Not my usual blog post.
I created this short story (allegory?) while grieving. Writing it and sketching the images helped my feelings sort themselves rather than my letting them overwhelm me. I share it now in hopes of giving a little light to someone else who's huddled at the bottom at the well. You're not alone.
Please share with someone else who may need some comfort, if you'd like.
The castle in my head holds all the doings and furniture that keep me going: laboratories; nurseries for new ideas; data rooms and server space (it’s a very modern castle). I even keep a boiler room for power (not that modern), although I don’t visit there often.
Feelings have rooms in the castle, large, spacious rooms with tall doors and wide windows. Love has claimed several apartments. Love’s a quiet guest, but it doesn’t keep to itself. Its belongings spill out into the hallway and onto the landing. Anyone who walks through Love’s guest rooms tracks bright footprints all down the corridor.
Joy always claims rooms near Love. It mostly makes itself known by the song of its molten-golden bells, and by how bright that section of the castle glows. (It’s never really night in Joy’s parts of the castle.)
Anger takes up residence sometimes, too, and I try to give it rooms with sturdy doors. When it leaks on the castle staff it tends to gum up the works, and it makes the other guests uncomfortable. But the doors to Anger’s rooms always open easily. They’re never locked. That way, I can go in and visit with Anger, which I only learned to do in recent years.
When I visit Anger, I usually sit with it for a time. Sometimes it growls and mumbles to itself, pulsing in a red mass in the center of the room. (It’s always red, as though it lacks imagination.) Other times we chat, and it tells me everything that’s wrong with its world.
When I have the size and shape of the Anger in the room, I walk around to see it from different angles. I pick it up to look underneath. I poke at its crust. And once I understand its character, I dismantle it, bit by bit. I take off a piece and let it dissipate, and then another piece, and another - until the room is clear and empty, and ready for the next guest.
I’ve been looking for Grief in all the rooms I know about. I know it’s come to call, because I’ve been ambushed by its comments in large, unmistakable print on rudely-colored posters all over the castle. But it’s nowhere to be found (I even checked the boiler room). It’s not that the castle is full. I’ve never finished counting all the rooms, but there are plenty available.
I’ve noticed that when I’ve dismantled Anger lately, though, my hands have been clumsy, and I can’t quite see its outlines. Joy’s bells have sounded tinny to my ears. Love’s gleam looks hazy and muted. The air in the castle tastes treacly, and I lose breath walking up the steps. I have to rest on the landing for a long time afterwards, collecting the coattails of my strength around me.
And that’s when I realized that Grief isn’t like the other guests. It hasn’t taken up a room because it’s taken all of them. In every hallway, cabinet, cupboard, closet, attic, and basement, Grief has seeped into the cracks and open spaces to fill the entire castle. It’s the atmosphere I’ve been breathing, and the fog I’ve tried to look through. It’s clogged my ears and my eyes, and clotted my chest and mouth when I’m trying to form words. It’s loaded greedy sub-routines to my data servers and sucked heat from the boiler room.
What’s worse are the invisible eddies of Grief that sulk in corridors or corners. I’ve walked into them unawares when I was on my way to other things. Suddenly, I’m paralyzed and suffocating, blind and deaf under a fog of lead and ash and blistering pellets. I rock and I ache and I scream. But I persist.
Once the Grief dispels from that corner or corridor, my head burns and eyes ache, and new bruises purple where my elbows hit the floor (several times if there were stairs). My joints unlock, and my jaw loosens. I have to gather the shards of myself and suck in cleaner air. I have to clamber to my feet and shuffle on.
I’ve taken to sitting in the castle’s inner courtyard. The soft sun rests here, and the grass smells gentle. At night, I curl up on the bench and listen to the insects calling to the flowers. From time to time a gust washes Grief over me, but the ground is softer than the castle floors, and I don’t have to worry about stairs. Sometimes I putter in the castle garden, because the plants don’t care about clumsy hands. But mostly I just sit while the oaks and finches plan their days.
Every morning and most evenings, Love sees me out its window and calls down, reminding me to come inside. I oblige because it’s Love, and doesn’t understand how I’m resigned to meeting Grief outside its doors. It wants to wrap me in protection and remind me of Joy right down the passageway. I can’t tell it how dim it glows and how shrill Joy rings. I can’t explain that sub-routines have hijacked the castle’s processes. So I say nothing, and try to run the kitchen and manage the staff and shamble on familiar pathways until Love seems satisfied. Then I can quietly pass out the gate and back into the courtyard.
I don’t know how long I’ll seek out my courtyard. I don’t remember what clean air tastes like, or what color the walls should be under Grief’s rude posters. I’m not sure when I’ll be up to climbing all those stairs. The nurseries and labs have taken a holiday, and I’m reluctant to call them home. The castle staff can keep the castle exterior spruced, so maybe I won’t be too much missed by the world.
Out here, the birds and trees are undemanding as I sit. The poppies don’t object to my puttering, but I amuse myself that their heads bob in delight. I sometimes wonder if Grief will take its posters down before it goes, but then waiting rinses even the wondering away.
I know Love will call down soon. And I know that I’ll collect my fragments and oblige, because it’s Love and it wants my footprints to glow. For now I’ll sit, and I’ll be. And I’ll persist.
