Easy. Nothing is ever easy for Connor, and nothing will ever be. Easy is wrong. Or so it seems. And so, Connor continues to live his life the way he is used to do it. He goes about his usual routines. He goes to counseling twice a week. He goes to work every day. He takes his medication daily at the same time. He arranges his food by colour, and his socks too. He counts steps from one distance to the next, and he counts the minutes until Thomas will be back sitting on his couch. As much as his head wants to deny it, his heart knows that Thomas is the only one he will ever let in. Thomas is the only one who makes him feel safe when he is breaching his personal space. He doesn’t need to feel embarrassed or ashamed in front of Thomas. Never. Because Thomas always seems to understand.
Something clicked recently. And the realisation that they fit profoundly is etched into Connor’s mind now. And this makes Connor’s thoughts a little less dark and a little lighter. It is a phase and he knows it. But he also knows that he needs to savour it. He needs to savour it or it will be over too soon. Right now, Connor’s mind is light as a feather. Soon it will be dark as a cloud again, but he chooses not to think about it. Running on his treadmill, his black curls bounce up and down with every step he makes. His blue eyes are focused on the filing of his music collection, and in his mind he is counting. He is counting the steps he makes. He is counting his heartbeats. He is making the moment count. Connor runs and runs, but it doesn’t feel like running away for once. It is just exercise. Nothing more. Just exhausting his mind and his body. Easy. He slows down, rubbing his face with his towel, catching his breath. He feels a presence before he sees it. It makes him smile.
“What’s that?” Thomas enters Connor’s fitness room. He has leaned against the door jamb watching the shirtless young man. If he weren’t as tormented. If things were just a little easier. But they aren’t, and he learned to take what Connor is offering.
“Thirty-thousand-two-hundred-seventy-eight seconds since you last touched me.”
Thomas gulps. “You counted?”
Connor smiles. “No, I am not that mental. I did the maths,” he chuckles and reaches for a shirt that is folded in a neat square. Thomas puts his hand over Connor’s. “You are having a good day today.” Connor just nods at Thomas’s statement.
“I am a bird today. Not a cloud,” Connor mumbles. But Thomas understands. He most often does. Living a life between clouds and feathers can be a challenge for Connor and for everyone around him. But today, Connor isn’t afraid. And Thomas isn’t either, because today Connor is a feather and that is all that matters.
Every silence makes Connor aware of the screams building up inside of him. Every moment of numbness reminds him of the many moments of overflowing emotions he experiences on a daily basis. He isn’t leading a life that fits the norm. He can’t. Everything needs to be in a certain order. Filed by colours, or numbers, or memories. No one knows what triggers him. Least of all he himself. Life could be so easy. It really could be. But not for Connor. Few people try to understand Connor and his special needs. Thomas is one of the few. But Thomas himself is not an easy characters. Connor once knew how to handle the man who is currently sitting on his couch. But things happened; life happened, and what little trust that had built between these two was destroyed in the blink of an eye after too many fights. Both men can’t say what happened or when they fell out of love. The fights just got too many to ignore. And the words that were spoken in anger left deep wounds that didn’t heal. As it was, Thomas never gave up on Connor. He tried to let him go, but too many sleepless nights were spent thinking about the man who once owned his heart. In the meantime, Thomas had a girlfriend, but it wasn’t the same. He was not able to give her what Connor had gotten so willingly. After Connor had gone, there had been a void in his life no one could replace. The many routines Connor has and which have driven Thomas mad, were now missing from his life. And Connor; his heart has been bruised, and he recoiled into his own little impenetrable shell. The end of their relationship has been a huge failure for him personally. In his mind, his malfunctioning brain is to blame. It isn’t, Connor knows it rationally, but emotions rule his thinking. Thomas is still silent, sitting on the couch, flipping through the channels on the TV. He doesn’t say a word. It is unsettling. If he just said something. If he just insulted him for what had happened earlier. But no. Silence. Silence is louder than the loudest scream. Uncomfortable.
“Say something,” Connor dares to say at last.
“We should order some food,” Thomas replies. His eyes never leaving the silver screen.
“That is not what I meant, and you know that I can’t order takeout. I can’t eat the food someone else touched.” Connor looks at his naked feet. They feel good when he rubs them on the carpet.
“I am hungry. I am going to order some pizza.”
“Here?” Connor needs Thomas to say yes. He cannot be left on his own. But he also dreads the answer. He cannot have Thomas in his sanctuary. He will disrupt his routines, and he will take space Connor needs for himself.
“Of course. Don’t think that I will leave this place anytime soon after your little stunt.” Thomas sits up straight. Muting the TV, he looks at Connor. He knows better than to try and make eye contact.
“We are not a couple and you are here uninvited.” Connor tries to make a point, but it is as weak as it sounds, and he knows Thomas well enough to know that he won’t leave.
