I accidentally catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window. The reflection is oddly unfamiliar. It looks like me, but it has dirty tangled hair and huge bags under its eyes. My eyes wonder to the floor of my apartment. The area seems to contain more dust and dirt than actual floor. There are piles of cans and clothes everywhere. In the corner, there is a small sink, filled with dirty dishes. I decide to take a shower to clear my head. The second I turn the tap on, I feel a painful sting on my arm. Yesterday starts coming back to me. I remember a bottle of vodka, a bag of razor blades and a handful of suicidal thoughts. Despite the burning sensation on my arm, the shower feels warm and safe. I can’t recall the last time I took a shower, and it feels good to wash all the dirt away. My eyelids start getting heavier and heavier. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in ages – if you don’t count the nights that included alcohol and/or sleep medication. The way the water floats against my skin soothes me to sleep.
The ringing of the phone awakens me.
I mutter profanities as I wrap a towel around myself and begin my quest to find the phone.
“Hayley Carrington, where the fuck are you?” someone yells at the other end of the phone.
“Uh, who is this?” I mumble.
“Hayley come on, it’s Max! I’m starting to get worried. I haven’t seen you here at the café in like, three days.”
“Yeah, well I’ve been busy,” I say as I move a bunch of bottles with my foot.
“Tell that to Dwyer. He said that he is going to fire you if you don’t start showing up, so please, show up, eh?”
Max hangs up the phone.
I guess I really have to show up. I have no idea why Dwyer hasn’t fired me yet, but I know that there is no more room for mistakes. The idea of going out and doing actual work sickens me, however, I am in desperate need of money. I manage to find semi-clean clothes but the next step is the hardest. The act of actually going outside.
The air feels funny. Just five days in isolation and I’ve already forgotten how the wind feels against my skin. The smell of the cold air fills my nostrils and it makes it somehow easier to breathe. Although it’s midday, the streets of Lethbridge are packed with people and cars are going back and forth. The amount of people terrifies me a bit, and every time someone walks past me, I feel a sense of panic. I notice that the cold air isn’t helping me breathe at all, but in fact, is making my lungs feel dry and heavy.
After what seems to be the longest walk of my life, I reach the café. Seeing Max through the window comforts me. I notice that his hair looks different. He usually wears it in some sort of spikes, but now it’s just hanging sloppily, covering a little less than half of his face. His hazel eyes light up as he sees me.
“Hayley! I demand an explanation. Where have you been?” he says.
Should I tell him the truth? Should I tell him that it has gotten bad again? That I spent most of the time intoxicated, lying on the floor?
“Stop worrying. I told you, I’ve been busy. Nothing special really,” I tell him.
“Are you sure?” he says, with the most serious face I’ve ever seen, “because you look like shit.” He proceeds to laugh his hysterical, warm laugh. “But all joking aside, I was super worried. It’s Hockey Night in Canada,” Max says, mimicking the voice of Ron MacLean. “Oilers against the Flames, you don’t want to miss that!” he adds with such enthusiasm that you could mistake him for a ten-year-old who just got a new bike.
“I would never,” I say as I put on my apron and walk behind the register. “Flames are going to destroy them tonight.”
“Yeah right,” Max says and rolls his eyes.
The day at the café is no different from the usual. For some reason weekends are a lot quieter than weekdays, and today is not an abnormality. One medium double-double and an iced cappuccino are the last orders of the day. Having something with the word “iced” when it’s already cold outside just seems a bit odd to me.
I feel fine.
Now I’m just feeling shame and regret. I expose my wrists and the lines on my flesh are starting to disgust me. I shouldn’t be spending my time, curled up on the bathroom floor, wallowing in self-hatred. I feel pretty fine actually. But deep down, I know that 3 a.m. is a completely different emotion because that’s what it is – an emotion rather than the hand of a clock, pointing at a number. It’s when all the things I said or didn’t say, and all the things I did or didn’t do, start to pile up inside my head. It’s when I realise that there must be something wrong with my brain, because human beings are not supposed to be like this. They’re not supposed to feel like this. Last night, the last thought on my mind was that I couldn’t bear not to be bleedin when everything else is.
But right now? I feel fine.
The third period ends. 4-1 for Calgary Flames.
The Flames have had a bit of a rough season so it’s good to see them win for a change. Max isn’t too happy about it, since he has been cheering for Edmonton as long as I can remember. I’ve never understood why.
“Bad luck. Nothing but bad luck,” says Max while shaking his head.
“Yeah sure, what else? Were their skates too dull?” I say.
