by Louis Sisto
Lawrence Grant University, May 27, 1999:
Fred remembered everything about that day. The nervous excitement steamrolling through his body, the uneven lines of perspiration rolling down his brow as hundreds of unfamiliar faces smiled, yelled, whistled, and cheered as his unsteady, yet determined feet strolled across the stage to retrieve his college diploma. Cameras flashed like distant stars as he proudly reached out and wrapped his fingers around that single, almighty piece of paper, his eyes confidently meeting the gaze of the academic dean, standing mere inches from him with a beaming expression of pride and respect at the sight of this hardworking, successful young man before him. As he smiled and offered his thanks and appreciation to the dean, Fred could feel the eyes of his parents, huddled somewhere in that mass abyss of people, settled firmly on him. His parents had always been his biggest supporters. Unlike most of his peers, Fred hadnt spent his adolescent years locked away in rebellion, causing his parents grief and turning their hairs a little grayer every day. He had always possessed a unique maturity about his character, years beyond what anyone wouldve expected. His time as a polite, reasonable young man was well spent. He couldnt even count how many times his father had thrown an arm around his shoulder, a thin layer of tears in his eyes, and expressed his gratitude at having the kind of son he did. Dad had always told him that he was his leap of faith and that he and his mother were blessed to have him. It always made Fred feel special to hear his dad say that.
Leap of faith
The words reverberated through the corridors of his mind as he clutched his diploma and scanned the crowd. He was proud to be his fathers son.
Virginia City, NV, July 10, 2007:
Fred vividly remembered the feeling he had that morning as he stepped out of the motel room. It was his first real vacation as a man; just the wife and himself. Something in the atmosphere was different that day. The sun shone brighter than usual, the wind, a living entity, boldly touching his forehead and cheeks. Even the mountains surrounding him loomed larger than ever, silent guardians of the landscape. It was only hours earlier that his wife had announced her pregnancy, had dictated to the world that he was going to be a father. The memories of actually hearing the words flooded him like little snapshots. He felt so many different things all at once that he could put words to none of them. Everything before his eyes went by in whirlwind fashion, his heart beating like an exotic drum, droplets of perspiration covering his face and arms.
He stood outside the door of the motel room, his hands perched on his hips as he scanned the mountains and let his thoughts drift away. He was finally going to have a family of his own. He welcomed the challenge and sacrifice that it brought. He would apply himself harder than he ever had at anything in his life. He wanted his family to be safe and protected, to regard him as a monument of loyalty and devotion. He could hear his fathers voice in his head, the leap of faith phrase echoing forcefully. He knew his life was about to enter a new stage of existence. There would be many responsibilities to attend to. The only way forward was to take a deep breath and push on. It would be a leap of faith in every way possible.
Chicago, IL, December 25, 2012:
Everyone howled with laughter as Fred, dressed in a dollar store Santa costume, pretended to fall into the Christmas tree, the plastic, silver star at the top tumbling down and cracking him square in the chin. He stumbled around, making it look like he was trying to regain his balance, and was fortunate enough to catch the sight of his young daughters angelic blue eyes, wide with bewilderment and amusement at the comical scene transpiring in front of her. She wore a smile from ear to ear, her torso shaking as she tried to stifle her laughter. Even the family pet, Borson, was engaged in the festivities, barking loudly and chasing after Fred, in the process knocking over a miniature ceramic workshop decoration under the tree. As far as Fred was concerned, he had the greatest gift anyone could ever ask for. He glanced around the room, his Santa hat lopsidedly perched on his head, and reflected on his immense appreciation for this moment in his life. To be able to share the company of his beloved wife, daughter, parents, brother, and sister-in-law nearly choked him up, which he masqueraded with a collage of goofy faces and high-pitched cartoon voices, to the continued delight of his daughter. He had been working for things his entire life. If all of that was to get him to where he was at right now, then it was well worth the labor. Life always was a leap of faith; one never knew where their choices were going to take them.
Amid the raucous Christmas shenanigans, he paused mentally for a moment and thanked God for the gift he had been given.
