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Life Of Riley

By @Val

Dear Someone

Ana watched from the bay window as her mother dug weeds from the budding tulip bed, a giddy three year old at her heels. Lori Stevens put down her trowel and reached for the child, pulling her close and nuzzling until she dissolved into a fit of giggles. They began a game of chase and Ana could not help but think this scene was exactly as it should be; nothing missing, nothing out of place. That was the surface of it, but beneath the laughter and the sweet smelling tulips, Ana knew there lay the broken reality of the Stevens-Riley household. 

How could someone so miserable possibly look so happy? Ana wrote this question in the open space of her journal. She had written less than four lines since Dr. Baylee gave it to her, and this was already more than she meant to. Ana found the doctor bothersome. He did not pry the way she expected a therapist to, but spent their meetings in near silence, asking only gentle questions of very little importance. This was meant to encourage her, perhaps, but Ana’s distrust of Dr. Baylee had not changed in the two weeks since they met. 

She clicked her pen a few times before closing the journal. There was more she wanted to write. An infinite volley of questions had been firing around in her mind for weeks on end, and Ana had always been fond of writing, but she could not bring herself to put the words to paper. They were too personal, and more so, she did not want to give them physical form. Deep down there existed a childish feeling that if she let her thoughts escape, then they would be given life. Ana preferred to keep them tucked away in the folds of her mind, where no one could prod at them but her alone. This kept them small, she thought, or at the very least, contained. 

Ana watched her mother and sister play for a while longer. She felt sorry for little Sophie, who at three years old had hardly a clue what was going on around her, and at the same time she felt overwhelmingly jealous. Maybe it would be easier to go through this kind of loss if she were only a toddler. Then she could be happy and carefree without the guilt that now accompanied any smile, or laugh, or moment of minor joy. Ana only wished. 

Time felt different while in grief. Three hours later Ana was in Dr. Baylee’s office, sitting in a cushioned chair with only a desk and unwavering stubbornness between her and the strange doctor. Three hours, and somehow this time between the bay window and the office chair felt lost to Ana. She was numb to the passing of time, knowing it only by the prominent few moments that existed in between bouts of hollowness. Were it not for people constantly pulling her out of her thoughts, Ana felt as though she could retreat into them completely and leave time all together. 

Dr. Baylee spoke for the first time since welcoming Ana into his office. She had been there hardly fifteen minutes, but in that time she already began to slip into her thoughts as she always did when left undistracted. She did not hear what Dr. Baylee said, and so he calmly repeated himself. 

“Do you find the journal helpful?” 

Ana nodded. She could have left it at that. Dr. Baylee would not have pressed her any further. Not at this point in their time together, when he knew Ana trusted him just about as much as she would trust a stranger in the street. Still, Ana felt herself speaking as if the words were not under her command but the command of something more instinctual. When she spoke, it was as if the human part of her that required social interaction had been starved. It had been, she realized, as her voice came out hoarse and out of practice. 

“Actually, I haven’t written.” She said. “Haven’t written much, that is.” 

Dr. Baylee did not encourage her, nor did he give any sign of satisfaction in having finally coaxed a real response out of her, but she continued to speak anyway. 

“It’s been hard for me to find something worth writing.” 

Dr. Baylee relaxed in his chair. He laced his fingers together over the small stomach that had clearly developed over his years. “You told me once you were very fond of writing.” 

Ana did not recall telling this about herself. In truth, there was little about their first few meetings that she actually remembered. Of that little, she did remember the journal and the excitement she felt when Dr. Baylee gave it to her. Then of course, the guilt that followed such a joyous emotion. She nodded. “I have been, in the past.”

“But not anymore.” 

“It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just-” Ana stopped herself. She could feel the familiar sinking feeling in her stomach that always came when she thought about it. She shrunk in on herself, trying not to reveal too much of the truth for fear that sharing would breathe life into her nightmares. 

“What is it you used to enjoy about writing?” 

Ana breathed deep. She looked up at Dr. Baylee and thought for the first time that he was only a man and this was only talking. Harmless. “I liked to write stories.” 

He asked what kinds of stories and Ana recounted the little tales of action and adventure that she used to craft when she was younger. She felt herself relax into the memories of poorly written sword fights and uneducated documentations of sea voyages and mighty journeys through mountains and jungles and deserts. She felt light for the first time in weeks, but this was quickly snuffed out and the pit in her stomach returned when she let slip the inspiration for her stories. “My dad always went on adventures.” 

Dr. Baylee knew the cord he had struck. Ana felt that though it was her who brought up her father, it was entirely Dr. Baylee’s doing by some roundabout way. He smiled sympathetically at her, but Ana had already shut down. She would be completely inaccessible to him from this moment on, and he knew it. Dr. Baylee released her with a gentle farewell, wishing her to continue journaling.

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