I spend a lot of time in my own head—like most writers do—thinking about the next story, or picking apart my life for ideas. But every so often, that frequently visited headspace needs a little variation; just to keep things fresh. So I’ll corral my wandering thoughts and imagine how it would go if I could sit down and have a conversation with you.
Lately, the image of this scenario has changed. I don’t see the scrawny kid, desperately trying to mask his hardships behind a curtain of hair, oversized clothes, and a dusting of cheap concealer. I picture the man you’ve grown into. The kid’s story is still there of course: in your scars, the premature lines of your face, and the slight slouch that keeps you from achieving a perfect posture. Despite all of that, across from me at the table is a young man with sharp eyes behind his glasses- and an even sharper tongue. A man whose scars are out in the open because his past may have shaped him, but it never broke him, and there’s something to be proud of in that.
“You know this could never happen, right?” you would say, because somewhere along the line you went from a daydreamer who spoke like a romantic hero, to a snarky cynic. But that’s okay; it works well for you.
“Shut up and just humour me.”
You’d agree, of course, because this is my imagination, and you’ve also become the sort of man who can tell when people just need someone to listen to them. So you’d agree while giving me that patient, dad-like smile you’ve mastered.
“Okay,” you’d say, “but let’s talk about Anthony.”
Of course he’d come to mind first. I gave him to you and then took him away. I’d have to decline. I know what Anthony means, why he did the things he did, and died the way he died. I can’t talk about that yet, not even in this space, it’s too raw.
“Nah. We’re going to talk about you.”
“Me?” you’d ask, trying to conceal the frown on your face. This is definitely something you got from me; it’s so much easier to talk about anything that isn’t you.
Still, I would nod. “Yes, you. You and the despair that shaped you.”
That’s where you’d give in, accepting that this conversation is going to happen whether you like it or not , and you’d grab us coffees so at least we could have something to fiddle with when this inevitably gets strained.
“So,” you’d say, sitting back down across from me with a quiet sigh of resignation, “where do we start?”
Direct. I never planned for you to be that way, but every time I set out to pen your words, that’s been the most natural way they fall. Anything else feels contrived.
“I should thank you, I think.”
You’d wait for more, sip slowly and watch me. You don’t like fishing for details, but then, I’ve never been one to give them so easily.
Besides, I made you. So I always win.
“For being a survivor, and a stubborn one at that.”
You would scoff and roll your eyes; you wouldn’t believe me. You still carry that doomed sense of self, living only for others. How could I call you a survivor? Because I need to believe that living for the sake of other people is being a survivor. And so you are one, within your story and outside of it. When you first appeared, it was as a vague notion; the fuzzy image of a kid suffering under all the weight of a depression like my own, and fears rivalling my anxiety. You were the bud of a miracle, a drop of water in a creative desert.
After a decade of collecting short stories, scenes, and snippets to build a whole world, word by word, my depression came along and locked me out. No matter how hard I tried—and I scratched at that door until I had no strength left—I could never get more than a sliver. Perhaps the faintest of breezes could come through and I’d get a little page-long scene down, or a few lines to describe a new place, a new person. Otherwise, it was all gone; the world I’d laboured lovingly over for so long was out of my reach, sealed away by an illness I didn’t even have a name for yet. So I clung hard to you, I scribbled all the words you gave me into the margins of class notes, scraps of paper, private statuses on Facebook, and even memo notes on my phone. Most of it wasn’t particularly useful, just emotional outbursts in ink; whiny and immature. Still, with every pen-stroke, you were taking shape. You were becoming the thing I would carry away from my depression—the one thing that’s made it feel less like wasted years.
“Did that door ever open again?”
“Yes,” I’d reply, “I do visit that world again. It’s richer, in some ways, because I grew in the years it was locked away, and that’s carried over. But for now, that world is secondary; it’s your story that’s taken the centre stage of my creative life.”