“I don’t give a flying fuck about whether I am invited to be here or not. I will not leave until I know that you are okay.”
“I didn’t mean to kill myself…”
“… And yet you tried,” Thomas cuts Connor off.
“Pizza, I am starving. I’ll sleep on the couch. And now, shut up I want to see this.” Thomas takes his phone out of his pocket and orders food, before he turns his focus back on the TV. “It is okay, you know. Just sit here with me for a while. The world can wait.”
Connor doubts the truth of those words, but somehow, he is willing to find out. Something is different. Something feels weird. He sits next to Thomas on the couch and without over-thinking it, he leans into the other man. He is comfortable feeling Thomas’s heat through their shirts. Safe. The thought scares him. He is too far out of his comfort zone to enjoy it. He is too exhausted to be able to find a way to make this easier for him.
Connor is walking the wire. In his mind he is. On one side, Thomas is holding him, on the other is an abyss. Connor doesn’t dare to move. Neither perspective is one he is comfortable with. But he prefers to be on the safe side. For now. Frozen in place, his mind is blank, too. His mind and his body are vacant. Mechanically, he lifts his arms to be helped into a t-shirt, and other clothes. He barely registers his stomach pains and the urgency to empty its contents into the toilet bowl. Everything is numb. And it is scary. Connor is used to be dominated by thoughts and urges. This nothingness is scary. Every routine that is etched into his brain is followed with determined ease and showing his attention to detail. He moves around Thomas as if he were a piece of furniture. And Thomas doesn’t object. He just watches Connor doing his thing. Connor scrubs the kitchen with various cleaning products, fully focused on his task. In passing, he takes the note he left for Thomas to read, scrunches it up, and throws it into the trash as if it is a used tissue. The more he cleans and files and organises, the calmer he becomes. Following his daily rituals help too. The wire in his head becomes larger and easier to navigate. The abyss is not as deep anymore, and he doesn’t feel the need to be held anymore. However, the emptiness he now feels is new. The void that is spreading in him is a threat he has never felt before. His mind is racing. His heart is too. He feels a new wave of nausea hitting him and he runs to the bathroom. Dying by asphyxiation must be less painful and embarrassing than the stomach cramps he is experiencing after an overdose with different vitamins. Thomas is at his side, holding out a wet towel for Connor to clean his face. He avoids touching him more than absolutely necessary. Thomas stays stoic and silent. His presence is enough to keep Connor from disintegrating. His silence is welcome and comforting. And Connor continues to walk the wire. Slowly. Because the calm is not reassuring. It opens doors for new demons.
Thomas hurries up the steps and reaches for the potted plant in front of Connor’s door. The key is still there. Of course it is. Thomas takes it out of the small plastic container and quietly opens the door. He can hear the water in the bathroom, but nothing else. The apartment is neat and tidy. Everything is arranged in a certain angle and organised by colours. Very Connor. On the coffee table is a note. It would worry Thomas, if he didn’t know the truth. Connor is not dying. He is not successful with killing himself. He can’t be. At least not with the pills that he has in his house and which aren’t fatal in high doses. Thomas knocks at the bathroom door. Connor is sitting on the floor trying to mop up water with wet towels. His movements are frantic and he is constantly sniffling. Tears are on his cheeks. Thomas steps past him and turns off the tap. “Connor, I order you to stop!” he says in a stern voice. He wishes that he could pull Connor in his arms, but that is not how Connor is wired. Connor is different than most people. Special. Connor looks up. There is defiance in his eyes, but he drops the wet towel with a splash and gets up. His clothes are dripping wet. “Strip! Remove the wet clothes.” Another order Connor tries to obey, but the fabric clings to his skin and getting it off is harder than anticipated. Connor exhales audibly when he folds the wet clothes and puts them on the lid of the toilet.
“Why?” he whispers. And Thomas knows that it is time to speak. “I switched all your meds because I was scared this would happen soon. You took vitamins. Nothing dangerous.” Connor shakes his head. “I will always be there to catch you. Even when you push me away. I promise not to hurt you anymore. Here, let me help you.” Thomas takes a fresh towel and reaches is out to Connor. Connor doesn’t take it. “May I?” Thomas asks. He waits for a consenting nod and begins to rub Connor’s skin in soothing circles. “Everything is okay. You are safe,” he whispers. To Connor’s surprise, he believes Thomas. And there are no conflicting thoughts in his mind about it. At least not for now.
But something is not right. Something is very wrong. The water continues to fill the tub. Connor waits to get sleepy, but nothing happens. His head isn’t becoming lighter and his heart rate isn’t slowing down. His clothes are heavy and pasted on his skin. The water splashes on the floor. It doesn’t belong there. The water doesn’t belong on the tiles. This is not right. There is no peace of mind overtaking. Connor’s mind is filled. There must be dust in the living room. And crumbs on the kitchen table. Connor panics. Nothing is right. Nothing is how it was supposed to be. And Connor feels like a failure. Even more distressed than before.
