by Leo Gillard
Kieran was perfectly aware that his life had… not exactly gone as planned. That he was stuck in something he couldn’t quite see the end of, couldn’t reach the bottom of to push himself back up again.
He’d gone down the wrong path, somewhere along the line, and he’d sunk somewhere without realising. He’d forgotten to reach out and let someone pull him out.
Except that was the wrong way to think about everything. Because the way he’d often described it to himself was as if he was wading through a bog, or sinking into mud that seeped into his bones and made him so, so cold. But it wasn’t like that.
It wasn’t a monster or beast that needed to be overcome. It wasn’t a sickness that kept him in bed. It wasn’t a sky without stars or a void that yawned on into eternity.
It was a pinprick of light, so far away that he’d forgotten how to see it. It was a blanket that suffocated and constricted, and filled his head with a fog he couldn’t understand or break through. It was a rumble under his skin that wouldn’t go away.
It was a path he’d managed to find himself walking along, with no memory of how he got there or how to return. No knowledge of if he even could.
But what he did know was that it wasn’t good. It wasn’t pleasant, to watch everything drift away. To see, plain as anything, everyone he knew attempting to reach out when he couldn’t figure out how to close the gap.
He had to overcome it. Kieran knew that. And it began with “I think I need your help.”
At first, he couldn’t believe it was so simple. Six words, and Orion was there. He said them again for a different person and they were there too. Laila. Arin. It was so… easy. He could breathe. He could smile. He could feel like time was moving forwards again, without worrying about whether he needed to stand still and watch the world go by. (How had he stood still for months, years, and not realised he wasn’t taking in a single thing?)
That was only at first. It turned out that overcoming everything that had held him back for so many years wasn’t as easy as a handful of words and three wonderful friends. Company couldn’t break all his old habits, or the ways of being he’d become used to.
But that didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that it was hard, that it didn’t come the instant he tried something that actually worked (he’d been trying forever, of course, even when he was too exhausted to do much at all. He’d been trying so hard, but overcoming everything took time, and perhaps more than a little luck). It didn’t matter, because when he fell back into an old habit, he didn’t have to break it on his own.
Laila saw that he was awake when she was on a night shift – she invited herself over the following night and made him go to bed. And then she did it the next night, and the next, and she felt bad that she had to treat him like a child to get him to do anything but he was endlessly grateful.
Arin invited him out to lunch. Then, on the way home, he went to the store and found just about every kind of long-lasting food that Kieran had ever enjoyed eating. Kieran would later learn that Laila had seen that his cupboards at home were empty, but then all he could see was a friend looking out for him, changing his life in ways Kieran couldn’t put into words.
And Orion… Orion talked. They’d talked every day for years, practically every day of their lives, but this was real. This was real in a way it hadn’t been for a long time. Orion had never, ever, in all their lives, been a particularly verbose person. He had things to say, but he said them quickly and never at length.
But now, Orion talked. He talked about hopes for the future, fear of failure, every way he had hurt and healed over the last few years. Everything Kieran had missed, somehow, without even realising it.
They were little things. Little moments where someone else helped him breathe in, and he had to figure out how to breathe out on his own. And suddenly he didn’t have to stand alone. Suddenly, his mind caught up to the fact that he’d never been standing alone.
And maybe it wasn’t a pitched battle, and there were some things Kieran knew he couldn’t overcome on his own. But that didn’t mean he had to be able to.