Wisconsin Dells, WI, August 16, 2015:
The clean, crisp aroma of the tall, lush trees all around him were the best part. Fred remembered sitting in a small clearing outside the small cottage, his mind sharp and focused, his fingers sweeping softly over the strings of his guitar, a low soothing melody mixing in with the occasional call of the Grackle and Redpoll, natures very own tiny, winged musicians. He would be heading with his family and another couple and their child to one of the waterparks in a couple hours. But now was his time to relax, collect his thoughts, and get himself centered. He had been having career issues for the last couple years. He had tried venturing out into various artistic pursuits, such as writing and painting, in an effort to draw in a little extra income. It seemed like, regardless of how hard he tried, he couldnt catch the break he needed. But, he was making things work and was busting his ass every single day to be a provider for his family. Music had become catharsis for him. He knew he could always talk to his wife about anything, but sometimes he was just too proud to show that side of him, that suffocating vulnerability, that plague that chewed away at his self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Things would be better again someday; how could they not be? He looked around him, taking it all in as he plucked away at a melancholy tune on the guitar. With the world around him so green, full, vibrant, and alive, how could things not get better? He had always been told that you get out of life what you put into it. He was a good, honest man; a creative and determined individual who wanted to experience life to the fullest degree possible.
Things would change, he told himself over and over. Stability would return to his life. It would just take a little patience and a bit of a leap of faith
Lisle, IL, October 3, 2018:
The honey-flavored whiskey shot was gone in an instant, leaving a warm, burning sensation in Freds throat as he scanned the room for his bandmates. It was destined to be a birthday to remember. It would be the first time he and the band would perform in front of a live audience. His wife, parents, and several other family members were in attendance to cheer him on and offer their support. He had been struggling with maintaining consistent work and income for damn near five years now, but during that time period he had also been fine-tuning his musical skills. He had always told himself that things always had their way of working out in the end. Maybe he wasnt destined to grow old as some wealthy exec sitting behind some big mahogany desk. Music, he believed, had come into his life for a reason, and he pursued it with the ferocity of a cornered animal.
Depression, that hooded, cloaked demon, dark and menacing, was always in the corner of the room, its piercing eyes staring right through him, almost as if taunting him to even try to feel worthy. It didnt matter the day or the hour; it was always there, like a poisonous growth on his soul.
He did his best to hide it from the others. Some days were better; some worse. Keeping busy, occupied, and feeling useful, needed; these were all different ways he could combat it. There was a path forward. He just needed to find it and stay on it.
He felt a small tug on the sleeve of his shirt and turned, meeting the gaze of his wife, her eyes an emerald green under the bars multitude of lights. He never forgot that moment: her light-brown hair nestled comfortably on her shoulders, the way her makeup accentuated her cheekbones, her soft voice a natural sedative for him, one of the few things that brought him peace and kept away the sneering entity in the shadows. As his wife leaned in and kissed him, wishing him luck, he could still feel the cold, distant eyes of that creature in the corner. It watched his wifes lips as they met his own and pointed, laughed, and mocked. It saw everything. It always did.
Fred lightly clutched his wifes hands for a moment, smiled, and headed for the stage, the list of songs on the nights agenda running through his head.
Leap of Faith. That one would start the show.
South Bend, IN, June 11, 2019:
Being alone was simply terrifying sometimes. These were the moments when his blackest thoughts huddled together and slowly tortured him. Every single thought seemed to weigh a thousand pounds, crippling his happiness and instantly changing the trajectory of the day. The pain was the worst part, mentally and physically. He would become nauseous sometimes. There were some days he couldnt stand to look at himself in the mirror, yet was strangely unable to look away either. He didnt know where he was going and wouldnt know if he ever got there. This was becoming the new normal. His normal.
His wife and daughter were gone for a few days to visit his sister-in-law. He woke up that Tuesday morning, feeling numb and uneasy. He needed a break from his thoughts, as futile of an effort as that appeared to be. He vomited all over himself in the bathroom, a wave of embarrassment and self-pity washing over him.
He threw on a crumpled pair of jeans and a wrinkled polo shirt, jumped in the car, and wound up on I-90. His thoughts swelled and his tired, haggard eyes saw all kinds of things; everything but the road in front of him.
