Short stories

Hope When There Was None (a short story)

She didn’t notice until it was too late. She didn’t notice the chill seeping back into her bones and the mist fogging up her senses until it was far too late.

But once she did, she knew exactly what she was dealing with. She was all too familiar with the all-consuming numbness of depression; the black tar that covered her mind when depression came to find her again. And the worst part was, she couldn’t talk about it, she couldn’t admit that the faceless monster had gotten hold of her mind and senses once more. Her mother cared too much; her mother would fall to pieces if she knew and her mother would want to help and she would fuss and care way, way too much. And all that would make her feel weak. She didn’t want that, she wasn’t weak – just ill. Her father didn’t know enough; he wouldn’t understand. He would try and fail miserably. Her friends would try and help but they would soon realize there was really nothing they could do. She loved them but all they could give her was advice to go see a shrink. And she didn’t blame them, they were not equipped to deal with stuff like this; fight the battles she was fighting.

It was bad, really bad. Not “tear-stained cheeks and screaming in your pillow” bad: it was way worse. On the good days she was happy, hysterically so. She was so happy it hurt her, like suddenly she was experiencing everything in high-definition and was not able to process the input. It made her heart clench painfully in her chest. The urges she got on those days were terrible; she had to do something, anything – or rather everything. She had to capture all the beauty before it was lost to her; she had to paint, write, sing, be brilliant and clever and it made her feel like she was ready to burst. In the wildness of everything she got nothing done. Nothing came from her hands.

Those days never lasted; she would have burst if they did (no one can feel that much and live). They came and went and when they were gone days of numbness and disinterest took their place. Those were the bad days, the ugly days. The good days were bad because they were too much, but at least she lived and she saw and felt, hence why she called them good days. The bad days were terrible because she didn’t even see. On those days she was blind to the beauty the world has to offer. She didn’t feel, not really and laughter never came from her heart but from her head. Because they couldn’t know, they couldn’t know how she was trying to survive, instead of living, on a day-to-day basis. They couldn’t know because they would never understand and she’d be cast out. They were all so clever and kind and they couldn’t grasp at the idea of a world where someone could feel like that. So she hid it and slipped on her mask and wore it well, no one had the faintest idea. She felt disgusted at her own hypocrisy when she answered fine at being asked how she was doing but they couldn’t know.

However, there were days when she thought her mask was showing cracks, that it might be breaking apart. Not because anyone said anything, or did anything. It would be in the way someone looked at her. Most of the time it was the same person, the only person who ever seemed to really see her. The only person who did not greedily accept the happy-go-lucky act of loud laughter and toothy grins that everyone else seemed to need and crave for. He sometimes looked at her with a piercing look, as if trying to figure out not what she meant with her words, but what she wasn’t saying. And sometimes she would let him; she would let him see a glimpse of the turmoil she never showed to others. She spoke about the things on her mind, some of them. She was always surprised that he didn’t back away, that he was kind and supportive. Yet she never opened up fully, she couldn’t because he wouldn’t understand.

No one would.

Until one day there was this young man. He was kind and she respected him for that and for being very clever and good at his job. On the day in question she realized he might have seen more than she would have given him credit for before and that he might be the only person of all those people to actually understand. If she hadn’t heard him say it she would never have believed it. But she was sitting right there, across from him and she heard him, saw him. She watched as the words left his mouth. He said to others what she had never been able to say. He had the courage she had so sorely been lacking for all this time. He told her, he told them all that he was sombre, retreating into himself. She had always admired him for his brains, his calm demeanour and subtle sense of humour but now she saw him in a whole new light. She looked at him and saw a lifeline. What surprised her was that it didn’t seem to bother him. He announced it calmly to the people sitting around him at that moment and continued with his day as if nothing had happened. He talked about it with some people, sure, but nothing melodramatic. Of course she couldn’t guess the depths of his mood and it seemed likely to her that his head wasn’t nearly in as much of a state as hers. But what she noticed more than anything was that he seemed completely in control of the situation. He knew what was happening and she guessed he found a way to deal with it, a way to get through the storm and come out unscathed.

Because that was another thing, it took all her will power not to inflict damage on herself in order to regain the control she lost. She had used this method in the past and it had caused her and those around her so much damage and pain that she would do anything not to have a relapse. So whenever she felt the urge strike her she did exercises; sit-ups until her abdomen stung, push-ups – anything that would push her body to the limit without breaking it down in the process.

Yet, however much she felt he would understand and however much she thought he had found a way to help himself, after this revelation she didn’t approach him, she didn’t seek him out. He had opened up and she wasn’t going to take advantage of that. He hadn’t asked to be anyone’s saviour and she would be the last person to impose herself on him. She watched him sometimes but noticed nothing off about him and she wondered if he too wore a mask or if he was really in control of the situation.

She did not speak to him and soldiered on, fighting her battles and doing as well as could be expected. And she could have dealt with the battle if she hadn’t felt so incredibly lonely. Sometimes it almost drove her mad, to the point where she wouldn’t tolerate anyone around her because they didn’t know and they wouldn’t understand anyway. Sometimes the loneliness was so bad it almost seemed to drown out the numbness, or the hysterical happiness and it made her want to scream.

No, she didn’t talk to him at all about it. Until one day she did because she had to. She couldn’t even cry over how lonely she felt and she had to get out of her own head; it was a treacherous place.

The next time she saw him, she sought him out. She was nervous; terrified for what she was about to do but if this could help her she had to. He seemed more than a little surprised when she sat down opposite him and told him she needed to ask him something. She explained that the nature of her question was somewhat unusual and that he had every right to walk away from the conversation if it made him feel uncomfortable. When he gave a small nod, signalling her to continue, she took a deep breath and let the words spill out.

She told him everything; she told him about her broken mind, the day-to-day struggle and the loneliness because no one would understand. She told him how his confession gave her hope when she’d had none. Her heart was hammering in her chest all the while because there was no going back from this. Yet for the life of her she couldn’t stop talking; all those words had been stuck in her throat for too long because there’d been no one to catch them and study them as they left her mouth, so they’d been left unspoken and now they were bursting from her lips. But she also knew he could just get up and leave when she was done talking, telling her that he couldn’t or wouldn’t help her, which would leave her devastated. She had hidden like a coward for long enough however, so she kept talking until she was breathless and the big question was finally out.

After having heard all this he looked at her, really looked at her, and gave a small smile – it was sad almost. He told her he was no expert and that he couldn’t fix her, not in the way she needed to be fixed but he also said he would listen to her and tell her about himself. He would give her advice if she wanted him to and tell her what had worked for him. He gave her no guarantees but suggested that what had worked for him might also work for her.

The relief momentarily pushed out everything else: the numbness, the raw edges of her mind that she constantly seemed to feel these days. It pushed out everything and for that brief moment she felt better than she had done in months.

So, you’ll help me?

He nodded, still smiling.

Yes, I’ll help you.

Update: I’ve decided to leave it at this one chapter. I don’t feel like there could be a proper continuation to this story, not one that feels right to me anyway.

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