Emily Rae Robles

the paradoxymoron

Circles

Isn’t it strange that, no matter how hard you try and forget that you’re going to die, no matter how much you pretend that you are at peace with whatever happens, no matter how dedicated you are to whatever personal beliefs you have, the moment you realize your life or the life of someone you love is in danger is the most terrifying moment of your life.  Someday, despite your arthritic joints and wrinkled skin, you will lift the corners of your mouth in a smile that looks more like a grimace, because age always taunts you with irony like that, and you will amble over to the bedside of your fourteenth dying friend and comfort them as if you really knew what you were doing when, who are you kidding, they’re much closer to death than you’ve ever been, so how are you supposed to tell them they’re going to a better place when you’ve come from a life that actually wasn’t that bad, despite the arthritis and the natural disasters that didn’t actually affect you and the moments of loneliness when you realized that companionship wasn’t going to happen for your pitiful little self? You will argue with yourself that your life was worth living, fulfilling, and a blessing to others, but really you’re afraid that it was none of those things, and you’ll never know the difference because you can only live once, unless you come back reincarnated as a giraffe or a street urchin or member of nobility in a life that is tainted by the same regrets and fears that you have now, only you don’t remember that you’ve had them before because reincarnation has wiped your memory.  You start wondering about the molecules that make up your body and what they made up before being assigned to you by some unknown powers.  Perhaps you are a combination of bits of long-gone creatures, plants, and people who never knew that they would soon become you, people with hopes and dreams and regrets and fears just like you’ve had in this life and every other that you never knew.  Imagining what sorts of people make up your physical body can go down many paths, either depressing you like crazy at the realization that everyone is really the same, no matter how much focus you place on individuality because everyone turns to dust and is reincarnated physically if not spiritually, or maybe encouraging you to know that you are made up of individuals who were each geniuses in their own way, since God makes each person absolutely unique even though you forget that when you’re inexplicably angry at the girl in your group project who  gets credit for the work you did while she partied the night away at some anonymous frat house with anonymous drunk frat boys whose names she forgot in the morning.

The smell of turkey wakes you up from your reverie, if you can call it a reverie since that implies pleasant thoughts about your future when all you have in your future is dead animals smothered in gravy.  Sitting at the table, you think about how odd a habit eating is. Who decided it would be a good idea to shove objects into the orifice in the middle of your head in order to somehow achieve some amount of nutrition, whatever that means, since cavemen most likely did not know what in the world nutrition was, so why didn’t they just die out like the flies you tortured in middle school by trapping them in tape until they suffocated and then framed in plastic cages and stuck around the classroom because you were too bored to do anything else but limit the existence of other creatures?  You try mentioning your thoughts to your family, but they look at you like you are absolutely out of your mind, which maybe you are, but maybe being out of your mind isn’t so bad and being inside your mind (which presumably is the opposite) is actually limiting you to a life full only of whatever worlds you can imagine and create from what you know, whereas being out of your mind will push you to your limits and take you places you never knew existed because they don’t exist in your mind, only outside of them.  After eating the turkey, you feel sick to your stomach and want to throw up, but you stop yourself by reminding yourself that bodily functions are silly, and all that really exists is your perception of an experience rather than the experience.  Then you kick yourself for getting all philosophical again and run to the bathroom to be sick.  As the remnants pour out of that poor turkey that gave its life so that you could give it back up to the toilet, you wonder whether someday you will be vomited up in the same way, perhaps by a cemetery torn apart by an earthquake, or by the worms that wriggle their way through your decomposing organs until the place where your family and friends visit you to pay their respects is not actually where you lie, but rather the center of a circle throughout which nature spreads your body until you have become part of countless organisms that don’t even know or care who you were.  You think about the dead organisms that now make up your body and what sorts of lives they must have led, and you realize that your train of thoughts has come full circle, just like the molecules in your body, and you wonder if you have ever existed in a life exactly like this one as the person you are right now, with no changes in personality or appearance, but you realize that personality isn’t determined by molecules, so you’re stuck again in a rut of your own thinking, but at least thinking is something productive in that it leads to something outside your physical body.  Then you kick yourself for getting all philosophical again and lie down on the bed and cry because every time you try to think of something new, it ends up reincarnating itself and coming full circle like the way you used to spin around faster and faster as a little child every time your parents put on music until you came crashing down and the world descended upon you in a dizzying frenzy of colors.

May 7, 2011 Posted by | ramblings, stories, writings | , , , | Leave a comment

Remember

Do you remember the day you were born? The day your soul came crying for air into this suffocating world?  Do you remember the way my hands trembled as the midwife handed you to me for the first time?  The way my eyes flitted over your wrinkled purple face and counted your ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes?  Do you remember the beginning of your life as well as I remember its end?

I don’t remember your smile; only that it made me happier than anything else on this earth.  I don’t remember the sparkle in your eyes as you gestured wildly about your newest favorite movie.  I don’t even remember the way your hair smelled when I would kiss the top of your head.  Death has taken all those memories away from me.  Has it left them with you instead?

I like to think that you are unburdened with memories of your life on earth, that the instances of love overwhelm your recollections of your life gone past.  I like to think that you remember me but are not distracted by the imperfections of my life as it happens.  I like to think that you are wiser than I, that you have gained a perspective from eternity that belies your lack of human years.  Do you weep at my ignorance as I weep at your wisdom?

I have relived that day countless times in my mind, but the image that sticks with me the most is the moment after they carried away your body.  I sat and watched as countless pigeons flew down and crowded around your vomit, pecking at it until that last bit of you was gone.  I cannot escape those pigeons.  They peck away at my dreams the same way they eliminated all that was left of you.  I sat and watched them until all trace of you was cleaned from the ground.

