The holidays can be a trying time, particularly for those of us who have lost loved ones. No matter how many years have passed, the holidays always serve as a bittersweet reminder.
This is a guest post by the talented Justin Mann. He can be found on both Facebook and his Blog. Please take a moment to like his page and explore his blog!! Starting in January of 2018 he will have a newsletter, which I highly suggest subscribing to!
He was kind enough to write a short story for the blog, about a character who has lost a family memeber and is dealing with grief, insomnia, panic attacks, and alcholism.
For more information on guest posts, please see here.
How does the human mind work? Why do we so often succumb to anguish, and why does present mental agony extinguish any spark of hope and happiness we may have had prior? Why are we unable to forget that which grieves us, and are instead haunted all our lives by shadows of the past, which we can neither change nor undo? Ask a thousand people and you will get a thousand different responses, all of them influenced by whatever hardships had come before in their lives. In the lines that follow, with tired eyes and a wavering hand, I will offer my response, however, swayed it may be by my own experiences.
My name is Reed Remington and I am from a small town in England, of which you have undoubtedly never heard. It is an old town, with perhaps as many ghosts as living people inhabiting its stone houses and walking its paved streets. It is located on a hill, at the top of which there is a Gothic church that pierces the air with its bells every hour. Ancient forest surrounds the town on all sides and a murky river passes straight through the centre of the marketplace.
It is there that I met my beautiful Marigold. It is there that she made her way into my heart and eased the worries that clouded my head. It is there that we were married. I remember one summer day, perhaps only a few weeks after our marriage, in which we had taken a stroll through the forest. The light was gleaming through the greenery and we heard the song of many birds as if we had walked out of the real world and into a realm of enchantment. The air was balmy and aromatic, the breeze carrying to us the sweet perfume of the summer flowers. This is the most cherished memory I have of my Marigold.
We sat down in the grass, both of us eager to take a break from our walk. Her golden hair was flowing down her bare shoulders and she was gazing into the depths of my soul with her green eyes that reflected the rich crowns of the trees. No being, not even of the angelic order, could possibly be more perfect than Marigold. Her red lips curved into a smile as she told me in a soothing voice that she loved me. I loved her too, more than I have or ever will love anybody else. She was the only one capable of making me truly happy and chasing away every lingering trace of distress from my mind.
Standing next to her grave, I still remembered that day as vividly as if I were still in the forest with her. I looked at her beautiful face one last time, as the lid to the coffin was closed, never to be opened again. Her cheeks were pale and her once red lips were now dark purple and no smile crept on them. Her hands, thin and ghastly, were crossed on her chest and would never again touch me with their tender embrace. Still, her features were peaceful, with no frown creasing her face, meaning that she now knew nothing of our worldly pain.
After the grave was closed, I was the only one left there, in the courtyard of the ancient church. Its tower loomed above me like a vampire that fed on my happiness. With each hour that I passed there alone, the bells would taunt me with their indifferent chime. A gale had started bringing a putrid smell from the river nearby and rustling the dead leaves on the ground, as the autumnal orange twilight consumed the landscape.
I stood there many hours. I almost expected her to appear next to me from behind an unseen corner and greet me with a smile. I could almost see her face in front of me, her golden hair being blown in the wind and her eyes as precious emeralds. I could almost feel her warm hand in mine, but it always vanished when I tried to squeeze it. Why does the human mind refuse to accept loss even when it is as undeniable as in my case? I could not begin to explain that, but it was midnight when I was suddenly awoken from my dream-like denial.
The bells of the church announced the hour, bringing me back into the real world. My body was almost frozen with the sepulchral chill of the autumn. Nocturnal sounds belonging to the beasts of the wild were heard in the distance, coming from the forest. It was then that my mind stopped deceiving me and I felt tears flow down my face. I fell on my knees in front of the gravestone which had the name of Marigold Remington engraved on it. I bellowed as loud as my lungs allowed me, digging my fingers into the earth that covered Marigold, letting the void in my soul be filled with rage.
I went home. The grey dawn found me in my chair, contemplating all the destruction I had brought upon what had been our house, but now was simply mine. I had let my anger consume me. The bookcase was overturned and the books were scattered around the floor. Objects of glass and porcelain that had been dear to Marigold were now shattered in thousands of minuscule pieces. I sat in the middle of it all, with my head in my chest as thoughts raced through my mind, pulling me in different directions. The anger had subsided and in its place, I felt an emptiness even more harrowing than before.
Later that day, I went for a walk in the forest, to the place where we sat not so long before. The forest now seemed dreary and even the air that I breathed filled me with overpowering gloom. The branches of the trees turned into the skeletal hands of monstrous chimeras in the corners of my eyes. Stillness reigned over the woods, as no bird or beast dared interrupt my thoughts. The only sound that came to my ears was that of my own footsteps on the rug of dead leaves that covered the ground.
I sat down in the same spot as before, the place where my most precious memory carried me. I looked at the sky that was visible between the contorted branches, examining the low-hanging clouds that moved fast across the cupola above. In those moments, I tried to conjure the Devil himself, to take me and release my dear Marigold from his clutches. I would have gladly traded my life for hers, if only it was within my power. It soon began raining. I let the cold drops pour down my body, hoping that they would wash the pain away.
I soon found out that my suffering never ceased as long as I was awake. My heart was constantly being stabbed by a dagger and my mind flooded by memories of Marigold. My days passed in lethargy and my nights in endless tossing in bed. Sleep rarely took me away to visions of my wife and when it did, upon waking from it, I wished that I had passed away and not have to resume the endless cycle of my miserable existence.
