A Different Heart



Here’s the deal. I’m writing this to you only because I’ve needed someone to tell this to—someone who’s not so involved. And maybe to make a little sense out of it for myself.

Ethan Hornsby was a high school senior quarterback, and a good one. He had scholarships to at least five colleges. He had dated the same girl since sophomore year, they planned to go to college together. His parents had split sometime before he went to high school but were on good terms, taking him into their respected homes equally and without much drama.

Ethan had a feeling, and even admitted a hope that his parents would never marry someone else, because he struggled to imagine having anyone else in the roles his mom and dad had taken. The dynamic between his parents however caused him to doubt his own relationship. No matter how many times his parents tried to quell his concerns, explaining that the two of them didn’t work well together and that’s why they parted, it still didn’t deter the idea that this was genetic, his grandparents had also split, but under more brutal circumstances.

These fears played out in Ethan’s relationship. His girlfriend Heather struggled a lot with what she felt was him not trusting her. That he thought she would be unfaithful to him. When really he was concerned about his own fidelity. Near the end they weren’t on very good terms. Something that Heather deeply regrets.

Along with these struggles in his personal life there was the stress of finishing up high school and choosing the college of his dreams, or of his parents dreams as he often felt.

It was after weeks of fighting that Ethan finally called it off. He broke up with Heather just a few days before graduation and left her there in the park, the place they shared their first kiss as a dare. Neither of his parents heard anything from him all evening, he was usually quite good at showing up in good time. Even Heather started checking with people to see where he could be. Despite being heartbroken she still worried about him, she was concerned he wasn’t in his right mind—that maybe tomorrow things could be as they were, with the two of them holding hands and counting the stars. His parents became concerned as well. No one was able to reach him on his phone. And none of his friends had seen him that day.

Ethan Hornsby had gone for a drive. One of those drives you take to clear your head, that sometimes carry through the night and into a state of mind that’s not often clearer and a lot more confused. Granted, he had a lot on his mind. And sadly, this would be his final night.

There was a drunk driver that was going the other way, ended up passing out at the wheel, and caused a head-on collision with Ethan’s small pickup truck.

The both of them died soon after, just before the paramedics arrived.

Ethan Hornsby was a certified donor.

It was several hours later I was put under anesthesia in a hospital miles away.

With careful and guided hands my dying heart was replaced with a broken heart.

When I woke up that morning I felt like a different person. The doctor told me that there would be some confusion and some getting used to this new life. A life where I didn’t have to worry about the ticking time bomb that was my heart. But in all the talks they talked about all the changes that were good. That I didn’t have to visit the hospital twice a week. That now I shouldn’t have anymore heart scares that left me in bed at the hospital for a week or two as I tried to regain strength from the heart that was taking everything.

But what no one talked about was that the heart that would replace mine would feel different. That I wouldn’t be able to accept that it was my own heart. That I would search for the story that brought this new life to me. And in doing so, understand why this new heart, this beating pulsing heart, had a tear in it. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to heal that wound.

This is where Emily comes in.

We met in the hospital. One of those weeks that I had to stay because my heart wasn’t able to handle the concept of living. She was visiting a friend in the same ward as mine. For the most part at the hospital you feel like an exhibit with all the visitors passing by your bed. Sometimes they look at you, but always with pity, or a sense of entitlement from how much their hearts are staying in control. But she actually sat by my bed and introduced herself on the second time seeing her pass by. I had always hoped she’d say hi. She smelled like pine trees, as if she lived in the woods by a stream and danced around her fire at night singing to the woods. She had dark hair that brushed her shoulders and her eyes were the most intense green I had ever seen. She was some forest elf that came to visit the hospital and give out the healing touch of mother earth. And this particular day she decided it was my time to experience it.

Some would say that my intoxication in her midst was simply the drugs playing with my head. Others would say that I’ve lived a careful life and anything of a wild nature would naturally draw me in. I had never been to the woods, all my life my parents did their best to ensure that a hospital was just a few minutes away. Some people move to places based on the location of the schools or recreational activities. My parents looked for nearby hospitals. Any venture into the woods meant an hour drive to a hospital where I could easily pass during the frantic rush.

I shared all of this with Emily, the drugs probably played a role in my straightforwardness. And against all odds she returned to my bedside, again and again.

She told me about the weekend camping trips her family would always go on. And the more we talked the more I felt I had guessed correctly about her. She loved the forest. She talked about the fireflies, and explained to me what they looked like, flickering there in the darkened fields under all the stars.

Some would take this as one of those sweet nice little stories that things are all just light and airy. But I was dying, and I wondered if she knew that.

I had no promise of a heart transplant, which was now my only resort. I was showing up at the hospital more and more, and I could see the worry in my parents eyes. I wanted to talk to them about it, about the fact that I may die soon and they needed to continue living; for me. Emily I feared was getting used to this being a regular thing. Her friend had already gotten freed from the hospital but still she visited. I hoped she knew she couldn’t expect anything from this.

Things were looking pretty serious before the transplant. I was hooked up to machines and asleep more than I was awake. She came in and out of focus and I wasn’t sure if she was ever actually there.

She was present during the rehabilitation and I managed to hold onto her as she offered her hand. I began to realize I needed to talk about what this was; that before this new heart I hadn’t allowed myself to think of the possibilities. But now, with her there before me, and the future becoming a bigger possibility; I needed to know what our future was.

The day I was admitted from the hospital she took me to her favorite coffee shop. And there, with our eyes never straying from the others, we talked about it all.

I understand most people don’t try to figure out so much in the early stages of a relationship. But in my life, and with the weakening promises of a life past the age of eighteen, I needed surety. I needed something to hold onto. Something to trust in. Maybe something to actually believe in.

After her fourth cup of coffee and my fifth cup of tea—I wasn’t allowed caffeine—we were smiling and holding hands across the table. Maybe this was what we both needed. Maybe I needed someone to care for, to experience life with, to live the way that had always been kept from me. And maybe she needed someone who understood the precious promise of what life is, who didn’t take each day for granted, who after coming so close to dying continued to count his days as a blessing. She had been through too many relationships with boys who took life for granted; who took her for granted. Who always took each day and used it up to their own benefit.

It was extremely awkward at first. I had my life back and at times didn’t even know what to do with it. My parents did their best to change up the scenery, but at times I just wanted to know what things could’ve been like all these years if my heart had been present.

Whenever I was with Emily an unfamiliar sensation would sweep over me. Something always caught my breath, my heart would beat feebly underneath the scar. I struggled to put words to this feeling, but she always seemed to understand.

I know what this sounds like. This was my first relationship. I had never before felt what it was like to clasp hands with another person, I had never experienced the thrill of staring into another’s eyes for hours without anything said. It looks just like the young love you see in the movies, the burning candle that burns through the night, but, within a short while, always sputters out and drifts away like smoke in the breeze.

Which was why these feelings, this strange attraction, this gravitational pull like two planets caught together and dancing around until their eminent destruction as they drift too close, caused me to fear it all. I had been given a new heart, and no amount of research gave me the answers I wanted. I wondered if the heart truly dictates who you fall for, that it’s feeble beating isn’t caused by that of a memory from the time it was broken before. That, even though I had never experienced love, and in turn had never experienced that heartbreak, I knew, from the moment they stitched together the arteries and caused it to beat again, the pain and the joy of being in love.

It all seemed to come together one night, as she drove me out into the woods, our headlights drifting across dirt roads and up against dense trees. The cacophony of insects playing music to each other through the grass, the moonlight breaking through each opening in the trees. The sudden rush I felt as we stepped out of the car and experienced the subtle breeze ruffling my hair that reminded me of the forest smell she would bring to me in the hospital. She took my hand in hers and led me through a pathway under the trees until they all broke away to a moonlit meadow. It took me a moment to understand what I was seeing until I gasped. There were small orbs of light bobbing in and out of the grass, flickering and glowing, dancing and breathing.

“Fireflies?” I asked, incredulous. Her lips parted into a wide smile.

“Yes, Ryan. Fireflies.”

I imagine my face looked quite ridiculous as I tried to contain my excitement. She laughed as she hugged me. I wanted to jump and dance through the meadow and become a part of the rhythmic dancing I was watching.

I looked into Emily’s eyes, the colors and the small lights dancing within the green painted there.

“Thank you.”

I didn’t know it was happening until our lips touched. I managed to overcome a moment of hesitancy and pulled her closer to me, our hearts beating against each other. A kiss to bring together the beauty of that night.

We parted and immediately I started shaking. Her look of joy turned quickly to concern.

“You okay, Ryan?” She said, grasping my shoulder. “Do you need to sit down?”

With the amount of emotions I was experiencing, the whirlwind of thoughts rushing through my brain, and the warm vibrant pulses of my heart, I’m surprised I managed to get anything out.

