October 28, 2036

For many people, bereavement is a temporary process. You go through a tough period of sorrow, numbness, guilt or anger expecting those feelings to subside eventually, finally allowing you to accept the loss and move forward. On the other hand, there’s what scientists call, “prolonged” or “complicated grief”. This type of grief is intense, ongoing and doesn’t seem to ever go away. It disrupts your whole life and causes an imperative change that can’t be reversed. On the outside, we may look the same, but underneath it feels like we’re dying—like we’re literally dragging our feet—desperately trying to stay afloat. The scary part is that you can’t escape it no matter what you do. And the more you deny the reality of it, the more the grieving goes on.

The rain began to fall as soon as the clouds eclipsed the sun. By the time that happened, I was a few blocks away from Dragon Dix, a historical 1920s building located in the Upper West Side. It was also where Patrick Baylock lived. He touched base with me while on my way back to the city and asked to reconnect. I wasn’t sure why, but I guess he thinks I’m so damaged goods which automatically makes me the best candidate for his type of therapy. 

Something about the building’s entrance seemed threatening yet enticing. It felt like a portal into another world. As I got ready to walk inside, I heard him call my name as he strolled in my direction, grocery bags in hand. He greeted me and I followed him inside the lobby. Stepping inside the Dragon Dix was like stepping into a piece of history—even the doorman seemed to have a historical flair. Patrick directed me through a wide hallway leading to the elevator banks. The interior was old, wooden and imperfect. The entryway on the tenth floor was narrow and had only one other apartment house which he mentioned has been vacant for a few years. The carpeted floor beneath us creaked as we motioned towards his apartment. He fumbled in his pocket for the key, inserted it into the keyhole and turned. As he unlocked it, the brass core made a slight echoey sound similar to a fingernail dragging on a countertop. He pushed the door open and I was instantly struck by a heavy cold wave.

“It’s cold in here,” I said stepping in.

“I know, I’m sorry. I keep a few windows open in the apartment because our heating system can get uncomfortably high. It’s management’s way of compensating for the parts of the building that are extremely cold,” he explained.

I stood in the foyer while he unloaded his groceries in the kitchen. I heard him activate the sink and fill what I guessed to be a tea kettle. After putting it on the stove, he came back out and guided me towards the living room where he slightly drew the blinds, illuminating the space with the dull afternoon autumn light then filtering through the mullioned windows facing Central Park. I looked outside and watched the city. It felt otherworldly, almost like an alien terrain. A stream of pedestrians casually strolled down the sidewalk underneath and I could hear the faint sound of traffic in the distance. We were alone.

To get more acquainted with the place, Patrick offered a quick tour of the three-bedroom apartment. Among the beautiful art pieces were ancient artifacts and heirlooms— both African and Medieval.

“My father was an anthropologist,” he mentioned. “He travelled the world and collected relics.” 

In the back of the apartment was a small hallway leading to the kitchen which had dark purple walls, white countertops and appliances made mostly of steel. The room had one large window showcasing a thick black fire escape stairway leading to the ground floor. Another door facing the window served as some sort of back door leading to a wrought iron room that contained a garbage compactor and freight elevator. It was dark and solely lit by a warm light bulb hanging at the top corner of a brick wall. Back in the kitchen, I noticed a saucepan surrounded by a variety of herbs and teas.

“I love all your paraphernalia,” I commented.

“Thanks. I’m a tea enthusiast. I like experimenting with different herbs and making my own,” he revealed. “I also make soap and fragrances,” he added as he threw glance towards the pink bar of soap located by the sink.

“There’s something very ritualistic about it.”

“It’s a process, that’s for sure.”

“How did it start?”

“My mom was an avid gardener. She started a game with me once—back when I was young—to raise my interest in botany.  It was sort of our bonding game. If I could remember the name of a plant by its scent, she’d give me a quarter. By the time I was a teenager, I had a plant vocabulary that most adults don’t have.”

Back into the foyer, Patrick opened the door of the guest room which was empty. As he closed the door, though. I caught a glimpse of a medium-sized cage.

“What’s the cage for?” I asked with an eager curiosity.

“Oh, that was for my rabbit. Sadly, he’s no longer with us. I can’t seem to be able to get rid of it.”

Next, the dining room. It had a nice chandelier hanging down from a neatly carved circular pattern in its ceiling. The left side wall had a large vertical area in the center of it, as if some sort of painting or wall art piece had been removed.

Overall, the atmosphere put me at ease. The quietness, the history of the building, the imperfections of a space lived in. It felt like home with an air of mystery. Around sundown, the windows turned blank with a subtle purplish sunlight streaming through the flecks of dust ambling around them. Then right after nighttime, fog almost completely took over.

When we sat down to dinner, I felt uncomfortably alone even though he made me feel quite at ease. I just couldn’t tell what the whole thing was. Patrick doesn’t seem to be romantically interested in me, and as weird as it sounds, I don’t think he wants to be friends either, so what was I doing? Why is he giving me all this attention? Am I some sort of experiment? Someone whose mind he wants to crack? There’s a shroud of mystery reigning over the whole situation, and as he sat demurely opposite me, I tried to watch him without creeping him out. I took my time studying him, glancing in his direction every time I took a bite of my food, but there was nothing there. His face didn’t seem to reveal anything even when he was acting spontaneous. It was like every gesture he made was rehearsed, but wouldn’t that be exhausting?

