a short story
Ty sipped his coffee and read an article. The point being made wasn’t yet discernible, but he intended to get to the end. He liked to come here and read the physical copy of the magazines. Psychology, neuroscience, medicine, sports, literature. His interests were widespread; he mostly enjoyed reading, and especially doing it in this spot. The coffee shop’s lighting could be better and the seating was sparse, but he was enraptured by the smell of the brew. He reveled in the atmosphere. Something here in this combination made the absorption of information more conducive to him. He couldn’t explain exactly why if someone asked him, but it was there just the same. Coffee shops were his favorite place to spend Saturday mornings, especially when it got cold. He’d never articulated why because no one had ever asked. He wouldn’t be sure how to answer if someone did. Currently, his earbuds locked him into an ambient chamber of near silence, instrumental tunes enhancing his focus on pages he poured over with a steady eye.
It was early in the morning, and sometimes Ty would spend most of his day here in relative peace. Taking note of him out of the corner of his eye, Ty looked up out the window of the shop and took a deep breath.
Such a time was at its end.
Nim burst into the coffee shop with unexpected force. It was a light door and he didn’t have the patience for keeping the calm. Nim had something he needed to show out in this way for. His breathing labored as he tried to gather himself and look about. The walk was long so he had run for a while. He wore a light jacket which was nearly falling off his body. In his hands he held several textbooks, threatening to spill out from his struggling handle. His backpack was a flimsy and holy object of ill-use. Nim carried his things up close and to his heart, wielding his books and folders like ready-to-use weapons. But today, there was something in his backpack, something he needed to keep concealed. He couldn’t make sense of it so he had come here to make Ty do so. Luckily for him, there was no one else in the shop to distract him in his mission.
“I knew you’d be here so I came as quickly as I could,” Nim gasped, slamming his books on the table and his backside into the seat opposite Ty at the little table.
Ty picked up his coffee quickly, to avoid a spill as the table shook. Grimacing he closed his magazine and removed his earbuds slowly.
“Hello Nim,” Ty responded.
Nim vigorously rooted through his backpack, it looked quite ready to rip to shreds from his movements.
“Listen to me, listen to me,” Nim said absently, starting to remove the contents of his pack.
“Oh I am,” Ty returned once again. Another deep breath, entrenched in something near patience. They had met in Bio class at the start of the semester, worked on a couple labs and projects together. They shared class notes frequently. At this point, they were more acquaintances than friends. But Ty had the feeling Nim thought much differently of their relationship. Ty could deal with it. He mostly liked the guy, despite his idiosyncrasies. He had always tried to be a friend to him. Perhaps it was only his nature, to be friendly by default.
Nim retrieved a small black notebook from his bag and placed it onto the table with the utmost care. Ty took note of his open mouth and the erratic look in his eyes as he did so. Nim stared at the notebook with this fixation a moment longer before speaking. Ty glanced down at it.
“It’s magic Ty,” he said looking up to him.
“This thing,” Nim said, motioning to it.
“Yes! Ha-ha,” Nim said, curbing a laugh.
To Ty, he sounded manic. He closed his eyes.
“What are you talking about?”
“Where do I begin,” Nim paused. “When I write into this notepad, it takes it away, it takes it. Whatever it is you write, it takes it… and, well, you no longer have to worry about it.”
Ty glanced down at the notebook, remaining silent.
Nim ran his hands through his hair with nervous determination, before continuing in what soon became a rambling mania.
“Ok, Ok, like I first realized it when I was in English class. That’s what I got it for, to take notes on the book we are reading, umm.. The Stranger, Albert Camus. So I am writing about Meursault, his murder and when he’s thinking about his life and the consequences in his cell. And I realize later, when I go back and read the notes to write my essay that not only had I forgotten I wrote them, but everything about the book is just gone. I don’t remember what it’s about. But have some vague awareness that I did in fact read it. I umm.. don’t recall anything about the message being conveyed by Camus, or the way it made me feel when I did. I am lost in our class discussions now. It’s just absent. Even if speak on it, I am just bull-shitting. But I do remember that I read the book, in an abstract sense, and that I did have thoughts on it, once. I just don’t know what those thoughts were, the specifics. So as I am reading through my notes, within this very notebook and which I took in tremendous detail by the way, it’s as if I am reading them for the first time. These were my thoughts. But I don’t recognize them as significant, or as especially profound, even now. There’s just nothing to grab onto, even in trying to go back through and conscientiously taking it all back in.”