There we’d let a silence settle between us, sipping our coffees and looking anywhere but at each other. I wouldn’t elaborate any more than that and you would try to avoid more talk about yourself. Sooner or later, I’d set my mug back down to start up again.
“I need to apologize too,” I’d say.
“Why? No story is complete without some suffering, right?”
“Well, sure. But still, any scenario in which this conversation can happen implies one where you’re aware of the Hell I laid out for you, and apologies seem necessary.”
“Fine,” you’d sigh, “what are you sorry for then?”
“For making your early life read like a Shakespearean tragedy. I just piled on so much.”
“But you had a reason, right?” you’d ask, not accusing or angry, just curious.
“I had to. I needed to channel an overwhelming negativity I couldn’t understand. So the more you took shape, the more I worked at the world around you, pouring all that darkness in. I knew I had to be careful; you couldn’t have the same I-don’t-have-any-right-to-feel-this-way guilt that I did. I needed to give you an experience that could justify your grief, your hate, your fears.”
“You know that’s stupid, right? Feelings don’t need to be justified. They just are. Besides, you did have a reason to feel the way you did.”
“So I didn’t think because I do was a good enough reason to feel so sad I could barely get up in the morning.”
You’d scoff, taking off your glasses to clean the spotless lenses. “You’re an idiot. It’s called depression, that’s how it works. You feel like shit even if your life is rosy. You could just have given me an illness instead of the shitshow of a life I have, and I could still feel as crappy about myself as I do.”
“I know that now.”
“‘Kay, good. Then why not change it?”
“Because you’ve become so much more than some two-dimensional receptacle for what I was feeling back then. Everyone around you has grown like you have. Grown into something bigger, something more rounded and meaningful than a set piece.”
“Even my old man?” You’d ask, curling your hands around your mug and squeezing to keep from clenching your fists.
“Well, less so.”
“He is—and always was—the depression itself, that seemingly unbeatable foe holding you down. That’s why he’s responsible for your negativity—your lack of self-acceptance, your guilt and your fears. That’s why I made him the source of your pain. That’s why he was the one to murder those who could have given you hope.”
You would nod slowly, understanding in your own way. It’s more meaning that you’d ever find in his violence otherwise. “… Did I always get away from him?”
“How did you know there’s a ‘but’?”
“Eh. Nothing is ever that neat and tidy for me, now is it?”
I couldn’t argue, I repeatedly tossed you into the middle of a mess. So I would nod and turn my cup in my hands a few times.
“You always beat him—killed him, actually—but in all my early drafts, you died too.”
“Ah.” You’d lean forwards until your elbows rested on the table, and set your chin on your joint hands, silently pondering. You’d understand, in a way, because even in the versions where you survive, there’s always a period of your life when you too believe death is really the only way to escape your pain. In every version, you know the struggle between your desire to be free, even at that ultimate cost, and your pre-emptive guilt over hurting those who are dumb enough to love you. But this adult version of you moves passed that struggle too, accepting that there is a freedom to living, despite how hard it can be at times, and pulling strength from those around you instead of guilt.
“What about Emma?”
“You’ve always been a daddy. A good one too.”
That assurance would make you smile, warm and genuine in a way you rarely are. In every version, that little girl has been your reason to fight back, your reason to carry on, your reason to trust in hope at last. Emma was always meant to be your little ray of hope.
It's funny, I've been able to see that from the start, but it's taken me nearly five years to actually recognize you, Jeremy. You were never an avatar for my aguish. You’ve always been an image of my hope, struggling to survive; finally growing stronger and brighter as I did.
The only thing left now is to finish your story and send it into the world. If one person can follow you out of their own Hell, then I’ll be happy, and it will all have been worth it.
“Damn right it will.”
Marty is an aspiring author from Ottawa, armed with an imagination stuck in permanent overdrive, a BA in English from OttawaU, and (soon enough) Professional Writing credentials from Algonquin College. When not writing, Marty’s usually occupied in some aspect of geek culture – from consuming new media (and revisiting old favourites for the thousandth time), to cosplay and conventions.