A dark comedic, creative non-fiction story on the subject of to be or not to be (if you know what I mean, TW suicidal ideation, et al.) that is too weird for traditional publishing, so I’m putting it here. Read at your own risk.
First, there was not being. Then, being. And that’s when things get complicated.
My dad thinks I might not be at first. I’m so still and quiet coming out, just staring back at him, he thinks I might have been born already dead. He thinks, oh. He thinks, no. Two boulders sinking to the bottom of his stomach, he’ll later explain to me except not in so many words, just two, just oh and no.
Then the doctor pokes me; I definitely am. My muffled noise of objection at this realisation, as well as the manner in which the doctor went about assuring himself of it, sends ripples of relief through the room.
She’s alive, just a bit quiet and hesitant. (Sceptical.)
It’s very bright in the new place, bright and cold and noisy. Mum is warm. (I’m not hungry, thanks.) The familiarity of warmth and the rhythmic beat of the inside of her is comforting. I am lulled halfway back into not being. More lights come to take me away, shaking me out of lull and comfort. Then I am alone, in the dark. Sometimes there are hands I’m not allowed to see on me and sudden pain in the soles of my feet.
This is what it means to be, I realise. And I’m really not sure about it.
I get stronger, although my skin stays yellow for a while. Dad signs the thank you cards, The Saffron Bun says Hi as well. No name for me yet. The little paper card above my basin-like basinette reads ”The Wallström girl” and that’s all.
Eventually we are allowed to go home, all three of us. Home is a much nicer place, less cold, less bright. But I don’t forget the blindfold or being stabbeb in my feet any time soon. (I’m sorry, I don’t mean to hold a grudge, mum, dad, but trust is earned and mine will have to be regained.) Also, I’m still on the fence about this whole being business.
The thing about happiness is that it clouds everything else.
I am eight or nine when the clouds disperse and I remember, am reminded.
This being business, which I’d been lulled into accepting, embracing, expecting — like a stray kitten fed by tourists for a week and then left behind hungrier than ever — I’m now told is not an indefinite state at all, quite the opposite. Apparently, we will all stop being at one point or another. Grandma stopped being. Mum and dad will stop being, no-one will ever be able to tell me when. I will stop being, maybe tomorrow or maybe when I’m old and in pain like grandma was at the end.
She looked so small and weak when I went with mum to see her, wrapped in crisp white hospital linen. Mum was trembling with restrained emotions, her voice quivering, ”Three things I’ve done right, anyway” she said, meaning me and my two brothers, asking for grandma’s approval a last time. I think she was crying.
I turned my face into her side, not to cry but because there was a sudden smell coming from the bed. Neither grandma or mum pretended to notice it, nor the nurses that came to clean it up.
I heard grandma say, ”Tomorrow things will be better, you’ll see.”
Mum woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me I didn’t have a grandma anymore. And then I remembered.
I’d been for so long I’d forgotten what it was like not to be and I couldn’t really wrap my mind around it anymore now, but it was definitely a thing. A state before being, a non-state before you’re born into the bright, noisy world of confusion and emotions and sudden pains.
Grandma had gone back to that non-state now, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around that either. I kept trying, but the more I tried the harder it got and the unhappier I felt. The state of being, it gradually became clear to me, was all about unhappiness. I’d been lulled into a false sense of security and tricked to believe that it was about happiness, but it wasn’t.
Happiness was a temporary sub-state of being, just like confusion, frustration, excitement, unhappiness and boredom, with the difference that happiness, once you’ve worked out the system, is never really happy anymore. Because you know it won’t last and, in contrast to it, the other ones will feel all the worse when they come plodding along to replace it.
Everywhere I looked, it was confirmed for me. Every person, especially the grown-ups, were decidedly not happy. I was suddenly surrounded by pinched lips, watery eyes, beer cans, bandaged wrists, news headlines, mean girls and grabby boy hands. Mum and dad were probably the happiest people I knew, and they were barely happy at all. None of my friends were happy. My teachers weren’t happy, especially not with me.
The swimming team were perfectly happy to bully me, but other than that they didn’t seem very fulfilled. I never enjoyed competing anyway. I prefer swimming in the sea, by myself. Slowly. Deeply. I like to see for how long I can hold my breath under the surface. This is only place I know that’s actually quiet, where I can just be. (Not that being is all it’s been cracked up to be, clearly.)
I am twelve when I get it into my head that I should just stop.
Being that it’s in the middle of summer and the whole family is staying in the summer house on the coast, I decide that drowning is the best way to go. Although, just to be sure, I carve my dad’s fishing knife into my wrist for good measure. It stops bleeding as soon as I get into the cold water and for a moment I just stand there, balanced on two slippery rocks with water lapping at my chin, feeling rather foolish.
I decide I might as well go for a swim. Within minutes, I’m feeling lighter, happier.
I sit on a rock in the middle of the water and watch the sun come up behind the trees and the water begin to glitter from it’s reflection. I feel my skin dry, itch from salt. When I look at my butchered wrist, the congealed edges of which are turning purple, I feel even more foolish. But I also feel something akin to happiness, maybe relief; I’ll wear long sleeves for the rest of the summer, claim abjection to tanned skin and a newfound passion for gothic aestethics; I’ll be here for a while longer.
This is the summer that Dad buys a parasol.