We live in a world of friskiness. We cannot abide for what we feel before this frisky world. We cannot escape. There is no escape. Because there is no exist to the great world we have left behind. It is a frisky mouse trap. There is no salvation. We are attached to its frisky awareness. Many of us try to hold safely these frisky waves of existence and we have failed miserably during these 100 years of living hell and separated individually if that is a frozen pond. Not because this mean we still believe that tomorrow will be a new tomorrow but rather all around is a frisky sense of emptiness. Every time we awake, and we become aware we are still breathing, a junk of kindness leaves us trembling physically, mentally and spiritually which it creates a vacuum of exhaustion. Philosophy of life tells us the simplicity of value cannot be beheld by the perception but instead by the will. The Stoicism encourages us to face all odds by struggle further our own willingness. In fact, they force us willingly to create a habit of our fear a frisky hope. Existentialists observes that we are not a social paramount giver but rather we are layers of this product they call it a culture menace and while religions have a hill task of convince us we are not the sinners here, we collapse among ourselves so poorly and together the essential of being the only human that principle of royalty is all about we fight among us like vultures. So, what is left? What kind of frisky truth we should grasp to our dying beings to restore ourselves as we were previously made? That is the true essential of being humans for everyone involve.
When I woke up this morning I didn't think today would be any different from yesterday. I awoke to the same soft white sheets, the same pillow under my head. The same mess of long black hair in my face. But when I stood up and felt something brush over my feet I froze. My heart at a complete stop while I waited to see what would happen next. Nothing did happen and I ran out of my room as quickly as I could. That was my first mistake. I should've never left my room this morning. I should've at least checked what was under the bed first. Maybe then I Wouldn't have been so startled when I went to the bathroom. I stood in front of the sink, my hand slowly reaching for the faucet, and my reflection following everything I did precisely. I let the cold water run over my hands for a moment, the rush of frozen ice bringing me back to reality. There couldn't have been anything under my bed is what I told myself. I cupped my hands under the tap and watched as the water filled my hands, I watched as the water poured over the sides of my skin, making its way back into the basin. The mirror hanging on the wall in front of me, still keeping up with every single one of my movements. I bring the water in my hands to my face, and before splashing myself I hold my breath. I don't know why, but I've always done that. Without the sound my breath filling the dead silence I have to wonders....whose is then? I can hear it right behind me. The sound of someone breathing. Each breath louder and heavier then the last. When I spin around to my surprise no ones there. I let out a sigh in relief as I turn back to the mirror. I stare at my bitter reflection, my skin pale and sickly, my long hair in a tangled mess, my grey eyes drawing nothing but boredom and plainness. Then it happens. I jump back from the mirror, knocking into the cabinets behind me. Before I can catch my footing, I slip and fall backwards into them. The cabinets and I hitting the floor with a loud crash as my heart beats out of my chest. I know what I saw. There's no way that didn't happen. I replay it back in my head.....and every time I replay it, it's the same. I'm standing there, staring at myself in the mirror. Then the mirror slips up. It does something I don't do. It blinks. I know the safety of my closet won't save me forever, but at least it'll keep them out longer. It'll keep them out while I try to think. But the only thing I can think about is seeing myself blink.
4 YEARS OF HORROR LIVING A TOXIC LIFE It was still a mystery how something good turned so sour in just a few years. It felt almost like a switch was flipped off and his humanity was automatically turned off, turning him into a monster of the worst kind. How had I endured all of this for so long?? I felt drained and exhausted from constantly checking my actions to avoid any flaws or mistakes that would unleash the demon in him. Being mentally frustrated was not enough to explain how dehumanized I felt; I was practically scared of my own skin and was always wired to bolt from the slightest scare. How could a man drag a woman's pride in the mud, destroy her self esteem, brutalise her personality and still expected her to love him completely ?? What a toxic world I lived in. My name is Neni and I was trapped for four years of my student life. 2015 *** Stepping into my biology class for the first time felt good because it meant I was grown up enough to handle my life and take care of myself. I have been set free from the shackles of my parents and I had the world at my feet and the heavens just above my head. In my euphoric state I was ecstatic and crazy enough to think if I just reached out my hand I could touch the heavens above and make my wishes come true. More like my worst fears came to life. Meeting Simon was not as dramatic as first love's seem to emphasize. He was my lab partner during computer class and we sort of bonded over trivial discussion while I admired how beautifully created he was. He was very funny, goofy, knew how to charm a woman and make her swoon,very persuasive in a romantic way and was as considerate as any first year student could be. We made time to see each other outside of classes which proved difficult because of our different time tables, class schedules, hostel rules and everything beyond but we tried as much as we could to hang out during games in the evenings. He asked me to be his girlfriend on matriculation day and I gleefully accepted with all my immature heart fluttering and goosebumps lining up my arms which sent chills down my spine, making me feel I had found my missing rib. Four year down the line and it still remained the worst decision of my entire adult life. 2016 *** "Simon, have you seen my ATM card"?, I can't find it anywhere. I lamented bitterly because I needed to use the money my parents sent to me to pay off my school debts. "Yes babe" I have it with me and I need to use some of the money to clear up some stuff I got tangled in, he replied casually. What!! Exactly what are you talking about?? How can you even say such a thing. Please hand over my card I said with my hands outstretched. The vibration from the slap I received gave me nosebleeds and I literally fell to the floor. "Don't you ever question my decisions in this relationship ever again" he yelled and stomped out. I sat down on the cold tiled floor in my shorts and bloodstained white tank top feeling like a hammered drunk, dazed and too useless to move. Ladies and Gentlemen, that was the beginning of many more scary abuses to come. I was currently leaving with simon because we couldn't bear to be apart from each other even for a minute and he didn't want the restrictions the hostel presented so I partially moved in with him in my second year. I remember how loving and caring he was during our first year together, how he lavished me with tenderness and love. He holistically adored the ground on which I walked and worshipped at my feet. He loved my body like it was his, he adored every part of me, reverenced my core, bowed before my gates, asked permission before taking charge and took me on a ride of ecstasy and over the edge with a mastery that only he could perfect. We understood each other perfectly well, we didn't envy others and were content with everything we had until he wasn't. Simon became more cranky, lost interest in school, pilfered some money here and there, made excuses for his absences and spent all his time in the gambling den. The days he didn't win were the worst of them all. Full Story Here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/o04shq93hkaftha/4%20YEARS%20OF%20HORROR%20LIVING%20A%20TOXIC%20LIFE.docx?dl=0
