Nonfiction Essay: Strength to Stay

Strength to Stay

Each day passes in a similar fashion, the typical schedule of sleep, work, eat, and sleep some more. You keep busy to chase away the terrifying memories. You wake up to the sound of the same alarm every early morning and nearly jump out of bed from the fear you might be running late. You slip cleverly around the thoughts as you rush a usually enjoyable warm shower and wrestle with the thin contact lens uneager to stick to your irises. Then, it is time to rush to work. Driving from point A to point B, you have little time to think of anything else but maneuvering the vehicle surrounding you and staying cautious of the other drivers in your path. At your job, you see the faces of others while conversation and busy work take precedent over moments of self-mediation. Your shift comes to a close and you head home no longer aware of the haunting memory.

Then, at the moment when you least expect it, during a silly car insurance commercial between shows or while the ground beef darkens in the skillet, the memory finds you. The catalyst remains unknown and the recollection grows from a passing thought to a mental playback of events. You catch it and try to redirect your frightening thoughts towards more pleasant ones. You attempt to think about the chores yet to be completed or continue building upon your mental grocery list. You notice the empty milk carton in the plastic trash bin and recall the last two eggs were consumed for breakfast a few days before. But nothing proves successful against the oncoming recollection and accompanying misery. Even the most peaceful memories fail to overcome the tragic ones.

Then, you remember it all.

The kitchen disappears- the scent of the hamburger meat nearing completion fades from your nostrils. The noise of the television program in the other room diminishes. You close your eyes and reality distorts.

You find yourself back in that moment not yet a year ago, except now you watch the scene as if it plays on a screen in a theater. You see yourself a year younger, a somber young woman lying across her bed with headphones plugged into her ears and laptop. You hear a mainstream track popular at that time blaring in her ears. You see her eyes and how they remain closed tight. Reality sits on the other side of her eye lids, behind the music deafening her temporarily. As she listens to the sad song that reminds her of her situation, the cellphone at her side becomes an important piece of the scene. The screen lights up as the device begins to vibrate against the bed and her leg. She feels the rumble and sees the letters that spell a name. Her mother is calling her. You watch the young woman and how she glances from the phone to her laptop, deciding whether to give into her mind’s plea of ignoring the call, and how she unwillingly reaches for the device and answers.

The truth of her situation catches back up with her. The news comes crashing down on her.

Her father has passed.

You know this as you continue to watch her, but even if you were oblivious to the fact, you can see her chest lose its usual rhythm of movement. Her mouth stays closed, no breath of air entering or escaping her lips. She feels like the world has come to a complete halt. Silence replaces the monotonous ticking of the clock on the wall. The words choke her as she feels them get caught in her dry throat. Her usual restless mind remains at a standstill, unable to construct a complete thought. The tears produce within the back of her eyeballs, ready to seep through her eye lids and down her face.

A life ends without a bang and the world keeps turning.

The sizzle of the meat catches your ear. The steam rising from the skillet reaches your face, warming your cheeks. You open your eyes and reality returns. The memory in your mind concludes like the end of the credits roll.

Although many days have passed since that day, the memory still remains strong in your mind. The sorrow in your soul continues to ache like a hole has been punctured through your chest. You keep breathing, you keep hurting. Sometimes the pain will cause your stomach to churn with discomfort and sometimes it will exist within you unnoticed. You sometimes wish you could contradict the laws of time and space to go back before the incident and tell that younger version of yourself what she needs to hear. You wish you could comfort her and convince her to be strong, like her father would want her to be.

But even a year later, you still have not discovered that strength or that peace of accepting the truth and letting go of what cannot be changed. You go about your daily routine again and again trying to avoid your pain rather than dealing with the coal grey rain cloud constantly following you around. You want to overcome and move on, but you still have not figured out how to. No one makes a guide to surviving death and mourning specific to your situation. No one knows exactly how you will react to tragedy or what will help you feel a hundred times better. No one can hand-craft a cure meant only for you.

Because the real truth about your tragedy is as simple as what makes the common cold so tedious. There is no absolute cure to overcoming loss. There are no medications to take or physical therapy to undergo to help ease the tension.

So, what do you do?

