Lucas is the most amazing student I’ve ever had. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I think it was supposed to happen. After all, it was his decision. And I feel better than I’ve ever felt in my life.
It sounds crazy. But something extraordinary happened between us this week.
To fully explain, I suppose I need to tell you about myself.
I haven’t lived a happy life. I work at a fairly shitty preschool; it’s probably not a good career fit for me. I'm not as peppy or caring as my coworkers, but I feel stuck, probably due to my (self-diagnosed) anxiety and depression.
My life consists of work, home, couch, weed, alcohol, any drugs I can get my hands on (which is unfortunately not as many as I’d like), sleeping at odd hours, and repeating. Days blur together and nothing really changes. Some days I feel like I’m holding back tears, and others I just feel empty. I’ve spent the last couple years entertaining suicidal thoughts that have only increased as time goes on.
At least, they had until now.
Lucas started in my classroom a week ago on Monday, July 9th.
I was nervous, knowing that my comfortable, albeit exhausting, routine was about to be upheaved. The initial meeting with his father revealed that Lucas, born to abusive parents, had been recently adopted.
His biological parents reportedly tied him up for hours at a time. When Child Protective Services removed him from their house he was malnourished, developmentally delayed, and deeply traumatized. He couldn't even be touched without having a meltdown. The parents had a drug problem, supposedly.
Good thing I never had kids. Some of us aren’t suited for it.
Anyway, while I certainly want the best for any child in that situation, I didn’t feel equipped to handle him. I had no idea what to expect and braced myself for the worst.
Monday (his first day) went ok.
Luckily, he didn’t have any major tantrums or outbursts like I feared. Instead, he acted like he couldn’t hear me, seemed incapable of cleaning up after himself, and turned away whenever I tried to talk to him. He wouldn’t say a word. Fine, I was too exhausted anyway. I let him do his own thing. Besides, he seemed to prefer being left alone.
On Tuesday, he started watching me closely. It was eerie - I’d turn toward him and his large, sunken blue eyes, standing out brightly against his pale, sallow skin, would be fixated on me. I started gently smiling at him then turning away, sensing that we both preferred to be ignored. A commonality between us.
I heard him speak for the first time on Wednesday. He tripped and fell on the playground, so I walked over to him.
“You ok, buddy?”
Once again, the deep stare. A stretch of silence. And then he spoke.
“I think you’re nice. I wish you weren’t so sad.”
I tried to hide my surprise, both that he considered me nice when I had mostly ignored him, and also that he had such an intuitive grasp of my emotions, which I kept devastatingly private at all times.
“I’m not sad today Lucas, what makes you think that?”
He stared at the sky this time, squinting up with a pained expression. He was shorter than all the other 5 year olds, awkwardly skinny, with protruding bones that created sharp angles over his body. Sharp, with nearly translucent skin. Looking at him too long made me uncomfortable, but at the same time it was hard to tear my eyes away.
“I can feel the sad in people. Don’t tell... but I know you won’t.” He said it with a mixture of mumbling and whispering, but I knew I heard him right. Suddenly he turned and walked away with his awkward gait - seemingly off balance, with a slight limp.
He didn’t talk again for the rest of the day, but from then on, whenever our eyes met, he would gently smile back.
The first instance happened on Thursday.
God, my head was killing me that day.
Sitting at my table while the kids played, head in my hands, struggling to keep my eyes open, gently rubbing my forehead. Trying to fight the nausea and wishing I had something to ease the pain. I hadn’t slept well the night before, just on and off here and there throughout the evening.
That was the state I was in when Lucas walked up to me.
Silently, our eyes met. The pain inside him was so deep, almost palpable. I was simultaneously terrified and intrigued.
He gently placed his hand on mine.
I was so captivated by him that I didn’t even notice my headache was gone until he’d walked away. He went to a quiet area of the room where we store cots for naptime, a corner hidden behind the cubbies, without any toys or activities to choose from. He sat down, laying his head in his hands.
I could tell he was in pain.
