A sole tear fell and splattered on the glass of the frame held by trembling hands. A thumb brushed over the surface of the glass and another tear landed on the pale knuckle. The woman smiled as the tears trickled down her cheeks and over her lips. Her eyes were red and the skin raw from rubbing. The room was dim; a lone lamp beside her the only source of illumination in the dark room.
“I miss you so much,” the woman whispered, her shaking evident in her quiet monologue that sliced the disturbing silence in the empty house. “Why am I here?” She asked into the dead space as her arms fell limp and the picture frame rested in her lap. Her emerald eyes swirled with the misery and dejection she felt as she stared into the darkness of the room. She clutched her chest and another gut-wrenching sob escaped her and echoed around the bones of the lifeless house she couldn’t escape from. The hole in her chest seemed to grow with each passing day. [i ‘Time heals all wounds’]—that’s what they said, at least—yet this wasn’t working.
She curled inwardly on the leather couch and placed her face in her hands for a moment. She wept until she fell asleep with her arms hugging the mahogany frame; a desolate substitute for the family she longed for. A life she desired yet knew she’d never have again. Her heart could never take the shattering again; she wondered if she’d even make it to that point. A barren shell of a human she had become; no amount of research or studying, or individual therapy, seemed to be able to fill the cavern in her chest, a wound still bleeding. Recovery a bleak, unreachable goal for a depression all-consuming. Life moves on, though, and apparently her friends and family felt the grieving widow and mother needed do just that; an impossible feat, it seemed. But she’d try—for now.
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“Good morning, Nicole, hope your summer break was good,” James greeted her as she strode into the break room of the private university.
“Good morning, James,” she responded curtly, “Thank you, you as well.” She poured herself an already brewed cup of coffee, throwing in a couple creams and sugar packets. Her fingers pushed a loose ashy-brown strand hanging in her face back behind her ear and she found a seat at one of the handful of round tables. To her dismay, the resident history professor made his way across from her. She stifled a grumble and forced a smile.
His brown eyes peeked through thick lashes; he was handsome, she'd give him that. He was one of a handful of professors who were part of the minority of teachers under the age of 35-years-old. Nicole was 32-years-old and James was in the same age-group, she presumed. He was young, fresh, and new to the university. They had both started a couple of years ago and he was nice enough, but he was too charismatic and Nicole was an empty vessel running on auto-pilot. Forced small-talk was difficult and near impossible for the woman and she thought on what to say before he spoke for her.
“Yeah it was great, got caught up on some CEU’s,” Nicole nodded to him and he continued, “we finally went on our honey moon! A few months late but it was a good time.” He nodded almost self-assuredly at himself and Nicole’s heart dropped into her stomach. Images flashed across her mind of her young, exhilarating honeymoon traipsing along the beaches of Maui. She caught herself and coughed.
“Wow, I bet that was beautiful. Cherish it,” she responded before reaching down to grab her phone and peruse her social media, something she was prone to deleting and redownloading regularly.
“Oh, yeah, sorry…” He murmured and she let out a breathy laugh.
“It’s fine, James,” she reassured the man.
“Well, you ready for another year of psych students?” He jested and Nicole chuckled.
“I don’t think I’m ever quite ready. They always enter the program with stars in their eyes until they realize the brain is [i pretty] complicated.” She smiled and took a sip of her coffee and James nodded exaggeratingly. “I’m sure it’s the same for your history nerds.”
“Oh, you know it is, but history is way more interesting than psychology,” his lips broke into a smile that flashed a set of pearly whites and she caught her heart fluttering for a moment but it quickly was subdued by her subconscious. There was no room in her heart for anything else than the day-to-day; it was hard enough to think ahead for her classes. Planning the semester and preparing for it was exhausting enough; Nicole barely had any emotional capacity for personal interactions and she was nearly at her quota for the day.
“Hey now,” she tried to joke and he raised his brows and stood to head out the room. She stood and followed the history professor out of the break room.
“Have a good first day!” He chimed and she smiled back before they turned in opposite directions. When she reached her room she found her desk and logged in to pull up her Powerpoint. It rarely ever changed and held all of the information for the students about all of her policies, some stricter than others and some laxer than others. Her first class for the day was General Psychology, and easier class to teach for her in comparison to Cognitive or Developmental Psychology, which were more advanced and typically for Master’s students due to needing General Psychology as a prerequisite. She stood to write her name large on the Smartboard, an interactive projector of her computer screen that could be drawn on without using ink; a huge upgrade from the whiteboards she used to use when she was a high school teacher just starting out in the field.
Students began to straggle in then and she prepared to begin her lecture, walking around her desk to lean back against it. Her hair was pulled back in a low bun and she wore a black pantsuit with pointed flats. She individually greeted students as they trickled in and crossed her arms around her body to begin. She usually would wait a good five minutes to allow people to find their classes. Many of the faces were young, fresh-faced, clearly in their early twenties. But there were a few nontraditional students sprinkled around the room and she noted their faces, hoping to remember them when doing rollcall. She secretly rooted for them and would often give them extra help and guidance if they needed it.
“Good morning everyone, just to be clear—this is General Psychology—check your schedules and be sure this is the right class! My name is Nicole Parsons, you may call me Nicole or Mrs. Parsons, whatever you prefer," she glanced at the clock and unfolded her arms, "I think it’s been enough time for everyone to find the room so I'll get started I think. Any questions first?"