On my street, several houses are lined in a row. No two the same, each house is sizable, probably bigger than necessary.
In my town, landscapers cater to large, green yards. Maids visit once a week so that the insides of the houses are as perfect as the out. Neighbors greet one another by name with perfectly white smiles and hands that are soft and polished. By all accounts, Floral Avenue is practically perfect. But stay long enough, flaws come to the surface. The houses are perfect, but their inhabitants are far from it.
The walls of the houses are thinner than they should be. Shouting can be heard from the sidewalks as parents walk their carefully groomed dogs with their picture-perfect children. Screams of rage, screams of terror. They will be ignored, though, as they always are.
It's a small town. Hard to keep secrets here. We all pretend we don't know about the affairs, the drug use, the violence, but we do. Word travels fast in our town, even when you wish it wouldn't. When it rains, it pours.
. . .
Being abroad in London is strange sometimes. Today is one of those times.
My newest therapist is small in stature and large in presence. She intimidates me, as most strangers do. I find myself straightening as her eyes scan over me. What is she thinking? Does she see what I want her to see or has she found what she's looking for, the little girl in a twenty-year-old body? The one who can't hold a conversation, can't maintain eye contact. The one that has millions of things to say but no way to say them.
We sit, she stares. I count my breaths, count the seconds. Coming here was a mistake, I think, because I'll never tell her the truth. I'll never let her in, not fully. Consequently, she'll never be able to give me what I need. I've never been very good at putting my thoughts into words; not in the moment, anyway. Anyone can string words together to make a necklace of a sentence. It's another thing entirely to form the words in an exact way so that there can be no misinterpretations or miscommunications. It takes courage to say exactly what one is thinking. I'm known by different people for different things, but I don't think I've ever been known by anyone as courageous.
. . .
History has a funny way of repeating itself. This is what I think when I receive word that my neighbor, a girl two years younger than me, has attempted suicide. I think that suicide is one of the few things a person can do in which failure is the desired outcome of the majority of people.
I don't say anything out loud after this revelation. I didn't know her that well and it's none of my business, really. I'm glad she didn't die. Glad that she didn't become a statistic, a virtual news story that people could click on but probably won't. I'm glad.
. . .
"Why are you here?" she asks.
Why am I here? What do I want out of this? Validation? Confirmation? To be told to grow the hell up already? I know I want answers, I want to know how to fast forward through this part of my life to the moment where things get good. The part where I'm not constantly in my own head, over-analyzing. And thinking, always thinking.
I simplify things. "I want to get confident and learn how to make friends." I'm lying, or maybe not. Maybe I'm just omitting some things.
"You're not confident?"
"Not really." I laugh, my stupid awkward chuckle. The one that screams 'I'm uncomfortable but trying (badly) to cover it up!' She nods and I can sense that she's taking me in. Learning, observing, forming opinions. Is she judging? Probably. I'm judging her too.
. . .
Funny how we don't often think of seconds. Minutes, hours, days, decades even…but hardly ever seconds. Which is actually quite funny considering so much can happen in a single second. A bumblebee can flap its wings over 200 times. The Earth travels 18 and a half miles. 180 Barbie Dolls are purchased. Six babies are born. A single second—so overlooked yet so very important.
A single second. That's how long it took for me to decide I'd kill myself.
. . .
"You aren't just born this way," my therapist tells me. "Something has happened to you to make you so reserved." She asks me about my family life. Fine, really. There was some fighting in my early years, still is sometimes, but not enough to make an impact.
"Any bullying?" No, not that I can recall. I went to a small school, 500 people max, everyone knew everyone.
"Lots of friends?" I used to have many. Not so much anymore. She asks me about things that I can't remember. I know that she's thinking I must have been abused—memory loss is a common symptom. She asks me about my uncle, my father, all of the men in my life. I know her angle, but she's wrong. Some people just have faulty memories. She asks me about fights, about friends--she's trying to find something that I can't give her. She's getting frustrated. "Something made you want to end your life," she insists. "No one does it without a reason."
If that's true, I wonder, what was mine?
. . .
I wasn't always like this. There was a time when I was a little girl with no real worries aside from the problems that every adolescent faces at one point or another. I've always been shy, but I was freer then. Uninhibited, unaware of the consequences that can come from the curl of a lip or a nasty comment. I was sweeter then too, open to everything that the world was willing to throw my way. Time hardens us, makes us wiser. And sweet became sour.
. . .
"Many people feel the way you do." My therapist offers this consolation prize of a statement with a smile. "You're not alone." I know that I'm not. Many people feel like I do, they're simply able to hide it better. They're loud and blithe and wear toothy smiles as armour and they never, ever let people see what's underneath. When you strip someone down, when you are able to look past the clothes and skin and really see them for who they are, you come to an unfortunate realization.
No matter how we act, who we are or where we come from, we are all inherently sad people. We are born crying, after all. Some people can find happiness, others seek it but get lost in their search. Some don't bother trying and some don't even know to look. At the end of the day, everyone harbors darkness inside of them. Everyone fights an invisible battle. You, me, the kid down the street, all of us are broken.
. . .