I blame myself.  Of course I blame myself.  I would blame myself regardless of what happened.  But then again, how could I have known your heart was so weak?  How could I have known that your body would so easily shut down?  But hindsight cannot bring you back.  I have only the future in front of me, and you will play only an absentee role.

I worry about your sister.  The two of you were so close, watching the stars through the window of the room you shared for so few years, arms around each other.  She wakes up sometimes in the night, crying for you to protect her from the uncertainties of darkness, but her room is as empty as my life.  It saddens me to know that she will grow up without an older brother, but it saddens me more to know that she will soon forget you, leaving only be an aching hole in the corner of her heart to remind her that she once experienced loss.

I can no longer listen to Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Chopin, Tchaikovksy—the sheer pain that lies in their beautiful music shreds what is left of my heart.  How can there be so much pain in beauty?  Is there beauty in pain?  I went to an art museum yesterday and sat in a corner for several hours until it closed, memorizing every detail of the vase in front of me so I wouldn’t have to admire it as a whole.  It looked like a teardrop, but I made sure I only saw the imperfections on its surface.

Your father tries to comfort me, but we both know it is only an attempt to comfort himself.  There will be no comfort for either of us.  You are like the amputated limb that the patient feels for years even when nothing is there.  How can the leg be massaged when there is no leg?  How can the pain go away when the source is long gone?

I took a walk today, barefoot in the crisp snow.  I lay down and felt the numbness throb through my veins until I was able to cry.  Your father carried me back into the warmth of our house that is no longer a home and cried with me until we ran out of tears.  It was then that we decided to send your sister to your grandmother’s house.  She will heal faster in a healthy environment.  We, with more years tied to our backs, must pretend for the rest of our lives.

I am trying to write, but the words are breaking open my pen and leaking into my soul.  They are poisonous, these words, because they cannot communicate my reality.  My reality is no longer real; it only exists in a mind from another life.  I am trying to hurt myself as much as possible, so I put on Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and play the second movement over and over until it has torn open the shell of my essence and thrown my soul to the wind.  Each line tears at me until I can feeling nothing but agony.  Will this help?  Will anything help?  Will anything help?

I lie on my bed and gaze into the corner undecorated by your finger paintings and school projects.  I try to clean my mind of your presence, but the music brings me back every time I fool myself into forgetting. Anger arises at my humanity, my inability to erase, my lack of desire to erase.  You are indelible, like the scribbles you left on the living room wall a few years ago.  You are indelible, like the scar on your arm from when you tripped into the fireplace as a toddler, the first moment of my life that I truly knew fear.  You are indelible, like the ashes of the World Trade Centers on our country’s history.  No, these things are not indelible.  They will dissolve and rot along with this house, along with your body, along with history.  I think of how my grief will soon be forgotten, absorbed into the collective agony of a people trapped by impending death, and I am almost angry enough to want to live.  I open the door and scream, finally scream, finally and helplessly scream.

Do you remember the day you were born?  The day your soul came crying for air into this suffocating world?  Did you know that you would only be here for five short years?  Did you know that your life would enter ours, wrap itself inextricably around us, and then vanish as suddenly as it arrived?  Do you remember the beginning of your life as well as I remember its end?

March 6, 2011 Posted by | stories, writings | 3 Comments

Smile

“Smoke break!”  It was Jeanne again, bellowing out the words that meant fresh air for the first time in hours—at least, air that was as fresh as it could be with fifteen patients outside smoking their allotted cigarette.

“It’s my birthday,” Ellie said, as she walked out the rarely opened door with Brian.  “They’re gonna give me two cigarettes today because it’s my birthday.”

“That’s cool.” Brian smiled, mainly to try to get Ellie to smile back.  She didn’t.  He tried again.  “What’s the number?”

“The what?”

“The number.  Of years, I mean.  How old are you?”

Ellie sat down on a bench near the gazebo, staring at something not quite visible.  “21,” she said finally.  “It’s my 21st birthday.”

“Wow,” Brian said.  “Congratulations.”

Ellie let out a strangled noise that could have either been a laugh or a sob.  “Yeah, right,” she said.  “It’s my 21st birthday, and I’m spending it in a mental hospital.  Best birthday ever.”

“At least you won’t forget it,” Brian attempted.  “It’s gotta be a pretty memorable birthday, even if it sucks.”

“No kidding,” Ellie muttered.  She continued to stare at the nothingness beyond the enclosing walls.  They sat in silence.  Brian counted his heartbeats until Jeanne came out with the cigarettes.  Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one.  He grinned to himself, imagining that his heart was in tune with Ellie’s years.

“What’s so funny?” Ellie asked, jumping up to get in line.

“Oh,” said Brian, trying again to make his smile contagious.  “I was just thinking that we should get whoever’s in charge of food to get you a cake tonight.”

“My friend’s bringing me a cake,” Ellie said, fidgeting impatiently as Jeanne lit her first cigarette.  She snatched it immediately and sucked in the smoldering air.

“Your boyfriend?” asked Brian, nodding his thanks to Jeanne.

“He’s not my boyfriend.  Anymore.  It’s complicated.”

“He makes you smile,” Brian said.  “It’s what everyone here wants: to make you smile.”

Ellie’s mouth twitched, but not upwards.  “Maybe I don’t want to smile,” she said.  “Maybe I don’t have anything to smile about.”

They sat in silence again, listening to the other patients laugh and joke about things that didn’t matter.

“What would you be doing right now if you weren’t here?” Brian asked after a while.  “How would you be celebrating?”

