Radiate.

“You sure you want to go in?” He smiled down at me, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

I glanced up at the abandoned house. It looked like it was straight out of a movie. Scraps of wood covered the windows, some in tact, others rotting and falling off. The house looked like it was barely supporting itself, leaning slightly to the right, much less being able to support two people walking through it.

Did I want to go in there? Oh hell no. This is how horror movies started. That house radiated creepiness and I had no doubt that there was at least one ghost in there.

So, was I sure? Nope. Not at all. Tony patiently smiled down at me, his hair starting to collect the water from the drizzle around us. He reached out for my hand and took it gently in his. A tingle spread from my hand through my body. I was sure about wanting to impress him, and if I said no, he might just take me home and call it a night. I was sure I didn’t want that to happen. So, instead of listening to my gut, I clenched my teeth together and put on the most convincing smile I could possibly muster as he continued his story.

“I heard the ghosts in here are looking the next addition to the family. Legend is, the house waits for the next addition of the family to come, and then it takes them. But, if it doesn’t think you fit, then it lets you go. Plenty of people have come and gone, I’ve only heard of 2 missing since I’ve lived here,” Tony told the story with brazen casualty, sending a shiver through my spine.

“Two?” I whispered, my voice unable to power a clearly spoken word.

“Yeah, it was in the news about 5 years ago. This kid and his mom were going in the house to look into buying it to fix it up, and they never came back out. But, I suppose anything could have happened to them, it is in bad shape,” he shrugged, pointing to the lean of the house, “We’ll be careful.”

I swallowed down the lump in my throat, “Let’s go before my logic takes over and I run all the way home.” I squeezed his hand and pulled him towards the door. As we walked up the steps to the front door, carefully avoiding the termite-infested rot, a sense of dread and unease entered me. My hand immediately started sweating. I stood, facing the front door. He let go of my hand and reached for the handle whispering softly, “Here we go.”

The door swung open slowly, screaming in protest after years of stationary content. Tony swung the flashlight around the house, revealing dusty sheets draped over furniture, cobwebs, and rodents who had made this house their home. As the rats scurried back to their dark holes, Tony stepped inside, looking back at me with mild excitement.

“C’mon! Don’t be scared.”

I stood motionless at the doorway, my sense of unease growing. I was breaking all of my carefully crafted rules for this shaggy-haired football player. His lips raised in a lopsided grin, watching my hesitation. I stepped inside, and the moment I did, I knew I had made a terrible mistake.

The door violently shut behind me. I whirled around and tried to catch it mid-shut, but it was too late. I whipped my head around to look at Tony, who was smiling, “Finally!” He looked different now, his face sunken in the dark, his eyes expressionless and fixed, his perfect teeth seeming to have rotted in the second it took for the door to close. I gasped.

“Welcome to your new home. We’ve been waiting for someone like you to join us,” he lifted the flashlight up, the light radiating from the beam, illuminating an old portrait of a small family, two parents and a teenage boy that looked exactly like…

“You?” I choked out, my realization being met with an evil cackle. As he brought the flashlight down to my skull, the portrait changed before my eyes. The parents shifted to be next to Tony and I, and we had our arms out, on the shoulders of two children who had not yet been chosen.

via Daily Prompt: Radiate

Roots.

Have you ever been so over a job that everything annoys you about the place? The carpet starts annoying you: the colors, the coffee stains, the snags. The desk you work at is not lit properly, which nags at your eyes all day long. It’s too cold, too hot, not perfectly temperature controlled. There’s always at least one coworker with incessant throat clearing. The bantering “joke” emails that just aren’t funny anymore. The people who keep bringing snacks for the office that you always gravitate towards even though you’re trying to lose a few pounds. The chair that isn’t comfortable and makes your back ache after a while, no matter what kind of cushion you bring. The lack of appreciation you get for your work. The tedious duties you have to do each day. The annoying bray of a laugh the women three cubicles down lets out far too often that cuts through any music you have playing. All things that should, in theory, easily be shrugged off, but over time build up tension… so much tension that you just want to scream. Is that just me?

Shouldn’t I be doing something that matters? Instead of the mundane tasks I perform that make no difference to the world? Everything in the universe seems to be screaming in my face that I need to quit if I’m not happy, to follow my dreams while I still can. Well, seven years has passed. Every weekday, I lay in bed contemplating taking the day off, but eventually I trudge into work, my heart sinking into my stomach. Every single day around two, I think about what would really happen if I got up and left and never returned. Would they call? Would they yell?