A new day, but the same old compulsive behavior leads Connor’s routines. The book Thomas brought back is still lying on the coffee table. It is still in the same plastic bag. Still at a perfect angle with the table. Connor starts laundry and cleans his small living space before he takes a shower that is meticulously timed. And then, it happens. Out of the blue, Connor feels paralyzed. There is no way back and no way forth. He is frozen in motion. Numb in his mind. Nothing is askew. Everything is alright. Everything but Connor. For the first time, he realizes that there is a world in front of his door that can’t be filed and organized and that is okay. There are people who don’t need him, no matter how much he wants it to need him. His students don’t need him. This life doesn’t need him. This world doesn’t need him. Connor hasn’t thought about self-harm and suicide in a long while. Now he does, and the thoughts scar him. They are liberating too. What if this numbness is okay? What if the world doesn’t stop if he is not there? And he will not know anyway, will he? Connor’s book is still on the coffee table. Thomas’s text is still unanswered. Cars are still honking outside, and the clouds are still heavy with rain. Connor decides to call in sick and go with the flow. Whatever happens, will happen. If it happens to be music, he will play music. If he is inspired to write, he will write. If he needs more sleep, he will sleep. And if he decides not to wake up, then that is okay too.
He begins listening to music:
and finds his red pen to write:
The world doesn’t end without me. Remember me with a smile.
Connor opens a bottle of pills and runs a bath. It doesn’t matter that he just had a shower. Nothing matters. A bottle of water. He turns the bottle so that the label is pointing to the ceiling when he puts it to his lips. The pills have a bitter taste, and he scrunches his nose. But it is okay. He has a goal in his mind. He will take a bath – oh the cliché, and he will become unconscious. He will fall asleep and never wake up. His plan seems safe. But Connor is a thinker. And he knows that he will die of asphyxiation. It will be agony and not romantic at all. His bed isn’t made, and he hasn’t changed the sheets on his bed in two days. There is dust on the mantelpiece and crumbs on the table. Too many things are left undone. Too many things. But he took the pills, and the water is filling the tub.
If I died, would I be worth saving?
Connor pushes send and climbs into the tub. Wearing his clothes. And shoes. Nothing will ever be the same again.
A/N: parts of this chapter came about after reading this blogpost: https://dtwalsh83.wixsite.com/fourcorneredroom/blog/fcr008-a-careworn-heart It made the words easier to flow)
On the treadmill. The rhythmic thump of his feet provides more peace of mind for Connor. Sweat is running down his body in rivulets and is caught in the fibers of his workout clothes. Running. Nothing but running. His eyes are glued to his record collection. It is organized by alphabet. It is time to organize it by color of the cover. Although, it becomes harder to find what you are looking for that way. Maybe organizing it by year of release? But then there is the dilemma with re-releases. Connor keeps running and thinking. Until he stops thinking and just runs. It is as if his body knows exactly what to do and for once, his brain isn’t needed. A euphoric bliss settles like a calming veil over Connor’s heart. Forgotten – or repressed, are today’s events. He slows down and blinks hard a couple of times. He grabs his towel and wipes his face twice before he finally comes to a complete halt. Connor is conscious of every muscle in his body. He hears the blood pumping through his veins, carrying oxygen to every organ. But he feels good. Elated. Positively exhausted.
Breathe in. The sign on the floor in his bedroom reads. Connor obeys and undresses. He folds his clothes and puts them in a hamper. Breathe out; says the sign on the bathroom floor. Again he obeys before he gets in the shower stall. The water rains down on his neck, and he moans. This is relaxing, even more so after his excessive workout. Connor stands motionless until the water begins to turn cold. He washes himself and turns off the tap.
As soon as he is dressed, his mind starts racing again. His internal battle over events he cannot change continues until it is interrupted by a knock at the door. Another knock. Yet another knock, followed by words. “I’m sorry Connor. Don’t open the door, but I brought your book. I cleaned it and put it in a plastic bag. Putting it on the doormat is safe. Really, I am sorry. It was good to see you. You look amazing. Anyway. I’ll leave. I’ll text you later. Goodbye, Connor.” Connor listened to Thomas’s words with his ear pressed against the door that was separating them. Thomas understands Connor’s need for certain things to happen in a certain way. Thomas knows Connor. Too well.
