The Open Casket
Seated on a taupe couch, I search the room for imperfections. I find none—not even a crack in the off-white enclosed space. Blooming greenery and vibrant artwork cover the walls and fill the corners of the room. The smell of honey wafts from a lit candle on the coffee table.
“What brings you here today?” A calm voice echoes through the room.
It’s 2 a.m. and I haven’t slept. The phrase “Are you currently experiencing any overwhelming signs…’’ appears on my screen. I tense up, forcing myself to read the rest of the sentence. My eyes shift between the words “depression, trauma, grief, or anxiety.” They stare at me, begging for my attention.
I’ve got no reason to feel this way, I convince myself. The words “grief” and “depression” feel too strong. I’ve heard these words before—in TV shows, at school, and when my mother told me of my aunt’s battle with depression.
Others have it worse. I’m not the victim here.
I close my laptop, hoping to clear my mind.
Not bothering to clean up my desk, my legs stroll toward my undone bed. I put my phone on my bedside table and curl up under my grey duvet. The clock ticks distinctly—an annoying reminder than tomorrow is soon to come.
Many hours pass before my surroundings finally turn black.
After less than three hours of sleep, the deafening sound of my phone’s alarm forces my eyes open. My lifeless arms fumble to turn it off, accidently knocking over my brown, vintage alarm clock. It’s been months since I’ve used it, but I can’t seem to let it go.
I sit up, stretch my arms, look at my slippers, and think about the day that awaits me. The idea of being surrounded by faces that I have long avoided makes my mouth dry.
Choking on my thoughts, I finally get out of bed. My surroundings become blurry, slowly shifting back to normal as my legs make their way to the bathroom. I gargle some mouthwash and hope that it can mask my morning breath without needing to brush my teeth. Showering is also a foreign practice. This routine is far too familiar to me. Constantly running on low sleep has made hygiene a low priority—getting out of bed is hard enough.
I pick out a navy blue shirt. The sleeves cut off my circulation, and two buttons burst open as soon as I do them up. Unbothered, I change into a larger grey button-up polo, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I notice the way my left eyebrow is thicker than the right, how my eyes are different in size and shape, and how my undereye bags are darker than I remember them being. Eyeing myself up and down, I notice every detail—every imperfection.
I know that it’s me, but I don’t recognize the image.
“It’s time for us to leave,” shouts my mother for the third time.
I rush to the garage and sit in the backseat of my parents’ grey Toyota. We drive past cars in the opposite lane, losing their sight as new vehicles replace them. It hypnotizes me—regardless of how much I chase after the cheerful person I used to be, that version of myself is driving in the opposite lane. I’ll never catch up.
After an hour-long journey, we arrive, and I step out of the car. The house resurrects memories of sleepovers filled with movie marathons and video games. It’s been two years since I last honked my car’s horn, pulling out of the driveway at 2 a.m., too caught up in the moment to think of the neighbours. I close the car door, trembling.
“Hi Mike, thanks for coming. It’s great seeing you,” says Taylor’s father. His right hand stretches towards me.
As his unpleasantly sweaty palm meets mine, I remember what today is about: honouring Taylor.
“I couldn’t have missed this. It’s great seeing you,” I say with a small, forced smile. I give Taylor’s dad a proper handshake.
“Why did you feel guilty meeting Taylor’s dad?” she asks.
“I feel like Taylor’s….” I struggle to finish my sentence, closing my eyes and inhaling sharply. “His death was partly my fault.”
“Why do you feel that way, wasn’t Taylor your best friend?” she asks.
When my childhood dog, Cookie, passed, Taylor slept over on a mattress beside my bed for five days, making no comment on my silent sobs. I counted on him.
Ever since, our families spent Christmas Eve together. We’d always spare some time to sit on the balcony of my room with a can of beer stolen from my dad’s cooler. We would talk about things we were grateful for, and things we wished we could change. Though we hated New Year’s resolutions, this was the unexpected warmth of the sun we found in winter.
One year, Taylor surprised me with a small present wrapped in red paper adorned with little black Santa boots. It was a vintage alarm clock with a picture of Cookie behind the glass.
“I know you’ve always wanted a clock like your grandpa’s,” said Taylor. Frozen, I stared at him, eyes gaping. It was the most thoughtful gift I had ever received. Every night, I’d look forward to setting up my alarm. I didn’t dread being woken up by it the next day. Instead, still half-asleep, I’d turn it off, a smile on my face. But the last morning I had squinted to find its off button was over 10 months ago.
While dealing with my parents’ divorce, Taylor fell victim to my torment. He carried all my frustrations, struggling not to trip. It wasn’t until Taylor left mid-argument, rolling his eyes, that I understood I was hurting him.
“I’m going to control myself,” I’d say to myself every morning, breaking my promise by the time I got home for dinner.
