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Daniel moved the pen to the top of the page and drew a star. Something his school teachers would draw on his answer sheet whenever he received a perfect score. In grade six his English teacher had reprimanded him for his bad handwriting and for drawing random cartoons at every page.
Once while she was scolding him, he craned his neck to her and grinned wide with his eyes shut. The teacher tousled his hair, and he chirped before rubbing his head against her palm.
Life was so easy back then, he thought, drawing another star below the first one, then another. The pen reached the words Guidelines for Daniel’s Peace.
He didn’t necessarily want to honor his regrets by writing about them, but he braved on because there were also some good memories that ran in a loop in his mind.
The therapist had said it’s a choice Daniel has to make. Relive the past or imagine a future.
I’ll imagine the future tomorrow, thought Daniel, drawing more stars below the title. He wrote the word “pigeon” on the page.
Many years ago, a pigeon’s coo had disturbed him from playing his video game. He headed to the window where the sounds came from. The bird’s legs were entangled in the laundry wire. Daniel cut the wire with a knife and the bird flew away with the loose wire dangling from its legs.
With a movement of his hand he drew a bird on the page and forced a smile. Life was good once, he told himself and lifted his cell phone.
It was five minutes past midnight. Tomorrow has arrived. Perhaps it’s time to follow the doc’s advice, he thought, then opened the calendar on the screen.
It had been a year since the nervous breakdown, and he still hadn’t moved on. He changed the date on the calendar to a year from now. Will things ever get better, he thought, or will I always regret the past? His thumb hovered over the screen where a gentle tap would turn back the time. Life would be so much easier that way.
“What if everyone could go back in time?” his therapist had asked. “We might have even bigger problems to deal with.”
“I don’t care about everyone,” Daniel said. “I just want to get rid of my own regret. It’s been so long.”
“Some wounds never heal,” the therapist said. “Just like a physical injury, some emotional wounds remain for life. But we can try to reduce the pain.”
He put the phone aside, grabbed his pen, and underlined the words Guidelines for Daniel’s Peace. He struck a second line under his name then wrote: “There are only so many summers ahead of you…” He drew a frowning-ace emoji at the end.
It’s not fair, he had told the therapist.
It sure isn’t, the therapist replied. Not for you. Not for anyone. But it’s true.
Daniel scribbled over the emoji, then pierced the page as if stabbing at his destiny for not sending someone to save him, unlike the pigeon’s destiny which had sent Daniel to cut the wire.
Irritation at being obsessed with the past made him check the time on his phone again. Twelve twenty-two. He had to get up early for work tomorrow. His colleagues often advised him to cheer up, but the depression was too persistent. His colleagues nicknamed him “Robot.” Daniel was indifferent to that as well. He once wanted to become an astronaut. If only I could go back, he told himself.
Practice self-compassion, the therapist said.
How? he had asked.
The therapist handed him a bottle of chilled water and asked him to hold it as long as possible. The coldness stung Daniel’s palm and he placed the bottle back on the table before rubbing his palms against each other.
“Think of the agony you’re in when dirt enters your eye, and the effort you make to remove it. You’re not willing to bear physical pain, but you’re very receptive to live with emotional pain,” said the therapist. “This has become a habit and your brain is too accustomed to the pain.”
The words made sense. But Daniel grabbed his head, unable to apply the words to his life. He frowned at the wall as if apologizing to the child who drew random cartoons on school books, and to the potential that the child carried.
I’m sorry, he mouthed the words.
Exhaustion took over. He drew an X across the page then trudged to the bed.
The therapist once said, Hug your past, forgive yourself...
Daniel shook his head, as he did whenever the therapist spoke of forgiveness. As he lay on the bed and pulled the blanket over himself, another piece of advice reverberated through his mind: Perhaps you can forgive yourself for not forgiving yourself. He rubbed his head against the pillow as if he were hugging the words. But the memories of the breakdown were like hyenas gnawing at his peace.
He opened his phone for comfort and swiped through the photos of his past. After a few swipes the screen showed photos of life after the breakdown. Among them there was one photo with his college friends when they had gone for dinner.
He brought the screen closer to his face then sat up before zooming in. In the photo a smile lay on his face, just like on the faces of his friends. He looked at a few other photos of that evening and saw himself smiling.
Never knew that I was ever happy in this last year, he thought. He set the photo as the phone’s wallpaper and looked at the diary he had been writing on the table. Maybe I am healing, he thought.
Maybe one day I’ll be happy again, he thought, closing his eyes and pressing his face against the pillow.