Like me, it was Sad but Good
I always force myself to believe my lies; that’s how I begin the process of telling the perfect lie. The trick is to think of one that is either laced with some truth, missing some detail, or at least realistic enough that it’s true to character. Once the lie has been picked out, I repeat it so many times that it transforms into another form of the truth. Even though I’m perfectly aware that it’s not true, that truth becomes buried within the confines of my mind while the perfect lie surfaces. And once I believe it, it’s easy to spread it to other people. I don’t lie about too many big things, that’s unnecessary—if I don’t want someone to know a big secret, I simply won’t tell them—because it’s the little lies that are most important in crafting a mask. “Where were you yesterday?” “Was feeling sick, I think I ate some bad chicken.” “Wanna come out tonight?” “Sorry, I have to meet an office deadline.” “How’re you doing?” “Fine.” Not a single truth among them, and yet, no one has questioned or approached me about it. People tend to forget just how powerful the mind can be, but I know that without it, I probably wouldn’t be alive. Not in the biological sense, but driven mad by anguish and overwhelmed with my self-directed hate. Doctors say that depression is a disease of the mind, a psychological disorder, but it’s that subconscious space that has kept me stable for over a decade.
I try to slip away when no one notices—which is often enough—but I don’t like to be gone for too long; at least, not when I’m around other people. Sometimes it’s difficult finding that balance, being able to return just at the right moment.
“So, are you coming tonight Samson?” My friend Mesi asked while we walked back, as usual, from our separate offices. She elongated each word, knowing full well how much it irritated me.
“Yeah, I don’t have much work to do so I’ll be there. I’ve missed seeing everyone!” It’s a genuine statement. I hadn’t seen many of those friends in several weeks and I always appreciated their company.
“Excellent. I invited another friend of mine too; I think you’ll like her a lot,” I raised an eyebrow at her. “Trust me Sam, you two will get along great!” I shot her another inquisitive look. “Can you just wait until tonight? I don’t wanna give you any other hints.”
“Not one? You’d really leave me with just the fact that you know her?”
She sighed. “I don’t know why I thought you wouldn’t jump to terrible conclusions. And here I thought I really knew you.”
“All those years must’ve been a complete waste. We might as well be strangers; just like me and that mystery girl who might be a complete intrusion to my eyes and ears.”
“Samson! She’s not hideous and she has a completely normal voice, I proooomise.”
“Stop doing that! And I get one question, agreed?”
“Is she… Does… Is she of the professional persuasion?”
“D-Does she work, is what I’m trying to say.”
“Damn Samson, you’re just getting straight to the point,” she raised her hand to stop me from retorting. “To answer your question, yes, she manages the catering company near me.”
“Wait… the one that brought those peach pies to your office?”
“Yup,” she grinned knowingly. I had inhaled four full boxes of those pies and I couldn’t even feel shame because they were so good. “So I’ll see you tonight for sure?”
I nodded in acceptance. Now there was no chance of me flaking. Mesi was all too aware of my 50% rule. If I was on the fence about going out with friends, I would, without fail, make up an excuse as to why I could no longer make it. I didn’t need to make things up with Mesi, but lately she tried harder to solidify my obligations. She probably told this mystery girl every detail of my life, hyping me up as some sort of Renaissance Man. I couldn’t wait to disappoint.
We stopped in front of Mesi’s house shortly after. She politely refused my offer to help. “You sure you don’t want me to set up anything? I can make some Doro Tibs?” She declined again. “What, you got a guy helping you out?” I nudged her shoulder at her hesitation.
“Uh, actually, he’s waiting on the ground floor.” Mesi tried hiding a smile. My eyes widened, not expecting the joke to be truth.
“Well why didn’t you tell me about him? He’s not weird, is he? I swear, if this one also has a lazy eye…”
“Sam!” She playfully slapped my arm. “I mean, it’s only been a few weeks, I’m still not sure…”
I nodded again before exchanging quick good-byes. I always waited a minute or so to be sure she wasn’t locked out or in trouble, but by the time she turned to go inside, I had already begun to slip away.
He strolls down the empty sidewalk, hands in pockets that didn’t seem to be deep enough. It is a nice enough afternoon that he can take the long way home, right down Marshall Avenue and along the local bike path. He wonders whether or not the twisted tree by the half-mile mark has started to sprout leaves.
