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Today began like many of the recent days past; I awoke, stared at my bedroom ceiling, and grasped at any remnants of a dream from the night. Often the pieces fall just out of my reach and into nothingness, while the pieces I capture always seem to contain a broken scene with little meaning. I write what I can, hoping the shards might arrange themselves into something profound, something I may hold on to.
January 7: … a burnt door, a dimming fireplace, ashes, an empty room…
I’ve decided to take the day off, I’m sure the lab won’t miss me. Besides, they say I need a break, especially after what happened. The routine tests and protocols have grown to irritate me, and the effect on my personality is becoming evident— anxious, depressed, a lost ambition. I can’t seem to find a reason for my work; how could research in more efficient oil uses change much? We will exhaust the earth’s supply pretty soon; I am merely slowing down the inevitable. For three years I’ve been supervising projects for my so-called revolutionary discovery in an industry that will become obsolete; does that make me the very same?
February 17: …snow, icy breath, a woman’s voice, hot chocolate…
My job has become the main source of stress in my life, so Dr. Feinburg suggested I request a paid leave of absence. I am slightly ashamed that I have lost a passion for my career; honestly I’ve lost passion for everything. I was searching for any kind of old hobby to occupy myself when Feinburg suggested drawing as a told for expression and relaxation. He said simply drawing anything that I see was sufficient, but I decided on a change of scenery from my bland apartment and went to the local park …a magnificent oak tree, a pretty brunette jogging, an empty swing set, a couple on a park bench…I drew for what seemed like hours, until I was finally satisfied. I glanced down at my finished work, and noticed a familiar face in the girl I drew. On returning home, I felt an incomplete, yet comforting felling, as if I was no longer alone.
February 26: …soft grass, a veil, a familiar face…
Today I resolved to lower the dose of the medication Feinburg gave me. I feel much more lucid than I have been lately; I’m hoping that’s some kind of progress. The fact that a medication that alters my behavior is becoming a regular part of my life is unnerving, as if the last month has only been a surreal stream of consciousness; a blurred reality rationalized by a prescription. My understanding of the world has fundamentally changed from one of pessimism to one of apathy. I’ve visited the library I last used in my college studies may times recently, searching for something to reinstate my faith in the world. Today, an interesting word caught my attention, a simple concept that I have unwittingly dismissed for a long time: happiness. More precisely, the book defined it with 5 criteria in mind: Pleasure, Engagement, Meaning, Accomplishments, and Relationships. I carefully ordered my life according to these categories, and only paused as my pen met the last word in the list. I felt a hollow emptiness as I traced the letters of “relationships” over and over on my paper.
March 2: …City lights, a familiar face, a light breeze, rooftops…
Feinburg noted that I have many friends as coworkers the other day, but he must have noticed something in my expression, perhaps a vacancy of expression, because somehow he knew of the familiar face that was etched in my mind. He said people often repress memories if the mind finds them too painful to bear, and this is not limited to people. As I returned home, I planned to search my apartment for any lost memories, and it was then that I actually noticed how strange and barren my new residence was. The indistinctive lamp on my bedside table cast my silhouette on the empty white wall, and I saw my reflection as my listless shadow. The only unique object I saw was the vase of flowers in my windowsill, so I mentioned them to Feinburg. At first, he merely looked away, thinking of what to say, and then he spoke in a painstaking manner, as if each word might detonate if said incorrectly:
“Those flowers…they belonged to Anna.”
March 12: … a flower shop, a bus station, five blocks, Anna
With much more purpose, I scoured my apartment, for anything to prove her existence. I opened a remote closet in my hallway, and immediately found a battered box. In side were burnt remains of letters, pictures, pressed flowers, books, and other memories. A stained, folded newspaper clipping laid on the very top, so I examined it first. I read the article over and over again, hoping that if I read it enough it might change:
Fatal apartment fire claims the life of local flower shop owner, Anna Price.
The influx of memories was overwhelming, as the tangential dreams began to crash into place with a jarring force that detached me from reality. The smallest details replayed so vividly, that, for an infinitesimal moment, I believed I had returned to my life; that the last few months were merely a distorted figment of my own creation. I remembered when we met at the shop, and I walked her to the bus station because it was late, and she hated walking through that park of town alone. I remember marveling at the city lights from her roof, and how beautiful she thought they were. I remember our wedding in the backyard of her parents’ house, and how she liked the feeling of the grass on her feet as we danced to Sinatra. I remember taking her ice-skating, and how terrible we were; we went for hot chocolate instead. I remember walking through our crumbling door frame, the soot and ash that stained my clothes, our incinerated fireplace, and a vase of flowers sitting on the windowsill.
April 2: nothing
I have been seeing Dr. Feinburg less and less; he told me that my therapy was complete. I returned to the lab today, and my coworkers gave me a seemingly warm welcome, thought they act wary in my presence, as if insanity may take hold of me at any time. I understand their worries, for I too fear the very same thing. Ironically, the repetition of the lab has become a source of escape for me now, as I edge back into my daily life. I recognize the therapy as less of a cure, and more of a way to make a subject stable and safe. It does not restore happiness to the patient, rather it gives happiness as an option in the future, and every day from then on is a day of recovery.