When Mark Came Out Healthy
Illustrated by Eduard Jude Jamolin
Today was a good day.
I woke up at seven o’clock sharp, beating the alarm clock on my desk by 30 minutes and the one in my head by a lifetime. Two years back I’d still be asleep by now, but not the kind where you close your eyes and hope there aren’t any nightmares, just the one where you stare at nothing in particular and hope you were nothing in particular too.
I sat up and smiled at the picture frame on the wall with an image of my brother and myself gearing up for a bicycle ride. It is half a decade old, taken by good parents before they were dead. Our eyes have now lost the youth in their crinkles but I still smile. Jamie said the world is relative, so you have to show how happy you are to be in it first before it paints itself nice and good for you. He says something like plants only grow when their leaves reach out far enough for the sun, or people only know happiness if they take and hold it long enough.
Jamie has been a good friend, and a better therapist. Someday I’ll say thank you to him and smile like my illness is relative and the both of us are holding happiness in our hands, but for now I can only go to the bathtub without fear of drowning and say thank you to my towel after drying myself up. Clothes pressed and ready, I put sunscreen on my skin with an SPF below 50. Two years back I’d at least have a hundred, fearing the shell of pale chemicals wasn’t strong enough to stop my skin from burning. I never burned, but the fear always did.
Glancing at the mirror one last time, I saw a fault line in my shirt that was really just a crinkle at its worst, but sight is relative, so I removed and pressed it again with the iron turned to maximum, and before the panic settled in, I’ve already burned the bedsheet and my shirt. The smell of burnt fabric drew out water from my tear ducts, but Jamie said I’ve recovered, so I wiped my eyes clear and tried to smile as my hands searched for another shirt. The world is relative, so I have to be happy before it paints itself good for me.
In a clean red shirt, I drove south toward the supermarket eight kilometers from my house. Along the way, I stopped to check my tires for any signs of bursting or the bolts for any signs of loosening. I did this once for every kilometer, which I knew was silly, and Jamie knew was unhealthy, but for every reason I came up for proceeding a hundred tire screeches came flooding in my headspace.
Anxiety and its cousins do that to you. The flooding, I mean. Everything else is caused by depression. You see, my mind is a haunted house with unwelcomed dwellers and neighborhood children daring each other to make the first knock —Jamie made the first knock. And from then on my hauntings have been less occurrent, he said, with him seeing fewer ghosts after every session and me sleeping with less orphans singing lullabies every night.
I arrived in the supermarket and stood for five minutes debating whether I should use the basket or the cart. When I decided on choosing the latter, I realized that the checklist I brought with me was gone. Every pocket was searched and no sheet of a yellow note pad was found, so my body did the only thing possible for a mind like mine; conduct a twenty-minute panic attack and attract every eye within the vicinity, hoping one pair might take me back to Jamie’s office.
After sleeping with both eyes opened, staring at nothing in particular and hoping I was nothing in particular too, a nurse came over and offered me dinner. When I refused and asked where Jamie was, she gave me a copy of the local newspaper: “Escaped Mad-Man Kills Four in San Francisco”. The paper said someone killed Jamie yesterday, stabbed him in the neck with his ballpoint pen before going to his brother’s house and killing him after. A knife to the stomach, it said. His wife and two children followed. The eldest, a 16 year-old girl, came home today as an orphan in her house.
The nurse looked at me in both caution and disgust, and I’m not sure which of both I found prettier. When she left I slashed a fault line on my wrist with the butter knife and called it a papercut. My hands were supposed to be tied, but I think disgust took her over when she decided to leave me with something sharp.
Now inside moonlit walls, I talk to Jamie about what happened, and we laugh about how easily a ballpoint pen punctures flesh. At this moment, I know we hold happiness in our hands so I smile and say thank you to him before falling asleep, the kind where you close your eyes and know you will never hear an orphan’s lullabies again…
Today was a good day.
God forgive me.