It was the first Monday after winter break and the first time she’d left the house in a literal week. She drove out of the school parking lot and debated just going home. Fighting the New Year’s Resolution-ers for a parking spot at the gym seemed like a terrible idea when all she wanted to do was crawl back into bed after dropping the kids off, but Past Self had promised her Present Self that she’d at least get a little cardio in and she didn’t want Future Self to hate her even more than she usually did for breaking yet another attempted commitment to attempt to commit. Anyway, heaven knew she needed a shower. Just go do the elliptical for like 20min and then you can sit in the shittyass sauna and try to cry. No one’s ever in there anyway.
She moped in wearing her depression sweater over second hand work out clothes and scanned her card without making eye contact with the staff at the front desk. It was easy enough to throw her bag in a locker, change into her sneakers, and find her way to the unoccupied machine at the end of the line, even if every movement felt like she was moving through water instead of air, and she had to keep repeating just keep moving in her head like a mantra.
She started walking (elliptical-ing?) and opened her podcast app. She’d fallen behind on the half-dozen or so shows she tried to follow, but it didn’t really matter. One of her favorite comedians had put out an episode on depression early in December and there was only about 25 minutes left on it since the last time she was at the gym, weeks ago. Seems timely. She might’ve snickered to herself if her face still knew how to show affect. She pressed play and raised the level on the machine. You’re here, might as well make the most of it. She pumped her legs as the familiar voice continued his interview with some New York psychology professor.
Twenty five minutes later, she was sitting in the sauna trying to meditate, but distracted by the smell of ammonia. Is it piss or cleaner? Was there piss and then someone tried to clean it up with ammonia? Sure am glad I’m opening up my pores to absorb all this toxic chemical shit. Predictably, she turned to her phone and flicked to Instagram. The comedian had said he was in the south for winter and the last show on his tour was right in her city. I wonder if he’s still here? She navigated to his page and clicked stories. The first one was just a repost of some other performer’s tour announcement from the day before; but the second one was a black and white selfie of the man lying in bed with the covers pulled up to his chin, forearm slung across his eyes, hair askew and beard untrimmed. It was tagged #depressionsession and #chronicoversharer. There was a small transparent location tag hidden in the corner and when she clicked it, the map opened up. Sure enough, the photo was taken at a hotel a few blocks away. Weird. I guess the holidays have everyone fucked up. Even in the south. She got up, certain that she was not going to manage meditation and vaguely worried about whatever fumes she was inhaling.
Plodding to the shower, she tried all the positive self talk she knew - maybe if she *expected* the shower to be rejuvenating, it would be. Going through the motions, she washed her hair and body, noticing and choosing to neglect her body hair. Depressed or feminist, your choice. She shrugged. Maybe it’s a bit of both. Stepping out and toweling off, she noticed she didn’t exactly feel worse, but she certainly didn’t feel better, and that realization *did* make her feel worse. Argh. I’m fucking trying. What more do you want from me? She decided to stop by the co-op next door and buy a fresh juice before going home to tuck herself in bed. She could try to sleep until it was time to head back to the school again, a few hours later. She knew she was going to need to conserve her spoons for evening and on a day like this, there wasn’t much more she could ask from herself.
Washed and dressed, she could almost pretend to be neurotypical. She picked up her phone again on the way out the door and as she walked down the shopping center sidewalk, she navigated back to her biggest time vampire. Looking at that story again, she decided to do something so minorly reckless it made her nostalgic for her more actively angsty days. Before she could change her mind, she tapped out a message.
Man, I feel you. This is my first time out of the house in a week and I really only left ‘cause I absolutely had to. Funny story tho, I’m like literally four blocks away. Want some company?
She read it over and added: This is not a sex thing. But then realized that made the whole message seem like it definitely *was* a sex thing, so she deleted the last part and hit send.
That little risky act made her feel about 5% more alive, which was saying something, considering how few percentage points she was working with in the first place. She went in and grabbed a green juice that was mostly apple and in an uncharacteristic step of faith, she picked up a second bottle. Making her way across the parking lot, she felt a buzz in her pocket. Her pace slowed for a second, but she kept walking to the car, enjoying the moment of not knowing. Had she made an utterly pretentious fool out of herself and he was responding with a nasty reproach before blocking her? (Quite unlikely but equally scary) Or was he inviting her over for the saddest platonic snuggles on the planet? (Even more unlikely and perhaps just as scary, albeit a different flavor of fright) Or was it a totally unrelated notification? That seemed like the most probable answer. But no one would care if she waited an extra minute before checking and the unknowing added another 5% to her Aliveness Total.
