Fifth of July

Bang, pop, whoosh. Sizzle, snap, crack. Fizz, hiss, BOOM. BOOM.

BOOM.

The phone rang, and as the foreign voice explained on the other end, there was no air, only the sinking, limb-tingling fear disguised as anger. Questions ejected themselves from between my lips in a stream, but I don’t remember any of them.

I rushed to be by his side, tunnel vision guiding me there. I couldn’t think, see, feel anything else. Nothing else registered, none of my surroundings, nothing at all. All I thought was – I need to hurry. I need to hurry. I need to hurry.

After the doctor delivered the news in person, I stood there, stunned. In my peripheral, I could see the glow of colors exploding in the sky just outside the large window next to his bed, and it registered that it was the 4th. The rumbling vibration of each detonation seemed to be coming from inside me.

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

Once I arrived home, though I desperately needed the sleep, there was very little. I tossed and turned, and tossed and turned. Finally giving in to it, I got up early, dressed and returned to him.

As I walked down the stark, institutional green hall, each step brought me closer to seeing with my own eyes what had been conveyed in words the day before, the weight of those words sinking like quicksand to the pit of my stomach.

I was acutely aware of the clinical smell surrounding me, the smell of sickness, the stench of sadness filling first my lungs, then permeating outward, finding an unwelcome home in my veins, thick like sludge, coursing and thumping.

I could hear the cries of sorrow in the bated breath wafting from some of the doors I passed. I could taste its metallic tang on the tip of my tongue. And as I arrived at the doorway of the room to which I needed to enter, I felt it in my bones, in my marrow. When I opened the door, I became its embodiment.

The few steps to the bed took me years:

I passed myself snuggled on his lap as he read to me for the millionth time, Put Me in the Zoo.

I watched as I sat between he and my mother on the yellow paisley couch, as they tried to explain why we would no longer be a family.

I saw the desperation on his face as he finally allowed me to call my mother, but would not yet let me go home to her, still.

I remembered tearing open the Christmas wrap to see the purple down coat I’d wanted so badly, the yolk-only egg sandwiches on Sunday mornings, and stove-popped popcorn with a rented movie on our every-other Saturday nights.

I saw his suntanned, orange-tinted left arm that was darker than the rest of him from hanging out his truck window, his splashing in the pool and volleyball in the summer, and helping my step-brother with homework at the kitchen table while he looked on drinking Pepsi from a two liter bottle.

I remembered the wishing I belonged, that I fit with them differently, more.

The coughing, I remembered the coughing that just kept getting worse, the constant handkerchiefs in his pockets and on the end table with his Winstons next to his chair, the red-faced breathlessness and the wheezing. And the fear in his eyes.

I remembered the devastating, life-altering heartbreak and the disappearing and the wondering, the worry and the doubt. The reconnecting and the doctors and the testing.

And finally, the hope. The hope which had fizzled away the night before with every sizzle and crack, hiss and bang and pop.

Standing next to the impersonal-feeling bed, I gripped the cold, stark metal of the railing with both hands, trying to take in all that I saw. The blinking and the beeping in the semi-darkness, the machine whose trepidus noise filled the room.

Suck, push, suck, push. SUCK. PUSH.

Eerily loud and unwelcome, it was reminiscent of the sounds heard outside the window the night before.

My eyes ran the length of the shiny metal pole on which the machine was mounted, down to the swiveling wheels which allowed it to be maneuvered to where it was needed. I noticed the simple black cord which extended to the wall.

How could such an ordinary-looking plug hold life in the balance?

Letting loose my grip a bit, I became deftly aware of my own breath, in and out, of my own heart beating, ga-gong, ga-gong, so loudly in my chest that it rang in my ears. Reaching out, I rested my hand on his chest, feeling the unfamiliar, robotic rise and fall. I felt the cool absence, the force of what would not be. And then I looked up, nodded my head, and closing my water-filled eyes, I felt with the lengths of my fingers, with the lifeline in the palm of my hand. With my very soul.

