Written by Michael T. Banker
Four. That’s how many suicide attempts it took to get me committed to Pleasant Gardens, where I scratched at my wrists and tried not to look at my older brother Pete standing a careful foot away. We walked along smooth stepping stones, my brother and I, trapped by walls of flowers.
“Oh, look,” said Pete after too long. “Cherry blossoms. Love those.”
Something about the way he said “love” made my ears perk up. “You do?”
“Sure. I even have a poster of them… although, currently rolled up under my bed. Kind of girly. But yeah, I love how they only bloom for a week.”
But then he looked at me and I could read his thoughts: shouldn’t have told the suicidal girl he admired something for its transience.
I closed my eyes. “Say that again.”
“That came out wrong — ”
“No, just… please.”
I could hear him breathing, that careful foot away. “Why?”
I sighed. Did I have to explain? Since I had no humility left, I did:
“There’s this place I envision — just in my head — full of all the things people have told me they love. And since you love cherry trees, I wanted to plant one there.”
“I love you,” he said, sounding suddenly scared. I kept my face stony until he moved on. “I mean, it’s cool, but… why?”
How could I make it not sound pathetic… that I was trying to figure out how to love something, anything? That I was searching for my own reason to live?
“Just say it again,” I insisted. “And mean it.”
On some level, I think my big brother understood me. “I actually hate how cherry trees pack all their beauty into one week. But I love the feeling I’m left with, like I need to make my time count.”
Yes, that would do. I watched a cherry tree blossom in my mind.
With Pete here, I was fine. Not five minutes after he left, depression seeped into my bones. It was always this way with me: sudden, physical. I curled around my cramping stomach on the beige carpet of my new room.
And retreated to that place in my mind. For the hundredth time, looked around at all the things that someone, somewhere, was passionate about. Looking was never enough; I reached out and picked up a piccolo. Told myself: This! Music, someone loved music enough to enshrine this here. I could love music. But the piccolo chirped alarmingly and I dropped it and reached for something else — a beer bottle, relic of an avid home-brewer. But that meant nothing to me, nothing at all.
The objects dissolved in self-pity, replaced by the voices of their owners:
“Stars make me feel insignificant… in a good way.”
“If I could get sucked into a video game, I would be so happy.”
“I’m crazy about skirts. Even chunky legs are hot wrapped in a skirt.”
Nothing. It was all meaningless, vapid, stupid. I didn’t love any of it.
That voice was Pete’s — he came back. I opened my eyes to find him prying at my clenched fist, probably thinking I had a razor or something, but only a wad of cherry blossoms fell out.
“I just,” he started. “Well, I’m back.”
“Not like I haven’t been through this before,” I greeted him, because sometimes sharp words are easier than kind ones.
Pete helped, though, and I offered to show him around my imaginary room as I put everything back in its place. I gave him the running commentary as I stacked the video games in a pyramid and polished the window looking out at the stars. I decided to hang the skirt up on a branch of the cherry tree.
“But you’re borrowing other people’s passions,” he insisted when I was done. “What do you love?”
“That’s the problem, isn’t it?”
“Beaches,” he suggested easily.
“When was the last time you saw me in a bathing suit?”
“Or art. You have, like, a hundred posters in your room.”
Dali and Van Gogh: hardly pleasure, more like catharsis. I smiled sadly and shook my head.
Pete rolled his eyes. “Fine, you hate everything.”
He was trying so hard, but that was the absolute worst thing he could have said, because it was exactly what I was afraid of. So I summoned all the gusto I could muster and declared, “You know what, I do love something. Dust!”
“Yeah, dust. Sometimes, when I can’t even pick myself up off the floor, I’ll spend hours just playing with it. Feeling its texture. It’s real, you know? And who else notices dust? It’s mine.”
“And like, it’s mostly dead skin, right? When I do go, I like knowing that part of me will stick around, in the dust. Yep, I love dust!”
I instantly regretted the look on Pete’s face. Knew that regret would fuel my anxiety later. “I’m sorry.”
“You know what? I think you really do love dust.”
I arched my eyebrows. “That is the most pathetic — ”
“Really, I think you’re crazy about dust. You weird, weird sister of mine.”
I smiled. “I suppose dust does have its virtues.”
“Tell me, in this room of yours,” he tapped the top of my head, “is there any dust? Any at all?”
“Nnno,” I admitted.
“Can I add some?”
There wasn’t a speck of dirt, not a fallen eyelash marring my beige carpet, but he made a show of scraping some up anyway and sprinkling it over my hair.
And I did — in my mind, I saw the cloud of dust wafting over the cherry tree like snow, coating its branches and knocking off blossoms. It twinkled in the starlight and powered the inside of the beer bottle. By the time it settled, everything was covered in a thin but irreverent grey layer.
And I realized, it was more comfortable. The various passions seemed more approachable covered in dust.
I had to admit, I liked it.