Max’s phone rings. He gives me a smirk, walks away and answers his phone. He comes back a minute later, still holding on to his phone, “Kurt’s band has a gig tonight. Want to check it out?”
I don’t really know Kurt that well. I know that he is one of Max’s closest friends and I know that he has been named after the rocker Kurt Cobain. I’ve heard that the fifth of April (the date of Cobain’s death) is an official mourning day in his family. He also plays in a band where he “continues the legacy of Kurt Cobain” (his own words) by performing bad Nirvana covers in his friend’s garage. But I decide to go, since I don’t have anything special planned for tonight. Sometimes it’s good to have something to keep your mind off of things. Loud, disturbing music is a very efficient tool for that.
“Sure,” I answer.
The show is mainly Nirvana covers, a few from The Smashing Pumpkins and Kurt declaring himself, “the one who God sent down from heavens to re-invent grunge”. But who am I to judge? I mean, lots of the kids here are rocking hand-me-downs, plaid and combat boots. He might be doing a fine job actually.
The party has been going on for a while now. The band has climbed off the “stage” and everyone is having a great time. I chat with Kurt and he seems alright. Any reasonable person would be able to have fun. But I’m not good with people. I’m feeling restless and reserved. I might have to leave soon.
It’s funny how you can be surrounded by familiar and friendly people, and still be so horribly lonely. I’m starting to doubt if I actually even know these people, if I actually even care about them. The last thing I want to do is to sound selfish, but I wouldn’t have any problems living my life without these people surrounding and suffocating me. I don’t want to stay here and wait to be slowly strangled to death but I’m also not sure if I have what it takes to just jump on a train and never look back.
I walk outside and light a cigarette. The twilight between the dusk and the dawn forms an orange line on the horizon. The darkness of the night is slowly fading away. The rising sun is making the sky look more and more like a burning flame. My lit cigarette matches the colour of the sky, and every time I inhale, the tip burns with a brighter spark.
Someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around and see Max, staring at the sky.
“It’s beautiful,” I say.
“Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? That there is something bigger than us?” he says, ignoring my comment. Before I manage to say a word he continues, “Because I’m done with people thinking that we are the center of the universe. The universe doesn’t give a shit about our existence. We do not matter. I know it, you know it, everyone knows it. Still, people wake up with that little smile on their faces, pretending that the do. We live in a lie that maybe one day we might become someone. But dreams are dead. Our names will never be remembered.” He stops to light a cigarette. “If the universe was a beach, you and I would be the little grain of sand, buried deep under the surface. You know what happens to the beach if the grain of sand would be to disappear? Nothing, absolutely nothing. We are the little grains of sand, and I’m sick and tired of pretending to be the shoreline.”
I want to tell him that he’s wrong. He has to be wrong. We exist on our own terms, not because we could please the universe, or anyone for that matter. There is so much more than the urge to “be someone”. As we grow older, we realise that all the dreams may not come true, but we have made room for new dreams. The hope of an unknown tomorrow is a reason to wake up in the morning. Hope is probably the most beautiful thing I know, and I’ve seen the Northern Lights on a cold December night, painting their colours against the Canadian sky.
I try to answer, but he is already gone. I follow him in hopes that I could stay the night. There is something wrong with Max and I’m not going to let him handle it alone. Before I reach him, I see something moving in the distance. The leaves of the low-growing trees are shaking in a constant pattern. The movement keeps getting closer and closer until something emerges from the woods. Across the street stands a wolf. A magnificent creature, with the moonlight shining on its silver-coloured fur, stares me right in the eye. I don’t know what to do. I feel an instant urge to cross the street and look closer. But it is a vicious beast, a true king of the forest. It has razor-sharp teeth that could rip me apart in a heartbeat. I stare into its shimmering green eyes untill it gets bored and jogs away lightly, barely leaving a mark on the freshly fallen snow.
I follow Max into his apartment. I knock on the door. There is no answer. I knock again, a little harder this time.
“No one’s home!” he shouts through the door.
“Max, it’s me. You’ve got to let me in,” I say, leaning to the door frame with both of my hands and pressing my ear against the door. I hear footsteps. The doorknob turns slowly around and the door opens.
“What do you want?” he says.
“I need to come in,” I say and force myself inside.
He asks no questions. He walks back to the couch, holding a half-empty liquor bottle in his hand. Just hours ago, we were sitting on that same couch, watching hockey and laughing. Now it seems like a pit of darkness. I look into his eyes and they look empty and lifeless.
He hands me the bottle.
“No, I don’t really… Uh, not now,” I say, since one of us needs to remain sober and it sure as hell isn’t going to be Max.