He now sat in Howard Park, staring blankly at the windshield, low, gray storm clouds creeping on the horizon, accompanied by tiny, sporadic rumblings of thunder. He powered off his cellphone, tossing it onto the passenger seat. He wasnt taking calls or texts. Not today. He didnt give a flying fuck who was looking for him. What was happening? Why now? It was no longer just the financial issues that were burdening him. His daughter. Something was going on with her. About five months ago she had a seizure at school and fell and smacked her head on a bench in the cafeteria. Ever since then the seizures would come at random, some more severe than others. His wife was a mess over it and looked like she had aged ten years in the last five months. It seemed like they had appointments lined up with every neurologist in the state of Illinois. How in the sweet hell was he going to cover all these medical bills? Insurance was only going to take care of so much. His family needed him. He needed to be there for his family. How was he supposed to manage that seemingly insurmountable task when he could barely take care of himself anymore?
A faint flash of lightning snapped him out of the daze that he was in. The thunder followed quick, a low, steady rumble, as if the sky was growling at him. His defeated eyes scanned the clouds above, now a smothering veil of grey. The rain would come soon. In some distant chamber of his mind, he saw himself being carried away by the surging water like a tiny, insignificant fly; away from everyone and everything; away from the horrors of the world. Most of all, he would be away from that vindictive ghoul that stalked his every move and contaminated everything he touched. The depression was a spiritual cancer, a self-serving thief that constantly took from him. It took his smile, his motivation, his self-esteem, and it was now targeting his family. The bastard took and took and took. It never gave him anything in return.
He reclined in the seat and closed his eyes, all his senses deeply immersed in the ambience of the approaching storm. For no apparent reason at all, his fathers words returned to him, like a visiting specter from an era long passed.
Leap of Faith
Years ago, hearing his father utter those words to him had brought tears to his eyes. He felt loved, cherished, accepted, and worthy, especially from the most important man in his life: his father, the guy who was like a superhero to him and who could never be replaced.
He found that those words still brought tears. Now for entirely different reasons.
The darkness came in waves. It was at its worst on days where he had nothing to do except think. And ruminate. And brood.
He hated himself; loathed himself. He hated what everything in life had become and he really couldnt even explain why. Perhaps it was all the unmet expectations. Perhaps it was something that was lacking, something just outside the perimeter of his awareness. Maybe it was just him. Maybe this is just who he was and what he was destined to become.
Nobody would ever understand the dread of starting another day, knowing that the bottom could fall out at any time. His moods fell hard and fast, like a wino on roller skates. There was no predicting what any given day was going to be like anymore. He was tired of the mental anguish and the pain that it was causing to others. And to himself.
Leap of faith.
An empty phrase, devoid of meaning and purpose.
His whole life now was a series of silent screams that nobody could hear. Nobody, except of course, for that rogue fiend around every corner. The depression. When he fought it, it fought back harder; when he cried, it laughed; when he tried to run, it met him at every window and door, with eyes as dark and merciless as anything one could imagine. The ravenous thief kept taking and taking from him.
It was running out of things to take.
November 17, 2019:
Everybody was here. Everybody was here together; with him. He wouldnt be alone.
He looked up and met the still gaze of his parents. He saw pity in their eyes. He felt his sunken face become heavy with shame. He had to look away.
His brothers dark brown eyes pleaded with him from across the room. To call, to reach out, to do something. Fred still mattered deeply to him. If he only knew that; if he only understood that.
Meeting the eyes of his wife and daughter was the most difficult. Their eyes were the color of fresh, exotic water, two pairs of sparkling jewels that could illuminate the sky of heaven itself. The worst kind of pain he could ever feel was to know that those eyes could hurt.
Someones voice from the adjacent room snapped his attention back to the present. The temperature in the room was a cool, comfortable 68 degrees. Every now and then, an approaching vehicle on the interstate could be heard from outside. The smoke detector chirped loudly every 30 seconds or so, thirsting for a new battery.
And the pictures. The pictures of his family neatly aligned on the small table on the other side of the bed, like obedient little soldiers. It was all a lie. He couldnt reach out to hug or embrace any of them. Their eyes were lifeless; they were pictures, scraps of paper enclosed in a little plastic frame. Thats all he had left.
Nobody was here with him. He was alone. It was meant to be this way. Thats what he told himself anyway.
His lifes leap of faith had now transformed into a step of solace.
As his family spectated from the safety of their tiny plastic shelters, Fred took a step (a leap?) forward from the nightstand, letting his body drop, his throat quickly engulfed by the unforgiving ligature.
A small opening in the curtains revealed the motel sign outside, a dimly lit vacancy sign announcing itself to the weary interstate traveler. Above it was a small illustration of a road leading into the mountains, under the contemplative eye of the setting sun. The motels name was imprinted across the road:
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