Breathing

Happy One Month of Hwa Yang Yeon Hwa! It may not seem like much, but it is a milestone to me. Either way, I was reviewing some old English essays I’d written, and I came across this one from when I was in my ‘what is my life about’ phase. Hope you like it!

“What do you want?”

Ray wasn’t listening. He’d stopped listening forty – five minutes ago. No matter how many times he found himself on this couch, and as much as he’d tried not to, he’d always stop listening. But then again, as his father always reminded him, he never listened. And in any case, Myra Brown wasn’t saying anything worth listening to. His therapist was always trying to explain some grand mantra of living life. A mantra that meant nothing to him.

Follow your heart.

“Mr. Fletcher?”

Crap, I’d better answer or Dad will make me do another month of this.

“Pardon me, Dr Brown?”

“I said what do you want?”

“I want a lot of things.” That was the best thing to say, he’d decided. He preferred if she kept her psycho analysis out of his head.

Dr Brown sighed exasperatedly. Every time she asked this question he’d always say the same thing. She peered carefully at the brooding boy in front of her over the rim of her round silver glasses. His dark hair brushed the tips of his eyelashes, which were barely able to veil the startling violet in his eyes. She’d always searched for answers in those great pools of amethyst, but found nothing. They were bottomless, she’d decided; the answers would never surface.

“Would you care to elaborate?” she’d said finally, hoping beyond hope that he would tell her something more. She couldn’t help if he didn’t let her.

“Not particularly,” he replied, stone faced. Ray wasn’t trying to be rude; he just…. she wouldn’t understand, he assured himself. No one, would ever, ever understand.

The old woman glared him through her glasses. Even with her greying hair curling around her cheeks, he could still see the red in them, and he saw the way her long bony fingernails sunk into her floral skirt. It didn’t take a genius to figure out her patience was wearing thin.

“Listen to me, Raymond,” she said through gritted teeth. Raymond. He hated when she called him that. “We have been doing this for seven months now, and I am tired of playing these games. Now either you quit shutting me out, or I’m going to tell your father that you need to see a psychiatrist.”

I’m going to tell your father.

Ray felt like a child. He remembered when he’d punched his friend Marky when they were nine. Marky had told his dad, and he’d been grounded for two weeks. But a psychiatrist, Ray knew, was worse than being grounded. He bit his lip and swallowed his pride. He decided to choose the lesser of two evils.

He took a deep breath. The he spoke.

“I want to live.”

“You are living.”

“No, I’m not. I have an existence, albeit a pleasant one, but I’m not living.”

Brown felt smug, but gave him a sympathetic smile. “You are Raymond Fletcher. Your father is William Fletcher, of Fletcher and Branson Industries. A multibillionaire. Anyone out there would kill for the life you have. So why are you dissatisfied?”

“I…. uh…” Ray swallowed. This would be the hard part. He should’ve shut up, but now that the gates were opened, they wouldn’t close in a hurry. “I… I don’t want it. I have never wanted it.” He could see what effect that had on Brown’s face. Her expression remained that of empathy, as a good professional should always exhibit, but behind her mask he could see she was significantly startled.

But the woman was better at her job than he thought. The flicker of surprise left her eyes; she had composed herself. “Why is that?”

“I don’t exactly know. I just never fit in at the fancy cocktails parties or at the golf clubs. It just… wasn’t me.” Ray was staring down at his feet now. Orange Nikes, the orange faded to a dull brown from use. His dad said he should throw them out, but, it was sentiment that kept him from doing that.

“Well, what is you? You can’t exactly remain idle your whole life.”

“I don’t know, but it sure as hell isn’t being the next CEO of my father’s company,” Ray explained softly.

“Sounds like you need to do some introspection,” said Brown, scribbling something in her notepad. Ray always wondered what she wrote in there. He craned his neck to see, but couldn’t read her writing upside down. But he had no need to. She tore off the page and folded it into a chit.

