Parallel Lives

I wrote this as a follow-up/interlude to this piece, which at the time I said was fiction. And in a way, it is, just like this might be fiction too.

But story-truth is still rooted in the actual truth– we are always telling the stories of our lives. So, as I am learning to become my own storyteller again and finally feeling stability for the first time in a bit, I am also reclaiming the stories that were too hard to face a few months ago.


The shock is visceral. Later, when so much work has gone into cutting this body, this cancer of ill-fated memory and stomach-churning hindsight, out of your life, trying to remember the fork that decided the life you chose feels foreign and jarring.

Now, though, the moment wakes you up at night, catching you in your sleep like a cold draft when you’ve left the window open. Something in that moment, where you knew each small step would determine what came next, still haunts you sometimes. Are you terrified of it? Is remembering it simply a pilgrimage, a gauntlet, a way to ensure you will never, ever find yourself in this place again? Or is it a deeper question than that– one that forces you to look back and ask yourself how, just how, you let things go this far and become this broken?

You see the white flash and the photos you found– wait, no, scratch that. It’s not the photos themselves– those have faded from memory. What is painfully vivid– even now– is the feeling of finding them. The quiet thump when you fell to your knees on the cold, wood floor. The search for something, anything to cover your nakedness, as if a cotton dress could protect your body from betrayal. It coursed through your system then– icy and choking– and you sat back on your bed, back against the wood wall, trying to catch your breath.

The thought of it all as you sat there– broken as everything has was– made you angry, yes. It also made you vaguely sad, oddly appreciative, pre-nostalgic in a weird way as you were already seeing how this story will wrap up. You were already writing, re-writing, and finalizing the obituary of this thing you had helped create.

You played the film through to the end and tried to take the best course of action. You looked at your lives in parallel, what they could look like– if you wanted :

You knew you could try and capture this moment, this body, because it will never be the place you call home again. That safety, that sense of knowing how the world worked and the rules that governed the way the universe functioned, are gone now.

You could lay down beside him, quietly pressing your forehead into the space between his shoulder blades, knowing that this is it. This is the end. This is the last time.

You know and he does not know you know but you do, and in knowing you also know everything is over. The dramatic irony of it all catches in your throat– you know heartbreak has arrived, and all you can do now is try and ride the wave of what is to come– but not just yet. He still hasn’t woken up yet, and so for the next minutes, you can still pretend like everything is okay.

You could take a second, shut your eyes, and breathe. You ache to both try and remember everything about this– the final farewell, the last breath before the death knell– but also try and forget all the things that brought you here.

You could feel the warm skin of belonging and smell the familiarity of partnership but also know that all those things are lies now. They are broken. The body next to you fills you with disgust and rage and sadness and longing and you didn’t know you could love something so deeply  and then 20 minutes later hate that same thing just as much– not a cancellation of love, but the yang to its yin, the dark to its light, both churning in your chest and stewing deep within you. You didn’t know the two could live together inside your heart, ripping you down the middle as you say goodbye.

So, for a moment, you could lie there. You could try and recapture everything– all the love and safety and happiness that once lived inside that body for you– before having to let it go.

But you knew that to do so would only make the killing of it that much more painful, that much more tragic. It would be like kissing the criminal before dropping the axe– it might bring you a second of joy, but would the high only make the pain that much worse in the end? You knew that you have to do this, kill this, end this now before you are too weak to stare it in the face for what it is. Now. It’s the only time you would be able to.

So, even after weighing all the options and watching all the scenarios, you knew what you must do. You watched yourself reach over to his leg instead. You hovered your hand above it, taking a moment longer before jumping off the cliff, then you grabbed his ankle and gave it a shake.

“I need you to wake up now.”

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The Magician

I’m going through a month-long healing phase after my body has finally shut down from a two-month manic period. With that time, I’ve discovered the writing I created but was too scared to edit and publish. 


She has been practicing her sleight of hand for years now.

It’s almost second nature, at this point. She smiles, catches their eyes with a snap and a whip of her fingers. It appears all flash and no substance, but then she makes the card appear when it seemed impossible The audience is astonished. Bamboozled, really, because they were so sure they could not be fooled. That there was no way she’d actually get the right card.

It doesn’t really matter, though. She’s moved onto the next trick.

What they don’t see is the hours of practice that goes into the moment where the Magician makes something out of nothing.  They do not notice the red-rimmed eyes, tired from staring into the mirror and watching the same trick over and over again. The Magician is trying to make sure it is perfect for the audience. It has to be perfect for the audience.

They do not hear the ringing in her ears from years of listening to cries and catcalls instead of the sound of her own breath. They have failed to notice her skin, dull and red, from the make-up she wipes off in streaks each night, slumped over her dressing room table, barely able to move. They do not care that there are times where she is unable to focus her eyes before going on stage– she knows the gauzy film between her brain and the world it should be perceiving is problematic, but she also knows that she has to go out and perform.