We moved over to the living room where he poured me a cup of blueberry tea and sat across from me. After a brief fraught silence, he asked me once again if I was interested in starting therapy with him. He suggested we did it at his place, at 6 PM every Friday. I’m still uncertain on whether it’s a good idea to open up to someone I couldn’t fully trust. 

Being the introvert that I am, I’ve always found comfort in talking to myself, so I never really saw the point in seeing a therapist. But what I eventually realized was that talking to a therapist had its own benefits; telling a story to someone usually requires you to think deep and give out all the details which is something we don’t normally do with ourselves since we pretty much know what happened in our own experiences. Once we allow ourselves to open up to someone who’s willing to listen, we end up stirring up all the details stuck in our subconscious. Doing that allows us to recover repressed memories and improve the way we process and register them. Another thing I’ve discovered was that no matter how far I’ve gone in my life, my pattern of behavior remains the same for the most part. When I try to change, my attempt at doing so seems forced and untrue to my character—like I’m faking it. At this age, my personality and way of living are pretty much set, so I’m not longer concerned trying to change.  

On the way home, an unexpected dizziness caught me by surprise as soon as I stepped outside Patrick’s building hitting me hard before I could feel it coming.

The streets slowly turned and shifted, the blurry lights seemed to stretch out as I swayed left and right. Walking on the sidewalk, I struggled to keep my feet straight on the ground. I must’ve had too much wine. 

Somehow, I managed to make it inside my apartment. Inside, the winter heat coming from the furnace quickly took over my entire body, making me feel claustrophobic in the layers of clothing I was wearing. I threw my keys on the couch and worked my feet against the floor to unshoe them. I kicked my boots to the side and took off my coat. My back was drenched in sweat underneath my sweater, so I took that off right away and allowed my body to breathe. The overwhelming fatigue was disabling me; those lucid moments are interrupted by blank spots. I remember lying in bed with my pants still on and slowly fading away. For a while I couldn’t sleep— my eyes inspected every inch of the cracked ceiling studying the lines. When I finally drifted into a deep sleep, I had a dream. One that I was hoping for for a long time.

Matthew came to visit me last night. As I lied in bed, he appeared at my bedroom doorframe, tall and majestic. When he walked in, I only saw his silhouette moving. On the ceiling, my night lamp cast shadows; I watched as they took over the entire room. For a second, I was frightened. Not being able to see his face was startling, but I knew it was him. As I lied in bed terrorized with excitement, he reached over and sat by me. At that point, I couldn’t hear anything but static. I was completely gone—but not really. 

Matt touched my face with the back of his hand and slowly moved down to my cheek and neck before leaning in and kissing me. I closed my eyes and completely let go. He undid my pants, pulled them down gently then roughly when they got stuck around my ankles and completely took them off. He then proceeded in doing the same with my briefs. Without any lubricant, he stroked me with his hand which made my shaft burn, but I embraced the sensation. He got undressed and positioned himself on top of me; his eyes were extremely dark and tense. Something about his face looked different. It was longer and thinner, his ears larger and pointed. He had the look of something extraterrestrial, something supernatural; inhuman. His body was strong and hot. He slid his knees below mine and I felt his hardness slide swiftly inside me. He drove it brutally and steadily, but I could feel no pain or discomfort—only intense pleasure. He positioned himself higher above me and thrusted. He spat on my mouth and all over my face then kissed me, our saliva mixing and creating a mess. He fucked me like an animal. Then, his eyes glowed. There was something wrong with them. They were cat-like; the pupils switched from being vertically slit to fully round. Then they turned all black.

For a brief moment, I took control of the situation. I was lucid and perfectly capable of moving. I pushed myself further away and every time he tried reaching in to lock lips with me, I teased him with a peck and turned away which confused him. He released an annoyed but lustful grunt for challenging him. I knew then it was him for sure. And he was back to remind me how new and exciting sex with him was each time we did it; never boring, always keeping me on the edge, my body fully energized and wanting more. His body kept banging into mine over and over again. That exhilirant moment I’ve been fantasizing about for so long. Matthew Eldon, the love of my life came back for me and I couldn’t hope for anything more.

At some point, he leaned sideways toward the side of the bed and grabbed my belt which he proceeded in tightening around my neck. He rolled the tip of it around his palm a few times, squeezed and pulled as hard as he could; blood rushed instantly to my head as he suffocated me. To guarantee my discomfort, he grabbed a pillow and pressed it against my face. I struggled to breathe. I tried pulling my head to the side to get a slight bit of air to keep myself from fainting, but even then I couldn’t because he was pulling the belt as hard as he could. He was reckless with my life.

I have no doubt that I was hypnotized by him and I believe I know when. And it was when he told me, “Look into my eyes” which I did and his response was “I love it when you look into my eyes”. By the next day, I woke up and thought about him immediately and couldn’t stop.

I woke up, sleep rumbled and exhausted as if I had ran a marathon. My shoulders and lower back hurt, and my feet ached. My lips felt as if they were bruised. I rubbed my forehead, squeezed my eyes shut and reopened them. I swung my legs out of bed and stood up, totally forgetting my feet were unstable. I collapsed on my knees and heard my stomach growl. I couldn’t keep my footing properly as I rushed to the bathroom. I sat down on the toilet and felt a distinctively warm liquid being oozing out of me. I got up and inspected my discharge closely. I saw tiny white and gooey substances swimming around.

I got up to wash my hands and his face flashed right in front of me. Shivers went down my spine almost instantly as I turned away completely petrified. My grips clenched each side of the bathroom door frame and my head went down as I struggled to breathe. 

Something stirred in the unfathomable depth of my heart.

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