That evening, all I could think about was Lucas. Surely he couldn’t have healed my headache, but how did it stop so suddenly as soon as he touched me? I felt different, too. I went to sleep at a normal time, and ate a semi-normal dinner. I attributed the change in routine to my preoccupation with this unusual occurrence.
Lucas wasn’t at school on Friday. I worried about him all weekend. It was a typical boring, empty weekend. I found myself sitting and wondering what to do, with this odd feeling that I should be doing something. I usually don’t feel that way.
He was back today, on Monday, eyes looking glassier than before, moving a bit slower. I was thrilled to see him, and had to practically hold myself back from hugging him. It was the strongest emotion I’ve felt in awhile.
“Lucas, I missed you on Friday! Are you feeling okay? Were you sick?” Why was I so worried about him? I don’t tend to get emotionally attached to children in my class.
He looked at me with worry in his eyes. Whispered something unintelligible.
“What did you say? Sorry, I couldn’t hear you.” I leaned down to get as close to him as possible. I'd never had such a strong desire to hear every single word out of a child's mouth.
“My old parents liked drugs too. But they were bad people. You aren’t bad.”
For an instant, my heart stopped. Most 5 year olds don’t know what drugs are, and I’ve never had anyone, adult or child, hint that they knew about my life outside of work. I hide it surprisingly well.
It felt like he had gotten into my head.
“Lucas, I’m not sure what you’re talking about, sweetie...”
Suddenly, Lucas grabbed my hands. Squeezing tighter than I would’ve thought possible for his frail body, nails digging into my skin, white knuckles.
His expression was frozen in a look of shock and despair. He began to scream.
I tried to free myself from his grip, but his nails were so deep in my skin that it tore as I pulled away, and blood trickled down my wrist. His shrill scream rang in my ears, making me feel slightly panicky.
“Lucas, it’s okay! Please let go, that hurts...”
He kept screaming, at the top of his lungs, as the other children in the classroom silently gathered around, scared and confused, to watch the spectacle.
All at once, I felt a rush. The feeling was indescribable, as though someone had opened up my brain and reset it. I felt clear. I don’t think I’d felt that way before.
The depression, the negative energy, the demon, however you choose to make sense of the debilitating horror that can infest our being, drained from my body.
Then Lucas collapsed. Sobbing on the floor, fetal position, rocking back and forth. Inconsolable.
Our assistant director rushed in after hearing the screams. She saw the blood and nail marks on my wrists, and immediately took Lucas up to the front to call his parents. It all happened so fast, I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.
It's now Wednesday, July 18th. Today I found out that Lucas was found dead in his bedroom last night. He had somehow gotten into a gun case that his dad could’ve sworn was locked, and he shot himself.
It’s a story that is absolutely devastating the town, and made national news. A 5 year old child with such a horrific childhood, killing himself with a gun, such a tragedy. A preventable accident.
But I know it wasn’t an accident. That was supposed to my death, my suicide. Lucas took my pain and saved my life.
Part of me feels guilty, but I also realize that he chose me. His small, weak body held an incredible power, and he knew my life was meant to be lived. And now, thanks to him, I know it too.
I guess I must act pretty normal in public, because no one asks me about the white noise machine.
It's a small, flat cylinder with a speaker built into it. I had one of my own, a while back. Tiny holes on the top let the sound out. I imagined that it was a portal to the beach, and that grains of sand could trickle out of the speaker holes, that you could smell the sea from hearing the sound of it. Or that when there was a scream in the background, it might be a seagull, or it might be my brother from the time before we walked into the ocean and he didn't come back.
My brother really liked screaming. I guess this is a feature of three year olds, because Diana's sister has a kid and she's the same way. See a squirrel: scream. See a bunny: scream. See the ocean: so much screaming.
Michael was always screaming. Like a seagull. When the waves touched his feet. Or when we buried him in the sand. Sometimes I imagine that he turned into a seagull and that what happened didn't happen, which was that a big wave came and swept him away and I tried to hold on but I couldn't hold on, because his fingers were very small and the fingers of the wave were so big and so many.
