There was something about summer that made Jude’s skin crawl.
He had been dreading its approach since January. The anxiety that seemed to gnaw at his brain during those unbearably hot days would send him into a horrible tailspin that lasted for months.
Summer meant the sweltering heat of July, it meant existing through days that lasted too long. Just the thought of it made him want to climb out of his body. He thought the sun was somehow plotting to melt the skin right off his face. He hated the sensation of sweat rolling down the back of his neck, the sides of his face, soaking through his cotton button-down. That suffocating rush of hot air hitting his face as the subway zooms past him as he waits for his train.
You’re too sensitive. Get over yourself. The little annoying voice in the back of his head whispers as he stands shoulder to shoulder with another stranger, who’s talking far too loudly on his phone as the subway pulls away. Jude’s ride home was twenty minutes long. He decides that’s twenty minutes of having to listen to this guy argue with his wife, so he pulls his iPod out of the pocket of his satchel and loosens his tie.
The day fades slowly and so does Jude. As he follows the afternoon shadows home to an empty apartment. His shoulders far too hunched for someone who was barely twenty-three. His ears are ringing slightly, it’s so quiet in this part of town. He supposed this was where the city came to sleep at night. When the disorientation fades and the alcohol and drugs filter out of the blood of those who live for the night, this was where their night ended.
Jude retraces his steps like clockwork. Stopping at the same small cafe, smiling at the girl behind the cash register and still not realizing she puts extra cream in his iced coffee. Jude doesn’t see the hint of sadness in her eyes whenever he brushes off a simple greeting or the slight brush of skin whenever she hands over his change. Repetition and maybe cruel indifference were Jude’s best friends.
It was like living in a circle; seeing the same faces, wearing the same suit every day, watching re-runs of a sitcom he doesn’t like, drinking the same brand of beer so often it’s his substitute for water. Life was nothing but a huge unforgiving circle.
And the world was nothing but a hazy image; he saw only faded shapes, no features, no details. He was looking at everything through a foggy glass window. He was the lonely spectator, trapped by the glass, watching helplessly as the days grew longer and the glass grew thicker. He could only stand there, hidden, as the world rushed by ceaselessly. It was a never-ending wave of blank faces rushing through the days in a flurry of motion blurs. It never occurred to him that he might be depressed, that maybe the world was telling him he was too sad to function. Jude was too busy trying see past his grief, past his foggy window.
Jude is on his balcony. He can see the black silhouettes of skyscrapers before him merge into the horizon, making the scene look like a bizarre oil painting, bleeding shades of orange and violet onto the pavement below. He can almost taste the dying sun rays as they splash across his face, with sickening warmth, they are bitter on his tongue.
Summer was not the same. It didn’t bring him joy like it did when he was younger, it didn’t make his heart beat as fast as it should. It didn’t welcome dragon flies into his room and the sun no longer stretched its hand into his window to wake him up anymore. And it wasn’t because he left his hometown, it wasn’t because he decided to cleanse himself of anything that reminded him of his last year of high school.
Summer used to be the sound of splashing water, learning not to yell while teaching Anya how to swim. Summer was feeling the sun’s pleasant heat on his face, the sound of her nervous laughter, an unusually cool hand on Jude’s sunburnt neck — the hand that would send currents of excitement tinged with uncertainty coursing right down to his toes.
It was hot days that melted into cool nights on the beach, lying under the stars, brushing shoulders, making up constellations and naming them after each other. Tracing patterns onto her cheek and smiling in amazement as his fingers left behind trails of blush. He had unknowingly lived his entire life within those two months, breathing as if his next breath would be ripped from his lungs. But in one twist of fate things went terribly wrong and summer decided to turn on him; melting his memories of cool breezes and ocean waves into sad little puddles. He could see only his tortured hollow expression reflected on the surface, his crooked smile painfully out of place, his eyes moist as he wonders why he just couldn’t stop crying.
The sun vanishes and the night consumes him, the memory sinks back into his stomach, hot and painful.
Intricately weaved thoughts lace Jude’s mind but he can’t seem to hold onto the one’s he cherishes the most. They keep slipping out of his fingers like whiffs of smoke — like grains of the golden sand Anya used to brush out of his hair whenever they played on the beach.
“Where did summer go? When did I lose it?” he asks himself.