Am mad at myself for leaving the office so late at night, knowing fully well the dangers and high risks that could happen to a single woman walking around at night. Well, its not like I planned it, I say to myself, such perfect timing that the stupid car just had to break down tonight of all nights. Its just a few blocks to the car park, I will just walk down and hail a cab to take me home, what's the worst that could happen? Am halfway down the block from the office when I start having this tickling feeling at the back of my neck that makes me feel like someone is watching me or following me. Am suddenly feeling cold as goosebumps floods my skin making my hairs stand alert and my ears to perk up. Call me paranoid but I know the feeling too well having dealt with a psycho ex-boyfriend that was a stalker and a pest. Why would someone be following me? I laugh nervously as I answer myself, why won't they. Am carrying a very expensive Louis Vuitton bag, that has an IPhone 12 inside plus a large amount of cash, nice clothes, night shades and sneakers to match. I am definitely screaming rich right now. I hasten my steps as the feeling grows thicker and I can hear rapid footsteps pick up their pace and hurry to catch up with me. That does it for me as fear feeds my veins with adrenaline and I start sprinting. I duck into the next corner hoping to lose whoever it is that's following me since the darkness of the corner shield me. I stay still, breathing erratically but slowly. I didn't hear anymore footsteps and the feeling at the back of my neck is just lingering, so I think am safe now and can finally go home. I straighten up, ready to leave and I am screaming as two sturdy hands yank me up and hits me hard across the face, I lose focus and see stars, like literally. Oh God save me!! Oh God save me!! am chanting in my head as I taste the salty feeling of blood in my mouth as he hits me a second time making my knees buckle and my teeth rattle as my head spins. "Let go of the bag, you stupid bitch" he says and I manage to look down weakly to see that I am clutching my bag in a death grip like my life depended on it. No Wonder he hit me again. He lifts his hands the third time to strike and I mange to duck it, my boxing classes finally kicking in and he hits his fist on the brick wall behind me and yelps out in pain, releasing the bag at the same time. I waste no time in sending my knees up to connect with his balls. He screams out in surprise and drops to his knees placing both hands between his legs at the same time I send my knees up again to his jaws. I think I cracked something in his mouth but I am not waiting to play doctor as I sprint out of the corner like hounds from hell were hot on my heels. Thank goodness and the stars I came out okay, I will never ditch boxing lessons and never ever go home late again. My head hurts and my face feels swollen and bruised but am glad I came out alive. Writer: Miss J
You groggily awaken in the OR. Your surgery has ended so you close your eyes for a peaceful recovery. Without warning, you feel as though you're being propelled through a wind tunnel and somewhere off in the distance, you hear someone shout, “Hurry, she's not breathing.” Someone else shouts: “Her heart stopped.” You wonder who is about to die but the bright lights of what you assume are hospital hallway lights are too bright for that thought to last too long. They're so bright, you squeeze your eyes shut against the glare. All is now suddenly quiet and peaceful. Someone is gently shaking your shoulder while saying, “Wake up. Come back to us. Open your eyes.” You realize, someone is speaking to you. I opened my eyes but found I couldn't speak. What happened? I was fine just a few minutes ago. Wasn't I? A doctor walks over and says, “You had a bad reaction to the anesthesia. Your lungs and heart stopped working. You'll be on a ventilator until you can breathe on your own again.” That happened to me in February of 1979. It was the scariest part of my life. Every hour, for eight hours, a nurse would approach. I would hear a loud “CLICK”, then no air! Nothing! As hard as I tried, no air! I would see a hand pass over the top of the tube that was inserted down my trachea. I would hear her say, “Nothing yet. Hook her back up.” Another loud, “CLICK” then beautiful cool, refreshing air and I'd be breathing again. Actually, I wasn't breathing at all. The ventilator was breathing for me, but it was keeping me alive. As hard as I tried, I couldn't get my lungs to function. Was I doomed to a life of ventilator dependency? Did the lack of oxygen paralyze me? Did I suffer any sort of brain damage? Time continued to pass by and every time I closed my eyes, a nurse would rush over saying, “Now, honey, please don't close your eyes. Stay awake for us. You can't sleep.” Another question. Why? Why was I denied the privilege of a nap? I felt so tired. I wanted desperately to sleep even if only for an hour or two. I thought of my two young sons. Their father and I were separated with a pending divorce. Before the surgery, he graciously volunteered to keep them for the duration of my recovery. He had no idea what was happening in the ICU. No one called him. I'm not blaming anyone. No one had his new phone number. I had it but was in no condition to give it out. Lying helplessly in the ICU, as the clock on the wall ticked away each second, all I could think of was breathing and getting home to my sons, rebuilding my life again without my almost ex-husband. Boredom had me drifting off again Another nurse, whom I'll call Anne hurried to my bedside. She gently stroked my forehead. “You need to stay awake. We're afraid if you fall asleep, you might slip into a coma.” Wow! That opened my eyes in a hurry. It was towards the end of her shift. I heard the shuffle of feet and saw Anne's face. “It's time once again. This time, I want you to try and take the deepest breath you ever inhaled.” I heard that all too familiar, “CLICK”. I focused and finally after eight agonizing hours, took the tiniest whisper of air you could possibly imagine. But it was enough. “Yea!” Anne exclaimed. She shouted to another nurse, “She took a breath. A small one but it was there.” A second nurse verified that I indeed took a small breath, a few of them. Anne said, “Close your eyes. We're removing the tube.” It felt like someone was removing a cactus plant from my trachea but suddenly, it was out, but was breathing on my own! Anne said I could now close my eyes and take that long awaited nap. I'd soon awaken in my own room. I have no idea why I reacted so badly to the anesthesia but to this day, here in 2020, there have been occasions where anesthesia stops my breath. The doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists are all aware of this problem and take extra precautions to ensure it doesn't happen again. Have I been on a ventilator since then? Yes. Yes, I have, but for no longer that 2 hours and that's because the doctors are forewarned and monitor me very closely. I know the fear of not being able to breathe voluntarily. It's a horribly scary thing to go through. I can't help but have the deepest empathy for those who contract and suffer from COVID-19 and must be ventilated. For those who live through it, they'll never forget the time when the only thing keeping them alive was a machine. For those that didn't make it, all I can say is that it was a horribly, hideous way to die. I no longer take breathing for granted. I haven't since February of 1979 and never will.
