A Single Shallow Breath
I can’t feel my hands.
It’s the only thought she can get out, the only thing she can process, the simplest set of words she can string together in the moment. The world is suddenly dark, so dark, and she could swear that just a moment ago there had been more than this, the crushing weight of invisibility pressing her down.
I can’t feel my feet either.
She kicks and struggles and her toes meet hard wood—couldn’t this sort of thing break a bone or twelve with ease? She wouldn’t know. All she knows is that she has to go up, past the wood and the weight and the awful dreadful suspicion that there is nothing else for her broken spirit to feel.
What can I feel?
Any other day, it would be a simple question with a simple answer. But she can’t feel, she can’t see, she can’t know what this is or how deep she is. She scratches, fights, claws her way forward, pulls a deep breath into depleted lungs and forces a response to her own question.
She looks down at her own body, her hands just as unfeeling and lungs just as empty as before. There is no longer the weight of burial dirt and splintering coffin wood to battle, no fear of invisibility or numbness to push her forward.
What am I?
Is she…free? Untethered? Set loose? She doesn’t know. She stands, stares down at the grave before her. The heart she had in life would be beating out of her chest now had it followed her into death. But now she only sighs, a single shallow breath to welcome herself to the afterlife.
A ghost has no use for feelings here.
A thick fog envelopes me, hazy and unclear
Lost in a maze, where true despair is near
My tears flow like a river, forming a steady stream,
and heartache whispers like a winter's breeze, silent and unseen
In a world of gray, I have lost my way
And in the starry night, only a little light still stays
My emotions will soon succumb,
every tear making me numb.
But even in the darkness there is a light,
and in hope's embrace, gloom will take flight
For a flicker of hope lights the way,
and will continue to guide me through each new day.
Tails, dozens and dozens of ribboned kite tails, swirling and whipping in the wind on the high prairie. The church people bring me here to watch the kites. They spread a red checkered picnic blanket on the hot, spiky grass, and prop me up on a straw tick cushion with my hands folded in my lap, a quilt pulled up to my chest. My cold stocking feet are uncovered; I no longer wear shoes since I cannot any longer walk. I dare not complain, for there are children who are halt and lame, and will be that way their whole blessed lives. I have already my life well behind me, beautiful shining moments when I could walk and work and care for my babies. I smile thinking of it all now— the countless days I hung the wash in the sun, scrubbed the floors on my hands and knees, cooked for company with a baby on my hip and my other one clinging to my skirts. These are the memories that I hold onto, now that my husband is gone on to glory and my children are doctors and lawyers in New York State with grandchildren of their own. My good work, my housework. It warms me to think of it now. The church people, they see my smiling face and they smile, too. They think I am pleased with the blue sky and the clouds. They are good to me, though they believe I am feeble-minded and simple and easily pleased by colorful kite tails and squealing children. I am not. My own children are gone, and to see these things raises a bitterness in my throat. But I smile, and am glad. Not the absent, childish smile of a dull old woman, but the contented and sad smile of someone who has who has known and lost a great deal of love.
to be passive--
I've lived my life habitually ineffectual,
Wholly apathetic to the twists and tidings
Of these turbulent waves.
They say I've got a smart brain
But the things I know
When I need them the most.
I write in broken sentences
Because I cannot keep one chain of thought
Long enough to continue to
Searching For His Voice
The evening is cold and black. The type of darkness that could swallow a man whole. A black river howls an angry hymn called the sting of a thousand knives. John is bundled in a coat, work pants with tights underneath, and work boots with spiked covers pulled over the top. He’s wearing work gloves with his fingers pressed tightly against his palms. His jagged fingernails piercing the skin as the salt crawls into the open wound like an impregnated invader, birthing bundles of pain that spread through his hand. But he can’t stop, because when his fingers enter the holes of his thinly insulated work gloves, the numbing begins, then the throbbing. Then he needs to take them out and press them against the open wound once again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
A balaclava is draped over his face, and he thinks about the radio station telling its listeners that exposed skin in an evening like tonight was susceptible to frostbite in a matter of minutes.
“Better stay in bed, folks. Wrap yourselves in a nice warm blanket, and watch a movie. Do not go out there tonight.”He said, before segueing into the Stones, She’s So Cold.
Do not go out there tonight.