The robotic gave way to an arhythmic slowing:

Rise..fall….rise…..fall…….rise……..fall.

Fall.

Beneath my palm there was only stillness. In the tips of my fingers, there was only the thump of my own heartbeat, the trembling cry of my core.

BOOM.

And he was gone.

Mirror Image

Tucked tightly beneath her chin, her favorite blanket created a cocoon around her as she lay quietly on the couch, everyone else going about their business around her. Sitting on the floor in front of the tv, her two younger half-sisters bickered over who should have control of the remote. Her mother worked in the kitchen, cleaning up from a dinner she hadn’t been able to eat.

More than anything, she wished she was invisible right now, and yet, she couldn’t make herself be alone with her thoughts. 

No matter how hard she tried to divert her attention from the hurt, she could not. It bubbled and boiled beneath her skin. It was sludge, heavy through her veins and a pulsing pressure behind her eyes, threatening release. It sat like a boulder on her chest, making it impossible to breathe deeply. She was afraid if she tried, she might burst.

She didn’t know what to do. How to feel. How to move. Her feelings were so huge and twisted, it seemed as if she’d never escape them. She had no idea how to go about a day without the weight of it pulling every thought to the pit of her stomach, into the darkness.

I wish I didn’t feel anything at all.

She’d hurt her boyfriend, Doug, and she felt terrible. Worse than terrible. It was revolting. But it was even bigger than the immediate hurt; it was much deeper than that.

She’d done something really stupid, sleeping with that other guy, and the guilt had forced her to tell Doug the truth. Well, mostly. The ugliness and shame had kept her from telling him the whole story. And the fear.

She tried really hard not to think about the whole story, because when she did, the loathing was so intense she could taste it’s metallic tang and smell it’s charred blackness. The fear would burn and churn in her stomach until she could feel the sting of bile in the back of her throat. The worst part was, it wasn’t even the first time. She’d done it before and let the guilt liquefy her insides all this time.

I’m just like her. 

It was her biggest fear. She could not let herself be just like her mother.

Her mother had been married five times already, and the sixth would no doubt be soon. They’d moved in and out, and in and out. All of them were men who were not worthy of her mother’s love, none who treated her mother with respect. Men who took. Who hurt. And it seemed as if her mother searched for carbon copies, over and over, leaving the good ones in her wake. She cheated on every one, and always seemed to be looking for a plan B. And it often felt like she and her sisters were just along for the ride, and the ride had no breaks.

How on earth will I ever be able to outrun that? Look what I’ve already done, and I’m only 17.

It took her by complete surprise when her mother knelt down next to the couch and stroked her hair. It was uncharacteristic; she was not cold, but she was also not really a huggy-touchy type. Vulnerability wasn’t in her wheelhouse.

“Are you going to be okay,” her mother asked, making eye contact.

“I don’t want to end up like you,” she replied, through quivering lips and involuntary tears while maintaining eye contact, the hurt ans fear vibrating softly in each word. She couldn’t believe she’d said it aloud, but it had been sitting right there, on the tip of her tongue, for so very long. And maybe, just maybe, her mother might understand. Maybe she could help. Maybe it would help.

But, no other words passed between them. No words were needed; her mother’s eyes had replied.

Hiding tears of her own, her mother stood and walked away.

-image credit studiojoslizen, found via Pinterest; edited older post

Unknown

img_5057

Sitting on the well-worn, blue speckled carpet, she laughed at her friend, Anna, who’d just said something off the wall, as usual. Laughing wasn’t at all uncommon for her, she laughed all the time, but for some reason this laugh had left her feeling this recurring empty feeling, a sudden jerk into reality, as if the laugh was fake and didn’t quite belong. It occurred to her that maybe it wasn’t emptiness she was feeling, exactly. Then it hit her like an unexpected tidal wave, throwing her instantly off-balance.

She felt alone.

Holding her smile so no one could tell what she was thinking, her eyes scanned the room from face to face. Scattered about the room were the six young women who knew her better than anyone ever had. Yet, that made her sad, all of the sudden.