The first step is to accept the truth- not just to acknowledge it, but to understand exactly what it means to have lost and to know what will never be again. Never will your family gatherings between parents and children be complete again. Never will you have a long intellectual conversation with your father.

When you have accepted the entirety of this truth, you can try for the second.

The second step is to take every day as they come. Some will hurt, some won’t. Sometimes the truth will stay far from your mind and sometimes it will trail every step you make. You learn to live with the pain because you know as long as you feel that ache you’ll remember your loss and the person you are now without.

You live with the pain. You live and you breathe. And you try to figure out the rest of the steps.

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Ten-Minute Play: The Truth

This is a play I wrote for a Creative Writing class about a year ago. Decided to post it and a few other things I wrote for the class.

 “The Truth”

Setting: CASEY’S house.

Characters: CASEY, 17
AIDEN, 17
ALYX, 16
EVAN, 17

 

[AIDEN and CASEY sit on a couch in the living room. Both half consciously watch the television in front of them while glancing back and forth to the cellphone each hold in a hand. Both wear a pair of jeans with a top- AIDEN with a navy blue one and CASEY with a pink. AIDEN’S attention is on the television until she is interrupted by the vibration from her phone. AIDEN looks at the message on her phone.]

ALYX: (off-stage) [reading the message] “Shopping with the ‘rents- call you when I get done.”

[CASEY notices AIDEN’S movement out of the corner of her eye as she remains engaged with her mobile device.]

CASEY: Is that her?

AIDEN: [brings her phone closer a type the reply, then rests her phone back down in her lap] Yeah. [watching the television screen] Tomorrow’s her birthday.

CASEY: [her fingers cease movement and she stares blankly ahead] I know.

AIDEN: You’re invited, you know.

[CASEY returns to her texting, sending a question]

EVAN: (off-stage) [reads CASEY’S text] Going to party- smart idea?

CASEY: It isn’t a question of going, it’s deciding what kind of present to get.

AIDEN: You don’t have to get her anything- I think you showing up would be surprising enough.

CASEY: What about you?

AIDEN: [her attention switches to CASEY] What about me?

CASEY: [looks to AIDEN] What’d you get Alyx?

AIDEN: [staring into her lap, avoiding CASEY’S gaze] It’s not the same.

CASEY: I know, I’m just curious.

AIDEN: [returns CASEY’S stare] About what?

CASEY: What to get for the person you admire the most.

AIDEN: [her eyes widen] You admire her? [her eyes narrow] Should I feel threatened?

CASEY: [chuckles] No- She’s definitely not my type. Just asking a question- that’s all.

AIDEN: [takes a moment to think, chin tilted towards the ceiling] Something memorable, something that will make them smile?

CASEY: What about the truth?

AIDEN: [looks at CASEY again] What do you mean?

[CASEY’S phone makes a sound, she inspects the screen.]

EVAN: (off-stage) [reading her reply to CASEY’S message] I don’t know.

CASEY: It’s hard to say what’s in your heart, and that’s more important than some chocolate or flowers, right? So wouldn’t that make for the best gift?

AIDEN: [frowns] What if the truth is what they don’t want to hear?

CASEY: What if they don’t react the way you hope they will?

AIDEN: N- [stops herself, pauses] Sure.

CASEY: It’s a risk.

[On the television, a commercial plays. A man gives a ring to a woman, then the two kiss. AIDEN continues to frown, CASEY shows a weak smile]

AIDEN: They don’t always say yes.

CASEY: I like to believe they do.

AIDEN: Why?

CASEY: If everything always worked out, then no one would ever get hurt. If we didn’t have worry about rejection every time we poured our heart out to someone, then we wouldn’t keep the truth bottled up inside for so long. If love was easy, perfect, then we wouldn’t lie or hurt the people we care about so much.

[AIDEN doesn’t reply.]

CASEY: [running a hand through her hair, stopping to hold the back of her head] What if she doesn’t like it?

AIDEN: Why is it such a big deal?

CASEY: Because what I say- [looks to AIDEN who stares back questioningly] get her means a lot.

AIDEN: This isn’t just about a present, is it?

CASEY: [getting defensive, her voice rising] I don’t know- is it?

[Both go silent. CASEY’S phone makes the sound again. She glances at the screen.]

EVAN: (off-stage) [reads the text] I’d like it if you came.

[CASEY smiles.]

