The lonesome wheelbarrow
Smaller than the others, less worthy he is told; told by his mind. A vibrant explosion of emotion in a room full of greys. He tells himself that his walk and talk don’t compare to the other wheelbarrows. A story; that’s what he describes his life as. A fictive device used to fool and entertain those around him. His color illuminates the glum greys in the room and they praise him for it. But no one will ever truly know him. His interests, his background, nothing. It remains a secret. The mask he wears acts like a medical device; it shields not only himself but also protects others in the process. The creature he hides behind fills others with happiness; happiness he hopes will travel back to him but never does. His smile is contagious and he uses his trusting embrace for good. He lifts others’ spirits, begging and wishing to get something in return, but never does.
A scholar student on the outside; A’s and praise all around. Paragraphs of excellence are written under each assignment. Validated by his teachers, but dismissed by his family and friends; they’re just busy. His friends are oblivious to his quick and secretive change of emotion; the rare and unexpected sight of seeing his actual face instead of the temporary face he has created. He pretends for hours until he is forced to cry after school alone because of the constant overwhelming pressure of having to guard his flaws around everyone he loves. He looks at school as an escape though. At home, his parents argue, and his sister struggles. He forgets himself and puts all of the other wheelbarrows first in hopes to distract himself from his biggest enemy; himself. He fills his time with schoolwork, chores, exercise, reading, drawing–anything that will shut his mind up. School is his biggest and easiest distraction. At school, he can laugh and pretend to be happy for a temporary amount of time. At home, it is harder to hide, and he is often called out for always looking sad; he finds it difficult to wear a face for most of his day. He cannot talk to anyone and it is suffocating him.
By this point, he has truly lost himself and cannot recognize the reflection in the mirror. He cries at the sight of him; truly disgusting. Sharp and stabbing words reverberate through his head. He questions things he thought he was certain about; his sexuality, his interests, even his thoughts. The wheelbarrow has reached a place where he cannot trust himself, and he wonders how he will ever escape this endless suffering; if he cannot trust himself, he can trust no one. Since he cannot please himself, he tries to please others; he still never feels good enough. He second-guesses his worth and lacks confidence in every aspect of himself. He hates himself. He hates the way he looks and he hates everything about his personality. His laugh is annoying and revolting. His voice changes pitch and volume too infrequently and hurts the other wheelbarrow’s ears. His jokes are cheap and cringy, and he believes others only laugh because they feel bad. Although his teachers validate him–after he turns in an assignment–his mind yells at him and convinces him that he could’ve done ten times better; he is not smart, and he does not belong at a school filled with wheelbarrows that are going to attend Yale and Harvard.
His best friend becomes the boy he wants to kiss and he realizes something repulsive about himself. He does not want to like this boy nor can he figure out how to end this panic in his heart. With girls, he picked a pretty wheelbarrow out from the bunch and “liked” her for his desired amount of time; he could stop at any moment and he never experienced this panic. He quit the only sport that made him feel free and driven. Swimming, a sport he had done on and off since he was two. An individual, yet team activity. He enjoyed sports like this because he couldn’t bear to ruin the entire game for the team. In sports like basketball, the team has to work together. If he messed up, the entire team would suffer consequences. His eating decreased and every swimming practice felt like an unbearable, boring exercise. It used to be an escape; a challenge. Now, it was neither, and he hated to hate it. He doubted his worth and believed that he was an awful swimmer. He told his parents that he wanted to quit, and told them that he had planned to do something else. Nothing seemed worthwhile. He scanned his mind for any possible hobbies that he could take up; he received no reaction from any of the options he came up with. Options that he would’ve loved one or two years ago. Reading and listening to music satisfied him in the way that he could read or listen to something relatable and not feel so alone.
“It’s just because you’re a teenager and your interests change,” his father told him.
“Yeah. You’re probably right,” he replied. Though he felt dismissed and invalidated; he felt as though his father didn’t truly hear him. That his father wasn’t truly listening and that his father didn’t want to. That his father simply did not care.