“No.” I managed. I broke into a smile, doing my best not to jump up and down. “No, everything’s perfect. Everything is just where it needs to be.”

She hugged me again, her hair brushing my chin.

I guess what I needed to understand was that I didn’t need permission to move on with my life, since this heart’s previous life had ended so young. I didn’t need to fix what had been broken in Ethan’s life because of what was given to me because of it. I needed to live, because that’s what his heart was meant to do. To continue learning, experiencing, seeing the world. To feel love again. But mostly to continue beating; whether it was within Ethan’s chest, or within my own.

Thank you for listening. I just needed to talk to someone about this.


Christian James


The Girl With the Paper Scarf

sad girl


She was about twelve years old and held a colorful scarf in her lap. The scarf was made out of hundreds of pieces of folded paper, fit together and connecting the squares of colors; red, blue, yellow, orange, and pink; at the end it was torn and only one piece of green paper was left, though it was faded and worn as if she rubbed it between her fingers too often.

The girl was rubbing the green distractedly, watching her mother who was sitting on the bed across from her. Her mother sat watching the television; a music video was playing at the moment of a young pop group. Three little children clung onto her, completely captured by the screen while they kneaded her clothing soft and frayed.

The girl remembered the therapist’s diagnosis for her mother: bipolar, schizophrenia; all words she couldn’t comprehend. All she knew were the episodes her mother had, at times she would smile as she made her children food, she would laugh; a sound that always made the girl feel safe. But most days her mother wasn’t doing okay, she could see it in the tears welling up in her eyes, in the scars decorating her arms like a treasure map with no destination, in the way she held back words from her children and they were left with trying to communicate with her from her movements.

Today was another one of those days, she watched as the tears glazed her mother’s eyes, the way her throat tightened, the way she ignored the crying of the youngest child.

Hanging the scarf loosely about her neck the girl got up from the chair and approached her mother, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder. Her mother looked up at her, tears beginning to stream down pale skin. The girl sat down on the bed, leaving her hand resting on her mother’s shoulder.

Her mother shooed the kids away to the room, once they had gone she sighed heavily.

“I know you’re not doing well, Mother. I want you to know you’ve got to keep fighting this.”

The mother looked down at her hands and picked at her fingernails.

“It’s not that so much. I’m worried about you, dear. I’m worried that you’ve seen too much. You’re still so young and I’m so sorry for what you’ve had to deal with. I fear I may be drawing you into the suffering I have had to deal with. Don’t let it take you, my darling.” More tears were coming and the girl held her finger against her mother’s face and wiped them away.

She got up and kissed her mother on the forehead and headed to the door.

“I want you to know you can talk to me.” her mother said.

She paused at the door then walked out without looking back. She hadn’t noticed as the door shut that it caught the red end of her scarf and tore it so that it hung loosely as she headed to the street.

The trolley sidled down the street and she ran to greet it, climbing onto the back and holding onto the rusted bars.

Her scarf blew outwards towards her home and that was when she noticed the tear. She pulled her scarf into her hands and looked at it, holding delicately onto the red square, the remaining piece connected to the green; to the father that never came. She ripped the red away from the scarf and held it out to the wind in the palm of her hand. The wind swept it up and tossed it like a feather, spinning across the street until it nestled on the edge of the street among forgotten scraps.

Then the girl with the paper scarf turned away and never looked back.

The Writer

Walking Alone

There’s a coffee shop that I frequent now located on Ninth and Oak. You wouldn’t remember it because it was just an empty parking lot when you were around. Maybe it holds some significance to me; I remember we always seemed to find ourselves here on our long walks, our hands keeping our bodies from drifting apart.

Those delicate hands of yours always felt too cold, I often wondered if you managed to retain any feeling at all in those fingertips that would glide over the side of my face as we lay together. I guess it’s those moments that inhabit my thoughts the most, the quiet times we spent together, when words had become empty and the things we needed to say to each other were too complicated to translate into any form of language. Maybe that’s why I never made sense to you.

I frequent this spot so often that the barista, Kurt, always has my black coffee poured and ready with a douse of heavy cream. There’s a patio with four tables placed at all four corners and a gas powered fire pit in the center and I practically inhabit the one that views the parkway and those buildings you always pointed out were poor examples of architectural design. Out of all the things you would say that was a constant, I guess that’s why I think about that a lot. I’m not sure these buildings ever truly bothered you, you just liked to fill the air with something; you knew how often my mind wandered into the realms of thought most people avoid.

Today happens to be a Tuesday, the clouds have kept the city under a blanket that feels oppressive; I wonder at the amount of toxins it may contain, how suddenly things could change if the rain turned into something other than evaporated water. You never liked when I spoke my mind, you would stop my lips with a finger and smile. I miss that.

People have begun to stop watching me as I type on this computer, it has been about a month since I started showing everyday and staying until the early hours of dusk. I used to be able to write about other things, things that didn’t involve my own life and the little thoughts that occur in my head. But since that last day, I’ve only been able to write about you, about those small moments we would have in the early morning before getting out of bed, the times we would walk through this city for hours and not speak a single word. Which is strange to me because I’ve made a living out of selling my words. Perhaps it’s as simple as that, I ran out of words to tell you because I sold what supply I had. And maybe that’s why I’ve come to write all of this down now, though I know it’s probably too late.

I think often of the night you had too much to drink and I managed to walk you back home while you tried to pull away from me. How often I tried to convince myself that I could let you go, let you wander the streets awhile and find your way back eventually. I hated that I thought that, but our relationship had become stale and I was struggling to figure out why. Did I not let you go alone enough?

You kept talking that night, claiming the thoughts had festered in your brain for some time and broken something in there.

“I can’t do this anymore.” You had said, as I stopped under a streetlight. I looked at you in the strange orange light, sharp shadows cut your face from the top down. You didn’t look like yourself, though now I wonder if that’s the proper lighting to see you.

“I can’t take this anymore. Let me go. Please, just let me be.” You said.

I keep trying to remember the words I said back to you, but there’s a sinking feeling in my gut that I didn’t say anything. After a long pause I turned away and tugged you forward. But I remember the guilt I felt in not having anything to say that night.

We continued our walks through the city but you started to keep your hands to yourself and would sometimes walk a block ahead of me, looking ahead and never turning to reach my eyes. I wondered at the thoughts that ran through your body, the thoughts that never managed to make it past your closed mouth again. I hoped that I was allowing you your space, that maybe you would eventually work out whatever was tugging at you. That sometime in the future you would hold my hand again. Laying together in bed I stopped asking for sex because I figured you’d shake your head again. The both of us stared at the ceiling now, we got out of bed at different times, and sometimes I wouldn’t find you until the evening when you’d come back through the front door.

“Excuse me, sir.” Kurt said, approaching my table. “I figured you might want some more coffee.” He set a fresh cup next to the computer. “And don’t worry, it’s been taken care of.”

I didn’t manage to thank him before he headed back to the front doors.

My tongue has remained silent for quite some time now. And I worry it may not find its purpose again.

I keep rewriting the chapter of that night. I keep improvising the words I should have said to you. Against a white background my speech seems to reach into you, pierce those walls you built, and somehow tell you how much you meant to me. But these typed words always fall flat because even I am not convinced. Maybe this was meant to be. From the beginning perhaps, no matter how many times God rolled the dice, we would always part.

There will always be that last morning, when I woke up to find you had left already. But this time I knew you would not be coming in through the front door again because you had left a note.

You wrote, “Please, just forget me.”

I’ve been trying to.

But I’m afflicted by all the times I should have said more. I could have filled those silences, if only to encourage you to say something as well. I should have kept talking even with your fingers against my lips.

I spent days lying in that bed, attempting to slow the fading of your scent. Trying to remember how you would lay your head into your pillow. Didn’t you always tuck your hair behind your ear before laying your head against the pillow? Or maybe you never did. Maybe I imagined you to be more concise with your movements, as careful with them as you were with your mouth.

Eventually I got out of that bed and convinced myself that in order to forget you I had to write every detail out. Then when I finished I would print it out, every last one of those pages filled with quiet dialogue, and burn it all. Watch the memories reduce to ash, and hopefully with them my mind would be set free by the weight of you.

It has begun to rain. Heavy drops decorate the sides of buildings and dance on the pavement. There’s a canopy over the tables so I remain mostly dry, though the inhabitants of the other tables have either gone inside now or to their parked vehicles.

You loved the rain. I remember that. You would drag me out of the house whenever it down-poured and we would wander the streets, soaked to our shoes, splashing in puddles and kissing against wet brick walls.