Every secret and every insecurity, I twisted them all against Taylor. I had no reason to hurt him—I just did. It took my mind off my troubles by shifting my attention away from my parents’ divorce.
But Taylor was struggling himself.
“Mike, I need to talk to you, I’m not feeling well,” he’d say.
“It’ll be fine, let’s talk about it later,” I’d respond. That day never came. Voicemails were left unheard, messages read but unanswered.
Slowly, Taylor realized that he needed to get away from me.
As I got ready for my fight scene in an empty parking lot, Taylor uttered the words he’d held back.
“You need to stop this; you’re destroying me. You’ve already killed our friendship,” he told me sternly, without yelling, eyes open wide. My weapons vanished; the truth was unveiled.
White flags in hand, I prayed to rescue our friendship. I fought the urge to pester him, giving him the time and space he needed. “One, two, three, … ten,” I’d count slowly whenever aggressive thoughts sprouted in my mind, instead trying to remember happy memories of Cookie. When that was not enough, I was a regular at Red Owl’s boxing classes. My frustrations were now directed towards an appropriate punching bag.
But I couldn’t rid myself of the guilt. All I could hope for was for our friendship to be reignited.
Twelve months ago, my hopes were buried when I stood next to a dark brown oak casket. Taylor had taken his own life. Memories of all the unanswered texts he’d sent me resurfaced.
“Mike, Taylor’s decision was his own, it does not rest on you,” she says.
“It feels like it’s my fault. I made everything worse,” I explain.
“There’s only so much you can do. Have you talked to your friends about how you’re feeling?” she inquires.
“Why not?” she asks.
“The fact that none of my friends know the truth makes me feel like an imposter.”
A violent pain pierces my chest. “I was treated like a victim when for all I knew, I was the culprit. I was living a lie and got rewarded for it instead of having to pay the price,” I explain.
“Hi Mike, how are you doing?” asks Jake, a friend I haven’t seen in months—I always confidently dial his number, yet consistently fail to press “call.” “We’ve got to hang out more often, we haven’t seen each other in ages—you’re always busy!” he continues.
“All things considered, I’m pretty good. Yeah, you’re right, I’ll let you know when I’m free,” I say, knowing I’ll come up with an excuse later.
People gather and the outdoor seats fill. I find a quiet seat in the back of the garden and look around to see who’s near me, avoiding any form of eye contact. Luckily, I sit next to a stranger.
An hour or two passes and the formal proceedings end. I can barely remember what’s been said. The entire ceremony escapes without my participation—like a ghost, unnoticed, I merely watch.
“I can’t believe it’s been a whole year. It feels like just yesterday we all went to Disney Land. I remember Taylor being so annoying on the plane, even though going was his idea. He really hated traveling, didn’t he?” chuckles Jake.
While everyone shares touching stories in the living room, I can’t help but feel like a fraud. I unknowingly nod along, my body desynchronized with my mind.
My thoughts and memories trip over each other. I close my eyes, hoping to escape into an alternate reality. I just wish none of this had ever happened.
The drive home is unremarkable. I gaze at the dark sky dotted with a few glimmering stars—a simultaneously majestic and lonely view.
Home past midnight, I collapse on my bed, falling asleep almost instantly.
Abruptly awoken by a buzzing sound, my eyes squint and I reach for my phone to turn it off. My eyes blast open as I realize that the alarm clock is ringing—Taylor’s alarm. I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to think of anything else—it is one of the few things that remain of our friendship.
I bang the alarm clock, instantly regretting it, afraid I’ve broken it. Concerned by the noise, my father runs into my room. “What’s going on Mike? Is everything…” I collapse into his arms, dismantling my armor.
“After that, I just could not keep lying to myself. I need help,” I explain, looking into the therapist’s eyes.
I pray to feel like myself again, looking up to the ceiling and holding back my tears.
I just want this scar to be less painful.
“He’s gone, but I want to be his friend again,” I say, tears rolling down my cheeks.
I book a follow-up appointment and head back home.
Parked in the garage, I lock my car and head toward the door. My legs freeze. I spot an old black box labelled “Taylor.” My body can’t fight the urge to open it. I lift its lid to reveal a collection of folders and clothes. A grey Disney Land hoodie catches my eye.
That was so fun, I recall. Perhaps I’ve got more left of our friendship than I thought.
Features Editor (Volume 49) | firstname.lastname@example.org —Maneka is a third year student completing a specialization in Philosophy with a minor in political science. Previously, she served as one of The Medium’s Staff Writer and Associate Features Editor. As this year’s Features Editor, Maneka hopes to raise awareness, shed light over current issues, and highlight student voices and organizations. When Maneka is not studying, writing, or working, you’ll probably find her binging on, or rather re-watching her favorite shows, listening to music, thinking about her dog, or likely taking a nap.