“I want to kill myself,” she admits. We all nod our understanding, or look at our desks, or tug on our coat sleeves.
“I want to kill him,” another says, chuckling. We don’t know who she’s referring to, but we laugh a little.
“I wish my dad spent more time with me,” a young man whispers. “When I was growing up, I mean,” he adds, a bit louder.
“I just wish I could get a grip on my OCD,” a brunette grumbles, fidgeting.
“I wish she was dating me instead of a complete asshole,” he says, arms crossed. I notice his foot tapping mutely against the carpet.
“I hate my mom,” a boy to my right spits. “It’s her fault he killed himself.”
Tuesday night therapy sessions — that’s how I’ve come to look at my creative writing class.
We all come prepared with stories we’ve written — fiction. Fiction we’ve painstakingly crafted, letting inspiration blaze ahead of us so that we could scurry along behind it with an extinguisher, seeking to show readers things instead of tell them; striving to make readers empathize with the narrator, the villain, the main characters… to fall in love with them, even.
So we choose a lens; a narrator. Ourselves, often — other times, a friend or a family member or an unnamed god.
Then we settle on a frame of mind; a perspective. We drop thoughts like breadcrumbs, and then use action to move things along… we give our characters words, using these words to portray their personalities and to trigger reactions in other characters, and then we insert more thoughts, more depth, more soul. We create and resolve conflict — but in doing so, we carefully decide what to make perfectly clear and what to leave maddeningly ambiguous.
And we secretly weave ourselves, our souls, into our stories — we bare them openly, we star right in them, and then we call them fiction.
“It’s just annoying,” my favorite one says. “She’s totally in love with him, I get that, but all she ever talks about is how great he is… well what ISN’T great about him?” she demands, exasperated. “What are his flaws? What ANNOYS her about him? Who is she apart from him? I know NOTHING about her, OTHER than she’s head over heels for this guy…”
I nod over at her, wide-eyed. Damn. It felt just like a slap on the wrist, but a good one… the kind of jolt I needed.
That was one story.
“I think it’s unfair,” a soft voice offered, looking at a boy who had authored another story. “You talk about how the kid daydreams about his dad, ‘the crap father in a suit’, but what about the dad? What’s he thinking and feeling? I bet he’s probably daydreaming about the kid.”
Everyone awwwwwwed. “Write that in, maybe,” the boy who had been speaking continued. “Show us the dad’s struggle… give us the full picture.”
That was another story.
“When she’s on her way to the lake, you mention her hair in a tight fish braid, with just a few wisps blowing around,” I began, staring at my fingers, the desk a blur behind them. “But when she slips under the ice, you describe her hair as flowing freely in the water…”
I paused. “That’s so beautiful. That tells me that death was freeing for her — accidental, supposedly, but freeing. Why?” I looked up at her, the dead girl. “Why was she unhappy? Why did she hate herself?”
That was a third.
And here’s a fourth:
“I love how the setting conjured such strong feelings and memories in you,” the professor said, looking at me. “I particularly like the line that read:
‘A scale suspended from a wooden plank in the ceiling whispered my mother’s words back to me: You shall be weighed and found wanting.'”
There are different ways of doing therapy; you can eat it up, shop it out, talk with a friend or a counselor, or simply work your grief into a story. You can call it truth or you can label it fiction; either way, observing and feeling your grief through the eyes and heart of another character lends a unique perspective…
You begin to realize how capable the character is of getting through it, growing stronger, and making their situation better… and sometimes, if you think about it long enough AND you let the truth of it really sink in, that same hope, courage, and awareness translates over to your own situation.
I was crying softly late this afternoon, walking through an antiques store in search of a pedestal. Two of my plants have been sitting on a shared shoebox, their low height poising them just short of the sunlight. I wanted to improve their situation.
But I wasn’t crying for them. I was crying for myself. I felt terribly sad, and terribly lonely in that sadness.
So I focused on the things I saw; I imagined them in my house, or in friends’ houses. I wondered who had owned these things before, and whether or not they were happy with themselves or the things.
I found the right pedestal, but more importantly, I found a nice surprise for my best friend — one that was high up, just a little out of my reach. Spotting it completely turned my day around.
I located an employee with my eyes, an old man, and made my way over to him to ask for help. He was happy to oblige.
As we walked back toward the out-of-reach object together, he turned to look at me. “You always come in here with the nicest smile,” he said, smiling himself.
“Oh, thank you!” I replied, returning the smile.
He patted me on the back, grandfather-like. “You’ve got a pretty smile, and you’re a gorgeous girl… really, you are… just keep on smiling.”
This is what depression feels like. This is the color, the tone, the texture of it.
Our journal assignment for Tuesday night’s class: Observe a body of water.
My journal entry: Reflections