Saturday, September 4, 2010


Sam was exhausted. Six months after Eric left for Chicago to pursue his acting career, she could no longer live with the burden of her constant and overwhelming loneliness. Every night its weight pressed down on top of her until it became so heavy she could no longer draw a full breath. The strain of her loneliness reminded her so much of Eric, of his heaviness, of his body on top of hers, she feared that without it there would be nothing left to remind her that love was a tangible thing.
“I miss you,” she would say, quietly into the phone at night.
“I miss you, too” he said, his voice distant and reassuring. “We’ll see each other soon. I promise.” But night after night his promise felt farther and farther away.
Sam sat up in bed one night and stared at the phone. She admitted to herself that she was lonely, but refused to present herself desperately, and decided against calling Eric. An hour passed with Sam sitting up like this, staring at the phone, clock ticking. Taking a deep breath she nodded to herself and bit her lower lip, reaffirming her own quiet contemplation. Pulling off the covers she stomped confidently to the closet and swung open the doors. She felt around blindly on the top shelf until she located an old shoebox. Bringing it back to bed with her, she opened it to reveal a small handgun. She picked it up and frowned, bobbing it to test its weight.
She hated guns. She pleaded with Eric to take it with him to Chicago when he left, but he instead insisted she keep it for her safety. Setting it aside, she closed her eyes, looking deep inside herself in search of her loneliness. When she found it, with great deliberation and care, she plucked it out.
Loneliness in hand, she bounced it up and down to test its weight. Aside from the fact it was lighter than she expected, it was a different color, too. She folded it delicately and carefully placed it into the box. Having been satisfied with this arrangement, she picked up the handgun and fitted it snuggly next to her solitary ribbon. She returned it to the closet and hopped playfully back into bed for her first restful night of sleep in six months.

With the absence of loneliness, Samantha got along swimmingly. There was noticeable improvement in her demeanor, especially at work. She smiled more, helped more, and was friendlier with her coworkers; especially their most recent hire, Brad.
“You seem lighter,” He said one day, after a group of them had gone to lunch. It should be mentioned her appetite was better, too.
“Are you saying I was fat before?” She joked, in that annoying rhetorical way all women do, in matters regarding weight and size.
“Not at all,” he smiled. “I just think you look unburdened, is all.”
She touched his arm. She liked that idea.

That night, Samantha told Eric about her day, he about his.
“I miss you,” he said.
Samantha smiled through the phone and nodded her head. A warm silence filled the line. It quickly became hot and uncomfortable. Eric cleared his throat.
“Don’t you miss me, too?” he said.
Samantha furrowed her brow. “Well, I remember you more than anything else,” she said. “But, it’s strange; I hardly miss you at all.”
“Oh!” She exclaimed, suddenly remembering. “And I love you. There’s that, too”
“But you don’t miss me?”
“Not really.”

Samantha fell into a deep and despairing depression. It must be recognized that a symmetry exists between all emotions. If one becomes engorged or shrinks (or in Sam’s case, disappears entirely), other emotions, when triggered, will overproduce as a means of compensation. Realizing that without loneliness she lacked the capacity to miss Eric, Sam was filled with sadness. This sadness ballooned and doubled in size to fill the spot where loneliness once belonged. It sank down inside of her with a weight that Samantha had never before experienced with loneliness. At least with loneliness, there was optimism. But her sadness was so thick and viscous it was all she could do not to think about the handgun she had neatly tucked away.
Dragging herself out of bed, she scrambled to the closet and ripped open its doors, falling to the floor to look for more shoeboxes. When she found one, she again looked inside of herself and – without the same generosity she had applied to her loneliness – tugged out her sadness and shoved it in the box. She sighed, relieved.
The alleviation was momentary.
Unhappiness inflated inside of her, three times its usual size. Samantha groaned, bloated with melancholy. Frantic, she tore through the closet for another shoebox. She jerked out unhappiness, threw it into the tiny, cardboard coffin and firmly shut its lid. Her relief was again abbreviated. She was filled with four times the usual amount of dejection.

This cycle continued into the early morning.

