A Short Story: Be Happy

 

Be Happy

I wrote a quick note and posted it by the kitchen light switch.

“Be happy.”

I rolled my eyes as I imagined friends and loved ones puzzling over that choice of last words for years after I was gone. Was I being sincere, like I was commanding them to be happy now that I had rid them of myself? Was it a sardonic tribute to the many times people had told me to just get over my hopelessness and “be happy”? Were my best intentions in mind?

I scoffed. It didn’t matter now. I was halfway down the block and headed for the bus stop.

Nothing mattered anymore.

I stood in the chill autumn air wearing multiple layers to hide me from the cold—and from any familiar faces. I didn’t want to deal with small talk on my way to my predetermined death.

The bus came screeching and rumbling to a halt in front of me and I paid for the ride in cash. No need to give away my whereabouts by using my bus pass.

As I shuffled to the back of the bus and seated myself across from a grizzled, smoky fellow, I shook my head at my unobservant girlfriend for not realizing what was so blatantly obvious to me. I had been pulling away for some time, not just from her, but from life; from this mess we stumble through and pretend we understand or care about.

I smiled despite myself. That had been what had attracted me to her in the first place: the wide-eyed belief that life is sacred and meaningful and joyous. And at first, I had believed her.

“Can’t do nothin’ right,” the old man coughed, distracting me.

But, like all my relationships, it began to fade in grandeur. We moved in together a few months ago in an unspoken attempt to ignite it once again. And I will admit that for a while, seeing her get dressed in the morning and falling asleep together after long work days was more than pleasant. The problem was never her; no. I know that. Not my sweet, vanilla girlfriend.

It was me.

After all, I’m the one with the shadows dancing against my eyelids. The one with dark memories and faithless approach to the future. The one who, despite deceiving my trusting lover into thinking I was going to buy us some ice cream to watch a movie in our apartment, still marveled at her gullibility.

She would be worried when I didn’t come home, true, but I couldn’t get too worked up about it because she’s the type of person that everyone loves. People want to be around her, unlike me. When we get invited to parties, I know deep down that it is for Vicky and guest. She would make it through losing me, easy.

I surprised myself with a sudden, lopsided smile. How did I ever end up with someone named Vicky?

The bus made a sharp turn and the tire connected loudly with a curb. I glanced out the window—the darkness was swallowed completely by advertisements, headlights, street lamps, and store fronts. I recognized the road. If I had borrowed her car, I’d be approaching the grocery store in a matter of blocks.

Something twisted inside me, a rare jolt of emotion after so many weeks and months of pain and anger, always masking it with a smile or a shrug because I had to placate Vicky—protect her from my reality of inexplicable rage and relentless sorrow.

I could rewrite history, take back this choice. Buy the stupid ice cream and go home to my waiting girlfriend. Watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers because, according to her, “It’s a classic.”

He started coughing again, wheezing out, “Nothin’! Nothin’!”

The other passengers and I pretended we couldn’t hear him, but his words pounded in my ears. Nothing. Nothing. I reached for the cord and the buzzer rang out. The bus decelerated violently and I was almost thrown to the floor until I grabbed a handle to steady myself.

In ten minutes I was out by the bus stop again, shivering, a carton of vanilla ice cream cradled in my arms. I cursed myself for moving through self-checkout so fast I forgot a bag.

Soon I found myself climbing into another bus—What’s going on in your head, Alex?—and heading back toward our apartment. My brain ached as I tried to rationalize this behavior. It doesn’t make sense.

Nothing. Nothing. Did I want nothing more than pain and sadness and Vicky?

I shook my head. No, it was never about wanting. It was an escape from an uglier reality—the greater of two evils. And even if everything came down to chemical reactions in my brain, and life and death were never mine to choose, I was headed home now.

I ran up the staircase and opened the door to a delicate squeal.

“You scared me!” she scolded me. “What took you so long?”

“I decided to take the bus and save some gas money,” I said, smiling sheepishly. I amazed myself with my ease at lying to her face.

She walked over and folded me in her arms.

“You’re freezing,” she announced, releasing me and taking the carton from my hand. “Vanilla? You know I like more flavor than that. Something nutty or fruity.”

“Or something a little of both?” I said, smiling.

She laughed at my joke. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Okay, I’m going to go put on pajamas. Will you pop some popcorn?”

“Sure,” I said.

She left the room and I remembered my note by the door.

“Be happy,” it told me.

I pulled it down, crumpled it up.

“I’ll try,” I said.

