January is the most malicious, soulless month of the year. Without fail, every January brings a new fresh hell that claws a hole in the ephemeral winter daylight. Behind that daylight is gray sludge. Cracked holiday ornaments. Champagne soaked New Years decorations. Stale sweets. Darkly rimmed eyes. Languid lovers. Wan complexions. Dust.
January casts a veil of solitude that is somehow inviting. Without it, there would be no marked-up sheet music scattered on my floor, no half-finished orchid paintings, and no files of delirious, maniacal prose floating in the ether. January is the month of Charlotte Bronte’s monstrous madwoman in the attic. January is the month that elicits something akin to emotion, a string that can almost anchor a balloon filled with apathy. Almost. This is the month of sleepless, mania riddled nights of extraordinary production. This is the month that delights and despairs.
I used to know every bookstore within a five mile radius of my childhood home, and each one of those bookstores knew me. I haunted those places as a child and during times of desperation I’d write. For hours. Sitting in those bookstores was a form of self-inflicted torture based on the knowledge that my life would never be as extraordinary or full of feeling as the lives of the characters that lived on the shelves around me. Despite how dramatic that sounds, those bookstores pushed me to develop the hobby that is my greatest source of comfort. A type of comfort that not even pounding out a minor key sonata on the piano can provide.
Today, most of those bookstores have long since disappeared. As a slightly less existentially anxious young woman, I’ve moved on to working in the warmer climates of coffee shops. Sitting quietly with a friend or catching the eye of a handsome stranger in line for a latte is a far cry from the solitude of sitting alone in between towering shelves with a journal in hand. Someday, those places that challenged me to be anything but ordinary will be fictional elements of stories that I’ll tell my children.
I miss those places.
The following is another short excerpt from What She Died For (and no, she did not die for a glass of wine, or a sandwich, or anything like that).
Hundreds of garnet eyes blink back at me in this eerily blue room. I want to be their leader. I need to be their leader.
“Has anybody felt any different since that day?” I ask, looking around the room and attempting to soften my naturally stern visage. Murmurs of “no” and “not that I’ve noticed” ripple through the room.
“Then that doesn’t help us,” I sigh. “But I know, that you all know, why we’ve turned. Why this has happened to us. It’s because we’re different, and I think you know what I mean.” It was a tiny hook flung into a vast ocean and I felt truly nervous for the first time in awhile.
What if I really was alone, after all?
“It’s because there’s something wrong with us,” says the girl standing quietly next to me. “We’re marked.”
I had been so focused on the fact that this extraordinary event had happened that I had barely considered our change in a negative light.
“Now, you’re just like me,” I say to the girl.
“Now, I’m just like you.” She replies.
I don’t know what’s happening, but we embrace. It’s cultish, surreal, and utterly strange. I’ve never hugged a stranger before in my life. To my astonishment, everyone around us begins doing the same.
“Now, I’m just like you.” People are saying to one another.
I feel drunk in this blue light. What I feel is pleasant but I wish that it weren’t.
I hear a series of sharp clicks, akin to the noise the meter of a taxicab makes at the end of a ride. A drizzle of pale yellow light appears in the blue and the wall in front of me splits open neatly.
The hundreds of garnet eyes blink rapidly in the sunlight that now floods our holding room and we look out into a vast gray land of nothingness. There is nothing in front of us as far as our eyes can see.
People begin murmuring to each other confusedly and I know what to do.
I nudge past everyone in front of me, and past the rows of steel beds until I’m at the front, facing the gray wasteland. Should I call it a wasteland? It looks strangely inviting, so I’ll call it a canvas.
I walk onto the canvas and don’t look back.
The following is a short excerpt from my second book, What She Died For, still in progress.
Isn’t this what show and tell is supposed to be?
What She Died For
8:02 pm. CST.
The tension in my gut immediately releases and is replaced by something indignant. Something that beats against the walls of my chest in a muted rage.
“Everything’s fine. Thanks for that prank. Try harder next time, my friend,” says Mina, smiling. “Cinnamon twist?” she asks, holding out the pan of pastries pulled straight from the oven.
I want to flip the pan out of her hands and into her face, branding her with its hot edges.
“What a relief!” I sigh. It is one of the biggest lies I’ve told this week. I sprawl out on Mina’s sleek black couch and sigh again, reaching for my iPod and ear buds.
My stomach clenches. I take a deep breath and fumble as I untangle my ear buds from their knotted mass.
The noise of the television in the background grows fainter, as do the soft pats of cinnamon twists being transferred into a Tupperware container.
“Mina?” I say faintly, dropping the ear buds.
“Mina!” I fairly yell.
