I had never lived with a woman before, so I didn’t know how to approach the subject. Celine would lock the door to our bedroom and stay in there for hours. Sometimes I’d hear strange noises. When she was finished, I’d catch her scampering down the hallway to the bathroom, her cheeks lined with moisture. Emotional tears, they’re called. Hers were the first I’d ever seen.

“Atavistic melancholy,” she said. “That’s what the diagnostic algorithms came up with. The only way to eliminate it permanently was to open up my skull. But my mother refused. She said she didn’t care if I was the last human alive who could feel sadness, she would not let those automatons dissect me.”

“Is it unpleasant?” I asked.

She sat across from me on the couch wearing one of my white shirts, her mouth hidden behind her knees, and most of her face was obscured by greasy, unwashed hair. “Not entirely. In a strange way, I’ve learned to like it,” she said, looking down at the rug and then back up at me. Her eyes were as dark as the room. Her bare legs reflected the glow of the unwatched television.

“What do you mean you’ve learned to like it? Isn’t it awful to feel depressed? I thought it was one of those useless traits—you know, that served no purpose.”

“It’s not useless. To me it isn’t. Sometimes the pain can be beautiful.”

I didn’t understand how she could say that. There was never a time when I felt further away from Celine than when she’d steal away to indulge in her melancholy. It was a world I couldn’t enter. No matter how much I learned about her, no matter how close we became, there was always this impassable gulf between us.

At times we’d argue. I blamed her for trivial things. But mostly it was because I felt ignored. Many times it seemed as if she’d chosen solipsism over me.

“Suppose I want to feel it,” I said. “Can you put it into words?”

“That’s not easy, Julian.”


“If you’ve never experienced it, you won’t understand.”

“I’ve read that it’s the inverse of happiness. That I should just imagine the opposite of that.”

“No, it’s more complicated than that. It’s much heavier than joy is light.”


The Auto-Med was drab. Cookie-cutter architecture. Design best described as algorithm begetting algorithm. No humans worked on-site. All the public-facing workers were bots, programmed by medical coders who chose to remain invisible.

“So we drop off the swabs here?”

“That’s what the message said.”

“I can’t believe as soon as tomorrow we’ll be able to feel depressed together.”

“Don’t get too excited. I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

“As long as we experience it together, right? That’s all that matters. I want to know what you’re going through.”

“If you’re that curious about dead emotions, get a job as a psych coder. I bet they sample all the atavisms. You wouldn’t have to spend a month’s rent on recreational sadness just to understand your girlfriend.”

“If I was a psychiatric coder, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have a girlfriend.”


So I tripped sad with Celine for weeks. The experience was as profound as it was debilitating. I underwent a tidal wave of self-scrutiny, came face-to-face with my own annihilation. And still, I pushed it deeper, darker, to the point where I began to question everything I perceived. Though I’d never describe it as enjoyable, the experience did bring me closer to Celine. Drowning with the woman you love is more penetrating to the soul than just about anything else.

After a while, though, I started to feel unhealthy. I lost weight, became pale and gross. So much of me was changing. It’s odd—from an outside perspective, Celine always seemed eccentric, you know, like those manic pixie dream girls in the old movies. But because she was so attractive and young, I never thought of her as sick. It frightened me to think this was how she felt all the time.

Eventually my supply ran out. Stopping the synthetic melancholy felt good at first. But the withdrawal came shortly after, and with it came side effects. It made me angry and impatient and agitated. It was as if all the negativity that punished me from the inside had dissipated and had begun to wreak havoc on the outside.

One night I came home from work and didn’t find Celine at home like she normally was. I had fallen asleep on the couch. She stumbled in around 2 AM. Some guy dropped her off. I even heard him say bye to her in the hallway. She was wasted and smelled of alcohol.

“Where were you? Who was that?”

“A friend of mine from class. I ran into him while I was out. He offered to drop me off because—well …”

“So that’s it then.”

“What’s it?”

“Now that I can’t get sad with you anymore, you just go off into your own little dark world again without me?”

“Jul, I didn’t drink tonight to get sad. I’ve been more anxious lately than anything else. Since you came off the stuff, you’ve been so tense and angry.”

“I can’t help it.”

“Listen, I’m going to sleep, okay. You stay out here. I want to be alone.”

“Of course. Go, be alone.”

The rift between us had gotten worse. It was as if tasting her sadness and then being purged of it alienated me even more.