“And...Aster, you're up!" I shakily drew in a breath and bent down to check if my en pointe shoes were tied. Why did the air suddenly seem so cold? Why were chills running up my spine? And why, out of all things, was I scared? It's gonna be alright, I assured myself. My brain believed it, but my heart didn't. It beat fast, as if it was saying, "Oh, I'm not sure..." My friend Wonder's voice interrupted my thoughts. "Pssst. Aster, go on," She nudged me with her elbow. "You can do this!" Wonder's sunny, smiling face encouraged me, but didn't do much to move my fears. "I can't do it." "What?" Wonder's face fell. "I just can't. I'm too scared." "But you can do it!" Wonder protested. "Then how do I do it?" "Just face your fears." * * * The first time my mother told me to try ballet, I was really skeptical. Ballet? Really? With music that goes, dodo-do-do? Nope, not for me. Then, she MADE me try it, which I complained about for a long time. She pushed me into our custom-made Porsche car and said, "You can't think that ballet is terrible before you've even tried it." Sigh. Grown-ups. "I still think ballet is a waste of time and torrible." I declared with a matter-of-fact look on my face, staring at her through the rear view mirror with my brown eyes. "Oh, Aster," murmured Mum. "Using words you've made up." I did make up words if there wasn't a good enough word in Merriam Webster's dictionary. Terrible and horrible both sounded the same and meant the same thing, so I decided to merge them to create, "Torrible". It's a word that's twice as strong than your ordinary negative adjective. Once we got to the ballet studio, I crossed my arms to make myself seem like I meant business and didn't want to be there. "Welcome!" cried a bright-eyed woman. "I'm Madame Natalia!" She had her hazel hair in a tight bun and was wearing a black leotard paired with white tights and ballet shoes. "Please come inside!" I reluctantly entered the studio. It had glossy walls, wooden bars, and a huge mirror at the very front. I had thought that ballet was going to be boring. Boy, was I wrong. Ballet now seemed like it was part of everything in my life now. It was in my schedule, and I tried to do anything to please Madame Natalia. I was having so much fun doing pliés and tendus and pirouettes that I even forgot how I first felt like when I went to the studio! It was as if I couldn't feel that way about ballet anymore. Soon, three years had passed and I was a high-level fifteen year old. Madame Natalia had long gone; I now had a teacher named Madame Trance. Her name suited her. She looked as if she had been taking too many sleeping pills. Her blonde hair always seemed to float and her gray eyes were always dreamy as if she were far, far away from the studio. One day Madame Trance said, “Aster, there's going to be a competition at the Lincoln Center Ballet Stage. Do you want to go for it?” My eyes grew wide. A competition? For real?“YES!” I shouted, jumping up and down. Madame looked at me disapprovingly and shook her head. “What's wrong Madame?” I asked, cocking my head, settling down again. “Oh, dear. The people downstairs will complain again.” I grinned sheepishly, embarrassed. * * * So here I was, at Lincoln Center making a fool out of myself. My brain had already confirmed that I couldn't bring myself to dance on the ballet stage. I had looked down at my feet and moped. Then, Wonder had given me one of the best pieces of advice that I had ever heard in my life: "Face your fears". I looked up. Wonder nodded. I thought about spiders. Poison. War. Stage fright, and another gazillion things that I never knew that I was afraid of. "If you're ever gonna do something in life," soothed Wonder, bring me back into the present, "If you're ever gonna try something new, you have to go face-to-face with whatever you're afraid of." She stared at me so intently that I snickered."Wow!" I laughed. "You sound just like a teacher!" "Thank you."Wonder giggled. "Number 26, are you coming? I repeat, number 26, are you coming?" I inhaled deeply and stepped forward. I put on my best calm face. It didn't matter which place I came in. All that mattered was that I had faced my fears.
