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The chilled October wind cut through my open peacoat and blew my hair across my face, sending a new coldness through my body. I readjusted myself on the park bench with a sniffle, feeling the stinging in my eyes begin to subside. Here I was sitting in my favorite spot with an open notebook in my hands and nothing in it besides a few teardrops. I had tried to write, but my soul found no way of expressing itself on paper as I was tortured by memories. I shook my head, wiping away the smudged makeup from my eyes and trying to compose myself. It was too beautiful a day to spend my time sitting in Central Park with old tears on my face. I got up, leaving behind the one place I had thought I could find happiness in again.
Leaves of orange and burgundy fell from the trees, spreading the colors of autumn along the ground as everything began to slowly die around me. I walked with uneven, irregular steps, treading solemnly, as if in mourning. The bitter wind bit at my cold-numbed cheeks, and I felt hot tears well up in my eyes once more, returning with a vengeance.
It had been a month since I lost my job. It was the only job I had ever known—I had been hired as a journalist for some big newspaper right out of college, and although my real dream was to become a novelist, I had made my home there and never looked back. I was the hotshot young writer who was laid-back and had always kept to herself and never spoke more than two words unless spoken to. In my years working there, I hadn't made much of an effort to make friends or get attached to anyone, because that meant stepping out of my comfort zone. However, this ended up working against me—being the quiet, shy person that I am, it was easier for them to send me the pink slip and be done with it. No mess, no angry lashing out, just a clean break.
I had gone to interview after interview and no one was hiring. It turns out an English major from a community college which she had barely been able to afford on her own dime was not as appealing to employers as one might think. And with this economy? I would have better luck playing lotto.
As I made my way to the subway station on my way home, a homeless man came up to me asking for money. He was dirty and unkept and stank of alcohol. I looked down at my feet as I passed him by, knowing I needed the money in my pocket more than he needed his booze. Briefly, I wondered if I would ever end up like that—a bum living on the streets, begging for money to keep myself alive. No, I thought, I still have some money saved. I still have my apartment—for now, at least.
I swiped my Metro card and entered the station. Ten minutes until the arrival of the one train. I sighed. I didn't want to go home. It wasn't home. It was just a big empty room with a few boxes.
Charlie had dumped me two days after I lost my job. He had been my boyfriend of eight years—we had started dating in high school and been together ever since. After college, it had seemed right for us to move in together, maybe get married, start a life in the city. But starting a life meant having a job and a source of income, and we couldn't have two unemployed, broke aspiring authors living under one roof, could we?
The breakup was his idea. He had said he wanted a change of pace, something different. But I knew. I had smelled the perfume on him for some time now, I just hadn't wanted to admit it to myself. But as I stood alone in an uncomfortably warm, steamy subway station, there was nothing better to do than face the facts.
I looked at my watch. Five more minutes. A long sigh escaped my mouth. With all this s*** piling up the way it was, I felt nothing but despair. When I was home alone, I always found some way to make a bottle of pills look tempting. There was no joy anymore, only worry and longing, and I wondered how I had let my life get this way. Had I brought this on myself, or had fate simply dealt me a poor hand?
From where I was standing a few feet from the edge of the platform, I cast a quick glance at the people around me. Most were dressed in formal work attire—ties and dress shirts and slacks—either on their way to work or coming back from it. There was a young couple standing not too far from me who were holding hands and laughing. They looked happy. They all did. They didn't know how lucky they were, how much worse off they could be.
That's when I saw him.
He had dark, almost black hair that hung straight against his chiseled face. His skin was a fine white, with some sort of a ghostly pallor to it. And his eyes—oh, the eyes of that young man—were the prettiest blue I had ever seen. Like that of a robin's egg.
I only caught a short glimpse of him, and in that time he did not look at me. Instead he walked straight forward, closer to the tracks, his black overcoat flowing with every movement. He was graceful, elegant, and every step he took was measured and even—certain. The man held himself with complete assuredness. Yet his expression was blank—neither a smile nor any hint of poignancy touched his face. It was strange, inhuman even.
I could hear the distinct rumbling of a train as it raced down the tracks in our direction. I glanced back at the man—he was still walking with that calm stride. Measured, tranquil, he was only a few feet from me now. Yet he kept going.
With dead eyes, the man blundered like a zombie toward the tracks, not bothering to turn his attention toward the train, which grew ever closer. A jolt of fear went through me as I saw his feet move only inches from the edge. The train let out a loud blaring noise as the conductor tried to warn him to get back. But the man didn't listen. One more step and he would never see light again.
