Air Then Blue Then Black

Icy Detroit River

He’d catch her in the corner of his eyes, stalking, inhabiting spaces like cancer in human form. She was the absence of sound, devoid of identifying features, always just out of view. She was always moving, always coming closer, lights going out around her and a stench like mildewy clothes that have just seen the light of day after years of stewing. She had no eyes, or none that he could see in the glimpses in sewer puddles, bloodstains on cuffs and spreading through old clothes torn to tatters.

She’d catch him when he slept, sit on his chest till his breaths came out like the wheezes of the dying, beeps in the background from machines busy keeping them alive. He’d awake in the middle of the night to find her noneyes staring into him, opening his mouth with her own and replacing his tongue with sour, hot air. She’d squeeze him out till all vitals were gone, till he could see everything go to black and then she’d bring him back again, over and over till sunrise when she’d have to return to the cracks of the floor.

When he passes shadows, she’ll cling to his heart like spines stuck straight through it, tingles down his left arm till he collapses under the weight. He collects himself and tries to stay in the light, all around him the dead and dying. He’s pinioned by her presence, trying to keep upright, forced to relive all of his worst memories whenever she’s near. And sometimes, only sometimes, he can swear that he sees his own death, blood leaving his body like a liquid crowd, pooling under his back and sticking his spine to the floor. She’d stick his limbs to every surface they touched, pull away skin and leave him skinless and bloodied, going numb and cold from shock. That’s what she is: a skinned body lurking in corners, stinking through walls and doors, leaving streaks of her skinned self for the downtrodden to slip on.

She subsumes him when he’s alone, enters him like so much intercourse, feeling her way through his guts till he can do nothing but retch in the toilet if he’s lucky enough to make it there, more likely emptying himself onto himself, the light flickering above, a brutal wind sending shivers down his spine which is being raked by her rancid fingernails.

He plans a trap for her, silent so as not to let her hear. She’s always around. She might be able to hear his thoughts. He walks through the chilly air to an arts and crafts store, selecting the sharpest blade they have. He finds a little nook outside and sits down on the grass, trees all around to shield him from view. He pulls up his sleeves and empties his arms with the blade. But she’s there quick, knocking the blade from his hand and suturing his arms with her scalding touch. He stifles his cries as his skin sizzles and hisses in the freezing air.

The last of the blood drying on his arms, he leaves her behind and goes out looking. When he finds what he’s looking for, he stops and stares out at the river that courses below the bridge he’s standing on, little floes of ice slowly making their way through. She appears behind him, hissing her fetid breath into his ear. In one swift motion, he pulls a length of cord from his jacket and faces her, binding her tightly to him. For the first time, looking into her mangled face, he can see a hint of fear. He clutches her tightly, her skin flaking off in sheets beneath his fingers, and leaps over the side. Air, then blue, then black.



You can see through the symptoms, past the stigmas, bedlocked all day, getting up only to eat or shit, and there’s the not being able to pay for your meds and so taking what you have every other day, then every third day, and of looking into the mirror and seeing exhaustion, eyes hazy, cheeks hollow, and of waking up and holding your skull to figure out what’s really going on, with also of course the putting off hangouts, rescheduling, and then ghosting altogether, and there’s weeping in the morning and at night with no reason, of the way that people look at you different once you disclose your diagnosis: pity or fear or both, and then there’s going to one specialist, then another, and being (im)[in]patient, and there are the side effects, blurred vision and slurred speech and constant fatigue, and there’s taking one to counteract the side effects of another, then taking another to balance out the new side effects, and there’s finding the right pharmaceutical cocktail that will keep you alive, and then there’s getting cocktails with friends and the panic attack that comes only because of people being in your vicinity, and there’s bringing someone home and having to stop without knowing why, and to go out in a field where there is nothing but grass and open sky and to lie down in this and look up at this and there’s nothing more you can do now but to lie here and wait, and of course there’s not sleeping for days and having the delusion that you’re now in hell and your body is a macrocosmic vessel holding light and dark and you’re walking through the grocery store in clothes you haven’t washed in weeks, walking through aisles and seeing the lights all around, the cold air of the freezer section, and the faces of grocers are distending into sneers or ghoulish smiles and everything you hear is directed at you, and that you haven’t taken your meds in a week, haven’t slept, haven’t eaten or showered, and there’s making a concerted effort to get out of bed and get to your therapy appointment, and there’s tracing it back, or else trying to, back to the source, where it all began, and was it some instance in your childhood, eating paint chips or dust bunnies or teething on the electrical cord, what was it you want to know, and it’s so hard to remember when you haven’t slept, so you take benadryl like it’s candy and knock out for a day or two, get your shit together, wash, etc., and you’re still wondering what it was, sourcing it back to trauma that might’ve caused it all, and your family history becomes a set of Russian dolls, pulling out one surprise after another, and you’re unearthing bodies buried with concrete slabs on top of the caskets, and old wounds bleed freely as you lie in the bathtub with no water, grabbing the razor but not knowing what to do with it, and thinking of drawing the bath first, and the jumble that comes with counteracting your body’s natural instincts, fears, etc., and there’s putting down the razor, picking it back up again, wanting to cease consciousness, it’s here, the weight of being as you see it now, the supreme responsibility that comes with being alive, and you’re looking at your arms, the way the blood courses through your veins like miniature rivers, and you’re not a macrocosm after all but a micro-, and you’re still palming the blade, now testing it on a small patch of skin as if this is some sort of allergy test, and you let the blood trickle slightly down the flesh before pulling back and then wanting to do it and then wanting to do it and then wanting to do it and then not…wanting…but it isn’t clear which way this is going to go, and so you put the blade down to think it over, and in the process you fall asleep, and wake up half a day later, not even remembering why you’re in the bathtub, until you see the razor, and before you can stop yourself you throw it in the trash and take the trash out to the dumpster and don’t look back, and you come back in, and you sit, and you listen, and you cry, and you remember to breathe.