“What?” Vicky called from the bedroom.

“Nothing.”

The Lampire

The Lampire

“Jacob! You just had to invite Michael, didn’t you?” Avery groaned.

Her best friend, Cami, said, “Why are you complaining? Michael’s hot.”

Avery snorted. “Only if you like tall, dark, and indifferent.”

I poked my head out of the kitchen, a tightly sealed jar of salsa in my hands. My hands were sore from trying to wrench it open. Avery and Cami were kneeling backwards on the couch, staring out the front window.

My little sister had disliked my best friend since the scene he had caused at her fifteenth birthday party. The girls at the sleepover had never been the same since that night.

“He won’t do anything tonight,” I assured her as the doorbell rang. Under my breath I added, “I hope.”

I opened the door and was met with Michael’s pale face, partially covered by his stringy blonde hair. He wore all black, as usual.

“Hey, man,” I said, moving aside so he could step in.

“Salsa jar,” he murmured.

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Here, could you—”

Michael took the jar and popped off the lid like it was easy as anything, sighing contentedly. He started walking past me, but I grabbed his arm.

“Michael,” I said, “Avery is worried that you’ll, well, do your thing tonight. You remember last time.”

He stared at me with his black eyes.

“You know I can’t control the urges,” he said in his soft, grating voice.

I fought my own urge to roll my eyes. I said,

“Okay, well, could you at least avoid doing it in the main party rooms? I don’t want to freak anyone else out.”

Michael walked toward the kitchen and called over his shoulder, “Sure. Sure, man.”

I followed behind him, only half convinced.

That was the trouble of having one of the Dark Ones for your best friend: never knowing when your parties were going to turn into a horror story.

* * *

It happened a few minutes before midnight, while we were all watching Twilight—not for the plot, mind you, but for the joy of making fun of the acting. In this way, Twilight is one of my favorite movies.

The party had gone well—five of my friends had come, plus four of Avery’s. Mom and Dad had gone to bed at eleven, having reached their limit for babysitting.

I was seconds away from putting my arm around Joyce, the girl I’d had a crush on since we’d met at a concert last summer. We’d been sitting next to each other on the couch for the last twenty minutes, which had been torturous for me. My original plan had been to hold her hand, but my hands had grown so sweaty I decided it would do more harm than good. Thus I had settled on putting my arm around her, though only after multiple armpit-smelling tests.

This was the moment. I shifted my arm slightly, and Joyce stood up and walked toward the bathroom, stepping around people lounging on love sacks and pillows on the carpeted floor.

I sighed in frustration and had turned my gaze back to the movie just as I heard her call,

“Jacob, the lights aren’t working in the bathroom!”

My stomach dropped into my ankles.

Michael.

“Coming!” I called. I passed by Avery cuddling with her current boy-toy on a love sack. I grabbed her arm and whispered, “Find Michael!”

She groaned and slipped away from the cuddle fest. I watched her run to the basement and then went to meet Joyce in the bathroom.

“Bulbs must be out or something,” I said, knowing I was wrong. I reached up and tightened the lightbulbs in their sockets. Light suddenly blinded me, creating brown spots in my vision.

“Hey! Nice detective work!” she laughed. I shrugged and gave a false laugh as she closed the door, leaving me in the hallway with the terror of having a loose Lampire in my house.

“Michael?” I called, flicking on all the bedroom light switches as I glanced in. I had to find him before something bad happened—something bad like Avery’s sleepover.

With sudden inspiration, I ran outside and was rewarded: I found him on our darkened back porch—dark until I screwed the lightbulb in. The porch was flooded with golden light, causing Michael to flinch.

“Sorry, Jake,” was all he said. He sounded low.

I sighed. It was hard to stay mad at Michael for too long. At least I’d found him before he’d done any real damage.

I sat down with him on the porch, staring into the shadows in the corners of the yard.

“Look, Michael, I know you didn’t ask for this life,” I said.

“It’s not all bad,” he said quietly. “Superhuman strength. Twenty-ten vision. Devilishly good looks. But…”

“I know,” I said. “The urges are sometimes problematic.”

“I just have to unscrew lightbulbs,” he moaned. “It’s fine until I’m at the dentist and his hand slips during what he thinks is a blackout, jamming a screw into my tongue. Or until I’m playing videogames with you during your sister’s sleepover and suddenly all the girls and screaming and running around in the dark.” He pressed his fists into his eyes.

“It’s okay,” I said. “That one girl eventually found the tooth she broke off on the banister. It’s back in and no one remembers it ever happened.”

