other responsible for their own troubles. A voice in the back hollered a number, and the couple got up to move to their table. They shoved their way past hordes and hordes of other diners (while taking the old woman with them), and arrived at a tiny, nearly unnoticeable booth in the corner. As the young man and woman took seats opposite from one another and left the old woman on the aisle, they again fell into an uncomfortable silence that rose from a lack of comprehension.
But perhaps, this silence would have been preferred to the events that happened next.
“Honestly, I can’t take this anymore,” the man said, sighing as he buried his head in his forearms. “It was nice talking to you at first, but you just keep ignoring me like I’m invisible. Why?” The young woman visibly shuddered under her coat for a split second, her fear somehow being transmitted to the old woman’s soul, before she responded.
“I don’t know,” she peeped, looking down in a strange combination of shame and annoyance. “Just busy, I guess.”
“Oh, please, you’re not busy. I’ve seen you on your computer. You don’t do anything but watch videos and read e-mails from years ago!” The young woman’s mouth fell open, and she staggered back in her seat.
“So you’ve been watching me?”
“Well, I -”
“And here you are berating me for trying to ignore you even though you don’t even respect my personal space!”
“I do! But it’s just that you’re so secretive! You never open up about anything! Can’t you see how uncomfortable you make everyone around you feel?” The man’s brutal remarks may have done nothing to ease the intense talkativeness of the restaurant, but they certainly delivered an irreversible blow to the young woman’s mentality. She peered downwards, at her shaking hands, and her need to hide every single detail of her past for a reason she couldn’t explain.
“There are things about me that you just wouldn’t understand,” she responded in a subdued voice. “I’m sorry if that bothers you, but I guess it’s just who I am.” But her partner wouldn’t have any of it. He let out a breath of deep exasperation and looked the young woman straight in the eyes.
“Look, I’ll be straight with you here,” he snarled in a menacingly low voice that was fueled by his own solitude-driven pain. “I can’t take any more of this relationship. I mean, it was alright at first. Having someone to talk to that wasn’t at the center of attention. Sharing stuff about our lives knowing that we wouldn’t spill any secrets. All of that was nice to experience.” The woman nodded along, tears suddenly lacing her eyelashes as she remembered the brief sprinkles of happiness that she held so tightly because they were so rare.
“But it just feels like you’ve shut everyone out of your life, including myself,” the man continued. “And I still barely even know anything about you.”
“Excuse me?” the woman piped up, now rather offended. “And why is that a problem?”
“Because I feel like I’m talking to a ghost here,” the man yelled back. “I feel like all of my words are just going into a black hole. I don’t know anything about you. Your family, where you grew up or went to school -”
“Come on, that’s not important -”
“I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOUR NAME!” And with that, the man burst into a breakdown of long-overdue tears, storming out of the restaurant as the screen of light spun out of control and the old woman was plunged out of her current reality.
I didn’t even know your name… The words spiraled in and out of her thoughts again and again, reminding her of something important that she had lost…
Longing. An insatiable feeling that compels you to reach back in time, in search of something pleasing that had already gone. Regret. A scar born from ignorance and an uncontrollable storm of feelings that held your sense of judgement, that gushes with a new type of loneliness that chases after you for all of eternity.
Time. An indescribable force that separates you from everything, always managing to catch you off-guard. Always leaving some sort of impact on you.
As the world returned to the endless field of darkness, the light returned to its usual dance of inexplicable joy, spinning circles around the old woman until it exploded in a bright flash of curiosity and wonder, paving the way for one final memory to come to life…
A hospital. A bright, sterile room populated by plants in ceramic pots and colorful murals covering the walls. Two chairs were laid out in the middle, and in one of them sat the young woman, who peered down at her hands that were crisscrossed with cuts and bruises. Her entire body was shaking tremendously.
“My mother killed herself when I was five,” she said to another woman sitting across from her who was dressed in a therapist’s uniform. “My best friend moved away when I was seventeen. I never saw her again. A couple years after that, my boyfriend left me. I didn’t even get the chance to tell him my name.” Tears streamed from her eyes as she recalled the events one by one, and the therapist held her hand as she cried.
And that was when the light began to fade.
The old woman had been watching the confession unfold from the sparks left behind from the explosion, but some had begun to dim and even evaporate entirely as the memory began slipping from her mind. Time began to crack and crumble, and the memory dipped in and out of pure insanity as it went on.
“You know what all these instances have in common?” the therapist prompted, letting go of the woman’s hand.
“What?” she asked.
