Something Felt, Not Explained


Ashton Bruce

I find a place with a tree, and I forget about the car as I walk to it. I sit against it, feeling my shirt ride up against the stump as the bark clings to the fabric, and I close one of my eyes. Everything is clear. I close that one, and then I open the other, and everything is the same.

Ashton Bruce, Staff Writer

My hand keeps dropping things.

I remember when I first got my own apartment, and I remember how, every day when I got home from work, I’d shed off my jacket, and I remember feeling how it always felt so freeing, like I was shedding out of a layer of skin. When I’d slip off my jacket, I’d drop my keys onto the counter. I’d go into the kitchen, get out a bowl for cereal, and I’d go turn off the television because I had developed a really bad habit of forgetting to turn it off before I left in the morning. Then I’d forget that I ever wanted cereal in the first place, and I’d watch television. I’d go to the bathroom, and I’d start dinner. And then I’d work and watch television and shower and go to bed. It was after a few hundred times of repeating this routine that I realized that the habits I’d developed were most of my life, and everything else I did was straying off the habitual path that acted as the entirety of my existence.

My therapist always tells me to journal. She says it will help me document my thoughts, but whenever I try, I forget why I got out the paper out in the first place. When I eventually remember why, I’d forget what happened during my day. Soon, I got into a habit of marking the date on the right-top side of the paper and then writing below it, “I don’t know.”

At night, I have nightmares where everything is always in motion and everything is always too loud, and I wake up in the morning crying. But by the time my feet touch the floor, I don’t remember why.

I make myself breakfast, and by the time that I remember I don’t like Froot Loops, I’m on my fifth bite. I continue eating anyway. It takes me forty seconds to lock the door to my apartment, because I keep dropping the keys. My hand is tingly, falling in and out of feeling.

I go into the doctor’s office. We exchange greetings. This doctor never smiles, but he does ask me many questions. Do I remember what happened last week. Do I remember what happened this morning. Could I could tell him what his name was. And sometimes he asks about my ex. I tell him, “He’s all right. Last I saw of him, he was wearing a plaid shirt.” And the doctor looks at me funny, and then says, “That’s nice.” He writes something on his paper.

When I get home from the doctor’s office, I sit in my bed. I take out one of my contacts, and I keep one eye open, so that everything is clear, and I can see the cobwebs that I should sweep off the walls and the designs in my wallpaper and the things scattered across my desk that have been there for forever, but I don’t remember ever putting them there. Then I close that one, and I open the other so that everything is blurry. I keep swapping them, interchanging between moments of clarity and moments of blurred color.

At my therapist’s office, I tell her about my nightmares and the moments of clarity and the moments where nothing really makes sense. I ask her what they mean, and her voice always sounds like a child’s scribbles against paper. I nod, and I smile at her. “All right,” I say. And she smiles back in a way that reminds me of the seahorse on this month of my calendar.

The doctor tells me my condition is getting worse, and I think about the skin on his face and how it sags so deeply, that if I were to smack him, it would stretch out a few feet, hit the wall, and then come back to smack him again. He tells me I am going to need surgery. “All right,” I tell him, and we schedule a surgery.

After my surgery, my mom came to take care of me. They wrapped a bandage around my head, and even though my mother made sure that it was never too tight, it felt like my head was going to explode. And I’d scream at her to loosen it, and when she did, I felt like there was blood leaking from my skull. I just can’t win.

Once I recover well enough, and I don’t bleed from my head and feel sick, I go to work again. And since there isn’t much to do in my cubicle because I can’t remember my job, I write in my journal. I stare at the sheet of paper, the pen in my hands so eagerly awaiting to touch the paper that it drips ink in yearning. I date the corner of my paper, imagining that the pen and paper are in love and the ink is the way that they touch, and I worry that I would never find love as strong as theirs. And then I think, “Oh, well.”

A month later, I return to my doctor who asks me a lot of questions. I take a test where I circle all of the words that I have a mental image for—“dog”, “cat”, “tree”, and “mother” are all words that I know and have pictures for, but it feels like my brain stops working when I read the word “gravity” or “love” or “father”. I have to sit in the room for a while. There’s no plants, which makes me sad, but I know if there were plants, it is unlikely that they would get any sunlight, so it was selfish of me to wish for something that would die just for my appeasement. By the time I want to stand up and walk out the window, the doctor returns. He talks about brains and uses many medical words that have too many syllables. And then he says something I can understand: “There is nothing more we can do for you.”

My mother, who I don’t remember being in the room, but suddenly is now, starts to cry.

“All right,” I say.

And I walk away from the doctor’s office. Without meaning to go home, I go home, and I sit on my bed, untangling my hair. I can feel my fingers twitch, like the muscles around the bones of my phalanges are excited and jittery. I sit for about two hours, and I realize my mother has been sitting there for about twenty minutes holding my hand. I can’t feel my hand, and I can’t hold hers. I think she tells me it’s going to be all right. I believe her, and then I fall asleep.

When I wake up in the morning, everything is sharp. My eyes feel so small inside of my head, as if the sight of everything being in such high definition frightens them and makes them shrink into their sockets, like a child recoiling behind their mother’s legs. And colors flash before me. I remember that I am going to die soon, and the world is so beautiful. My sheets have never embraced me such as they have now, the scratch of the threads softened now into dust collected in order to comfort me. The gray paint now appears to be coming off the walls into me, like I’m sucking in the bleak in order to make the world and everything more beautiful. I roll out of bed. I’m wearing pink slippers that I didn’t know I had until now, and the pink is so iridescent, like there’s an entire magnitude of new colors hidden inside of the fur. I walk outside, and the wind breathes into me, replacing the air in my lungs with oxygen that’s so much sweeter. The sun shines out of my eyes now, not into them—it always used to bother me how blinding the sun could be, but somehow it appears less blinding and more eye-opening. Grass peeks out of the cracks in the concrete that are no longer blemishes but pieces of uniqueness, and the patterns of my ex-boyfriend’s plaid shirts criss-cross into something less about confusion and more about unity. The clicking of a woman’s heels spark like fireworks, and there’s an understanding and completion inside of me that intertwines normalcy with beauty.

I understand how the world works, and I don’t have a chance to explain because I only have a few months to live. Even in those few months, I wouldn’t be able to explain the feeling in everything so normal, like the feeling of putting in a fresh pair of contacts, the feeling of newly mowed grass underneath your feet, the feeling of gratefulness to your mother, the feeling of redemption and understanding, the feeling of knowing. Even if I could explain, I doubt anyone would believe me, but I touch the brick walls. Bumps underneath my fingertips feel like mountains: the smallest things impact me with clarity.

I drive to the park, and when I feel like I’ve been driving for hours, I realize it has only been a few minutes, and I want to cry in relief but I don’t. I just keep driving.

I find a place with a tree, and I forget about the car as I walk to it. I sit against it, feeling my shirt ride up against the stump as the bark clings to the fabric, and I close one of my eyes. Everything is clear. I close that one, and then I open the other, and everything is the same. Moments of unity, clarity, and I dig my fingers into the dirt because my fingertips are the only things that are able to feel. I’m scared that when I die, all of my memories will be erased like there was no reason for them in the first place. I’m going to be okay with that, as long as I remember the way I feel now. With my eyes open, my fingertips feeling, I am transparent. I am clear.