“Watch out!” I cried, lunging at him and knocking him aside with my arm before he could take another step.
The man fell backwards onto the platform, reaching out for the closest thing to grab, which just so happened to be my arm. His touch was cold as ice as his hand wrapped around my wrist and he dragged me down with him. I lost my balance, falling beside him onto the floor.
I'm not really sure what I expected. I thought maybe he would fly into a violent fit of rage or break down into tears. Maybe he would even thank me. Maybe he would say nothing at all. Whatever it was, what he did was completely and unbelievably unanticipated.
He said the strangest thing to me.
“Are you okay?”
Am I okay? He had just tried to jump in front of a moving train and he was asking if I was okay? I gaped at him in stunned silence.
I nodded once, slowly, curtly, shock blatant on my face.
His expression was practically lifeless as he looked at me.
“What's your name?” he asked.
He pushed himself up off the ground, putting out his hand to help me up.
“I'm Logan,” he said.
It was all so strange. This young man had just tried to end his life, yet he continued to act with such normalcy. If it hadn't been for the surprised faces and the occasional, “are you two alright?” from the people around us, I would have simply assumed that I had imagined the whole surreal incident.
Logan stared at me, his blue eyes piercing as they studied my face. There was something alien about him, something phantom-like as he gazed into me. The way he looked at me—I felt open and naked, like my whole life was being displayed for all to see.
Looking at him face-to-face as I was now, I could see that he looked much different than he had when I had caught that first glimpse. His skin was not a pure white, but an ashen, bloodless grey, and his beautiful blue eyes were blood-shot and underlined with dark purple bags that looked like ugly bruises. Instead of the dull pink they should have been, his lips were a pale beige, almost white, and were dry and cracked from the cold. His black hair was messy and had a dull sheen to it, looking almost grey in the light. And although he could not have been a day over twenty-six, he looked much older than his age.
“Where are you headed?” he asked me as the one train came rolling down the tracks.
“My apartment,” I replied. “Near South Ferry.” Then, without thinking I added, “would you like to join me?”
Logan smiled, but it did not reach his eyes.
“I'd like that,” he said.
I rode all the way home on the train with a man I had just met, wondering what exactly had come over me. Neither of us spoke as the train bounced along on the rickety tracks, nor as we walked back to my building. I paused at my apartment door with the key in my hand, wondering what the he** I was doing inviting a strange, suicidal man I didn't know into my home. But there was something about Logan—some ghostly chill about him—and I didn't see him as a threat. There was no sense of danger about this man, no sense of anything, really, so I opened the door and invited him inside.
“Do you want coffee?” I asked him as he took a seat on my living room chair, noticing that there was a half-empty pot sitting on the counter. I put a hand on it—still warm. Charlie must have been here recently, most likely to collect his things. I sighed.
“No thank you,” Logan politely declined. “I try not to drink that stuff.”
I poured myself a cup, not bothering to reheat it, and sat down on the couch across from him, breathing in the aroma that wafted from the coffee in my hands. I sipped it slowly, crinkling my face at the bitter taste—this was always how Charlie had made his coffee—strong and bitter. But I drank it anyway, not because I was too lazy to make another pot, but because it tasted like him.
“Nice place,” he said, appraising the room. “Do you live alone?”
I stared down at my coffee sullenly, thinking of the man who had made it.
“Yes,” I said.
“Are you moving?” he asked, noting the boxes stacked neatly in the corner.
“I can't afford this apartment anymore. I lost my job not too long ago, so I'm short on rent money.”
There was no shame in saying it. With the economy we were in, it was a miracle I had even kept such a serious job for so long. I wasn't embarrassed about it anymore; there were poor people out there who had lost more than I had. I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself. It was hard.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
I glanced up at him, surprised. No one had asked me that since it happened, not even Charlie. I shook my head.
“Well what do you want to talk about?”
“How about you?” I suggested. “I want to know what happened at the train station.”
Logan's blue eyes never left my face.
“I'll make you a deal—I want you to tell me the worst memory you've ever had, then the best memory you've ever had. Then I'll tell you.”
I knit my eyebrows in confusion. It was an odd request, but I desperately wanted to know Logan's story. Why had he tried to kill himself? What dreadful thing could have happened to him to make him want to take his own life? Why had he chosen such a horrible end for himself? And why had he asked me if I was okay?
“It was the winter of my senior year of high school,” I began, my eyes drifting distantly as I tried to recall the memory, “my mother was sick in the hospital with stage three lung cancer . . . she had made me promise her that I would go to college, that I would get an education and have the opportunities she was never fortunate enough to have. We weren't broke, but with my mom's medical bills to pay off, it seemed like college was out of my reach.