Honestly, I’m not sure why I feel less than entirely opposed to the idea. Of course, I’m feeling basically nothing right now but perhaps that’s intellectualizing. I suppose you could come over, though I’m not promising to get out of bed or anything.
Ugh. Why are men? She reconsidered. Well it’s not like I’m trying to date him. Obviously he’s in a bad way right now and so am I, that’s kinda the whole point, right? She sat in her car and reread the response. She put the hotel address in her navigation and noted it was three minutes away. She looked at the juice. She typed a reply.
Lol can’t say I’m flattered, but I was planning on laying in bed for the next four hours anyway so I might as well do it at your place instead of mine. At least it’s a change of scenery, I guess.
Send. She waited, trying to manage her expectations. He’s probably going to ghost me. Soon, she started driving to the hotel. It wasn’t like she had anything better to do. Traffic was stop and go. A minute later her phone buzzed in her lap.
Sorry. That’s fair. Room 212. You can just walk up. The desk seems particularly incompetent lately.
This is so weird.
She pulled into the tiny parking lot, glad it was nearly midday and most of the guests were out, so she didn’t have to park on the street. She walked into the lobby, carrying the juice, along with her keys and phone in a small backpack. The concierge did not look up from the book he was reading at his desk. She took the stairs and noticed she was feeling a little nervous, which was nice because she was *feeling* a recognizable and relevant emotion. Approaching room 212, she took a quick glance at her phone to make sure she hadn’t missed any additional instructions. There were no unread messages so she knocked on the door. This is so crazy.
Before she could think too much, the door was opening. The disheveled podcaster was already walking back to his bed as she let herself in. She watched him move, shoulders slumped, head down, unhurried. She slipped off her shoes and dropped her bag on the little table that doubled as a desk. Without speaking, she took out the two bottles and approached the bed. It was a queen sized mattress and it was clear he’d been sleeping close to the middle of it, probably for the last few days. But even in his silent stupor he at least had the courtesy to settle back in on one side. She placed the juice atop the night table on the opposite side and turned the covers down. Thank goodness I wore yoga pants. I do not have the capacity right now to worry about what I’d do if I were in jeans. She climbed under the covers and set up the pillows behind her to support a sitting position. Upon hearing her open the first bottle, he finally rolled over to face her.
“I brought another,” she stated flatly, as she handed an identical package to her host.
“Thank you,” he mumbled, accepting the gift.
They drank together amicably, their swallowing noises seeming loud in the peaceful quiet. After a few minutes, she capped her bottle to save the remnants for later, and adjusted her pillows to settle down into a side lying position. She rested for the minor relief it brought, watching her bedmate unassumingly with what might have been curiosity, if she cared to define it. Soon thereafter, he mirrored her movements, as if responding to a rehearsed cue.
They lay there for what seemed like a lifetime. Watching each other breathe, sometimes making eye contact, sometimes with eyes closed, sometimes appearing to stare straight through one another. It was an easy togetherness, one devoid of expectation.
“Will you hold my hand?” she whispered. And in response his hand sought hers under the covers. To her surprise, her pulse quickened, almost imperceptibly, at his touch. To her much greater surprise, she began to cry. Not a heavy, aching sob, just a gentle flow of tears. If he wasn’t looking at her face he wouldn't have noticed. But he was, and he did.
“It’s okay,” he reassured softly. “I’ve been trying to cry for days.”
She opened her eyes to meet his. “It’s just, I don’t even know why I’m so sad,” she confessed.
He smiled - at least she thought it was a smile. It didn’t quite make it all the way to his eyes. “You know there doesn’t have to be a reason,” he reminded her.
“Yeah,” she murmured, as she folded in on herself more tightly.
“May I hug you?” he asked. She nodded and wiggled a little closer to the middle of the bed.
They held each other for a long time. Finally she looked up, pulling back just a little bit. “Do you need to cry?” she inquired, “is there a way I can help?”
