TW: PTSD, suicidal thoughts.
The bedroom is white.
Empty, lonely, and white.
The color of absence.
I hate it.
Have you ever felt alone?
I certainly do, even as Winnie walks in, her maroon sweater sharply contrasting against the stifling walls.
“How are you?” She asks softly. I clench my fists.
She doesn’t understand.
They never understand.
I don’t need her hospitality. I don’t need the people and their sympathetic apologies. I don’t need the white walls as they stare, shifting into the walls of the hospital, echoing the horrid beeps of the life support machine as it all-
She runs over.
I’m crouched on the ground, clutching my head in my hands.
Have you ever felt terrified?
I certainly do, even as she embraces me.
It’s been three months since the fire. Since they died.
I’m alone now, save for Winnie.
She’s let me stay with her, for what reason I have no idea.
I have nothing left to live for.
Have you ever felt like dying?
I certainly do, as I unpack my suitcase.
Nothing survived the fire, except for me. I was gone that day. I remember running into the burning home, trying to save anything, anyone.
All I found were half-charred bodies.
All I retrieved were third degree burns.
I don’t have any clothes, or toiletries. No, instead my suitcase is packed to the brim with paper. Paper, pencils, paint, brushes, everything and anything I could possibly fit. I spent hundreds on these supplies. It was worth every cent.
Now, I hang paper in masses on the wall. Sheets cover every inch of the walls, making Winnie’s guest bedroom a papier-mache nightmare.
It isn’t real.
None of it is real.
It’s only a dream.
She doesn’t want to leave me alone. I want to be left alone. I deserve to be left alone.
She watches as I hang the paper, her lips twitching in concern.
We were best friends in highschool, separated only for the promise of college.
I haven’t seen her in years. Hell of a first impression.
Have you ever felt embarrassed?
I certainly do, as I spill paint onto her carpet. Murmuring apologies, I run out of the room to grab paper towels. I enter the kitchen. It’s a beautiful, stainless steel kitchen, full of metal and memories.
Memories. The oven. The oven that created the inferno. The inferno that raged throughout the house. The bodies, the fire, the smell-
Winnie quietly puts a hand on my back, a gentle reminder.
I’m braced against the counter, my eyes shut tight. She grabs the paper towels, and returns to the room to clean the mess without a word.
I’m the real mess, one that no amount of towels can clean.
It’s night now, and I’m sitting, staring at the construction paper covered walls.
They’re too white.
I begin to paint.
The orange is the fire, the blue my sadness. Red is the fear I felt, the fear I feel. Scratches of pencil are sharp, broken tones of anger. I paint and I draw, creating a beautifully abstract wonder of emotion. It shows me what words cannot express. It shows me who I am, what I’ve been through. It gives me hope, it gives me peace.
When there isn’t enough space, I cover the floor and the bed. I stand, arms raised, like a conductor of an orchestra, as I work. When I’m done, I lay on the floor, hardly caring as the paint soaks into my back.
I’ve created a safe space.
A space to match the chaos of my mind.
Although there are dozens memories coating the walls, striking the floor, soaking the carpet,
I have no flashbacks.
Only the barest sense of relief.
The door opens with a shriek. Winnie. I brace myself for her reaction.
“I brought you some tea, if that’s alr-” Winnie says, looking up. Upon seeing the masterpiece, she promptly drops the tea in question, her jaw dropping. It falls, soaking the paper. I cringe.
“What did you- Everly, that’s beautiful,” she says in awe.
“It’s nothing,” I say hastily. She sits beside me, hardly caring as the paint soaks her jeans. She sees the paint jar.
“May I?” says Winnie softly. There isn’t cruel sympathy in her voice, as there was before. There’s something new, something more gentle.
I want to laugh at the irony of it. I invade her home, a pesky cockroach in her otherwise pristine life, cover her only other bedroom in my grime, and she understands?
She clears her throat, raising her eyebrows in question. Now, I do laugh, nodding at the brush. She picks it up, glowing triumphantly, and begins to paint.
I watch the slow, careful strokes of her hand. She adds the colors of her worry for me. Her anger at the accident. Her sorrow for seeing me this way. She adds the joy she feels at our reunion, and taints it with the years we've been apart.
Maybe minutes, maybe hours later, she joins me on the papier-mache carpet. We sit there for a while, quietly observing our creation.
Then, suddenly, she jumps up, pulling her with me.
“There’s something I want you to see,” she says, yanking my arm towards the door. I reluctantly follow. In a blur, we race outside, past the backyard, past the memories, past the flashbacks.
She stops, panting, and points at a nearby house. We’re in the middle of a street, about a quarter mile away from her home.
“Just… wait a few…” she says, catching her breath. Wiping sweat off my forehead, I wait, curiosity overcoming my confusion.
Suddenly, the house comes to life. Lights of all colors glow and twirl, stringing around trees and through windows, around bushes and the sidewalk. They even coordinate with music playing faintly in the background. Listening closely, my confusion intensifies. It’s July. Is that song-
“Jingle bells,” says Winnie, laughing. “These neighbors never remember to take down their Christmas lights, so I come here occasionally to enjoy the show.” I choke out a disbelieving laugh, returning my attention to the display. We stand there for a while, laughing and joking. I give her a small smile. It feels good. Normal. My smile grows.
Then, as if on cue, it starts to pour.
We dance in the street, the rain washing the paint away. I tilt my face into the downpour. The cold drops might be the most refreshing thing I’ve ever felt. Winnie hoots, pumping her fist. We splash each other, giggling and yelling. My grin is so wide it starts to hurt my face.
Have you ever felt loved?
The joyful feeling grows in my chest.
I certainly do.