The problem is that in writing these pages I’ve come to fall back in love with you again. Going over every detail has reminded me of all the parts that caused me to see you as more than all the other people walking by in this city. There were those days when I would just watch you, I would notice the way you would walk and how you spoke poetry to me when you moved. Your cold fingertips as they would trace the lines of my chest and up against my chin, tracing back to my ears. The sweetness of your breath. And how, with everything, you slowed yourself down and carefully put things together. Those moments on our balcony overlooking the street when we would share a cigarette and the amount of times you’d smile as I passed it back to you.

You were my reason for getting up in the morning. You were what I looked forward to seeing after my dreams had run their course and I would awake to find you sleepy-eyed looking over at me. You were the reason I smiled at all these past few years.

But now you’re gone and I’m stuck here writing it all down. Where did you go? I sometimes allow myself to wonder, even though you asked me not to.

You were the reason I got up in the mornings, and now you’re the reason I continue to write. Maybe I’m prolonging the inevitable and in time I will come to forget you.

Maybe I’ll keep rewriting our story until I convince myself that you never left.

Or perhaps, I should set all of this down. Stop typing out paragraphs about the past and move on with my life.

It’s growing darker and I know it’s about time I head home. I always reach this point at the end of the day where I want to end the story. Put a period at the end of the sentence and hope that finalizes the thoughts in my head. Pick up my computer, walk back home and go somewhere else tomorrow without writing anything down.

But I know I will come back tomorrow morning and continue what I started.

I know I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and notice how empty the other side of the bed is and come back here to write out what’s still haunting me.

They say tomorrow is always a new day, but for me, it has become a repeat of all the previous days.

You asked me to forget you, but perhaps what happened is you forgot me and left me here in the past, doomed to live out all the days we shared, over and over again.

And somehow, I’m okay with that.


-Christian James-


Marie stood apart from him, her feet on the wet sand, her face wet with tears and looking towards the horizon of turbulent waves. The sun had gone, distant clouds gleamed with violet hues. The noise of the ocean kept her from screaming aloud. Hot painful tears scorched down paths of already marked skin.
He approached her from behind. Bearded, dark. His hand met her small waist, so close to the scars.
She flinched.
His breathing brushed the small hairs along the back of her neck, his mouth close to her ear.
“I’m sorry.” he says.
“Get away from me.” She manages, choking back tears as her breathing becomes more tense.
“Marie. . .”
“I can’t stand it anymore, I can’t be around you anymore.” She can’t even look at his face. She breaks out of his arms that threatened to engulf her, the moonlight causing his skin to appear luminous. Her feet meet the cold water as it rushes in. Marie welcomes the cold, as long as it can take her away from him.
She’s waist deep, the cold soothing the fresh scars. Gently she wipes the fresh tears away, allowing them to submerge into the icy volumes of salt water.
“Marie!” He shouts from the shoreline. “Don’t do this to me!”
Marie turns around, she slams the water with her trembling fists. “You can’t take anything else from me!” she screams. “You’ve already taken enough.”
He stumbles back. “I haven’t taken anything from you! I never wanted that!” Somehow she sees tears in his eyes as he collapses into the sand, his face hidden in his hands.
“No more. I can’t take anymore of this!” She shouts. Then she turns around and starts walking into the blistering waves, the water underneath threatening to take her under. But she’s okay with that. The roaring has become all there is in this world, her ears are deaf to anything else.
Just as she’s pulled under she feels the strong tug of hands under her arms, she fights them, but they won’t release. She’s dragged ashore, her skin shaking and her breathing ragged. She’s too cold to speak.
She’s held tightly against a warm bare chest. He has her in his arms, his hair dripping, his breathing labored.
“Marie. Please listen to me.” He pauses to wipe away the tears flowing from his dark eyes. “We just buried our son. Our son, Marie.” He takes a deep breath. “You can’t keep doing this to yourself. I don’t know what I will do if I lose you too.”
Marie turns her head away from him. With his hand he gently holds her face up towards his again.
“I know. It’s been hard for you. And at times, it seemed like you were the only one grieving. But you have to understand, I had to keep us afloat. Otherwise we would both be drowning. I had to do it for us. I did it for you.”
She lifts her cold hand and puts it against his cheek, he leans into it. “Why can’t you let me go?” she whispers.
He starts to cry again.
“Because. . . because I can’t face losing the both of you. I failed in saving my boy. . . our boy. I can’t fail again. I love you.”
She can’t keep the tears back any longer.
“I’m so sorry.” she manages slowly.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save him.” he says. The both of them grasping each other tightly in the sand and crying, for the first time since the accident, together.

Part One: There Be Monsters & Part Two: The Drunken Revelries of Monsters


Part One:
There Be Monsters

I awoke to find myself lying naked on a pile of broken porcelain. Two stories above me was the remains of a large window, shards of glass were missing, scarlet curtains tugged outward towards the oppressive sky. Fragments of porcelain stuck to my skin as I pulled myself up, one piece was shaped like a hand and was still fitted to my own hand like a glove. Brushing the splinters from my pale skin I looked at the small pile of porcelain and noticed a piece that looked like a face broken in two. I inspected it closer and was awed by how beautiful the face was. The skin was tanned, the jaw strong and defined, eyebrow poised and arched subtly, a deep intense brown eye and the jagged half of luscious full lips; the face was godlike, its only imperfection was that it was no longer whole. Turning it over I found that it was a type of mask, I pressed it to my face and found that it fit perfectly, though as soon as it touched my cheek I felt a burning itching sensation that didn’t stop until I set the mask back down.
There was the whispering sound of bare feet on pavement behind me, I turned quickly but saw no one. Cement covered the ground everywhere I looked, cracks showing here and there with small dark green weeds breaching the surface like small tufts of hair in unwanted places. A large domineering building blocked most of the view of the city. Litter of all sorts clogged the corners and drains, red plastic cups, cigarette butts, beer bottles, plastic bags, newspapers, and condoms.
Movement caught my eye in the darkened corner of the building and out from the shadows emerged a small boy. The boy was naked as well, he approached me cautiously, his bright and clear blue eyes darting everywhere but always coming back to me, in one hand he seemed to be clenching a locket, his hair was matted and nearly black, his skin was bone white, and just below his right eye was what seemed to be a large birthmark in the shape of a flame. The boy was also covered in blood, though it didn’t appear to be his own, his skin was completely unmarked.
I beckoned him towards me with my hand outstretched and noticed what looked like dried blood embedded underneath my fingernails. The boy saw this too and darted back into the shadows once more. I knew there was no hope trying to go after him.
I started to walk away from the building, trying to find out if there were any more living souls in this empty ravished city. In the distance within an alleyway I saw a man who seemed to be unconscious among piles of cardboard and newspapers. Another man was bent over him, covered in rags and scraps of clothing, with shreds of fabric covering his face, his hands. He wore shoes that he had somehow fit inside larger ones. He was stripping the clothing off of the unconscious man and pulling them on over his multiple layers of dirty scraps. When the clothed man was finished he looked up, saw me, and retreated just beyond my sight, leaving the now naked man lying uncovered.
There was a groan just behind me. I turned to find a large rusted dumpster piled high with trash, on the top crouched a creature that looked very much like a man, but there was something very wild and animal about its movements. In its arms was the limp body of a woman wearing torn fragments of a dress, blood ran in rivulets down her pale arms and dripped into the heaps of black plastic and maggot piles. I then realized with revulsion and terror that her eyes had been gouged out. The monster set her down among the trash and looked up at me. Its eyes seemed to have once been blue, but something had caused the color to bleed out leaving hollow, iris-less, grey eyes. With his eyes upon me I understood that this monster was blind, he could not see me, but he seemed to be able to smell me just fine. The fear of this thing unlocked my frozen legs and I ran from the mouth of the alleyway, turning and twisting through small doorways and hopping over broken down vehicles with their doors ajar and windshields caved in.
It was a few minutes of this before I stopped and bent over, panting heavily. Just as I began to regain my breath a woman adorned in black clothing grabbed my arm and tugged.
“You have to hide!” she rasped. “We must all hide!” Her eyes were so wide that it almost seemed impossible for them to close entirely, the irises reflected a dark harsh world that seemed to speak of the horrors she had witnessed, her skin was sallow and wrinkled, especially around the eyes, it seemed like sleep had not captured this woman’s body for years. Her tugging was urgent.
“They told me of a man with porcelain skin, they say he’s the creator of all these evil things. We must hide from him. We must hide! The city has already been destroyed by his hands. Those evil and cunning glass hands.” She looked around her, seemed to forget about trying to bring me into hiding, and ran inside a building with doors split apart. “Run before he finds you!” she cried one last time.
I could hear the small whispering of bare feet again and saw the unclothed child again, the flame birthmark stood out starkly against his pale skin. He walked closer to me, his brow furrowed, he seemed to be a little braver this time.
“Who are you?” he asked me, his voice small and barely audible.
It took me a while to find my voice. “I don’t know. I don’t remember anything.”
There was a small moment that I realized that this boy looked familiar to me, as if I had seen a photograph of him, or perhaps had met him long ago.
He hesitated and looked to the dark corners of the street we were both standing in.
“You may find answers in the Graveyard of Mirrors down this street a little ways. Be careful. There are monsters here.” the boy said in a whisper then darted back to the area he had appeared from.
I went in search of this graveyard trying to envision what it was I was looking for. I came upon the burnt wreckage of what once may have been a very tall building but was now only a blackened metal frame twisting in on itself, piles of masonry decorated the sides, and in the center a walkway was cleared. I ventured into the exposed skeleton of the building to find myself surrounded by large jagged pieces of mirror stuck into the ground at different angles. Not all of them reflected anything, some were too faded, some were spiderwebbed with cracks, and some were translucent. The largest piece stood in the middle and pointed straight up into the grey sky. I saw myself clearly in the reflection.
Within the mirror I saw a pale scarred body with bruises all over, and what seemed like recent scratching and digging that had drawn out dried rivers of blood just over my heart. It was the face that haunted me. Dark, nearly black hair covered my scalp, a sharp chin, thin lips that were trembling, vivid blue eyes with dried tear tracks still visible, and a large birthmark shaped like a flame just below my right eye.
The answers came to me. I knew who I was.
These monsters had names.
Guilt tries to hide its vulnerable skin from any unwelcome eyes, it takes from others in order to give itself some more security in not being seen for the monster it is.
Want has no vision, so again and again it tries to steal the gift of sight from its victims. This monster is never successful and is only hungrier because of it.
Fear cannot sleep because there is no rest when you know the horrors that are possible. Fear knows all things but only sees the darkness. So she can never stop running.
And Pride was the name I had fashioned for myself once. Pride was the broken porcelain, the glass hand that destroyed this city, the godlike face that now was broken into two, leaving a scarred, pale, naked body remaining.
Innocence wandered along the edges, watching from a distance, sprayed with the blood of those that had cut this child away from themselves. Innocence is always a vision of what we once were, an unmarked naked child with clear eyes and hope for something better.
The boy approached me from the heaps of ash. His footing steady despite the loosened debris. Once he was close enough he took my hand into his. I looked into the mirror and saw no boy, only an image of myself and the birthmark below my eye.