“My prescription,” she said, smiling, handing it to him. “We’ll talk more when you get back.”

“Get back?” inquired Ray quizzically.

“Have a nice day, Mr. Fletcher.”

That was his cue to leave. Ray’s puzzlement was embossed on his face, but he stood up anyway and nodded his goodbye. His feet made no sound as he padded out of the thickly carpeted office. The doorman bid him a good day as he held open the glass doors. He stopped in front of the old man. He had close cropped grey hair under his green uniform hat, and a pleasant smile that made his face fold over into wrinkles.

He looks just like Gran.

“Are you happy, sir?” The words fell out of Ray’s mouth before he could stop himself. “Do you wake up every morning and look forward to your day? Do you look forward to the people in your life? Do you know…. who you are? And what you’re meant to do? Are you happy, sir?”

The old man smiled at him kindly. “Sometimes, sir. But only if I want to be.”

Ray turned around and went down the marble steps.

They’re all the same, Happiness comes from within, it is up to you, etc. etc. A situation is only as bad as you make it. I’ve been trying to be happy from the moment I had a notion of the concept. 24 years I’ve lived this life and I still don’t know how to be happy.

The Mercedes was parked right out front. It was a beautiful piece of work, sleek and silver and comfortable and what not. It made a statement, that car. It said, out of my way peasants, we have royalty coming through. Be sure to keep your miserable unprivileged lives to yourselves. Ray had always hated the way people looked at him when he drove anywhere in it. Everyone treated him different: his friends, the cops, even the drive thru lady at the McDonald’s across the street from his house.

He went there every Sunday, yet the woman handing him his order always gave him false courtesy and a forced smile when she handed him his order. She called him ‘sir’ in that grudging way. Spoiled rich brat, she must be thinking. Why is he here, slumming it with the average people? Why isn’t he in Milan leaving a hundred-dollar tip at a fancy café?

There was another regular, called Danny. She’d greet him by name, and ask about his wife and if the baby was doing okay. They’d joke about the weather and their jobs. Ray wanted that. He wanted to be more than the lucky rich kid. He wanted to see people, and to know them, and he wanted them to know him. To see past his clothes and shoes and Mercedes.

As he fished the keys out of his pocket, he felt a degree of disgust towards them. He tried to shake the feeling, but this time it was too much. He unlocked the car and let them slip from his hand. He didn’t see them crash onto the sidewalk, or the shifty lowlife pick them up. He was already walking to the nearest train station.

He stood in the train, right by the doors, even though there were empty seats available. The rumbling of the train filled his head as it flashed past station after station. The walls were a faded beige with adhesive marks from all the posters that had adorned them at some point. The floor was metal with a grey worn carpet like cover, with loose threads sticking up like little towers. There was dust in it, and bread crumbs from sandwiches and bits of candy wrappers and many more unrecognisable things. There was a faint scent of sweat in the air, from the human herd that the train carried every day.

There wasn’t much talk in the train. It occurred to Ray that he wasn’t the only one trying to unravel the mess that was his life. Everyone was wrapped up in their own misadventures, and the train was a good place to think. The busy mother would be thinking of her kids and how she was going to be a little late for their school play. The old man with the Wall Street journal and slick hair would be thinking about his investment and putting away money for retirement. And the homeless man with the needle holes in his arms and faraway look in his eyes wasn’t thinking of anything.

Down here, everyone has a story.

I wonder if my story is worth it?

Probably not.

The glass doors blurred with hand prints and finger smudges parted and Ray stepped out of the metal thinking tube into the great cesspool of stories at the station, already jostling past him in a hurry. He caught snatches of conversation.

“……a new bike is unnecessary, dear….”

“…see you at two, Doc….”

“…. the seminar was quite a success sir….”

It’s amazing how much you can see if you’re invisible.

But he wasn’t invisible. He stuck out like a sore thumb. Fitting in never came easily to Ray. Mostly because he wanted to disappear more than anything.

