I woke up, feeling the usual depression already weighing me down. It was not going to be a good day. All I ever want is to wake up one morning and feel... real -- feel like I have moved past this, past whatever triggered my "condition."
That's what they call it, you know, a "condition." Whoever said that first needs to be shot. Like my everlasting sadness is some kind of disease that can be cured or, at the very least, treated by prescription medicine and a therapist.
Therapists are a joke too. They ask me, "What caused this?" and, "Let's explore your childhood further; I feel like the problem lies there."
I snort, hobbling to the master bathroom with a towel and a change of clothes in hand. No amount of "exploring" my past will "cure" me. I just feel... like I'm not worth anything; like I got educated for seventeen or eighteen years of my life for nothing. All I am capable of is photography and writing.
I have been published in photography magazines, the big ones, like, 'Pop Photography,' 'US Photo,' and 'Shuttermug.' I have received awards for my novels, which usually stem from all of the thoughts about how useless life is and general dismay about the future. I always write happy endings, though. I think some part of me wants to give someone hope, because I surely do not have any.
I turn the knob just above cold in the shower and wait for the slight warmth that sprays from the head. I strip out of my plain gray cotton t shirt, tossing my bed head in the process. I grimace as I catch sight of the mirror; this is no pleasant sight.
My face is haggard, making me look as though I have aged twenty years, though I am only twenty-four. My green eyes have gone pale and my skin has not seen sunlight in years and there is a spotting of acne just on my hairline from the recurring night sweats. My ribs are showing and there is hardly any muscle mass on my torso. What can I say? Eating is not really my highest priority, laying in bed all day is.
I wince as I run a hand through my hair, hating the feel of grease against my soft skin. If there is one thing I hate, it is being dirty; the dirt and stink, and grime make me heavier than the depression and makes me almost gag with disgust. I splash my face a couple of times to remove sleep and, remembering the shower was running, climb in to wash the grime of sleep away.
I pull my shampoo off of the shower ledge and squeeze a dab out -- less is more, as they say. As I wash my hair I relax, massaging my scalp slowly in my one peaceful moment of the day. I use the body wash quickly, focusing on pulse points and areas that receive little light.
This is my joy, being able to clear myself of the misery sleep brings my body each night. Not much of a thrilling moment, but it is all I have.
I turn the shower off and flip my hair out of my eyes, blindly reaching for my blue towel and nearly slipping on the non-slip shower mat. Figures. I place the towel loosely over my head and rub the dampness out of it.
My therapist said, "Go outside today, you are not the only person in the world struggling. Maybe, after seeing how hard it is for everyone else, you will gain a new sense of importance."
I scoffed, so she basically wants me to look at other people, pity them, and get some sort of joy from their pain. Like I have no empathy; I look at people going through something worse than I am and I want to help them, not use them for my own selfish reasons. But who am I to help the people of this city, this world? Yeah, sure I have a bachelor's degree, but where does that even come in handy?
I grab my tooth brush, towel still hanging on my head and spread some toothpaste on the bristles, sticking it in my mouth with one hand and rubbing the towel into my head with the other. I elbow the cracked door to my bedroom open and head to my window.
I open my curtains for the first time in months, the sun stinging my eyes for a blinding second before they adjusted. The busy streets were crowded with hundreds of people trying to get to work, school, Alcoholics Anonymous, and I smiled ironically.
Hello, world. Here I am, Matthew Rothers, the most boring person in the universe. I snort, continuing to brush my teeth and wrapping the towel around the back of my neck. My depressingly yellow bathroom walls grew closer, as I walked back, spitting into the sink and hanging my towel to dry.
I glance at my mirror reluctantly and I look... better. At the very least, my hair is no longer stringy and my eyes no longer drowsy. I combed my dark brown hair and, once it was dry, I pulled my eyebrow-length bangs back with some gel. It was not for style, more for practicality; as an "artist" I needed to keep my vision clear, but I was too lazy to get my hair cut and clips fell out too easily and made me look even more feminine.