Ellie stopped smoking for a minute, then threw her cigarette onto the cement and ground it to pieces with her heel.  She stood up and stormed back into the building.  Brian jumped up and jogged after her.

“Ellie,” he said.  She ignored him.  “Ellie, I’m sorry, we don’t have to talk about it.  Come out and have your second cigarette.  It’s your birthday. Might as well do what you can to enjoy it.”

She didn’t stop until she reached the lounge, where she curled up on the couch and rocked back and forth.  Brian sat down next to her and watched as she covered her ears and whimpered.

“Are they bad today?” he asked.

“No worse than always,” she responded, drawing her knees closer to her body.  “Always calling my name, always pulling on me.  It’s always my left shoulder.”

Brian reached out to touch her shoulder, but jerked back when he saw a nurse give him a warning look through the window.  No touching, he thought.  Never any touching, when sometimes all someone needed was a hug.

“You know we’d all do anything to cheer you up,” he said.  “We all want you to have the best birthday you can in this hellhole.”

Ellie was silent.  Then she brought her fist down hard on the arm of the couch.  “Why today?” she sobbed.  “Why does there have to be a day specifically to remind me of the fact that I was born into this screwed up world?  Why did I have to be born with these stupid voices following me around everywhere?  Why can’t I go a day without wanting it all to be over?”

Brian chewed on his lip.  “Ellie,” he said, “I think you’re here for a reason.”

“Oh shut up,” she snapped.  “Anyone who thinks there’s a reason for the crap that is my life can’t call themselves a true friend.”

“No, listen,” Brian insisted.  He scooted closer to her on the couch, eyeing the nurse through the window.  “No matter how much you hate your life right now, there are so many people who are so glad you’re in their lives.  I don’t know what I’d do in this place if I didn’t have you to talk to.  You’re crazy smart, crazy gorgeous, and just a crazy awesome person to be around.”

“Yeah right,” Ellie muttered.  “I’m just crazy.”

“Those voices aren’t who you are,” Brian persisted.  “They aren’t you.”

“I know they aren’t me!” Ellie yelled.  “I’m not stupid.  But they’re there and they aren’t leaving any time soon.  Now just leave me alone before you start sounding like them.”

She started to rock back and forth again, hands over her ears.  Brian watched with helplessness pouring forth from his eyes.  After several more heartbeats, a nurse came into the room.

“Why don’t you go out and get some air while you can?” she asked, masking her coldness with warmth.  “We’ll take things from here.”

“I wanna help out,” Brian objected.  “Ellie, are you okay?  Can I stay?”

“Helping out is our job, not yours,” said the nurse.  “Now if you’ll go take your break, we can give her the professional assistance she needs.”

“It’s her birthday,” Brian muttered to no one in particular, shrugging his shoulders in defeat as he exited the room. He wandered outside and sat down beside Marcus, a homeless boy with whom he had instantly bonded.

“It’s Ellie’s birthday today,” he told Marcus, who was playing Scrabble with Dan and Emily.  He glanced at the game.  Dan was winning, which was funny because he had dropped out of high school while Emily had a college education.

“No joke?” said Marcus, looking up.  “Sucks for her, being in a mental hospital for her birthday.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said,” said Brian.

“If I were her, I’d celebrate by drowning myself in the shower,” said Dan, without turning his gaze from the board.

“Seriously?” sighed Emily, looking from Dan to Brian.  “Dan, you could at least refrain from being yourself when someone’s birthday is at stake.  Ellie’s having a crappy day.  We should cheer her up somehow.”

“Tried,” said Brian.  “The nurses kicked me out.”

“Are the voices bothering her again?” asked Emily.  The two girls hadn’t grown particularly close, but Brian had noticed Emily make an effort to sit next to Ellie in groups and at meals.  He also noticed that she tended to sit on Ellie’s left side in an attempt to speak over the voices that followed her everywhere.

“Yeah,” said Brian.

“I’m glad she’s here,” said Emily.  “It means that she’s alive.”

“What?” Brian was taken aback.  “What do you mean?  Would she not be alive otherwise?  How do you know this? She never said anything.”

“Yeah she did,” Marcus put in.  “You missed group this morning.  She said she had planned on going to Vegas and doing the deed there, just because birthdays suck so much.”

Brian realized that he was gaping slightly.  He closed his mouth. “Wow,” he said.  “I had no idea.”

“She’s an awesome girl,” said Emily.  “I really like her.”

“Well.”  Brian turned back towards the building, taking one last glance over his shoulder at the scrabble game.  “Dan, ‘epic’ doesn’t have a ‘k.’”

Ellie was still in the lounge when Brian walked in.  He was glad to see that Karla was sitting with her.  No one disliked Karla.

“ Hey,” Karla greeted him.  “What’s up?”

“Hey,” Brian responded automatically.  “Ellie, can I ask you a question?”

Ellie looked at him through her dark bangs.  “Sure,” she said tonelessly.

Karla looked at Brian.  “I’m gonna go get a drink of water,” she said and bounced out.

“What do you want?” Ellie asked when the door closed behind Karla.

“Well, here’s the problem.”  Brian sat down beside her on the old couch again.  “I want something that might be an issue.”

“I’m good at having issues,” Ellie shrugged.  “What’s up?”

“I really, really want this,” Brian insisted.  “So it’d be really, really great if you could help me out.”

“Dude, I’m schizophrenic,” Ellie said.  “No one wants my help.”

“I do,” said Brian.  “You’re the only one who can make this happen.”

Ellie sighed.  “Fine,” she said.  “Dish.”

Brian glanced over his shoulder to make sure the nearest nurse was busy, then surreptitiously put his hand over Ellie’s.  “I really, really want you to stay alive,” he said.