“I don’t know,” he hesitated, rolling to his back and lifting his gaze to the ceiling. “I keep thinking that would make me feel better. Move things through more quickly, ya know? I’ve been experimenting with different strategies, distract, accept, engage, and I was trying to take notes but I gave up on that pretty quick and it’s been a month and I’m still so low and I expected that being in the south for the shorter days would make this seasonal shit less severe...” he trailed off.
“Maybe there’s another way you can get it out then,” she offered, wiping her own tears.
“Will you draw with me?” He asked, looking back at her across the small space between them.
“Sure.” He slipped out of bed like he wasn’t totally confident his legs would hold him. She watched for a moment as her new friend went over to a small suitcase and pulled a rumpled notebook out from under a mess of discarded clothes. She eased herself out of her hastily erected nest while he rummaged deeper in the luggage for a pair of pencils. She carefully cleared the little table then moved it, along with the single desk chair, closer to the edge of the bed.
He sat in the chair and set the book down on the table, flipping to a clean page, and handed her a pencil. Together they started drawing randomly. It was mostly geometric things. Lines and grids and concentric shapes. Coarse shading and unpracticed approximations. He was working in one corner, making swirling curves, reminiscent of fire or vapor. She was filling the opposite corner with tiny circles, similar to fish eggs, or a pile of spilled seeds.
Not a word passed between them as they filled the page, their creations weaving in and out and around each other’s. When the task was complete, she reclined back in the bed, lower legs hanging from the knees.
“Can I recite something for you?” She suggested. “It’s kinda like a poem. I didn’t write it.” She hastened to add. “It’s a children’s story, I used to ask for, when I was little.”
“Of course,” he replied, “I’d love to hear it.”
She began. “Owl took the kettle out of the cupboard. ‘Tonight I will make tear-water tea’ he said. He put the kettle on his lap. ‘Now,’ said Owl, ‘I will begin.’ Owl sat very still. He began to think of things that were sad.”
He sat smiling with his eyes closed. But hers were also closed, so she didn’t see it.
“‘Chairs with broken legs,’ said Owl. His eyes began to water. ‘Songs that cannot be sung,’ said Owl, ‘because the words have been forgotten.’ Owl began to cry. A large tear rolled down and dropped into the kettle.”
They were speaking in harmony now.
“‘Books that cannot be read,’ said Owl, ‘because some of the pages have been torn out. Clocks that have stopped,’ said Owl, ‘with no one near to wind them up.’”
She sat up. He was looking at her now. All four of their eyes were glistening. They continued on like this, their pacing and tone matched as though the story had been read to them by the same voice, over and over, decades earlier.
By the end they were both weeping.
“‘There,’ said Owl. ‘That does it!’ Owl stopped crying. He put the kettle on the stove to boil for tea. Owl felt happy as he filled his cup. ’It tastes a little bit salty,’ he said, ’but tear-water tea is always very good.’”
Finally, their own cries turned to giggles. Then laughter. Hysterical, maniacal, belly-aching laughter. She stretched out backward in the bed and he threw himself down next to her.
“That was fucking surreal.” He remarked, struggling to catch his breath.
“Seriously.” She agreed. She snuggled in close, wrapping him in her arms and legs, smiling. He leaned his head toward her, pressing his cheek to her hair.
“You smell good,” he remarked absently.
“Yeah, that’s cause I’ve showered in the last week.” She looked up and stuck her tongue out at him.
“Hey, we can’t all be so lucky,” he shrugged.
They lay in a tight tangle, testing out a new, lighthearted banter. Slowly, she felt herself come back into her body, the filter that had been clouding her perception lifted. The air felt clearer, the colors looked brighter, her limbs seemed to weigh the proper amount. After a little while, she glanced at the clock on the wall, squinting.
“Dude, this was a blast, but I gotta go pick up my kids.” She gently squirmed out of her companion’s embrace. She wasn’t really eager to go, but they’d done for each other all that they could. Hopefully, he was feeling a little lighter, like she was. She put her shoes on as he sat up, observing the scene before him. I wonder what he’s thinking. “Try to eat something, will you?” She reached for the door.
“Hey, what’s your name?” He called to her.
“Harmony.” She smiled and slipped out the door.