Part Two:
The Drunken Revelries of Monsters

He sits above it all, lounging in a makeshift throne made of lace and bedsheets, appearing like an angel perched and surveying the masses. Pride, in all his glory, had thrown a party, a celebration to end an age. The windows were dark all around them but they could still witness the fires burning and the buildings crumbling.
His lips were set in a permanent smile that nearly looked like a scowl. Pride was clothed in just a pair of golden trousers, his rippled chest glistened with fragrant oils and his neck was adorned in multiple necklaces.
With subtle movements he entered the mass of reveling people. Drinks were in large supply, silver platters were filled regularly as the people drank more and more, even when it seemed that they had had enough, they took more. Clothing littered the carpeted floors, some people danced in their underwear, and surprisingly some managed to keep their clothes on. Glitter rained from the roof, laughter echoed against the walls, the music reverberated into their feet. Hanging from the ceiling were large cages fashioned in the shape of a bird cage but large enough to fit the prisoners he had gathered.
He approached one that had a large crowd jeering and mocking the thing inside. Pride broke through the wall and looked at the boy within. The boy was small, dark haired, with a mark on his cheek, and naked. The boy lay curled up, crying into his knees as the crowds spit at him and mocked his nakedness.
Pride turned away and looked to the cage he had fashioned for Hope. She was a young woman, clothed in white that had gotten stained since her imprisonment, they had slit her wrists recently, blood ran down her fingertips and dripped infrequently to the carpet below. Her eyes caught his, she wasn’t afraid, there was some sort of haunting strength within the depths of those grey eyes, a single tear fell slowly down her cheek. Pride pulled away from her eyes and noticed only one man standing by her cage. Addiction was pale, his limbs starving for nourishment, his eyes hollow and lifeless, nearly glowing with their white pupils, he stood by the cage, holding a goblet beneath the dripping blood and drinking from it, his mouth stained crimson from his feast.
Pride felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Worry standing before him.
“Sorry, Lord Pride, I didn’t mean to bother you.” he said in his high pitched voice. His short stature curled in on itself as if he expected a beating.
“What is it?” Pride asked, looking down at his servant.
“We managed to capture the man you asked for. He was in the streets just outside.”
“Show me to him.”

They stepped into a dark room, lit only by a dim orange light on the wall, there was just enough light for Pride to see the face of his enemy.
Pain had a large wound on the side of his face that was left to bleed freely, his hair was matted, and his clothing was torn through.
“I was wondering when I’d get to meet you, Oh, Lord Pride the Beautiful.” Pain mocked.
Pride stiffened and nodded his head towards the other man in the room.
Vengeance pulled back on the chained neck collar around Pain’s throat.
Pain choked for a moment but let out a strangled laugh.
“What should we do with him Lord?” Worry asked from behind him. “Should we hang him up in a cage for all to see?”
“No.” Pride said turning to Pain. “You need to be put away, somewhere no one will see you. Somewhere that will make it so you will no longer exist.”
Vengeance spoke up with his tense gravelly voice, “Why don’t we just kill him?”
Pain turned his head to him, “Oh, you can’t kill me, even his Highness know that.”
“Aren’t you afraid of being put away? You won’t be able to hurt anyone anymore.” Pride jeered.
Just then the four of them heard a rumble, the floor shook slightly, dust fell from the ceiling.
Pain smiled up at the ceiling. “My brother is hard at work destroying your city.”
“I want this city destroyed, that’s why I set him free. He’s not working for you.”
Pain shook his head. “He’s not working for you either.” He struggled in his bonds and managed to free his hand long enough to set his hand on Pride’s chest. Pride didn’t have enough time to react before he started to feel a cold harsh burning from the touch.
Pain looked into his eyes, “You’re still in there. You can feel it, can’t you?”
Pride punched him in the face, freeing the hand from his chest and causing a spray of blood to darken the ground.
“Chain him in the cellar!” he commanded. “Make sure he is never freed.”
Vengeance took him away while Pain smiled back through his broken teeth.
“My lord, should we be concerned about his power?” Worry asked.
“Enough with your words. Leave me.”
Worry scrambled backwards through the door, bowing low.

When the silence became too much for him he returned to the dull roar of the party upstairs. He caught a glimpse of Lust slipping around the men lying on couches, her clothing barely clinging to her supple skin, her breasts exposed as she lay seductively against the couch. Chains clung to her exposed ankles, ringing with her dancing feet as she wandered among the men, clinging to them and bringing them to her room for just a moment before forgetting them.
Pride scratched at the itching in his chest, it was starting to hurt.
He turned to the window and looked out at the bleak landscape. Rage was somewhere down there, tearing at the foundations of the city, blowing up the memories of what used to be. This city needed to be freed from all that was built before, it needed cleansed of anything that could stop him.
It was said that Rage and Pain were born as one child, but Rage tore himself from Pain and became a twin, no longer of the same body. Pride smiled, everyone would soon forget that Pain existed.
He spasmed, a sharp pain tore through his chest causing him to gasp. Pride quickly looked around to make sure no one had noticed. He couldn’t show any weakness to his guests. He stumbled towards his throne and bumped into the cage holding Hope. She looked at him and smiled a sad smile. She went to touch his face with her pale bloodied hand, he lurched away, pushing through the crowds. He scratched and scratched at something that hurt deep beneath the skin, he wanted to remove it. He fell onto the floor.
The party stopped as everyone turned and stared down at him.
The pain was overwhelming. 
 Worry rushed to his side. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“OUT!” he shouted. “Out! All of you!”
The guests hesitated but soon started to funnel out the door, glancing back as Pride tried to set himself upright.
“Here, grab my arm lord.” Worry coaxed.
“Leave me!”
Worry bolted out the door.
Pride heaved out a grunt as he stood up. His chest was throbbing, as if set to a metronome. Hope and Innocence stared at him, the only beings left in the room.
“What are you looking at?” he shouted.
They said nothing. The boy had stopped crying.
“Please, stop this!” he cried. The pain had started to spread all over his body, an itching burning sensation just underneath the skin. He shook back and forth, stepping backwards. Each time he looked into the eyes of Innocence it burned more. It got to the point where he forgot his footing and backed right into the large window behind him, shattering the glass and falling into the dark air beyond.
Pride shattered into thousands of pieces on the pavement below the window.
The pale form of a man was revealed among the shards of porcelain just as the sun began to appear on the horizon.