If she were to describe them to anyone, she’d tell them they were her best friends, her sisters. She’d do anything for them, that’s just the way she was made, even if any one of them might not do the same for her.

When she’d met them all four years ago, it was like a whole world had opened to her. She’d had best friends before, but living independently with and amongst these young women provided opportunities to see them every day, any hour of the day, in happy times and bad times, and all the in between. For the first time in her life, she had a place to belong.

She was likeable, compassionate, and loveable. It was just her personality to mean what she said, and to say what she meant; people could count on it, and often did. She was dependable, passionate, and caring. She was open and accepting of others, even when people around her were not. Standing for what she believed in wasn’t something that was negotiable. It just was. Caring about people and having a genuine interest in getting to know them wasn’t an act. It just was.

Some were drawn to her for those reasons. Yet, those qualities also scared many people. Most, actually. She shared of herself, but not everyone did the same, or with the same depth.

Some didn’t want to receive that offering. Often, it was too much. She was too much, at least that’s how it felt.

Over time, she learned that many people wished to keep her at arm’s length. They wanted the benefits that came with being her friend, but didn’t always wish to reciprocate. Some would only take. And take.

The thing was – she never pushed people away. Especially the ones sitting in this room, even if it felt like they didn’t always reciprocate.

Not only could she not risk causing people to feel abandoned or rejected…..she needed them. That was twisted and made no sense, and she knew it.

But, they were all she had.

Except, as she scanned the room, looking at each and every one of her ‘best’ friends, she felt so alone. It wasn’t the first time this feeling had hit her, but this time it was like an anvil on her chest. It was hard to breathe. In the pit of her belly, there was an aloneness that squeezed and knotted the muscles, rising like bile, choking her.

She knew these women. She had spent the last four years listening, even to all the things they didn’t say, helping, even when they hadn’t asked, and giving them everything she had to give.

She loved them.

But, in that moment, she knew they couldn’t possibly love her, not in the same way. They didn’t really know her; they hadn’t allowed that to happen.

And you have to be known to be truly loved.

-image found on Tumblr, original source unknown; older piece given a facelift

Silence

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” ~Brené Brown

“No.”

He’d heard her, she was sure of it; his face was so close to hers, she could feel his whiskers on her cheek as he moved, like the stab of needles tattooing her skin with unwanted ink. 

“No,” she said, again, a little more forcefully this time, the word scraping the inside of her throat, which was beginning to feel constricted, pure panic coiling itself around and around, from the inside out.

All she saw was his eyes. Blank, as if he was looking through her, his eyes spoke for him, they gave his response.

Pinning her down, one arm crossed her chest as the other pulled down his own pants and ripped her black panties aside. His full weight upon her, he pushed her back further into the couch. She tried to push back at him, to wriggle beneath him to get away, but her own muscles weren’t working like they should. 

Her body went cold. She could taste his scent in the air, a toxic, slur of smoke invading her lungs, fighting for what little air her lungs would allow. Absorbing his vile presence, it was black sludge melting into every pore, her stomach twisting and wretching. She could feel her body’s resistance in the rigid freeze between them. 

But, she didn’t scream, even though her friend was just upstairs with the other guy. She didn’t struggle. Fear kept her quiet, and not just fear of him. She was immobilized by her own voice. 

Fear of her own voice.

Jerking his head upward, he looked into her eyes again, and she felt his muscles tighten even further. 

No,” she whispered again, reminding herself. 

He invaded her. His hips worked ferociously, grinding and impaling, his elbow digging into her chest.

He took without apology. He took and took and took. 

Behind her eyes, it all slowed, each slam into her, every recoil, in slow motion, his elbows becoming knives, his arms boulders, and his incessant body the evil, leaded blanket reminding her of her own silence, of her smallness. 

He took what he wanted.

When he finished, she stood and quietly adjusted her clothes, never looking at him or speaking a word.

Walking up the 18 stairs, her feet made a shuffle-scraping sound, and she knocked on the blackness of the wooden door until her friend answered. Thank God, the look on her face must have spoken for her, because her friend followed without her ever needing to speak.

