Trigger warning: suicidal ideation
The whole scene could have been a stock photo--the park grass was the kind of green and the sky the kind of blue that only came with late summer. There were kids out chasing a soccer ball around a boundless field. The smell of grilling hotdogs and burgers wafted from some charcoal grill. The laughter and chatter of carefree summer conversations were carried along by a pleasant, gentle breeze. I had brought chips to contribute. Everyone brought chips. It was that or the Oreos.
“Meredith! So glad you could make it!” My friend broke away from the cluttered picnic tables to greet me--all smiles. “Have you met everyone here?”
I glanced around--it was always so hard to tell which people belonged to which summer barbecue at these kinds of parks.
“I don’t know…”
“Oh! Here’s a friend of mine, I don’t think you’ve met him yet,” she said, waving someone over.
A young man turned from where he was arranging things on one of the picnic tables. Probably trying to fit another bag of chips between the Oreos and hotdog buns.
“This is Mark,” my friend said.
His eyes were bluish-grey. And I knew them.
Did he remember me?
I could still taste the night air and the bitterness of coffee dregs that lingered on my tongue. My heart bounded around in my chest, a rabbit avoiding a non-existent predator. The road glistened darkly with rain, and far-off stoplights collected pools of blurred color beneath them. The midnight sky sprinkled my face with light tears. It could have been beautiful. But the air was too heavy with humidity, too warm. I had thought that being out in the air would help, but instead I felt like I had walked into a sauna. I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t catch my breath.
Weren’t these scenes supposed to have a kind of poignancy to them? Weren’t you supposed to stand on the bridge above the water--too full of grief or too empty of it all? No one had told me of this desperate insomnia, of the way the dark clawed its way up the inside of your spine, of the way your heart tried to escape as if your ribs really were a cage, and the ways your lungs felt like deflated balloons unable to draw air.
No one had told me that some people were just trying to get out of their own life, their own skin, their own head.
There was no river in this town. Only the asphalt variety. There was a bridge, though. An overpass. My feet, running of their own accord, took me to the edge, over the concrete barrier. I thought they might carry me right off the edge. The gray concrete was slick and muddy with rain. Beneath me, a lone car, rushed away into the clouded dark. I didn’t want to follow.
But the sound of the night insects had grown into a cacophony in my ears. And the hot, humid air pressed against my face like a damp cloth. I couldn’t breathe. My heart beat against my ribs. Was the overpass quaking beneath me? Or just my body trembling...all my skin and bones shuddering?
A thunderstorm raged inside me, and I was just made of fragile skin. I leaned forward, ready to plunge into the asphalt river, just to be free of the tornado of my thoughts, the rabbit of my heart.
And then a hand caught me, right around my upper arm. It was a firm grip, one not easily pulled out of. The grip of someone determined to not let go.
“No,” he said. Just one word. And I turned my eyes from the dark below to the only light in the gloom--two bluish-grey eyes.
“Let me go,” I said, tone flat.
“I will. Once you are on the other side of this barrier.”
I obeyed, silently.
“Want to talk about it?” he said.
“I don’t really want to die,” I said. “But I just...I can’t breathe.”
He peered at me a bit, as if unsure whether I meant that literally or not.
“Hospital?” he asked.
I shook my head violently, trying to pull away again.
“Ok, ok! No hospital.” He pressed his lips together and looked around. A car idled on the side of the road, pulled close to the barrier, hazard lights flashing and the driver door open.
“I wanted the rain, but the rain didn’t help,” I said. I knew I sounded crazy, but how could I make it make sense? I found that I was close to tears. “I just want out of my own head!”
He bit his lip and glanced at the car. “I might...I might know something that might help? But it requires riding in my car...just five minutes.”
I glanced back at the edge of the overpass, but he caught my look. “We’ll keep the windows rolled down,” he said, insistent this time.
It seemed safe to have the windows rolled down. So I nodded.
Soft jazz was playing on the radio in his car. He rolled the windows down, and I closed my eyes and let the wind play over my face. That helped. The wind reminded me of open air, open spaces.
Tires crunched on gravel. I opened my eyes to see fireflies blinking among a cluster of trees. The thunderstorm increased inside me, the dark clawed its way up towards my throat.
“Just there,” he said.
“There” was a little stream just beyond the trees, burbling happily to itself. He opened the car door. The gravel crunched pleasantly under my feet.
“If the rain didn’t help...maybe a river will?”
We walked to the bank and I stared into the water. Thoughts still tumbled around in my head like pebbles caught in a current.
I looked up to see him standing in the middle of the stream, pant legs rolled up to his calves. Maybe he was actually the crazy one. But I followed anyway, ripping off my shoes and tossing them on the bank. The water swirled around my ankles and then my calves, cold and sharp as diamonds.
There was a little area where the stream formed a miniature waterfall. He picked his way down the stream and then sat right down on a rock in the middle of it all. The water soaked the bottoms of his pantlegs, but he didn’t seem to care.
Smiling a little now, I followed, but I went all in. I lay down in the water, head cradled by a rock smoothed by the flowing water, the miniature waterfall cascading over my shoulders and down the length of my body.
It was like stepping out on a crisp winter’s morning, breathing in the frosty air and feeling awake. The sound of the water was a soothing murmur in my ears. And the weight of the night lifted from my chest. I could breathe again. I was anchored in myself again. The dark and the storm carried off by the current.
