Jerry walked into the MacDonald’s, went to the counter and ordered himself a big mac meal with a large bottle of Coke Zero. He waited while his food was being prepared and looked around at the other customers coming and going. There were some mothers with their little ones jumping up and down with excitement asking for a Happy Meal because (as he knew all too well) they wanted the toy more than the meal. He thought, so clever those buggers in the marketing department at MacDonald’s. He had read somewhere that their marketing strategy for decades had been called “from the cradle to the grave” and he could see how it was working like a charm. With his own children though both he and his now estranged wife at least agreed on something and that was to avoid junk food as much as possible even though they still allowed it as a treat on occasion.
Jerry had recently turned 27 and was feeling very frustrated with where life had taken him so far. He had tried to get into studying after high school and had enrolled in a college course in electronics but had found that he just couldn’t make sense of all the diagrams and mathematics needed to pass the course. He knew he was intelligent and had enjoyed maths at school (much to the surprise of both his parents and his friends), but when it came to the college course and studying electricity, he just wasn’t getting it or just not inspired enough to really focus himself into succeeding. This had all occurred between the ages of 19 and 21. After that, Jerry had drifted into doing some construction work and had enjoyed the physical aspect of it and it was then that he had met his wife – April.
They met at a barbeque one evening at a mutual friend’s house and starting talking about some of their favourite movies and found that they had many similarities. The chemistry was certainly there and so they agreed to exchange numbers and went on their first date which was remarkable because he had never felt so at ease talking to a woman and they ended up talking on a bench overlooking the sea until 1am in the morning. He felt his excitement growing as each date passed and was somewhat concerned about whether she felt the same as he did and he didn’t want to open up too quickly because he had been hurt in the past. However, after a few dates he decided to tell her how he felt and to his amazement she said she felt the same. His heart exploded with joy. They continued to date for another few months and then moved in together. After another year, which was mixed with a few up and down experiences, he proposed and they were married soon after. A number of his friends and family had asked him, “aren’t you a bit young to be getting married?”, but Jerry knew how he felt about April. He knew she was the one he wanted to be with for the rest of his life.
Today, as he sat eating his MacDonald’s meal, thinking how he should be following his own advice to his children but not really caring at the moment, he found himself in a state of misery and frustration. Over the past few months, things between himself and April had been quickly sliding down a slippery slope towards marriage failure. He couldn’t quite believe that she was the same person that he had met and in addition, he didn’t recognise the person he had become when they were having an argument. Jerry really didn’t like conflict and did as much as he could to do the right thing by April but it just seemed to him that nothing he ever did was quite good enough.
As their arguments became more frequent, the negative feelings became more intense and it seemed to Jerry that every minor incident now seemed to flare up in way that got out of proportion very quickly.
In addition to this, Jerry was being bullied at work by a few of the bricklayers on the construction site. He was not the tallest or strongest man around although he was very lean and muscular. However, Jerry was never one to engage in silly childish arguments like it was a school playground and he had been using his intellect and wit to try to avert the behaviour of the bullies and he had had some success but things just seemed to getting worse.
Financially, Jerry and April were not in the best position either. His wages weren’t that bad, and she worked as a nurse doing rotating shifts but together they were still struggling to make ends meet. This additional pressure was not helping their relationship and neither was the fact that they often worked different hours and so did not seem to spend much quality time together. These days, when they did have time off at the same time they would invariably end up in an argument. It had gotten to the point where Jerry was starting to feel very depressed about his situation and was struggling at times to get up and go to work. He had even had some ideas of just ending it all and that had scared the living daylights out of him as he had never contemplated such a thing in his life before.
Jerry stirred when he heard some teenagers laughing while they ate their meals at a nearby table and felt irritation flowing through his mind and body. They have no respect for the people around them he thought. He was dimly aware however that teenagers having fun and making a noise at a fast food outlet would never have bothered him in the past and he started to wonder if he was losing his mind altogether.
He picked up the remains of his meal, which he had hardly eaten, and threw them in the bin on his way back to his truck in the parking lot. He had never had problems with appetite before but he was not feeling much like eating lately and had realised that he had begun to lose weight and he wasn’t even exercising at the gym anymore.