Ellie froze but didn’t move her hand.  “That’s not up to you,” she whispered.

“I know.”  Brian scooted closer.  “That’s why I’m asking for your help.  Do you think you can do it?  For me?”

The door behind them opened, and Dan walked in.

“Oh dang,” he guffawed, grabbing the TV remote off a shelf.  “Brian and Ellie.  Nice going, man.”

Ellie jerked her hand away from Brian’s.  “I can’t promise,” she said softly.  “I can’t do anything for anyone right now.  I can’t even do anything for myself.  I’m really sorry.  Really, really sorry.”

Brian sighed and leaned back against the smooth chill of the leather sofa.  “I won’t forget you,” he said.  “Ever.  Even if you get out of this place and decide you don’t want to be alive anymore, you’ll still be alive to me.”

“Wow, enough with the cheese, man,” Dan interrupted loudly.  “Just make out with her and be done with it already.”

“Brian.” It was a new voice, Jeanne’s.  “Brian, your psychiatrist has signed all your paperwork.  You’re good to go as soon as your ride gets here.”

Ellie looked up.  “You’re leaving?” she asked.

Brian sighed in frustration.  “I didn’t know it was going to be today,” he said.  “But I guess everyone leaves eventually. I’m sorry, I wish I could be there for your birthday.”  This time, when he stood up, she stood up with him.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said.  “But you know, don’t you?”

“I know,” she said.  “And Brian?”

“Yeah, Ellie?”

“I promise.”

She walked closer and wrapped her arms around him in an all-encompassing hug.  Brian tried his hardest to pass warmth through his body to hers, praying that their friendship would last beyond the doors of the hospital.

“Happy birthday, Ellie,” he whispered.

She looked up at him, and she smiled.

February 18, 2011 Posted by | hospital stories, psychiatric pstories, stories, writings | , , | 1 Comment

The Girl Who Never Slept

Her one wish was to be able to dream.  She didn’t mind the long, dark nights, populated by secret longings and imaginative creativity.  In fact, her mind was at its most colorful when the world darkened around it.  But she still wished she could somehow access the unhindered subconscious she knew lurked somewhere beneath her sanity.

She had dreamed before, weeks before.  She had been climbing a huge mountain with no top in sight, trying to avoid the avalanche of rocks that kept crashing down, when everything went black.  It went black, and the pictures never returned.  Neither did her sleep.  She spent her nights not tossing and turning, but lying perfectly still in the darkness until the sounds of the creaking floorboards integrated into a symphony of sleeplessness.

A lifetime happened in the short span of each night.  Hopes, doubts and fears were born, grew, came to fruition, and fought eternal battles with each other in the wide-awakeness of her mind.  She wrestled with questions she didn’t know she had and considered issues she didn’t know existed.

It was after a week of sleeplessness that she suddenly returned to the dark comfort of slumber. It was then that she realized that she had been able to dream—more so while awake than in the silence of unconsciousness.  She sighed when she woke up the next morning, rested for the first time in weeks but nostalgic for dreaming.

February 10, 2011 Posted by | stories, writings | , , , , | Leave a comment

College Life

That first year of the rest of our lives, we lived mainly in our imaginations.

All around us, young men and women newly liberated from the confines of luxury decided to make decisions, overburden themselves, and individualize their lives.  But the two of us stayed in our imaginations.

It was nicer that way, benefiting from the freedom while imagining even more.  While others spent their nights meeting people they would rarely remember,  we built up a world populated by what-ifs and if-whens that would last us a nostalgic lifetime.

We were adults living in a children’s world, or perhaps the other way around. In the madness that was our sanity, we giggled and sang and danced our way through happiness.

The years following separated our inseparability and tested our imaginations with reality.  Now we are authentic, living in a world created not only by ourselves.  We own a future, more than our what-ifs and if-whens.

In each first year of the rest of our lives, we are nostalgic for our imagination.

 

February 5, 2011 Posted by | ramblings, stories, writings | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sisters

When the stork lay the baby down on our doorstep, I saw it pause and stare at it for a minute before it flew off over the Douglas firs.  I knew this was a good sign because it meant the stork didn’t want to leave the baby, which meant that it was probably the best baby in the whole world.  I was used to babies, because we had already had two others delivered to our doorstep, but they were both boys and I really wanted a sister.  This baby was kind of like a birthday present too, because my sixth birthday was in five days.  I crossed my fingers, snuck out the door before my parents could hear the whimpers coming from outside, and unwrapped the bundle.

It was a girl.  My heart leaped, and I almost clapped my hands with joy except that I realized just in time that my parents would hear.  I wanted a chance to bond with my new sister before anyone else.

Her eyes shot open.  They were the same color as mine, a dark blue-grey that was out of place in our brown-eyed family.  ”Hello,” she said. “You don’t look like a stork.”

“Hello,” I replied.  ”I’m not a stork.  I’m a sister.”

“Oh,” she said.  ”What does a sister do?”

“I think mainly I’m supposed to look like you and change your diapers,” I answered.  ”Also, I know things that you don’t know because I’ve been around longer.”

“Okay,” she said.  ”What sort of things do you know?”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to talk yet.”

“Is that bad?” she asked.  ”I can stop.”

“No, it’s okay,” I said quickly.  ”You can talk to me because I’m your sister, but you should probably stop once Mommy and Daddy find you.  They’re grown-ups, and grown-ups do things a certain way.”

Suddenly the door opened behind us.  Mommy let out a cry of surprise.

“Oh look!” she squealed.  ”The baby came!”