When she wrangled out dejection it was quickly replaced with depression. After depression she wrestled with gloominess, despondence, glumness and misery. When she ran out of shoeboxes she scrambled into the kitchen to fill her pots and pans with woes. Tightly securing their lids, she treated her heartaches like shamefully burned dinners. When she ran through her cookware, she used Tupperware containers, her laundry hamper, and vacuum bags.
As the early morning light dusted its way through her windows, Sam sat upright on the floor. Breathing heavily, she registered her surroundings. Containers stuffed with low spirits – all shapes, sizes, and colors of them – littered her apartment. There was vagueness to the clutter in front of her, and it made her feel strangely unbalanced; like someone had snuck into her body and hollowed out her bones. She tried standing. Wobbling to her feet, the soft fingers of the sunrise slowly stretched into her apartment and warmed her. There was lightness inside. Without sleeping, she showered, dressed, and left for work, elated.

“What is it with you lately?” Brad asked, squinting into the bright afternoon sun as they left the diner. It was just the two of them at lunch. “You seem light as a feather!”
“I don’t know,” Sam said, unable to keep herself from smiling. “I feel like I don’t have a care in the world anymore!” She closed her eyes and let the sunlight lap at her face.
“I don’t know how you do it,” he said. “I think it’s incredible you can live like that, ya know? You’re just, WOW.”
Smiling even wider, she hugged him. She enjoyed the broadness of his shoulders, the softness of his cheek. She wanted to hug him longer, but needed to get more shoeboxes.

That night on the phone, Samantha looked out to the street curb where she had brought out the garbage. Droplets of water formed on the black bags in the night’s drizzle, making them glow orange under the streetlight. She found this both symbolic and beautiful. In fact, everything was beautiful. Without anything inside of her to make her sad, there was nothing left in the world but beautiful things. Like Brad and his shoulders.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am right now,” she said to Eric. “I can’t find a single thing to be sad about. Everything is wonderful!”
“What about the fact we’re not together?” he asked. “Doesn’t that make you even the littlest bit sad? It breaks my heart everyday.”
With the onset of guilt, Samantha felt like she swallowed an anchor. She assumed (wrongly) that she had ridden herself of weight related emotions, but guilt differs from sadness in the way it’s self-inflicting. Without saying goodbye, she hung up the phone and clawed her way into the living room, where a new stack of shoeboxes longed to be filled with her feelings.

Unburdened by guilt, Samantha slept with Brad. There was no reason not too; none that she could think of anyway. She was free to scratch his strong shoulders, free to have him kiss her on the collarbone; free to call out his name during sex in the bed she used to share with Eric. She was curious at first as to why her love for Eric didn’t intervene with her decision to sleep with Brad, but she hadn’t taken into account that without loneliness, love has no balance. For Sam, love lost its vigor – its shine.

Everyone knows fear of loss is what makes love so strong.

After sex, Brad became affectionate with Samantha, nuzzling her neck while he whispered about how wonderful he thought she was. She enjoyed this at first, but soon grew bored with it. She took out her boredom and put it in a box. Without boredom, there was no way to contrast excitement, no way to discern between dullness and enthusiasm. To avoid Brad’s affection, she removed her own. Now, whenever they slept together, Samantha laid perfectly still; like a cold, rough brick.

Eric called. “Why haven’t I heard from you?” he wanted to know. With great ease, she told him about Brad. She went on to tell him that since she wasn’t lonely anymore, she hardly noticed he wasn’t around.
“I don’t even recognize you.” Eric cried through the phone. And while Samantha could no longer feel guilty, or sad about the way she had treated him, she did understand where he was coming from. Nodding to herself while he sobbed, she quickly scribbled down understanding onto a notepad. When the phone call was over she put it in a box and tucked it away with the rest of her collection, so it too could gather dust and grow stale.

Brad stopped sleeping with Sam after growing tired of her indifference. Sam would have removed her indifference but was indifferent to it. Eric no longer called. Love withered up and bounced around uselessly inside of her like a dry, dead fish. She casually tossed it aside one day like a tissue she had used to blot a scab with. Her relationships at work began to suffer.

“Sam’s a bitch,” Brad said. “A stone, cold bitch.”