I cried. And he sat on the rock, like a guard on the nightwatch. Occasionally he hummed a tune. It could have been anything. A lullaby, a Beatles’ song, a bit of jazz.
When the rainstorm of my tears had dried up and moved on, he pulled me out of the water and we sat on the banks in the grass.
I told him everything. All the words bottled up inside me, like the bubbles of a shaken, capped soda. I told him about the city, and the move, and the loneliness. I told him about the sleepless nights, and the crack in the ceiling that I stared at in the middle of the night when the fear and the doubt sucked away all the light like a black hole. I told him of the friends that had abandoned me, of the ones I could count on but didn’t want to burden. Of all the pressure and the weight that built up and up and up and never being enough. I was supposed to be strong, but I was buckling under it all.
He mostly listened, until the night began to gray into dawn. We had long since dried off. He drove me home. In the end, he said what mattered most.
“Tell your friends,” he said. “And your family. The ones you love and the ones who love you. Even if it’s hard and you don’t want to. Just talk to them like you did with me.”
And then he walked me to my apartment door, watched me dial my mom’s number, and I walked inside. I hadn’t seen him since.
“I’m Meredith,” I said. “Hello.”
He smiled and shook my hand. “Nice to meet you...Meredith.”
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Your rich descriptive language enraptured me. I love how deeply you dug into the mentality of Meredith's anxiety. Beginning the story with a sunny summer day BBQ and transitioning to a powerful flashback where she had first met Mark was an interesting way to connect the two. It really showed the polarity of life - highs and lows. The river scene was so idyllic; it felt like a defining moment where a revelation about life is discovered. Soft jazz - haha! That would make me more worried about accepting a ride from a stranger (even with...
Woah, it won!! I actually left a way more detailed comment below, a couple days ago...idk why I find it funny I liked it before it won ;). Anyways, deserved win!
I would just think you have a good intuition and an ability to tell which stories have the guts and feels required to win. it'sa gift, dear,
Ohmygosh, I loved this!! Such a great story...it definitely fits the ‘drama’ category I found it under. I really like these characters, and the plot is a creative original one...plus, the names are pretty uncommon! Oh, and that BEGINNING! Such a good use of figurative language and an interesting hook ;) Awesome job, Amalee! Keep writing! ~Aerin P. S. I just posted a new story! Would you mind checking it out? Thanks!
Oh, thank you so much :D
And congrats on the win!
Wow. This is poignant and powerful. Your prose is lovely. Deserved win!
Your characters really make me love them. I was moved by the tender treatment towards and the time Mark took for someone he didn't know. But it wasn't just that, it was how even though he didn't know her, he didn't help her as a stranger but a fellow human being. There was this amazing connection between them, because they were communicating with each other on a spiritual rather than physical level. The stream scene was needless to say, so beautiful.
Congrats on the win! What a fantastic read! Following, can't wait for more. :)
Wow! Congrats on the win!
Thank you :)
Hello, Amelle .I'm very new here so I'm trying to checkout as many authors as possible. I ran across you, not knowing what to expect. Reading this filled me with so much happiness that your main character found help and didn't give up at the end. I've lost a few friends and an Uncle who was like a father to me, to suicide, so like I previously mentioned, I was very pleased that you ended your story on a positive note. it definitely made me tear up, and smile. Congratulations on your win.<3
This was awesome. It was really well paced and the imagery was beautiful. It was a great take on the prompt as well
I agree. Her writing style is very descriptive. I could see what I was reading very clearlyin my head. That is one of the hallmarks of a great writer, <3
Aaand I see you won so congrats - very well deserved :)
OH MY GOODNESS. I love everything about this story! The word choice and descriptive language took me to another world! You wrote about despair and the idea of suicide in such an unromantic, honest way. And I totally ship Meredith and the guy *squeals* Congratulationsss on the win! You're a wonderful writer. Do us all a favour and never stop writing. Thank you :)
wow Amalee, this is incredible! so so beautiful! I absolutely loved this story. You writing is beautiful! There were so many lines that i just absolutely loved, I would stop and read them over again! So So lovely!!!
Words dont say enough. They dont describe what I see, feel, how I and others really will get her. Sometimes it truly is easier to open up to a stranger. I love do much about this story. From how everyone brings chips for a summer bbq to all the other things: describing the water as being cold and sharp as diamonds, the crazy thing about the rain and it not helping, to the relief of the waterfall and how you so clearly envision that night and what she feels. She's back in her own body, instead of all those thoughts floating and collidi...
Congrats on the win!!! Totally deserved to win btw!!!
Great job and congrats on winning! I really like the descriptions about the "rabbit of her heart" and the "hurricane inside of her". A powerful and magical story, the kind that really moves you. I feel so... There isn't a word for it... Thank you, Amalee! (Please don't respond back since I'm going to be off Reedsy for another week, maybe two weeks. You still can, but I won't see it.)
I cannot express how I felt about this story or the way you have written it. It's been a while since I've cried reading. This is just absolutely beautiful. Everything from the title to the ending is perfect.
I am seriously crying right now. Dude, you are an amazing writer. This is actually true that sometimes we feel much more comfortable in talking to a complete stranger and opening up about small things which we can't say in front of our close ones. Keep writing!
OMG AM INLOVE WITH THE STORY
It was beautiful Amalee, the imagery, the thought processing of the character and most of all the painful humanity of it all. Loved it💜
I love the detail in your story and congs upon the win
This is amazing! I loved your descriptions, it hit hard. My heart was on the edge as I read this well-written story. A deserved win!