“She probably thinks you’ll hate the new guy,” Danikus appears beside him with a tone saturated in false pity.
“You stop that; we both know that that’s not true. She’s never liked to rush things,” Samson replies.
“Yup, guy after guy go by and you wait here to be the knight in shining armor to rescue her from a series of bad relationships. That’s what everyone thinks.”
“You’re being ridiculous… Dan.” Danikus hated being called that.
“Oh don’t try to hurt me with that stupid name, you’re deluding yourself Samson. She hesitated to spare your ego. Mesi thinks you’re obsessed with her and only wanted to soften the blow.”
Sam ignores Danikus and keeps walking down the wooded path. All he has to do is pretend that Danikus doesn’t exist. He doesn’t exist. He’s nothing but the vague outline of a human figure hovering beside him.
“Don’t pretend like I can’t hear your thoughts, I am your thoughts. Everything that runs through your mind is orchestrated by me, Samson,” He pauses for dramatic effect. “But I’ll leave you alone for now. Have fun at the party,” he says with a mocking sneer.
“Cocky bastard,” I muttered under my breath. Danikus always claimed to be a “realist,” but he really just came off as a resentful being.
I arrived at my apartment as if no time had passed. Thankfully I still had a few hours until I had to be back at Mesi’s; even if I went early to help out, I could fit in a short documentary and shower. I threw down my briefcase and headed straight for the fridge, opened it, closed it, and opened it again before deciding that I wasn’t hungry and could wait until the get-together. My list of “Docs to Watch” sat next to my laptop on the counter; I made a note to find some more, I was already halfway through. The next one I watched followed two parents and a policymaker in their separate quests to improve education in a low-income neighborhood. They tried doing a grassroots movement, starting from the parents. No one seemed to listen, despite their logical reasoning and deep passion. The other parents didn’t care, blamed the government for their state, said the kids needed to try harder. I was gone before I could hear the resolution.
Samson is on his way back to Mesi’s condo. At just twenty-four, she was the executive and founder of an “organic animal shelter.” The business is perfect for all the upper-class suburban dwellers surrounding them. She probably could’ve afforded any place in North Atlanta, but she frequently stressed the need to send money to her parents in Ethiopia. They often walk to the currency exchange place together, known by the owner as “those good Eth’yopian kids.” He hopes there aren’t too many strangers at the party; it is to celebrate the two-year anniversary of her business. She promised it would be mostly their close friend group, but he knows better by now. He can hear faint laughter and generic jazz coming from the building. No, he can hear faint laughter and orchestral music coming from the building. Not right; he can hear faint laughter and light R&B coming from the building. It’s only a matter of time before people started requesting more upbeat music. Samson turns the doorknob to meet a crowd of their good friends along with a few vaguely familiar faces. No one turns to see who had come in: that is fine. He wanders through the condominium, looking for his friend only to face confused glares and loud whispers. “She’s still friends with him?” “Kinda boring don’t you think?” “Is he still trying to get with her?” He thought he had made a good impression as the uninterested-male-friend. Why laugh at things he says, or invite him to get-togethers when their true feelings were quite the opposite? Samson didn’t even find Mesi before leaving the party. He couldn’t tarnish her name any further; it wouldn’t be fair to ruin her celebration after all.
I came back before Danikus could return with his mocking whispers. It wasn’t always so bad; I could always go to Mikael for any problems I faced. But I would still be entering the party alone; no one could shield me from the poorly-hidden hatred. I stepped out my door, showered, shaven, and wearing respectable clothing. My palms deepened to red as I continuously wrung my hands until I reached her entrance. I hesitated before knocking but figured I could leave if I started to feel uncomfortable. Mesi threw open the door, lips stretched into a bright smile. A friend of theirs playfully called “Samson, you’re only a few minutes late? This must be a first,” as Mesi dragged me inside. I exchanged greetings with everyone else, awkwardly introduced myself to any lingering strangers, and conversed a bit with Alam, Mesi’s new guy. Apparently Mesi informed him of my “near-obsession with documentaries.” We compared favorites, discussed the affects they had on society and what they might evolve to in the future. He seemed nice, intelligent, fit her humor; I hoped they would last.
