My thoughts tumble as I type the rest of the financial statement that due by tomorrow. Every day I come into work and look at those people around me, seeing them all young, full of life. The hope and dreams shine through their faces, lighting up the corner but also contrasting sharply to the darkness of my life. I used to be like that too. I used to be a happy employee that people adore. Where did that person go?
Depression and anxiety come in like the unexpected guests, making themselves comfortable, too comfortable that now they don’t seem so strange anymore. I feel that I am not productive anymore, that I am slowing the whole company down. Allie, the head of the Accounting department, begs to differ, saying that I am still doing a great job, still one of the most hard- working people in the whole team. I used to be so sure about it, but not anymore. I force myself to wake up every morning, but all I wanted to do is to fall back to sleep again, forgetting about what life is like. I think I know why sleeping is so peaceful to me: it is like a temporary death, you feel nothing except the fixed sense of tranquillity. You do not feel pain, or loss, or worries. Sleep allows you to put all of that behind you, to get lost in the world of dreams and fantasies, where you know you are safe and sound.
I take a sip of coffee. Black, like usual. Today Ariel, the old lady who sits at the front desk, didn’t come to work. Instead, a nicely-dressed girl who I have never seen was there. She didn’t seem friendly, I thought as I swept my cards through the cold machine to get through the door this morning. Or maybe I was wrong; maybe it was just me who was too caught up in myself to notice that she might be nervous to be at the front desk. I should have struck a conversation with her, but I didn’t.
How weird it is when a particular thing can bring such strong emotions. Kevin, my therapist who I see once a month, a middle age man who just recently went through a divorce, told me that I need to write my thoughts and emotions down to keep track of them. I rarely do, but enough for his “resources”. It is not that I want to do so, but rather to make him happy. I don’t want him to think that I am not trying. I am, I whisper to myself as I note down “Ariel didn’t come to work today, and I feel uneasy about it”. The clock on the table reads 11.25, 5 minutes until lunch break. I look around my office. I have been here for three years now; this position used to be my goal, something that I worked days and nights for. Now it is just a prison where I drown myself in work to forget my own sorrow.
Being an accountant has its up and downsides. Ever since I was young, I always wanted to work behind the scenes, evaluating the risks, making sure the machine works perfectly without a hitch. Accounting was the perfect choice for me, although my parents did not seem too happy about it. For them, paperwork is a boring and “predictable” job, a safe choice that I made to avoid the “joy of life”. They are not entirely wrong. Maybe accounting is my safe choice, maybe I choose it because I know I would be good at the job, maybe I will only live a normal and unexciting life, working from 9 to 5, getting married, having kids, sending them to college,… That is the goal of many, but I am unsure whether it is mine.
The uncertainty floats around my head like a ghost, like a burden hung around my neck that refuses to go away.
I walk down to the hallway, out of the building. The noise of the city during lunch breaks are both sad and comforting. What is more depressing, than being alone while surrounded by a crowd? I walk across the road to get to the park, with the brown lunch bag in my hand. The bench on the far left is where I usually have my lunch breaks. Unlike the other parts of the city, full with people coming in and out of workplaces, this park at lunch time is relatively quiet. I sit on the wooden bench, watching a group of old men exercising from across of the lake. The water reflects the beautiful blue sky. The smell of freshly baked cookies from across the streets, the fragile wind playing with the trees, making a small yet distinguishable sound. The sound I love.
I reach my brown bag, an apple and a sandwich, per usual. A small bird glides down gracefully. It is a young albatross, which is rather strange since Albatross is a sea bird, rarely seen on land. I watch the albatross hops around, suddenly remembering a part of the poem that I learned in high school years ago:
Ah! Well a-day! What evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung.
I take a bite of the apple. The satisfying crunch fills the air then quickly disappears.
“Strange, isn’t it?” An old man says as he takes a seat next to me. I can almost hear the comforting silence shatters into million pieces.
I don’t know what to reply, so I just nod awkwardly. I always see this wooden bench as mine, and no one ever seems to notice it except me and sometimes some pigeons. It is a place where I can be myself, with my thoughts as my company, eating lunch in silence. But now that silence is invaded by a rusty looking stranger.
“It reminds me of a poem, you know The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?” he asks
Oh, so that is the name of the poem. How could I forget? The name must have escaped my mind. I take a brief glance at the old man, who is sitting still perfectly, his gaze is fixed on the young bird. I open my mouth to say something, but not knowing anything to say. The man watches as the bird is now farther away, still hopping around.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem that we studied in high school. I don’t remember it in details since years have passed, but I do recall the albatross metaphor which is my teacher’s favourite image throughout the whole lecture. I can still see him walking around the class, talking about how the bird is the both the omen of good and bad luck. When the mariner shoots the albatross down as with a crossbow, causing the ship to suffer a terrible misshape. And even when the crew were too thirsty to speak, the look in their eyes let the mariner know that they blame him for the action. The burden weighs on him, as like the albatross is metaphorically hung around his neck.
“Maybe sometimes shooting the albatross is the right thing to do, don’t you think?” The man says, without looking at me.
Why would he want to shoot the albatross? I ask myself as I change my position, but there are no comfortable positions.
“Shoot the Albatross?” I hesitate, thinking about the story of the poem. “But the albatross is the omen for good luck? If the mariner never shoots down the bird, the ship probably survives.”
The bird flies away, leaving a small trail behind. The old man turns to me. His eyes are brown, the freckles on his forehead swirl together like a painting.
“Not physically shoot down the albatross like the mariner did, dear. The albatross is your sins, your wrong-doings, it is already around your neck.” He answers softly
“You need to shoot it down, letting it all go.”
His gaze is now fixed on the lake in front of us. The silence fills in the air again, but this time, it is no longer uncomfortable. We chase our thoughts in our heads, not looking at each other, not saying any words.
Maybe he is right, I think. Maybe what I need to do is to shoot my “albatross”, to let things go, to learn to be happy again. Sometimes the sadness is so safe, so certain that you don’t want to step out of it. Maybe that’s the case. Maybe…
My stomach makes a weird sound, which reminds me that I have hardly eaten anything. I probably have to get back to work. This soothing calmness will soon go away, leaving me behind. But this time, with questions that I will need to figure out. By myself.
The old man gives me an almost imperceptible smile.
By Thuy Chi Hoang from Vietnam