“It’s a bargain. It’s always a bargain.” The man sighs. “I offer you a choice. Either way I get the better end of the deal, but you think you’ve won. And that’s the way it works.”
“I won’t think I’ve won,” I answer.
“You will. Briefly, at least.” The man raises an eyebrow. “Here is what I offer: I can take your depression. I’ll deliver it to someone who wants it. He’ll wear it around his heart like a necklace of bone and sorrow. But when I take it, I will take all your memory of your depression. You will never know what you have been strong enough to face. You will never know how much of your own demons you have conquered. You will not recall the darkness of your struggle. And,” he raises a finger, “You will never know that someone loved you enough to carry your burden.”
“You love me?”
“Someone must, to offer to take your depression from you.” He tilts his head. “Because depression cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be passed on from one person to another, until the end of time and the Dawn comes.” He wrinkles his nose at that word, but smooths it away quickly. “So yes. Someone is offering to take your depression. And all you’ve gotten from it.”
Someone loves me? No. That’s a lie. If anyone knew me, if they knew about my struggle, they’d turn away. “Will this person take my scars?” I force myself to not run my fingers over my wrists.
“Oh, yes. There will be no trace of the struggles you have endured.” His eyes flick down to the red, red lines that run up and down my inner arms. He licks the corner of his mouth.
“That seems like a winning proposition to me.”
“You would think so, yes. But let me outline your other choice. You can choose to reject this generous offer. And if you do, you will always know that you have chosen to believe in yourself this one time, that you were strong enough to say no, that you will not bargain with devils.”
“Are you the devil, then?”
“Oh, I am only a messenger. One sent to make you an offer in good faith. A bargain that you will regret, no matter your choice.” The man smiles. “So, what will it be?”
I finally look down at my wrists.
On cold days the scars ache so much. I can feel the lines, no matter how soft the fabric of the shirts I wear. Sometimes they burn.
What would it be like to be able to wear short sleeves again? What would it be like to be able to smile without faking it?
But it would mean someone else carrying my burden for me.
“Wait,” I say. “You said that I’d never know that someone loved me enough to carry my burden if I took your deal. Does that mean – does that mean if I say no, I’ll know that someone?”
The man harrumphs a little laugh. “Well, in theory, yes. But you’ll still have your depression. You’ll still have that hollow heart that cries out to be filled. You’ll still have the shame. That delicious shame. But my client, he’s willing to take that shame away. You’ll never remember it. Never.” He shrugs. “But if you want the regret of knowing that you could have lived without shame and chose it anyway, well, that’s your choice.”
I can’t think clearly. To be victorious but not know love, or to know love and to be defeated by my stupid depression?
The man glances away. “Look, I know this is a hard decision. And I already told you: No matter what, you’re going to regret it. So why not just make a choice so we can all move on with our lives?”
I would give anything to be able to wear a t-shirt again.
But I won’t give my burden to another. I can’t. It’s too much for anyone to carry.
“I’m keeping my depression.”
“Heh. Well, all right then. You get to keep the memory of all the darkness inside you. And all your shame. And you know that someone offered to take it away, but you said no. Well done, kid.” The man investigates my face. “I told you you’d regret your choice.”
And he’s right. I do. Already I can feel it in my stomach. I refuse to look at him as he stands and walks away, his form swallowed by the darkness.
I hate this. I hate it so, so much.
I could let that hate out. It wouldn’t take much.
What’s one more scar?
“I have enough scars for both of us.”
I look up. Another man, different from the one before, sits across from me now. He has a sad smile. I see he has scars on his wrists, too, but they look different than mine. I don’t think they were made with a razor.
I look away from him. “I don’t think I can take any more bargains today.”
“Good. I’m not going to give you one.” He points to my wrists. “I’m not ashamed of you. I won’t look away.”
I flick my eyes to him, and away again. “Well, you’re pretty dumb.” I try to look anywhere but at him. I end up staring right at my wrists.
“I’ve been accused of worse.” That smile is so, so sad. “I’ve carried all your infirmities. Even those. I know the lies your heart whispers. I want you to know the truth: You don’t have to be more. You are enough.”
“No. I’m not.” I can’t take my eyes off my scars.
“Well, you are. Not because you’ve done anything. Because I’ve done it all.” He reaches out a calloused hand toward me. “I want you to know me. And even when your heart lies, I want you to know the truth: You are loved. You are mine. And I will never leave you. I chose to pay a price for you.” He gestures to his wrists. “And I will never let you go. Not until the Dawn.”
We sit quietly for a little. He doesn’t look away. He’s not waiting for anything. He’s just with me.
“The other man,” I start, “He said that someone loved me enough to take my depression away.”
“It’s true,” this new man answers.
“But if I took the deal, I’d never know that someone cared that much.”
“Yes. Because without the depression, you’d believe the lie that you didn’t need anyone. But the truth is, we’re all broken. But just because we are broken does not mean we are not loved. But you chose to keep your depression. You didn’t take the deal. And now I’m here to bear your burdens.” He pauses with a smile. “All of them. Because I love you.”
“You shouldn’t.” I look away again. Still. “I’m not worth it.”
“Well, it’s a good thing I don’t love you because of anything you’ve done. You can’t do anything to make me love you less. And you can’t do anything to make me love you more. This is true, no matter the lies your heart tells you. Even in the darkness, I love you. And this is the choice I make. This is the bargain I made.” He gestures to his wrists. “I paid the price for you. Because you are worth that much to me. And I do not regret it. Not at all.”