As he got into his car to head back to the construction site, Jerry realised that he felt very alone. While he did have a circle of family and friends around him, when the issues had begun with April as well as the bullying at work, he had found himself withdrawing further and further from any social outings or offers by his friends to spend time together. Usually, he would have jumped at the opportunity to head to the golf range and hit a bucket of balls or to play soccer with his friends in the park after work. But lately he had just been going home, having a few beers and drifting off to sleep in front of the television. Sometimes he woke up at 2 or 3am and went to bed to find April turned over and sleeping away from his side of the bed. Realising that she didn’t bother to wake him or to try and engage him in conversation just made him feel worse. His friends had slowly stopped asking him and this made him feel even more isolated.
Jerry arrived back at the construction site, parked his car a block or two away and grabbed his hard hat and bright orange vest. He walked into the site having some images running through his mind of what it would be like if he was accidently crushed by one of the massive concrete slabs that were being hoisted above him by the huge cranes in the middle of the building site. He shook the thought off and headed to the lunch room or “mess hall” as his fellow workmates liked to call it. He wanted to grab a quick cup of coffee before heading back up to continue the installation of piping in the men’s toilets on the 7th level of the building.
When he walked into the lunch room he noticed one of his supervisors, Ed, standing making himself a cup of coffee at the counter. He tried his best to compose himself and headed over to the counter.
“Jerry, how’s it going mate?” asked Ed routinely.
Jerry didn’t know how to respond or what his voice was going to sound like but he just responded with, “Yeh, I’m ok thanks” as he grabbed a mug out of the cupboard, saw how dirty and disgusting it was and put it back and grabbed another one, hoping this one wouldn’t look like it was likely to give him a major case of gastro. He generally avoided having coffee in the lunch room for that very reason and he was not a big fan of instant coffee either but he just felt he needed more time to gather himself before heading up to work. He was also aware that he was going to have to walk past the bricklayers who had been calling him names and giving him grief over the past few months. He was worried that today he may actually snap and do something he would regret if they asked him one more time where Tom was and whether he was tired of the mean old cat chasing him around.
Jerry found a mug that looked relatively unlikely to cause major vomiting and made himself a cup of coffee with two spoons of coffee and two spoons of sugar. He felt like he needed a pick me up to feel better, even though he was aware that caffeine can make you feel more anxious.
Ed was watching him carefully out of the corner of his eye and when Jerry went to sit down at a bench on his own, Ed walked over to him and asked if he could sit down.
“Sure”, said Jerry, getting a little worried that he would have to engage in a conversation when that was the last thing he wanted to do right now.
“It’s been really hot these last few days, hasn’t it?” asked Ed.
Jerry looked up briefly and said, “Yeh I know, hasn’t been fun out there”.
Ed was a man in his mid-forties who had been working with the company for over ten years. He had been promoted to supervisor a few years before and although he could be really stern with the workers on site, he was also known for his ability to engage with staff at all levels. In addition, he had a strong interest in mental well-being at work and had requested training in how to support workers who were struggling as he had seen too many young men trying to self-medicate their problems away with alcohol and things generally ending up badly for them at home and at work.
Ed had been noticing that Jerry’s behaviours had changed over the past few weeks. He would usually walk around with a smile and was always ready with a joke or two. He enjoyed the banter with some of the other workers on site and was generally well liked. He generally prided himself on his appearance and would be clean shaven and yet Ed had noticed that there were quite a few occasions where his beard was starting to show and he looked like he hadn’t slept much. He was also one of the more reliable workers that Ed had worked with but Ed had noticed that Jerry had come to work late a few times in the past few weeks and was often trying to avoid talking to anyone, especially a senior.
“Mate, do you mind if we talk openly for a minute?” Ed asked.
“Um…yeh. Is everything alright? Hope I didn’t make a mistake with that piping this morning” said Jerry looking quite concerned as to why Ed was wanting to talk to him.
“No, the piping is fine. It’s just that I’ve noticed some changes in your behaviour lately. You don’t seem to be yourself mate. I’m just concerned that’s all”, Ed said. He had ensured that there was nobody within earshot who may overhear their conversation.
“I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”, Jerry attempted to be relaxed and composed but something in Ed’s expression made him feel that he wasn’t going to be able to hold onto the façade for much longer.