The audience needs its show. They must be entertained.

So she goes out, night after night, honing her “craft,” learning to read the room. When she feels like she’s losing them, she slap-dashes something together and throws another coin into thin air, pulls another rabbit out of her hat, changes the mark to a more forgiving body on stage with her. It doesn’t matter what it takes. Stand on the back of the bucking horse? Sure! Swallow swords, eyes watering as she wide-grin-smiles toward the crowd? Of course! Anything so that she does not lose them. She cannot lose them.

Because she knows what happens when the crowds go home, and she is left in the dressing room, alone.

She sinks, slowly, into the chair. The table is in disarray– make-up is strewn, long smudgy splashes of color on a faded, white, wooden top. The makings of a face finger-painted on to a splintered canvas– the metaphor is almost too painfully obvious, even to her, who has lived without subtlety for years now.

There, in her solitude, when the memory of the crowd roars in her ears like the ocean, there is no one to distract her, no one to look at, no one who she must bamboozle. She is in a standoff only with herself. There is nothing to face but her own existence in that moment.

Why?

The question sits there, unmoving. No sparkle, no flash. There is no magic trick that will satiate the audience who is witness to her own brokenness. There is no bucking bronco or sword to swallow that will turn her gaze away in the mirror. There is only the heavy question, the ball and chain tethered to her. She sees it reflect back at her in the shine of her eyes, the creases in her skin.

Why?

She sighs, tears the question away from the mirror and places her head in her hands. Instinctively, her fingers reach into her chest pocket and pull out a card. It’s one of the few times she can ever answer anyone properly– showing them the card they were thinking of.

She holds it up to the mirror, tries to fake a smile.

Is this your card? 

She flicks it to the floor, reaches in, and grabs another.

How about this one?

She flicks that one away.

She stops mid-reach. Her eyes finally connect back with her self.

Her card will never be pulled.

 

 

 

Photo by Calamic Photography

It can only whisper back at us. It can no longer roar.

It’s astounding, really, how quickly the human mind is able to go into damage control. The body is often the star of regeneration, regrowth, and healing; we celebrate the body’s ability to accept and become attached to new parts, grow back bits of ourselves that have been stolen and hacked off, or mimic the actions and feelings of a limb when we are left wanting.

The body can even take over when the worst happens. The main functions for the body itself to survive– blood-pumping heartbeats, air-filling breaths– are programmed to continue no matter what is happening in the outside world. Without choosing too, the body works within itself to make sure it keeps on living.

The human mind, however, works differently. A sponge of information, the mind rarely needs to work to attach itself to new ideas or memories. Instead, we constantly take in everything surrounding us. We are bombarded by a seemingly unending stream of images, soundbytes, voices, words, numbers opinions beliefs emotions faces tacticsideashopesstragegiesfantasiesdesires. The mind is consistently full and racing to process, file, and respond to all of these things.

When disaster–or at least an intense shake-up of the normal day’s happenings– occurs however, the mind must make a switch. There is too much going on, and it becomes like the body and begins to triage. It prioritizes the necessities that must remain with you on the other side of this moment, this temporary crisis.

The basic facts of the memory remain: the date, time and place, the clinically bare images that swoop through when you try and piece together something; the heart of the memory still beats and the lungs still take in shallows breaths of air. Maybe the eyes flutter and a slash of color or hint of scent peek through.

There are other things, though, that the mind decides is no longer safe to keep as a memory. Things that were too intense or too emotional or just too damn vivid to live on in our mind’s eye, and the mind proceeds to slowly rob us of them. Even if it’s something we may desire to keep, there are some things that are perhaps no longer worth knowing. To know them, to feel them, to wrap oneself in the blanket of that memory would be too raw, too confusing, or too painful to keep.

So it fades.

Morning comes, and the first gray-yellow rays sunshine creep in through your windows. Just as the sun comes up, it sheds light on the memories of the previous day. The colors are less vivid when stripped of their once-black background. The memory that had so powerfully ran through your mind in crazy loops, begins to slow, then walk, then fade quietly into the background. We open our eyes to reality again, and we re-align and re-adjust to what was once normal, or what now is normal. The mind accepts the occurrences of the previous day and, if possible, moves past them. When we try to recall the memory, it can only whisper back at us. It can no longer roar.

Are we angry at the mind for taking these memories away? Or, deep down, do we appreciate the mind for taking some of the responsibility off of ourselves?

Remembering is often considered such a sacred thing, something that we should be holding ourselves accountable to as often as we can. Perhaps, the mind robs us of these thoughts because it knows that, deep down, we may not really want to remember.


4 years old, but I still love this piece a lot.