I pull on some comfortable blue jeans and a crisp white shirt, loving the feeling of ironed dress shirt on my arms. I do not bother with a tie; this isn't a business meeting, just a casual walking and people-watching excursion through the streets of the city. I scrub my face with some acne treatment and wash my hands of the chemicals, feeling the burning layer of liquid dry on my skin.
I do a once over of my dreary one-room apartment and sigh. Who knows when I will see this room next? The floor boards creak as I make my way to my living room, grabbing my keys and wallet from an end table next to my old, ratty couch and head for the door.
Once I reach the impossible obstacle, I take a deep breath, realizing my apprehension is absolutely ridiculous, and reach for the handle. An image pops into my brain, one of the weather report from last night and it gives me an excuse to move away from the door to grab my jacket.
The jacket was as gray and miserable as my mind and I head for the door while slipping it on. Well, maybe I should dig through my seasonal clothing and find my scarf and gloves. As the thought pops into my mind, I fast-walk to my room, going straight for the dresser.
I take my time, shoving my sweaters to the side as I look for the articles halfheartedly. When I find them, a reluctant sigh leaves my mouth, dragging me back to reality as I slip on black, finger-less gloves and a striped gray scarf.
I rub my forehead with as much force as my skinny arms can muster. I am still crouched over the drawer to my dresser as my gloved hands rest over my nose as my mind races. My eyes dart back and forth as I quickly examine the possibilities of death, disease, social contact, and confrontation, all things I fear greatly.
I breathe deeply through my fingers and close my eyes, counting to ten as my first therapist told me. This is no time to be having a panic attack, there is no need for it. You'll be fine. I lie to myself as I rub my face one last time and quickly stand. I need to focus on the goal to appease the current therapist.
I race to the door before I change my mind, opening it and closing it. I immediately press myself against the door, breathing fast and trying to calm myself. A young girl and her mother --neighbors I never met -- pass by.
"Is he okay, Momma?" she tugs on her mothers scarf, quizzical.
Her mother does one of the thing that makes me cringe, proves to me I am not one meant for this world, she pulls her daughter close and hurries her along, speaking in a hushed tone, "You can't point at people like him."
I am insane to them. I am some crazy man who happens to have enough money to live near them. Avoid the crazy man and he will go away. This calms me as I chuckle to myself, hand gripping the shirt above my heart, feeling the beat slow.
I have to leave, get some fresh air, and examine the citizens of this fine, crime-ridden city and report back to my therapist tomorrow. At least she makes home visits.
I laugh again at the irony and glance down at my feet... my sock-less, shoe-less feet. I sigh, sullenly turning around and opening my door.
I grab my brown dress shoes and some short, white socks. I sit down on my green-striped couch and pull the socks and shoes on, calmer now.
After getting something on my feet, I shuffle to the door, already tired from the effort of the morning.
Before I know it, I am outside the apartment building, breathing fresh air and allowing the wind to caress my face and hair. It felt... good.
As good as sharp and bitterly cold wind can. I take a long, deep breath, smelling baking bread and coffee in the air surrounding me. If there was a coffee shop there before, I never noticed it, but I approach it nonetheless, figuring it was as good a place as any to start my "journey."
The moment I had been fearing is fast approaching; confrontation. Ordering breakfast for someone like me is like asking a pretty girl out on a date for a socially awkward teenager; not easy.
I walk into the shop and to the counter, holding my breath and bringing my arms in close to my body instinctively. I am tense.
Luckily, the shop is not crowded and there is only one man in front of me, talking to the young man at the counter. He leans in close, his posture matching that of a flirt. The man at the counter is throwing his head back and laughing. I do not see this much -- relationships forming -- so I watch and listen closely. Maybe watching those who are better off than me will improve my "condition."
They look happy, comfortable, interested, all things I have intense trouble with.
"-- ordering?" I hear the steady tone of the young man at the counter -- Jim, as his name tag suggests -- and blink back into reality.
"What?" I say slowly. My voice rough from lack of use and sleep.