There was, I should not be ashamed to mention, one thing that alleviated my symptoms: alcohol. The little money I had, I spent on the cheapest drink I could find. I had no preference other than for it to be strong, as I longed to feel the burning sensation in my throat. I spent as much of my time as I could drunk. The pain became bearable while I was in that state, but it always came back with doubled intensity during my sobriety, which prompted me to keep drinking.
In this manner passed the autumn. The days grew shorter and the nights more tenebrous and my shadow was stretched longer over the ground in the bleak sunlight. The wind coming from the forest spoke of the bygone livelihood of summer and, whenever I heard it, my mind would always rush back to that same place where Marigold and I had been so happy. The first snowfall came and coated the stone houses and the church with its icy veil.
One early morning, I stood on an arch bridge over the river, looking at the solitary, hibernal sunrise over the treetops, struggling to cast its weak rays on the Earth. I had not slept that night and, at the first glimmer of light, I put my clothes on, filled my stomach with alcohol and left the house. The brown river water flowed out of my view, underneath the bridge, carrying away leaves and fallen branches. An idea cropped into my mind. I tried to dismiss it, but it refused to stop plaguing my deranged imagination.
All reasoning ceased, as I propped myself on the edge of the bridge and flung myself over it. My body fell for what seemed like entire minutes until it hit the thin layer of ice that had formed at the surface of the water. The icy water embraced me and numbed my limbs. I didn’t struggle against the current. I let the water inundate my lungs as the faint luminescence from above was slowly fading.
As I surrendered to the Stygian torrent, I suddenly felt a strong hand grab me and pull me towards the surface. It dragged me all the way onto shore as I coughed the water out of my lungs. For a long time afterward, I cursed that passer-by who had yanked me from the caresses of death, but it seemed like I was the one who was cursed, to live in agony without Marigold.
I now draw close to the end of my recollections, when a most incredible event happened to me. What I am now about to write may come across either as deceit or a delusion of madness, but my assurance is that it is neither. I had wandered into the church and was sitting in a pew, with my head resting in my palms. The smell of burnt incense was in the air and the crepuscular sun cast its last rays of light through the stained-glass windows. There was no soul in the church, not a single breath or footstep to be heard. I was alone with the flickering candles that consumed themselves to give off light, until there would be nothing left of them.
I was feverish, taken by a dread I could not explain, and I still cannot to this day. My heart was pounding as if a madman was playing a demonic piano within my chest. Sweat was dripping down my forehead and I felt as if I was on fire, despite the glacial air that surrounded me.
I brought my hands together in prayer, as the stained glass was darkening in the evening. I started praying to God and all the saints I knew for death so that I could be with Marigold once more, but before I could finish my prayer a sudden breeze extinguished the candles. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I felt the breath of a human being behind me. I sat in the pew, engulfed by the shades of the dusk and the frost that had seeped into my veins until I heard a voice call my name. The dread of before melted away at the sound and I turned around to see Marigold sitting in the pew behind me, wearing a white bridal dress. My every muscle paralyzed and I was unable to speak.
Marigold didn’t speak either, but a wide smile appeared on her red lips. She placed her warm hand in mine and I squeezed it gently, as I stared into her eyes filled with unbridled affection for me. I don’t remember how long we sat in the pew in silence, with her hand in mine, admiring the face that I hadn’t seen in so long. I do remember that she disappeared when the bell rung at an hour of the night, but when she did I found that the abyss in my heart had been filled with the comfort she used to bring me in a life that I had almost forgotten.
To this day, I don’t know if what I saw was truly Marigold’s ghost or just a product of my delirium. Either way, I regard that detail as unimportant. Marigold may be truly gone from this world, but I will always carry her memory with me and that summer day in the forest will never be lost in time. Whether in spirit or just in my own aching heart, Marigold is still with me and watches over me.
Needless to say, the apparition at the church provoked a strong reaction in me. I was evidently disturbed, but at the same time comforted by what I had seen. Her soothing voice calling my name still echoed in my ears as I sat in the darkness of my bedroom. She wouldn’t want me to live like I had been for so many months. She had made me so happy in life that I knew she couldn’t stand the thought of making me so dejected in death.
Somehow, my memories of her, instead of bringing me torment, now offered me strength. I knew that the pain of losing her would always be in my soul as well, it was now part of me and it was giving me the power to rid myself of my depression. I would have rather chosen an eternity of drawing sorrow from Marigold’s loss, knowing that time would never dull the clarity of the memories of my beloved, than forgetting all about her.
The first thing I did was pour all the alcohol down the drain, smiling as I emptied the bottles of that vile poison. My hand trembled holding the bottles, the shame of what I had almost done on the bridge filling me for the first time. Crying out loud, I asked Marigold for forgiveness and promised that I would crawl out of the gloomy depression which had possessed me for so long. I owed it to her as much as I owed it to myself.
Outside, the snow was beginning to melt and the sun was starting to shine through the thick clouds. People’s lives are just as unforeseeable as the seasons. The happiness of today is not eternal and should not be taken for granted, for it may slip between our fingers without warning. Adversity can creep into our lives whenever it pleases, just as the winter always comes unannounced, but there is no recess of the mind despondent enough to not allow a chance of salvation. No tragedy is as absolute as to make recovery impossible, and hope can always be found even in our most trying moments, just as the sun always rips the clouds at the end of a long winter.
As I watched the seasons change around me, I realized that I was looking forward to the coming spring.