The party went well.
I peeled off my clothes back home and sat on the couch in my boxers, staring at the black-screened television. Just a couple minutes, that’s all the time I needed to sit and replay the night’s events. Besides, I couldn’t go to bed with too much whiskey running through my veins. Just a few minutes…
Samson finishes a pleasant conversation with Alam. “We should get a beer sometime,” Alam suggests. Samson grunts in response. The two stand in silence. Samson scrambles to find another topic of conversation. As if on cue, Mesi rushes over with a girl trailing behind.
“Brihan, this is my friend Samson. We’ve known each other for ages,” she exclaims.
They shake hands and chat, their words a mass of incoherent mumbling. He makes a bad joke, she laughs. She gets them drinks, Mesi raises an approving eyebrow at him. Brihan returns with two glasses. They’re transported to his apartment drinking wine. They appear back at the party. More small talk. He decides that he’d like to get to know her more. They agree on a day and time to get lunch, genuine smiles. Sam glances to the side to see a man gagging on some rice. He races over, utilizes his Heimlich training from high school, everyone cheers with relief. The man hugs Sam, thanking him repeatedly, “how can I ever repay you?” He coolly walks back over to Brihan, her thick, curly hair gleams under Mesi’s overhead lights. She clutches the sides of his face, praising his quick action.
She tells him: “nice meeting you! I’ll see you next week, yeah?” She smiles for a fleeting moment before the condo empties.
Half an hour later I was still on the couch, staring at the television; it was time to slip into the unconscious world. I felt at home in my dreams; they could be constructed in any way I wish, or randomized reflections of the day’s musings. Struggling to keep my eyes open, I pulled myself into bed and fell into my sheets.
It had been four months since I met Brihan and I still wasn’t sure whether or not she actually tolerated me. I knew we were dating and it seemed like she cared, but I couldn’t tell if it was just a façade. Few moments passed that we didn’t’ have smiles plastered on our faces, even if the discussion was serious. But I knew how trying it could be to hang around me. I needed and craved attention, yet strived to keep withdrawn. It’s a combination of traits even I had a difficult time managing, let alone an outsider—although Brihan was quickly making her way inward. I liked that we didn’t go on formal dates. There was no pressure to dress up or pick a place we both liked. We’d often call each other up to do menial tasks together and somehow, we managed to enjoy it. It didn’t require much effort, we didn’t need to force small talk in front of strangers, or get constantly interrupted by waiters. Just last week she called me to go out.
“Hey, are you busy right now?” Her voice fluttered in and out, I was probably on speaker phone.
“Well, I guess I’ve got work I should be doing….”
“So you’re free! Wait, hold on,” I heard rustling in the background. “Okay, sorry. Do you wanna go downtown? I have to pick up some food for Mom.”
I smiled every time she referred to her mother as “Mom” rather than “my mom.” It was somewhat ridiculous, but I felt trusted. It scared me how much such a small action could affect me. “I’ll pick you up in twenty minutes.”
“Which aisle…” we arrived at the market, searching tirelessly for the section with East African foodstuffs.
“It’s gotta be around here somewhere. Teff Flour doesn’t just up and disappear… from an African grocery store,” I said.
“Someone bought all of it for their birthday party,” Brihan chuckled. Sometimes we’d take a scenario and go back and forth, building it up to impossible circumstances.
“A thief is playing Robin Hood, but only wanted to share the flour…”
“Some clumsy white person from those infomercials knocked down the entire shelf.” By this time, we could hardly contain our laughter.
“A rogue teen ripped open all the bags in an act of angsty rebellion against his parents.”
“The FDA issued a nationwide ban on Injera. Eating like Ethiopians is just too dangerous for Americans.”
We had to stop because we were laughing too hard. Innocent customers passed us by with wrinkled brows. I think someone’s kid pointed and laughed at us “grown-ups.” The Teff ended up being in one of the first aisles we passed. Her mom thanked me for helping her daughter so often. She hoped she would see me around more often.
My own parents started calling more often, asking how the job was going, if I was cleaning up after myself, how Mesi was doing: “she told us she may be engaged soon!”
Yeah, I knew.