He looks at me, amused, strangely, "Are you ordering?" he has a medium coffee cup in his hand, a phone number scrawled out underneath the name, Neil. I clear my throat, closing the distance between myself and the counter.
Jim has blonde, spiky hair and an extremely white smile. He is fit, a thin blue sweater stretching across his pectoral muscles underneath a black barista's apron. His dark brown eyes peer at me as he leans in, as though listening for the smallest of noises.
To avoid his gaze, I stake my eyes on the menu behind him, spotting what I wanted quickly enough, "Um, could I get a..." it leaves my mind as panic sets in, "a... uh..."
"Coffee?" he offers.
My breath increases in speed and I say, "Yes, and a croissant roll..." my speech leaves me as my eyes dart to a group of six girls entering the shop. I need air.
I hold a finger up and rush through the women, avoiding touching them and slamming through the door, immediately moving my hands to my knees and bending over, breathing in the freezing air. I compose myself and slowly walk back into the building.
To my surprise, Jim has stopped the women from ordering, placing the cup with the number on the counter for Neil. Jim uneasily smiles at me, motioning for me to return and finish ordering. I walk quickly to the counter and practically shout, "Large coffee and a breakfast croissant!" I huffed, relieved, "Please," I add as an afterthought.
The women look annoyed with me, but Jim looks surprised, as if that was the last thing he expected from me. His chiseled face slowly forms into a broad grin and he answers, "Coming right up, sir."
I hold hold my hand up for him to wait and ask, "Is there a bathroom here?"
He motions to a long, narrow hallway and I head straight for it, rushing in and releasing bile into the nearest toilet. I wretch and cough, tears leaving my eyes for a good few minutes before my stomach settles.
As I go to open the door, I hear a hushed, angry voice.
"You can't keep doing this, James, this isn't your hot spot for picking up guys," a burly man from the sound of his voice.
A sweeter voice whispers, "That isn't your business anymore," it is Jim.
"It isn't my business, huh?" his fury poured from his voice and into my pale ears, "Everything about you is my business, b***h! I'm the one paying you."
"But you aren't the one with me anymore, so back off."
"You..." his fury increases, "You'll regret this."
"What are you going to do? Lecture me to death?"
A sinister undertone creeps into the burly man's voice, "No."
I hear shuffling and then a loud bang against the wall next to the restroom door.
A heat I have never experienced before rushes through me, something I assume to be pure adrenaline. I tense and throw the door open, rushing to save the poor young man being pushed into the wall by the forearm of a large, bald man.
The bald man swings his head in my direction as I go the rip him off of Jim and I am slamming back into a chair at the end of the hallway, my head pounding against the wall behind it. My vision swims and I cannot see. Two figures rush into the hallway, grabbing the largest of the four as the shape I assume to be the kind barista appears in front of me.
He says, "Thank you," as my vision begins to return and I return it with a muggy welcome.
"Hey, are you alright?" a beautiful woman in a dark blue police uniform feels my head.
"M'fine. Just couldn't see for a minute," I lift myself and lean my back against the wall, chair digging into my leg. A light shines in my eyes and I squint.
"Doesn't look like a concussion," the light leaves, "That was a brave thing you did. I know it was in the heat of the moment, but that is quite a sense of judgement you have there," the brunette police woman smiles and I think about how nice of a smile it is. She is beautiful and it is all I can think about until she leaves, her attention now on the burly man.
If only I could see more of her. If only I could look into those hazel eyes for a few more seconds.
It takes only moments to realize I was still standing in the bathroom, still listening to the struggle outside. The selfless rescue and gorgeous woman a figment of my overactive imagination. I run back to the stall and continue retching.
Once finished -- for now -- I exit, spotting Jim sitting in the chair at the end of the hall, a fresh bruise on his friendly face. My eyes grow hot, but I tun away, unable to gain enough courage to apologize for not being whoever I was in my delusion. I walk to the counter and grab my purchased items, glancing at the worried, but still women from earlier.
I contemplate shooting them a glare for not having enough common human decency to help the poor man. I bite it back though, knowing I am am no better. My helping him was merely a fantasy that could never come true.