“Avery remembers. You remember.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know why you care what she thinks,” I said.

He looked at me, his black eyes burning. “Once I get her forgiveness,” he said, “I’ll be convinced I’m not as monstrous as I feel.”

I stood up. “Well, don’t hold your breath, dude.”

He stood up, too, stretching his arms.

I paused at the doorway. “By the way, did you put out any more lights than the bathroom and porch?”

He groaned and buried his face in his hands.

I blew out one long sigh. It was going to be a long night if my friends tried to turn on the lights before I could go around and screw them in. The lightbulbs, that is.

“I’ll take care of it,” I said.

“Think I’ll head home,” Michael said. “Or maybe I’ll go to a nice RC Willey and work on the lighting there.”

“Sounds cool, man. See you at school.”

I closed the door and watched Michael disappear into the shadows of the backyard. He may have been one of the literal Dark Ones, but was still the best friend I’d ever had.

Avery walked up behind me and stared out the window, too.

“Michael left?” she asked.

“Yes, you can now party in peace,” I said. “I’ve got to go scour the house for loose bulbs. Want to help?”

She shrugged. “Sure. It’s not like I was having any fun watching Twilight. Who wants to hear about bloodsucking vampires nowadays? I much prefer the ones that mess with the status quo.”

Avery smiled at me before disappearing into the living room.

I stood with my eyes wide. Michael would definitely be hearing about this development on Monday.

I’d like to give credit to my little sister. She encouraged me to write this story, which was based on a misunderstanding.

I Killed Myself: Here’s What Happened Next (4/4)

I visited all my loved ones in their dreams before I left. I held them and we spoke for hours. But when they woke up, they never remembered a word; though, a couple had a faint idea that they had dreamed about me. Every person told me the same thing, the thing I had never understood in life. It was true that I wasn’t the most important person in their world. But what they had never realized, what I forced them to realize, was that the tiny things I gave them had made their world better. More whole. And they missed me. And how could I have done that to them, to myself?

Then came the day I knew I was leaving earth for a long time. As the cosmos swirled around and within me, I realized with an ache deeper in my soul than I knew was possible that I had killed myself. I would never be able to kiss Aidan, something so simple that it was almost embarrassing to admit I had been waiting years for it. I realized I would never leave the country. I would never see a sister get married. I would never bury a parent or grandparent. I would never fall asleep under the stars again. For all I knew, I would become the stars.

It was terrible to think of, true. But even worse than all the things I would never be able to do, I thought of all the pain I had caused my loved ones. I finally had to accept that they loved me and had wanted to keep me around. I had to accept that I had wronged them, but they would move on. But I had wronged myself, too. Unfortunately, my consequence was more permanent than I realized. Surely, the one basic instinct man has cultivated for all these millennia is the one that tells us to survive. Now I finally understood why.

And so I said goodbye to the home I had come to know and left my mark on, a mark I could never change or take back. Because it was too late. Because I killed myself.

I tell you my story because I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did.

I Killed Myself: Here’s What Happened Next (3/4)

I don’t know why, but after a few months of watching those I loved suffer, I started to feel guilty. It was a terrible emotion, especially since I and those who knew me best knew that I hadn’t seen another option. It was do or die, and by October first, doing was no longer within my abilities.

After the guilt came pain with the realization of the lives I could have touched if I hadn’t killed myself. I saw them like lightning flashes in my mind. First there was an obstetrician who would have helped me with my first pregnancy. She would have liked to talk to me on the day her husband left her. And then there was a professor my senior year; he needed to be reminded of his late daughter when he saw my smile, my laughing eyes. It amazed me, but there were thousands of these flashes, like forward reaching memories. But these people would never get their beautiful moment. Because I killed myself.

And while I felt my soul being slowly pulled away from earth about a year after I killed myself, I couldn’t help but think that Heaven wouldn’t have the lake my family visited every summer. It wouldn’t have the laughter of my dear friend Ariana. It wouldn’t have readers with whom I could share my writing and make the world better. And I really started doubting my choice—no, my action. It still didn’t feel like it had been a choice.

Just a few days before I left the earth in a more permanent way, I realized that the pictures I had drawn for my grandma were quite old. She would never get another one. All my life I had been making pictures for her to hang on the fridge, almost like a scrapbook of my life and my drawing ability. And they were insignificant, really, in the great scheme of things. But I had never realized until I killed myself that she liked to look at them on days it seemed like winter was suffocating her. For years now, my pictures had brought her an occasional smile, and she would never have another one again.

