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Updated: May 15

"Weltschmerz" was previously published in The Citron Review in 2020 and has since been included in Eileen Vorbach Collins' essay collection, Love in the Archives: A Patchwork of True Stories About Suicide Loss, Apprentice House Press.

The Adirondack chair, until recently nothing more than a quaint decoration, has become my observatory. It is from this vantage point I first notice the crows in the commotion of their domestic duties. They nest, out of sight, in the top of a loblolly pine in my backyard.

A brown anole, a lizard indigenous to Cuba, fond of snacking on our now rare native green anoles, is trapped inside my screened lanai. He gets thinner every day. I’ve tried to catch him but he’s quick, escaping even my attempts to sweep him out. I consider leaving the door open but know that would mean more starving anoles. Those crows will eat just about anything they can get their beaks on. The anole is relatively safe from predators here, but he’ll die a slow, painful death instead of merciful asphyxiation in a snake’s glottis or the even quicker snap and swallow of a hungry egret.

The wind in the palms sounds like the white noise machine outside the door of my daughter’s therapist where I sat every Thursday at four o’clock, hopeful, relieved there was finally someone she would talk to instead of glaring, silent and angry, for the full forty-five minutes. Acutely aware of the anole’s rib cage and sharp protrusion of his spine, I revisit the guilt of not realizing my daughter’s total daily food intake sometimes consisted of four orange Tic-Tacs, having believed her claims she’d eaten at a friend’s. Thinking her workouts on the treadmill were a quest for a healthy lifestyle.

The baby crows squawk at the sound of wings, their cries becoming frantic. I envision mouths agape in anticipation as the branches dip and sway with parental weight. I remember my daughter, open-mouthed in her high chair, squawking if I wasn’t fast enough with the spoon; the pureed peas and carrots, the applesauce.

Just outside my screened lanai there’s a leprechaun, a hideous little man smoking a pipe, his green top-hat faded by years of the Florida sun, his face blistered with many little cancers. He sits, staring, a judgmental piece of kitsch. I should have lugged his plaster ass to the donation pile when we bought the house, but I’m a bit afraid of him. Like that Talky Tina Doll on The Twilight Zone, he could come back for revenge. I’m already haunted enough. That would send me over the edge.

The lizard’s cachectic presence elicits my sympathy, and I consider trying to catch some bugs for him. His four limbs to the bug’s six add up to a closer kinship, making me want to nudge the odds in his favor.

The Adirondack chair is solid and heavy, weighted to its place on the earth. I never took the time to sit here before. There’s always been somewhere to hurry to; anywhere but here with my intrusive, jumbled thoughts. Now the evening news shows endless snaking lines of people waiting to get food in this pandemic while I sit with hungry birds and ravenous reptiles wondering how I can help. Weltschmerz, the world’s sorrow, comes in like a storm cloud, casting its dismal shadow over my garden. I bow to it, powerless in its magnitude, literally feeling the weight of it cause my shoulders to slump and my heart to ache.

A flash of red catches my eye. A cardinal drinking, then splashing with abandon in the birdbath. Oblivious to my sorrow, its beauty gives me hope. I turn back to the leprechaun. He’s still looking at me. I return the stare. His eyes, from this distance, are cloudy, like pale blue chalk dust. There’s something about his expression—maybe he’s not judging me after all. He looks pensive, shy. He looks like he could use a friend.

I smile at the leprechaun. This time, when I water the pentas, I won’t turn the hose on him. Despite our history, he doesn’t flinch at my approach. Returning to the lanai, I’m careful to fill the bromeliad cups. The incarcerated reptile will have fresh water. It’s horrifying to find them dehydrated, skeletal memories of their former selves.

Two years after my daughter’s suicide, I watched along with the rest of the world, engulfed in our shared grief, as people took flight from the falling towers. Sobbing, as the images repeated on the screen, I thought, “This is almost as bad as the day Lydia died.” My personal grief was still too heavy to bear. Adding this fresh horror, this collective sorrow, brought me to my knees. Alone, either of these events would change my life irrevocably. Now, in the face of both of them, I thought I might never stand upright again. 

So many years have passed, and so many things that have made my heart ache. Senseless mass shootings, children taken from their parents, rain forests burned. I make a decision and I will not give up. It is within my power to alter the course of one tiny life. I stay very still until he’s within reach. My hand shoots out, and in a flash, I’ve got him. His toes cling to the screen with tenacity. How could such a tiny creature have so much strength? He makes a chirping noise, like a muffled scream. My own scream is not so quiet. When finally, I am able to pry him loose, he claws at my hand. The hair on the back of my neck bristles and I almost reflexively throw him. I manage to get to the screen door and open it with my elbow, now cupping the anole in both hands. I drop him on the grass and he takes off at the speed of light, heading straight for the leprechaun who now sits in dappled shade, offering a cool refuge where the anole might shelter in place.

I cheer him on, applauding this small victory—his freedom to make his way in a world fraught with danger. “L’chaim,” I whisper. 

  “L’chaim,” shouts the leprechaun.

Eileen Vorbach Collins writes true stories she wishes were fiction and fairy tales she wishes were true. She is the author of the award-winning essay collection, Love in the Archives, a Patchwork of True Stories About Suicide Loss.

“Weltschmerz” was first published in The Citron Review in 2020

Eileen Vorbach Collins


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