[Authors note: I’ve mentioned before that I don’t write a great deal of short fiction and I’m trying to get in some practice, so I’m posting a short story I wrote recently. Due to the length, I’ll be posting it in seven parts, one part each day starting today. Please let me know if you enjoy it. Thank you.]
“I’m walkin’ on sunshine! Whaooo”
Katrina and the Waves broke through Casey’s dream and dragged her back into the world she did not want to enter. It was a world of light and noise; a world of responsibility, expectations and disappointment. She squinted as the morning light found small holes in her bedroom window drapes and hit her rudely in the face.
“…walkin’ on sunshine…”
“Ok, ok, Goddamn it,” Casey said aloud as she reached for her cell phone, which was lying on her nightstand next to her. She knew from the ringtone that it was her friend Megan.
“Hello,” Casey croaked into the phone.
“There you are Ms. Warner. Thought maybe you were dead or something. I didn’t see you in class today. What’s up? Did you… hook up last night and oversleep?” Megan chirped a bit too happily over the phone.
“No,” Casey grumbled. In truth, her bed was empty save for herself, just as it usually was. “I just… wasn’t feeling well today.”
“Hey, no problem. Professor Gorin was pretty borin’ as always,” Megan laughed as if that was the first time she’d made that joke. “Are you going to be in Chem this afternoon?”
“I… I don’t think so,” said Casey hesitantly. “Like I said, I’m not feeling well. Just gonna stay in bed today.”
“Nice. Watch some movies, eat some cookie dough ice cream and maybe give ‘Buzz’ a little workout?” Megan hinted salaciously.
“Yeah, uh… I don’t know. Listen, I need to go. Call ya later?” Casey asked.
“Sure, no prob. You enjoy your day. Later gator,” Megan replied.
Casey hung up her phone. She hadn’t exactly lied to her best friend. She was feeling out of sorts, but not in the usual way. Not in the way that people understood. She wasn’t coming down with a cold or flu. She didn’t have an upset stomach and she wasn’t running a fever. It was… different.
“Work through it Casey,” She said to herself. “You’ve been off the meds for almost six months. You don’t need them. You can do this. Just get up and don’t think about the outside world. Focus on the now.”
She sat up and swung her legs over the bed. She was wearing a T-shirt and her favorite pajama bottoms. Her bare feet did not quite touch the floor. This was, in part because her bed was set up rather high and also because Casey stood at a solid five feet two inches. She ran her fingers through her dirty blonde, shoulder length hair. She decided that it would be best to start with a shower. Once that was done, she could tackle whatever came next. However, just as she approached her bathroom door, she changed her mind and kept going down the hall to her kitchen. Flipping on the light, she walked to the coffee maker. Like a zombie, she went through the motions of making a fresh pot of java. Filter, multiple scoops of dark roast, water, flip the switch… Casey stared at the glowing orange light on the coffee maker. It seemed like only a moment had passed but when she tore her eyes away she was staring at a fully brewed pot of coffee.
How long had she stood there in a daze? She didn’t recall checking the time when she got up so there was no reference. She opened up the cabinet above the coffeepot and pulled out her favorite mug. It was a handmade clay cup covered in purple and teal glaze. She loved those colors. It had been a gift from her brother Todd. He’d found it at one of those Renaissance Fairs he was always going to. Todd was a few years older than her but he had never been the typical big brother. At least, he hadn’t been the kind of brother that delighted in tormenting his little sister. Growing up he’d always been kind and protective over her. Perhaps he felt she was delicate and needed someone to fill that role.