Nim’s breathing had heightened and he spoke with an animation that Ty has never really seen in him. He was never this talkative, and certainly never this enlivened.
“Nim, calm down a moment… I uhh… I still don’t think I understand,” Ty said shaking his head. He picks up his coffee again for a sip to buy him some time to think.
Ty squinted briefly, attempting to register Nim’s wild words. He returned his attention from the note to Nim’s face, “Ok so wha.. Where did you get this thing?”
“Ha that’s just it, I didn’t buy it anywhere. I found it.” Nim responded.
“Where?” Ty countered.
“I uhh honestly don’t remember.”
Nim continued once more, blinking several times.
“Well that’s just the beginning, man. So I can’t understand it, it doesn’t make any sense this thing with The Stranger in English class and the random bout of amnesia. Needless to say, I have never experienced anything like that. Well earlier this week I start writing other things in it. For other classes, for example. Same result. I can’t even remember the equations for this upcoming calculus exam. Ha! I don’t even care! And then I write personal things, like from my journal. You know I keep a journal, track my dreams, my goals, some secret stuff that’s significant to me, musings and other random writings. Mostly just for fun. And sometimes because I need it. Well I start putting these things to the pages here in this notebook. But just the negative stuff. The things, that maybe just maybe, I want to forget. To be gone from me, y’know. And I spend all night writing this stuff down, like I can’t stop. I mean I have to finish it, you know, get everything down. I want to see what will happen, what all of this means. Guess what happened?”
“I have no idea,” Ty finally spoke, at a loss for more. He took another fast sip of brew.
“It’s gone! All these things, all this stuff that I spend a lot of time thinking about, is just gone. Like from my memory, my mindspace. And I made sure to be specific in what I wrote. Worries, regrets, my prejudices, my apathies, self-loathing, my fears both practical and existential. I mean, I really dug deep. Once I knew what it was doing, I just threw it all down into this pit, these little pages burned it all away.” Nim smiled, genuine and otherworldly notes played from his countenance.
Ty continued to consider Nim’s countenance and the emotion behind the words pouring out of him. He wasn’t exactly an excitable guy, or someone particularly prone to good moods. This was certainly the best mood he’d ever seen him in. And while Ty wasn’t especially surprised to learn he kept a journal, he hadn’t known anything about it.
“So what exactly are you saying, that this notebook is cleansing you of these feelings, these memories?” Ty retorted.
“Haha exactly! ‘Cleanse.’ That is actually a perfect word for it. I have been purified from all of the dross and putrefaction in my soul. I feel like a different person!” Nim said.
Ty decided to humor him, for the moment, “So these things you write, you just forget them? They are just gone from your memory? And your personality, I guess… and when you go back and read your little notes, it’s like — “
“… reading the words of a stranger, exactly. Kinda ironic isn’t it? Haha, it all started with The Stranger. But I mean, I consciously understand that they were written by my hand, just the night before even, and I know my intention in having written them as notes in the notebook, to expel them — even if just as an experiment. So it’s not necessarily amnesia. However, outside of that, I don’t feel them within me anymore. They are just missing now and can’t relate to them, really in any way. It’s as if they never happened.”
Ty was incredulous, and his face must have shown it.
“You don’t believe me eh?” Nim said with a grin. He slid back in his chair and sighed before pulling up short to look at Ty with frightening sincerity.
Ty paused at the look and turned away, outside to the greyed out morning sky. The dour inactivity of the street sobered his reeling mindspace.
Ty spoke while looking out,
“Well, Nim, it is kinda hard to believe. You sound like.. well, ma… But, I guess what all are you writing in there, I mean specifically? Your class notes initially, like you said, but now using it like a diary, secrets, and personal worries, prejudices and fears? ‘The negative stuff.’ Parts of your personality, events? How do you decide what to write? How much consideration goes into each of your sentences, in how you choose to write them? And if what you say is happening, is really happening, then.. I guess my question is..” Ty paused, scrunching his face.