Jim Rohn once said “If you don’t like where you are, change it. You’re not a tree.” Sometimes, I feel like a tree. I’ve built roots, no matter how reluctantly. I have built up a proper amount of vacation days, of pension. My coworkers have learned how to deal with me. I know what I am doing to a certain extent, enough to skate by and not fuck anything up, at least. Reluctant roots, but roots all the same.

Monday started like any other day. Woke up, stared at the ceiling, calculated the days off I had left. It was mid-April and I have one one-week vacation planned…I had already taken 3 sick days. I sighed heavily. Couldn’t waste the day. I slung my legs off the bed and pushed myself up. I sat there, slouched over and mustered the strength to stand up. My morning duties were performed in a fog, as usual. I did everything in autopilot, no thought required. Somehow, I arrived at the door of work and shuffled to my desk, which was slightly littered with pain pills, coffee straws (our company bought coffee stir sticks instead, so I provided my own straws), and napkins from various places. I sat down and forced my arm to go to the power button of my computer. The whir of my computer starting up always reminded me of an airplane off into the distance, taking people far away from the mundane realities their lives truly held.

I stared at the start up screen, waiting for my day to begin, listening to the sounds around me. Eh-hem! Throat clearer strikes. How about that game yesterday, huh man? Bros talking about sports because there seems to be no other option for small talk. Eh-he-he-heeeemm! Man, something must be really in that throat today. Oh ha ha ha! Jimmy, you’re so funny! The lady three cubicles down has already found something to laugh about and it isn’t even 9 am. Whiiiiir. My computer that hasn’t been replaced or updated in the 7 years I’ve been here was launching still, getting slower and a little louder every day. The tension was already building up. I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath and holding it for three seconds, like my therapist taught me in the month I went. Whiiir. I pictured being on an airplane, the hum of adventure in my ears and under my feet. Ha ha ha! Stop it! That is just too funny ha ha ha! I clenched my fists. Was it even possible to laugh any louder or more obnoxiously? Eh-he-heem! I couldn’t do this. I just couldn’t.

“Jaime! Good morning!” I snapped out of my tense trance and looked up to see my boss standing over my desk.

“Morning Mark,” I replied, quickly relaxing my fists.

“So, I looked at the report you wrote up, and I’m going to need you to make a few edits. I typed up my notes and shot them to your inbox. Got it?” Mark had this annoying habit of plastering a pearly white smile on his face that didn’t reach his eyes when he was annoyed. He pointed both of his fingers at me and kept that ridiculous smile on his face, “Need it by noon! Thanks!” He turned smartly on his heels and walked away, not allowing me any time for a response.

Noon. Fine. My computer had inched to life by the time this short conversation was over, so I opened his edits. This was the third round. As I read through them, the background noises continued, although at least subdued a bit by my concentration being on the edits. Almost every edit was something I had originally had in my first draft that “simply wasn’t acceptable” when I had wrote it. Only took him three times to get it back to the way I had originally wrote it. After 7 years of writing Mark’s reports for him, you’d think he would learn that I understand what he wants and can get it on the first try without his help. But no, every time he has to make at least three rounds of edits, only to eventually have it back the way I had sent it to him.

Walk out now. Never look back, a small voice in my head whispered temptingly to me. You’ll figure it out, you can be without a job for at least 5 months and be fine. It won’t take you that long to figure it out. Now is as good of a time as any. I shook my head, refusing to listen to the voice. Instead of even looking through the edits, I shot over my original to Mark and continued with the tasks I needed to get done.

Eh-hem. Ha ha ha ha ha! Eh-hem. Type, type, type. Eh-hem.

All of the tension from this morning had seeped back into my body. I couldn’t take it anymore. What was the point? Slowly, I stood up. I grabbed my purse and walked to the door. I reached out and grabbed the handle and held it for a second, feeling a jolt of adrenaline shoot from the doorknob all the way down my feet. Could I do it? Walk out and never come back?

“Jamie! Taking an early lunch? The edits you sent me were perfect! Let’s get it more like that on the first try, yeah?” Mark’s voice from behind me. I could see his white teeth and perfect smile, not reaching his cold eyes. My grip tightened on the doorknob, knuckles turning white. I could definitely do this. Without looking back, without a single word, I turned the knob and took a step forward. My feet were heavy, as if I was ripping out the roots of a particularly large garden plant that wasn’t quite ready to leave. But, I was ready, no matter what my feet thought. I had been ready for years. It was time to prove to the world, or really just to myself, that I could do what I wanted. I wasn’t a tree. Roots, to a human, are just excuses. What’s the point of excuses if all they bring are misery? I took my other foot out of the building, ripping the last of the reluctant roots I had grown out of the ground, a grin spreading across my face, feeling more free than I had ever felt in my life.