I looked at my new sister and put a finger to my lips.  Then, just in case, I whispered to her, “This means be quiet.  You should probably not talk for a few months.  Take it slowly.”

She nodded covertly, covering up the action by waving her arms and wailing a little bit.

“Isn’t she adorable?” Mommy cooed.  ”Your new baby sister!”

I nodded and grinned at the bundle.  Being a sister was going to be fun.

 

February 5, 2011 Posted by | stories, writings | , , , | 1 Comment

The Worst Thing In The World

Growing up, Mariah, Travis and I never knew we were an unhappy family.  Our two-dimensional life was painted from a palette without dark colors.  The corners of our thoughts held no darkness; the details of our portraits had no shadings.  It was a wonderfully unfulfilling existence.

My sister was the first to be serenaded by reality’s alluring corruption.  It first struck in the middle of a warm, sunny day (all our days were warm; all our suns were incessant.)  She was dancing along the side of our playground as she so often did, scooping up the gravel that never scraped our knees, spinning on the merry-go-round that never made us sick.  Then, in a moment that was unexpected because it had never happened before, she stopped.

We were not used to pauses.  This one nearly jolted us out of our prison of happiness.  “Mariah,” we stuttered nervously (we had never before encountered the uncertainty of nervousness) “Mariah, where is your dance?”

If we had experienced more and not existed less, we might have asked, “What’s the matter?”  But to us, matter was like the rest of our world: a word without a purpose.

“Elijah,” my sister answered, addressing me with a look on her face that I would only later be able to describe as peculiar, “what do you think is the worst thing in the world?”

My brother and I looked at each other with seeds of worry burrowing into our faces.  Worst?  We could not comprehend the word.  I tried to extract some context from her unintelligible question, perusing my mind for extremes or universals.

“Aging?” I responded finally.  “Everyone in the world ages.  Is that what you mean, Mariah?”

She frowned.  “No,” she said, “I don’t think so.  Age happens no matter what.  Don’t you think there are things out there that interrupt the always?”

We considered.  Our worlds had never before been pushed off the grid of normality.  Mariah’s questions were the first.  A thought struck me, as thoughts had never before done.

“Questions,” I said, sure I was right.  “You asked a question and it interrupted our always.  That must be the worst thing in the world.”

Again, Mariah’s brow furrowed.  “Are there bigger things that could be interrupted?” she asked.  “Our always isn’t as important as a grown-up’s always, and maybe there’s something even more important than that. We have to find the most important thing in the world so we can save it from the worst.”

I looked at my brother.  He looked at me.  Mariah had always been eccentric, stopping to investigate the normalcy of our world when we simply wanted to live it, but this was a new idea.  It was almost like a purpose.  Whatever it was, it was big–and we had been taught to fear big things.

Travis, to my annoyance, asked if he could help.  Mariah nodded, then sent me a glance that scraped away some of the doubt on the surface of my wonder.  I sighed, then shrugged my shoulders.  She beamed at me with the excitement of a new adventure.  A sliver of doubt worked its way into my mind, but I tentatively smiled back.

We had a tacit understanding that we would not approach the adults.  They possessed the two qualities we wanted to avoid: age and the ability to ask questions.  Certainly the questions were not the sort that would disrupt our always—we had been born into a world that constantly queried where we were, what we were up to, had we brushed our teeth that morning—but our suspicion pushed us towards the side of caution.

Our first decision was to break the rules.  We agreed that the most important thing in the world was probably somehow exempt from the rules, possibly even hidden behind them, so we decided to break through the traditions that had sheltered us so long from what we had yet to discover.  We learned to lie.  We investigated the forbidden areas of play, from the towering tree in the backyard to the enclosed cellar beneath the house.  We found nothing.

Mariah was dejected, as far as anyone who had yet to discover the worst thing in the world could be dejected.

“I think we’re doing it wrong,” she said, as we sat on the bed of gravel.  “Nothing is big enough yet.”

“That tree was big,” Travis put in.

“That tree had no effect on the rest of our world,” Mariah argued.  “It just stood there.  It’s like this gravel.  Pointless.  Unimportant.  No use for it.  Why do we even have trees or gravel?”  She picked up a small rock and turned it thoughtfully in her hands.

“Be careful,” I said automatically.  Our mother had warned us against gravel for as long as we could remember.  Mariah stopped suddenly and looked at the rock with a strange look in her eye.

“Be careful of what?” she asked.  “Why do you think Mother tells us to keep away from gravel?  Or out of trees? Or close to the shore in the lake?  Why all the rules?”

We had no answer and no desire to find out.  But Mariah had always been different.  She examined the rock closely for a minute then brought it down hard on her bare arm.  A dash of red broke across her fair skin.  Travis screamed.

“What is that?” I cried, certain that whatever was worse than aging and asking questions was about to happen to us.  “What did you do, Mariah?”

Her mouth was open slightly.  Her right eye twitched.  She didn’t look like our sister anymore.  She looked like something…worse.  Bringing the rock, now tinted with red, up past her head, she began to attack her arm with a viciousness that must have come from the same place as her questions.  The red liquid began to drizzle across her entire arm until we could no longer see the skin.  Travis screamed, and something like water began to flow from his eyes.

“You’re breaking yourself!” he cried.  “There’s a big red monster inside of you, Mariah!  Don’t let it out!”

I stared and stared as the monster dripped its way out of what used to be my sister.  I took Travis’s hand in my own.  We sat and watched as Mariah disappeared under the monster’s grasp.  Finally, after the most time we could remember remembering, she stopped.  The monster refused to stop, though.  It poured from her arms, her legs, her face—everywhere she had pressed the gravel.