Despite all attempts at pretending to check on my well-being, I knew they had just one thing in mind and I didn’t have the heart to tell them not to be so optimistic. What an embarrassment of a son I must’ve been to them. Day after day of telling different visiting relatives and friends that yes he graduated college, yes he’s working—it pays well too—no he hasn’t gotten married. Their tone likely sank into a grave realization that they may never have grandchildren, or at the very least, throw an elaborate wedding in their home country. I tried not to think so hard about it, but the dark blanket of self-hate and worthlessness wouldn’t fall from my shoulders.
“I prefer to think of it more as a deep orange blanket, closer to red,” Mikael appears, as usual, out of nowhere with something unrelated to say.
“What?” Samson asks, distracted by his own thoughts.
“Oh, you know, depression’s always associated with black, or gray, or navy—”
“Yeah, it’s pretty close to black. Y’know, it’s a generally dark, despairing color.”
“Oh,” Samson responds, feeling stupid. “But orange?”
“I just think that a dark orange is closer to your disease. It reminds me of Earth’s inner-sanctum. It’s buried deep beneath our feet and influences so much of the world surrounding us, but it’s unseen by all who are affected by it.”
“Yeah,” he thought.
“Yeah,” I muttered under my breath. I sat on a bench pretending to be engrossed in a novel that had been collecting dust on my dresser. Sometimes it was nice to be alone outdoors, particularly when I knew that I wouldn’t come across anybody that I knew. A discarded bottle lay shattered by my feet. My breath shallowed and my vision unfocused as I slipped again.
He picks up the broken bottle and walks into the heavily wooded area behind him. After peering over his shoulders, Sam makes a light, careful cut down his forearm with a shard’s edge. He makes another, feeling no pain. A mine of rage and misery and complete agony explodes within him. The bottle rips across his chest and digs into his side, but the dripping blood doesn’t hurt. Samson falls to the ground, legs curled, clawing at the damp soil, screaming and sobbing but not a single soul can hear him. Eventually a stranger will come across his stained body and call an ambulance. He will live and receive psychiatric services for a few weeks. His family and friends will be worried sick, feel guilty for not seeing the signs before. And eventually he will assimilate back into society as a mentally healthy human being. But until then, Samson will let his tears and spit hydrate the dirt beneath his cheek while blood sticks to the shirt his mother bought for his birthday the previous year.
I quickly turned a page in the book before nonchalantly looking around. An older woman, waiting for her dog to finish his business, turned to my direction. Not knowing how long she had been standing and watching me, I smiled and waved at her. She returned the greeting and left me alone once again. Shortly after she left, I rose from the bench, patted the dew from my pants, and walked back home. I had needed that cry, or, some part of me did. Sometimes I fell into a slump, to say the least. In a panicked frenzy of self-diagnosis, I managed to find a fitting term rather than the usual spinal tumor that causes hormonal shifts. Lypophrenia it was called: a sense of sorrow or sadness—seemingly—without a cause. Perhaps it wasn’t officially recognized by Webster, but it suited my purposes just fine. The walk back home consisted entirely of repetition. I have no reason to be sad I have no reason to be this way There’s no reason to be so sad Why are you this way There’s no reason to be this way Why are you so sad there’s no reason. I reached the front door feeling worse than before. After that much time, I still didn’t know why I felt this way but it had been almost the same since I was young. The sadness acted as a cancer, cycling between lying dormant and launching into painful remission year after year since high school. I sat on my bed, laptop in hand, not really paying attention to the headlines on CNN’s site. Long ago, I was able to ride dragons, levitate, control the elements, bend metal with my bare hands. Completely escaping reality wasn’t difficult as long as I could imagine a world where I was more unique than my peers. Somehow I thought that if I dreamed it often enough, my life would really become worthwhile, or that I would become a person that didn’t disappoint everyone around them. I tried to go back to that state, I tried.