The wheelbarrow began to listen to his evil and poisoned thoughts in hopes to feel something other than this unbearable emptiness that strangled him. He needed to breathe. His mind suggested fire, and he complied. This isn’t self-harm, he thought. I am not making any marks. No one will know, no one will care. He lost count and care of how often he did it. Whenever he felt useless or unworthy, he brought out the lighter and watched the pain temporarily ease. It hurt for only seconds; that was all he could bear. He believed he was okay for this reason. It’s not self-harm if I only hold the lighter on my arm for a few seconds. In addition to this, his eating continued to decline, and he found himself skipping two out of three meals a day. He believed it made him feel better; allowed him to break through one out of many layers of the water that was drowning and crushing him. He couldn’t explain it, nor did he desire to. While the other wheelbarrows included him in their circle, he watched them eat and laugh while he stuck to his water and laughed in the background with them.
As the other wheelbarrows hated the teacher, he complimented her and appreciated her because she was the only teacher who had validated and praised him; he needed this more than ever, especially at this time. He told her that she was a great teacher and that she taught and listened to him more than any other teacher had. He wanted to make her feel respected because she had saved him in many ways, even if she didn’t know it. She was one of the reasons why he was still here.
One day, and for one day only, he gave up. He accepted that no one would notice when he remained quiet and distant, and he could care less. His face was shielded by a medical mask because of a sickness outbreak, so it was easier to hide his glum look. His eyes were droopy and his face lacked any sort of smile. You could see the unhappiness through the mask because he didn’t have the energy to bring his creature along and hide behind him. He was truly vulnerable and on his own. He replied to everyone with short answers and did not even try to continue any sort of conversation. He did this to everyone for half of the day until he realized that he was only doing it to his best friend; his best friend that he now wanted to kiss. By the end of the day, he remained hostile and almost continued it interminably. Though he realized that he could not live without this wonderful boy, and it would cause the lonesome wheelbarrow to enter a tunnel even darker than the one that he was already trapped in.
He decided to stop ignoring the one person that he could talk to for hours without getting bored, and it brought him a quick burst of serotonin that he tried to grasp and hold on to indefinitely. It didn’t work but at least he tried. About two weeks after this impulsive action, his best friend commented on it. His best friend asked the wheelbarrow why he had done this.
“I was so confused,” his best friend said.
“I’m sorry, it wasn’t anything you did.” That was the only thing the wheelbarrow could spit out. Because frankly, he had no idea why he had done this. Why he had risked losing this spectacular wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow that temporarily took away the unbearable ache in his head, and the claustrophobic beating in his chest caused by unknown sources. The boy who made him realize that girls weren’t for him. The boy who he rarely had to wear a face around. The wheelbarrow that made him genuinely smile. Why, why, why.
The wheelbarrow kept his best friend’s words in his mind because it reminded him that someone did care. Someone did notice. He only needed one person to notice. Notice that something was off. Notice that he wasn’t perfect and that he was driving himself to the point of a permanent, irreversible solution. Although his friend had no idea what was going on in his mind, neither did he. If the wheelbarrow himself couldn’t figure out what was going on with himself, he accepted that he could not expect anyone else to know either.
Happy endings are usually the product of a story like this. A conflict than a solution, right? The happy ending is that the wheelbarrow continued to live his life. Though it felt more like surviving and battling rather than actually living. He confided in his parents but continued to struggle; he has now struggled for over a year. He is getting better, but he found more ways to hurt himself, and he lost his best friend. His best friend stopped talking to him and the wheelbarrow didn’t understand; the wheelbarrow lost a companion and someone who he may have been in love with all in one. When school let out for the summer, his problems increased, and his happiness continued to decline. He wanted to punch the mirror every day; he wanted to change everything about himself. But because the wheelbarrow describes his life as a fictive device, this is how everyone else will see it. The wheelbarrow checked on his friends and acquaintances over the summer. When he showed himself to the world, he looked happier than ever. The wheelbarrow started to look more attractive and found some new interests. When he returned to school, he lit up the room even more than the year before. He was social and funny and he met many new people. On the inside, the wheelbarrow still felt unwanted. He believed that everyone was only pretending to like him, and he continued to hurt himself in various ways. Although he is still living, he accepted that maybe he will always guard himself with a fake yet protective mask. He accepted the character of being a lonesome wheelbarrow.