“I think we’ve found something worse than questions,” I whispered, picking up a piece of gravel with a quivering hand and wondering at its demonic powers.  “Answers.”

February 5, 2011 Posted by | stories, writings | , , , | 1 Comment

Teardrops of Injustice: Part 1

I’m reposting this as my entry for the Catch Me If You Can Blogfest at KayKay’s Corner. It’s the beginning (maybe) of a WIP that is as of yet untitled, and I’m not even quite sure where it’s going.  Let me know what you think. You can also email criticism to emilyraerobles@gmail.com

It was 6:13 a.m. when the nurses barged in with their blinking equipment and irritatingly sanitized smell.

“Brittany. Brittany. It’s time to take your vitals.”

Her consciousness opened its eyes before she did, gauging the necessity of waking up. Before she could make a decision, a thermometer invaded her mouth. As it beeped its way to judgment, she heard the sound of velcro being adjusted on her arm, tightening its grip as she relaxed into the closest thing to pain she could find. Blood pressure: 88/50, low as usual. She fluttered her lids with the agony of impeding nothingness. Another day of vomit-inducing meals, arrogant social workers, and unbearably long sessions of whining suicidal single moms and abusive dads. Another day filled with too many ticking minutes and not enough to care about.
The nurses were shaking awake the last of the five women in the room when Brittany finally slung her bare legs over the metal cot. One blanket and the flimsy nightgown assigned to her were not nearly enough to keep her warm at night. She stared at her knees, the dotted pattern of the gown piling on itself over and over until all she could see was dots dancing in front of her eyes, dots screeching into her ears, dots crowding around her until they pulled her down and she suffocated….
She screamed and clutched her throat. The girl in the bed next to her, a quiet soul who spent her time reading and avoiding the others, sat bolt upright.
“Are you all right?” she asked. Brittany tried to glare at her ignorance, but her resolve only ended up dissolving into emotion.
“No, I’m not all right,” she bawled. Tears came like friends hidden behind the facade of sanity. No more facade, no more faking, no more trying to be Brittany the perfect, Brittany the polite, Brittany the strong. Weakness was her new strength, failure her new success. Emotions overwhelmed her. Anger at the girl’s inability to understand, fear of inevitability, longing for a different life—only happiness was absent. Happiness. Had she ever known happiness? Would she ever? “It’s a Tuesday,” she sobbed incoherently. “Everyone I ever cared about died on a Tuesday. I’m going to die today. I can feel it. I’m going to die.”

The girl looked at her with an expression that, to Brittany’s surprise, contained neither suppressed laughter nor frustrated judgment. “You won’t die,” she said. “You won’t die if you don’t let yourself.”
Brittany slowly pulled her blanket around her shoulders and shivered, not with cold. This girl knew nothing about death. Death didn’t ask permission. Death thrived on patterns and superstitions. She stood up and drew the blanket closer. Her unshaven legs prickled and her lungs choked on the stale air. Let the day begin, she thought. Let it begin.

February 5, 2011 Posted by | hospital stories, psychiatric pstories, stories, writings | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Christine

She was five when her friends first arrived.  An only child, she smiled when she realized her games could be for more than one now.  Her mother worried, as usual, but the five-year-old mind didn’t catch the damp eyes and furrowed forehead.

Christine was her favorite.  She knew she wasn’t supposed to have favorites, but Christine was still it.  Christine would tell her things that she wasn’t supposed to know—secrets.

“Someday you’ll meet me for real,” Christine would say.

“What do you mean? Aren’t we friends for real now?” she’d say, worried that Christine was leaving.

“Yes, but you’re the only one who can see me right now,” Christine would answer.  “Don’t tell anyone.  I don’t want to get in trouble.”

She would wriggle in the warmth of Christine’s secrets.  Sometimes she would ask about the place Christine and the others came from, despite never getting an answer, just for the satisfaction of hearing her whisper again and again, “Don’t tell anyone.”

The others were more distant.  Brian would play her games, but his eyes were always gazing off, reaching for something that was too far away.  Maddy was fun some days, but other days she would sit by herself and cry.

“Isn’t crying something grown-ups do?” she asked Christine one day.

“Some children grow up before they’re supposed to,” Christine answered, staring sadly at Maddy’s lone figure.  “You’re growing up too fast, little girl.”

“Don’t call me little,” she objected.  “I’m almost six.”

Christine turned and looked into her eyes.  “One day you will cry,” she said.  “It’s because you haven’t that we’re here.  When you cry, that means you have loved.  You are too old, little girl, for tears to never have wet your face with lost love.”

“Does that mean you’ll leave when I grow up?” she asked, suddenly frightened.

“Yes,” Christine answered, “but you’ll meet us again.”

“Will we still be friends?” she questioned, sensing an oldness behind Christine’s statement.

Christine looked at her with an expression she couldn’t quite read. “Your idea of friendship will change by then.  You will be different, and so will we.”

“Aren’t you already different?” she asked, knowing she was prying into the territory of Christine’s secrets, a land that could be either welcoming or harsh, depending on the day.

Christine bit her lip.  “I’m no more different than you are.  You will see someday.”

That night, she dreamt that her bed flew far away, carrying her over gradually disappearing trees and rivers, to a lonely building in the middle of a lonely desert. When she landed in a bare hallway, she was suddenly surrounded by vague shapes that dragged her down, down, down into the depths of her own soul.  Their dull murmuring filled her ears, engulfing her until suddenly Christine’s voice spoke clearly over the tumult.

“It isn’t time for you to be here yet.  Go home.”

Christine emerged from the crowd, but it was a different kind of Christine, a Christine with confidence in her eyes, a Christine who wasn’t weighed down by unspoken thoughts. A Christine who somehow seemed more real than the Christine she knew.

