Hi everyone, I would like to introduce to you my friend and fellow writer, Joseph Dittrich. He shared this with me and I just loved it. He followed a writing prompt on Reddit and here is the story he wrote in tandem to it. I hope you enjoy it like I did.
One day, you’re approached by a rather annoyed angel, who takes you to a warehouse filled with nothing but thousands of bottles. Turns out, every time you’ve bottled up your emotions, it’s literally filled a bottle of that exact emotion in the warehouse, which is nearing capacity…
Real men don’t cry.
That’s how I was raised. That’s how my dad was raised, and my grandpa, and my great grandpa, and probably every man in my family forever.
Real men don’t show emotion. Well, happiness is okay, and anger if it’s controlled. But sadness? Crying? Never.
So when they said my six-year-old daughter had leukemia, I stuffed it. Every time I took her for treatment, every time I saw the pain she was in, every time someone asked me how her recovery was going, I stuffed it.
And when she died three days before her eighth birthday, I stuffed it. The worst of it is, I wanted to hurt. Well, I know that doesn’t sound right. But I think you know what I mean. I wanted to express it. I wanted to be sad. I wanted to cry. I wanted to be angry, but I knew I couldn’t control it. So I stuffed it all.
I became cold, impersonal, antisocial. Nothing was good enough to make me happy, to make me smile, to make me laugh. I wasn’t proud of anything or impressed by anyone. I had no interest in anything that I had once enjoyed. I was just trudging through life. My hopes, my dreams, my only child. All gone. Even my wife left me. She said she’d rather be miserable and alone than miserable with me. And I stuffed it.
After the divorce, I sold the house and moved a thousand miles away. I wanted a fresh start, away from everything and everyone that reminded me of what I had lost. I rented a crappy little one bedroom apartment. I got a crappy job. I bought a crappy car. And every crappy, miserable day, I stuffed it.
But you see, the problem is that no matter where you go, you take you with you. My little girl would’ve graduated high school this past spring. So, yeah, I’ve been stuffing it for a lot of years. It’s not like I could go talk to a therapist or anything. That was against everything that my father had taught me. You handle your own problems. You don’t bring them outside the family. You don’t show signs of weakness like that.
Anyway, a couple weeks ago I got a visit from someone claiming to be an angel. I don’t really believe in that sort of thing, so of course I was skeptical. They always tell you that angels are dressed in white and have huge wings and they’re beautiful and they carry harps and they sing and all that stuff. Well, my supposed angel looked like she was pulled from the front row at a Rancid concert. Red flannel shirt, ripped jeans, black spiky hair, tattoos and a nose ring.
She didn’t float down from a cloud or anything like that. She popped up in my backseat after work one day and told me to drive. I couldn’t figure out who would want to carjack me, or what part of my crappy life gave anyone the idea that I was worth kidnapping. She started to laugh, but I couldn’t.
So as we were driving, we started talking. She didn’t have a real or official name. She went by whatever people called her. I asked her if it was OK if I called her Sweet Pea, because, you know, my daughter’s name was Piper and that was my nickname for her. She told me that would be OK. She started to sob a little, but I couldn’t.
After what seemed like forever, we pulled up to a giant steel building. There was a huge lock on it with 16 spinners. She told me the combination was the best day of my life followed by the worst day of my life. That seemed simple enough. I rotated the dials so they showed the day Piper was born and the day she died.
I pulled on the lock, but nothing happened. I looked at Sweet Pea, but she just shrugged her shoulders. There was no better day and no worse day. I tried the day we found out she was sick. I tried the day the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. I tried the day we buried her. I tried every horrible thing I could think of. Still nothing.
I sat down on the ground in front of the door, staring at the lock. I had no idea what it could be. After what seemed like weeks, it dawned on me that I had to be there for a purpose, for a reason. I spun the numbers so they read today’s date. Well, the last date I knew it was, the day Sweet Pea appeared in my car.
A knowing smile began to crawl across her face. I did the same with the first eight digits and cautiously pulled on the lock. It finally released. I shoved it in my backpack, not even considering the fact that I wasn’t wearing it when I got out of the car, or the fact that I didn’t own a backpack.
