a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
The lights, a clouded soup of streetlights, lights from apartments, lights from flashing Times Square signs, headlights, and the faintest glimpse of stringed fairy lights draped across trees with a delicate touch, reached towards the stars painted in the canvas above, meeting the darkness in a never-ending battle, a sign that humanity -regardless of ego and pride and self-worth- would always fall to Mother Nature. The urban light towered far above the skyscrapers, but even it ended.
Most things did.
A violent gust of December wind ruffled the bedsheets through the half-opened window, fluttering each singular curl on her head, biting the cheeks of the woman who should be asleep, keeping her eyelashes from obscuring her vision, waking her whenever she was on the cusp of a midwinter night’s dreamscape. It rattled the thin, white, silk curtain she spent too much on at a flea market, forcing them to dance in strange patterns, creating a story, a universe, of sorts with the elongated shadows. The creatures pirouetted across the walls, fighting some strange monster with three heads, spines longer than dinner forks, tail sharper than a sword. The humanoids pranced back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and-
The curtains stiffened, caught like a child trying to steal a cookie, by a low voice.
She turned, facing the window, putting her back towards the voice, a foul voice, a cursed voice, a lover’s voice.
“Why you awake, love?”
Why did she have to date a Westminister boy?
The way his words dripped like warmed peanut butter, a comfort food, onto her shoulder wasn't fair; it was warm, sticky, completely unnecessary, yet desirable all the same. It had been what drew her to him in the years-old, cigarette-smoke covered walls of the rundown, forgotten, soon-to-be-replaced-with-a-hipster-cafe pub downtown. Long past were the days that she met him under the cover of night, pressed against his body, exchanging forbidden whispers the Moon herself hid from.
Now, the cover of night hid her countless fears as soft breaths reminiscent of sleep taunted her of warm blankets and protected dreams from the other side of the minuscule bedroom.
She jumped before she glanced behind her.
Her Sean Current was rubbing his eyes with clumsy, long fingers as he pulled back the blankets on her side of the bed to make room for her. Surely, he was spell-bound. Although his short, ginger hair was disheveled, it served to make him all the more charming. Perhaps it was just another symbol that he didn't belong with her knotted-bird's-nest-hair American self.
“Come to bed,” he mumbled, “I miss you. You’re too far,”
She didn’t move.
“Aria, love, please. It’s night. It’s late. Whatever’s wrong, we can just talk about it in the morning,”
When she refused to respond, the bed frame shifted, creaking like old sinue being stretched as the weight of a body was removed. As his bare feet hit the freezing ground, Sean paused and took another look at her, almost weighing his desire to check on her with the incessant urge to be warm under the quilt.
His concerns won.
He took small steps before reaching the window, shivering slightly as another gust of wind reminded her that the window she had opened a few minutes ago hadn't been touched. She quickly shut it as to not cause him any more chills.
His pale skin seemed to be colored by the Moon’s light, a ghastly hue, reminding her of the stories of apparitions and sprites and elven figures her mother told when she was about a quarter her age. She traced the lines of his muscles up his forearm, up to his bicep, towards his shoulder, meeting his eyes -the dastardly things. If his skin was ghost-like, his eyes were a conception of life; they were hungry for information, yet cautious and fearful of what the information would contain. The sky-blue irises were almost golden in the soft light that fell from the window as someone across the alley turned on the light in their apartment.
She didn’t deserve this.
How could she?
“You’re scaring me.”
An urge to let laughter bubble from her lips grew in the pit of her stomach. She scared him? Couldn’t he see that she was terrified of him? All the dreams, hopes, desires he brought with him in suitcases and luggage and twice-taped taper boxes?
“I’m fine. Go back to sleep.” She turned back to the window, motioning slighting to the bed vacant of its owners.
A soft sigh accompanied the groan of the bench as it took on more weight. The old maple-wood furniture had seen countless nights from different owners of agony, the guilt of holding another back, but it decided to remain quiet in its wisdom. The problem, which was innately mortal, could only be solved through humans, not a piece of furniture older than the ages of the people in the room combined.
“You know,” he pulled her body with one arm into his side as the other reached towards the floor, grabbing the handmade throw-blanket that had been knocked off, placing it on both of them, making sure she had the majority of the fabric, a shield against the chaos that lurked like a murderer in the darkest corners of the room, “a wise woman once told me that when a woman says she’s ‘fine’, it means that she isn’t. It takes the softest of touches and strongest of lovers to press further.”
She rolled her eyes, a bad habit she could care less about correcting.
“Pinterest or Tumblr quote?”
She felt his chest pull away from her.
“How dare you?” He gasped, placing a hand over his heart as if he was in the midst of a Shakespearean play and she was questioning his love for her.
She glanced down at the birch-wood floor, marked with memories of long-gone, forlorn owners. She could only hope that someone would remember her when she sold this place. Maybe her neighbor, the one with sixteen cats, would.
“Instagram, really. I’d hope you’d think me better than to navigate the realms of Tumblr,”
She laughed, a hard, belly-aching, hurricane-force inducing laugh, a laugh that shook the cabinets, echoing around the ceiling, forcing the neighbors who were still awake in the late hours to absorb some of the happiness it contained. As she took harsh breaths to reassure her mind of her breathing capability, she felt a needle-like pain pierce her heart. Her hand moved to grasp at her body, but it wasn’t something that was fixable by her hand or a nurse’s or a cardiovascular surgeon’s. It was the gnawing, bittersweet pain that haunted her dreams and crowded her mind.