Impatience met me at the garden gate today. Irritation crowded its heels. I’d just entered the chilly shadow of the castle’s high walls, drained from dodging Grief’s eddies. (I’ve learned to glimpse its footsteps in the grass, if I look sideways from the corners of my eyes.)
Impatience and Irritation have left their rooms more often these days. They surprise me at odd moments. I’m not used to all my guests wandering the castle so freely. I’m disconcerted to come upon them in the hallways instead of snug in their familiar spaces.
I wonder if Grief hasn’t been crowding them out of their rooms and into the corridors. Then I find myself sympathizing with Impatience, at least, and find I can’t blame Irritation much, either. Of all my guests, Grief seems the least considerate.
But as I continued up the stairways, my thoughts drifted back to my morning in the courtyard. I’d noticed new sprigs of grass in a shadowed corner while I was dodging Grief’s eddies. I don’t know whether sunlight has brushed that place when I wasn’t looking, or if it’s some new grass that thrives in shadows. Perhaps it’s always grown there, and I’m the one who’s new to that patch of soil.
I welcomed the new(ish?) grass to the garden, in case my welcome might matter. I tell myself it’s unlikely to hurt, anyway. And Love seems to care where I wander and when I sit, so perhaps my fancy isn’t so far-fetched.
So after a time in that shadow with the tips of grass, I walked back to the garden. I opened my arms and gave the sunlight welcome. For that time, at least, Grief shied away. I sat in stillness.
Anger waylaid me in the hallway this morning, far from its rooms in a seldom-used part of the castle. It boiled out of the walls without warning to release a steamy scud of complaints. I didn’t have time to observe or dismantle it, only duck and endure the spray.
After Anger blew itself off, the corridor dripped wetly. Grief’s posters wept rude tear tracks as the colors ran. I fled to the courtyard.
Love crept up on me there. It whispered through the grass, sounding very much like Grief’s wanderings (I’ve learned to hear its footpads if I listen to the edges of the sound). But Love crept up and touched my hand with its face. It sidled past my bench and casually, so casually, it curled itself across my lap. There Love rested, drinking sunlight. Its breath purred a counter tune to the finches.
It was then I saw that Love had donned an ornamental collar. Gratitude had left it for me, what seemed ages ago. I watched the gems wink in the sun and waltz rainbows on my chest. My hair and clothing lost their angry dampness as the colors swayed. The oaks sighed in time to the music.
I realized that Grief must have taken Anger’s rooms while Anger was out last night. Anger had been forced to roam and surprise me in the hallways. My guests roam at will, it seems. The staff may need my help in managing their disorder.
I let the song play out, and went inside.
I took down Grief’s posters today, rolling the comments into a neat stack on the library shelves. Their edges crumbled in dusty trails of color as I slid them into place. The colors heaped and pooled as I swept the debris into the bin. I hope no one will notice how naked and vulnerable the walls look now.
It took longer to scrub the dried rivulets of Grief’s rude tear tracks. The floors, too, hold stained puddles that layer the halls’ shadows. The staff has rubbed out the heaviest blots. They’ve rolled deep carpets over other smudges, but the stones can’t be unstained.
I’ll tell the world these leftovers are the decorator’s idea of character marks, should anyone remark.
The new carpets in the hall have proven more than simply decorative. I’ve been readier for Grief’s ambush with a softer place to fall. And I can glimpse its footsteps in the pile, and hear the whisper of its approach.
I’m considering carpeting all the rooms and the entrance hall. But I suspect carpet in the entrance might be too extreme for the staff’s sensibilities. Besides, Grief dodges when the world comes by. The entrance hall remains surprisingly unstained by the remnants of its posters.
Love brought in roses from the garden yesterday. I know because their fragrance has filled its corridors. I tried to remember if I’ve seen roses in Love’s rooms before, but memory hovers indistinctly. Perhaps I thought Love just smelled that way, before I knew the garden.
I thought I glimpsed Grief bob in time to the oak’s melody yesterday. The high shadows were retreating from the kitchen garden, and Grief was just then brushing through the dancing stems. I watched sideways to see if Grief would chance a caper or tiny pirouette, but it drifted on without breaking another step.
My imagination must have been playing with the shadows.
The finches have roosted in the upper hallways. They introduced me to their fledglings last week. They leave more mess than Grief’s posters, but the staff don’t seem to mind. I rolled up the carpets in those corridors to save on cleaning, just the same. And the bare stones make a cooling change now with summer on the air.
In the courtyard, the marigolds have spread to dance against the oaks’ humming trunks. Joy’s bells echo faintly from its windows, keeping time. The perfume of rosemary, pinks, and lavender twines with the sunlight as their flowers dance. Tall grass sways along the walls, even on the damp patch in the shadowed corner.
Grief seems reluctant to crush the flowers and the grass with its footsteps. It floats indistinct and uncertain over the bench, more considerate than I’ve known it before. I sit with it from time to time, knowing I can’t neglect any of my guests.
Love just called down from its window, reminding me to come inside. Let me gather up these roses for your rooms, I call back. I’ll be right there.
I collect an armful of fragrance and pass inside.
Love, Grief, and Other Guests copyright 2020 Melissa Gondek