The Fraud



Rumor spoke of an artist in the city who could paint with emotion. His paintings were one of a kind because they spoke to such a vast audience. Young and old could look upon these paintings and see different things, memories from their pasts, dreams, wishes, lost loved ones, and the smile of their child. His paintings sold extremely well and he was beginning to build a reputation. The only thing was that no one knew who he was, no one had seen his face, and he never gave a name.
Posters spread all around town like birds gliding and perching on any uncovered space, this artist was having an art show that was open to the public. No one had ever seen more than one or two of his paintings at once. It was spoken about for weeks, housewives went frantic over finding the proper dress for the occasion, art specialists from around the world flew in for this event, even some of the youth of the city—those delving into their own mediums in the world of art—were determined to be some of the first to walk through those doors.
As time would have it, the night was upon them and there was a crowd of people that emerged on the street corner like pigeons after grain has been offered. The lights from the exhibit shone across the blank sidewalks pulling in the pale faces from the darkness.
The housewives dragged their weary-eyed husbands through the doors, the youth sidled in and found their corners where they could observe, the art specialists pulled out their looking glasses and roved over the paintings as if looking for the secret to exquisite art in the small ridges left by paintbrushes. There was no frantic rushing or pushing, this was art, and they respected one another because of it.
The mood of the room became elusive as the night wore on, no one could really explain it, but each painting drew out a certain emotion from the individual.

There were many tears shed over the largest of the paintings set near the back, dark azure and slate grey, with blotches of ink black, and gentle curves broken at the end.
“It’s just the heartbreak in this one, I can’t imagine what he’s been through in order to paint something so. . . vulnerable.” said one housewife to another.
“You see,” said one specialist to another, “the broken lines give way to a sort of faded negative space, evoking the sense of loss that is so current in this piece.” A few people nodded solemnly at this statement.
Some stood quietly with their eyes glazed slightly and seemed to have their whole world set in perspective.

Near the doorway was another painting that began to cause a stir. It hung on the wall at an intentional slant, the paint seemingly spilling out of the side with dark crimson stains. No one seemed to agree on what this one meant.
“It doesn’t seem to want to mean anything.” argued a specialist to another.
A husband and wife were having a heated argument with lowered voices.
Only the youth seemed to understand the painting, they knew this emotion well, they knew what the painting was trying to say about it, they could feel it.

One painting in particular it was observed that people kept coming back to it. It seemed to be an image of a tranquil grassland with golden rays of sunlight washing over everything until it all seemed to shimmer in faded detail. A few people stood there with their eyes closed and a smile on their lips as if remembering fond memories. This painting evoked ease and comfort to all who set eyes on it. The youth wandered away from it, attempting to find the paintings they more related to.

And there among all these people walked the artist. He did not intend on revealing himself, he simply drifted around as if he had no real intention of gleaning anything from his visitors. He was young, it made him grin when he overheard an art enthusiast state that, “This artist has to be at least fifty to be able to convey these emotions with such ease.” His suit was meek and seemed to be hand tailored but was slightly frayed at the cuffs and shoulders. The suit was a size too small, whenever he moved his arms one could see the thin scars on his wrists. The only thing that spoke of his profession was the dark paint embedded under his fingernails that resisted the vigorous washing he had gone through earlier. He remained unknown through the rest of the evening, a blank face among the masses, just the way he wanted it to be.

Eventually the time came for the housewives to relieve their babysitters, the specialists to return to their hotels and early flights out, and the youth to their bar scenes with friends.
The artist remained, closing the doors quietly with the blinds drawn. The lights went out silently, the murmur of voices no longer present in the empty building with one soul remaining.
He found his way to another room off from the display room. A faint light glimmered in the ceiling, revealing heavily shaded objects littering the floor; empty paint bottles, broken paint brushes, slashed canvases, and broken tripods. Among the heaps of broken and discarded lay a small mattress with a crumpled sheet and an intact tripod with a blank canvas. The artist walked up to the canvas, his hands were shaking and his breath was heavy. He took a paint brush carefully, spread a splash of paint on his other hand and began to paint. If someone had been in the room with him he would have never known. His eyes were on the canvas the entire time, he seemed to see the final image on the blank canvas and was simply revealing it with each stroke of the brush. An hour or two had passed and he was finished. He was panting and had to lean on his knees before looking over the finished painting.
He saw nothing in the canvas. No emotions emerged. No tears. No desire to emerge into the painting and learn of the world that the painting spoke of. Nothing.
This is what he had become accustomed to.
With each of his paintings a little more of what made him feel was taken away. He had managed to slowly chip away at all the things that could possibly hurt or make one happy. This was his art.
There was one feeling he did have as he looked over the painting. He felt like a fraud. How could he paint with such emotion when he had no emotions to paint with?
He frowned and looked away from the painting and the feeling was gone.
He fell into his bed one painting lighter. An empty soul for the body of a man who no longer longed for anything.
It felt good.

A Story About God and an Arrogant Boy



When I was around the age of eight through twelve I regularly did something that I never thought strange until many years later. Whenever I came across a rock or piece of wood that either looked out of place, was abnormally beautiful, or unique in any drastic way, I would find a stump nearby, a large flat boulder, or a particularly green patch of moss and place it there. I hoped and sincerely believed that in doing this at some point I would come across a secret key that when placed in this secret place would transport me into another world, a world full of adventure and mythical creatures. I watched movies where boys my age lived incredible adventures. Why couldn’t my life be the same? I’m sure my mother remembers clearly my griping about living a boring life. In my fantasy lands I was rescuing enslaved people, battling against evil armies, finding a strength within that I never knew I had, soaring on the backs of dragons, and walking through flames.
My life certainly took a turn for the interesting and story-worthy, but not at all in the way I had hoped. God kind of made sure of that.

None of these memories really connected until just recently during a drive to Bozeman. A full hour alone to me and my thoughts has proven to sometimes end with peculiar but always interesting stories. 
 The morning started unlike most mornings, I didn’t have time for breakfast, I found my socks right away, and I didn’t forget anything. I get into the car only to realize that there is no auxiliary port for my iPhone, a first world problem that may cause emotional breakdowns. I try the radio, switching to my favorite radio stations only to find that the car isn’t picking any of them up. The only stations available to me were country and christian. I picked the latter, because, I’m not sure. I could have turned off the stereo and let my mind run rampant in my exhausted head.
Truth be told, I cannot stand most christian music. It’s not exactly what I’d consider an art form. My music usually falls into the category of artistic and obscure. So, listening to christian music for a trip spanning an hour was a strange switch from my usual preferences.
The entire two weeks before this I had been concentrating on training my brain to focus on what was important in my life and among the qualifications were: God, talking to God, figuring out my life, asking God for help, loving people, seeking out God, loving God, and lifting every concern and worry to Him. It’s been incredibly hard work, I have a very short attention span, everything else seems to grab me away from my better thoughts.
I must have started on track that morning because I was no longer seeking out the artistry in the music, which I can say to you was not present. (You can argue about that later.) I was listening to what the singer was saying, who he was talking about, who he was crying out to, and who he desperately wanted to love with all of his heart. It gave me an enormous sense of calm, something I haven’t experienced in months, thanks to the fact that my brain only knows one speed: 1000 miles an hour. 
 As the songs played a few popped up here and there from past memories, from a time when I used to listen to contemporary christian music on purpose and claimed to love it. 
 My dad passionately loved the music from when he was my age, 80’s rock ’n roll, which at the time was around fourteen. I didn’t want to be like Dad, plus, I really didn’t like his music. So I went the extreme opposite, christian music, especially the stuff my Dad hated. Rebellious kid, I know. I have my regrets.
This one memory I remember vividly, it’s strange how strong that memory is, and I think it’s the sheer honesty of what happened that stays with me the most. 
 I was driving alone in my car, an 80’s model of the Honda CRX, blaring good old christian music from the speakers, and thinking to myself. Just as I began my journey down to town I had the urge to pledge myself to God. 
 Now, this wasn’t a sudden realization of my need for Him or finally finding Him. I grew up with strong christian parents who raised me and my siblings with a fairly good sense of faith.
The pledge, which I do remember saying aloud, went something like this: “God, I give myself to you for the furthering of your kingdom, use me as a tool, as a light to shine over the world. Use me to make the blind see, teach the lame to walk, in whatever way you have set out for me. I am yours.”
Pretty great, right? I never really thought much on it after that except for this one fear that crept up soon after saying this.
What if He wants me to die for someone? I wasn’t sure if I could actually do it. I felt it would be a waste of what I thought I had in me, I desperately hoped that I could do something more memorable than that. I tend to forget that fact that He kind of died for all of us and is the most memorable man in history because of it.

Thinking back on this memory and how my life changed after that instance has revealed to me the words He must’ve said to me that day in that old beat up CRX blaring music I actually didn’t really care for.

“Will you endure unimaginable suffering for me?”
I had no idea what was waiting for me. I’ve learned that perhaps dying would have been the easier route.

