Just a couple of points to go with this piece:
- I wrote it when my depression and anxiety were at their height (depth?) in April last year (not the first or last time since then that that’s been the case, might I add – just ask my psychotherapist). It’s not pretty, and there are many things wrong with it, but it is a reflection of what was going on for me back then, and I feel far enough away from it now that I think I can post it here (just to note, my “partner” in the story went quickly to fiance from there, and is now my wife)
- I know it’s full of clumsy self-reflexivity and self-reference. I know it’s not good. It’s not a reflection of where my writing is now. I just want the damn thing to be able to breathe, because stories should be able to breathe.
Judge me if you want. I don’t care really. It’s not the me now you’re judging anyway, it’s me from 18 months ago.
He remembered on that day he sat and watched the sun fall below the horizon. In his mind, the rock stood ten meters tall – if he had known what a meter was – and he could not get down. This was reinforced by his big sister’s words, said sternly in such a way that made him freeze in place.
“Stay there and don’t get down, we’ll be back for you.”
She was seven at the time, and he was only three. To him, her word was the law, and the fate that awaited him if he broke that law was worse than what would await him if he stayed on that rock in the bush as the glaring summer heat turned into a humid summer night.
As the sun continued on its transit past his line of sight, Richard thought he saw a monstrous, dark, and menacing shape on the horizon but before he could figure out if it was real the shape had gone and twilight had arrived.
* * * * *
How many things could weigh him down before he sank? Richard sat in front of his computer monitor, head in his hands, trying to figure out what was wrong with him.
His hands felt heavy on the keys as he wrote – his readers would never know of the drivel he just deleted, only to be replaced by equally angsty, self-reflective nonsense. There is a great chance that none of this would be read, and even if it were, for how long would it be remembered. What is the point? Where can we go? How can we build ourselves into monuments that will be forever-lasting? Why does it even matter?
All he knew is that he had to write. In his writing he would find his meaning, and when he found that meaning he would be free.
* * * * *
Back on the rock, Richard felt free – although he didn’t really know the feeling.
The thing about freedom is that we only have it while we are ignorant of it, and once we know it we chase it forever, constantly held back by our need to have control. Freedom was the zip-tie that held our hands behind our back, while we tried to grasp what was just in front of us.
But none of that was important to Richard at that moment. Of course, he was a prisoner on the rock. And the sun had set. And he was feeling a little hungry. And if he moved his sister would be mad and even if she wasn’t he was sure that the fall would hurt and Richard did not like the idea of getting hurt.
But here had been no moment in his life so far in which Richard had been truly alone, and in the true quiet of the bush at the end of a fire-trail, at the end of a road in the mountains. There was no reason to walk here, no way to drive here, and no way that anyone in their right mind would come out here by choice at this time of the night.
Hell, Richard wondered – such as he could at his age – whether his sister had gotten lost on her way back to the house herself.
Richard felt truly free, and so he did the only thing he knew to do.
He stared at into the Milky Way, lost in the light and dark, and he cried.
* * * * *
That’s a relief, our dear author remarked to himself, for days I have been wondering what to write, and it was right there in the depths of my mind the entire time.
He pushed down the anxiety, the self-doubt, and the ever-present sense of depression that had plagued him for years now, as he continued to write his life, for his life, hoping the readers might find something in it that he had not and hoping that they could remember him for what he was.
If only he could figure that out as well.
* * * * *
One of the things Richard thought about while he sat on that rock was his father. He looked down what he thought was the path and imagined he would see him walking towards him with open arms and a smile on his face. Richard imagined being embraced, picked up from the prison to which his sister had bound him, and carried to his bed for a hot milk and a nice sleep.
There were a few things wrong with his image of the future though: firstly, it was too dark to tell where the path really was; and secondly, when help did arrive what felt like an hour later it was not his father, but his mother that walked stoically down the path, who picked him up and embraced him, and who freed him from his prison, taking him to the hot milk and bed. His father merely trailed behind, feigning a level of capability and endurance that he had never had.
* * * * *
The real question is not “should I write this”, the real question is do I have the right?
It was a fair question, and Richard wasn’t sure of the answer. There were a number of major issues.
The first and foremost was that if he was honest with himself – and let’s be honest, that was not a skill that Richard had yet acquired nor, he imagined, ever will – no one would care about what he was writing. A sub-par writer, if you could ever be called that, writing a mediocre story about a boring life: who cares but you? And let’s be real mate, why do you even care about it?