The thin fingers that were keeping the pencil inside the compass box, were shivering hard. A classmate who observed this and , added to the scarlet me, and the memory stayed through the years. As a little girl in school, my language writing skills were good. I liked my national language, Hindi. I also loved English language, which was the medium of my education in my country, India. Teachers loved to read what I wrote, but sadly when it came to speaking in front of a crowd, I felt my world breaking. I would sweat, my hands would shiver, my feet went numb, and yet the worse was still to come. After a few lines I would end up breathless. My words would shiver. People around me would hear my shivering words and laugh. It was the same case everytime, infront of my class, a crowd or even a group of five friends. I grew to higher classes and my stage fear grew manifold. A few in the teachers knew about my situation. But everytime a new teacher asked me to stand up and read few lines, I would be in the same dark space, alone. At one instance a teacher asked me to surrender a beautiful essay I had written on happiness to another student as this student was a confident speaker and went on to read out my essay in a competition. She won it. She came and read out my essay in front of the whole school, beaming with joy and confidence. I stood in the assembly and heard every word I had written from her. For the first time I was not hungry that day at the lunch hours. I slowly progressed to higher grades, my shivering hands received awards for both English and hindi literature. Teachers would be astonished at my writing skills. And yet I looked back longingly at the kids hosting on mike, so comfortable as if they were speaking at home. The monster was there in my mind. Looking even more fiercely into my eyes. Sometimes I would blame myself, other times I felt it was my karma. I graduated, shying away from limelight, stage, people. It was time to do my MBA. The fear monster, was now a comfortable resident of my mind. My degree entailed giving presentations in front of class. I dodged my turn as far as I could. My nervousness made my classmates make fun of me behind me. I felt helpless. I had few admirers of my youth too in the class by now. It felt worse to speak nervous in front of them. A thoughtful friend in class understood my predicament and he advised me to practice hearing my own recorded speech. I practiced. It did help me in recognizing the words I was eating in my speech, but speaking confident was still far off. I spent on public speaking books. Strangely I knew the small nuances now in speaking, and yet feared stage. I opted for finance stream, as I knew marketing stream would mean more public speaking. This was it. The monster had won. It made me take a decision I didn't want. I hated desk jobs. Wanted to be the star, but … Done with MBA, I finally landed up a job at a small financing firm. Too much travel and work, I was in a happy space. The fear lived in me. Then there was an event at my workplace. All prospective buyers were the audience. A crowd of around sixty people. My team had four marketing guys and me. Being the only Female member, it was now my job to explain our scheme. My boss looked upon me to present. This was it. Back into the monsters battlefield. All those meditation techniques, all practice sessions felt faint. Can anything calm a thudding heart in fear? And then, I decided, something very small. This small decision which was going to effect the rest of my living. I decided that day that I woudn't bother at all. I will give my presentation the way I can. I was wary of the monster. Only I knew the words in my mind? So I woudn't let people laughing on me or looking at me bother me. I was feeling fine and anxious too in my crimson dress. When it was the turn of my company to present, I stepped forward and spoke about our schemes. I was tired and overwhelmed and just wanted to get done with the thing. I went slowly, was aware of what I was speaking, even enjoyed saying the last few lines. The audience clapped for me. I was on sweat but smiling. My team members felt I was good. My boss was less in words, but appreciative. I felt I had tasted something for the first time. The taste of a mild confidence. I was smiling all the way back home. That day and moment changed me a lot. Speaking now came easy to me. My world was changed. The stage felt friendly. The mike felt inviting. I thanked my gods and all those who helped me in their way. Public speaking became my strength. I knew the audience I wanted to boast in front of, my school and college class, was long gone. It came late. But I was happy. Today I get invited to speak at events. My perspective changed too. I now want my audience to listen to everything I say. Understand everything I have to say. I am not fearful anymore. And for me nothing in the world is as precious as this feeling.
Fear and I are no strangers. Growing up with abusive parents and marrying an abusive man at the age of nineteen; you become accustomed to being afraid. Nightmares have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember; but the fear that grips me now is like none I have known before. I am a Christian, so I should not be afraid of dying. I should be happy that if I die, I will go to heaven, right? No. I am afraid. I am afraid because although my soul is ready, my mind and body are not. I am afraid of never seeing my children and grandchildren again. I am afraid of dying on this God forsaken island when there this so much I want to do. I am afraid to go back into the classroom because what if I get the coronavirus and give it to my students? The guilt would eat me alive! Physically, I have trouble sleeping. I can't fall asleep until at midnight or later and when I do, I have nightmares. I have chest pains. Heart conditions run in my family. I can't tell anyone. I don't want to burden them with my fears. I have little appetite. I have to force myself to eat something every day. I used to love food. I am an old-fashioned cook. I bake from scratch. Growing up all my kids' birthday cakes were homemade. Add to that, I am a stress baker. My daughter used to give me a hard time when she came home from school and caught me baking. She'd ask, “What's the matter, Mom?” Food was a big deal. I have often been told I needed to open my own restaurant or bakery. I almost did once. Now, the kitchen brings little solace. Emotionally it's like an