Travis and Sam are friends. Travis has been sick for weeks, and spends all day lying in bed. Sam is out of town.

In Travis’ mind, he is staying inside because he’s sick; but he forgets that he only got sick after staying inside. After one week inside, he started to notice that he was breathing shallowly and had a headache. The headache made him close all the blinds, and he began lying in the dark all day. After two weeks, he noticed that his hair was starting to fall out. After three weeks, he was as pale as gray clay. After four weeks, his skin started to develop a rubbery, fibrous consistency, like circus peanuts or half-dried caulking.

Travis is beginning week four. He’s scared, but in a distant, slow-burn kind of way: not enough to do anything about it.

Sam comes back to town and hears about Travis. He is tired from travelling, and he puts off visiting for a few days, but eventually he goes to see him. He can’t see him very well because the blinds are closed, but he can see that his friend is quite sick. He inwardly chastises himself for not coming sooner.

They talk for a while, but Sam finds that Travis only wants to talk about his sickness. So Sam suggests that maybe Travis should leave the house and get some sun.

travis-and-sam

Sam Listen, do you want to go sit outside? It’s a beautiful day. You look awful. It seems like maybe you need sun.
Travis I look “awful”? I wish you wouldn’t be so judgmental. See, that’s why I stopped going out so much: everybody’s got some idea of how I’m supposed to be. Nobody just lets me be myself. I wish people could just appreciate me the way I am.
Sam Sorry, I just mean you look sick! Sick is not how you’re supposed to be. Don’t you think you need sun?
Travis But what do you mean, “supposed to”? Who made up that rule? How is that fair? What, healthiness is going to be withheld from me unless I go get some sun? Isn’t it my basic human right to be healthy? Are you telling me I have to lie here losing hair just because I won’t go outside? Look, I don’t believe in people imposing conditions on my rights.
Sam Well, I don’t know if it’s your basic right to be healthy, but sun makes you healthy, and you have a right to go out in the sun. And you need sun.
Travis What do you mean, “need”? I’m alive, aren’t I? If I needed the sun, I’d be dead without the sun. I’m not dead, so I must not need the sun. I understand that some people have weak constitutions — no offense, but I know you’ve always been like that, and that’s totally fine with me, I don’t judge — but I’m not like that. I’m not dead, am I?
Sam You’re not dead, but you look like you’re dying. You need sun.
Travis I guess I would like some sun, honestly — not because I’m SUPPOSED to, but because I’d LIKE to. But look, I can take care of myself. Here, come see this lamp I made, all by myself. I’ve been working on it for two weeks. I’ve been kind of obsessed with it, to be honest. I spent a lot of time researching it on the internet. I made the body from these dirty dishes. I made the bulb from this beer bottle. I made the filament from the hair I’ve lost. Look, when I plug it in, it makes a spark.
Sam Dude, that’s gross, and it smells like burning hair. You just need sun.
Travis Look, I’m not just going to throw all that work away! Are you telling me all my efforts were for nothing? That it was all just a waste of time? That would figure, wouldn’t it? Honestly, sometimes it seems like God is against me: I try so hard, I work day in and day out to make this lamp — and it hurts my eyes to be working in the dark like this, believe me; it’s a strain — but it’s still not enough! What would be enough for him? What does he want?
Sam He wants you to be healthy. Just get up and come outside with me! You need sun.
Travis Just get up, huh? What is that, magic? He wants me to perform some arbitrary action, like walking across the room and out the door, just because he says so, and suddenly I’ll healthy? I suppose I have to sit in some special chair, too, and face in some special direction, and say some special words? Why should I have to perform some archaic ritual just to be healthy? I don’t believe in that stuff.
Sam Don’t be silly, it doesn’t matter what chair you sit in. You just need sun.
Travis Well, that’s the thing. I really would like some sun, but I can’t have it. Do you get it? Do you get the joke that God is playing on me? I want to be healthy, right? –
Sam Do you?
Travis – of course I do. But in order to be healthy I need to go out in the sun; but in order to go out in the sun I need energy; and in order to have energy, I need to be healthy! Do you get the joke? There’s just no way out for me. It’s all a big trap.
Sam Then I’ll carry you out. You need sun.
Travis CARRY me? Um, I’m sorry, I think you misunderstood. I’m not some kind of invalid. I’m just a little sick. I’m still my own man, and I don’t need carrying. And look, I don’t want to cause you trouble.
Sam You’re causing me trouble right now. Do you know how you sound? You need sun.
Travis Well THAT’S kind of condescending. It’s SO simple, right? Just get up and get some sun, and I can be healthy, like you? Gosh, I’m sorry to be such a BURDEN on you. I didn’t realize that MY sickness made YOU unhappy. If you had ever been a month without the sun, you’d talk differently, you know. You don’t know what it’s like to be me. It’s always been easier for you, anyway, with your skin. I burn easily.
Sam You’re probably right, I have it easy! But look, you need sun.
Travis [Pauses] Listen, Sam, I didn’t want to tell you this…but I’m a little scared. It’s been so long. I’ve changed, lying here. I don’t even think I’d like the sun anymore. I peeked out through the blinds once, and the sunlight filled me with a kind of terror…You don’t know what it’s like in my head. Every time I imagine being warm, I get this horrible burning sensation, and I feel SO tired just thinking about it. Or what if I got out there and found out that it was for nothing? What if I tried it and it didn’t work? Then I wouldn’t have any hope at all. And besides –
Sam Listen, can you shut up? Do you trust me or not?
Travis Yes, but –
Sam Do I have your permission to help you?
Travis Sure, but I don’t see how –
Sam Good. C’mere.