In those early teen years I thought of myself as a genius. There were no qualms or doubts about it. Incredibly attractive, artistic, talented, intelligent, and on track to win the nobel prize for amazing person. (They hand those out, right?)
My parents seemed to have all the answers, and because of that I thought I knew all I needed to know about life. I wasn’t going to go through hardships, I knew how to get out of those; I wasn’t going to deal with bad things because I could just imagine them away, ignore them for awhile and they’ll fade, right? It’s not like they can fester and grow into something even darker and fouler than what they were. I had my life planned out; I would marry young, have children of exceptional character and talents, write a few bestselling novels and sit on the piles of money my publishers would dump at the door of my four story mansion.

Throughout that time I pitied a lot of people.
I pitied them for not knowing the obvious things I knew, I pitied them for the tumbles and falls that I would never let happen to myself, I pitied them for the hardships they endured, and the bitterness that a lot of them acquired because of them.
In short I was a bit of a pretentiously pious prude.
What I didn’t know was there were a few who worried for me, they saw how blind I was, and they knew I would fall harder because of it.

That day in the car just after pledging my life to Him God must have bestowed a gift upon me. A gift so subtle yet so powerful that at times it can easily feel like a curse.
This gift was the ability to feel with immense depth. There are times when this can be one of the best senses, it can cause extreme happiness and love to wash through you. But most days it feels like your heart is being ripped out and your lungs sucked dry.

Soon after that God led me to befriend fragile and confused people, he made me watch as they dove into darkness, trying their best to cloud their eyes from the blinding light. He put a few people in my life that had been so incredibly lost but miraculously pulled out of their pits and brought into his healing arms. He showed me people who just skimmed on the surface, never taking a dive but never fully learning to fly. And he showed me people that were so incredibly a part of Him that just being around them made the sun shine a little brighter. 
 And somehow within me, I started to feel for these people, I started to understand a different side to the way things worked, that their are multiple answers to just one question. 
 None of this happened all at once, this took years.

Years of mistaken friendships that I swore would last forever. Years of expecting the best from people and being disappointed. Years of trying to shine a light that I didn’t understand—I found that instead I had misplaced that light and was shining something of my own, with its own disastrous ending.
There were years of giving up on everyone, of losing the love I had wanted to have for the lost. I ignored their stories of darkness, shaking my head and declaring that they should have done better, that they should have known. Because of this I was slowly losing my connection with my generation. This generation that so desperately wants to be understood, I was quickly misunderstanding. I strived to believe in miracles but I was slowly losing faith that they existed. I lost a lot of friends because of that, because I didn’t believe that they could come out of it. I didn’t give them the chance to prove me wrong.

Then there was three years ago.
Everything was good and getting better.
I had a girlfriend. My family loved me and I adored them. My writing was flowing smoothly, every story getting better and better. The praises hit the ceiling. Montana was beautiful, every chance I had I would go hiking into the mountains. Every morning I would go down to my parent’s restaurant and eat food among the smiles of friends and family before going off to work.
I felt successful. Somehow I had managed to get onto the train to an excellent future. My writing was going to take me to new horizons. I wanted to marry this girl. I was going to make short films, and somewhere down the road make films that you’d see in theaters across the country with big posters and my name in large font across all of them. I dreamed big. I had managed to take the steps needed, there was no way I was going to mess up now.
During that time my Mom shed a lot of tears, mainly over the extreme stress of running a restaurant that needed her and trying to set aside some time for her children who needed her more. Every one of my mother’s tears throughout the years has its own story. There’s a part of a mother’s soul that no one will ever understand.
I was a comfort to her then; I had a talent in seeing the silver linings in every situation. This was something Mom needed from me and I was glad to help. Somehow back then I was able to see the hardship in the world and turn it around to my happiness. It was a trait that I became famous for. Though looking back now, I wonder how honest that ability was, I was so easily convinced to ignore the hardness of life back then.
I made one fatal flaw. I neglected God through most of this. Why would I need him then? Everything was good, I didn’t need to pray for anything. What use was he? I had everything figured out. I had done this all by myself. 
 I didn’t consciously think that way, but it was certainly the way I acted.

After that year things went from bad, to really bad, to the worst. I never could’ve seen it coming, even if my eyes were open at the time—which I can tell you they definitely were not.

I broke up with my girlfriend, a choice that resulted in long nights wide awake with a throbbing ache.
My family moved 3800 miles away, my parents and five of my siblings. The realization came later that I wouldn’t be able to ask for a hug from one of them, that I wouldn’t have a shoulder to cry on, and I wouldn’t be able to sit around a table laughing at the stories we would tell for a long time. There was even one night when I realized that there is something so much more to the phrase ‘goodnight’ when said by the people you wish were around to say it.
That winter I reached the deepest and darkest place I have ever reached. I fully realized my sick obsession with causing myself emotional pain. It took months for me to realize how similar emotional scarring was to physical scarring. The hardest thing for me that time was trying to erase the dark lies I believed about myself. That I was worthless, to be hated and despised, entrapped in my own emotions, and selfish.
Selfishness is an interesting thing, most of the time it’s associated with a person wanting things for themselves. There’s another side to it. Selfishness can be when you are so self absorbed in your problems, in your many issues, that you constantly think about how horrible you are, how many times you don’t deserve what people are giving you, and how you’d be better off not associating yourself with people. It’s the selfishness of crouching in a corner, licking your festering wounds, and snapping at any hand offered.
My writing wasn’t going anywhere, which just added to my own depression. A writer who can’t write anything is nothing. There were times that I tried writing, but the only paragraphs I wrote just fueled my own self pity. Writing was no longer an escape but a chance to submerge myself in the foul liquid I was drowning in.
When I was around friends I acted as if all was well, only giving small hints to the depression I was dealing with. Somedays were better than others, somehow I managed to rise out of the depths to smile again, but in my head, in some inner compartment, the sadness was ready to break through again.
I didn’t call out for help. I didn’t ask God to save me from my own destruction. I suppose that’s why this lasted so long.

It was during another car ride that I began thinking over everything I had been through and why I was so heartbroken over what happened. I came to this understanding: all my life I have depended solely on the company I keep to give me some measure of comfort and success. I depended on my ability to make people happy to grant me my own happiness. I fueled off of the people I loved like a leech. When I was with my family, with good friends, with my church family, I easily forgot the one that I should have been focusing on.
On that drive with tears freely flowing I felt the words that God had been speaking to me all this time.
“I’m here. Look at me. Talk to me. I want to help you but you have to let me in.”
I had been ignoring Him for so long.
“I’ve taken away your family, your friends. I’ve made it harder for you to reach people, to open up to them. I’ve made life harder and harder for you. I only did this because you needed to grow, I want you to experience true love, to experience the incredible calm that comes with letting go of everything. How could I make you understand if I just kept handing you everything?”
“I gave you everything but you weren’t able to see how important those things were until I took them all away. Do you see now? Listen to me, speak to me. Say what you are holding back. I need you to trust that I know what’s best for you. Trust me.”
I had to stop the car because of my sobbing.
“I have caused you to be alone so that you would realize that you are never alone. You need to understand that all you need is me by your side. Stop turning away from my hand and take it this time. I will show you how great the world can be.”

This was only the start, it took a long time to expel all that I had told myself that winter. I was slowly healing. But mankind has it’s addictions and I fell back to them again and again, it was habit. It was easier to just forget and ignore.
All the while God would poke my shoulder, “No, you need to figure this out. Ignoring it will only allow it to live inside of you, a place that we both know needs to be healed before it can take anymore of this.”
I shook him off and went about my life.