I Killed Myself: Here’s What Happened Next (2/4)

Today someone asked me if I was okay. Wait–is it not okay to eat lunch alone between bookshelves in the downstairs of a library? Out loud I said, “Yeah, I am. You?” I know he was trying to be kind, but that question has plagued me for too many years, and I’m tired of it. Anyway, here’s the second of four parts of a short story I wrote about what could happen after I killed myself.

At the viewing my five-year-old friend Kimmy couldn’t understand why I looked so stiff and horrible. She realized for the first time that death is not quite like sleeping after all. My aunt Deborah felt her eyes prick when she noticed the acne under my heavy makeup. I was still a child, really.

My closest non-LDS friend, Daniel, didn’t attend the viewing or the funeral. He never heard the uplifting hymns about resurrection and was never able to fully share his grief with anyone. It seemed he shut down a bit after I killed myself. Like maybe some part of him had decided life was different than how he understood it before. I saw him the next autumn though, at my gravestone. I didn’t understand why, but he dumped a pile of crumpled papers at its base as tears fell down his face and off his nose.

The people I loved moved on, as I had mostly expected them to. My older siblings were very upset, but they continued with life. My brother had a baby the next year in October, and her middle name was Ellen, like mine. My little sister became more jaded and sarcastic, like I did when I lost my best friend junior year.

Some people never found out what happened, like my university classmates. For the first few weeks after I killed myself, they glanced at my empty seat and wondered if I had dropped the class. The mailwoman who had delivered my biweekly letters to Aidan started to wonder what had happened to the girl with the prettily decorated envelopes.

Most people didn’t remember me right. They thought I was shorter than I had been. Depending on who you asked, I had blue, gray, or hazel eyes. Some were convinced I had enjoyed bands I’d never heard of, or that my favorite color was purple.

But those were the lucky ones. For many months, the people who had known me intimately and loved me anyway saw me every time they closed their eyes. My face was a matched set with too many strangers to be fair. I was like a headache that wouldn’t subside. Even those who had the Gospel, who knew I was in an okay place and would see them again, felt the strain. So many of them felt responsible for me killing myself.

I Killed Myself: Here’s What Happened Next (1/4)

Hey, Readers.

Obviously I didn’t kill myself–yikes! But I’m trying something kind of different this week/weekend. I wrote a short story and I’m going to post it on here for the next few days (Wednesday to Saturday). This is one version of what would happen if I killed myself. It’s supposed to be kind of weird and arty so just go with it. Also, all the people included are real, but I’ve changed their names.

I killed myself on October first. My cousin Michael found me in the upstairs bathroom. At first all he could remember was the next door neighbor shaking him and yelling for him to stop screaming. The neighbor called an ambulance and then my aunt and uncle, who rushed home from work. Then the neighbor went home to take care of her kids. My aunt called my mother after the ambulance left the side of the road. My father was at work in the city. My mother left my little sister, a junior in high school, with my grandmother, and they drove to the hospital to see me. Some kind of closure, I think.

My aunt was consumed with guilt that she let me take the bus home early that day, instead of giving me a ride. My two cousins, Michael and Brittany, stayed at home with my uncle that night. Brittany’s face grew raw from crying, from wiping away the snot and tears. Michael didn’t say anything. The next day they wore church clothes to school to honor me.

They weren’t the only ones. All of my cousins and also some old school friends who read about it on Facebook wore church clothes to school or work the next day. All of them except for Carolyn, because she doesn’t grieve that way anymore. She didn’t go to work or do much of anything.

Michael found me around two-thirty that afternoon but I had been lying in the bathtub since one. For once there had been no tears in my eyes. Weeks after it happened, he looked back in surprise that I did it in a T-shirt and gym shorts, especially when the day had been so cold and windy. He sees a counselor now, not the one I was seeing, but someone more specialized for trauma.

My parents assigned my grandmother to tell everyone in the family, anyone who cared. They were busy with funeral arrangements. Family, friends, and ward members leant financial support, but because my death was intentional, insurance wasn’t an option. It was strange to me: they acted like the money wasn’t a big deal, but I knew it was.

They contacted a few friends’ parents; most of my friends were serving LDS missions. I guess they called their children and told them the news. All I know is that a few weeks later, one of my closest friends, Aidan, was honorably released from his mission for medical reasons. But I guess that isn’t all I know. I know he doesn’t talk to people much—even less than he used to. But his piano playing has improved as of late.