AIDEN: [watching CASEY] What’s she like?

CASEY: Who?

AIDEN: The girl you want to confess your feelings for?

CASEY: [blushes] I don’t know what you’re talking about.

AIDEN: Your face says differently.

CASEY: [turns her face away from AIDEN] It’s no one.

AIDEN: Say it without words.

CASEY: Subtle gestures don’t always work.

AIDEN: She’s clueless.

CASEY: She thinks she loves someone else.

AIDEN: What’s it like?

CASEY: What? Loving someone you can’t have?

AIDEN: No- loving someone.

CASEY: It’s warm, it’s like being home. [pauses] I guess.

AIDEN: Do you think… [glances at CASEY’S phone and sees the last message. She doesn’t finish her thought.]

CASEY: What?

AIDEN: [her fingers brush against her knees, her nails digging into her jeans] Why do people do things that hurt the ones they love?

CASEY: It depends.

AIDEN: [looks at her phone, finds no new texts, and sets it to her side] On what?

CASEY: Sometimes it isn’t love. I like to believe if you really love someone, you won’t ever do anything to hurt them. But… [goes quiet]

AIDEN: [looks at CASEY] But?

CASEY: Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we know those mistakes will hurt the person we love and sometimes we make them not knowing how our actions will impact that person or us. [her grip on her phone tightens] If it’s real, then they’ll find a way to forgive you and look past your faults. Or that’s what my mother always tells me.

AIDEN: Would you do it?

CASEY: What?

AIDEN: Tell the truth even if you risk losing the person you love.

CASEY: [pause] My mother told me this story once. A guy goes into a restaurant and dinner’s all-you-can-eat. So, a waitress brings him a plate of food and he starts eating. He finishes the first plate, so the waitress brings out another. The guy is starting to feel a little full, but he eats the second plate. He finishes, gets another. His stomach starts aching a little, but he doesn’t want to let a plate of food go to waste, so he eats that one, too. He figures the waitress will assume he’s done and bring the check. The waitress brings out another plate of food. The man looks from the fourth plate to the waitress, but says nothing. She walks away, and he figures maybe one more plate won’t hurt. He eats the fourth plate and at first, it’s okay. Then, something feels off. It’s not his stomach anymore- it’s an ache somewhere else. The guy gets up to find the waitress and has a heart attack.

AIDEN: [gives a confused look] Why would your mother tell you a story like that?

CASEY: It has a moral.

AIDEN: Don’t eat yourself to a heart attack?

CASEY: [laughs] Okay, it has more than one.

AIDEN: What’s the other one?

CASEY: She told me that if you never say something, no one will ever know what you want. If he would have just told the waitress he was full, she would have stopped bringing him food. But since he didn’t, she assumed he wanted more. You keep your mouth shut and let something keep building up and what do you get out of it? Sometimes you get nothing, sometimes you get a heart attack.

AIDEN: If you let something build up too long-

CASEY: It ends up a bigger mess than if you would have just said something in the beginning.

AIDEN: Are you willing to face the risks?

CASEY: [shrugs] Nothing to lose, everything to gain. [glances down at her phone] Maybe I’ll listen to my own advice this time.

AIDEN: You’re a lot braver than I am.

CASEY: I like to pretend that I am.

[AIDEN’S phone vibrates. AIDEN looks at the phone as CASEY looks at AIDEN. AIDEN picks up the device to read the message on the screen.

EVAN: (off-stage) [reads the message] Are we going to talk about what happened the other night?

[CASEY sees the question and name of the sender, her lips curl downward and her hand drops her phone onto the couch.]

AIDEN: [avoids replying to the text] So, what are you going to do?

CASEY: [attempts to hide her disappointment] Huh?

AIDEN: [returns her gaze to CASEY] Are you going to Alyx’s birthday party?

CASEY: [hesitantly nods] Yeah… I’ll go.

AIDEN: Don’t worry about the present.

CASEY: [grasps her phone in her hand again, tighter than before] I won’t. [pause] So, what is it?

AIDEN: [arching her eyebrow] What do you mean?

CASEY: What are you giving your girlfriend for her birthday?

AIDEN: I- [whispers, looking down] It’s a surprise.

CASEY: [frowns, then stares blankly at the television] I’m sure it will be.