alien has taken over my body. I have had some pretty traumatic things happen in my life; but I handled them with relative calm and that lack of a habit of panicking has gotten through them all. I take a deep breath. I tackle the most urgent thing first. I make a list of what I need to do or what I need and mark them off as I go. Over the years I have managed to show a brave front; but I can't anymore. I cry a lot. I am anxious going out in public. My heart races when I do. For five months, I have gotten out to go to the grocery store and that is all. I live on a tropical island and I can't even enjoy it. I am calm one minute and hysterical the next. I'm moody and volatile and it has caused serious strain on my relationship with my fiance. Who can blame him? It doesn't help that I am a redhead and have the trademark temperament. So, how afraid am I? Pretty damn afraid! I have begun to write my will. I have written my daughter a six-page “goodbye” letter. I have written my son a letter. I have always prayed, and I know I am saved; but now I pray every night the traditional children's prayer, just in case… Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray Dear Lord, my soul you take. God bless Quinton and Little Jack. God bless my daughter Christina and her husband Clifton. God bless my granddaughter's Zoey, Malia, and Alice. God bless my son, Monty. God bless Bree (my son's soon-to-be ex-wife), Alaynah, Kaden, and Alex. God bless all of my friends and family and loved ones. God, please watch over all of them and keep them safe from harm. Please God, put a hedge of protection around my family and don't let them die. In Jesus' name, Amen. There are times that fear chokes me and I am unable to get out of bed or do; but don't want to. I force myself to get up and face each day. Going through the motions of fixing my fiance's breakfast (he works nights). I force myself to walk our dog and do the laundry. I force myself to cook supper each night; and then I have to force myself to eat. I look out the window and long for the beauty of the island around me but am too terrified to go out and see it. I have always written a journal, but now I am writing four to six-page entries. I have gone through four ink pens in the last two weeks alone. I have days that all I can do is “depression sleep.” Even this rest is plagued with nightmares. I'm aging fast. Dark circles under my eyes and wrinkles appearing daily around my eyes, mouth, and hands. I am just 49 years old, but I look and feel sixty. With all of this, you would think that it was impossible to look forward at all. You would think that it is impossible to dream about tomorrow, next week, or next year. Even I am surprised that I can, that I have. My fiancé and I have a dream of buying a live-a-board sailboat and sailing around the world. Planning for this dream consumes our days and nights. We have made lists. We watch sailing videos. We talk and discuss what we need to do and what we need to buy. We've laid out all of the steps to follow and have it all worked out. Yet, all the while a shadow lingers behind the surface fueled by the fear that this dream will never come true. That one or both of us will die before it becomes a reality. A voice whispers in our minds, This will never happen. Why do you bother to dream at all? I answer back, “I don't know, but I do.”
Is it a good morning today? Is It a bad morning? Is it going to rain? What time is it?... Questions once simple to answer… But the lockdown has given a new meaning to them. It is indifferent to us if it is going to rain today. All days look alike. Some nights the shadows on the balconies seemed so alive, dancing in a waltz with no faces. Is this an illusion? Is this situation of isolation a new truth? Total silence of the night and the lights are off. People behind the closed curtains of the neighborhood, say goodnight in silence. Is this an illusion? Today's truth has become a conventional obligation that challenges you. Is freedom an illusion? Try to find the meaning of it in books and articles of yesterday. Maybe you will not find it anymore. The truth of today is totally different. Masks are thrown on the sidewalk and time and space become vague concepts. Once being social, now you keep ‘Social Distancing'. The new social norm. Your freedom has terms and conditions. Its illusionary and vague. You can keep what's positive from the new ‘truth' and discard the ‘negative' burden. Maybe it is all a game that we need to win, and remember the words of Anton Chekhov, that “the illusion which exalts us is dearer to us than ten thousand truths.”
Hello. I greet you without any physical approach whatsoever. With this COVID-19 situation, people don't really greet each other at all in public places. Eye contact is fleeting and hesitant. The only interaction is a team-work effort to keep away and make space. Friends who see each other give a brief acknowledgement and say "Stay safe!" It's hard to give this COVID environment a one-word description. "Strange" is close, but anything associated with "strange" before is different from the "strange" that COVID-19 has brought us. The world has seen a lot, but this seems new. There are bits and pieces from history that can be sort-of related to now, like the Great Depression, The Dust Bowl, maybe World War II, but all of those were longer in time, less abstract, and definitely more American feeling. American as in patriotic. This... this is different. This is a world on hold. Never has the world been on hold; the major population voluntarily frozen, in place, waiting. In a movie about surfing, an expert surfer said to his pupil, "One thing you gotta know: Fear and panic are two separate emotions. Fear is healthy, panic is deadly." But his pupil responded, "If you're scared to death, how do you not panic?" The surf expert answered, "By identifying the fear, and what it is that you're afraid of." With the COVID-19 upthrust, there is probably panic in more people than the virus has physically affected. Panic, because in a hasty attempt to identify their fear and where it is coming from, they found something hard to identify. Something that seemed new under the sun. But is it? Those who are not panicking must have identified the source of fear. They must have recognized COVID-19 as something simple. Something that is not new under the sun. Something more or less as a part of a cycle that is unmeasurably old. And so it must be. Older than the sun.
