This morning, the eggs are runny, the coffee cold. I drink it fast and refill slow, watching the darkness trickle into the white mug then the flow of sugar disappearing into the darkness. Zap it for forty seconds in the microwave. Timer counts down to a beep. Clink of the spoon against porcelain.
“Infirmity is only in your mind.”
I’ve channeled Buddha. I smile and look toward the stove. Dylan is not there. It is only his voice in my head. The house is unnaturally empty. My chest hurts. I really don’t like the yellow table. I leave the dishes there and move the coffee, the notebook and myself to the porch.
I sit in the wicker chair on the glassed in porch, sip my coffee and read, surrounded by dancing rainbows from the crystals. I don’t know if the notebook contains factual memories. Maybe it is just me trying to figure out the depths of my mind. Maybe it is me trying to erase bad things. Maybe it is me screaming for help.
I skip past the first pages. I skip past the wild, hurried handwriting that can only be my own, but which I do not accept as mine. I read the last pages, the ones where reality seems to slip and slide down the twisted road of un-linear time.
What if everything here is just my imagination? Is that what Dylan means by it’s all in my head? And if all of this is only in my head, what exactly is reality? Is it interaction between others? Is it acknowledgement of each other’s existence? Am I invisible to reality? Does it really matter? Could I just stay here amid the dancing rainbows?
Looking again past the glass and rainbows, I have to yank my gaze from the puffy white clouds floating in the endless blue expanse of sky. Just on the horizon dark grey clouds broil with life. If I look hard enough, can I see the dance of lightning already? The crystal rainbows seem to disappear one by one as the sun slides behind the dark clouds.
The tops of the trees are only now flittering to life in the breeze. Below them, just at the edge of the forest, just where shadows would begin when the sun is on the other side of the forest stands a slender man in a long white coat. He has no discernible expression. His black hair doesn’t move. His face is long. His nose is a little sharp. He lifts his hand as if to beckon or signal.
I listen to the sounds of Dylan moving around in the kitchen. Pots and pans clatter. Water runs in the sink. I leave the mug on the table, but keep the notebook with me when I lift the hook on the screen door and step down into the grass. The world outside is extraordinarily bright and tinged with yellow.
I’ve seen this before, when I was young, between one great storm and the next. What adults called the eye of the storm looked just this way. The air smells of imminent rain and maybe a little electricity. Yet this couldn’t be the eye. I would remember a storm, the part that has to precede the eye. Right?
The grass is wet. Pieces of it cling to my sneakers, bits of green contrasting sharply with pure white. The wind picks up, dancing lower in the trees than before. I walk in a straight line to the forest, no deviation until I whirl to catch a glimpse of the path I should have made through the wet grass. Funny how the grass has already popped back to cover my footsteps.
I face the forest. It stands quiet in the dimming sunlight. The man is not there. High above, the dark clouds move fast as if being swept closer by a celestial broom swirling the dirt of the sky. Just a few steps into the innocent young trees and I feel the grip of darkness.
Looking directly up, I can see the bright blue sky. At my feet, rays of sunshine dance. I can’t really see the dark clouds heading this way. I can only feel them in the chill on my arms and the shivers down my spine.
The ground tilts in the direction of the gorge so much that I cannot keep myself from walking in that direction. I expect a rocky decline into a dancing spring filled with life. What I see is something like a drainage ditch, smooth concrete with a trickle of dark water at the bottom.
I sit on the lip of it in the fading sunlight, fight the growing wind to open the notebook and read the first pages. The pages filled with wildness. The very pages I have been avoiding.
I’ve decided to take this memory apart, cut it from my head, place it somewhere else where I don’t have to face it constantly. If I don’t hide the screams or block the images, I know I’ll go mad.
Four against two were not fair although it took every one of them to drag us away from Jenny’s car. We couldn’t stop it. We were strong, but not strong enough. We fought, but not hard enough.
Though I remember my pocketknife flashing, thrashing in the moonlight, it didn’t stop them from coming at us. Though I remember the mist of Jenny’s mace, perhaps it was too old to be effective, because I still felt the strong, calloused hands of strangers pulling me down.
I know that we screamed. My throat hurt from it. My ears rang with Jenny’s piercing wails.