“What?” she asks, alarmed as she looks over at me still lying on the couch.
“How accurate is your wall clock?”
I reach over to my laptop and flip it open.
8.00 pm. CST:
I’m deaf. I can’t hear a thing, and Mina is hovering over me, anxiously waving her hands in my face. I can read her lips.
“This is not a joke, Arya!” she’s saying. “I swear, tell me this is not a joke and I’ll call the ambulance ASAP.” I feel myself yelling a reply. I don’t even know what words are falling out of my mouth.
And then, the scene in front of me fades. It fades into a grey and black checkerboard, like a transition in a slideshow presentation. I feel my mouth making one syllable, over and over again.
The checkerboard before my eyes tears, rips open and reveals a gaping wound filled with a lush gray glow that I am not meant to see.
I watched. I stared. And then, I died.
I died that day, I’m sure of it. You know that feeling when you fall in love? I don’t, but I hear that it’s one of the surest feelings in the world. Something you “just know”. Ironic, isn’t it, that my first “just know” moment is death? There’s no denying it. It’s a truth that is as settled and fixed as the molten core of the earth.
What happened to me at 8:00 pm. CST that day confirmed something that I had long since thought was a fluid spectrum. It put me in a box, a category, and a group. My spectrum was no longer there.
I am evil.
I’m walking around the halls of my building at work as though it’s any other day from the past. After my checkerboard checkout on Mina’s couch that other day, I had woken up on a hospital cot, glucose IV pinned to my arm. I had torn out the IV in a hot spurt of anger and flipped off the nurse that sauntered into my room. I checked out of that confine as fast as I could, mumbling something about hypoglycemia and scribbling my signature on pages I didn’t even bother to read.
I rushed home that day and ran to the obsidian, sun shaped mirror on my wall, as I always did when I entered my apartment. I had stopped short of the mirror, bent my head, and shut my eyes tightly. My giant eyeballs were hot coals in my skull, burning my head pleasurably. I remember raising my head till it was level with the mirror and opening my eyes.
They were red.
Not the vein riddled sclera red caused by overnight contact lenses, a hangover, or bone dry air. Not the splotchy destitute red of a long bout of weeping.
Garnet red. Ruby red. Blood red. My irises were a deep, dark, translucent red.
My light brown eyes, usually framed by inky lashes so long they looked false, were gone.
Where did they go?
Where did they go?
The Orphanage burned down one Christmas Eve,
Taking with it the orphans, unable to leave.
The fire took with it all that I knew,
I only wish it had taken me too.
-An excerpt from An Orphan’s Christmas Anthology, written by myself and my dear friend Jordan during our soulless winter days of 2009.
Gather the children near
For now we finally face our fear
Once again it is that time of year.
I could never muddle through this dastardly day without acknowledging the work of the esteemed Edward Gorey, may he RIP. From learning the alphabet via Gorey’s “After the Outing” to experiencing his introduction to the old PBS series “Mystery”, I can understand how Gorey’s macabre fingers managed to grip the likes of Daniel Handler and Tim Burton. If Mr. Gorey were alive today and willing to grant me the privilege of his company, we would indulge in our shared passion for ballet (preferably a George Balanchine piece), and host a dinner party so sordid that every doubtful guest would wake up bedridden the next morning, yelling “woe is me” at the remnants of Halloween ghouls while shaking his fists at the ceiling.
It was only a few months ago that the website Thought Catalog, a compilation of essays communicating various degrees of 20-something angst, was shared by a hefty percentage of my social media connections. Admittedly, I too found the first few pieces about “things to do before you turn 25” and “how to be the best version of yourself” slightly charming (albeit poorly written and whiny). I also confess that I excitedly e-mailed my ex-beau the “Confessions of a Male Cat Owner” essay written by Brian Donovan, which my former paramour found both amusing and apt. However, Thought Catalog’s charm lasted only a few weeks before it morphed into a cesspool of pathetic, petulant complaints by young adults suffering from feigned existential anxiety.
It is understandable that one might find the familiar candor of Thought Catalog essays refreshing. It is understandable that reading an essay about the trials of friendship might make one feel less alone amongst the issues of young adulthood. However, there are only so many articles that can be written about “enjoying your 20’s” or “how to be friends with your ex” until the subject matter becomes unoriginal and dull. To be fair, there are occasionally a few gems (such as the aforementioned male cat owner essay, or travel tips) that pop up amongst the barrage of essays listing unsubstantiated relationship advice.
In conclusion, Thought Catalog is best suited as a cozy literary companion for the lonely ones who often lie in bed and yell “woe is me!” at the ceiling while searching for excuses for flippant, unobstructed behavior.