To Touch the Sun

Non-fiction essay read at September 19th, 2016’s live-lit event, Essay Fiesta.

No one knew it at the time, but in the tiny neighborhood of Brink there was a whole universe waiting to be explored. And, what’s more — the very fabric of the universe was being threatened. Together, my brave cousin Chippy and I faced the perils of the cosmos alone, fighting every moment to complete our mission in space and prove ourselves heroes to the people of the world who knew not what we risked for them.

“Come in, Chippy – we’ve got comets at five o’clock,” I murmured into my mouthpiece.

I waited through the slight delay, and was relieved when I heard, “Spotted. Maneuvering away now.”

I watched with awe as he controlled the space station, willing it to twist out of the way. He knew every lever and pulley on the craft, could see the exact way each switch would move the giant hunk of metal floating in an endless vacuum.

What Chippy didn’t see was the comet blasting through the sky straight towards him.

“Chippy, no, a comet is coming right at you!”

“What? No!” With a vaporizing light, he fell away from the station, falling into open space. “Complete the mission!”

I watched with horror as Chippy floated away, hearing his last breaths echoed in my helmet. With a gulp, I set my eyes on the target. “Don’t worry Chippy, I’ll avenge you! I’m going up to the touch the sun!”

I reached out my hand, mere inches from the sun’s surface now, and with shock, I was jarred from my temporary fantasy as the ceiling fan caught my fingers, the basketball-shaped overhead light shorted, and a bright flash came before my eyes.

I gasped, jumping off of the bunk bed. Gone was the universe, replaced instead with my brother’s Star Wars curtains, blue walls, and indigo ceiling.

Chippy began laughing.

It’s been well over fifteen years since that day in my brother’s room, and it hardly comes to mind. When it does, it’s folded in with memories of magic closets, slews of imaginary friends, tea parties with my neighbor and her tarantulas, and so many other hazy memories that seem to stay alive in a land of Childhood, somewhere far and unreachable.

When you’re that age, escaping reality is easy. At the turn of a clock-hand your imagination would have unraveled to the end of time, so long as a pesky adult didn’t come around and make you wash your hands for dinner. I thought that my life would be filled with these adventures, where time and space didn’t dictate my reality.

My life now revolves less on chasing crazy dreams for moments at a time, and more on muscling through the day-to-day routine of waking, working, and getting ready to do it all over again the next day. Of course, I was warned as a kid – they, the “non-kids”, always try and warn you not to try to grow up too quickly, and while I was never the kid that wanted to grow up, I inevitably did.

I can’t pinpoint, of course, when the “growing-up” happened. I could claim that some jarring life-event forever altered my childish outlook on life but it wasn’t like that – it was gradual, as growing up really is.

Fantasies about fantasy were replaced with fantasies about reality.

Whimsy was replaced with worry.

Dreaming was replaced by depression.

Two years ago I found myself sitting in a ward with crayola-colored walls, on a couch that made my hips sore, wearing a pair of those socks with the grips on the bottom so you don’t fall and sue the hospital.

The first few days (or more likely hours) there were a blur of meals, medicine, blood pressure checks, and reruns of Criminal Minds – it became so routine I didn’t take notice of the nurses wrapping the pressure cuff around my arm or offering me my medicine.

And then one day there was a whisper, somewhere, that there was a library there in the wing. All I had to do was ask the right nurse at the right time, and apparently she would lead me to the library like Gandalf lead the dwarves to the Lonely Mountain. For some reason the idea of asking one of the staff if there was a library unnerved me—I felt a panic rise in my chest as I stood up to approach the closest woman (whose name I can’t recall as I cannot recall many details of that period of time), and I hesitated, wondering if I was bothering her.

But she merely smiled and said, “Sure, just give me a minute.”

And a few minutes later she was unlocking a door to a small room, with two small shelves—a treasure trove of stories.

It seemed, at first, impossible to know what book to pick, but familiar as it was, the naked spines of Harry Potter stuck out to me. I pondered over it for a few moments, but the golden spine of the Deathly Hallows was an unexpected friend who had come to visit me when I needed them most.

I picked up the book, and returned to the common area.

I was surprised—I hadn’t been able to read a book in ages, having no focus and little drive, but as soon as I opened the pages, I was lost again in them as if it were the first time I was reading them.

The words, so familiar, were exciting once more. I was engrossed in the magic, and lost to reality like I hadn’t been in longer than I could rationally recall. My senses were all overwhelmed instead by what I was reading, filtering out the superfluous chill of the common room or the nagging noises that come hand-in-hand with hospital wings. I was alongside characters of someone else’s imagination, journeying with them through a reality that replaced mine, and for those few hours that I indulged I wasn’t just a sad girl in the hospital.