But this did not bother her. By the time this was said the only emotions she had left to speak of were practicality and indifference. She felt it impractical to have friends in the workplace, and removing practicality seemed too impractical.
Sam went on to rent out the extra room in her apartment where she stored her emotions. She felt it very practical to do so.
“What should I do about all these boxes?” The grad-student renting the room asked.
“Just do whatever,” Sam said. She was very indifferent about it.

Sam lived practically and indifferently for some time. It made the years go by very quickly. Worrying about things or celebrating holidays or looking forward to anything seemed redundant. It wasn’t convenient and she no longer cared.

One day, Sam searched her room for a missing sock. Reaching under her bed, thinking she found it, she grabbed hold of a soft texture and pulled. It was a long since discarded emotion. Turning it this way and that in her hand, she tried to place it. It would be impractical of her not to find out what it was before throwing it away. It turned out to be worry. Once it took root deep inside her, she erupted into tidal waves of anxiousness. Her insides felt like a washing machine.
Samantha was distraught. When did she become so barren? She worried she would never laugh again. She worried she would never cry again. She worried she would never love again.
Oh God, she groaned.
She worried about Eric. She worried she would never see him again, or speak to him again, or make love to him again. Frantically, she made her way to the phone and called him. A brief conversation revealed he was engaged to be married, and very happy. Also, he would like to never hear from her again. She hung up. She worried she waited to long to reach out to him. She worried where the time went. She worried she would soon be too old to ever be in love again.
Where did her love go?
Samantha pounced on the door of her tenant’s bedroom. “Tenant!” she cried, beating the wood with her fists. “Tenant!”
She never learned her occupant’s name. She never cared to. She now worried this approach was too impersonal. The tenant came to the door.

Sam: What did you do with my shoeboxes?
Tenant: Threw them away. You’re not angry are you?
Sam: No, but I’m terribly worried.
Tenant: Maybe they’re at the dump?
Sam: Yes, that seems very practical, but I’m worried it’s too late.

At the dump, Sam took one look at the mountainous range of hot trash before deciding that diving in to look for anything would be impractical. Then she worried. Then she didn’t care. She wanted to cry, but couldn’t because she had no sadness. She concentrated hard on what it might feel like, but it was no use. It was like trying to draw a picture with an eraser.
“See anything you like?” a voice behind her asked. She turned to find a dirty man in a dirty jumpsuit, walking up to her and smiling. She looked him up in down. She worried he might try to kill her and then bury her in garbage. “You don’t look like the usual crowd of people who comes around here looking for stuff,” the dirty man said, smiling and wiping his hands off on his jumpsuit. “I’m George; I work here.”
He nodded to her. He knew better than to offer his dirty hand.
“I’m Sam,” she said, turning back to the garbage. “I’m looking for shoeboxes.”
“Yes, shoeboxes. There were very important things in them and I’m worried I might not get them back.”
“Things like, Jewelry?”
“No. Sentimental things.”
“I think I know what you’re talking about,” the man said, fishing for something in his pocket.
“You do?” said Sam, turning, conscious of the fact she was supposed to feel optimistic.
From his jumpsuit, the dirty man produced a small, colorful article and rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger. He looked down at it fondly. Clearing his throat, he said: “A few years back we got all these shoeboxes. They were piling up all over the place, a big Mountain of ‘em. We thought it was a shoe recall so we opened ‘em up hoping to get some crappy free shoes. But instead it was just these textures and colors.” The man looked up and smiled. “All of these beautiful consistencies.”
“Did you find any love?” Sam asked.
“There was a box that kind of gave me that feeling,” the man said, looking up. “I mailed it to my sister, though. I thought she would have appreciated it more.”
“Can you tell me how to get in touch with her?”
“She lives in Chicago,” he said. “I think she’d be pretty reluctant to give it up. You can have this one, though.” Reaching out his hand, he handed her the material he was holding. “Sorry it’s so dirty. I found it in one of the boxes, next to this lonely little handgun. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away; it was the most beautiful color.”

Back at home, Sam looked at her discarded practicality and worry on her floor. She tried doing away with indifference but didn’t see the point. The clock beside her bed read 11: 41 P.M., while she played with the soft texture in her hands. She decided that it was, in fact, a beautiful color. Looking deep inside of her, she carefully put it back in the spot she had pulled it from, and immediately felt the weight of it push all the air from her lungs.

-Ian Rowe