Boy, you’d have to be nuts.
Yes, yes you would.
There’s danger in the way he’s feeling. He knows that. There’s guilt as well. The shadow of his father follows him through the freight yard as his heavy steps crack the ice and snow like shards of glass. He’s disappointed in him because he knows the decision he’s going to make, even though it has not yet been made.
“What are you going to do for money, huh?”
“I don’t know.”
“I stuck my neck out to get you this job. You’re making me look bad. Are you even a man?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what do you know?”
“That I don’t want to be here for Chrissakes.” He yells into the darkness. “That’s what I know! That I want to be home with my kid! I know that too!”
But the shadow isn’t even his father. It’s an incarnation of his father, sure. It’s his mind traveling back through time and like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, picking out the worst of his old man, and making a villainous, sociopathic, and relentless mental torturer, that lives only in the moments where he wants to veer off the family path, and create one of his own.
John is 23 years old, and as the tears from the wind freeze just above his cheekbones, he thinks about the age-old adage, “life is short.” And at that moment, he thinks that’s the biggest crock of shit he’s ever heard.
Life is long. Life is a long, sweltering fever dream, unless you can get a grip on it. Those who believe life is short are the lucky ones. They’re the ones wrapped in a big thick wool blanket, like the radio man says, watching sitcoms with their lovers, as the baseboard heat is cranked to ten. They’ll watch a show or movie they enjoy, then maybe they’ll go upstairs and make love to their partner, and fall asleep in an embrace of warm naked skin.
Sure, that life is fast.
This, on the other hand, is a marathon race through quicksand.
His mind quickly shifts to a book he read about a soldier in the Vietnam war. This man gets drafted and loses his shit. So, he decides to travel to an isolated cabin a short canoe ride away from Canada. He looks out and sees how close it is, how close he is to a new life. A life far away from the war. But it isn’t that easy. It never is.
So as he sits in a boat with the 80-year-old proprietor of the old cabins, he cries. He cries because it’s right there. It’s close enough to touch, but too far to ever reach. And that scares the hell out of him. The brutality of not being able to make a decision that you know is right in your heart, for fear of ridicule, disappointment, and cowardice.
He knows that his fate is much different. It even feels silly to compare the two, but he isn’t really comparing his life to the veteran in the Vietnam book. He’s comparing the thought process behind fear. And the similarities feel much the same.
Because he’s in his own boat, staring at his house instead of the mountains of another country. He’s walking inside quietly up the stairs, trying to keep the floorboards from creaking, but always making it worse. He’s in his bedroom, where his son sleeps in a bassinet beside his wife. John’s staring at his son’s soft face. He’s reaching out to touch it, but then there are the voices.
They start off low and singular, but they build like a symphonic crescendo. There’s his father, then his mother, his brother, and even his university friends. There’s his wife. His In-laws. Everyone joins in.
His mother says, I knew you’d quit. I always knew you were a quitter.
His father says, this is your blood. It’s in your blood. How can you leave behind what’s in your blood? Your grandpa would be rolling in his grave.
His wife says, I’m scared, John. What will we do for money? There’s nothing here. You moved me out to a wasteland with only a couple of good paying jobs. What are we going to do?
His father-in-law says to his wife, you shouldn’t have married him. He isn’t a man. He isn’t a provider.
Jeremy from college says come on, pal. You’re not a worker, man. You drink. You party. You don’t work. You don’t provide.
They build and build, and he searches for his own voice, but it’s lost in the noise. His voice is too soft and delicate and it’s being trampled. It’s being beaten and thrown into the black abyss of a northern January night.
He’s searching to find it. Searching for his balls. Searching for a voice loud enough to drown out the noise and the pain.
His hands are numb. He’s left them in the finger holes for too long. When he clears his mind for a moment, his hands throb.
He continues down the freight yard. His voice still nowhere to be found.
My head is filled with a million thoughts,
I am so far from being caught.
My heart is void and numb
the pain of being different has become.
I am mocked each day by my family,
they do not like me anymore,
ever since I started to actually be me,
and control my life.
I wonder how I can go back to who they want
when I am numb.
My emotions are so far away
I cannot seem to feel today.
I am in a state of nothingness,
where I feel no happiness.
I feel so numb inside,
I just want to run and hide.