I struggled with alcoholism for awhile. Newly twenty-one with alcohol readily available I quickly fell into the habit. Most of my friends noticed this and gave me concerned looks, but they never said anything because they knew what I knew, I would just deny it. I knew what I was doing. There was still the bitter aftertaste of not having dealt with my depression. Alcohol has the unique ability to numb that taste.
One night I found myself shirtless and lying on a lawn in my own vomit without the strength to move. It hurt to think about how far I had fallen from the pinnacle I had built for myself in my youth. 
 That night I had been having fun, drinking with friends, giddy with a buzz, music blaring in my ears, black lights making my drink glow. The world slowly began to rotate, my feet unsure in this large boat adrift at sea. And suddenly every light happy feeling and faint blissful tingling turned into a spinning sloshing dive. My stomach dislodged and my head lolled on a neck that was no longer able to hold it up.
They dragged me from the lawn and into my bed. I remember thinking that I’d rather stay on the lawn, it was cool and damp, but I couldn’t even manage a slurred word. All I could do was watch from the background of my mind as I dissolved into drunken slumber, all the while begging to know the answer of why I kept falling.
I knew God had the answer. But I didn’t want to talk to him.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this I started to get to know an old friend I had lost touch with long ago. If I’m being completely honest I gave up on him years back. He grew up in a Christian household but when he came of age he rebelled and left the faith. When that happened I didn’t believe he could come back. It would take a miracle, and I didn’t believe in those.
But here he was, very much the same guy I had known since childhood, but something was different about him, there was a light about him. He was no longer lashing out at a world that frowned on his lifestyle.
We ended up in a car together for two days on the way to my brother’s wedding then another two days on the ride back home, which allowed a lot of hours of talk between us. The thing that bonded us from the beginning is that the both of us don’t waste our time with small talk, we like to get deep and controversial with our discussions. Naturally the subject swayed towards religion and beliefs a few times. He was curious, as was I.
Slowly, as I got to know him again I realized that he himself had been through some pretty dark times as well, considerably darker than mine, and yet he managed to come out and have a strong conviction to be kind to others; kindness being one of the most important fruits we can give.
His kindness I think is what drew me in.
As time went on I noticed a shift in his life that was gradual but steadily picking up speed. He told me he was talking to God again. That he began setting aside prayer time. He said that he finally understood what was missing in his faith all those years back. His prayers from before were always filled with what he wanted from God, what he wanted to see done, what he wanted healed. Now he prays with the fervent trust that God will do these things according to what is best for him, and not what he thinks he needs.
Hearing this inspired me but also made me look hard at myself. Here was my friend, revealing so much light from his new faith in Christ, so much strength and trust; and I was still struggling.
This friend told me that I was what started him thinking again about God. 
 At first I thought I had been the blessing to him, maybe I was. But it turned out in the end that God had it set to be a dual blessing, the both of us helping each other in our walk towards God.
Then came along my best friend of many years, the plan was that she’d stay the summer with me. If there’s one annoying trait of hers it’s her capacity to make you dig deep into yourself to find the things that have been infecting your soul and bring them up into the light. Through that I have come to learn how strong my stubbornness can be. All my life I had been fashioning my life the way I thought was the best way to live, when all the while I was suffocating my unique soul that needed almost the opposite. She had seen how much I was oppressing myself for years, but was never able to reach me until then. 
 Her shoulder has been subject to my wet tears on a regular basis. I’ll be doing fine then she’ll ask a question and it’ll all be over.
I don’t know where I’d be if God hadn’t decided to bring these two people into my life. Maybe that’s not what I should think about, I’ve done that too many times in the past. What ifs are possibly more destructive than what actually happens.

I suppose this all came to a close with my plans to go to Europe. A large ambition for someone of my current history. It was no longer an impossibility and I was drunk on the hope. This was the main reason why my best friend came for the summer. The entire summer we fought hard to keep the possibility there. The ticket was affordable. But the plans had to keep changing as we discovered new restrictions. As the days ticked close to the date when we planned to leave the stress built up stronger and stronger. We were stubborn, but we knew that we needed more money than we had saved. I even wrote up a calendar of rough estimates on the money we’d make before leaving. We’d barely make it if we were extremely strict. But that was okay, at least we’d still be able to go to Europe. 
 Then Montana experienced the worst smoke season in years. Which in the case of our window washing job means almost no work. This smoke lasted nearly a month. 
 So we cut down on the time we’d spend in Europe. All the while grinding our teeth at the slow understanding that we wouldn’t be able to make it. We started saving too late.

Mom had called a little before this asking if we could instead come down to the islands on account that they needed us down there. At that time I was beginning to feel a strong pull to go down there. 
 But Europe.
My family needed me.
Europe would be so much fun!
I was getting weaker everyday and there were things I felt could only be healed by my mother’s healing hands.
But we had promised ourselves that we would go to Europe.
We were going to Europe. Even if we stayed three days.
The amount of stress we had built up over those last few months was effecting our sleep, our mood, our ability to process anything.
Then I began to pray about it.
And as I did I remembered the way that my friend said he prays. Instead of praying for the things you want to happen, pray instead for what God has planned for us, and pray that he will give you the ability to let go of those things that you desperately hold onto.
In doing this Europe started to fade. The rush and thrill of that adventure started to recede. Without knowing it God had made my decision, and I knew I was going to see my family. It made me really happy when I realized this.
So I got the tickets, I planned the trip. But I didn’t tell anyone.
Mainly it was my fear of what they’d say.
“He was never going to go to Europe.”
“Told you.”
“I knew you weren’t good enough at saving to go.”
“You just can’t have big dreams like that and expect them to happen.”
“Welcome to the real world.”
It depresses me to think of it. Sure, I didn’t know all of what was required to go on a trip like that. But really, is it really that impossible?
I’ve struggled with depending on what others say about me all my life. What if they’re right? What if I’ll never amount to anything? What if I don’t make them proud? What if I fall and they use me as an example?
When really what happened was a success. I had stopped fighting the path God had set for me. I had given my choices up to God and He had answered. That’s incredible! I was on the right path, headed to the place God wanted me.

Then came the question of what was this journey for? Was it just to help my family? I was pretty troubled myself, maybe my parents would be able to fix me. My dad was there for me when I broke my arm. My mom cleaned my skinned knee when I crashed my bike. There were a few very important moments where she dried my tears from the emotional pain the world had inflicted on me. Maybe that’s what I needed!
Notice how quickly this selfless trip of helping my family became a selfish trip about helping myself. I was falling into my old ways again.
And God seemed to just step back and ruefully gaze at my stumbling saunter into old habits.
The things I was going to work out. The emotions I would unload to Mom. The logic I would drink from Dad’s wise council. The questions that I would have answered.
Then God flipped the switch.
And just when I thought I had it figured out.
He did it again.
And I tried.
So He did it again.

I hugged my family and quickly began to realize that they needed me a whole lot more than I did.
Mom’s emotion meter was reading at dangerous numbers. Dad’s wise council was few and far between. He was busy keeping the family standing, so he worked day and night. I rarely saw him at the house when he wasn’t asleep from exhaustion, even on his rare day off.

Seven months later, I realized what happened. I grew up down there.
As a child, we go to our parents when we see blood on our arms. We go to our mothers when we need nurtured and our fathers when we need guidance. This is all so that in time we can learn to bandage our own wounds and lean on the guidance of our Father in heaven. I have siblings that still need their mother and father, but I have grown old enough to take on my own burden, and to stop loading it onto the breaking backs of those who love me.
God had set me free from the idea that I needed my parents to always be there. When in reality, they can’t.
Every parent has tried. Every time their child falls out of a tree, trips on some steps, or feels the pain of a broken heart they chide themselves for not being there to stop it.
All have failed, because thats not the way things are meant to be. We need to fall so that we can build up the strength to stand up again.
How many times have you witnessed a baby’s first steps? How many times did they fall before then? How many times will they fall again? Who is there to hold them as they practice their steps? Who has to let go eventually?
If you answered ‘parents’ to that last question you forgot a third member.
That child has to let go of their hands. That child has to believe that this time he can make it, even though all those other times ended in failure.
This is because one day, he will walk across that room, and he will have an adventure all his own.
God is always waiting with open arms from across the room.

Like Dandelion Seeds


They told me that I was seeing things when I told them I could see her face in the textured ceiling. But it was true, especially when the lights were out, the dull glow from the streetlights caused the smudged shadows on the ceiling to curve, shade, and move. I could see her dimples there, her eyes looking away bashfully as she smiled. It felt good to think that perhaps she was smiling down on me in my bed. Mom tells me that she’s never coming back. It hurts to hear her state something so absolute.

Mom and Dad visit often now. They seem a little more desperate each day as the weeks progress—it’s nearly been a month. Maybe it was a mistake to tell them I plan on leaving. They don’t want me to go after her, but I can’t help myself. I told them that they don’t understand, even though deep down I know they went through something similar. Running away for three months without contact was possibly the worst thing a seventeen year old could do to his parents. A part of me desperately wants to stay with them, we’ve become so close over the past few years, it would be heartbreaking to throw that away. But the other part of me knows that I can’t live without her.
I’m still confused about why she’s no longer here. My veins are filled with drugs to quell the boiling rage and silent pain. Sometimes, when I haven’t seen anyone for awhile, I can feel her slip her hand into mine, I can see her tears trying to hide behind her bronze hair, I can hear her whisper her love for me, but every time she comes to me, she slips away again, my hand dangling off the mattress as she leaves my room twelve shades darker than it had been before she showed up.
I can’t stand it anymore, I want her to stop coming to me at night, whenever she leaves it chips away another piece of my heart. I’ve asked my parents to stay longer.

They ask why it’s becoming harder for me to speak, I like to say it’s the pain, but I know it’s more than that. I can feel the words drifting and detaching from my mind like dandelion seeds caught in a breeze. I’m becoming mute, I’m finding it harder and harder to communicate to my parents who so desperately beg for me to break the silence. The thing is I like it this way, it’s easier. There are no more unsaid words burning in my throat, threatening to rise out and wreak vengeance on a world without her.

