Watery Shadows

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Creative Nonfiction
I can hear bell towers and train whistles from my window.

Sometime during high school, my memories started to get murkier. It got harder to remember what I’d eaten last or what I had learned in class yesterday, let alone something that happened last week or month or year. I couldn’t remember if I had homework or if I had done it, couldn’t focus on or draw out good things that had happened to me recently. Everything seemed to get slowly subsumed by a thick gray haze until I could no longer remember the last time I had truly felt happy.
“You know, there’s someone out there who feels the same way you do.” My mother’s words settled heavy on my mind, as they always did. And the other hated repetition: “Try looking for the good things. Work on changing your thought pattern and you’ll feel happier.”
Every time I wanted to protest that I can’t and How do you change something so instantaneous as the way you think? The mind is not so easily rebooted and rewired as a computer. It is so much harder, when I am in the thick of things, to pinpoint where I am and what led me to that point. How was I to teach my brain to think kindly of me when it felt so much easier just to let it hate? What was there, anyway, to love about myself? I have witnessed time and time again how much easier it is to love someone and all of their flaws when yours is not the brain inside their head.
I think what I hated most about hearing those things was that, to some extent, I knew they were true.

When I walk, I look for beautiful things. I have innumerable off-color photographs of sunsets taken with a camera incapable of capturing their beauty. One day, I think I will get a polaroid so I can hold those muted sunsets in my hands and marvel at how light so often slips past fingers and film to kiss the things that simply are. In my parents’ basement, pressed inside the heavy pages of a copy of Grey’s Anatomy, I press colored leaves to use as bookmarks; later, when I remember them after months or maybe years, I will self laminate them with packing tape to keep them from crumbling and fit their awkward shapes among the pages of a smaller book. Broken pieces of a fluted cement column grace that rocky awkward space between the sidewalk and the gutter, perhaps once meant for grass or trees, in front of the taco shop near my apartment. I can’t help but wonder when I look at them about what magnificent structure they once supported, or if maybe someone just thought something lovely might be missing.
I’ve started trying to point out the beautiful things to others.
“Look at those little flowers! They’re turning into little dandelion puffs.”
“I love magpies. Do you see the way their feathers shine like oil? Did you know they can recognize themselves in a mirror?”
“Oh! there’s a hummingbird. Look at how he flew up to that lightbulb; I’ll have to draw that.”

It doesn’t always work.
My roommates use my dishes and leave them dirty in the sink, and even though they are not the dishes I wanted, they are beautiful and mine and I hate that they won’t take care of them.
I spent my birthday in quarantine. Someone ate some of the cookies given to me as a gift without my permission.

A man cursed aggressively at me at work when I tried to help him the way he wanted me to but couldn’t. I had to sit in the bathroom for several minutes because his bad day weighed too heavily on my shoulders and I could not forget it, even with mental long division or focusing on the solidity of objects around me.
The depression medication I just came off of gave me tremors and a tic that makes me jerk my head to the left when I feel anxious or unhappy. Sometimes I can see or feel people watching me, and my ticking gets worse. I can’t be sure that it will go away.

Sometimes I can’t get the stupid Greek statues from my art history class out of my head and I can’t look boys in the eye and I feel dirty because there are naked men in my mind that I never wanted there.
My mother told me to never say, “I hate myself,” and so I don’t. But it’s a lot harder to keep myself from thinking it.

My amygdala stacks these things haphazardly on each other, a Jenga tower of inconveniences and worries, and then sits there and screams whenever the blocks come unbalanced and topple down around it because unsteady foundations can’t hold much weight.

Often, everything just feels irreversibly out of control.
“I don’t feel good.”
“I know. I can tell.” And he hugs me while I cry.
Usually, I can’t remember to look for sunflowers in sidewalk cracks or tiny birds hopping under cars. But they are there, and sometimes I see them. I want the beautiful things to define my life, instead of letting them get swallowed by the hovering haze.

I walk through cool, watery shadows on slowly warming autumn mornings that smell like leaf mulch and aquarium air. Above and ahead lie my mountains, earth torn and tossed up against itself in towering, unmovable verity.