I don't know how to escape
this feeling of numbness and hate.
I am tired of being numb,
I just want to feel something.
I want to feel alive and free,
to be able to be me.
Not eccentric, but different
Loud, but invisible
Everywhere but nowhere
The beast inside me escapes my grasp
And you were the unfortunate soul to see it
Fear encases, growing inside
As I wonder what you'll think
Of the true me
Never understood how others couldn't see
Restricted and confined
Clouded by judgement
Until they open their eyes
But are you willing to see?
See my unique power
The folds inside my mind, happy and free
And unseen long hours
Ink smudged across the creases
Worn-down but still young hands
Stanzas written in pieces
That I can understand
Filled if you look closely
But nothing if you don't
Despite this, you've been by my side
Since the start
Or are you one of them,
Who's words sputter into my ears
I'm forced to succumb
They slowly remove it, as my peers
Can only see why it's dumb
They crumple and tear the papers
That I still long to remember
A thousand needles
Pricking my every move
All these peoples
Crowded around, pairs of eyes that gossip
But what could I possibly do
A broken engine;
The gears in my head slow to a stop
Looks but no interventions
As they wish that my art will flop
They'll never think about their action
But I don't know why I've lost
Journals abandoned, no way to trace
The voices that's been removing
My hard work, I can't see my magical place
Dimmed and not able to prove
What's behind a phrase
"Why are you still here with me?"
The waning crescent is dark, but
I keep trying to take flight
And you still help me be
A small sliver of light
That maybe, someone can still see
I'll show you my work in a year
We'll never be split
Old times will change, if you are still here
And I hope you're willing to see it
Entry into challenge "Rising Prosers Soiree # 2 : Numb" @ChrisSadhill
Closed in and Numb
Pulling up to the parking lot, Becca hesitated in opening the door. Glancing at the time, she calculated about one hundred and sixty-eight hours of her time in a home that she no longer belonged in. Sluggishly she got out of the car and took her bags out from the trunk. Walking up the steps she saw old markings made with chalk, from the days she used to be innocent. Such memories no longer remained in her head, she sighed and then gave two loud knocks to the door. She heard footsteps and then a yell, another argument about to break out she figured. Home sweet home, she just couldn't wait to be put in a corner like some kind of homeless man just needing a place to sleep.
Her humble abode had turned into a place she now detests. A middle-aged woman opens the door, with a cigarette in her mouth, her curly hair is all over the place, and she's wearing a stained almost see-through blouse. Becca gives a disgusted look and starts to cough. She walks right in and instantly goes inside her prison room. The walls peeled, and spider webs surrounded all the corners of the ceiling. The bed is stained with spilled coffee and cigarette burns, holes are ripped from the middle, and it's just set on the floor. The old TV meant for the kitchen is now on the floor across the bed. She closes the door behind her and tries to get some rest, although she knows that in this house rest is a word not commonly known.
A loud sound of glass breaking against the wall woke Becca up, she gave a loud sigh as she saw that not even ten minutes had passed by. Plates were already being smashed against walls and floors. The cries of children were starting to grow as she heard swearing after every broken dish crash. It was hard to distinguish what the argument was about since the loudest voice sounded hoarse; she figured it came from the old smoking woman. The swearing continued and not too shortly after Becca heard a soft knock on her door. As she went to open the door, four little children ran inside and hid themselves under the covers. A small smirk appeared on her face, she thought of all the possible ways these children remained so innocent after living in such an evil home. She pitied them, she was free to leave this place whenever she pleased, but Becca knew they were not blessed with the same luck.
She thought of why she even bothered to come back to this place she hated so much, and then as if reading her mind, the children gave her a look she was not used to. They looked at her with admiration and respect. These children were the reason she would always come back, a blessing and a curse she thought. She hated coming home but loved those kids so much she would take the risk anyway. Coming back to reality, the yelling and swearing continued, along with the crashing and banging of things being thrown around. The sound of police sirens would be coming in soon, she thought. To some, this might be shocking and frightening, but to Becca, this was just another typical night involving the old smoking hag and her lover of the week. Looking back at the old clock with the numbers fading and the minute hand slightly bent, she figured it was about three in the morning. The children were fast asleep each holding their comfort toy close to them. Dehydrated Becca listened for any hostile noises coming from the outside, nothing but the static sound of the television was heard. She opened the door; broken glass surrounded the entire living room floor. She winced as a blade of glass cut her foot, she let out a soft swear and pulled out the broken glass.