Casey filled her mug. Perhaps he was right, she thought. Casey tried to fit in. She’d been a cheerleader in high school although she didn’t enjoy the experience. She’d done it to make her mother happy. Her mom concerned herself a bit too much with Casey’s “issues”. For the two years she’d seen Doctor Jefferson, Casey’s mother had pretended to anyone outside of the immediate family that there was nothing wrong with her daughter. “Just nerves” she would say if pressed to explain why Casey had been seeing a psychiatrist. At home, things were done differently. Casey’s mother worried endlessly about her daughter and feared that somehow she’d been cursed with a child that would never be “normal”. Casey had overheard her mother speaking to Aunt Jane and during the conversation, her mother spoke of her fear that she might never have grandchildren.
Her brother had only officially come out of the closet to his family in his senior year of high school but Casey and her mother both knew he was gay. Casey’s mother pretended that it didn’t bother her but both Todd and Casey knew that it did. Conversely, Casey could care less about her big brother’s sexual orientation and when he finally announced it to her and her mother, she hugged him warmly and told him she loved him.
With there being little hope that Todd would marry a woman and have children, any likelihood of Casey’s mother becoming a grandmother rested with her. Regrettably, her instability threatened her chances of meeting a nice man and settling down, according to her mother. As Casey listened to her go on and on to Aunt Jane she realized how ashamed her mother really was of her children.
Casey sipped her coffee. She hated this feeling of dread and powerlessness. It was so hard to explain to people who had never experienced depression and anxiety. Unless you’ve gone through it, you can’t relate, she would tell people. She had taken medication that Doctor Jefferson had prescribed for her. It had, for the most part, kept her on an even keel and alleviated that unreasonable fear that would creep up on her and keep her from walking out her front door. That was probably the worst part, she thought. The fear of dealing with the “outside world” could be so strong sometimes and even Casey didn’t understand from where it originated. There was no direct cause and effect that made sense. She would be fine one day and the next, she couldn’t bring herself to get dressed and go outside. The fear she experienced was almost palpable the closer she got to leaving home.
She hated having to take the meds. Aside from the weird side effects it could have, like the occasional dizziness and nausea, she really hated feeling like she needed a pill to make her “normal”. Why should it be so hard to just do the things that everyone else does with such ease? Get up, go to class, go to work, live your life… Why did she have to be such a freak?
Casey walked to her living room window. Her apartment was on the fifth floor. It was a cozy little one bedroom that she’d lived in for over a year now. She’d gotten a scholarship that paid for her tuition, books and would have paid for a dorm room on campus, but she wanted her privacy so she took a part-time job at a book store to pay for the apartment. Her mother sent her money each month to help out. She figured that if Casey was well enough to go to college and live on her own, that it was worth the investment, or at least that’s the impression Casey got.
Pulling the long drapes of her living room window aside, she gazed out at the scene below. A busy street near campus was buzzing with pedestrians, cars and the occasional twitter of birds. It was like looking into a fishbowl; an entirely different and imaginary world. Everything was familiar, yet at the same time so very foreign. She closed the drapes and shut out the annoying sunshine that kept threatening her with its bright cheery light.
So what was it that brought on this latest episode, Casey wondered? Was it because no one remembered her birthday from two days ago? Perhaps. Casey expected her mother and brother to forget. It was almost a tradition in her family to get birthday cards and well wishing calls several days late. But when Megan had said nothing to Casey all day, Casey’s first thought was that Megan was planning some kind of surprise birthday party for her that evening. When nothing happened and the evening concluded without incident, Casey realized that even her best friend had forgotten. Casey had sulked a bit about that. Still, she knew that was not the cause of her episode today. These things came out from the shadows sometimes with no announcement at all.
Since she’d already told Megan that she wasn’t going to her other class today (thankfully she only had two classes on Tuesdays) she decided she might as well commit to staying home. She wasn’t scheduled to work at the bookstore until tomorrow so her day was free. Maybe a movie and some ice cream were in order after all. This put a smile on Casey’s face. She knew she was just rationalizing her fear, but the thought of shutting out everything and spending a day alone sounded pretty good. In her mind she cancelled her shower and instead set her coffee mug down and went to the closet in the hall and lifted out her extra comforter. She was going to turn this into a good day.