“Why would you want to do this to yourself?”
“Ha that is just it. I didn’t think I would want to. To tell you the truth, I was terrified when it first happened with my Stranger notes. I couldn’t believe it, I had the consideration of knowing how someone with Alzheimer’s might feel, in the most minute sense and if they were given a choice in the matters. It was like something that I knew should a part of me, that previously belonged, was missing, and yet I didn’t know this unless my notes were telling it that way… An odd feeling, and it wasn’t necessarily a good feeling. But once I knew how it worked, I realized the significance of its power. I knew how I could use it most effectively, to improve my life even…” Nim trailed off. For the first time in their conversation, he appeared pensive, melancholy even.
Ty waited for him to continue, trying to discern his next words.
“You see, Ty.. well you haven’t known me that long. But you’ve probably noticed things about me. The way I act. I know it’s not normal. I realize I can be, well, off-putting at best. At worst, I am a burden to everyone around me. Generally, I feel invisible, like I don’t belong. I understand this about myself, and it’s something I try to work on. But it’s not easy and more and more it feels it is just the way I am.”
“I am depressed Ty, and I have been for a long time.”
Ty took a deep breath, “Nim, I’m so-… I didn’t -”
“No, I mean it’s fine. I guess you could call me highly functioning. But it’s there, I almost never feel right. And it’s nothing real specific, there’s no memory of abuse or some bad relationship. It’s well, a combination of a lot of things, some of them are just insecurities, self-doubt, incessant feelings that can’t really be explained or combatted. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. There’s times I feel like loneliness and apathy are driving me to insanity, to something worse… ”
Nim trailed off and averted his eyes.
Ty stroked his chin slowly, “Trust me Nim, I understand the feelings. It’s not uncommon.”
“Yeah well, then it should answer your question about why I would want to use it. You see, I have eliminated all of these feelings. A purification. I have always felt closed off from so much of experience, and the fault is my own. I’ve always thought… if I could just… shake loose from self-defeating thoughts then I could make some real progress for myself. I wrote some short personal narratives in here, as I have done in my journal for years. These narratives, this self-doubt which prevents me… Trust me Ty, it’s better…” Nim got quiet once more. He looked to his left out the window.
There were now many moments of an exacting silence.
For the first time in the interaction, Ty began to seriously consider the implications of everything that Nim had said. Taking in all of the aspects and assumptions of the notebook’s effects, he considered it in the context of his own life. Ty quickly developed a thesis on such a phenomena.
Ty reasoned, “Well Nim, isn’t there a chance, that all of this… is well, in your head? In a way, I mean. You write in a journal and you do it for a reason. You know how it’s supposed to be therapeutic. It is a catharsis for life’s problems and writing them down on the page can help you cope, sometimes it’s the best possible way of coping. Maybe after going for so long… there was a critical mass of self-therapy, a breakthrough… or maybe-”
“You think I am delusional,” Nim said, cutting Ty off. He spoke not with raised voice but with a sigh of resignation. He continued looking out.
“I am not saying you are delusional. I think maybe you are now just using this new journal as something of a lightning rod for some of your more serious personal issues, an elixir with which you think you can dispel them. And now you have succeeded somehow.”
“No Ty, it is real. What I say the notebook is doing. You have to believe me when I say this,” Nim said resolutely.
Ty paused, reflecting on all that Nim had said, before he continued.
“Ok. Ok. I’ll grant you that. But let’s backup. Have you considered… that maybe all this, all that you are doing is… a mistake.”
“What do you mean?” Nim responded curiously.
Ty closed his eyes, speaking with his own manner of resolve, “These things you are writing, they are a part of you. Whether you like it or not, these attributes, your personality, the way it has developed over time through experiences, positive and negative… it is integral. I believe that. And I think… you should try to believe it too.”
“But… given this chance… to expel what you hate most about yourself, would you pass it up? Wouldn’t you want to change things for the better, unburdened from the useless pain of the past?” Nim entreated with desperation.
Ty stared into Nim’s visage as he steepled his fingers, leaning his head down.