There is a sign, of course, at the foot of the drawbridge: “Welcome to the inside of my head”. Ah yes... take in the brilliance of my Disney-like castle. The palatial grandeur, the iridescent colours. The bricks are units of time: from small second-bricks to huge year-ones. And those turrets? They're decades. The fourth one is still under construction. Do you see how my castle shimmers on a sunny day? When the skies are warm and blue, marvel at the French doors that swing open to the sound of music. Out pop amazing stories of wild adventures, daring encounters and breath-taking journeys. Out dance passionate affairs dripping in salacious details, followed by hilarious conversations, endearing anecdotes. Inside my Castle of Time it's like one of these multi-screen cinemas where rich assortments of films are playing simultaneously, in various languages and with different subtitles. There's upbeat jazz music – the quick tempo a perfect remedy for the chaos of my ever-spinning thoughts. Fairy lights are a-twinkle and the scent of freshly baked bread magics a smile upon your face. “How clever, how witty!” visitors say. “Super creative… fabulous imagination.” “Aren't you tired? There is SO MUCH going on here,” says a kind soul. “Inspirational.” “I can't stop laughing. Do you do this professionally? No? Well, you should.” “Those psychedelic dreams!” “So capable,” says a tourist, clapping me on the back. “Great potential. When is your book coming out?” But suddenly, thick clouds set in and drown out the sun. The drawbridge creaks and heaves as it clanks down. There, in that muddy moat that hugs the castle, live terrible traumas. Hideous monsters that rise from the murky depths. The tigers crouching under the drawbridge are males who touched me, uninvited. The dragons hiding in the rye are the screamers; dominant men who must be in control at all times. There are more demons in that pond, lurking in the shadows of the Castle. The snakes are the cheaters, the scorpions the contaminators. Worst of all are the piranhas; the loved ones that simply upped and left. They wake up when my castle is stressed, scared or worn out. That's when the CP (Condemning Priest) who rules the place spews his poison, his Sect of Smug Women screeching that nothing I do is good enough. “My book,” I tell the tourist, breathing away the tension, “Oh, I don't know. I…” By now, the grey sky is pressing down on me. I feel exhausted. I want to run inside the donjon and hide in a room marked PRIVATE. It has a sofa with a warm blanket, a TV, books, and mountains of chocolate. “You'll never amount to anything,” the CP sneers. His Smug Women snigger. They've caught up with me, loving the torture. “Others write better, more poignant stories,” they mock. “They're successful. You're not.” “You have no energy to pull it off, a book on the market? You're always tired. Loser!” “Failure!” “You've got wrinkles. Time's up.” “Your body is flabby, you can't stop bingeing.” “You say you work hard but you have only ONE child. Pish.” I try to ignore their scorn. Grunting, I shove the CP and his haters in the pantry and lock it. I have another tourist to show around. “And where are you from?” I ask as I throw away the key. “Macedonia.” “Great,” I smile, opening the golden doors. “Здраво. Јас сум Сузана. Како си? добро или лошо? Мило ми е.” The woman's mouth falls open. “How did you...?” “I learnt some Macedonian whilst studying in Barcelona.” “Which languages do you speak?” “Oh,” I say shyly. “English, Dutch... and to varying degrees, French, German, Spanish, British Sign Language, Arabic, Italian, Mandarin and Turkish. “Can you read the Cyrillic alphabet?” “It was amazing to read signs in Moscow,” I say excitedly. But in the distance, I hear banging and clanking. The CP and his army of Smug Women. They're breaking out of the room. I feel anger bubbling inside. “What about Arabic?” the tourist asks. “Love reading and writing from right to left.” “And the Chinese one?” “Don't push it.” Grinning, the tourist picks up a memory. “Wow,” she breathes. “You covered this posh hotel in the Seychelles? You're a journalist? A writer?” Before I can even reply, the CP comes galloping up, flanked by his faithful followers. “She was,” he barks, “but now...” BAM! My fist hits him square on the nose. He slumps on the floor, clutching his bleeding face. Did I just do that? The tourist is too wrapped up in pictures of tropical trumpet fish and gorgeous Creoles to notice. She grabs a Huge Fact off a shelf. “Who's this handsome little prince? You're a Mum too?” “Lazy sloth…” one Smug Women starts. "She..." But I don't let her finish. “Oi,” I say, yanking the Smug's hair. “I am the Queen of my castle,” I bite at them. “No one else. Shoo!” “That's right,” I tell the tourist as I glare at my retreating demons. "And I do both well.” Yes, I've got some fight left in me. But how do I banish the baddies from my castle forever? Time will tell.
It was easy to get scared. When the darkness swallowed up the Earth, the night seemed to coat everything in a suffocating blanket of black, it was a simple matter to give in to the fear. What you did next was up to instinct and sin. The guilt and things best left buried in the deepest parts of the heart. The accusation on their faces was bad. The disappointment in Mama's eyes was a thousand times worse. And so you did it in the shameful, terrifying dark because at least there nobody could see the tears fall down your face. A glance out the window never revealed anything except what your mind created. The moon was hidden behind dense clouds, if it was there at all. No light managed to break through the black. No city lights, no stars, nothing. Endless miles of night that stretched into the distance, and suddenly you were outside and it's chasing you, don't turn back don't turn around no no no don't look at it keep running... And in the night you can't see anything, no way you can watch your step when you can't even see the hand in front of your face. So then your foot catches on a rock or maybe it's a stump, too dark to tell and you're falling and now it's there and the CLAWS NO STOP PLEASE And suddenly you're gone, nothing left but ash and bones and the hard piece of stone that passed for your heart. The wind sweeps you away, or rather what's left. The sun finally, finally breaks over the horizon and the day starts anew. Then you're back in your bed, soft and warm, and now you just have to get through the day, don't break under the stares. Then by night, you can try to fight off the monsters that lurk out the window alone.