A day or two later, as I sat at a table, staring out of the window at all of the people who were going about their lives, completely untouched by my own personal tragedies, I began to wonder: Where were the days of conjuring up a new tale every chance I got, or the hours spent enamored by a new book, anxious to reach the ending but thrilled to still have more to read? What had happened to the leisurely walks, watching the birds twitter past and the bees hover over blooms? What had happened to the girl who had once looked at a basketball-shaped overhead light and saw the sun?

It wasn’t until two weeks later, while I was sitting in my outpatient group therapy session that I heard the word for the first time.

Anhedonia. That’s what it’s called when you lose interest in the things you once enjoyed. “Passive joylessness,” they describe it as. “Lack of taste, and zest, and spring.”

Passively joyless – I couldn’t even muster up the energy to be actively sad. It was just sort of there, like a leaf that had accidentally fallen to the sidewalk at the peak of spring.

While walking towards the train station that day I stopped in front of a Starbucks. I looked inside of it, seeing people sitting there, many of them alone, sipping their four dollar beverages, engrossed in their books, laptops, or spreads of papers. None of them noticed me, standing just on the other side of the glass, staring in.

The next day while walking the very same route, I stopped at that coffee shop.

I went in, ordered a hot chocolate like the adult that I am, and sat at a table. I was nervous, and self-conscious—was I human-ing wrong? Was there some sort of rain dance I needed to do before sitting down? How quickly was too quickly to pull out my laptop? How long was I supposed to drink my beverage—twenty minutes? Thirty? Was I allowed to look up at the others sitting here, and watch what they were doing so as to infer some secret of the art of sitting in a coffee shop?

I swallowed the lump in my throat, opening up my manuscript—I hadn’t touched it in months. I watched the cursor flash, a faithful scribe awaiting my command. I could feel myself about to have some sort of panic attack, could feel it building in my chest with every flash.

But instead, I read a line of my book. “In the beginning of Fatale,” it started. I smiled, having forgotten the creation myth I had decided to start my novel with. Cheesy as it were, I had it memorized, having made it up one day in seventh grade, and it drew me back into a world I had left abandoned.

All of the angst and worry I had wandered away, finding some other hobby to entertain other than pestering me. In my mind, the world of my own creation sprang up before me, with its crumbling mountains and its Endless Sea. I could feel my characters waking up, startled out of a deep slumber, ready to respond to what I bid them to do. I was no longer on Earth—instead, I had dropped into Fatale, a world entirely of my own making, where I did not exist but so much more did.

That month, I finished fully editing my novel for the first time.

I don’t call my cousin “Chippy” anymore, opting for calling him “Joey” (yet another nickname), instead. When I moved into my studio last September, we had a dinner date, and I got to see a version of that kid that used to make up theme songs for our games with me, or sit and plan an elaborate stuffed animal wedding complete with cake and wedding crashers. But, instead of playing pretend fantasy, we played pretend reality, where for a few moments we both pretended we had it all figured out.

“I love chicken now, can you believe that? Me! Eating chicken! And lemonade, ugh who am I?!” He exclaimed as he ate the food we had picked up from the Jewel Deli.

“No more brownies stuffed inside of a PB&J sandwich?”

“That was one time! And it was because they told me I couldn’t eat any more brownies so I had to hide it.”

I read his tarot cards for him. He told me about his elaborate love life.

And then it came up. “Do you remember that time we broke your brothers ceiling fan?”

I did. I’d almost forgotten.

“You were so dumb! ‘I’m going up to touch the sun!’” He mocked. “And then ZAP, you broke the whole house!”

Feeling nostalgic, we YouTubed our favorite songs from back then and Joey said, almost nonchalantly, “We used to think we understood these sad ass songs.”

Some days I lay in bed, wanting to get up and do things—all the things, all that is possible for a human to do in a day—but I’m overwhelmed by the desire to have sleep for breakfast, lunch, and dinner instead.

Others, I’m up with the birds, and make myself a breakfast worthy of any hobbit in any hole in the ground, and enjoy the day as my mind welcomes all of the ideas that come flooding to it and draw a new thing or write a new chapter.

Every day has become a game, like the insane mission two imaginative children went on that day so long ago: to do what some deemed crazy, what some said was impossible, and what we ourselves knew we could do if we just believed. My mission is to save the world—well, at least save the world to me and even if it doesn’t go as planning I am going up to touch the sun.

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