I pulled open the doors and we went inside. The building was massive, somehow larger on the inside than on the outside. It was full of shelves, floor to ceiling, wall to wall, each row maybe three feet deep and three feet apart. And every shelf was packed with glass bottles. They were mostly clear, some green, blue, brown, and a few red. They all had a strange glow inside them.
I turned toward Sweet Pea to ask what was in them. For the first time, she looked serious. She said they were my emotions. Whenever I bottled up what I felt, they appeared here. She told me the red ones were a recent development. They were emotions like despair, regret, loneliness, anguish, and hopelessness. They were the ones that usually took the place of sadness and anger and were a sign that someone was about to give up completely and try to end it.
Now, I had never considered the possibility of taking my own life. But everything that she said made sense. I can see that I was heading down that path. When I asked what to do, she told me that I would have to either take a taste from every single bottle or smash them one at a time.
It seemed easy enough. I reached for a brown bottle on the shelf next to me. Sweet Pea snatched it out of my hand and placed it back on the shelf. I felt something ugly welling up inside me. An orange bottle appeared next to the brown one, then a blue one and a red one as I tried to regain a sense of calm.
She then explained to me that they had to be eliminated in the order in which they appeared in the warehouse. She pointed to the three new ones, labeled confusion, despair, and rage. Three more bottles in less than a second. For the first time, I realized how difficult a task this would be and how quickly they could accumulate.
We climbed up dozens of stairwells and walked along miles of catwalks and scaffolding to reach the very first bottle. I was barely a year old. My brother had just been born, and my mother was spending all her time with him and ignoring me. I watched my father telling me to just suck it up and deal with it, that no son of his was gonna be a wimp, that I’d better not cry because crying is for babies.
I could feel the jealousy and the anger and the frustration all over again. I could barely reach the pale green bottle marked jealousy on the end of the shelf, but I knew it was the first one. I removed the cap and took a sip. It was bitter, as I somehow expected. It disappeared from my hand as I grabbed the second bottle, this one with a pinkish tint. As much as I like spicy food, I was no match for the fire from anger that hit my tongue.
Every emotion that I had never felt burnt my lips, tore down my throat, seared my insides, torched my soul, and fried my brain. Even joy in its sunny yellow cask felt bittersweet. The worst part was that as I was going through the old ones, I knew that new ones were appearing. I was exhausted, I was frustrated, but I was determined to get through this.
It seemed like months had gone by since that first taste of jealousy. I had never been on such a painful journey in my life. Dealing with the death of my little brother, all my failed relationships, the roller coaster that was Piper’s last couple years on earth, and ultimately the deaths of each of my parents. I cursed my father’s memory hundreds of times because of the way he raised me. I never should’ve had to go through this.
We finally reached the doorway. A pearl white bottle stood alone on the threshold. She told me this was the last one, that it was something no one would ever consider. Happiness, joy, satisfaction, they all fade away. Anger, frustration, regret, jealousy, they can kill you. Ignorance, apathy, hatred, they can kill someone else.
No, she said this one was special. I picked it up and examined it. It was unlike all the other bottles. It had no label that I could see. No markings, no etching, nothing. Sweet Pea looked serious.
“It says peace,” she stated. “But you can’t see it unless you drink the contents. Obviously, a sip wouldn’t do the trick. You would have to drink the whole thing. Dumping it, breaking it, that won’t work. Neither will leaving it alone. Everyone drinks this one, but no one realizes it until it’s too late. I will tell you this, though. You don’t have to touch it, at least not yet. I told you what you needed to do to clear this place out, but this last bottle…I can’t tell you what to do.“
“I’m not quite ready,“ I replied, stumbling over the words. I turned to put the bottle on the shelf and was stunned by what I saw. The entire room was maybe twenty feet in each direction. I could reach the top shelves while standing on the floor. They were narrow, with wide aisles between them. “What the…?“
“You finally dealt with it. You finally allowed yourself to feel. You finally realized that it’s OK. You finally accepted that your father was wrong. Don’t ever forget what happened here, and please, don’t ever give yourself a reason to come back.” Sweet Pea smiled and walked out the door.
“Wait! I still have so many questions for you.“ I ran through the doorway after her and found myself standing next to my crappy little car. She was gone. I climbed into the driver seat, leaned on the steering wheel, and for the first time in my memory, I cried.
By Joseph Dittrich