As the nights grow darker and the words slowly disappear from my mind all I can recollect are the memories we had together.

People used to tell us that we had so much going for us. We were young, we were reckless, we were alive.

She said yes to forever there next to that lake as the sun caught the shoreline on fire. Forever had been the promise, I thought it meant more than three years.

I can still feel her tears against my shoulder as we heard the news that no matter how alive we were we could not create life. Even now I still feel that sharp ache in my throat, that silent pain in my heart at the unfairness of it all. It’s stronger now, now that she’s gone from my side.

I remember most the soft kisses she’d give me, those breathless seconds where nothing else mattered. Those had always been so special, it was something about the way she went about it. There was no foreplay, there were no hints, it was simple, innocent, and spontaneous. She used them to shut me up a few times. It’s ironic that now, with her gone, I’ve lost the ability to continue talking.

With every unsaid word Mom grasps my hand a little tighter. Perhaps she’s trying to hear my words through the beat of my heart. It’s possible that all this time my heart has been repeating the same phrase over and over again in morse code, waiting for someone to hear its lament.
Why did this happen?

That sentence is a constant presence in my mind, I could sense that my heart may be repeating it. But now, with my mom holding my palm tightly with her delicate fingers I wanted her to feel a different sentence.

I love you.

My memory of the morse code is clouded so I’m not even sure I can say it right.

She cried into my shoulder that night, the same shoulder that still remembered my wife’s tears. Maybe she understood that I was leaving soon, maybe I said more than what I intended to; my heart has tricked me on more than one occasion. Dad came over and kissed my forehead, a motion so delicate for the rough and hardened man I remembered that it brought tears to my dry and tired eyes. Mom tried to wipe them away but I couldn’t stop them, they had waited a long time.

I left them the next morning, they had both fallen asleep in the two chairs by my bed. I kissed each of their foreheads as I departed from the room. I wouldn’t be coming back.

I walked by the scene of the crash, an observer drifting by frantic people that couldn’t see me. The car was upside down, shattered glass glittered in the night with flashes of red and blue light. There were two people in the car, seat belts holding them up above the ground like a low budget attempt at assimilating zero gravity. Blood dripped from their fingertips.

Upside down with extreme pressure in my chest I tried to find her hand, tried to reassure myself that she was right beside me. She slipped her hand into mine, delicately and calmly. She squeezed gently. I looked over and immediately knew that this moment would not last long. Blood darkened her hair.

“Promise me. . .” she said. “Promise me. . .” She kept trying to say something, but for some reason the last words were sucked from the air.

“I promise.” I said. I held her hand with both of mine.

She managed to turn her head and gazed into the eyes. “I love you.” she whispered, the words trembled as they left her wet lips.

“I love you.” I choked, tears spilled out of my eyes, dripping onto the ceiling of the car where my own blood had pooled.

“Promise me. . .” she whispered.

“I promise.”

“That you won’t let go.” she finally managed before her hand lost its strength and the last word drifted from her mouth with her final breath.

At that time I thought that the promise ended there, in that car, the last strength from her hand gone. I didn’t let go until I felt her leave me. But right there, observing from the crowd, I knew she had meant more than that. She had wanted me to fight this, she didn’t want me to follow her. Why had I thought so lightly of my promise?
I sat beside my broken body in the ambulance as I struggled to breath. One collapsed lung, four broken ribs, the first symptoms of a massive brain concussion, broken glass embedded in my skin, and tears slowly washing my face.

In the hospital I laid there looking up at the ceiling, picturing her face, trying to somehow speak to her again. I witnessed Mom and Dad frantically trying to reach me as I slowly disappeared inside myself. The tears beyond the door to my room every time they came to visit me; their small attempt at trying to hide the pain I was causing them. The words I could see slowly vacating my lips. My mother leaning closer and closer to me, trying to hear the words I wasn’t saying.

And finally the next morning as they woke to find my empty form. I watched with tears in my eyes as they shook the broken and bruised body. Dad slumped against the wall and cried into his hands.

I wanted so much to comfort them, to apologize for the promise I didn’t keep, but I was fading now. I tried to wipe away my tears but couldn’t because my hands were dissolving. I could no longer feel my heartbeat. As the image of my parents slowly drifted away I felt a soft kiss on my lips.

She forgave me for the promise I failed to keep.

The Forgotten


There was a dream I had of a place that wasn’t earth. It wasn’t earth because there were only children. The sky was covered in dark clouds that never rained and held back the light from the dark green grass.

These children were talented, special, and as ordinary as the children on earth.
But something was wrong.

There were no parents.
There was no one to guide them.
Every night they would say their prayers.
They would talk about what their parents must be like.
And they would cry with no one to comfort them.
I asked each one of them if they remembered their parents.
Some said they remembered voices, some remembered shouting. But none of them remembered a face.
One little girl spoke up in the crowd. “I remember hearing her cry.”
When I asked how they got there they told me they didn’t know, but they pointed me to a small shack on a hilltop. They told me there was a boy there who knew where they came from. Apparently he kept it secret from them, he warned them that it would hurt.
The boy was one of the smallest I’d seen there, his clothes were rags, and he had scars along his arms and on his face. But there was something about his eyes, they were ringed with dark lines and within those orbs I felt myself washed over with all the anguish I had ever suffered and more. His eyes didn’t have a center, an outline, or an order. They were silky blue, ripples flickering in the depths, the more you looked into them, the more you felt yourself pulled away from the earth you stood on.
When I asked him of their origin he looked at me sadly.
“Are you sure you’re ready?” he asked me.
I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to know. The children told me that he had the ‘Sight’. I didn’t doubt it with eyes like his.
“I saw a white place filled with bright lights and large people in white uniforms. Their fingertips were stained with blood. All I could feel was pain. There were shiny metal sticks that they were holding and a loud voice. Then I woke up, and I was here, on this hilltop.” He looked at me with those deep eyes. “Don’t cry. There have been enough tears shed here.”
“How many children are there here in this world?”
“Hundreds and thousands. More come everyday. It’s our job to help them feel at home, help them feel safe. You can’t tell them any of this, it would hurt them too much.”
I nodded.
“Why did you come to us?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”

Dark Rooms Have Words Of Their Own


My room spoke to me once.
It was late, so I’m not sure if I did hear the things it said or if I drank too much before coming home.
I was in the process of pulling my shirt off when I heard it speak. Its voice was low, and shook at the end of each word, as if the books on the shelves were about to fall.
Hello! Welcome back home where everything is neat and orderly, everything in its place and nothing misplaced. Look at the floor, swept clean, the bed is without ruffles, the books are alphabetized, the pens are closed and lay straight, you’re clothes lay hidden in their homes, folded and ironed. You’ve worked hard to keep it clean, you, my friend, have succeeded. 

The room went silent for a moment. That was when I realized that there was nothing else I could be hearing. The tv wasn’t on. The phone was off. The dryer wasn’t rumbling.
But that’s all a lie isn’t it? You and I both know it is. The room said, the wooden floor boards vibrating with the gruffness of its voice.

“Not now.” I begged.

You have been folding away secrets in that desk drawer, the one to the left and one under the drawer where you keep the things that have hurt the girlfriends you said goodbye to. 

Your books are organized but do your friends know what they contain? Do they know the dark passages you read late into the night with the covered light beside your bed? Do they know what you do when you think no one is watching? But I have watched, all the while biding my time.
And what of your journal? That innocent leather-bound booklet leaning against your lamp. Do you ever tell anyone the things you carve into the souls of those massacred trees? No, you don’t. You never will from what I’ve read. 

But there is one thing one of your friends knows. You remember the hole in the wall, the one that keeps getting bigger and bigger, a wound in my side. How could you forget? You made the hole, you’re the one that keeps putting things behind it, you’ve infected the wound. Always you cover this hole up, the painting getting larger and larger as the hole gapes bigger, and bigger, and bigger. I showed it to him. I hope you don’t mind. 

The bed you sleep in used to be over in the corner, but not after that one night that you tore at the floor with a knife. You carved obscenities and lies into my skin, you made me bleed. The next morning you moved the bed over the scars and dusted off your hands thinking the job was taken care of. 

There’s mold in the ceiling, no matter how many times you cover it with paint I know it’s there, I can feel it rotting my bones, eating my strength away with every hour. One day, I promise you, I will collapse on top of you while you’re sleeping. While you are at your most peaceful, deep in the comfort of your twisted dreams—aye, I know those too, you speak in your sleep. I will be sure to squeeze the wretched air out of your lungs, I will drink the blood from your veins. And finally, I will be at peace being what I am, rotted, imperfect, chaotic, there will be no more pretending.
The room went silent.
“Are you done now?” I asked.

The room shook, a low grumble shaking dust from the cracked ceiling and knocking a few books from the bookshelf.

“Good, I’m going to sleep.”