She was going to miss these moments when the tide eventually rolled in.
Her lover noticed her turn of mood before she could hide it behind her I’m-perfectly-fine-thanks-for-asking charade.
“Penny for your thoughts?” he asked, pulling her impossibly further into him as if he was trying to absorb her, protecting her against the innermost thoughts.
How could she tell him?
“I don’t know how to tell you,” she murmured, pinching her lips together, staring out into the streets of New York City, occasionally finding a traveler on their way home from wherever they had been previously.
“Perhaps where all things begin… at the beginning?” he said, awaiting, though not impatiently, for her answer.
“You ever think that maybe this,” she paused, searching for the right words to describe what their connection was, “relationship isn’t good for you?”
He inhaled like he was forced to swallow a bundle of newly-sharpened knives.
“If this is your way of breaking up with me, darling, I’d prefer for you to wait until the morning,” he said, forcing a joke, smiling in an are-you-kidding-me manner.
“No!” she replied, “No. No, that’s not what I mean. I just. . . Don’t you just think that maybe you could do better? Like maybe you could find someone that could give you more peace or something. Less chaos. Less confusion. It's just that sometimes I wonder what you see in me. I'm broken. Clearly." She waved her hand around her face and body with exasperation. "I just think that you can find something better. Why don't you just find someone better?"
A pregnant silence filled the room for a few exhausting minutes. The only sound that drifted into the apartment was the occasional door that opened for a few moments before slamming shut. If she tried hard enough, she could almost make out a few words in languages she wouldn't be able to translate. Her heart pounded in her wrists, bouncing around the ever-encroaching walls with each sprinting beat. She thought she would find some solace in knowing this was going to be the ending. All she felt was a force squeezing her heart as if it was an orange or lemon. Blood seemed to seep out of her. If she brought her hand to her chest, she would find a sticky, blood-filled hole where she once stored all she loved.
Everything felt too hot. Her clothes stuck to her skin as if she had jumped into a pool; they clung to her body like a child to a precious blanket.
He was going to turn to her and say that she was right. He could find someone better. He wouldn't break up with her that night, but he would sleep on the couch, collecting his clothes and pictures in the morning, leaving her with nothing more than heartbreak and insurmountable grief.
“Is that what this is about?”
She turned to see him smile gently, taking her chin between his thumb and pointer finger, shaking his head as if she had said the most ridiculous lie. She opened her mouth to respond, but he beat her to it.
“My heart belongs to you. Sans strings that someone can use to yank it back. Sans spectacles that can be used to peer at one’s gravest mistake to judge. Sans teeth that can be used to scar. Sans lips to speak lies, Sans anything that might cause doubt or harm.”
“Shakespeare?” she asked, feeling her whole body warm like stroked embers of a fire.
“Let’s call it a Sean Current adaptation of the last few lines in All the World’s A Stage,”
He swung his hand in a crescent shape as he spoke, presenting her with the most precious gift that someone could bestow: himself. Somehow that made her feel all the warmer, but it wasn't as oppressing as the heat had been. Instead of a burning sun, her body was warm like beams of light filtering through a forest canopy or standing near a fireplace after a day in the type of cold that burrowed into bone marrow.
“But honestly, though. . . Don’t you think that-”
His lips pressed against hers, taking a sword of love against her demons of doubt. They were rough and a bit torn from where his anxiety overwhelmed him, but they were oh-so-familiar, oh-so-right. It was as if someone had flung open all of the windows and doors and roof and anything that blocked his entrance in the house that encased her soul, drowning her in waters of serendipity. His lips against hers were like a choir filling silence, a forgotten son returning home, a musician picking up a guitar and strumming for the first time in decades.
It shouldn’t be this easy to quiet her doubts.
All the Hallmark movies told her that she should be screaming, crying in the pouring rain, listening to his pleas. All the Disney movies were disappointed in her for even feeling this way about his love, for making him prove his love, for allowing herself to doubt his love. All the television shows she watched as a teenager tried to push countless episodes -one where they go on break, one where they hate each other, one where they find each other again- between them. But his lips on her lips, they formed an impenetrable seem, an unbreakable bond, an ethereal pause in time.
It shouldn’t have been that easy.
But it was.
He pulled back, brushing a stray, dark curl behind her ear, ignoring how heavy breaths filled the silence.
She stared at him, never letting their eyes release. She refused to let this moment end.
“Mr. Current,” she said, shaking her head in a small morsel of delight, “If you keep kissing me like that, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to let you go.”
“The horror,” he pressed his forehead against hers, touching her lips every time he talked with his own, “of having a love completely mine. You’ve found a selfish man, Ms. Gonzales, and I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be able to stop.”
So he didn’t.
The lights, illuminating the streets for wanders, reached towards the heavens, chasing a fruitless pursuit of joining the galaxy, mixing with clouds as it journeyed upwards. The city, while never-sleeping, was calmer, slipping back into a peace, as its citizens found their way home from work or the club or a soon-to-be-lost pub, returning to the apartments and those -pets, loved ones, vinyls, beds- who waited for their return. The urban lights allowed a path through a darkness that shrouded the city, hypnotizing all to reveal secrets, disappearing as soon as the first ray of dawn hit the Empire State, a reminder that nothing lasted forever.
Most things washed away like sandcastles on a shore, but something unexplainable about love kept it forever young, an immortal piece of a mortal soul.
Most things ended, but this, a gift from the Moon herself, wouldn’t.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.