The death of a coworker. The evening news covering head on collision fatalities and violence against children. Listening to the Spring Awakening soundtrack on repeat thanks to a new interest in 2008’s 90210 remake.
I spend my days in a small square, looking at the bamboo plant that I am struggling to keep alive and the stale Star Wars themed graham crackers that sit by my office phone. I think about walking by his office, and wonder if anything has been touched. Are his used pens as he left them? Are traces of his fingertips still atop his black keyboard? I think that if I look straight ahead, maybe I will see him standing blurrily in the corner of my eye. If I listen carefully enough, I’ll hear him breathily cackling at the front desk. I can still picture his eyes, wet and shining.
My ears echo with each click of my mouse. I shift my weight and pull a sticky note off of the pad, detaching it from the rest. The paper and adhesive block will never be the same as it was, no matter how carefully I go to place the paper back with the others.
To only know someone for 6 months and to lose them is a reminder that we cannot control who impacts our lives. That a card or a phone call could have been the one thing saving us from inevitable guilt. The words I should have visited will forever cling to my shoulders, reminding me of the present and hard truth.
“If you didn’t give me this recipe, I was going to send all of the feral cats in my neighborhood after you.”
“We have to stop meeting like this.”
“For Thanksgiving, I am going to go home, open a bag of chips and a can of coke, make a bologna sandwich, turn off my phone, lock my doors, and watch football. And that is how I like it.”
And now we’re left. Before having a full time job, we don’t realize just how much working can consume us. I see my coworkers more than my friends and family. I am in close proximity to them, for 40 hours a day. I hear them laugh, clear their throats, sneeze, have heated phone calls with loved ones, staple papers, and roll their office chairs into their desks, shaking desk decorations and computer monitors. I recognize their shoes in the bathroom stalls, and know who is moving by the outside of my cubicle by how heavily they walk.
We tell each other about our successes and grievances, because we are just close enough. When someone hurts, we all feel it, like a hand pushing in the center of our chest. But when someone is gone, the denial and essence of their body wandering through the building is stronger than the realization and grief that follows. We move as one entity, swelling and spreading, but coming back together to nod our heads at one another as we walk to our cars at 4:30pm, Monday through Friday. This is our ever moving, symbiotic relationship. The turning of a hourglass at the beginning of each week. A crack in the glass and a loss of sand doesn’t make the time and pattern run as smoothly.
In realizing all of this, I feel sadness and fear, soft on my skin like a familiar blanket. My anxieties warm my face like the sun coming through the front windows of my childhood home and painting the stairs, running down to the hardwood floor. I want to lay in it. To close my eyes and accept what I know best. I remember the comfort of hopelessness and worry, and feel safer when I am mentally treading water, sitting on my couch in the dark from 2:00am-4:00am during the week, unable to sleep.
With optimism comes heartbreak. Happiness leads to vulnerability. Pessimism can go hand-in-hand with reality, and the furrow of our brows as we whisper I told you so.
And thus, we play The Sadness Game. It is easier to slip into tears and the feeling of your core physically sinking. This is what we know, this is what we turn back to. But is isn’t right, and it isn’t what we deserve.
We try to be positive. We Google advice and reach out to friends, look at pictures of baby animals and do yoga in the small amount of clean carpet space that we have for the week. It’s a fleeting struggle, grasping at the breeze that moves tree branches and backyard windchimes, only for it to stop and leave us in the still. It’s hard, and it’s walking uphill, when it’s simpler just to fall to our knees and roll backwards, staining our jeans and palms with green grass and crashing at the bottom.
But easier doesn’t mean better.
There is no winning with The Sadness Game. In the face of hurt, there is the perspective that we will one day, be okay. This ideal may seem like a picture book, an unattainable dream. But imagining it means that it exists, and is out there somewhere, floating. And when that breeze comes by again, we can catch it, put it in our pockets, and hold on to it for a little bit longer.