Sam picks up Travis from the bed. He is surprised how light Travis is. His body is clammy and he smells bad. also, he keeps writhing around and groaning so that Sam almost drops him. On their way out the door, Sam accidentally bumps Travis’ head on the doorframe, which makes Travis swear and makes Sam feel a little bad, but not too bad.

It’s a beautiful spring day and there’s an old canvas-and-metal lawn chair in the corner of the lawn. Sam walks over with Travis in his arms, stumbling a little bit: Travis is lighter than usual, but he’s still a full-grown man. He drops Travis into the chair. Travis grumbles and snarls for a while, then falls silent and stares straight ahead. Sam gets a second lawn chair, puts it next to Travis, and sits in it. He is silent too. Eventually Sam falls asleep.

A couple of hours later, Travis says, “Hey, Sam?”

Sam wakes up. “Huh? Yeah, what?”

Travis blushes. The red looks good in his cheeks. He says, “I’m hungry. Do you think you could make me a sandwich?”

10 thoughts on “You Need Sun

  1. his mom

    So many of Travis’s friends call him and tell him it’s okay to stay inside. They dont want to impose their views on him, and they want to support him in his decisions. Even his brother had done this. While everyone was afraid to push him further into the depths, they backed away ( Travis pushed them away). Only Sam persisted. Probably, everyone tells Sam not to push. So Sam has to remain a slow, spconsistent voice, ” you need sun”. And on the inside , the whole time, sam is fighting panic and fear, because he loves Travis, and he doesnt want to lose him. The only thing he can do is to continue to offer the sun.
    I know this story.

    Reply
  2. Becky Duncan

    You’ve done it again. Can I talk you into writing more often? I would make fresh bread for you if I lived closer, and if you like fresh bread. Or something.

    Reply
  3. Sheila

    I love this. Thank you for writing it. It reminds me of some of the people I work with (clients, I mean.) It reminds me of myself at different parts of my life. We are all so easiliy conned into thinking we can live in our own little world with our fake light and our “right” to live as we wish, our right to live as miserably as we wish….What a joyful moment when real hunger for real food sets in!

    Reply
  4. Brian

    Reminds me of when Christ criticized the Pharisees for complaining that they had played a jig and he would not dance. They then cry foul. You can see the pettiness of their upset. But then, thank you dear writer, you turned the outlook of the story, encouraging compassion instead of high minded condescension. Although the poor guy wanted people to play by his rules, he was really afraid to play by the other rules.

    Reply
  5. Alex

    Not sure if this is the purpose, but could this story perhaps be a metaphor for the struggle of a person with SSA? The sick person believing the life offered by the world is better than the Truth; a friend (the church) offering him the Truth, to which he says he wants it but can’t get it (and receiving the response do you REALLY want it?); the downward spiral of sin (sickness). Just the way I saw it–extremely good story, thanks for sharing!!!

    Reply

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