Samson is taking calls at the accounting firm. Things are going fine as usual. A co-worker he doesn’t like attempts to strike up conversation once he hangs up the phone. Wordless speech leaves her lips as he enthusiastically nods and chuckles at the appropriate moments. A loud shriek forces both to look up toward the waiting area. An obvious criminal holds a gun, yelling for everyone to hand him their money; he’s clearly stupid enough to have mistaken the firm for a bank. Samson snickers and rises from his desk. He feels the rush of an electric current running up his arms. He raises them and releases a lightning strike straight toward the robber’s body. It stops. An obvious criminal holds a gun, yelling for everyone to hand him their money. Samson shoves his co-worker out of the way to catch the robber off guard. He manages to wrestle the gun out of the stranger’s hand. Someone has the presence of mind to call the police, who happen to arrive at that moment. Everyone is safe and happy. No. An obvious criminal holds a gun, yelling for everyone to hand him their money. Samson dashes toward the man and tackles him to the ground. They wrestle a bit. The gun goes off, striking Samson in the arm. The man is surprised for a second too long as Samson slaps the gun from the robber’s frozen fingers and uses his unwounded arm to throw a few punches. The criminal is barely conscious, the police arrive, Samson is taken to a hospital and treated. Brihan comes every day while he heals. She rests his fingers between her palms and gently strokes his knuckles as he drifts to sleep.
I couldn’t conjure up the extraordinary anymore. The imagination I once coveted had crumbled into a bleak and pathetic reality. I scoffed, wondering in what universe a vision of happiness and heroism was considered pathetic. Sick of wasting energy, I closed my laptop and sat in bed, staring at the dust sticking on my cupboard. Danikus and Mikael reminded me to clean that up soon.
All the documentaries on my list were all finally crossed off. I had to remember to ask Brihan for more recommendations when I saw her later. A pile of my finished paperwork lay on the small table. It might as well have been begging me to organize it; my boss probably would appreciate it too. As I shuffled papers around, a pushpin fell from between two sheets. It lazily turned circles until it stopped against my curled fingers. I hesitated before picking it up; my hands trembled with temptation.
“Don’t be an idiot Samson,” Mikael hadn’t come to criticize Samson’s life choices in quite some time.
“No, I just—”
“I don’t care if it’s a paper cut, you’re not putting a single other blemish on your skin. You’re going to put your things away, get that damn pushpin out of my sight and go to her house to take care of your business.” Mikael isn’t usually this stern.
“I wasn’t—” He begins.
“You trying to tell me that you weren’t thinking of doing anything with that small metal object? Do you even understand that you can’t hide a single thing from me or any of us?”
“Sorry, you’re right. I’ll go now,” Samson blankly says as he turns from Mikael.
The trip to her house was arduous and stressful. I rehearsed my words over and over to ensure that there would be no mistake. I had spent weeks deciding on the perfect phrasing and at that point, I could only hope it wouldn’t go badly. Brihan’s reaction played in my head like a short film.
Brihan buries her teary face in his chest. “I’m sorry, you just caught me off guard.” She hiccups. “I should’ve been more prepared but I just had no idea.” He holds her tighter, certain that he made the right decision to move forward like this. It felt right.
I arrived in the early evening. We ate and laughed for a few hours. She gave me an entirely new list of documentaries.
“I wanted to give this to you before, but I just wanted to be sure that you hadn’t already seen any of them,” Brihan sounded so proud of herself.
I thanked her endlessly and tried to switch topics to something more serious. I couldn’t afford to ruin this just because the atmosphere wasn’t right. I had been waiting my entire life to find the right person to We discussed the mindset of second-generation children—what our children would be—and what it was like to grow up ether far removed or clutching onto that culture. It was one of my favorite things to talk about with her.
“It’s weird to think about our standards of happiness, you know? What we might see as a perfectly acceptable experience could be miserable for future generations. Things that make us ‘happy’ might become irrelevant in a few years. Do you think about that; the shift in happiness perception?”
That was the trigger. From there it was word vomit. I occasionally went up for air as I explained my fractured mental state.
Brihan smiles lightly and gets up out from her seat. She moves closer to Samson and wraps her arms around his neck. Her lips rest on his forehead. Samson’s trembling shifts to an occasional shiver. “Thank you,” she whispers. “I know it’s hard to trust people, but I’ll help you get through it. One day at a time, okay?”
“Samson, did you hear what I said? Were you in your- your dreamland again?”
“Wha…” I still wasn’t completely back.