When we buried him there wasn't a body so we buried an empty casket and it wasn't like the time in the sand at all. I tried to imagine that he was being buried in the sand under the sea by mermaids and dolphins, which were his favorite. I drew a picture of it but when my mom saw it she made me see a psychiatrist.
It has been fifteen years but I am still supposed to take these pills. They are small and white and round, like the white noise machine in miniature. It used to be, I would take them and swallow them with water, and they made me feel a little more like a person and less like my mouth was filling with sand and my teeth were made of sand and I was going into the ocean to be with Michael who called me every night because he was so lonely down there.
When I met Diana, I told her the pills were for insomnia. She doesn't believe in medication. She got me the white noise machine instead. I guess the white noise machine is also for insomnia.
"It does ocean sounds," she said. And she turned it on and I was in the ocean again. I felt the sand between my toes. I felt my brother's hand in my hand, and my hand was small and the ocean was big. I closed my eyes.
"Isn't it relaxing?" she asked.
I told her it was.
Diana turned on the white noise machine before we went to sleep and I stopped taking my pills. I listened to the ocean sounds and the screaming that must be seagulls. I was not sleeping very much, the month after we got the white noise machine, and this was why I thought I had made a mistake, when I woke up in the morning and the bedside table was wet.
"Did you spill a glass of water?" I asked Diana.
She said she hadn't.
"Is there a leak in the ceiling?" I asked.
Diana started to look alarmed so I stopped asking questions. But the white noise machine was wet, and it was salty like the ocean. Diana said that sometimes it does that because of humidity. But I touched my fingers to the beads of water on the white pill and touched them to my tongue, and it tasted like the sea.
Then there was the sand. A week later, I would step into the shower and when the water came down on me I felt sand in my toes, and I would look down and there'd be a thin layer of grit by the drain. Diana caught me once, crouched by the drain, stirring the sand with my little finger.
Sometimes I thought I hear the screen door closing, and I heard screaming. I dreamed that I was made of sand. I woke up and my pillow was sandy, and there was a puddle of water on the white noise machine as it played ocean sounds by my head.
I told Diana about it and she stopped sleeping over. So I put everything in my car and drove to the water. It took four hours, and every radio station was the sound of the ocean, every car horn was Michael laughing.
I put the white noise machine in the ocean. I thought maybe Michael would come streaming out of it, all sand, like an exorcism or something, like he'd finally be at rest with his body. Or that he'd come up out of the ocean and hold the white noise machine and wave to me while he melted back into the sand, satisfied with this offering.
That isn't what happened. The white noise machine dropped to the bottom of the sea and little bubbles came up from its tiny holes and the sand washed over it until I couldn't see it anymore. Then I took one of my little white pills and felt like maybe this was all a misunderstanding on my part.
So it was all okay, in the end.
Except recently, my deskmate Doug got a white noise machine. He says it blots out the sound of typing, from other people's desks.
I think I am losing my hair. It is crumbling into sand like the rest of my body, into the drain. I hear Michael everywhere I find the sand. The ocean still comes at night. I wake up and the sheets are drenched, and I can't tell if it's sweat or the sea. Sometimes I think I hear Michael wailing, like he wants company, like he wants me to bring him something more than a little white cylinder.
I hear him by the white noise machine, even though it's off now, and unplugged, and Doug is in the bathroom. But I must be acting pretty normal, because no one has noticed the sweating or the sand. I will take another pill. And I will decide, this time, what I must return to the ocean.
If someone finds this, I hope this account sheds some light on what happened to me. As of now, things look grim and I’m trying to cling to some form of hope. But I’m mostly doing it for Mel, my girlfriend. If I crack, she’ll crack. So I’m putting on a brave face and writing down my fears here, for you. Whoever you are.
Three days ago I rented a boat and took her out to sea. I wanted to do something romantic. Watch the sunset over the water or something. We’ve been together for a couple years now and the idea of a ring grows more appealing by the day. The captain of the small thirty-six foot vessel was named Henry. IS named Henry. Last I checked, he’s still alive. The weather was bad when we left, but it was the last day of our vacation and I wanted to make it special for Mel. We should have turned back long before night took us, but I kept feeding Henry money. He saw the storm clouds. He knew the risks. But I kept flashing hundreds and paid for him to ignore the coming hell, putting my faith in his abilities to navigate us safely back home. That was a mistake. Also, I’m pretty sure he was drunk before we even set sail. If you can put a face to the term “sea dog” then you know all you need to about our captain.
