“How are you doing?” people usually ask, whether or not they know I’ve lost family recently. I don’t answer these days. My external representative takes care of that – the face I put up for the world. He tells people “I’m doing alright”. The word choice is deliberate, it comes with a wild hope that someone will remember my usual answer of “I’m doing great!” and wonder what’s wrong. I need them to wonder because my true self isn’t able to speak out of this cell.
I’m in solitary confinement right now, my self sentenced here by Grief, who says I need to do time for losing my grandma. I tried to plead my case, I told Grief that it’s not what my grandma would want. I told Grief that I’m supposed to be strong right now for my mother’s sake, she has it a lot worse than I do. I told Grief that I have to be the positive one in the family. Don’t you get it? But Grief brought down his gavel devoid of justice and sentenced me to solitary. Loneliness and Doubt carried me with tied arms to my cell of hard grey stone – they opened the padlock door, threw me inside, and stood guard outside. I have a bed, a desk, two cloudy windows, a punching bag, a bathroom, and stone. Lots of grey, bleak, stone.
So I’ve been here for a while now, waiting for my release.
Some days are better than others. I write a lot at my desk since I’m alone; there aren’t as many distractions. There’s an elegance to the introspection. Some days, I work all day and at night my brain is tired and it just sleeps in peace. Other days though, when I go to sleep, the demons crawl out of the corners of the cell. They don’t say much but they show me things. Bad things. The way we waited every day in the hospital with dwindling hope, the sound of my family’s tears, the sight of my grandmother’s final moments. And always the absence of my grandma, they always show me that. It makes me toss and turn and not sleep. Something’s missing, I’m less loved than I was a few months ago. A rage boils within too. When I think about the hospital staff, the shouts of relatives at the chaotic funeral ceremony: rage. I go to my punching bag, I hit it hard. Thud. I’m not satisfied. Thud, thud, thud. Step, punch, step, hands up, jab, jab, rage. The bag just keeps coming back. One day I rage so deeply that I hit it straight out of its chains, just so I could feel like I had defeated something when everything else had me beaten.
There’s two small windows in my grey stone cell, on either side of the locked cell door. I look out for help every now and then on the right side window; I see friends. They’re… busy in their own lives. They’re working towards something important, or they’re a thousand miles away or, they just feel a thousand miles away. They can’t see me through the cell glass, and I don’t knock on the window – why aren’t I able to just knock? I go to the other window on the left side. I can see family in this one. I see a mother that’s lost her mother, a father who’s recently lost his brother, and another grandma who’s lost her son. They’re strong beyond belief, Grief couldn’t contain them to solitary like he did to me. They can’t see me through the cell glass, and I don’t knock on the window – how can I possibly ask these people for help when they’re dealing with so much more than I am? No, I usually walk away from the window instead. But the other day, just as I was walking away I see my Pop coming up to talk to my external representative as usual. My representative is supposed to handle this. He’s going to say that I’m alright but something falters, an error, a break in the system. There’s just tears and mumbling and Loneliness and Doubt step aside for once to let Pop into my cell for a visit.
He sits down with me on the bed and holds me gently on my back; I feel like I’m back on the playground swings and he’s going to push me and catch me. Under his comfort the floodgates are open: the demons came straight out of me this time. Pop, I don’t remember how to hope anymore. How do all these people have so much faith in the afterlife? Why isn’t anyone there for us? Do people really care about me? He senses the depth of the problem and he holds me a little tighter. Suddenly, we’re not in my grey prison anymore, we’re sitting on a park bench in the Dallas winter. The wind nips at my ears and gives a slant to the waterfall springing from my eyes.
My Pop speaks.
Son, there’s no proof I can give you that faith is rewarded in the afterlife. I just know we live a better life when we believe something.
There’s no explanation for why your hope for grandma wasn’t rewarded. I just know that we only get up each day because we continue to have hope.
There’s no way to tell you who truly cares about you and when. I just know you can never blame people, you can only set an example.
We’re transported back into my cell, sitting on the bed, but it doesn’t feel as bleak anymore. His words were churning in my head, then they went down and stopped my tears in their tracks, and continued down until they warmed my heart and made me feel full and gave strength to my legs and feeling to my feet. Then, he pulled something out of his pocket. He gave me an unbreakable nail; it was Faith. Out of the other pocket he pulled an iron hammer; it was Hope.
Pop said: When you’re ready. Your family will be there waiting to love you.
And then he got up, turned around, and walked out of the door. Loneliness and Doubt closed it again when he left. Then I got up, turned around and walked towards the other end of the grey stone wall. I put Faith up to the stone, I searched for a good spot and held it firm in place. I raised my Hope high, I felt my fingers grip the handle with purpose, and I struck hard.
I set Faith again, I raised my Hope and I struck even harder.
Crack. The wall was giving way. I struck and I struck and piece by piece the stone crumbled at my feet and I felt the stir of determination again. I pounded away, Hope and Faith becoming used to me and I to them again. When I was done I looked and saw a hole in the wall, the size of my face. The light of the colors that I missed danced through the gap in the grey stone into my cell, they painted the wall with small glimpses of Happiness: bright blues and fiery reds and playful yellows and greens. Content, and exhausted, I settled onto my bed, kept Faith and Hope under my pillow, and watched the colors dance as I went to sleep.
I’ve been here a while now, but I’m no longer waiting for my release. I’m going to break out soon enough.