“When I was younger, there were two things she had said she wanted to see before she died—my college graduation and my wedding. When she was diagnosed, she knew she was unlikely to see the latter. And now with no money and too many bills, I had to tell her she would never see me graduate.
“I would stay up for nights at a time just crying, trying to think of some way of telling her without breaking her heart. I couldn't do that to her. She was too fragile—it would kill her.
“A week later I got a call from the hospital. They said there was something wrong, that I needed to get there immediately. I drove as fast as I could. I almost missed her.
“When I got there, the doctors told me there had been some complication and there was nothing more they could do for her but make her comfortable. I tried not to cry. I had known this was coming. I went to say goodbye.
“ 'Now promise me you'll go to college, Jenna,' she had said to me.
“ 'I promise.'
“I wanted to tell her, I really did, but I couldn't take her last wish away from her. I couldn't . . .”
I sniffled, feeling hot tears roll down my cheeks. Logan was listening intently, his eyes on my tear-stained face. He nodded once in encouragement.
“ 'The money is yours,' she said. 'All of it. I know we've been tight on cash for a while now, but the insurance should help pay your tuition . . .'
“I shook my head. 'I can't . . .' I told her. 'I can't do it.'
“ 'Please, Jenna,' she begged. 'I need to know you'll do this, for me.'
“She looked so old, so frail on that hospital bed—it was impossible for me to deny her. I promised her that no matter what it took, I would make it through and be the first person in my family to go to college . . . even if it meant using her life insurance to pay my bills. She died half an hour later.”
By now I was a mess—the coffee spilled from the cup as my hands shook uncontrollably and I sobbed at the memory. My eyes burned as I cried, and I tried to wipe the tears away. It all seemed so ridiculous—here I was crying in front of a complete stranger, telling him some of my most heartfelt memories, memories that I hadn't even shared with Charlie.
Logan was silent, that same dead look in his eyes. There were no words of comfort or assurance, nothing. He was completely still, only moving his mouth to say, “And your best?”
It took me significantly longer to think of one. The only happy memories I could remember involved Charlie, and therefore were no longer happy. I was about to tell him I had none when I finally realized that I did.
“The day my boyfriend and I broke up,” I said, feeling the intense surge of an epiphany. “It was the first time in a long time that I didn't feel obligated to do something—to go to college, to get married, to start a family. It was the first time in eight years that I had felt independent, that I had felt like I was in control of my own life. It was the first time I realized I didn't have to live my life for someone else—I could write my novel, I could get a job I enjoyed that wasn't just to pay the bills. I admit, it hurt at first—the feeling of being alone—but it was somehow liberating. It was the first time in eight years that I felt free.”
For the first time since I had met him, Logan smiled. I mean really smiled—a smile that touched his dazzling blue eyes and made his cheeks glow with a warm pink tone. There was a new light to him, there was life.
“Thank you,” he said. “It's nice to hear a happy story once in a while.”
He got up from the arm chair and, with a final smile, headed for the door.
“Wait!” I called after him, leaping from the couch. “You never told me your story.”
Logan turned and walked back toward me, pulling something out of his pocket. It was a business card—thin and white and bland with plain black lettering. He handed the card to me and our hands touched briefly. I smiled at the warm sensation, feeling happy for the first time in a long time.
“That should explain everything,” he said.
With that, he was gone, disappearing from my life as quickly as he had come. Like some sort of phantom, he vanished, leaving behind only the business card and a subtle warmth inside of me as proof that the paths of us two kindred spirits had ever crossed. But his words had resonated with me—somehow, with no family, no boyfriend, and no job, I knew I was going to be just fine. I was certain of it.
I played with the piece of paper in my hands, rubbing my fingers over the name of the company on the card—A Brighter Mourning. Logan's name was written below, along with his work number and office hours. Curious, I typed the name of the company into Google and searched it.
It all made sense. I almost cried for this poor, pitiful soul, I really did. No wonder he had tried to end it. No wonder he saw no joy in life even at his young age.
A Brighter Mourning was a company that gave guidance to people after a loved one passed away. Logan was a grief counselor. I could imagine the sorrowful stories he had to bear daily; the painfully sad tales of death, illness, addiction and depression. And worst of all—worst of all was the thought that everyday he had to listen to stories of heartache and loss and somehow put a positive spin on them to make things seem okay. How could one not lose faith in humanity, in religion, in himself, when his life was consumed by nothing but death and misery and he knew not how to explain either of the two? I felt for that man. I really did.
I felt for the man who lived a life of death.