Friendship Creative Nonfiction Contemporary

TW: suicidal ideation, terminal illness

The lace on my shoe was untied. I bent down, tied it. I got up, looked around. I was not home. I was in a foreign town, in a foreign state. The air was different, I was different. I stuck my hand into my right back pocket. There I carried a photograph. For good luck, I guess. On the front side was my hometown sunken in glorious colors of sunset. It was a nice photo, but it didn't mean as much to me as the back side of it did. There, in my handwriting, stood:


“You will see great sorrow, and in that sorrow you will be happy. This is my last message to you: in sorrow seek happiness.”



It was Dostoevsky. The Brothers Karamazov. I read the quote and stored it back in my pocket.


I had been living for over a month at an old hag's home. A real witch she was. She didn't live there, but she came almost every day. Somehow, she was related to my family through an affair in the past. I didn't understand the relationship. The hag was impossible and never ceased to bark whenever she was around. I felt sick to my stomach whenever I saw or heard her. She was the reason I spent most of the day outside in the city. I would get out as early as possible before she could come and upset my stomach for the day. In the evening, I would return as late as the bus and the train schedule would allow me to. I couldn't take it anymore. I had to find an apartment. Fast.


So, I tied my shoe, read Dostoevsky and continued on. I was approaching the address from an ad. I arrived and I entered. Some guy opened the door and walked me through the apartment. He was the one moving out. There were three other guys sharing the apartment. As soon as I walked in, I noticed a bunch of wires on the hallway floor slithering between rooms. Indifferently, I gave them half a second of almost nonexistent attention and continued on. The guy showed me the room I was supposed to rent. A cramped room of maybe six, seven square meters with a bed, a closet and a small desk. Everything was so cramped that the person living there would be the only thing you could fit inside. Impossible, I thought. I spoke with the other three in the kitchen. Boredom. What do I do in life, how much time daily do I spend at home, do I cook, do I clean, do I do laundry, and all the other shit. I said goodbye and stepped out directly into the street. It was a ground floor apartment. I didn't want it. The room was so tiny, it was inhumane.


One of those days I met Jenny. She was beautiful on the outside. Really attractive and desirable which was repeatedly confirmed by countless men staring, first at her and then oftentimes at me whenever we were together. After a few days I thought Jenny was my soulmate even though I didn't believe in that crap.


After a few weeks and various visits to various apartments, I found one in eastern part of the town. Not too close, not too far from the downtown. I was sharing it with some woman. We didn't talk at all and I tried to avoid her in the kitchen, the only place we could bump into each other. I'm almost positive she was doing the same thing. Life went on. Jenny and myself were studying at the same university. It didn't take long until I realized she really was my soulmate, but on a platonic level. She was like my sister. Maybe I just got scared because she was too attractive. Every day after class we would sit on a park bench until late hours. I would roll us countless cigarettes and we would talk and talk and smoke. We called it our sessions. Both of us indulged a little too much in the dark and sad side of life. And we both quickly realized we found a rare jewel of a human soul in each other. In the winter we were freezing and on warmer days just enjoying, soaking up the sun and nicotine. Weather and other conditions were not of any concern to us. Our tobacco sessions were the only meaning we had in life back then. Life was weird. It was beautiful. It was ugly. And always a little sad.


After a few months, everything was more or less the same. Some things changed. But the important ones didn't change. Jenny and I were still like Bonnie and Clyde, the two of us against the world which doesn't understand, not just us, but everything. Our target – sunlit park bench, weapon of choice – tobacco wrapped in thin white paper. Click, click, you lit the cigarette and the session was on.


That day Jenny talked to me about her mom. It was a topic she wasn't comfortable talking about. Jenny's mom died of cancer two years ago. Except that and some other unimportant information, I didn't know anything about her mom. She talked to me about the demons she and her both fought during endless chemotherapy. In the last stage of mom's battle with cancer, Jenny wanted to die herself. Either her or me, she thought. She wanted all of it to end. She was done with everything. The fabricated positivity of her environment, which persisted on the unfounded fact that her mom was going to live, made her feel sick. Really, really sick. Meanwhile they all knew very well, Jenny even more so, that mom was parting ways with them. All of them. She was leaving and wasn't coming back. There won't be an epic triumph of life that we are taught by the movies we watch. A triumph in if which one doesn't believe, one is declared a lost cause – a pessimist, a cynic. Jenny wasn't neither of those. She just knew very well what life was. And what death was. At the end of our session, Jenny invited me to her place. We knew each other for a few months that seemed like years, but until then, I had never been at her place before. Neither was she at mine. Our park benches were more then enough for us, but I gladly accepted the invitation.


She lived in northern part of town. Her apartment wasn't special by any means, but right away I felt like at home. It was Jenny, my platonic soulmate, that lived here. It must have been that. I sat on the floor, leaning my back against the bed. My eyes were curiously, but lethargically browsing around the room. We were in the same drowsy state as we always were after a long session – melancholic feeling of finding hope in the abyss of life. A perfect flower shooting up from the desert dust. But this time, the air was denser and heavier to breathe in. We both felt an unspoken pressure of life, death and transience after today's session. My gaze paused on a photo on the shelf. I knew it was Jenny's mom. I got up to see the photo from up close. There was a nice lady in her forties smiling at the camera. Her facial features outlining those of Jenny. With a somber voice, Jenny added that she can't wait for the day to come when she'll look at her mom on the shelf, and, instead of tears, she will just smile. Smile just like her mom, I thought. I told her that was normal now and as it should be. Time will do its powerful magic trick. It always does. With a brief glance, she expressed distrust in my little wisdom. I really wanted to help her cope with all of it. I remembered my photo with the quote in my back pocket. Again me and my wisdom, I thought. But I gave it a shot. In silence, pretending to be a calm sage, hiding my excitement, I took out the photo with my right hand, pointed at it with my left, and said that for one reason or another I always carried it with me. She responded with a confused face, not saying anything. From the back side of the photo I read out loud:


“You will see great sorrow, and in that sorrow you will be happy. This is my last message to you: in sorrow seek happiness.”


I looked up at Jenny. Her eyes widened and she was staring at me completely motionless. I got scared. She didn't say a word for a couple of too long seconds. Just the silence and the stare. Then she got up and, with the same gaze fixed on my being, headed for the shelf. I didn't know whether I should feel content or guilt for the reaction evoked by the quote. She took her mom off the shelf and turned the back side of the photo towards me. That's when my eyes widened, as well:


“You will see great sorrow, and in that sorrow you will be happy. This is my last message to you: in sorrow seek happiness.”


The same quote, but in Jenny's handwriting. Quickly, we hugged in silence. We cried a little in silence. From sorrow sprouted happiness. A flower from the dust. We understood and felt what Dostoevsky had already known a long, long time ago.


From that day on, Jenny started smiling together with her mom when they looked at each other from the shelf.


And me, I fell in love with Jenny that day. Not in a platonic way, of course.

July 22, 2021 19:12

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Eric D.
00:43 Jul 26, 2021

Touching emotional story I loved the ending a lot. Its hopeful.


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Eliza Entwistle
20:47 Jul 25, 2021

An interesting story with a sweet ending. Well done :)


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