You don’t even want to know what I had to do to secure six more months of melancholy. I needed it, though. I didn’t want to lose Celine. I had to feel sad with her.

Our downfall was inevitable. When I was able to get sad again, we went all out and didn’t look back. We held hands and sank into an abyss. I don’t think we left the apartment for months. If we thought of eating, we got it delivered. We ignored our friends. Family, forget it.

It was our landlord who, after sending multiple eviction warnings, called Auto-Med’s psych division. They came knocking and found us in our underwear, strung-out on the bed staring at the ceiling. They separated us, and we were committed that same day.


It’s eerie how quiet the psych ward of an Auto-Med is, especially at night. All you hear is the gentle hum of mechanical nurses making their rounds. You’re kept sedated while the machines figure out what’s wrong with your brain and what needs to be done about it.

It’s hard to imagine that back in the day clinicians would actually talk to you and discuss your treatment plan. Seems so unnecessary when all you really need is a machine to administer the right dose of chemicals to make you better. But I know for some people, it’s not that straightforward. Sometimes more extreme methods are required. Maybe that’s where it helps to have a human touch.

A mech-nurse rolled in to bring me dinner.

“Where’s Celine?” I asked. “I need to know if she’s okay.”

“Your partner is on the fourth floor. Status: recovery. You’ll be able to see her soon.”

“What does that mean? Can’t I see her now?”

“I have no further information at this time. Please get some rest.”

I waited for days with no updates. I couldn’t be apart from her much longer. In the mornings they let you exercise. That’s when I planned to sneak away and find her.

In the gymnasium dozens of patients roamed around, most of them walked laps or made half-hearted attempts at shooting baskets. Security and surveillance didn’t seem to matter in this place. They talked to you like you were a prisoner, but no one seemed to actually be restricted. I don’t know if the mechs just had a hard time keeping track of so many patients or if the people who designed the facility didn’t really care if people stayed. Hell, maybe they knew that there’s no better restriction you can place on a person than the ones they already imposed on themselves.

In any event, I easily slipped out one of the emergency exits to the stairwell. I made my way to the fourth floor and found her room. She was asleep in bed. Her face was serene, like an angel. “Hey, sweetie. Wake up. We’re getting out of here. Come with me.”

She was drowsy but recognized me. I took her hand and led her down the hall. She wore yellow socks that must have been two sizes too big. They had those grippy textures on the top and bottom in the shape of smiley faces. “Have you been in bed all day—where are your shoes?”


“Never mind. Let’s get to the ground floor. We can catch a ride to my brother’s place and lay low for a while until I can get us back on our feet.”

Once we reached the street, I was relieved. Emotionally, I felt fine again, pretty much back to my normal self. Whatever they gave me, it must have caused a rapid detox because, for the first time in months, I felt calm and hopeful. I knew I’d have no problem avoiding a trip back there. I was done with all the sadness. I planned to go back to work and get my act together. I was sure I could do it.

As for Celine, I recognized that the sadness was part of her. She could feel as sad as she wanted, I didn’t care. I wouldn’t ever let her melancholy come between us again. Nor would I let it drag me down. Her emotions were unique. It’s what made her different, and I loved her for it. It was selfish for me to insist on experiencing all that darkness with her. I resolved to be as supportive as I could, but at the same time I’d give her the space she needed. I vowed to be understanding without making her feel guilty for who she was.

The driverless car pulled up, and we sat in the back. Celine was smiling deliriously, really spaced out, examining her fingers as if she’d never seen them before. I couldn’t understand why I felt so clear, yet she was in such a stupor.

“It’s gonna be okay, babe. You’ll snap out of it, don’t worry.” I drew her chin up with my hand so her eyes would come into contact with mine. She was incredibly rosy, smelled of soap, and her hair was washed and combed. There was something uneven about her head, though.

I brought my palm up to feel the right side of her skull and noticed a shaved spot. It was a precise two-by-two inch rectangle of exposed scalp. “Oh no—Celine. What is this? What did they do?”

I tilted her head, folded her ear back, and felt the raised incision line. She turned and smiled at me. Her eyes were vivid, filled with light, and brighter than the day we met. Yet there was a hollowness about her gaze that was unnerving. “What do you mean?” she said in a saccharine voice that didn’t sound like her at all. “I feel so happy.”

— Franco Amati is a speculative fiction writer and poet from New York. You can find more of his work at or follow him on Twitter @FrancoAmati3

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