Broken (short story)
Warning: sensitive content including suicidal thoughts
Winter always makes me think about death.
Outside, it’s snowing. Children are shouting and screeching, throwing fistfuls of snow, crafting ugly, lop-sided snowmen.
My childhood wasn’t like that. I don’t see beauty in snow. I see the frozen fox; glazed, lifeless eyes staring up at the grey sky. Trees bare and shivering in the wind. Streets turned to treacherous ice-rinks. A world bleached of colour and light, as blank and lonely as the single piece of crisp white paper in front of me.
My hand aches. The pen trembles. I have been trying to find the right words for hours. Something satisfying, poignant, maybe a touch of dry humour. Something me.
These will be the last words I will ever communicate to anyone. They have to mean something. Explain why. I know it won’t make sense.
My name is Alex Martin. I’m twenty-five. On the second year of my PhD in physics. I have a girlfriend. We’ve been together for six months. I have a small, but close-knit, group of friends. I’m a brown belt in kickboxing. I am a successful man.
I am also the world’s greatest con-artist.
The truth is I am failing my PhD. My brain is whirring, spinning, desperately trying to keep up with everything I don’t understand. I am drowning under papers and deadlines. Soon, they’ll realise they made a mistake. I’m nowhere near as clever as they think I am. I’m about to become everyone’s biggest disappointment.
I’m too scared to talk to my girlfriend, or friends. They would laugh at me. Tell me to snap out of it. If I told them how I really felt, they would never believe me. So good is the lie I have created for myself. Even if they did, I would only be a burden. I already am. My girlfriend is too good for me. That’s the simple truth. Too good looking. Too patient. Too kind. The qualities she admires - my sense of humour, my confidence, my intellect – they don’t exist. She wouldn’t like the real me. The idiot who has panic attacks about going to the pub. The failure who can’t even get out of bed some days. I will never be good enough for her. For anybody.
I’ve never played in the snow. My parents were too busy screaming at each other to spend any time with me. I didn’t have any friends. I was the scrawny loner, arms laden with books, who was held down and punched. Red staining and spreading in the snow. Library books torn and trashed. The closest I ever came to having a bike was when a boy ran his over me.
I walked home, shoes and clothes filled with snow. Wet and cold. Face throbbing. Tears stinging my cheeks. I think something died in me that day; the hope of ever being accepted, ever being adequate. I was different. I was wrong. Not up to the standard of everybody else, I was singled out and punished. I told my parents nothing. I didn’t want them to know I had failed to fit in. Didn’t want to let them down.
I wonder if bullies ever think about, can even comprehend, the damage they cause. Not just broken nose, broken ribs. I mean deep soul trauma. Two decades after, whenever I fail, even at the smallest thing, I feel like that little boy being pummelled in to the snow. I feel the pain, the cold, the terror of being utterly alone and defenceless. I see the sneering faces. My head is filled with their voices and laughter. My eyes fill with tears and I wonder: why am I so unlucky? I cannot forget. I cannot forgive myself for being unable to forget, for letting it shape me in to this.
I upset my girlfriend when I pull away. She wants to make love to a man. A strong, confident man. I don’t feel like a man. I feel like nothing. I can’t find comfort in her arms. I am unable to believe the loving words she whispers. I am broken. Unlovable. I wish I could connect to another human being, but there is a wall between me and her, between me and the rest of the world. I can’t bear to bear my soul, lest it gets beaten and bruised. I am frightened of losing another piece of it. My heart is not whole; a million holes were punched in it, it has been kicked in to a bloody pulp. My heart is not good enough to give to anybody.
When she asks me to reach out and trust her, I close up. I feel like that scared little boy again. I wonder when and how she is going to hurt me.
I light a cigarette. Inhale. Exhale. Smoke floats lazily through the room, twisting, curling, knotting. I imagine pieces of my body blown along in the breeze. Skin loosened from its husk, gently floating away. I imagine my soul leaving my body, slowly spreading and thinning, eventually becoming part of the world. Eventually being at peace.
I wonder if I’d be on the news, in the papers. Would those who tormented me recognise my face, and remember what they had done? Would they ever make the connection that their callousness, their cruel words and actions, had caused this? That they have murdered another human being.
Who would remember me? I have never amounted to anything, haven’t left a single mark on this world. Would my death inspire a single tear?
My mind is filled with voices. They say it is better to die. I don’t want to live like this. It hurts too much.
The note takes me two hours to write. I cried while writing it, staining it with tears. The ink runs in places, but it is still legible. I sign off with goodbye, I am done, and I am flooded with relief. I feel as close to peaceful as I have ever been.
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Georgie Bull is a freelance writer and published author living in Worcester, England.
Author: Georgie Bull
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