Ironically, the thing that gave Kate her misery, that gave her her badge to humanity, was the thing that tore her away from feeling any connection to the people around her and into a windstorm that spun ever inward. Never had she been so permeated and imbibed — over 70% of the serotonin graveyard of her mind was composed of unfiltered sadness. And though she could at times reflect dispassionately on her personal tragedies and find humor in it, it was a dry humor and the fact that dry humor was all that existed outside her prison of sadness made her even sadder.
To Kate, air was not a gas. It was a solid, one that wrapped around her and filled the known universe, and it couldn’t be seen through. She distinctly and incorrectly felt that she was the only one who felt this, this impenetrable wall of nitrogen that moved through her more than she moved through it. Some days, then, the air would be sharp and made of quadrillions of trenchant atoms, molecular knives that stabbed every pore of her skin. Others it would be a viscous, caramel liquid, dripping lethargically. And still others it would be ciliac, bright and pink, tickling her legs, her shoulders, her ears, her fingertips, wherever she went.
Now the air was less a solid than the concept of heaviness. It was everything heavy. It was barbells, bibles, boulders. It was a backpack filled with a semester of homework. The weight bent her neck forward, bent her eyes downward, bent her tear ducts in such a torsional way that they would leak out at completely unprepared times, right there in the middle of the sidewalk, between the two maple trees there but nothing else much, so that everyone could see. When they stopped leaking, with a coagulation of emotion that left her both weaker and stronger in ways she couldn’t exactly identify, she’d looked up, and no one was watching. She looked upward still.
Each time, like that, if you could believe it, no one was watching.
And that made her sadder. It was what she wanted, to have no one see her bent tear ducts, and as far as she could tell they didn’t, and that made her sadder. It was what she wanted, to have no one see her twisted-up tear ducts, and always someone did, but she never noticed, and that made everyone else sadder. Fortunately, in her willed illusion of invisibility, she made everything else invisible to her (also a byproduct of her whirling inwardness), and not having seen all the sadness that her sadness created, she remained regular sad, compounded by her inward whirling, compounded by her dry, humorous escapes, compounded by her utter illusory aloneness.
Puberty crossed Kate’s mind. She was well beyond it, so why did the world still seem so terrifying, and why each day did it feel new? That each sunset still moved her was heartrending. But as it was, she had seen so little of the world, and friction can have two effects on a person: it can create steel-toed calluses, but before that it tears your skin away and exposes you to the wind and what is in it. To Kate, it was a sensitivity that she hadn’t asked for and feared. She was beholden to the falling of a leaf or the movement of a cloud for her stability. The world cut her open.
When the sight of a gold butterfly on the sidewalk lip concurring with the shhh of chinkapin oak leaves on a sunny day completely wrecked her, she stood in the middle of the busy walkway, completely frozen by feeling, right there for seven whole minutes, looking into the 20° middle distance backed by the maroon-brown bricks of the building behind where her vision stopped, somewhere behind all the weight. Her eyes didn’t well up, but instead pulsed with her chest.
You cannot chart the moment when this feeling hits you. The universe chooses inexplicable instants, randomly triggered.
At this moment and without much warning, the world started to spin around her, like a bullet time shot. Or more rather, it was like the world was suddenly looking at her from all angles, launching itself around her and wrapping her in a cycloramic embrace. She could feel every angle pressing against her skin, and to her the spinning world was part of a spiritual thermal, one that transcended the curvature of the horizon that had once made her cry. That curvature slowly lowered at the same rate that the thermal raised her, until she was fleetingly and momentarily above the weight of air, and though she knew it was fleeting, she knew it was feeling. From such a height, she could at last see the invisible people she once thought had considered her invisible. She could see them like mirrors. And she saw that with each step, they rose and fell, and with each breath, they rose and fell, and with each day, they rose and fell as well, as if carried by more than their will.
Soon, when the vicissitudes of emotion returned her to the ground, she forgot the embrace of the world. She didn’t remember the height, but she remembered the view. The sadness rushed back through her and filled her as if a temporary dam had broken. The air was upwards of 200 pounds heavy. She was normal sad, compounded by her inward whirling, compounded by her dry, humorous escapes, compounded by her utter illusory aloneness, compounded by her recent ascent and redescent. She saw a wisp of cottonwood fluff floating in the wind, up and around, then jettison in a burst across a field of fresh-mowed grass, out of sight. Kate didn’t have any inkling of where it would land, or if it would land, and she watched its flight, feeling a part instead of apart, transfixed by its uncertainty.