It was late when I woke up from my nap, my grandmother, who came home late from work, woke me up, "Oh poor girl, how are you going to spend your night?”. I didn't say anything as I was thinking. After a moment, I asked her, “Can I go to John's house to watch a movie?” She responded, “I won't walk you”. I begged her to take me because I was afraid of the monsters in the dark. She knew that I would keep begging her, and she accepted to take me. John had the only television in our neighborhood, and he had many domestic animals. It was hard walk to John's house because of all the animal feces. My grandmother stepped in it, “Oh no! See what you have done to me!” she pointed to her foot, “Why couldn't you stay at home?” I apologized, and tried to help her, but she refused me. I went into John's home, my grandma left me as I did, walking back home. When I entered the home, Luke, John's son, was watching football. Football isn't my favorite, but I greeted him and sat down to watch football. Eventually the game ended, “What do you want to watch?” he asked, I politely replied, “A movie please”. He changed it a movie “Where's your family?” I asked. He said, “They went to the wedding and will back soon.” Usually, the house was full of people but that day it was empty. After thirty minutes of watching the movie Luke stood and came to sit next to me. I moved over so he could have space, but I felt scared when he came over. He kept moving towards me. I was only twelve years old and Luke was seventeen. I kept watching the movie while he was kept inching closer. Something inside me told me to get up and run to your home, but my legs froze. I felt heart beat strong. I hoped someone would open the doors and rescue me. I was shifting and breathing hard, he asked, “Are you okay?" I was not, but I lied and said “Yes, I just want to go home” “Why?” he asked, “I thought you came to watch a movie”. I quietly replied, “Yes, but I think I should go home and help my grandmother”, Luke was not in the mood to listen to me because as I stood up he held onto my hand and insisting I finish the movie, and then he would take me home. After another moment of watching the movie, he decided to bring water from outside. I should have left as he was gone however, I stayed, and he came back with water. We watched the movie, he put his hand on my shoulder, “Don't worry I'm your brother”, he assured me. I sat stiff but after a moment, his lips were on my cheek. I pulled back in shock, “Why did you kiss me?” He said, “Because you have a beautiful cheek.” I moved away, “I want to go home now.” I insisted. “No, you don't because there are monsters outside. If you go, they will eat you. Trust me”, he said, “while I was outside, I saw monsters that looked evil.” Do I have any choice other than to stay with him inside the house? I sat carefully, aware of my place. He continued to sit with me and then touch me. He put his hands on my chest and I cried, I begged him to not touch me. I wanted to run but I'm afraid of the monsters outside. I felt as though I'm stuck in the middle of a horrific dream. My legs were frozen, and I wanted to close my eyes to pretend that everything was okay. He kept kissing me. His breath smelled rotten. He was a monster, dressed as a man. When he tried to hold me to him, I pushed him harshly and stated, “I will scream.” His home was remote; he knew that my scream would not help me though. I wanted to go home, but he kept insisting, “There is a monster with big teeth and a scary face waiting for you.” I was crying, begging him to take me home he said, “No, not unless you sit and let me do what I want to do” he bargained. I had known him since I was seven years old and I remember I used to play football and other games with him. He was the one we played seek and hide with, he was always willing to play my part, because he knew I was afraid of the dark, but now he has changed into a monster. I shot out of the seat, “I will walk home. I would rather be eaten by the monsters.” I went to the door, Luke fast on my heels. He tried to stop me, blocking the door, but I shoved past him and sprinted home in the dark. I knocked on the door and grandmother answered, surprised, “Oh! You're early. I thought you were watching a movie?” I didn't answer but entered my home tried to calm my heart as there were no monsters I found. I knew my grandmother wanted to ask me questions but refused to ask. I couldn't sleep for hours. There were no monsters I knew this. It was a story to tell children. I got up and left. He used my fear against me, to manipulate me. I swore I would not let my fear show and not let it control me. I won't let my fear cloud my mind. Now, as I'm older, I speak the truth about the power fear, and I walk without fear. I walk freely in both shadow and light, seeing the beauty of both worlds untied. Because even in the shadows, stars shine though.
The Monsters Beneath Me That's where they were: beneath me...under my bed, actually...the grizzly and ghoulish creatures of my childhood imaginings. But, for a six year old boy, still treading the perplexing waters between fantasy and reality, they were as real as the bed I lay upon. Night after night I would lay rigid in my bed, dreading falling asleep, for I knew that once asleep, my arm or leg would come to dangle over the side of my all-too-narrow bed. And that's when it would happen: some hideous, cartoonish monster, or team of them, would snatch my dangling limb and pull me under the bed, where all manner of horrors awaited me. Fearing what lay in wait for me, I would try to fall asleep laying perfectly still in the middle of my bed, legs together, arms tight to my sides, and hope that somehow I might safely awaken in the morning. Often, I would awaken in darkness and deep dread (did I yell for help?), sweating and shaking. Unconvinced that this was “just” a dream, I would lay there in that fixed, rigid position, trying to stay awake, but failing and falling again into sleep. To my great relief, I would indeed awaken safely each morning -- another treacherous and fearful night, survived. And although I would rise to meet the morning with my childish exuberance -- forgetting the sweat-inducing panic and fear of the night before -- all would return upon bedtime. I am not certain how long this phantasmic phase persisted. The memory is fuzzy, distorted by a lifetime since lived. But it seems to have recurred over many days, or periodically, over a week or two. I don't recall sharing these night terrors with my brothers or ever mentioning it to my dad or mom. I was, even at the age of six, deeply embarrassed by the whole thing. And so I felt rather helpless as well. But, possibly due to some innate stubbornness, or exasperation, this terrifying dreaming would abruptly stop. I can recall only opening my eyes, one morning, peering straight up at what seemed to be a wall of wooden slats pressing in on me. Startled, I lifted my head, banging it hard against the wood, exclaiming “Ow!” as one might expect. What was this? What's going on? A few seconds of disorientation and rousing consciousness passed before I realized what was ‘going on' -- where I was: I was underneath my bed! Somehow, in my sleeping state -- and I possessed no memory of doing so -- I had gotten out of bed, and, blanket