I can still hear Jenny screaming when I close my eyes. I couldn’t get to her. I couldn’t put myself between her and them. Kicking, scratching, biting, I couldn’t get them to stop, to go away, to leave us alone. But neither were they able to complete their horrible intentions. They were busy trying to keep us quiet.
They pulled us into the darkness of the alley, and then into the deeper darkness behind the building, both of us kicking and biting.
Then I lost my footing, I fell hard down a slick concrete surface. My feet sloshed in wetness up to my ankles, by head bounced on concrete and then I heard nothing.
Raindrops fall onto the page and blur the words. Thunder cracks just above me. I jump and almost lose the notebook.
Is this what I am hiding from? Am I not strong enough to deal with this? Am I in some asylum somewhere lost in my own head because I cannot deal with reality? Because I could not stop something bad from happening to my sister?
No. I will not accept that.
I stand up, rain falling harder with each breath. Daylight is almost completely gone, leaving me with a weak sun filtered through storm clouds. I look at the ditch now filling with rainwater, bubbling around debris and resolutely turn away from it. The house is not far. I can see the kitchen lights, bright in soft evening darkness. The rain is cold and the thunder loud, louder, but I call to Dylan through it. There is no doubt in my mind that he can hear me.
The ground is soft beneath by feet. The slope, while not very steep, is slick with rain. I slip. My knee hits concrete ripping denim and skin so now I’m bleeding.
What a stupid, helpless fool I am!
Hiding from reality!
Tucking my head under the muck like a child!
This is not the me I know.
My fingers dig into the soft earth. I try to pull myself up. I can’t do it with one hand and pretty white sneakers.
This is wrong. None of this is real!
How do I get back?
Tucking the notebook into the waistband of my jeans, I start working my way up the slope. It is an effort against gravity, the wind and the rain. It is literally an uphill battle.
It takes much longer than getting down there in the first place but I make it, dirty, wet and bleeding.
The lights of the kitchen still shine brightly as a lighthouse in the rain. I think I see movement on the porch and call out to Dylan, but the wind rips his name from me. Now I am not even sure if he knows I am out here.
Finally the ground levels out somewhat. It should be an easy walk to the house.
I must have done more damage to my knee than I thought. When I step, it becomes a hot flash of pain running up and down my leg.
So, I drag it, feeling even more useless than ever, feeling helplessness wash over me stronger than the tidal wave of rain coming down from my beautiful blue sky.
My knee can only handle so much.
I push too hard, too fast and it buckles.
I fall flat on my face, in the dark and wet night.
Covered in rain and now mud, angry and helpless and all at once the one picture I never wished to remember flashes into my head.
The bloody and seeming lifeless body of my sister next to me just before my head hits the concrete.
The fact that I can’t face our parents and tell them that I had not protected her was the key, of course. And here I am mentally unstable, proving them right, and proving again that I am not good enough:
Not good enough to protect my baby sister,
Not good enough to admit fault,
Not good enough to even face reality.
Never was good enough for them.
Never could compete against the perfection of a younger sister.
Never held her hand enough through hard times.
Never guided her on the correct path through life.
Never was generous enough to share any happiness that invaded my own life.
Never did anything right.
Jenny was the baby. Jenny was the one my parents’ world revolved around. Maybe because I was the mistake that made them get married in the first place and Jenny, well, they planned for Jenny. Whatever the reason, there it was. I was not Jenny, and if I had let Jenny die….
I rose from the puddle of uselessness that was me in the middle of nowhere, soaking wet, and the epitome of helpless heroine in inane romance novels.
I am not that person.
I stand, defiant of the storm, of the pain.
I scream into the storm as if that will make the ultimate difference.
The words don’t matter. Only the show of defiance matters.
Even if it is only my own consciousness against my own unconsciousness, the show matters.
Ignoring the pain, I yell until my throat hurts, raising my fist against the lightning.
“I AM GOOD ENOUGH.
I AM STRONG ENOUGH!
IT WASN’T MY FAULT!”
Then Dylan is next to me. In seconds, he is as soaked as I am. He does not try to yell over the howl of the wind. He does try to carry me, but I won’t let him. I lean against his side as we walk back to the tiny house in the middle of a howling nowhere.
He helps me sit on my cushion next to the blazing fire and places a blanket over me. His voice is angry and almost desperate as he dabs at the blood on my leg.
I lay back into the cushion, pull the blanket up to my chin, listen to his voice and watch the fire dance.