It's not always what you see, but sometimes what you feel.
The mirror showed a reflection that wasn't my own. At least, it wasn’t the me that I was used to. Everyday it changed little by little. Here, let me start at the beginning.
As soon as my alarm clock went off, I proceeded to yawn and rub the crust out of my eyes. Last night was harsher than usual, though resting in a sleeping bag isn’t the comfiest, I like it a lot better than cleaning my bed sheets every four-to-five days. Still, just like he zipper on my sleeping bag and how it kept me pinned down as my headphones pumped ASMR into my ears, I truly felt trapped.
It’s weird. Sure, I can stand up and move around. I can ace all my classes, get my homework turned in on time, and even have a good workout, but recently everything’s been feeling like I’ve been moving through molasses. Like, I’ve been stuck in a bog and I can’t find the shoreline. I tread slowly, if not at all fearing that the next step I’ll take will send me deeper into the swamp that I’m currently with no strength of coming up for air.
The days started to bleed together. The weekends lost their luster. Even the whites in the smiles of my friends no longer seem to shine anymore. Is this what it’s like to be depressed? All this time I thought it was just something I could control, something I could choose to feed or not. Yet, if that were the case, why do I feel so depressed?
Unzipping my sleeping bag, I swung myself over to the side of my bed, hopped onto the floor and booted up my laptop. I only had one class today, ‘professional practice.’ Sure, the math was supposed to be simple, but it was kicking my ass. Checking the time and making sure that I had my online classes pulled up, I checked the due dates on some upcoming assignments, blinked, and moved off towards the bathroom.
Stepping into the hallway I removed the headphones from my ears and placed them down on the sink. My dormmate wasn’t awake yet, but that was usual for soccer players at our school. Sure, they had to keep up their grades, but they also knew how to throw some of the best parties. The worst ones would party their way out of school, while the better ones would find a party-school-sports balance.
Looking in the mirror the bags under my eyes seemed to be growing heavier even though I was taking more frequent naps throughout the day. Sure, I may have been only getting six hours of uninterrupted sleep maximum, but I took tons of naps in my room and around school all the time now.
“Geezus, Calvin, pull it together man.” I pulled off my hoody and looked at my bare-chested body. I hadn’t worked out in four days, and it felt like I was already atrophying. I remember when I came back after summer break ended, and I definitely recalled having more muscle mass. Talking to myself in the mirror, I said, “You need to stop pumping your iron into your hand and start pumping it at the gym. Look at you, all you care to do is eat, sleep, and shit. No wonder why nobody wants you. You don’t even want you.”
Looking at the bathroom off to my left, I debated about taking a shower right now. The door was right there, and it’d be so easy to open it, strip down, and cleanse myself of these feelings of worthlessness. However, I remembered the time that my alarm clock went off and realized that I only had a few more minutes before the cafeteria would stop serving breakfast.
“I’ll piss after I grab myself a plate or two. I’ll shower after I get back.”
The walk to the cafeteria was nice. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, and not a single car as I crossed the one-way street. Making my way into the cafeteria I swiped my school I.D. paying for breakfast and was greeted by Bertha.
“Good Mornin’ Calvin!”
“Bertha! How are you today?”
“Just fine and dandy like a piece of candy. I keep being sweet and life keeps treating my sweeter. How ‘bout yourself?”
“Myself,” I thought, “who is myself? Am I myself? I don’t feel like me. Well, I am me, but I do feel like the me that I’m supposed to be. I feel like somebody else. I don’t feel like a me, I feel like a ‘you.’”
“I’m alright, but I’ve been better. That’s for certain.”
She blinked shockingly, “Why’s that?”
“I just don’t feel like myself.”
“You certainly don’t sound like it either. You got a cold or something?”
“Well I do feel cold, but more so on the inside, and less like a fire.”
Looking at the clock on the wall and knowing the normal serving sizes I eat, she said, “Here, let me fix you two plates of scrambled eggs with tots. Let with sit with you at a table outside. Alright darling?”
“Sounds fine to me.”