Life is a joke. A grand irony.

Outside, the weather was beautiful, the wind bracing, the plumes of pollution spiralling away, if only just for a second. The sun lit up every inch of the streets. People were enjoying the first ray of warmth after a gruelling winter. The snow stamps out sound, sight and inevitably, life itself. The sunshine had liberated everyone’s spirits.

Ray liked the way the sidewalk turned into a dappled mosaic in the shade of a wayside tree. Ginkgo biloba. A maidenhair tree. The sunlight filtered through its leaves and made them sparkle like emeralds. It was still young; the foliage was not quite as dense and sprawling yet. He’d always loved the way they ornamented the road. Maybe he’d get one of those too, for his garden by the pool. Maybe next to the bamboos…

Ring! Ring!

Ray looked at his phone in annoyance. He had settled into the cuddle corner in his mind, he was far away, and it was just his luck to be cruelly reminded to come back down to Earth.

Ring! Ring!

He looked carefully at the caller ID, the perfectly straightened blonde hair, the shining blue eyes and that dainty lip – glossed smile. His finger hovered over the decline button.

Beep!

“Hey, Janet.”

“Hey, baby, listen, I was just calling to ask you what I should wear today to Johnny’s party!” His girlfriend’s high pitched voice rang in his ears, and made his stomach turn slightly.

Ray cursed inwardly.

That idiotic trust fund celebration party was today?

“Uh, sure,” he mumbled, trying to sound excited. “How about the black dress you wore last week?”

“Ew, no! That was so…. last week!”

“Babe, listen, you’ll look great whatever you wear, okay?” replied Ray, his face buried in his palm

“Aww, that’s sweet of you to say, but I wanna look my best for you today, so I’m gonna take Kelli and Roni and go buy a cute little number from D & G, okay?”

“Do what you like, Jan.”

He stabbed down at the end call button exasperatedly. He couldn’t believe her. Here he was, grappling with major emotional issues, a possible lifelong crisis and all she cared about was a meaningless party.

She didn’t even notice I was upset.

As he stuffed his phone back in his pocket, his fingers closed around Dr Brown’s note. He realized he hadn’t even looked at it.

It’s funny how much you can ignore if your own cocoon of concerns is thick enough.

As he fished it out, he wondered if that was what it was like with Janet. It didn’t matter that her problems were petty to him. If it meant something to her, he had to respect that. God knows, he expected the same from everyone else around him, and no one extended him that courtesy.

No one shows rich brats any genuine courtesy. They just assume we have people for that.

The paper rustled in his fingers as he unfolded it.

Three words. A vague instruction.

Take a break

What from? And how might he do that? Ray didn’t know what to make of it. So, he did the one thing he always did with her psychobabble. Tossed it under a passing bus.

Maybe what I need a break from is her damn nonsense

When he got home, Reginald showed him in, and brought him brunch. Ray didn’t know why they needed a fancy English butler. He called him ‘sir’ and cleaned his room and moved like a dancer over the slippery maple wood floor with his ridiculously dainty gloved hands clasped in front of him.

When did I end up in a sorry production of The Inimitable Jeeves?

He decided to go out to the pool, where he could see his germaniums and honeysuckle twisting like delicate necklaces around the shrubbery. He watched Manny the gardener as he trimmed the bushes carefully, praying that he wouldn’t snip off his precious gems. There was more colour in that garden then there was in his entire life.

The pool had a feature to heat the water, but Ray liked it when it was piercing cold. There was something about how the blood rushed to your brain as you dived in deeper, and how the icy needles dug into your body till you couldn’t feel them anymore, and every second that passed lasted a lifetime.

Your life flashed before your eyes, and yet you forgot everything that happened before that moment. You were aware of your every move yet detached from your body. You knew that time was ticking away, and yet you were suspended in that moment as if it were frozen still.

You were alive.

I wish I could live my entire life like this. Not just breathing.

Alive.

 

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