Here [Short Story]

“I’m just so tired,” he said.
“I know.”
“It never gets any better.”
“Do you really believe that?”
He gave a half-snort. “Why wouldn’t I? Name one thing that’s gone right for me in the past year.”
“You started that new job.”
“I’m putting numbers into a goddamn computer, Sarah. How does that even – ”
“You need to stop.”
“I… I know.”
“How’s Jeanine?”
“She’s fine.”
A restless sigh. “What?”
“You know what.”
“What the fuck do you want me to say? Huh?”
“You want me to tell you how she’s been staying with her parents for the last two weeks? How she told me she’d gone back on the pill because she thinks we’re not in the right place right now? What exactly the hell do you want me to tell you?”
“I want you to tell me that.”
“Why what?”
“Why do you want to keep hearing about all of this? I mean…” His fingers twisted around the cord. “Why do you even care at this point?”
“Because I do.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“You think I’m giving you an answer?”
“Isn’t this how this kind of stuff usually goes?”
“Yeah, well, when I find one I’ll give it to you.” She sighed. “Why do you think I’m here?”
“I don’t know, honestly.”
“Cut the shit, Shaun.”
“If you keep talking like that I’m going to hang up.”
His hands scrabbled at the cord; for a moment he thought he’d unplugged it. Then he heard her steady breathing.
“I’m sorry, okay? Just… let me think.”
“Take your time.”
Why was she talking to him?
“You’re here because you feel obligated to,” he said. “We were friends before all this started, and now you feel if you leave me when I’m down, it’ll be on you.”
“Do you think I’m that selfish?”
“That’s not – ”
“It is what you’re implying. Do you think I’m selfish?”
“…no, of course not.”
“That was a better reason. But it’s not true.”
He gripped the phone tighter. “Fine. Then what is it, Sarah? Because I’m getting tired of playing this goddamn guessing game.”
“Yeah, I bet you are.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
There was a moment of staticky silence.
“Look, I know how it feels. You’ve been struggling for so long, right? Jeanine is scared, you’re scared, your therapist is scared. You’ve been pushing a boulder up a hill for as long as you can remember, and now you’re just too tired to lift it up anymore. You’ve only ever made a few inches of progress, which to you seems monumental, but everyone else doesn’t even notice. Right?”
He said nothing.
“So you’re sitting here, holding up this boulder, and you start to think, Why don’t I just let it crush me? After all, no one else cares for your progress. You’re not even sure what it would be like if you actually succeeded. Your arms are weak and you’re so tired. Why not just let it all go?”
He felt the spatter of tears on the phone, on the skin of his hand.
“Why don’t you give up that weight, Shaun?”
It took a moment for him to realize she was asking a question. He sucked in air.
“I don’t… I don’t know. I want to. I really want to.”
“I know you do, hun. But why don’t you?”
“Because you don’t know how to.”
“Just like I don’t know how to be anywhere else but on the phone with you right now.”
That isn’t –
“Before you even say it, that is an answer. Why do we care? Because we do. Because we don’t know what else to do. Why do we continue to struggle, day in, day out, to push that boulder up that hill? Because we don’t know an alternative. Being human is being familiar with agony, adversity, all the stupid stuff in life. But it’s also kindness, and compassion, and love. If we didn’t suffer so much, we wouldn’t know how it felt when we saw someone else suffering. If we didn’t have our hearts broken time and time again, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the way it feels when someone really loves us.
“I’m not here for some misplaced sense of obligation, Shaun. I’m here because I don’t know where else to be besides here with you. And you’re here because you don’t know what else to do besides struggle with that boulder. That’s your answer.”
He couldn’t speak through the lump in his throat.
“I’m here.”
A knock from the door.
“Shaun, I’m going to come in. Can you do me a favor?”
“Can you put the knife down?”


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