The moment Connor hears the retreating footsteps, he opens the door. Thomas hasn’t lied. The book is in a clear plastic bag. On the doormat. Connor picks it up, and looks left and right, up and down the hallway. No one is there. “Thank you,” he whispers. Connor puts the book on the coffee table and stares at it suspiciously. Nothing happens. He runs a hand through his hair, a new battle taking place in his head. What if he texted Thomas first? He pretends that he deleted the number. And it’s true, he did. But, there are the call logs. And although there is no name with the number anymore, Connor knows exactly whose it is. Quickly, as if the letters are burning his fingers, and the words on the screen are poison for his eyes, he types “Thank you, Thomas”. He turns off the messaging app, mutes the phone and puts it – display facing down – next to the book. His leg begins bouncing up and down. His thumb finds a way to his mouth where his teeth gnaw at the skin and the nail. Off-kilter. This day needs to end.
Thirty-two steps up to his apartment. Turning the key in the lock twice. Calming shaking hands and racing thoughts. Connor enters his sanctuary and pulls his boots off his feet. He puts them where they belong, in their spot by the door. Connor begins touching each finger on his hand with his thumb. Forward and backward. Forward and backward again. Until he feels that he calmed down enough to function again. Yes, that helped. Oh, the embarrassment of having been hit by a ball in the face in public, and falling off a bench like some lunatic who can’t sit upright on his own. The humiliation of seeing Thomas again in this situation. Connor often fantasizes about seeing his ex-lover again. But never in his wildest fantasies has he thought that he would look this weak. In his imagination, he faced Thomas as a made man. In a fancy suit and with his act together. And it is still Connor’s determination to become rich and famous, but he is not there yet. Thomas on the other hand – he looked just as handsome (and evil) as he has always looked. As if the events of the past have not left any dents on his soul and scratches in his mind. The world is a weird place to exist. There is a painting on Connor’s wall. Birds in the sky. Light as a feather, heavy as a cloud. These explosions of emotions leave him drained of energy. And he left his book behind. There is no way to distract himself. There is no way to stop repeating the events in his head. And he can’t start to read a new book. He hasn’t finished the other one. Connor’s face is throbbing and swelling on one side. He wishes that he could cry. But he can’t. There are no tears left in him. They were all cried for someone else. No more tears for himself.
There is a melody in Connor’s thoughts. There is poetry in his mind. Sitting on a bench in a park, he looks like a painting from a different era. Yes, Connor is art. His legs are stretched far from his body, his ankles crossed. A smile is tugging at his lips. From time to time, it is replaced with a frown. Deeply lost in the book, he doesn’t see the ball that is heading right his way. Lost in a world of giants that need to be defeated, and princes who, after slaying dragons, are allowed to marry the king’s daughter… BAM. The round leather collides with Connor’s head, he loses balance, and a laughable shriek escapes his mouth as the full impact of the ball pushes him off the bench. From up close, the grass that is now grazing his cheek has many different shades of green. An observation he stores away for further pondering at a later moment. Internally, Connor courses himself. People are gathering around him, some are pointing their phones in his direction. His cheeks heat with anger and embarrassment, but no tone leaves his lips. In his peripheral vision, he notices red shoes. Red is an angry color. Every color has an emotion for Connor.
“I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” a voice laced with regret and concern whispers. It is followed by a gentle touch on his shoulder. Connor follows the outstretched arm with his eyes, touching a tender spot on his face with his hand. There will be a bruise on his face. Violet and swollen. He gasps when he sees the face of his helper. “It’s not the first time you hurt me. Please, hurt me again.” Brown eyes widen as they connect with Connor’s blue ones and register the words that were said. “It is you.” People are whispering to each other. They are aware of the connection between the two humans in front of them, but how, or why, or when, remains a mystery. Attention spans are reaching an end. Phones are put away. Heads are shaken, and backs are turned. “Connor, I…” Connor lowers his gaze and takes a deep breath. He flinches at the realization that there is still a physical connection between him and his assailant. He tenses at the realization that there is still an emotional connection between him and Thomas. Thomas, who had left him black and bruised before. “No,” Connor whispers to no one in particular, gets his feet back under him and flees the park. He will not be able to ever come back to his favorite spot again. It is soiled with memories. It is soiled with embarrassment. His only regret is that he left his book behind.
Connor is a young man whose locks look best kissed by a storm. The messy mop of dark hair frames a pale face whose highlights are the eyes. His eyes are like ravens in a blue summer’s sky. Girls like his appearance, but not his eccentric mind. Connor is in good shape. It comes from running all the time. But no matter how far he runs, he can never escape his past. Or his thoughts. Or the cloud that travels above his head. Boys like his appearance, but not his weirdness. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t find a way to fit in with his peers. And so, he spends most of his days in his own company. The silence is loud enough to make him feel less lonely. The silence is loud enough to let him lose his mind. He looks at the clouds in the sky. Not for the first time, he wishes to be as light as a raven to leave his place on earth. At night, Connor dreams of flying away, leaving everything behind. At night, Connor’s mind is free. Lost. Never to be found again.