For this prompt I read these three phrases out loud:
What have I done?
The outline of despair
I swear I could hear the clouds
Here’s what I wrote:
The outline of despair was always his modus operandi: loss, longing, hopelessness. Sore knees meant he would never jog again. A lone diner in a restaurant was a sign he’d never marry. Any war signaled the end of the world.
He spent a lot of time trying to figure out why—so much time that he often forgot how, but never when. When was easy: when was a long time ago. When he was young, and thin, and everyone he loved was alive and well. When was the past, or the dreary future: never the present. How was left in the top drawer of his dresser, or the photo albums he never looked at. How felt beyond his power, so he believed in fate and lived in hope, convinced there was nothing he could do to change any path: the dead end job, the tiny, dark apartment, the empty garden, the lost relationships, and the lonely, lonely nights in bed.
And then one morning he started doing yoga again, before tea or email, before he was really awake, and he found he wasn’t as inflexible as he thought. He forgave not one but two ex-lovers, and took one on as a fun date, a thoughtful gift-giver, and someone who sent him dirty text messages and naked pictures, which he Bluetoothed to his computer photo library.
He decided he could actually cook, and not spend any money for two days in a row, that he had indeed finally found an honest mechanic, that he could pay off a loan, plan a trip to New Zealand, navigate Paris and Rome on his own, even update his wardrobe.
There was still war and weight gain and psoriasis—he wasn’t getting any younger—but he found that there were many, many answers to the question: What is the opposite of sex? And then sex itself, though accessible, was less important, and what brought him joy was the consistency of the seasons, holiday rituals, and the bulbs he planted every year in autumn. They came up every spring, even with global warming, even when he forgot to water them.