As the living dare to breathe

There are so many moments in life that are characterized by the unceremonious dread we feel leading up to it, that this moment that we are approaching is going to be “the end of the world.” 
 
It might be a breakup, or a final we didn’t study for, or that performance review at work that you’re just absolutely sure will be your undoing, or that phone call you can’t bear to make.
 
But the problem with moments like these, is that no one considers the “afterward.” And the truth is, afterward, life goes on. Your entire world deflates for a singular instance in time, and then you keep moving past it. Time isn’t stagnant. Short of death, you won’t remain in that moment forever. 
 
One of the things that people need to come to terms with is this very simple and essential fact. I think it might make the anxiety of a moment easier to bear. 

Belong

To whom do I belong?
 
I don’t belong to you. I would have thought I belonged to me. 
 
I to myself – my mind, my body. 
 
I’m overwhelmed with how much of myself I give to others. 
 
My time, my opinion, my efforts, my energy. 
 
We spend so much of our lives wanting to belong to someone else – to our parents, to our schools, to a significant other, to friends, to a soul mate. 
 
Why doesn’t anyone try belonging to themselves, for a change? Why can’t we try taking ownership of ourselves, for once? 
 
And, to that extent, what does it even mean, to belong to yourself? 
 
I think I’m struggling to figure that out, even now, established as an adult and a “real” person. I want to be by myself, belonging to no one – would that instill in me a great loneliness, or force me to face that which I keep at bay? I want to be alone, yet I’m surrounded by obligations and things that call for me to invest myself. I’m horrendously lonely, but I fight it off by filling my schedule with mountains of activities.  I am alone and yet not, and I’m scared to be either without the other, and I don’t know where to strike the balance. 

In Short Time

Prompt: Write something – minimum two paragraphs – that combines at least two of the following elements: Identical twins, a magic wand, a locked closet, a broken wristwatch, peppermints, a hug that goes too far.

It was a stunning and singular cruelty, to be standing there in the cold as the sky bled out.

The pleasantries had been delivered, the condolences expressed, the flowers felled in sympathetic and nonchalant display. But I couldn’t feel any of it, however hard I tried. Nothing could touch me, save for the plastic smile I glued to my face and the sodden wool of my winter coat. It didn’t matter, I suppose. When all was said and done, there truly was nothing that would move me.

I touched the cold timepiece in my pocket, something like reassurance rearing up within me before hitting whatever barrier was holding me back from feeling. Without seeing it, I felt the cracked glass of its face, the worn leather of its band, and I had to turn away, overwhelmed by something I couldn’t understand. I was the only one left.

Except for him. I didn’t recognize him; I didn’t really know anyone who had attended the event that afternoon, but I felt that I should know why he was still there. Unlike the rest who had hurried into the warmth of a tepid reception hall, he stood behind, a solitary gargoyle amidst the stones that surrounded us. Some acute sadness occupied his entire being, reaching beyond even the formal precept of the entire affair.

“I guess this is it,” he said, startling me from my reverie. I blinked at him, unsure if he was talking to himself or me.

“‘It’?” I asked, tasting the word like an unfamiliar candy. I stepped beside him, noting his fisted hands and wanting to do more than simply stand there.

“Goodbye, I mean,” he went on, as if he hadn’t heard me. “This is goodbye, and all that.”

“You’re not very good with words, are you?” I said drily, almost before I could stop myself. To my surprise, he laughed. It was a bitter, self-deprecating sound.

“No, I’m not very good with words.” He shoved his hands into his pocket, tilting his head back. “Or goodbyes for that matter.”

I glanced at the headstone, unsure of what to say. It was drizzling, and a gray fog was creeping in, although I wasn’t sure if it was a physical one or something I dredged up to match my mood. I touched the watch in my pocket once again, seeking anything to draw upon, but at the same moment that I realized I no longer wanted to speak, he spoke again.

“I’ll miss you,” came his heavy whisper. “I guess that’s all that I can really leave you with.”

I felt the numbness ease within me, a curious feeling that was at odds with the thickening fog. Was I reaching past the shock of the event and feeling something more than nothing? What was this newfound strength that drew me closer to his side?

“And I guess I’m sorry, too,” he continued, paying no attention to my distance. Was he apologizing to me? Or to the headstone? “Sorry for everything I didn’t do in time. Sorry for not being a better brother.”

“That’s okay,” I found myself saying, though I don’t know why. Maybe in my newfound feelings, I wanted to deliver comfort to this stranger. “There’s no need to be sorry.”

He glanced up at last, his gaze meeting mine and then sliding past. His eyes were as dry as bone.

“Andrew?” I whirled around and watched as a young woman approached, an umbrella over her head, the mud sticking to her heels. “Why are you still out here?”

The man – Andrew, such a familiar name – walked past me to stop her before she came closer. She looked over his shoulder at me, confused and not a little wary. The fog was thickening around us as I attempted a half-wave, only to stop and look away, embarrassed.

“Is everything alright?” she half-whispered, looking at him again. The man smiled, a plastic smile not quite as practiced as my own.

“Just having a moment, that’s all,” he replied, taking her arm and turning her away. They disappeared down the lane long before I realized they were gone. Feeling suddenly and acutely alone, I turned back to the headstone, reading the inscription with some new sense of alertness, of recognition. It had a simple inscription, with a name:

Here Lies Alexander Lorde

Brother and Son

With patience wait-perforce to die

And in short time you’ll come to I.

There was the sound of running footsteps, and I didn’t realize what they were until he was right beside me again, pointedly ignoring me, his fist held out over the open grave.

“I almost forgot,” he said. “This was yours.”

He opened his hand and the broken timepiece fell to the dirt. I knew it immediately – the broken crystal face, the worn leather band – without seeing it as the darkness grew until all that was left was his face and the watch. The wristwatch was mine; his face was my own, and I stared and stared as he turned and walked into the oblivion.