I Am. 

It didn’t happen all at once. No, it was a slow and gradual change. When I was young, my teachers would hardly notice me. I never made any friends. I always hid in the background, avoided bringing any attention to myself. For the most part, it worked. I had a few slip ups, where my fellow students would notice me for a bit, and the bullying would ensue. Every time, I would endure and fade back into the background. Every time, I learned what I needed to do to stay in the background. 

After a while, I got extremely good at fading. In fact, I got a little too good at it. The bustling city was a good place to disappear. Every day, I’d wake up, get on the subway, go to work, get back on the subway, return to my empty apartment, go to bed. I didn’t have an emergency contact. I didn’t have a single friend in the world. But that’s how I preferred it. Quiet. Solitude. Yet still around so many people, the bustle of the city. Me, just an extra, not worthy of making the role of a co-star, or even a supporting character.

At work, they slowly stopped noticing me even come in. Occasionally, I used to get a head nod or a “hello”. Those eventually faded. On my birthday, I had been there a little over 6 years. A cake came in, coworkers singing happy birthday in a conga line. My eyes grew wide, my heart racing. Was this for me? How did they know? My face grew red as they neared my desk. “Happy birthday to you!” …and they passed right by me, instead surrounding an intern, who had worked there for a grand total of 6 months. I retreated back behind the walls of my cubical and continued working. 

It was ok. No one had understood me. My parents used to begged me to make a friend, any friend. It’s not like I didn’t try. I tried a few times. It never worked out for one reason or another. Letting people in always led to pain, and a further withdrawal from me. I was the definition of an introvert, a lone wolf, background noise. I had gotten used to it, accepted it. And then, it happened. I truly disappeared. 

I can’t pinpoint when it happened. I can only tell you when I realized it. I was in line for coffee, patiently waiting for my turn. I got to the counter and ordered an americano. The barista looked right through me. The man behind me strolled up to the counter and ordered his drink. I had learned to never complain about others actions; it only starts an argument. I stepped to the side and let him order. When he was done, I slid back in. 

“Yes, excuse me. Can I please get a grande americano?”

The same thing happened. Again. And again. Finally, impatience took over the need to stay out of an argument. 

“Um, excuse me. Can you not see that I’m trying to order here?” I spit out, waving my hands in the air. No reaction. From anyone. I said the same thing, louder, with more dramatic waves. Nothing. Not even a single head turned. What was happening?

I stood directly in front of the man ordering a vanilla latte (pansy order if you ask me) and shouted “SIR, CAN YOU HEAR ME?” Not even a blink. I jumped around the store, trying different people. Nothing. 

“Americano for Jessie!” I heard from the counter. My name wasn’t Jessie, but I wanted that damn Americano. I slid over to the counter, grabbed the coffee and watched as Jessie, presumably, strolled over. He looked around, confused. 

“I thought you called my name?” 

The barista looked at the empty counter, confused. I stood there, mouth open, coffee in hand. Could they not see the coffee either? 

“Sorry sir, I’ll make another,” after a solid twenty seconds of searching the counter, the barista finally said. 

I could get used to this. I strolled out of the shop, sipping my free coffee and for the first time in a while, a grin spread over my face. 

I got into somewhat of a routine, taking only what I need, and treating myself to something “unnecessary” once a month. After a while, being invisible got old. At least when I was visible, but background noise, I talked to people some. I like to think I had a connection to the hot dog vendor. I bought hot dogs quite often, so he knew my order. After a while, he would just smile at me and prepare my order without a word. I’d pay him twice as much as necessary, exchange a nod, and enjoy my perfectly made hot dog. Now there was none of that. I’d have to wait until someone ordered a hot dog and let it sit on the counter for a second, swiping it and accepting the toppings that came with it. 

I missed those kinds of connections. I suppose I needed people more than I originally thought. Occasionally, I would stand in the middle of a crowded place and scream at the top of my lungs, hoping that someone would notice me. Just one person. I didn’t need much. Just someone to look at me. 

After showers, I would smear the fog off the mirror, staring at my reflection as the condensation dropped down the mirror, similar to the tears on my face. I’d wipe them away ferociously and stare hard at myself. Green eyes with bags under them, uneven splotches of freckles, wet, wavy hair. I always remembered The Bell Jar, and listened to my heart as I slowly inhaled and exhaled. I am, I am, I am, I repeated in sync with my beating heart. I am. I may be invisible, but I am here. I may not be able to be seen, but I am. 