Dexter couldn’t get out of bed. He knew in reality that it was more like he really, really didn’t want to get out of bed, but it felt more like an impossibility. If he were to quantify his current motivation on a scale of 1-10, he’d probably give himself a solid 1.5. But now that Dexter thought about it, was he being generous with that .5? If he had to be honest with himself, he’d probably be closer to a 1. That was more like it.

Major depressive disorder was too fancy a term for something so complete, so all-encompassing. It felt to Dexter more like a giant monster that was sitting on his chest, heavy enough to make his heart feel like it might burst. If he had to name it, it’d probably be called Malode or something.

Seriously? Had he really resorted to naming his disorders now? And of all the names he could’ve picked, he chose a dumb one like Malode? What the hell was wrong with him?

A whole lot, Dexter decided. More than he thought humanly possible, in fact. Just as this thought crossed his brain, he reached over to his conveniently located dresser and unplugged his phone. He turned off the screen rotation so he could mindlessly scan the interwebs without even having to sit up in bed.

Dexter moved his thumb to the little URL box, this tiniest of efforts nearly too much for him. Just as he tapped it, his phone decided to lock up. He swiped up and down, left and right, but nothing worked.

He was just about to put his phone down and resort to staring at the ceiling when it happened. The screen abruptly turned black. On its surface, green lettering flitted across. The command prompt looked like it belonged on a dusty old monitor from the ‘90s, not on a brand new smartphone. Even so, there it was.

The words slowly began to float above the screen, separate from it. They rose up to Dexter’s eyes, higher and higher. Dexter pulled his phone away, confused. Still the words approached. Before he could even think, the words swallowed him up and pulled him into the phone.

He was in the internet. He didn’t know how or why, but here he was. The whole thing had the distinct smell of cheetos and loneliness, which surprised Dexter by how much it didn’t really surprise him. There were kittens and a capella singers and pop music and a capella singers holding kittens while singing pop music.

At Dexter’s arrival, every one of the internet’s inhabitants turned to him. There was a moment’s pause in which Dexter could only watch the expectant stares of all the exaggerated personalities that stood before him. The cheetos-stench was almost unbearable.

And then he heard it. Every video he had ever watched, every celebrity impersonator and grumpy videogame player, every song parody and movie trailer, every teenage prankster and how-to video bellowed forth in the loudest cacophonic mess of audio ever conceived. Dexter thought his eardrums might burst from the shrill, piercing cries. No matter how deep he plugged his ears, the sound prevailed.

As the stars of each video called out in ear-splitting discord, their leader stood out amongst them. It was a massive monster, featureless and black as pitch. It didn’t have a face, but Dexter could tell that it was staring right at him. This was it. This was Malode. It was coming for him and it would have its way this time.

Malode marched forth, his army of internet stars behind him. They all had kind, warm looks on their faces as they approached, intent on sending Dexter into oblivion. He stood there a moment, watching them come. If he had to quantify his fear on a scale of 1-10, he’d probably be at an 8 right now.

Seriously? The whole of the internet was coming for him, ready to pull him under for good and all he could do was stand here and ponder arbitrary number scales?

But wait. Fear. He felt fear. He felt actual terror. He felt his heart pump blood through his body in an effort to preserve itself. Sure, it felt like it would burst out of his chest again, but this time it was for an entirely different reason. He wanted this. He wanted to be alive. He didn’t know why, but he did.

He turned away and started running. His footfalls were awkward, as he hadn’t run since sophomore year of high school, but he was moving. He didn’t even feel the need to mentally criticize his sprinting abilities as he went either. He just ran. And ran.

The chorus of the horde behind him grew louder and louder, until it reached a fever pitch. He didn’t think he could take it much longer, but still he ran. Louder and louder still, until his blood boiled and his brain sizzled. But still he ran. SCHSCHSCHSCH…AAAAAHHHHHHH-

Silence. Dexter opened his eyes in an instant, terrified. He was there in his room, on the bed that sat conveniently close to the dresser. On the bed was his phone, right where he’d left it when he’d apparently dozed off.

He looked at its screen, at its empty promise of eternal fun. He held down the power button until the screen went black. The effort of the action was nothing this time. He didn’t feel the fatigue he’d been used to by now. In fact, he felt an inexplicable burst of energy.

Before he could argue the merits of such an idea, Dexter got out of his bed. He reached in his conveniently located dresser and pulled out the gym clothes he hadn’t worn since sophomore year.

Dexter went outside, out into the glowing brilliance of it all and started to run. He didn’t know why. He didn’t know where he was headed. He just ran.