“You need to tell Mesi about this, is what I said. And your family as well. I want to help you, but they should be the one getting you that help. We can schedule an appointment, or I can call Mesi right now—”
“Hey Sam, I’m sorry about all this. She seemed promising,” Danikus steps from the shadows and pats Samson on the shoulder.
Samson brashly shakes off the invisible hand. “Shut up Dan.”
“Maybe we should try getting to the root of the problem? Is it your parents, or perhaps peers? Were you bullied in school?” Brihan continued. “Are you sure it’s not schizophrenia? Sam, don’t give me that look, I’m trying to help you. This is scary for me too y’know! But we’ll figure this out. We’ll- we’ll get you help so you can be normal again.”
Mikael shook his head with each passing statement. “Normal? It’s a shame huh? In the end, you’re stuck with us Sam. You really can only trust yourself. And I hate to sound like Danikus but, we told you so.”
“I know a great doctor in the area! He prescribes medicine but also recommends natural remedies, which you’re kinda into right?”
“Brihan,” I sighed, interrupting her. “I. Am. Depressed. Do you understand that? Every waking moment is a struggle to live. My motivation to stay on this Earth depletes with each step I take and I hate myself for it. There’s not a single thing I don’t hate about myself Brihan. I’ve tried so hard not to grow attached to people, but it happens and it hurts more than anything, y’know why?” My voice began to rise. “I think that happiness can only come for me the moment I take my last breath. Do you realize how difficult it is when your only reason to stay alive is to keep your friends and family from going through the pain of mourning? Do you know what it’s like to be crippled with self- hatred? How difficult it is some mornings to even get myself out of bed? But guess what, I couldn’t say any of this before because I knew how they’d react. All of the relationships I had built for years would crumble and then what motivation would I have? I created these characters because I know I need help but what proof have I ever gotten that’ll make me believe that I can trust anyone in this world? Who can I possibly trust if not my closest friends, or my family, or my fvcking girlfriend! I don’t need medicine, or to call anyone, or to get to the “root” of this. Right now, I would like to go back home and just keep to myself.” I tried unsuccessfully to keep my voice as steady as possible.
Before she could refuse to let me leave, I had already slammed the door behind me and began the journey across town. On the bus, I pulled out yet another untouched novel.
He starts to cross the street as the blinking orange hand flashes to its solid form, signaling everyone to move. A car speeds toward him. Samson doesn’t move. He imagines the hot tire tearing through his skin as the car’s weight crushes his bones. The crunch of his two broken legs is strangely satisfying, like stepping on a crisp leaf at the cusp of fall.
I thanked the bus driver with a closed- lipped smile and continued my trip on foot, being careful not to take any paths where I had seen friends on occasions before. Although, it was unlikely they would be outside this late at night. My phone buzzed. I instinctively pulled it out of my pocket and read the text: “Samson, let’s talk about this. Don’t do anything irrational. Please. Please. Please.” I kept it firmly in my grasp and let the running battery heat my icy palms.
He takes an Exacto Knife and runs it up the full length of his back. And again. And again. And again. Samson mindlessly slashes until the tiny blade unscrews itself and falls to the ground, both soaked in red.
Getting back to my apartment took less time than I remembered. I turned on a hot shower and took as long as I could, lathering, then rinsing, then repeating. Once my mind calmed, I dialed a few numbers with pruned fingers and waited for the other end to pick up.
“Sam? You usually text me, do you need help with something? Is something wrong?” Mesi asked.
“No, well, sorta. I had to end things with Brihan.”
“Wait, what? Why?”
“I- I didn’t trust her as much as I thought,” I ended my explanation there.
“Wha… Well are you okay?” She clearly wanted more information. “Should I bring you some food? Do you wanna come over? We can play Xbox or something; you know I hate seeing you sad, it happens so rarely.”
“No. I’m fine; thanks,” I told her before hanging up the phone.
I paced my apartment, breathing deeply and closing my eyes, just like my parents had demonstrated for dealing with stress. My laptop already had the streaming site open, I just had to pick a film. I chose one of my favorites, about the oil spill from years ago. It chronicled the corruption that managed to go unnoticed by most who were mesmerized by the difficult cleaning efforts in that thick, blackened ocean. It was sad, but good. Just as it had always been.