In the middle of a crowdered park, I screamed. “I AM! I AM HERE!” I stood on the side of a large fountain, my hands up, stretch towards the sky. I stepped down once I felt the screams release some of the tension built up in my soul. “If a therapist could hear me or see me right now, they’d think I’d lost my marbles. Maybe I have lost them… Yeah, I’ve definitely lost them,” I sighed. It hurt to watch families talk and laugh together, friends have deep conversations, couples hold hands and look lovingly into each other’s eyes. Would I really have none of that? Ever? I know I had always been a loner, but I still had a sense of hope in my heart to find at least one person I could talk to, one person to share my simple life with. 

I looked across the park and saw a girl under a tree. Her legs were stretched out, the leaves protecting her skin from the bright rays of the sun. Her blonde hair flowed with the wind, but somehow didn’t get in her face. She was intently reading a large novel, about a third of the way through. She looked like she wasn’t moving anytime soon. I wandered closer to her, trying to get a look at the name of the book. When I was about three feet away, hovering awkwardly, she looked up at me. At me. I froze and blinked. A couple of seconds passed, us just staring at each other blankly. 

Then, a smile crept on her face, coyly, “I was wondering if you could see me, ‘I am.'”

Goodbye.

Staying friends with an ex-lover is something Julia always avoided as a matter of principle. In fact, any breakup resulted in her completely exorcising them from her life. Julia preferred closure. A clean cut. A way to move on with her life. But, there’s a first time for everything, right?
 
Why was he different than the rest? Was it the way he looked at her right before their lips touched? Was it the way he ran his hands gently through her hair? Was it the face he made when he was anticipating her laugh at one of his stupid jokes? Was it the way her stomach fluttered when he was around?
 
She couldn’t remember another time when she felt like she was spiraling so out of control in a relationship. With him, she would find herself impatiently waiting to hear back from a text or call. She could spend every possible moment with him, and not get sick of him as per her normal routine in relationships. From the beginning, it was painfully clear that it would end. They were too different, and neither one was ready to fully commit. His first priority was not her, she always felt second to his work. And he was second to her dreams of traveling the world and becoming a photographer.
 
Julia’s mind spun. She had never been one to suppress her emotions, instead always jumping into them fully. It wasn’t her idea to break up, but she did it anyway. The distance between them was simply something that couldn’t be ignored.
 
“Let’s still be friends, Julia.” He had said, one hand on her cheek, his earnest green eyes looking deep into hers. Against all of her will, not to mention better knowledge, she nodded, holding back tears. “Friends,” she agreed. And with that, he withdrew his hand, the cold seeping in between them.
 
It was doomed from the start, but she had let herself fall deeper and deeper, and now had to suffer the consequences. How could he still talk to her as if nothing had changed? The space between them was no longer electrified when they were together. Instead, it felt frozen. It didn’t make sense, how he could flip a switch that quickly and forget all the time they shared together. She couldn’t sleep without dreaming of his arms around her, their bodies pressed together, him kissing her softly. But he acted as if nothing had occurred between them.
 
A few days later, she felt suffocated. He was acting like nothing had changed between them, but she could feel the cold, the change. Her heart ached with want every time she saw him, every time they talked. “I need space. Just a few days,” Julia found herself typing to him, tears rolling down her face. She expected him to come back with witty banter, like he always would, but he seemed to sense something was different this time. “Are you alright?” Julia put the phone down for a second, wiping furiously at the tears that wouldn’t stop falling down. She was anything but alright. She typed back with a light joke, and then sent one word: “Goodbye.”
  
If only that goodbye was the last goodbye. That “space” only lasted a day, to Julia’s dismay. She couldn’t get him out of her mind. She checked her phone obsessively, waiting for his name to pop up on her phone, waiting for something. The day couldn’t go any slower without his stupid jokes that never ceased to make her laugh, without his smile, without him. Everything went on like normal. The minutes still ticked by, the sun rose and set, and life moved on, but Julia felt stagnant. Her heart felt heavy. Normally, she could dismiss her exes without second thought. Why was he different?
 
The next day, she found an excuse to talk to him. The conversation flowed like normal, and it felt right. If she couldn’t be with him, she had to at least talk to him. He still was the only one who knew how to make her laugh when her blood was boiling. The only one who listened and supported her dreams. The only one who’s hugs made everything right in the world. Her heart ached to be in his arms, and to feel his embrace. That may never happen again, but at least they could still be there for each other. There was a first time for everything. They could still be friends. Wanting him would dull eventually; she could handle that pain. But, she couldn’t handle the pure torment that came with the single, final word: Goodbye.