Melancholy Content

Is this out of character?

Setting: A warm Savannah evening on the small front porch of a restored historic district house. A plastic lawn chair with a back that only works when leaned against the railing. The moon is a wisp of hair, like the silver-gold lock of a child’s curl.

A young woman leans back in the broken chair, bare feet up, a cigarette in desperate need of ashing in her right hand, a Heineken in her left. Scratch that. She only smokes because the moment calls for that kind of tragedy, and the beer is a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, not a Heineken, because she’s realistic even when philosophical. Her mood: Melancholy content.

Melancholy content. It’s something other people might call acceptance or resignation, but her own term for it is melancholy content because it seems more full to her, and she’s been here before. She has her own terms for a lot of things.

And it’s not so much here that she’s been before, not exactly, but close. Here is the worst heartbreak of her life, the kind she thinks people die from. Really, actually die from.

Let’s call her Robyn because it’s how I’ve always thought of myself, and it’s especially appropriate lately. She has a fluttering lodged in her rib cage between stomach and heart, like a baby bird trying to wing its way out of her. It’s not altogether unpleasant, but it’s unsettling. At least it reminds her she’s alive.

She keeps looking up at that wisp of moon like answers might drift off its edges and fall around her. She keeps sipping from that beer like she’d prefer lemonade, but you can tell just by watching that the buzz is what keeps her going. She’s feeling quiet inside, sharing the porch with the night, the quiet way she gets when she’s melancholy content.

It’s the knowledge of her personal loss, her own tragic life, and the realization that she can’t change it, not even her attitude. She doesn’t have that much control. And when you breathe that fact in among the whispers of Spanish moss jostling in the breeze, well, there isn’t much to do but lean back and keep on living.

Living has been hard lately, but there are people she turns to so that she keeps waking up each morning and puts on just enough strength to finish each day. She has two friends that communicate with her solely over the computer these days, but it’s the two of them that move her on through life. It’s the thought of one, the female, on another continent, beneath an upturned basket of totally different stars, lying on a midnight beach thinking of her, that makes this particular moon seem brighter.

This friend reaches her across thousands of miles, across an entire ocean, and holds her hands tight and compels her to look up, to strive forward, to see beauty around her everywhere. Looking in, Robyn would think it was always raining. But to hear her friend tell it, there’s sunshine all over the world, even in a rainstorm. And there is immense beauty in round drops of rainshine rolling off the edges of greening leaves, just like answers might ease off the edges of that slip of moon.

It’s the other friend however, the male, that brings her back to earth, sees her squarely as she is, and lets her know that each foot on the ground is the only way to walk through pain. This is a lost-and-found friend, a pushed-away and pulled-back friend, a person she knows will help her find truth in comfort and comfort in truth. She can’t go back, but the future can be better than the past.

Perhaps she’s lost all faith in love. It’s more that she wants to lose faith than that it’s actually gone, because love is always a possibility. Possibility — something she can actually accomplish. She just has to adjust what she wants to make it her possibility.

So she’s sitting on the porch trying to make her life possible, trying to drown the black thoughts, the anguish and anger and pain, trying to drink till her mind fogs and clears again, like she might see something in the mist she’d have otherwise missed.

As though through those trees, the forests of her mind, she could unfold the gift of the future, understand the whys behind the actions, see what happens next and how she emerges scathed and burnt and hunched, but running towards the water, the reflection of herself that she will never wince away from.

She spent the afternoon with friends, shooting BBs at beer cans in the side yard, an act of being drunk, being southern, being alone. Is the BB gun out of character? Yes and no.

Lately, Robyn has felt a little like a bomb waiting to go off, and she shoots the BB without vengeance, without anger, but just because it reaches in towards something she feels is about to go off inside her, is about to explode outward, something she can’t reach or touch or name.

Something that seems rolled into a tiny pellet that bursts through aluminum with a satisfactory ping, and fizz, or skids off the dirt in a tiny cloud of dust. It’s violence with the edge off, anger with the sting gone; it’s melancholy content.

She’s been thinking about her parents, traveling in a car with them, and how from the back seat she notices things. She notices how her father still touches her mother’s hair, puts his hand on her thigh. She sees he gazes at her like she’s still the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Like love actually lasts through children and affairs and in-laws. Like it’s more than a contract, it’s a desire to spend a whole lifetime next to someone you haven’t known that long.

She wonders how you know, how you figure out that you can grow old, never lose the passion, the adoration, the trust. She wonders if it’s all chance, or if you see a flash in that person’s eyes, a quick glimpse of being old, gray, and together.

But she’s seen that before, and here she is on this porch with a beer and a cigarette and a tear on her cheek drying in the warm breeze. She’s not capable of understanding, tonight, why her flash is broken, why her snapshot of forever misjudged.

She’s just sitting on the porch with her cigarette and beer and she’s not listening to the bomb ticking in her, or the fluttering of that bird. It’s possible just to exist sometimes, no thoughts at all. Is the cigarette, is the beer out of character? Maybe.

Maybe Robyn would prefer to be sitting on this porch with a cup of hot tea, with a clove, with … something … a book, a journal. But she doesn’t know what else to do, or where else to turn and somehow that cigarette and that beer signify everything that she has been feeling, that she has bottled up.

It’s the sweet release of being just a little bit drunk, the sweet release of the burn in her throat as she inhales cigarettes that she is not used to smoking. It’s looking upwards at that little wisp of moon, those stars that twinkle just barely behind the cover of a cloud that make her know when she gets up tomorrow morning, it will be raining.

Well, not quite that; it’s that I will get up tomorrow morning, and it will always be raining. That’s just like life.

Article © 2002 by Caryn Ellis