“Well, Jerry. I can tell you that I’ve been in this business a long time. I’ve seen how tough it can be on a young fellow, especially a married one with little ones like yourself. Sometimes, things can get overwhelming and we don’t know where to turn and in our environment, it can be even harder, can’t it? Because everyone here has got all their stuff together, right? Nobody here feels any emotions? That stuff is for weaklings. We’re all tough strong construction workers, we do it tough and we don’t complain. And if we do then we are weak right?”, Ed said.
Jerry was taken by surprise to hear Ed speak about emotions so openly and to acknowledge the exact thing that he – Jerry – had been concerned about. Others finding out and thinking there was something wrong with him and that he was weak. He wasn’t sure how to respond and so he just shrugged his shoulders and looked down at his coffee which he could feel had started to get cold.
“Look, Jerry. I know something is bugging you. You can’t deny it. You’ve been coming to work late and that’s not like you at all. You’ve stopped joining in for anything social at work and I’ve noticed you’re just staying in the background and that just isn’t you. I’m not saying you need to spill the beans to me right here and now and you certainly don’t need to tell me but I want you to tell someone. You know we have an employee assistance counselling service that is free and offers you six hours of counselling over the phone or face to face?” Ed asked, as he pulled a card out of his top pocket and it handed it to Jerry.
Jerry took the card as a tear started to roll down his cheek.
“It’s ok mate. We all go through rough times. We’re all human beings and anyone who pretends that they are just sailing through life with no downs and only ups are either lying or the luckiest bastards in the world”, Ed said with an encouraging smile.
Despite himself and even how he was feeling at that moment, Jerry found himself utter a brief laugh and immediately started to feel a little better when he realised that Ed was not judging him and was only showing genuine concern.
“Thanks Ed. I’m not sure if I will go to the counselling, I may call them to have a chat or maybe come and see you in your office at some stage”, said Jerry as he turned the card over to see the phone number and services being offered by the counselling service which he hadn’t even known existed.
“That’s great Jerry my door is always open… unless it’s closed,” said Ed with a wink as he got up to put his mug in the dishwasher. He turned around just before he got to the counter and said, “Remember mate, the sun is always shining behind the clouds”, and he put his mug in the dishwasher and walked out of the lunch room into the bright September afternoon.
Jerry thought he had heard that saying somewhere before and wondered why Ed had chosen to say that particular one to him at this moment. He didn’t quite understand the meaning of the saying. So what if the sun was shining behind the clouds? If we are stuck underneath them, what good does that do us?
Jerry got up, feeling a little more hopeful than he had when he woke up that morning, and headed to the 7th floor to complete his work for the day.
As he lay in bed that night with April once again turned over facing away from him, Jerry stared at the ceiling and went through his options in his mind. Either he could tell April that it was over and that he couldn’t stand feeling like this anymore or he could first try and talk to the employee assistance people. He also needed to talk about the bullying and see if there was a way to get that to stop. The main thing that he was struggling with was how his thinking had changed and how different he felt from who he knew himself to be. Being down, negative and not finding enjoyment in life was just not who he knew he was at the core but he was worried that he had somehow been fundamentally changed by the ongoing stresses and pressures of the past few months.
As he eventually drifted off to sleep he remembered Ed’s words and the saying seemed to play on a continuous loop in his mind, “The sun is always shining behind the clouds…the sun is always shining behind the clouds…”
Jerry slept but his sleep was fitful and full of nebulous people and “things” that seemed to be after him. Each dream he slipped into seemed to involve his need to defend himself against an attack and he called out and even kicked out once or twice in his sleep, which woke April up and gave her quite a fright. She still really loved Jerry with all her heart and had been feeling terrible about how things had disintegrated between them but she just hadn’t seemed able to find a way to allow her negative emotions to subside long enough to allow her feelings of love towards him to come back to the surface. She tried to soothe Jerry as he had another fitful moment and he seemed to calm down.
The next morning, when Jerry woke up, April was lying on his chest with her arm around him. He was quite surprised and gave her a hug. She stirred and looked at him, “You were yelling out and thrashing around a bit in your sleep”.
“Oh really? I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t disturb you too much” he said, feeling a bit guilty but very happy she was lying next to him and that their conversation seemed to be more gentle.