She walked back down the 18 stairs and out the front door. Automation took her feet toward home, still in silence. She was halfway home before she realized she was only wearing one shoe. 

Along with her shoe, she’d left behind the last of her voice, the one which spoke up for her. 

It would be years and years before she began to find it again…..but she did.

~image credit waleoladipo.com; #metoo 

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

Quotes by Brené Brown. Let’s kick shame’s ass, Warriors.

Stuffed


Standing at the kitchen counter, she stared at the bag of Doritos. She’d promised herself she’d treat herself well, energizing her body with fuel that truly made her feel good, inside and out. She knew how, she’d done it before; she’d lost 80 pounds naturally, with will, and sweat, and tears, and finding what worked for her, over and again, through every misstep and plateau.

Yet, here she was, staring at the open bag of Doritos, sliding in her hand, promising herself she’d eat just a few.

Oh, wow. I forgot how good these are. A few more won’t hurt, I deserve them. 

That few allowed a few more, and a few more, until the rest of the bag was gone.

It was so easy, even now, after all that hard work, for her to squash that reasonable voice which begged her to stop, that reminded her how awful she’d feel after. And she knew that awful feeling! She’d stared at the bottom of dozens of Dorito bags in the time before. She’d rationalized that voice away hundreds and thousands of times, allowing fear and stress to twist her thoughts ass-backward and tell her she deserved to eat yummy things, to be rewarded for her hard work and effort, and not feel deprived. She’d felt that all too brief euphoria after the indulgences, stuffing that rational voice to the pit of her gut under all that junk. She’d stuffed it away until the scale read 260.

It had been been an endless cycle of stuffing feelings, feeding them with food, and feeling guilt and shame. It would be now, too, if she let it.

Staring at the empty bag, she was sure her shame would more than fill it. It grew and grew, until it took up all the space in the room, permeating her pores, infiltrating her gut to a wretching level. Tears dripped down her cheeks and onto the bag….crack, crack, crack. She winced at each crack, the sound a tangible reminder of her weakness. 

Wiping away the tears, she walked the six steps to the bathroom. She glared at herself in the mirror. For a moment, she contemplated sticking her fingers down her throat, purging and purging until all that molten shame was out, flushable.

That’s too easy. I have to live with the consequences, that’s what I deserve. 

Again, tears came, trickling down her cheeks, dripping from her jawline into the sink, although she paid them no attention.

Oh, God. How did I get here again?

“Help me,” she whispered, to no one, the no one looking back at her.

-image found on Pinterest, source unknown; this is a fictional piece based on real life

Unsaid 


Standing at the kitchen counter, she quietly and quickly assembles the sandwich, squaring the meat and cheese and bread, just so. It goes into the Baggie with a pinch and a zip. 

As she methodically works, her thoughts are busied with arranging today’s list of things to do: call the school, revise the contract, do some laundry, and on and on.

Behind her, as is true of most mornings, she hears his footsteps on the hard floor, slow and uneven, tentative from sleep. As he nears, she feels the muscles in her body tense. She knows why, but she doesn’t want to know why. Already, she is telling herself, “Let him in, let him in.” Still, she tenses, closing her eyes, her body deceiving her, as usual. 

Enclosing her, his arms wrap around her, sliding in under her own arms and around her waist, his chin resting on her shoulder, and his whiskers brushing against her cheek as it locks into the crook of her neck. 

“Good morning, beautiful,” he says, optimistic. 

She hears the sigh before she feels it, knowing it has just escaped her own lips, wishing it had not. Closing her eyes, she wills her body to relax, but it does not, she is busy after all. There are so many things to do, doesn’t he know that? 

As soon as the last inch of air releases her lungs, that telling sigh, she feels it. The courage, the risk, the hope, slowly letting go – his fingers not so tight, his arms not so strong, his head a bit heavier on her shoulder.

Again. 

-image found on Pinterest; based on real life many years ago

The Fifth of July

Bang, pop, whoosh. Sizzle, snap, crack. Fizz, hiss, BOOM. BOOM.

