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Somewhere along the road, I’d forgotten how to breathe

Raja Christian

In the Spring, when a tree is in full bloom, it climbs towards the sun’s rays — almost as if in worship. It makes an effort to regrow its leaves while readying itself for the coming Summer when it’ll struggle the most – ironically, because of the Sun: that thing which it had, only a few months earlier, exalted in high praise. You see, the tree doesn’t know that it lives in harmony with the celestial being that takes and gives both life and death. The tree, resolute and unyielding, fights against the extreme temperatures of the sun to grow and sustain itself. Think of community as a tree, the whole of its parts added up. Its branches as groups, its roots as values and beliefs. Not unlike a tree, a community must respond to its own suns with equal force. But it’s Autumn now and the leaves have begun to fall.

Despite what season it may be, there are leaves — that’s to say, people — in our very own community that are in a perpetual descent, a falling that no one pays mind to. You see them, cup in hand, perhaps no cup at all — and dazed. Or, they are the melancholic ones with arms shoved so deep into their jacket pockets you’d think they were praying for a hand to grasp back. You see them averting their eyes. They aimlessly stare at the ground, watching as their feet move, urged forward by some intractable force. And what of them? This poetic description of community comes to me from my father. My father, a man who has suffered. My father, a man who has weathered his share of winters and gained his wisdom from their cold.

He once said to me that while sleeping under the shade of a tree in the San Gabriel Mountains he came to some ultimate understanding of his place in the Universe. What great weight of wisdom it must’ve had; if only I could’ve seen this tree. I imagine that the wind running through its branches was seductive and inviting. He felt as if the tree were speaking to him. The sound of its leaves fluttering in the wind. Songs? Singing? Was it language? The tree (or was it the wind?) seemed to whisper to him (its voice, its notes were haunting, symphonic.) “The voices of all the people, long since gone, who had come and sat beneath its shade,” that’s how he put it. Alone in those mountains and lacking the security that home provides, he had never before felt so connected; to himself, to others, to the earth.


The world can be a cold place. For some, it never warms. This last year has been my toughest yet. Struggling to get out of bed and confront myself in those early morning hours, I had no interest in meeting my gaze in that bathroom mirror; so bare and stark, everything. I had put my human mask on and proceeded with what was required of me as a graduating College Senior. Yet again, here was another sleepless Tuesday night turned bleak Wednesday morning. The sun had made itself known early. It was pervasive, its rays peeked through my bedroom window and hit the back of my neck. It was suffocating, I felt as though the sun had come down to strangle me.

But it didn’t strangle me, and instead, I got up. I took yesterday’s clothes off the floor, dressed myself, and left for class. But, of course, my car didn’t want to start. It choked on itself and sputtered. For all of a minute, I tried to get it to turn over, pressing down on a brake pedal. The same thing, *CLICK *CLICK *CLICK. And so, I took the bike. It usually sat in a corner on the patio, under a small but growing tree. The bike housed spiders and other small things; the spider’s webs, intricately designed, offered a stitched sense of comfort, not hostility. And so, I took the little crawling things along with me.

Wednesday morning had turned to Wednesday afternoon and I was sitting in my English Creative Writing Poetry course thinking to myself, God, I can’t help but write myself into these small freckles of verse. It’s as if to say, “Hello, take my confessions. I am here. Please, hear me. Please.” I tend to forget I am not The Art but The Artist. I biked home after class, letting the wind break violently into my eyes. I let it blind me. Later that night, when the car did finally start, I went to Denny’s to rework the pieces I had due for my poetry class.


Somewhere along the road, I’d forgotten that life is happening everywhere and that I am not alone. Instead of seeing the beauty in a passing stranger, the plastic bag trailing the street, or the man at the stop light, there is a glittering sort of vacancy in the air. Somewhere along the road, I’d forgotten how to breathe. When in bed, alone and without the comfort of a blanket, I feel Life savagely fighting to get out. The smallest bud of fire hides behind clenched teeth. It has nothing to illuminate. Yet, what terrifies it most is that no one will hear its suffering. More than anything, it desires connection. It doesn’t yet know that the world is dark and cold and its little fire will mean nothing in the face of such brutal and treacherous winds.

These nights — these sleepless nights spent roaming empty streets, drinking from the tall can, smoking on ledges too high and too dangerous to balance the weight of my hollow heart — are not beautiful. They look a lot like being alone at the corner table of a Denny’s, clicking away at 1:17 AM. They look like desperately trying to get my voice to mean something while swallowing my lorazepam with the water set down by the too-kind waiter.

The straw is salty from the steak and eggs, and my coffee is now cold. But, my waiter is lounging — beautifully — in an identical leather booth, resting his eyes. Who am I to disturb this elegant and soft creature, at peace? But, as if on cue, he flutters his eyes open and asks if it’s coffee I need. He must’ve felt me staring. It shakes me to the bones to be caught. It is proof that I exist(ed?) — that I am not as invisible as my morning reflection made me feel. “Yes, thank you, sir,” is all I can say.


Bleak Wednesday turned into a brighter Thursday. I left the Denny’s around 5 AM. Outside the restaurant flocked the finest men that Yolo County had to offer. The starving — dying — sickly men. Street men, we’ll call them. They lay there in underwear, unshowered bodies toting the scars of needles and scratches. These men have stories, I thought. They were once cute babies cradled by loving mothers. Now they’re cradled by the warmth of a Denny’s parking lot.

One awoke and spoke to me in a language so foreign I couldn’t understand, but I knew he was hungry. I watched him get up off the ground. I saw the way his hair had crusted, the dirt that had thickened to skin. The bugs that kept him company as he slept. This was life. I took him into the Denny’s and ordered him a steak and eggs. I left hoping he’d take his time with it, savoring each bite. There was nothing heroic about this. But I felt we had understood each other as humans rather than whatever we call our form of communication as it stands now.

While I’m still skeptical, I think that we must have the courage to love and believe in something, even if that something is each other. Writing that last sentence felt like a dirty cliché, and I’m sure you felt that way while reading it too. When did love and human connection become cliché? Why must the norm be this solipsistic and solemn attitude? In a world so interconnected, we couldn’t be more isolated. We don’t know our neighbors, ourselves even less so. Some of you have gifts that break this narrative — oftentimes, you don’t even realize it. You don’t understand the difference that you can be making, the power you have to reach another. To look at another and feel the divine rushing in your veins — it takes you out of your body and suddenly you’re no longer human. You’re something much more. A single piece of it all, you’re far from the sum. Unclench your teeth, open your eyes, feel that familiar flame you’ve kept close — but not too close — and set it free. Have the courage to see one another, to warm those who need warming… because who the hell else will?

Beautiful and lost, Raja Christian, born 3-21-2001, Los Angeles, California. Recent UC Davis grad. Spends his days working at a bookstore and his nights desperately trying to get his voice to mean something. TYPING, TYPING, TYPING. Moved 1,700 miles away to Dallas, TX to quote, "rest and disappear." It's his hope that this small piece of fiction itches a certain scratch in the reader's brain. Cry, yearn, laugh, do with it what you will.

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