“You’ve only paid attention to how they’ve ended, but not what they actually entailed.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look outside.” The therapist gestured to the scenery outside of a nearby window, where an enormous birch tree sat brimming with bright orange autumnal leaves. “See that birch tree?”
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? All those leaves surrounding the branches. So vibrant. So colorful. So gorgeous. But they’re all gonna blow away sooner or later.” As if on cue, a powerful gust of wind suddenly struck the tree head-on, and an avalanche of leaves fluttered sloppily through the air, either hitting the windowsill or landing on the ground. A small chuckle escaped the mouths of both women just as the light began to flicker again.
The old woman was livid under her green cloak. Here was a moment of such truth, such vulnerability, such silent triumph. How could her mind possibly be trying to push it away?
At last, the screen of light returned to its usual stability, and the memory played as usual.
“Nothing good lasts forever,” the therapist said. “Eventually, that tree will stop growing leaves and die out. Eventually, all the people in our lives are going to leave us, one way or another. Life is constantly changing, and it’s hard to predict where it’ll take you next. That’s just how things are.”
“Unfortunately, there are some things that we just have to accept will be temporary. What matters isn’t that we try to make ourselves happy all the time, but that we remember what makes us happy even when we’re not, okay?”
“I guess so.”
“Okay.” The word came out as a comforting whisper that melted into silence, filling the room with a sense of much-needed calmness before the therapist spoke again.
“So,” she said as she got to her feet. “I’m gonna be busy with other appointments for the next few weeks so I won’t see you for a while. But I do want us to meet again, okay?”
“Why?” the young woman asked.
“Because I want to know more about you,” she replied. “And I can’t just send you away knowing that you’re going to continue hurting and that you need help. So hopefully I’ll see you sometime next month, alright?” After the words escaped her mouth, the therapist didn’t have a moment to react before the young woman threw her arms around her, pulling her into an affectionate, genuine hug.
“Thank you,” she whispered into her ear. “I know what you said was pretty basic, but I think it’s what I needed to hear.”
“Good, I’m glad.” And with that, the memory finally fell apart in a wild dance of waning brightness, sending scraps of light flying across the darkness, until the past had been left behind, and the woman had exited the grotesque depths of her own subconscious…
The meadow returned in all its glory. The luscious vegetation that grew in bushels from all places and all directions. The lyrical calls of the birds as they ached at a chance for communication. It was back in a new light, its secrets ready to be found at last.
Elation. A wave of relief that quickly combusts into extreme joy and delight. A new form of glee.
Peace. The aftermath that follows the demise of your inner demons. A promise that perhaps, a new beginning is possible.
Hope. A process of recovery and realization that one clings onto during their darkest moments. An uplifting reminder that better experiences are yet to come.
There the old woman sat, her wheelchair still positioned perfectly on the tattered patches of grass, almost as if it had been planted there. But underneath the visual shield of the cloak was a changed person, someone who had felt a burden lifted off their troubled selves for the first time in decades.
And so, bit by bit, inch by inch, movement by movement, the cloak slid off.
And it left the mysterious entity of golden light behind. Nestled on the wheelchair’s rough leather cushion, was the gatekeeper of a life.
The light zipped through the meadow at a breakneck pace, desperately attempting to pinpoint something it had neglected to find ages ago. Crashing through the tightly grown bushes, darting in and out of the damp, mossy soil, it finally found what it was looking for, laying lifeless and forgotten at the bottom of a desolate, miserable ravine.
A woman, dressed in a brown shirt and jeans, covered in a layer of sickly, billowing dust. A razor-sharp blade contained in the palm of her hand, smeared in the same dried, crinkly blood that formed a puddle around the gash in her neck. A tragedy that was eating away at the existence of its own memory.
With its transparent, ethereal body, the light picked up the woman’s body in its delicate arms, discarding the knife on the ground. And there it hovered, brimming with sadness at the very sight of her corpse, all the while knowing that reliving what had happened could not have been an option.
Bright wisps of multicolored light suddenly illuminated the air, prowling aimlessly through the terrain. They changed their forms, taking on familiar faces. The two young girls, charging through the meadow hand in hand, laughing and talking as if it was the last thing they would ever do. The young woman and man, seated in the grass, both maintaining slightly reserved appearances, giggling and nodding along to the other’s sparse words.
“Mom, can you play with me?” A little girl held her stuffed mouse up to her mother, who didn’t answer. She took her daughter’s hand, and together they walked off into the distance, sharing a moment of unfiltered bliss.
The light, finally able to rest, shared its marvelous glow with the world, for one, ultimate time, before vanishing from sight, taking the other memories with it, knowing for eternity that the most important parts would be there. Always.
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