“Go home,” Christine repeated, and Maddy and Brian came up behind her. They too somehow looked the same but as if there was less of them.

“Will you be there when I get back?” She felt her lip trembling, and her nose prickled.

“No,” said Christine.  “This is the last time you’ll see us for a while.”

It was then that the tear fell.  She hadn’t expected it to be so warm, so friendly and somehow comforting. It engraved a pathway down her cheek and settled on the inside of her lip.  She tasted salt.

“Goodbye,” Christine whispered.

“Goodbye,” echoed Maddy and Brian.

“No,” she said.  “No, I don’t want to go back.  I don’t want to be alone again.”

The shapes around her took her bed and lifted it up, pushing it back into the air.

Don’t tell anyone,” she heard, before she was rushing back to the different kind of lonely building that was her home.

The single tear that separated her from her friends had friends of its own.  She got to know them very well, tracing their journeys on her face with a permanent marker so she wouldn’t forget where they came from.

“Wash your face,” her mother told her, exasperated by the black patterns covering her features.

“I don’t want to forget,” she said, staring into the mirror and memorizing the crisscrossing paths of her loneliness.  In their intersections, she saw the faces of her friends.  She screamed when her father smothered them with the washcloth, watching her only friendships smudge into nothingness.  The tears that came this time left no marks but flowed uninhibited until she slept.

On her sixth birthday, her parents brought out a scrapbook of pictures she had never seen before.  She flipped through them, suddenly confused.

“I thought you couldn’t see Brian and Maddy,” she said.

Her mother took her hands.  “Brian and Maddy were your brother and sister,” she said.  “They died before you were born.”

She was silent for a minute.  “Is that why they cried all the time?” she whispered, finally. “Is that why you cry?”

“They were so excited to have a sister,” her father said.  “We’d been trying for years before you finally came.”

She closed the book, feeling peaceful on her insides.

“It’s okay,” she said.  “I’ll meet them again.”

Her mother started crying and held her tightly to her chest.

“Oh Chrissy,” she whispered.  “Oh, Chrissy.”

 

February 5, 2011 Posted by | stories, writings | , , , | 1 Comment

The Princess Becomes a Pauper

Once upon a time, there was a princess named Sirya. As is typical of most fairy tale princesses, she was beloved by her parents, subjects, and loyal court. Despite her stereotypical royality, however, one factor remained that separated her from the rest of princesses whose fairy tales have graced nursery shelves: she was hated by animals. Dogs, cats, lizards, pigeons, rats, dragons—they all despised her. It was not a curse laid upon her by some vengeful witch, nor was it a prophesied attribute which pointed to future battles and hope for the kingdom. No, it was simply a personal flaw with which she was forced to live during her entire princess-hood.This story is not about how Princess Sirya overcame whatever it was that caused her to be so repulsive to animals. Rather, it is about two creatures of the kingdom who managed to overcome their initial repulsion in order to befriend the poor princess. Sort of.

In any other existence, Princess Sirya would be perfectly capable of living a perfectly normal life with perfectly normal friends, even if none of them were animals. However, as a fairy tale princess living in a fairy tale kingdom, much was expected of her. Everyone knew that witches hated animal s while princesses loved them and befriended them; this was the one and only significant difference between the two subspecies of humanity (other than the fact that witches were prone to carving peasants’ hearts out as a regular past time.) As a great source of hatred and fear amongst the animal kingdom, Princess Sirya was viewed by all as unfortunately evil.Do not be mistaken—they still loved her and remained loyal to her, but parents passing by would shield their children’s eyes from this mutant of princesshood. Worst of all, the local princes all considered her absolutely not an option when it came to arranged marriages or chivalrous rescuing, since the idea of allowing such bad luck into their castles provoked total horror in their cultured minds.

Princess Sirya, of course, being a normal, well-educated princess, found her nationwide revulsion quite disconcerting. After all, it wasn’t her fault animals preferred to remain outside a mile radius from her chambers. She held no grudges or even dislikes against them, except the mosquitoes, which were prone to biting her as often as possible. She couldn’t help it that the rats that occupied her bedroom walls preferred not to be dressed up in leftover rags, nor could she force the birds outside her window to join her in song and dance every morning as she bathed. In fact, Princess Sirya rather disliked singing. It reminded her of the mosquitoes that so often buzzed around her head. Despite her shortcomings, however, Princess Sirya was a fairly down-to-earth young girl, so she decided simply to accept her faults and make the best of her situation. After all, not every girl could call herself a princess.

Little did Princess Sirya know that before long, even she would no longer be able to call herself a princess. On her sixteenth birthday, which is when most princesses in her universe were married off, her parents lovingly informed her that since she had no suitors and thus no interested princes, she was no longer eligible to remain their child. Although (former) Princess Sirya found their arguments completely unsound, she respected her parents’ wishes by packing up her bags and moving to a small hut in the country that they had kindly purchased her.

Any other exiled princess would have made the most of their situation by immediately befriending a horde of small woodland creatures that would assist them with the duties of normal peasant life with which she was so unaccustomed. Sirya, for obvious reasons, was unable to utilize this particular subsection of former subjects. Thus, she was forced to learn how to dress herself, bathe herself, make her own meals, grow her own food, and clean her own humble abode. The worst part was the plowing. It is extremely difficult to plow when every horse in the kingdom gallops away as soon as he catches a whiff of your previously-royal scent. But Sirya managed on her own, even despite the neighbors who treated her civility but offered her nothing close to friendship.