BOOM.

In a haze, after the initial phone call, she rushed to be by his side. She had tunnel vision getting there – she couldn’t think, see, feel anything else. Nothing else registered, none of her surroundings, nothing at all.

All she thought was – I need to hurry. I need to hurry. I need to hurry.

After the doctor had delivered the news, she stood there, stunned. In her peripheral, she could see the colors exploding in the sky just outside the large window next to his bed, and it registered in her that it was the 4th. She could feel the rumbling vibration of each detonation. She could feel.

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

Once she arrived home, though she’d despirately needed the sleep, there was very little. She tossed and turned, and tossed and turned. Finally giving in to it, she got up early, dressed and returned to him.

As she walked down the stark, institutional green hall, each step bringing her closer to seeing with her own eyes what had been conveyed to her in words the day before, the weight of those words sunk like quicksand to the pit of her stomach.

Today, she was acutely aware of the clinical smell surrounding her, the smell of sickness, the stench of sadness filling first her lungs, then permeating outward, finding an unwelcome home in her veins, thick like sludge, coursing and thumping.

She could hear the cries of sorrow in the bated breath wafting from some of the doors she passed. She could taste its metallic tang on the tip of her tongue. And as she arrived at the doorway of the room to which she needed to enter, she felt it in her bones, in her marrow. When she opened the door, she became its embodiment.

The few steps to the bed took her years. She passed herself snuggled on his lap as he read to her for the millionth time, Put Me in the Zoo.

She watched as she sat between he and her mother on the yellow paisley couch, as they tried to explain why they would no longer be a family.

She saw the desperation on his face as he finally allowed her to call her mother, but would not yet let her go home to her, still.

She remembered tearing open the Christmas wrap to see the purple down coat she’d wanted so badly, the yolk-only egg sandwiches on Sunday mornings, and stove-popped popcorn with a rented movie on their every-other Saturday nights.

She saw his suntanned, orange-tinted left arm that was darker than the rest of him from hanging out his truck window, his splashing in the pool and volleyball in the summer, and helping her step-brother with homework at the kitchen table while he looked on drinking Pepsi from a two liter bottle.

She remembered the wishing she belonged, that she fit with them differently, more.

The coughing, she remembered the coughing that just kept getting worse, the constant handkerchiefs in his pockets and on the end table with his Winstons next to his chair, the red-faced breathlessness and the wheezing. And the fear in his eyes.

She remembered the devastating, life-altering heartbreak and the disappearing and the wondering, the worry and the doubt. The reconnecting and the doctors and the testing.

And finally, the hope. The hope which had fizzled away the night before with every sizzle and crack, hiss and bang and pop.

Standing next to the impersonal-feeling bed, she gripped the cold, stark metal of the railing with both hands, trying to take in all that she saw. The blinking and the beeping in the semi-darkness, the machine whose trepidus noise filled the room.

Suck, push, suck, push. SUCK. PUSH.

Eerily loud and unwelcome, it was reminiscent of the sounds heard outside the window the night before.

Her eyes ran the length of the shiny metal pole on which the machine was mounted, down to the swiveling wheels which allowed it to be maneuvered to where it was needed. She noticed the simple black cord which extended to the wall.

How could such an ordinary-looking plug hold life in the balance?

Letting loose her grip a bit, she became deftly aware of her own breath, in and out, of her own heart beating, ga-gong, ga-gong, so loudly in her chest that it rang in her ears.

Reaching out, she rested her hand on his chest, feeling the unfamiliar, robotic rise and fall. She felt the cool absence, the force of what would not be.

And then she looked up, nodded her head, and closing her water-filled eyes, she felt with the length of her fingers, with the lifeline in the palm of her hand. With her very soul.

The robotic gave way to an arhythmic slowing:

Rise..fall….rise…..fall…….rise……..fall.

Fall.

Beneath her palm there was only stillness. In the tips of her fingers, there was only the thump of her own heartbeat, the trembling cry of her core.

BOOM.

And he was gone.

-photo found on Pixabay free photos