The storm came just as predicted. Caught us way, way, out at sea and absolutely fucked us up. It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever lived through. The waves, the rain, the thunder. I’m honestly surprised we’re all still alive. Well, Henry isn’t doing too well. He’s below deck in the small cabin, lying across one of the two cots. The sail snapped during the gale and cracked him hard across the head. I managed to stop the blood flow, but he’s touch and go.
Which leaves Mel and me absolutely screwed. Even if I knew how to operate a boat, I couldn’t because we have no sail. The small engine was lost in the storm. Snapped free when the mast came crashing down. I tried the radio, but I can’t seem to raise anyone. I don’t even know if I’m doing it right. I used up all the flares as well. That was three days ago, when shit hit the fan.
There’s some food left, a meager supply stored in the cabin below, but it won’t last long. I can’t believe any of this. Three days we’ve been adrift and at the mercy of the tide. We haven’t seen anyone. Henry’s strength is failing and sleeps most of the time. Mel stopped crying yesterday and has gone mostly silent. Which leaves you and me. I’m scared. And I have no idea if I’ll live through this.
Another day has passed. The sun was hot today so we stayed mostly below deck. The last thing we need is a blistering sunburn to add to our misery. Henry didn’t move much today. He managed to ask me about the radio and tried to give me instruction on how to use it, but I couldn’t understand most of what he was saying. I think he’s getting worse. We need to get him to a hospital.
Thought I saw something on the horizon at some point earlier, but I think it was just my imagination. It was just a sliver of darkness. A shadow. Probably a mirage. I can’t take the silence. Mel just isn’t engaging anymore. It’s like she’s given up. I don’t think I can handle that. Don’t leave me alone with my thoughts. They’re dark enough as it is.
Same day. I’m sitting on the deck beneath a full moon. The waves are alive with its light. It’d be beautiful if it wasn’t so haunting. Mel’s asleep down below deck. I tried the radio again, like I have been, but wasn’t able to pick up anything.
It’s just after midnight and I’m tired, but I don’t want to sleep. I don’t want to go down into the cabin and listen to Mel toss and turn as nightmares plague her. She’s so scared. So am I.
About an hour ago, I thought I heard something. Probably nothing, but I want to keep writing so I’ll tell you about it. It sounded like clacking. Like someone smacking two pieces of firewood together. Twice it happened, but it was so faint I’m not sure it was even real. Probably not. I need to sleep at some point. But not yet.
Maybe we’ll be rescued tomorrow. Ha. As if.
We saw something today. It was around midday and Mel was on deck with me. She saw it first. It was the strangest thing. It was a canoe. A huge, weathered canoe. It had to be at least twenty feet long. It looked old, wooden, and was completely empty. The ends of its curvature rose up into sharp tips, almost needle thin. I’ve never seen anything like it. I took it as a good sign. Maybe there’s an island nearby or something. It lifted Mel’s spirits, thankfully. She started talking again. Got excited.
Despite my lingering hope, something about that canoe made me feel uneasy. It just drifted by about fifty yards from our boat and then out of sight. I wish it had come closer because I could have sworn there was something written on the side.
Managed to get some food in Henry today. He seemed a little better after that. Asked us what day it was. How long we had been out here. Instructed me how to send an S.O.S on the radio which I did. Haven’t heard anything back. I’ll keep trying.
I told him about the canoe. I didn’t expect the reaction he gave me. His face went white and he grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me close. He whispered something urgently in my ear with all the strength he could muster.
“Stay away from them.”
Night again. Mel’s asleep at my shoulder. I’m on deck, just watching the water. I’m lonely. I’m scared. And I can’t help but think we’re never going to be rescued.
Hold on. Saw something just now.