Stacking the plates and grabbing some fruit from the salad bar along with a cup of juice from the soda machine, Bertha pulled out a spot right in the sunshine and sat down with me. Even though it was a school day, not a lot of students got up early for breakfast. They were normally in a rush to their classes, unless they were on a sports team that got up at like 06:00 A.M.
“I remember going on those early morning runs with the team. Man, I miss Kokebe. Dude was always a pleasure to run with. He’d always jog a bit slower just so I could catch up.” Then my anger flared a bit as I remember the coach kicking me off the team. “Still not my fault he’s got shitty runners with toxic attitudes. Then again, he doesn’t care about who’s nice or not. All he cares about is numbers and who makes him look good.”
Sitting down next to her, I prayed and began to ate. “So, what did you want to talk about Bertha?”
“I sense something’s off child.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re not the you that I remember last year. You seemed like you at the beginning of the school year, then it’s like you’ve become more closed off as time went on.” I looked at her dumbfounded. She was describing the way I was feeling practically perfectly, “Have you ever seen a plant thriving and healthy as can be in a flowerpot? You’re like that plant, and for some reason, just like that plant, you’re starting to wither away. You’re wilting Calvin.”
“Gee- I- I- guess you’re right when it comes to that. I haven’t been feeling like myself lately. Even when I try to do things I like, it feels like I’m constantly trudging my way out of a hole that I’ve dug myself in.”
“Are you grades okay?”
“Well, I’m struggling in the only math class I have this semester.”
“Have you gone for tutoring?”
“I tried but there’s nobody offering peer-to-peer tutoring and the online tutoring doesn’t have my class. I chatted with an administrator online about it and they were perplexed too.”
“Calvin,” she slapped her hand on the table, “you’re going for every other resource instead of the simplest one?”
“Your teacher, Calvin. Head to your professor. Teachers always love helping their students. They want you to do good cause then it’s a positive representation of them. Who’s your teacher?”
“Oh, Calvin. She’s the sweetest woman on the face of this planet with integrity like you would not believe. Go to her for help and I promise you, she’ll be appreciative of it. When my son graduated from school, he and her used to work at the same engineering firm together. Trust me, she’s a good weapon to have in your back pocket. So, use her well to sharpen your mind.”
“Well, I guess I’ll head to class today instead of doing it online”
“That’s the way. I know that you still work out and that you’re eating well. I always see you eating your fruits and vegetables, but how’s your soul, child?”
“Yes, your soul? Do you say your prayers? Go to church? When’s the last time you just thought about counting your blessings?”
“Well, it’s been a while since I’ve been to church in all honesty. Last time the priest was blabbing about his fear of people leaving due to a lack of trust between the congregation and a few recent assault cases. I couldn’t stand hearing him drone on and on about it, so I just sort of tuned him out.”
She sighed, “Yeah, I would tune that out too, especially if something like that happened to one of my family members. Regardless, Calvin, you need to focus on the words meant for your soul. The words of man will forever and always change, but your soul, your integrity is almost immutable. If something doesn’t feel right to you, there’s a reason why it’s instinctive. Sometimes I don’t go to church to hear the pastor preach or the priest to serve communion. I go just to feel the presence of God.”
“Yes, Calvin. I’ll tell you this, when you’re about to have many a good thing come for you, and when you are about to prosper, evil will rear its head in your direction trying to make you feel disconnected. You will feel uncared for, unloved, unprotected, and generally apathetic.”
“My mom mentioned that too. She said I was going through-,”
“Spiritual warfare.” She just took the words right out of my mouth.
“How did you know?”
“Because Calvin, I’ve been through it. The worst is when they try to touch you instilling a sense of fear. Sometimes it’s a drop of temperature in the room. Sometimes it’s a lack of emotion. Some of the worst cases that commonly occur are sleep paralysis. Has that ever happened to you child?”
I dropped my fork covered in ketchup smeared tater tots. Her wisdom on the subject absolutely baffled me, scared me a little, but it was all accurate. Covering my mouth, I started to speak. “Last year at school, it was the weekend. I slept in that Saturday morning. Then- then-.”
