Short Story. Control.

Another prompt by Reedsy: Write about someone who catalogs everything in their life until their system gets messed up.

I’ve never truly had control over my life.
Illusion of control? Sure. Rarely. But someone else has always been in charge.
The master holding my leash.
My parents. My friends. My teachers. My supervisors. Anyone but me.
I know this. Feel this. Yet, I buy into the illusion just as thoroughly as anyone.
I take notes every day. Others have called it journaling, but it’s not that in the slightest. It’s not feelings or memories caught on paper to be revisited. Not a release of the page. It’s… just control. The illusion of control.
My notebook is my world. A life reimagined.
When I see a bird in my window, I spiral. It’s beautiful… but what if it’s a woodpecker? I don’t know what woodpeckers look like. It could destroy the house! Even if it’s not, they attract mice, don’t they? Mice in the house could be just as bad. Where’s its nest? Where did it come from? Anxiety. No control.
And then I write it down.
It’s a bird in my window, it’s beautiful, and it’s not a woodpecker. It’s not attracting mice. Its nest isn’t inside my house and its baby birdies are perfectly fine, chilling in a tree somewhere. It’s my life. The way I write it to be. Control.
The illusion of control.
Of course, the bigger the lie, the more difficult it is to submit to the illusion. When I lose my job, for instance. When I lose a family member… it’s hard to spin that.
I’ll find a new one…
They’re in a better place…
My life on the page… it could be true. I wish it to be true, but the bigger the spin, the less my anxiety listens. Very little control.
I don’t look up, unable to face reality until I’d finished my thought.
“Stop writing in that stupid journal for once and listen!”
My hand trembles over the page, torn between self-loathing and my desire to continue writing, transcribing the words even as they’re spoken.
I drop the pen onto the spine. No control.
I don’t speak, avoiding the eyes now leveled at my own.
I flick my eyes to theirs for a moment, quickly tearing them away again. In the brief connection, I see accusation. Possibly even pity.
“I’m worried about you, man.”
I close my notebook, my fingers immediately becoming restless in their futility. I make myself meet his eyes again, longer this time to project strength. Stability. No reason to worry. “I’m fine.”
“Liar,” he says, his eyes narrowing. “You can’t keep avoiding it, Sam.”
“I’m not avoiding it, Liam.”
“What? Because you wrote it down, you’ve dealt with it? It doesn’t work like that.”
I shrug, itching to reopen my notebook. “It happened and I know it happened. I don’t need to grieve the same way as you.”
“Maybe not… but you haven’t grieved at all.”
“I have.”
“In your journal?”
“In my own way.”
“Show it to me, then. Prove to me you’re not avoiding it.”
I open the notebook, almost automatic in their eagerness to escape the conversation, but I don’t flip the pages. I can’t go back. But I don’t have to, as Liam grabs the book from my grasp before I can resolve my struggle.
“Alright, let’s see…” he says, flipping the pages. “May 9th… the day after… no, the day of.” He looks up at me, concern pressed upon his face, but he moves forward, reading my words back to me. “Trevor, my oldest brother, dies…” Liam nearly chokes over the words, whether over its significance or how I callously it’s written, I’m not sure. “He was thirty-three years old. Two years older than me. It was sudden death, but he felt no pain, death as subtle as the calmest sleep.”
Liam clears his throat, an odd look passing over his face as he meets my gaze.
“I told you I acknowledged it.”
Liam suppresses a shiver that passes through him anyway. “Trevor, though unaware of his expending death, was prepared nonetheless, having led a full life despite his young age.”
Liam bites his lip, a tear falling down his cheek. “Sam, he was our brother! And this… this reads like some kind of cold eulogy… I mean, seriously, did you even know him? Because based on this so-called processing, I’d assume you were strangers.”
My heart races as I reach to take back my notebook, but Liam pulls it out of my reach.
“You know what?” Liam looks me dead in the eyes as he tears my notebook to pieces. “No more of this. You can’t just keep a heartless account of our brother’s death and pretend it’s normal!”
I feel as thin as the paper falling to the floor, my every nerve twitching as I watch the last month disappear. No control.
“My brother was strong,” I say, the now-destroyed words falling out of my mouth like the tears spent over them. “He was a leader in a world full of fear. He wasn’t perfect. But whatever flaws he had, I could not see. For he was my brother. My example.”
Liam’s chest rises and falls, but his face slackens as he understands.
“He was stolen from us,” I continue. “Removed from a world to which he had every right. Stolen from the love of his wife. The love of his children, both here and on the way…”
My throat catches as Liam rests a hand on my shoulder. “I know… I know my brother’s passing is a great loss to the world. I know my life will be a little darker for it. And I know none of this is fair… but I also know what he would say. What he would tell me if he were still… what he tells me even now… ‘love is forever.’ And, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think death can stop ‘forever.’”
Liam wraps his arms around me, tears falling freely down his face while I hold back my own. I assert control. I buy into the illusion.
And Liam hugs me harder, saying what he could not with words.
And I no longer have control.
And that’s okay.


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