One day, early in the spring when the snow was melting but the ground was still too frozen to plant seeds, Sirya was shivering under her threadbare blankets and dreading leaving her bed to prepare breakfast when she heard a knock at the door. This in itself was unusual because very few people, dwarves, or other creatures ever knocked at her door. The mailman did, once; he was a rather stupid ogre who hadn’t yet heard the news that the unlucky princess was exiled to his paper route. The rest of the knocks were usually mischief-loving youngsters who would balance a bucket of snow, mud, water, or whatever else was handy on her door and then run off chuckling. Although Sirya desperately did not want to open the door to a similar surprise on this particular morning, she knew that such pranksters did not usually venture out of their own huts this early in the morning. Groaning with pain from the bruise left on her backside last time she caught a horse unawares, she dragged herself out of bed and gloomily opened the door, automatically stepping away from it in case she was wrong about the early hours of her prankster friends.

She wasn’t.

For the first time in the year since she had been banished to this corner of the kingdom, she opened the door to a human being who looked her in the eye and actually smiled at her. Not only that, an oblivious-looking but kind of cute goat stood by this stranger’s side, and actually bleated at her with, she realized with surprise, a friendly-sounding sort of bleat.

“Hello?” she greeted, still wary of the motives of her visitors.

“GOOOOOOD morning!” the stranger returned heartily. “And isn’t it great to see YOU on this fine morning. I hope you’re doing fine? Glad to hear it, glad to hear it. May I come in for just a moment, out of this insufferable cold?”

Still in shock at what she deemed genuine good-heartedness, Sirya wordlessly opened the door wider. The man (who she had to admit was quite handsome) bestowed yet another gleaming smile upon her and entered her cluttered hall, thanking her profusely as he kicked the mud off of his worn boots.

“What a fantastic place you have here!” he marveled, surveying the dark room. Sirya raised her eyebrows, mentally reviewing all the corners she would have dusted, dishes she would have done, and clothes and books she would have put away if she had ever thought that she’d have had a visitor in the next million years. Regardless, she figured that she might as well take advantage of such a rare social opportunity, especially when it involved such a good-looking young man.

“Do you…need anything?” Sirya asked, knowing that no neighbor in their right mind would venture into her kitchen to borrow a tainted, animal-repelling egg.

“Only good, old-fashioned companionship!” the stranger replied with another ear-splitting grin. As Sirya pondered what type of mental disorder this man could possibly have, he suddenly grew more serious as he continued, “I’ve been traveling for a good three weeks in this weather, on foot, with no company but Georgie here” (he nudged the goat)”so as soon as I saw the first signs of civilization, I jumped out of my boots with joy. I don’t suppose you have any bacon?”

Sirya did, and as she clumsily burned it on her malfunctioning stovetop, the man, who revealed his name to be Alan, continued his life story. It involved lots of adventure, a multitude of vicious ogres, and very little pocket change. Although Sirya saw no sign of a weapon on his person that could have possibly held off the entire swarm of ogres that lived down in the caves by the river, she decided not to argue with the glimmer of danger that appeared in Alan’s eye as he recalled the events exactly as they happened. Before she knew what was happening, she found herself spilling her own life story: how the animals hated her and the subjects feared her off-putting qualities, how she really didn’t know how to grow garden peas, and how she missed her mother and father, even though they had banished her with nary so much as a goodbye hug.By this time, the bacon was really burned.

“Sirya, I am so sorry for your hardships,” Alan said sorrowfully as she concluded her story by throwing the flaming remains of her only dishtowel into the sink. He leaned forward and gazed into her eyes. “Why don’t you come with me and be my companion in my travels? We can be married tomorrow.”

Sirya was shocked at this display of affection, not because it would seem out of the blue to many, but because she was still not accustomed to guests who asked her the time of day, let alone her hand in marriage. Figuring that this was her one chance to leave the neighborhood she had grown to hate, she shrugged her shoulders and answered , “Why not? But only if Georgie doesn’t mind.” The latter part of her response stemmed more from her fear that Georgie would betray her identity as the animal-hated princess than from any belief that he would actually provide input. Although all local animals could talk, few of them cared enough to comment on more than the state of their food. It was much to her surprise then that Georgie looked up at her and, clear as day, said,

“Princess, don’t you dare trust this man. Ogres, my hoof. He’s a traveling salesman and all he’s trying to do is scam some bacon off of you. He’ll leave you stranded by the side of the road as soon as he gets control of your property.”

Her mouth dropping open, Sirya glared at her newfound “friends”. “Is this true?” she asked wearily.

“I suppose so,” Alan answered honestly. “But since I still haven’t gotten any of your bacon, you don’t really have to worry about the rest of it yet.”

Sirya sighed, then pounded her fist on the table. “I don’t care if you ARE a traveling salesman,” she said angrily. “I hate this place and you can get me away from it. And I’d be careful about trying to scam me out of anything because whether they like it or not, my parents are the king and queen and there are a whole load of laws in place that will make it unspeakably difficult for a traveling salesman to take control of this hideous little hut. So I will absolutely marry you tomorrow, and we will roam the countryside bringing a new kind of terror to the people who rejected me: overpriced vacuum cleaners.”

Alan was so impressed by Sirya’s dedication to the job that he instantly sold Georgie to gain money for the marriage certificate. As soon as they were married, the reign of terror began, with the first victims becoming the neighbors who had spurned the under-appreciated ex-princess. With their pockets full of unsuspecting peasants’ money, Sirya and Alan set off to live a long and extremely prosperous life, full of bitterness and vacuum cleaners.

And thus, a new kind of witch was born, one who rode not on a broomstick, but on the much more modern version.

 

February 5, 2011 Posted by | stories, writings | , , , | Leave a comment