“It’s okay….” she said and after a pause, “what’s happened to us Jerry? Why can’t we be like this all the time? What’s been happening with you because you don’t seem to be the same person I married and I want my Jerry back” she said as her eyes became watery with tears.
“I know babe. I’m not sure either but all the pressure has been getting to me and I have been feeling very down. I just don’t know who I am anymore and it scares me”, he said as he stroked her arm. It felt good to be lying there together talking in a way they hadn’t for ages and he felt the stirring of how he truly felt about April returning.
“I remember one of my dreams last night”, he said.
“Tell me about it”, said April, enjoying the feel of Jerry’s arms around her.
“I was running away from something terrifying and it was during the middle of a storm. The rain was coming down pretty hard and I was getting soaked. There was lightning and thunder every couple of minutes and I couldn’t make out who or what it was but something was coming for me and so I was just running down different streets to get away. I tried to ask a couple of people for help who I passed but they didn’t seem able to see or hear me. It was late afternoon but the rain and wind was fierce. As I turned down one more street I stopped and for some reason had this feeling that if I wanted to, I could fly upwards. I felt the certainty of this inside myself and I just pushed off and flew straight up at such a speed that I was almost terrified as I looked down at the street falling away below me. I went into the storm clouds but kept going through them and then very suddenly I was above them and the sky was an absolutely brilliant clear blue and the sun was shining on me. I felt its warmth and the air was cool and crisp. It was such a contrast to what it was like below the clouds I couldn’t believe it. That was when I woke up and felt you lying with me” he said, tears now slowly rolling down his cheeks.
“Wow, that’s an amazing dream. What do you think it means?” she asked.
“Well, it’s funny because yesterday Ed came and had a chat to me in the lunch room and mentioned that he was worried about me. He gave me a card for the employee assistance programme and although I was very embarrassed that he had noticed how I had been feeling, I was relieved that he understood and was willing to help me. Before he left the lunch room he told me to remember that “the sun is always shining behind the clouds”. I know my dream was my mind playing around with that but it was such a real experience and I think I understand what the saying really means now”.
“What do you think it means?” April asked, very surprised but also very pleased to hear Jerry talking about himself more openly than he had in months.
“I think it means that sometimes in life we can get really bogged down by the events and situations we are faced with and that sometimes those situations can start to press down on us and even alter how we think, act and feel about ourselves and our lives. I know that is how I have been feeling a lot lately and I have even thought that maybe this is now my reality and that I was somehow changed forever because I was feeling so bad I couldn’t see a way out of it…” he trailed off at that moment realising that April was looking at him with a lot of worry in her eyes.
“It’s ok,” he said, “I wouldn’t do anything like that because I would never do that to you or the kids but yes the ideas had started to cross my mind. But what I guess I am starting to understand is that life can throw us a lot of curveballs all at once sometimes and that this can change how we are but it is temporary and our true selves, who we are deep down, is just waiting for the storm to pass and then it will come shining through again. What I felt in the dream when I broke through was a sense of coming home, of realising that who I am has not changed and it was only the clouds and the storm that was making me feel a bit hopeless. And you know what, it made me remember another saying I heard ages ago that even nature cannot create a storm that lasts forever”.
“I like that”, said April with a smile. “Maybe we just need to put up better umbrellas or try to rise above these clouds we have been living under for the past few months and do our best to go back to how we were before?”
“I would like that and I think that’s exactly what we need to do. I want to find myself again and be the best version of me that I can and I want to be that person again for you and the kids. I will call the employee assistance service and I am going to speak to Ed about the bullying at work. Enough is enough” said Jerry with a growing feeling of hope and conviction that things could and would be changing for the better. He felt his spirits lift and decided that he was going to really focus on the fact that he knew deep down that he was a good person and that he deserved to be happy. He resolved to not allow the storms of life to ever again make him feel that the sun wasn’t right there waiting for him to rise above the clouds.
April laughed and gave him a kiss on the cheek, “You got all that from a one silly saying and a dream?!”
“I guess so…who would have thought it hey?” he said smiling.
Jerry turned towards April and pulled her closer, holding onto her and not wanting the moment to end. “I love you”, he said.
“I love you too”, said April.