“No. I think maybe the audacious path you propose is one only of destruction. By casting away parts of your identity, you are chaining yourself to an entirely new fate. There is no recourse. You must realize this. Consider, you are excising pieces of your soul, for what? The gratification of hiding from feelings you don’t want or cannot understand, from the light. Ignorance is not bliss. Those feelings, those aspects of your personality spawned from real events, authentic moments of consciousness. While painful… I think they might be some of the most essential self-discoveries. And that is because of that salience, because of that pain. It is something we all go through. That pain might be very important.”
Ty took a deep breath.
“Look, I’ve listened to what you’ve had to say… You wanted my sincere opinion of what you are doing, on what this notebook is doing… I think… regardless of what your life and experiences have entailed up to this moment, I honestly believe we are better for having had them. All of them.”
Nim lowered his head. Ty thought maybe he was ready to cry.
“I could be wrong though,” Ty continued. “Who am I to cast judgments. Maybe it isn’t so bad a thing. I hope you at least consider what I have said. I think what you are describing could be healthy for now, just as long as you understand — “
Now Nim did raise his voice. Ty recoiled at the animation.
“Understand what, that what I am telling you is impossible? Or that it’s all a mistake? Or that this was all my own misunderstanding on the cathartic effects of journal writing? Which is it? I know it’s impossible Ty! And I know it’s childish! But that doesn’t make what I have experienced any less real! I know what I have here… I know what changes there have been within me, man. You don’t have to believe me,” Nim said, ending his outburst. He reached out and put his hand on the notebook, as if in reflex.
“I want to believe you. I want what is best — “ Ty started.
“You don’t, I can tell,” Nim looked crestfallen. He put his hands carefully over the cover the little notebook, and looked down at his hands.
There was a long pause between the two men. Ty gazed out to the street outside. Nim continued to focus down at his note. The aura of the coffee shop had changed, despite no patrons as of yet. The hum of the ceiling fans was the only breach to the newfound silence. The shopkeeper looked up from his book, taking note of the quiet. He had done his best not to eavesdrop, listening to his own music. But the recent turn in the conversation had piqued his interest. He started at the two young men with confusion. The reticience of the morning played itself out. Minutes passed by without reservation. Ty shifted in his seat and eventually broke the silence.
“Nim, why did you come to tell me all this?” Ty asked with sincerity.
“Because I knew you would listen to me,” Nim looked up at him again.
The silence returned for a long moment.
He continued, “Here Ty, at least let me show you. I have never showed this stuff to anyone, understand that. Not necessarily because I can’t… well, I can’t.. I probably never will… there’s just no one, I think… that would understand. Some things aren’t meant to be shared. But I believe I can trust you. I just want you to look, to see some of what I have written in these pages. Maybe you might understand.”
Nim handed him the little notebook, reaching it out. Before taking it, Ty looked at it and then back up to Nim. Understanding the significance of this gesture, Ty strained his jaw muscles, smiled slightly and nodded to him. He took the note with his own hand.
Instantly, Ty was filled with a deluge of emotional force. Sentiments charged into his heart and mind, like a storm which he couldn’t ignore or escape, or wield with any semblance of control. Things he had never considered weighed down on his conscience. Regrets he’d never come to pass cut through him. There was a rock of guilt mixed with apprehensions in his gut, unmanageable and unchanging. Beliefs about his own future shook into something unknown. Everything was viewed through a shroud of fresh melancholia.
When his mind’s eye opened once again, he was staring at pages upon pages of the writing. He looked up briefly to Nim’s awaiting eyes. Ty looked at the words on the pages attempting to ascertain them and their significance. But he found he didn’t have to. He knew them well.
Ty closed the note slowly, nodding and took another deep breath. He handed it back across the small table.
“Thank you Ty,” Nim said at length.
“It was no problem, Nim. I am…” Ty deliberated. “Grateful that you could share this with me.”
Ty got up from his seat, gathering his things. After a few moments, he looked down at Nim, who looked up to him, and said earnestly,
“I want you to promise me something, Nim.”
Nim appeared cordial.
“Don’t ever show that notebook to anyone that you wouldn’t sooner share a piece of your own soul with. Ok.”
Nim nodded, promising.
“I’ll see you later alright,” Ty said. He put in his earbuds and walked out of the coffee shop. Gait a bit slower, Ty soon forgot to put on any music. ~