“Come on Hayley. When in Rome…” he says and lifts up the corner of his mouth, forming something that could be interpreted as a smile.
I gracefully decline his offer by taking the bottle and placing it on the coffee table. He takes a deep breath and sinks even deeper into the couch.
“Has it ever occurred to you,” he says and kicks his feet on the table, “that life is just a sempiternal maze of suffering. We are all lost in the labyrinth, trying desperately to find a way out. You might think that you’re out for good, but then you take a wrong turn and bump into a wall as high as your ignorance.” He finishes the sentence with a laugh that is so out of control, that I know that something must be terribly wrong. I want to ask him more about the labyrinth, but he is now lying horizontally on the couch.
I look closer to make sure that he’s alright. His chest is rising up and down in a steady beat. I notice an envelope on the coffee table, hiding under a pile of magazines. I know that it’s non of my business, but I grab the envelope anyway. I’m surprised to see my name written on it. It is not sealed, so I open it and pull out a letter.
You know the thing they say about pain and suffering? How pain is inevitable but suffering is optional? We’ll I’ve had my share with the pain. I love you, Hayley, but I have made my choice. And I’ve chosen not to suffer anymore. I’ve heard that suicide is the fastest way to hell. But I’ve already died a thousand deaths, I’ve already sinned more than enough. And hey, I really doubt that hell could be any worse than this. Don’t you worry, eh? I’ll save a seat for ya.
xoxo, Maxwell Lafleur
My head starts to feel dizzy. He is my closest friend and I never would’ve imagined him writing something like this. He has always looked so “normal”, then again, so do I. Nobody knows about my nightly breakdowns. But the thing is, depression doesn’t have a face. It can be the boy who is constantly smiling and radiating sunshine. It can be the girl who always makes you laugh and feel safe. And that’s what scares me. We can never know how people act behind closed doors. We take sanity for granted. I think that most of us are just too afraid to show our true selves because we are petrified of having the word “insane” branded on our foreheads.
Depression is a wolf dressed in a sheep’s skin. You convince yourself that you are in total control, that you are the shepherd. But it’s just a matter of time when it decides to remove its disguise and eat you up alive. And only when it’s too lat do you realise that you were never in control. It grows inside of you and starts pumping its poison into your arteries, becoming a part of your bloodstream. With every heartbeat, it spreads deeper into your veins, infecting every single part of your body.
I lay my eyes on the innocent-looking boy, sleeping so restfully on the couch. I try to match my breathing to the rhythm of his rising chest. The night is quiet, with nothing but muffled howls coming from the distance.
“You found the letter,” says Max, trying to protect his eyes from the sunrays, which are desperately trying to push their way through the blinds.
“I did and I’m not going to leave. I need this just as much as you do,” I say and place a glass of water in front of him, “Trust me, I know how it feels to fall asleep being sure that this time you truly hit the bottom, then waking up the next day, realising that you’ve sunk even deeper. Feeling like you can never reach the top of the hill because the downhills are bottomless pits with monsters creeping in the shadows. But we need to keep climbing.” And I mean every syllable that comes out of my mouth. Scars are not poetic, scars are not beautiful, but I’m glad I struggled. Without the fight, I would’ve never come across my true strength.
He opens his lips to say the one phrase that I’ve grown to hate so much. The one phrase that has lost all of it’s meaning, “No really, I’m fine.”
And there we are, sitting in silence. Two lost wolves in the middle of the maze. So completely astray, but slowly tracking their way to find the prey.
It’s been nine months and 23 day since the last time I let a blade touch my skin. Healing, it takes time. I have come to realise that we can’t save people. We can breathe life into broken wings but we cannot teach other how to fly. We are not the languid echos of voices saying “I understand” because clearly we don’t. We can never understand. We can never be fixed, but we can learn how to live with our inadequacies. And that cannot be taught by someone else. That is something we have to learn on our own. And it takes time: maybe even an entire lifespan.
As I wait for my bus, holding a flight ticket to Calgary, I see a girl. I notice her arm as she accidentally pulls up her sleeve and reveals the marks of the beast. I almost break down at the very spot. I hate this. She’s just a kid. I want to run and grab her. I want to hold her and tell her that someday she’ll realise that scars are braille, that they spell the words “I survived”. I want to tell her that nobody ever said that the fight was going to be easy, but one lost battle doesn’t mean the end of the war. I want to tell her that she is worth it. I want to tell her that this life is worth it. But instead, I stand still and watch her enter the bus. I want to run after her before the doors close but instead, I stand still. I have never hated the fact that I can’t save everyone more than now. I hate it. I want to save everyone.
I really do.