Once in the kitchen, Becca gagged at the smell of rotten eggs mixed with sour milk and pickle juice spilled on the floor. The ceiling fan looked as if it was about to collapse at any moment, the wallpaper was peeling off as cockroaches made their way across the kitchen. The floor tiles, once white was now piss yellow and covered with old food crumbs, colonies of ants crawling around, and cigarette butts with lipstick markings on them. Flies swarmed back and forth, as Becca made her way to the fridge. It was no surprise to her that inside the fridge was nothing but booze, cheap booze, and an old moldy piece of cheese. She grabbed one of the cans of cheap booze and made her way back to the jail cell. Before she was able to make it to her room, she couldn't help but notice how oddly quiet it was. It was almost unnatural, she decided to have a look around and found the old lady knocked out on the floor with no sign of her lover which Becca found completely normal. She looked at the table and scoffed as she held a barrel tube from a Bic pen that had been used to snort cocaine.
She sat down beside the drugged-out body of the old woman and pushed back the hair from her face. Becca looked at her face and gave a soft laugh as she caressed this woman's head, she remembered how it used to be the other way around. When the old smoking hag was a loving mother, and the lover of the week was the father who loved her. And as quickly as she remembered those things, they faded even quicker,r and reality set back in. This woman was a stranger to her and deserved no compassion, so Becca got up covered the body with a blank,t and locked herself up in her so-called room. Since the children had all fallen asleep on what you could call a bed, she made herself a comfy place to sleep right beside them on the floor. Before her eyes shut, she saw the time was six forty-seven, only one hundred and fifty-six hours to go.
The first song in Hozier's new album makes this make more sense to me. As did an episode of Midnight Gospel titled "Annihilation of Joy". I recently understood the numb more. But first, a brief overview of my relationship with it.
Numb is an old friend... Like many other "negative" emotions. Calling them negative seems rude now... Probably because I try to respect and understand their existence more. Coming to terms with my own being and all that.
Numb was one of the strongest parts of my melancholia. Many, many years of a push and pull between feeling too much and nothing at all. Those were the two kinds of bottoms I'd hit, getting lower every time and I feared this one. I hated how it sucked everything out of me like a vacuum. How I would stare at the ceiling and wait for emotion that may or may not come, how it felt like the emptiness would last forever in those long, silent moments.
It took over many things. Relationships with people. The things I loved became muted, subdued, faded. I was fading along with. And the more I sank in, the more it made sense and made me feel insane all at once.
I think I understand the point of it now, however. In two ways. The first is that it's there to protect me... From the other side of the spectrum. The muting may be extreme but it softens everything... Until nothing matters. I've had bad experiences that were only survivable, to some extent, because of the numbness. Because of the empty. Because negative emotions, despite the way they make us feel, exist for a reason. I don't enjoy them either but every last one of them works for you, just as the rest of your body, soul and mind try to.
The second thing isn't complex. Not to me, anyway. I've seen the quote many times that says we are the universe experiencing itself. If I am the universe the everything that has ever made me happy represents every star in the sky, every floating celestial body. New and old as they explode into existence and fade away into the ether. Every book. Every TV show. Every wonderful fanfiction there has ever been. My family. The people I've loved and lost the gaze of. Stars.
The empty is the darker part. The numb is what lies outside of all the feeling and emotion humans possess. Sometimes it has a cause but often times, it just appears to me. Usually when I put away stimulation and let myself drift. Or when I think so much that my brain shakes its head and shuts us down. The numb is a long blanket that occupies the parts of our existence that are not filled with things. Love and hope and rage and desires. The part that is just us existing on a planet for a little while. The us behind all the other.
I wouldn't say I enjoy it. It's not meant to be enjoyable. It's neutrality at its strongest. But there is no bright, burning star or violent comet crashing through the cosmos without the blanket of dark empty space between. There is a beauty to it. A need to it. It's the base of what we are. The behind. The underneath. At least, to me. Cut it some slack. Give it a listen. Allow yourself to be a while. It isn't there to hurt you. It's just...