I have a lot of things. Things that I probably don't need. My room is small, but it feels infinite with my collection of trinkets. A wig sits in my closet, pink and black, from my sorority. A water bottle from Christmas sits on a windowsill. A sewing kit, even though I don't know how to sew. Books—lots of them. Most I've read, some I haven't. Too much perfume for one person perched on a dresser. A television attached to my wall that hasn't been used for months. A single pillow that I don't use because it hurts my neck. An overflowing trash can because most days I can't make the journey from my bedroom to the trash bins outside. A suitcase that I don't travel with, earrings that I never wear, a shoebox with no shoes inside. My room is a time capsule. Every item, every crack in the wall and speck on the floor, is a part of me.
I think I steal a little part of everyone I meet. Some things are little: the tilt of a chin, the cadence of a phrase, a way to part my hair. It helps me understand them in a way. It helps me understand myself too. I think a lot of me is made up of people that I've met. People that have their lives together, who know who they are and where they're going. Maybe if I'm more like them, I'll find myself. So, I take things from them and I make them my own. Most of the parts that I steal are good, but some are bad. But the anger that I harbor inside me, the sadness, belongs to me and only to me. For better or worse.
. . .
"Do you remember the last time you were really happy?" My therapist leans forward ever so slightly, and I inconspicuously copy her. I sort my thoughts long and hard for an answer. There are times where I was content but, lately, happiness has been abstract to me.
"Yes." I don't elaborate and she must sense that I'm too uncomfortable with the question because she doesn't press the matter. She moves on and, just like that, I do too.
. . .
It rains a lot here. Most people hate inclement weather but I actually quite like it. The clapping of thunder and the flash of lighting, the many hues of blue and grey that overpower the greens and reds and yellows, the gentle caress of water droplets as they travel from my face to my toes. There is something so peaceful about rain.
People look beautiful when their hair is matted to their face, weighed down by water, their cheeks marred with drops of angel tears. Vulnerable and solemn, but it's even better when they smile. Such a contrast, I think, between happiness and rain. Like night and day. "Do you like to be unhappy?" My mom asks me one night as we argue.
"No," I snap. "Of course not."
But that night in bed under the safety of my covers, I wonder. Do I like the person that misery makes me? The girl with depth, the one that can tell a story, the one with a story to tell. Who would I be without the sadness? Would I like her? Surely no one chooses to feel like this, surely no one enjoys it. But what if? The Devil on my shoulder persists. What if?
. . .
My therapist asks me again if I've been bullied. Why is she so stuck on that? Do I look the type? Do I seem like I've been bullied? My thoughts swirl. She must think I'm a loser, why else would she be so sure that I've been bullied. Have I been bullied? I rack my brain, try to think of an instance where someone was mean to me.
I find it, a hidden memory from high school. I caught my friends talking behind my back. They were huddled around a locker with secret smiles chomping on pink bubble-gum. "I don't know how she gets the best gossip," one of them said. How did someone like me know everything? They didn't mean anything by it, it was just an instance of girls being girls, but on that day it felt like my world was ending.
My therapist is pleasantly surprised by my revelation. "That's not so bad," She says after I recount the incident.
But it was, I want to say. As a fragile, teenage girl, it was.
. . .
I've never claimed to be an optimist. I've never claimed to be all-knowing. In fact, I probably know less than most. But when you're quiet, when you listen more than you talk, when you truly observe someone…when you watch the twitch of the fingers, the clench of a jaw, the aversion of eye contact, you learn. It's not hard to find a sad person. Il n'y a pas de fumée sans feu, there's no smoke without fire.
. . .
"I think that's enough for today."
Is it? I want to ask. You only ever ask me about my past, about my relationships, but you didn't ask about me. Are you afraid to ask, to upset me? Do I make you as uncomfortable as you make me? You're not my first therapist, but you're the first to ignore the person I am now, to focus on the person that I used to be.
"It's an ugly day out." She smiles. "Pouring out. London rains a lot."
I nod, thanking her. She doesn't know that I picked London because of the inclement weather. An excuse to hole myself inside, to hide myself under thick layers of clothing. How could she? To her, it is another cold, dreary day.
As I make my way to the underground, I do what I do best. I observe. This city doesn't sleep. Faces blend in and I realize, with a lump in my throat, that I am among the blended. I am a small piece in a large puzzle. How many of them are hurting like I am? How many of them can hide it? How many of them can't?
How many of them prefer rain to sunshine?
. . .
In my neighborhood, big houses sit in perfect rows. No two the same, each house is sizable, probably bigger than necessary. The neighborhood is perfect; the people, just like everyone else in the world, are far from it.
I'm not in Terrace Park anymore. I'm in London where the people are big, and the buildings are bigger. The houses are small, and the neighborhoods are full of life and it is absolutely imperfect and wild, and it rains often; there is something so freeing, so cleansing, about that.
Happiness has always been a dot on the ocean's horizon for me and I'm stuck in the water. I'll be happier when I travel, when I lose a few pounds, when I am financially secure, when I figure out my future. Content is always close enough for me to see, but never close enough to grasp. Is it my fault? Am I not wanting it enough? Could I swim further out instead of letting myself sink? Or am I meant to drown? If it's true, if I'm holding myself back, if I'm clinging to sadness like a child does its mother, do I have a chance? Is there hope? Can I learn how to swim?
I love London. I love rain. When it rains it pours, the saying goes. But that's not true--it doesn't always pour. Sometimes the rain is a mist that you don't even feel until you realize that your clothes are getting wet and your hair feels heavier. Sometimes the rain is gradual, it sneaks up on you like an old friend. Sometimes, rain is refreshing.
Sometimes, and though those who love sunshine might not believe me, rain brings happiness.