and all, maneuvered myself onto the floor beneath my bed -- a tight space with just enough room, plus an inch or two, for one six year old boy. I laid there for some time, awake and marveling at this strange feat of magical transportation. And then, another profound realization came over me: if I was under my bed, then there couldn't be monsters under my bed, too -- there was simply no room for them. I remember smiling, even laughing out loud. That whole day I felt a strange, all-pervading sense of calm and confidence that I had never felt previously. I had, unknowingly, found the solution to my night time hallucinations. I had confronted the monsters where they lived and had emerged the stronger! I had become my own hero. No help from mom or dad or divine intervention. And, something in me had changed, permanently. My view of ‘reality', however limited by youthful inexperience, had been forever altered. I felt, deeply, that my Life was no longer the same. Possibly, I might have spent a night or two more sleeping under my bed (just to be sure), but I distinctly recall the complete vanquishing of those limb-snatching ghouls that were just out of sight, and yet so close beneath me. And, over the months following, whenever a new night time phantasm emerged, I would somehow find a way to thwart or out-smart it, as if now possessing magic powers. Over the years, I would come to confront other fears common to many...such as the ‘panic' of having to speak in front of others and even a fear of hypodermic needles. I remember a nurse rubbing the alcohol-soaked swab on my arm, just moments before being ‘stuck'. I started to feel that familiar panic rising up in me. Closing my eyes, slowing my breathing, I recalled that long-ago morning when I woke up beneath my bed. But now, I felt only an eye blink of anxiety, and then a wave of calm flowing over me as the needle pierced my skin. I think I laughed -- surprising myself, and the nurse. This ‘extinguishing' would ultimately prove invaluable as, only a few years afterwards, my dad developed an acute form of dysplastic anemia and was in need of a familial blood supply for possible transfusions. And, in the ride to the hospital, feeling no little pride, I recalled the vanquishing of those monsters once more. It might seem strange to say it now but I believe I first started ‘growing up' the moment that my six-year-old-self woke up, under my bed, bumped my head, and laughed.
Amelia stared out her bedroom window overlooking the neighbors' lawn - wondering whether other children her age had families like hers. Were they also sent to their bedrooms so the grown folk would yell at each other and fight? Did they ever have to hide under the bed just so they could feel safe? Were their lives full of horror and misery like hers? She adored her parents, like most kids her age but never spoke of them with the enthusiasm other kids did theirs. Whenever anyone asked about her parents, Amelia would hang her head low with sadness. And if they insisted, she would get furious. “I don't want to talk about it!” She was often quick to end the conversation. Most kids at school despised her. If your parents did not drop you off in the morning or pick you up after school, you didn't have any friends. Most of the other kids assumed she had no parents. Whenever her parents were summoned she would go all the way to Aunt Flora's place across town and ask the bulky noisy woman to fill in. Aunt Flora had no children of her own and had given up trying a long time ago. Now she simply stayed home tending her garden, looking after Molly, Jolly and Polly, her three cats, and yelling at whoever appeared on TV. For Aunt Flora, people on TV either dressed badly, spoke poorly or just looked bad. Having been kicked out of a convent a few years back, Aunt Flora had dedicated her life to being a noisy loner. Not long after she was kicked out of the Convent she had met Patrick with whom she tried to have children. The news of her bareness came as a heartbreak to Patrick who eventually died – possibly of disappointment. Now all Aunt Flora had was her garden to tend, her trio of nonchalant cats to keep her company, her TV to yell at, and the occasional visit from her little niece, Amelia. Amelia noticed the lights go out from the neighbors living room window. Around this time of the night, they would all be seated in the living room playing Scrabble, Monopoly, or charades and laughing the night away. But tonight, they were turning in early – either because of the storm or the noise from Amelia's house. “Please stop it, Nathan! You're hurting me!” she heard her mother plead from downstairs. “I will do as I please," her father retorted. "And you will do nothing." “You're hurting me, Nathan. Stop!" Her mother began to scream. Then for a whole ten seconds, everything went silent. But Amelia knew what was coming. This was not the silence she was hoping for. Something horrible was about to happen downstairs - it always did. Her mother was about to let out a loud painful scream. Without warning, the sky let out a thunderous roar drowning out every other sound, including the noise from downstairs. Amelia dove right under her bed. The loud thunderstorm outside seemed to offer her a bit of reprieve, albeit scary reprieve. Perhaps the universe had listened to her silent prayer for the noise in the house to be drowned out because, for a few seconds, she could not hear anything more than muffled sounds of fighting and screaming coming from downstairs. Her mother was pleading for her life but Amelia was momentarily glad she could not hear it. Just as quickly as the thunderstorm clapped and roared, it went silent and heavy rainfall replaced it. A steady pouring of tears from the sky replaced the noisy thunderstorm and the sky became one with her emotions. As Amelia became teary, the sky wailed and sobbed, letting out its own steady flow of tears with the occasional cough or sneeze marked by a bit of thunder here and lightning there. From under the bed, she could see shadows floating around the room. And she held tight onto Dory, her only friend. Dory was a plush little blue fish with large eyes and a little yellowtail. She wore a constant smile and always reminded Amelia that everything was going to be all right. She pulled herself from under the bed and quickly jumped into it, clutching Dory close to her. “Dory, I am scared,” she whispered to her inanimate blue friend, hoping for reassurance. Then she pressed Dory close to her chest and waited for the magical words. “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.” Dory responded. And that is what she always did - swim. Through the tides of noise and fear, through the waves of sadness and pain, she was going to keep swimming. Most fifteen-year-olds had big fluffy bears and large stuffed animals. She only had Dory, and that was all she needed. Most teenagers worried about how they looked, who their friends were, what dresses they wore and what toys they had. She worried about the constant arguments and fights between her parents. She held Dory close to her chest, folded herself into a tiny little bundle of fear and drifted off to her safe place - dreamland - a place where there was no noise and no one could hurt her.
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