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shades of terra cotta: A poem about regret

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NOVEMBER 05, 2022

Content warning: suicide

the trees are on fire this time of year — shades of terra cotta and amber and cinnamon. the lively chatter on my 8 a.m. bus ride keeps me awake. autumn arrives and with it — bonfires and welcome mats, pumpkin spice and caramel apples. the houses that line the hills speak of a warmer future — lunch notes for children, newly assembled furniture, vegetable gardens and fruit trees. the toddler that hugs me while I wait in line at trader joe’s almost makes me cry. my friend finally gets her license and we drive to the ocean,

but the cold sand under my feet somehow leaves a salty taste in my mouth. I lay on the glade’s soft grass and watch the sunlight as it dances through tree branches  

but it’s all too far away.

why does the sun shine but never touch me with its warmth? it always leaves me in the dark. 



I should’ve spent more time with my grandmother. 

she worried about me constantly

looking out of the window wondering when I’d get home

as the rong cha she made me slowly got colder and colder


but I 

never came home.


it should’ve been me making her a cup of cha 

I knew just how she liked it, with one spoonful of chini and my secret ingredient

— milk brewed separately with two cinnamon sticks —

but I didn’t make her cha enough.


I should’ve been kinder to him

he picked me up from the hills at 3 a.m.

and made sure I was taking my medication

and surprised me for my birthday with copies of his favorite books annotated

— just as I had once mentioned I wanted


I wish he had felt he could’ve called me 

before making the decision to climb onto that ledge that day

but that call never came. 


it turns out they name hurricanes after people for a reason. my storms have destroyed everything in my path, and as I stand in the wreckage of my own making, all I can do is scream until I start bleeding my silenced words. no number of people telling me “it’s not your fault” will ever be enough for me to start believing it. 


some nights my tears drown me

the weight in my chest amplifies and 

I feel like I’ve swallowed glass

and won’t ever breathe again. 


bandaids don’t fix bullet holes

and I don’t know the first thing about healing  


when you’ve destroyed such tender affection, when you have so many regrets and moments in time you’ll never get back, how can you expect to ever feel the sun’s warmth again? 


I’m so angry at myself for not being stronger. 

It’s been years but 

even so many months later

I can’t bring myself to get out of bed 

must this always be my Achilles heel? to live with my mistakes forever?

then cut off my feet —


I am exhausted, terrified, hopeless 



the sun rises again today. the entire world lights up with shades of terra cotta and amber and cinnamon

maybe writing notes for my kids in their lunch boxes isn’t actually so far away

maybe I can decorate my house with artwork one day

maybe I’ll wake up and actually want to be alive


but that day isn’t today. 

Contact Nishat Sheikh at 


JANUARY 27, 2023