Excerpt from Chapter 1. Written by Michelle.
In college, when we first started dating, he made me mix tapes. You remember cassettes? He’d make collages out of pictures he cut out from art magazines and cover the cassette case with them. I still have some. I think they’re in my parents attic.
Even though he had the best taste in music, the tapes would veer down these bizarre esoteric paths. “Sicilienne” by Bach would be followed by “Girl from the North Country.”Midwestern indie hip-hop would follow Cuban Trova. It made listening to the tapes as cathartic as it was jarring. In retrospect, I should have known he would have trouble functioning in the world. There’s a defined order to things that I don’t think he ever understood.
After we graduated, we moved in together to save money on rent. Back then rent wasn’t as crazy as it is now, but we still had trouble paying it. I think he expected something good to happen. Like if he graduated, worked hard on his art, he could get a job with a BA in Fine Arts. I didn’t have such lofty expectations. I waitressed with my BA, but he could never hold down a job.
Once, in the middle of the day, I came home and found him asleep in the living room with the lights turned off. I assumed he lost his job at the shipyard. I woke him up and said some mean things — things I regret. At first, he didn’t respond, just sat there with a blank expression on his face. Then, out of nowhere, he punched the wall.
I cowered and put my hands over my face. I wasn’t afraid, it was just intense. It was so rare that he showed any emotion. He walked out of the apartment. He seemed as surprised as I was. The next day his stuff was gone, his key sat in the middle of the kitchen table with a bouquet of tulips, and note that read, “sorry.”
We saw each other once in a while after that. It was unavoidable, there were mutual friend’s parties, the coffee shop on the corner of eighteenth street, but we never talked. There was never any kind of finality in the break-up. I resented that. I wanted the end to mean something
I don’t know if I think he was depressed. A couple years after we split I saw an episode of The Sopranos, where the main guy is talking to his psychiatrist. She tells him that depression is just anger turned inward. Maybe that’s true, or maybe human emotion is slightly more nuanced.
Excerpt from Chapter 2. Written by Sarah.
You can’t control the way anyone else feels, but you can control your own emotions. The only thing you can do to make yourself truly happy is to live for others. Live for your community, your family, the people you love.
I know it’s silly, but I also think windows are important for happiness, or, at least, the right approach to windows. It’s more important to have a window that faces east than faces west. In the morning, when you wake, open that window up. Let in the sun. The life of the world is in the sun.
I read what I just wrote, and I don’t like it, but I don’t know what else to write. Who am I to tell people how they can deal with someone who is sad? No one can be happy all the time.
Most of the time, when I try to be happy, I feel like a selfish narcissist. I lived with a boyfriend who was depressed all the time, and after a few years together, I glommed onto that sadness. In a way, it felt natural to be sad. Comfortable.
The more I think about it, the more I think my earlier advice is garbage. If you try to make a difference in your community, go to a city council meeting or something, all people do is yell at each other.
What does it even mean to live for your loved ones?
I think I’ve read too many self-help books.
Excerpt from Chapter 3. Written by Jane.
I have a dog, he’s what they call a rez mutt, mixed with so many different breeds it’s impossible to tell exactly what kind of dog he is. He’s brown, about thirty-five pounds, and the sweetest animal in the world. I found Puggy on the outskirts of the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation during a road trip when I was eighteen. There isn’t another thing in the world I love as much as this dog.
He’s seventeen now. I’ve had him by my side longer than I lived with my parents, longer than I was in school, longer than I’ll ever hold down a job. It’s hard to imagine a day when he’s gone, but that day is going to come sooner than later.
Puggy’s hips are displaced, some days they hurt so bad he can’t get out of bed. I take him to physical therapy, but it doesn’t seem to help anymore. There’s hard little balls that grow on his neck, and chest. I worry they’re cancer. He had cancer when he was eleven, but I got it treated. It cost nearly twenty thousand dollars. I’d spend that much every year if he could be healthy again, but that’s not the way mortality works.
By all accounts, Puggy should be dead. Fifteen, twenty years ago, before treatments for animals with cancer, he would have been. A hundred years before that, he probably wouldn’t have made it to five. I love him, but I really need to let him go. That’s the way it is with love, you just have to let it go.
Humans suffer a similar indignity through science. When we first crawled out of the primordial soup we’d be lucky to live for fourteen years before some wild beast had us for lunch, or the common cold killed us. People aren’t dogs, they aren’t easy to get along with. To expect people to be able to tolerate each other for long periods of time, when we weren’t even built to live much past puberty, is simply unnatural.
Appreciate your time with others, but don’t push yourself to unnatural levels of familiarity. If you have a boyfriend who has a great, creative career, a zest for life on good days, and an incredibly dark view of the world on bad days, learn to appreciate your time with him. If your dog loves him, that’s even better. Realize that it wasn’t meant to last, and when things get dark, it’s time to move on.
Excerpt from Chapter 4. Written by Sarah (a different Sarah).
Sadness makes people funny. Somebody said that once. I think. Or did I just make that up?
He was funny. Cynicism permeated every word that dripped out of his mouth. We’d watch the Republican debates, the local news, awards shows, and he would have me rolling with dark quips about the general decay of humanity. There was a point where the cynicism was too much to be around. Every joke a little bite at the core of my soul.
I don’t think about the bad times, though. Once someone is gone —
Time is the essence from which life is made. Somebody said that once. I think. Or did I just make that up?
Maybe I’m not making the right point here. Memory is fickle, the older I get, the more time I spend with misplaced nostalgia. Nostalgia can be as crippling as depression.
Maybe dwelling in nostalgia is better than waiting around to die. Somebody said that once. I think. Or did I just make that up?
Steven J. Rogers is an avid canoesman and beardsman from Northern Wisconsin. Alas, he currently lives in Los Angeles, California. Steven is not an absolutist, so he is willing to accept the idea that there might be a hell. If there is, he’s pretty sure that it would involve writing bios. He has a BA and MFA which he’d happily trade for some beer money. To learn more about him, and his upcoming publications please visit http://www.stevenjrogers.ink.