The second issue was that of memory. Richard’s memory of events twenty-two years ago was less than clear. He had even started to question if they had even happened, and if they had, what about the details? Who could really know?
And the third issue was one that he felt he could deal with here and now: his father did not deserve a story.
Is this really a story about him? Isn’t it about me?
* * * * *
Grandad was a great man.
Mum used to tell stories of how he would get so angry at her, my Aunty, and my Uncle that he would wordlessly punch a hole clean through the dining room’s fibro wall into my Uncle’s bedroom which, as a teenage boy, I’m sure caused a great deal of frustration for my Uncle. Of course, Grandad would fix the hole a week later, the fist-size opening a reminder of a good man pushed too far. He would then sit back down at the table, having made his point clearly and concisely, thank Gran for the dinner she had made, and eat in silence. It was on those nights that my Uncle ate his greens without complaint.
Grandad was great, considering what he went through. I remember proudly telling people about the “Local Hero” award he won, much to his displeasure, not for doing any one thing but just for being Grandad. He didn’t want to give a speech, and he never spoke of the award again. For the rest of his life the award sat meekly on the shelf in the corner of an unused room.
I remember asking who his brothers and sisters were and getting no response. It was only years later that I found out that he had left his home and gone to live with his Grandmother at the age of ten. I met them at his funeral and understood why he left.
I don’t remember when he found out about Mum and Dad. I’m sure that he wished he had a fibro wall to punch then, but instead he just created a new hole within himself that opened up whenever he had to see my father and smile at him, wondering how one person could destroy the lives of so many others.
Before Grandad went into hospital I remember working on the old mower with him. He showed me the park plugs and how to replace them, and we tried to get the “bloody thing” working. We managed to get one more run out of it before it died again. Mum put it in the skip when we sold the house.
I remember when Grandad died. He lay in his bed, skinny and emaciated and he smiled when he saw me. Before going in, Mum had told me that his organs were failing, and that he wasn’t going to last. We talked about university, and he held my hand. As I left he said to me that “It’s okay, my time is up. I’m going to see Gran. I love you,” and hearing that for the first time I knew I would never see him again.
I didn’t look back, and I didn’t cry for months.
* * * * *
That section reminded Richard why he pushed back the sad memories. How was he supposed to function when all he had was the sadness of the past and the sadness of the present?
He took a breath, cracked his back, and tried to channel the numbness that he managed to inject into his life in almost every moment.
Maybe this is why I have a hard time writing, he thought to himself, numbness is good, but how are you meant to write anything worth reading without any emotions?
He chuckled to himself, then again, who wants to read that emotional crap anyway? Real literature is written to make you think. Look at Orwell, Asimov, Wells, and Clarke – they didn’t pen this nonsense, and if they did they’d have cursed themselves for wasting paper and thrown it all out. If you want to write feelings write poetry. Don’t waste people’s time with this. At least poetry is short.
Richard took a breath, sighed, and pressed on as his inner demons pounded at the door.
* * * * *
He was not averse to poetry. Quite the opposite, he loved it.
A poem could capture a heart – and in his case, it had – or start a movement. A song was a poem with melody, a rap a poem with beat. Take a short story, add some line-breaks and there was your poem. But in its freedom, poetry felt like a cage to Richard, and quite early on he made a decision – no matter what he did he would become an author.
He would be remembered, he would be analysed, and he would find his own meaning. So, he sat down and started a book. It was going to be the new Brave New World, the new Time Machine, he would capture the world with his characters and landscapes. He would show them the Australia of the future.
For months he wrote: he showed drafts to his friends and they showered him with praise. His partner loved it. He even considered showing it to his father. But then the well ran dry and the momentum was gone. Not a word was written for months and the book lays unfinished – a series of binary digits etched into a hard drive on a computer, only existing so that Richard could claim that he is “writing a novel.”
* * * * *
Richard looked at the page again and wondered if there was anything else to write. He thought about his mother and his father, his Grandad, and his partner.
For the first time since starting, the words appearing on the page didn’t seem to fit. He could feel them flowing like gum tree sap from his fingers, oozing over the keyboard while he tried to fix an image in his mind with which to end, but he felt trapped again, held in place by his mind – more afraid of the punishment than the fall.
And through his older eyes he saw the twenty-two-year-old view of the sun setting on the horizon, the ominous shape in the distance, and the stars appearing one by one until they formed an endless universe in which nothing could be done, but anything was possible. And as he looked at himself staring into the unknown, free for the first and final time, he began to cry.