Two canoes just drifted past our boat. They were identical. They looked like the one I saw yesterday. What on earth are they? Where did they come from? They were closer this time, about twenty yards out. And this time, I was able to see them clearly beneath the light of the full moon. There was something scrawled along the sides in big dark letters.
Our hands are tied to the ocean floor.
What the fuck does that mean? They drifted into one another and collided briefly. It made the same noise I heard the other day.
Horrible day today. Henry stopped breathing for a couple seconds, but Mel was able to revive him. He’s asleep now, but she’s a mess. I spent most of the day trying to comfort her. It seemed kind of pointless. I can’t lie about the danger we’re in. I’m waiting for her to go to sleep so I can go up on deck again and watch the stars. It’s the only peace I can seem to find lately.
Night. Just me and the night sky. The stars are brilliant right now. I feel like crying. There’s not much food left. We’re really pushing it. We might have another three days before we’re out. That’s if we’re careful.
Something just happened. I almost dropped my notebook in the water it scared me so bad. It was that clacking sound again, like those canoes bumping into one another. But it was loud, like there were hundreds of them. I can’t stop thinking about what was written along the sides of those things.
It’s late now. I ended up falling asleep on deck, but I’m up again. Still night. And I can’t believe what I’m staring at right now.
There are hundreds of canoes out there, beneath the moon. They’re close to our boat, clustered together in a tight circle. They’re just floating there, bumping into one another and making that terrible sound. I feel it pressing into my skull. Each one has the same thing written across it: Our hands are tied to the ocean floor.
Henry died today.
Didn’t write anything yesterday. We ran out of food. Waiting for the hunger to catch up. I can already feel it, and yet I know it’s only the start of our torment. Didn’t see any of the canoes last night. Saw something else.
Lights. Lights in the water. There were two and they very far away. Green. Like spotlights beneath the depths. I watched them for a long time while Mel cried herself to sleep. I cried a little too.
I don’t think we’re getting rescued.
There’s something wrong with this place.
Trying to ignore the hunger. Been watching the canoes instead. They’re back. Dozens of them. Mel is watching them too. It’s cloudy today so we’re sitting on the deck. She keeps muttering to herself over and over again. I didn’t catch it at first. Did eventually.
She kept saying, “My hands are tied to the ocean floor.”
Mel’s gone. I woke up in the middle of the night cause I heard splashing. When I saw she wasn’t next to me, I panicked. It seems my fears weren’t in vain. She’s fucking gone. She left me a note. I don’t even know what it means. It’s nonsense. Biblical shit. Shit about Hell.
I cried so hard. Harder than I ever have before.
The lights are back. Closer. Whatever the source is, it’s huge. The volume of water that’s ignited by these two beams is incredible. Something about it scares the shit out of me. Probably because the canoes are back. They seem to be swarming the lights. Drawn to them.
Something terrible is down there.
I think I might kill myself. I’m so hungry.
Watching the lights in the darkness again. They’re blinking. Don’t know if that’s good or bad. I can’t count how many of those fucking canoes there are. Clacking together. Always fucking clacking.
Been a couple hours. Got lost in my thoughts. Mesmerized by the lights. Something’s changed. It’s the canoes. I can see something in them. Things. Shadows. Masses of darkness standing beneath the moonlight.
They have horns coming out of their heads. Huge, long horns that extend high into the sky. I think they’re watching me. I think I’m losing my mind.
I’m going to swim out to the canoes tonight. They’ll be back. Seem to only appear at night now. The hunger has consumed me. And the thirst. Christ. Drank some ocean water earlier and then threw up an hour later. I’m not going to last much longer.
If I’m going to die, then I want to know what the fuck is going on out here.
This is it. Lights are back. The canoes are here. They’re all filled with those terrible horned shadows. I think they’re waiting for me. I think Mel saw them. Because the longer I watch them, the more I want to go out to them. I understand the madness of that. But I don’t care. I’m going to go now. The lights are blinking so fast.
I took 2 pics at 2 different time of the Arch De Triomphe in Paris and merged them together to create this half day/night aerial view.
The Hill, Pen and Ink, 12x12cm