His summer had turned into long days in a cubicle under an air conditioner that never seemed to make him cool enough, nights in bed fighting the urge to throw himself off his balcony. Finding himself at the rail bent over like an old man, staring at the pavement below wondering how long it would take for his body to slam onto the concrete.
Jude thinks it’s sad how past events can scar someone so badly that the mere thought of it is enough to bring him crashing to his knees pleading with some unknown ghost to leave him the hell alone. Wondering how many glasses of vodka it would take for him to be brave enough to stick a knife in his chest, to dig out his heart, to burn it and ask, why?
Why did it have to get so excited whenever she was near? Whenever she smiled, or laughed. Jude refuses to accept that summer never left him in the first place — someone else did.
He couldn’t subject himself to the torture of all his old memories — he wasn’t in the mood tonight. Tonight, he decided he was tired. Jude retreats to his bedroom and collapses onto his bed. With his limbs hanging off the sides and still fully clothed he loses himself in a restless sleep, too tired to get comfortable.
Suddenly, he’s in someone else’s house, in a hallway, slowly making his way to a closed door. All he can see are slivers of light leaking out from the creases in the door frame.
He’s frozen in place, waiting, he didn’t know why but he knew he had to. Time stood on its toes for several moments and Jude crumbles to his knees as a voice crawls between the floorboards and wraps Jude in its arms. The voice is faint, Jude suddenly knows why he’s here — this isn’t a dream, but a memory — fresh and excruciating.
“I’m sorry if I smothered you, I’m sorry my hands couldn’t hold you the right way. I’m sorry these bones are far too frail to make room for someone else. I’m a wasted fool, trapped in a body that cannot hold you or love you.” Her voice is haunting as she sings.
Jude’s breathing halts as he realizes who the voice belongs to. He reaches for the doorknob, he desperately wants to open the door keeping him apart from the person on the other side but he can’t move. So he sits there, crying as the voice grows fainter. Jude can feel himself drifting out of sleep with the voice quietly singing the words,
“You are far away from me now, miles upon miles stretching into the distance.”
Jude didn’t remember falling asleep but he remembers the voice as it echoes around in his head. He’s on his back watching the ceiling fan spin.
There is a picture frame on Jude’s desk in his room — there is nothing in it. And in his hand there is a crumpled photograph of a person with eyes as round as sand dollars.
The person in the photograph was long dead, nothing but a memory tied to a man’s aching heart. Jude has been diagnosed as clinically depressed but he tells no one. I’m not crazy, he tells himself everyday as he brushes his teeth, when he laces his shoes, whenever he fills his prescription for antidepressants at the pharmacy down the street. He doesn’t tell anyone that he’s terribly afraid of the dark or that he drinks vodka every Saturday night at a bar until he passes out in some stranger’s arms or the fact that there’s always a new bruise on Sunday morning. How do you tell someone that you were slowly coming apart at the seams? That you can feel the weight of the sky crushing you day by day?
“You have to tell your parents Jude. They have to know.” The company psychiatrist urges him one day after two months worth of counselling sessions. She was nice enough to talk to, Jude thought, until she asked about his love life.
“I can’t.” Jude fidgets in his chair, suddenly he wanted to leave, he wanted to runaway before she got to the heart of his pain.
“Jude, you’re sick. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. The more people you let into your life the more likely you’ll get the right amount of support. Stop bottling everything up.” She’s leaning back in her swivel chair peering at him over her glasses.
“Is there a someone you love? ”
“No, there’s no one.” Jude says abruptly hoping she’d drop the topic. He realizes his hands are balled into fists at his sides and he’s biting on the inside of his jaw, he can taste blood. “Please. Can’t you just give something stronger that’ll make me better? Something that can put me to sleep, a deep sleep, a dreamless sleep.” He relaxes his shoulders and slumps into his chair, feeling his muscles unwind.
“Jude,” she says in a low patronizing voice, “you know I can’t do that.”
Jude was mourning the loss of someone who felt dying was nothing too be afraid of, that death was nothing but a door that led to another life. He was reduced to nothing but the pain he carried, existing through the days like a soulless body. And if anyone were to peel his skin away they’d find nothing but regret, fresh, bleeding like a wound that can never heal.
The sound of waves, the rough sensation of walking with sand between his shoes, the warm weight of another hand in his, they are all his ghosts now. Ghosts of a life he can never live. Summer was now a time for Jude’s old demons to visit, a time for his past to come back and strangle him in the night.