She put a hand on my back, rubbing it to console me. “Shhh, shhh, shhh, shhh… Don’t worry child. You’re in safe arms here.”
“Its tongue was in my mouth. I was all alone. I had no roommate that year. Yet, I saw it all perfectly clear. It molested me.”
“Ooo!” She winced. “That’s nasty stuff. I pray that you never have to experience that again. Your body is a sanctuary. It should not of had the authority to touch you like that. I’m sorry.”
“Thank you, Bertha.” I shuddered.
“Well, what are you gonna do now?”
“I only have one class today. I need to shower, head to class, and I’ll workout after lunch. I’ll see you around dinner time?”
“You bet. Now go on and finish up your meal. You have a big day ahead of you, and I want you to come out of the better side of it. You hear me?”
After cleaning up my plate I was able to cast a nice shadow on the walk back to my room. Having grabbed some fresh clothes from my bedroom, I placed them on the closed toilet lid while I waited for the shower to heat up. Brushing my teeth, I gazed into the mirror and saw who I was- No. Who it was trying to make me become.
Spitting out my toothpaste, I picked up the bottle of Listerine, poured myself a cap, and offered that man in the mirror a drink. Gargling away the bad breath of last night’s meals and sleep along with today’s milk carton eggs, I hauked up the green concoction with a loogie, ridding myself of the germs that grew in the back of my throat.
Looking into the mirror with intensity, I stated, “I’m in control now. Not you. Me.”
Looking back at me, the reflection in my mouth trembled, but it spoke in a voice that I only heard in my head. There was no echoing of its voice like what mine did in the hallway. Its eyes dilated. The hairs on the back of my neck began to stand up on end, and I saw off in the corner of my eyes that the temperature on the thermostat dropped by five degrees. The panic began to set it.
“You’re only in control when I allow you to be.”
My hands gripped the edge of the sink even tighter, my vision was beginning to fade as a ring of blackness closed around it, and it felt like I was breathing through a straw (and I’m not a smoker nor do I vape). Looking at myself in the mirror, from the edges of blackness that surrounded my eyes, I swear I saw something walking behind me. My lower waist was getting grabbed and my throat was being pinched while my right earhole felt wet. It was using its tongue again.
It was molesting me. My chest was heaving forward like I was about to throw up. It was humping me. I could barely breathe. It was strangling me. I could barely see. It was blinding me.
I thought of what Bertha told me, and though the words seemed to strangle out, I managed to say, “Only God has the authority to touch me.”
Like that it all stopped. Goosebumps rose up along the length of my back and I felt like I was being clothed in the most ethereal of blankets. It was weird. Yet, I began to pray. Repeating the “Our Father” over and over again, I felt that same feeling.
Before I stepped into the shower, I opened up my Spotify playlist and made sure to have the song “Oh Happy Day” by The Edwin Hawkins Singers playing the entire time I was in there. Scrubbing away, I felt like I was exfoliating whatever filth that being did to me from off of my skin. My body’s a temple, and it deserves to be treated as such.
When I got out, I moisturized, applied deodorant, and dressed up. Not even looking at the mirror when I left the bathroom, I picked up my backpack and walked on my way to class.
“So that’s what mom meant,” I said.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
A unique and creative take, fighting the monster on the inside. Very well done.
A creative take on the prompt, for sure. I thought your descriptions of how he was feeling and what he was going through very well done, followed up by relating his feeling of hope and optimism when he found his way out. Even. as a person who would consider myself not religious, I could feel his struggle very well.
Great story , love the ending 🥰
I like that you used the concept of spiritual warfare in your story. All your descriptions and details about how Calvin was feeling due to his depression were exactly how I feel at times. I remember not being able to study but too afraid to ask for help and flunked most of my exams. Thankfully during my degree, I had an amazing group of friends who helped me to study and get good grades. Thank you for writing this story, it was very inspirational!
The final line of the piece adds a nice touch of realization and introspection, making the reader reflect on the deeper meaning of the text.