there is a calm that comes before most storms. both in nature, and in life. they say that it is nature’s way of making preparations for the upcoming destruction that will befall the earth. i suppose the same can be said about life’s storms. the calm allows us to internally recoup whatever normality and sanity we have before all hell breaks loose, and we lose our ability to distinguish up from down.
on tuesday i went to my hairdresser. it’s important for me to dye away the gray. important to me, anyway. i’m an unattractive person and the gray just makes it worse. makes me look old and frumpy. dying it to my “natural” color at least gives the illusion of some youth. keeps me looking a bit closer to my actual age, instead of the age the years have worn me down to. i need all the help i can get.
it was one of those extremely rare, pleasant days. i enjoy my hairdresser. she is a delightful woman. easy to be around, easy to converse with. on tuesday our conversations actually held a small amount of depth and substance to them, which left me leaving feeling a bit more fulfilled than i have been in quite some time. the connection was welcome.
i would not welcome a connection like that with just anyone, and i wouldn’t want to connect like that with her, or most anyone else, on a daily basis. but on tuesday it was refreshing. unexpected and refreshing. when i left, i left feeling a bit lighter. and no, not because i had gotten my hair cut, which i did not. lighter in the internal sense. lighter of mind and soul. my spirit wasn’t quite so heavy.
as i drove home i decided to take the back roads. it was a perfect fall day that day. the sun was shining and the temp was in the 60s. i hate summer. i love fall. i love cooler weather. so this, combined with my unexpected enjoyable visit compounded on my sunny disposition. i was also enjoying a smoke, which i am still sneaking around doing. that added to my bliss.
with my windows down, leisurely driving home, thinking about our conversations we had just had, enjoying a forbidden cigarette, a strange calm came over me. i was driving through a small town that i used to spend a great deal of time partying in, back in the day. it is actually part of the back way to where i currently live. i take this way often to avoid traffic.
most of the time this town looks completely different to me now. new life, no contacts there anymore. everyone i knew that lived there at one time has moved on, and the town has slowly begun to take on a different shape. for the most part, anyway.
i didn’t drive fast. i was in no hurry. my husband was off on tuesday and i was in no rush to get back home to him. i wanted my uplifting mood to last as long as possible. so as i drove along those streets that i once knew so well, i breathed in the fresh fall air and welcomed the brilliant sun upon my face…that is when i felt it happen.
i began to feel a piece of myself come back. just for a few moments, all of the elements worked together, i guess, and i felt like me. the me that has been lost for so very long. the me that has been beat down and berated into nonexistence by everyone around me who treats me like nothing, throws me away like garbage, loses me like a penny that holds no value.
with that brought this strange calmness. this sense of…i don’t know. it’s hard to explain. this sense of safety solely existing within myself. a confidence that i had lost so long ago. i miss myself. i miss me.
the outside world has beaten me right out of myself. i’m in hiding most of the time and even i can’t find me. it leaves me scared. alone. and the world wins every day. it takes every moment of peace away from me.
before it was just myself i had to listen to, most of the time, tell me how worthless i was. other than my parents, and save a select few others. it was different back then. when it was my voice in my head, i still had confidence. confidence in my abilities to do menial tasks. for the most part i rarely questioned my intelligence. i knew i was trash, but held some comfort in the fact that there were others out there who did not feel the same way.
it was like that. that was the brief moment of peace and calm that settled on me as i drove home on tuesday. i just felt like…me. like i was self-sufficient. like i could…handle things. calm. like the me that had disappeared had finally came home.
even in those brief few minutes i knew. i knew impending doom was upon me. calm never comes without a cost in my life. i wasn’t for sure what, when or how…but i knew a storm was coming. in all honesty, i have felt the storm coming for months. limbo always leads to a storm in my life. limbo never leads to anything good or redemptive.
people who love you and want the best for you…people who care for you and have good news for you rarely make you suffer in limbo. common sense and experience tells me that. so, i knew there was a storm coming. on that front…and on another front.
my body, my soul, my mind…they all needed those few minutes, though. they needed that rest, however short it was. they needed that to cling onto in the forefront of my mind, while behind the scenes they prepared for the hell that is about to be unleashed on me. nature and soul have many things in common.
see, wednesday came and brought with it the beginning of what will be a very devastating storm. the clouds moved in, the waters began to rage and life around me began to spin very, very fast.
sometimes you don’t have enough time to run inside and seek shelter before the storm hits. sometimes you are stuck out in it, standing right in the middle of the storm. alone, with no protection. nothing to shield you from the damage that it is surely to cause.
when i was around 23 i went on a canoe trip with some friends. my friends had friends that lived right next to this river. a beautiful place. beautiful, large river. the weekend we had decided to go, the river was actually declared at ‘flood stage.’ we had had a lot of rain the week prior and the water was extremely high. in fact, all of the businesses around this river were not renting out canoes or floats, or allowing the public to get in the water from their access points.
lucky for us we were on private property and they happened to have their own boats and equipment. we were all loaded and/or drunk, so most of them had zero common sense. i, of course, was three sheets to the wind, recognized the danger and became even more excited at the prospect of potential death. seemed like a win-win to me.
some opted to stay on shore at the house and the rest of us loaded the cooler (of course, that was in my canoe) and supplies (no life jackets, of course, because we were idiots) and proceeded down to the river. the river was breathtaking. the water was so high, so angry, so fast…so inviting. everyone paired off, leaving me stuck with some drunken idiot.
he had no idea what he was doing. i had never been canoeing, so i was definitely no help. what we did know how to do was drink, pop pills and get high. the float trip turned out to be more like a speed race, on account of the current being so fast and pissed off. we all had a nice time, stopping here and there for a swim, a snack, a drink and just to chit chat.
i slowed down on my drinking and increased my drug usage (the others i was with were mainly drinkers), always one to prefer the uppers. my boat-mate sped up his drinking. i became more awake and alert, he started to slow down, reflexes and all. he had said the entire trip whenever i would ask what to do to help (because, of course, he thought he knew what he was doing so he had me sit in the front of our boat), “just sit up there and look pretty!” i, of course, would smile and say that i had that under control, turn around and roll my eyes.
the first time he tipped us, i was able to recover the cooler and my belongings fairly easily. he held onto the boat and the oars. it took some doing, but we managed to get everything back in the boat, including ourselves, relatively unscathed. he laughed, the others laughed, i laughed. it happens.
the second time he tipped us (again, not intentionally), things didn’t work out so well for me. i don’t know where the cooler went or the bag with my crap in it. i don’t know where he went. i do know where the boat and i went, though. the boat flipped over on top of me. when i swam out from under it, some piece of my clothing got stuck on the boat and i became it’s prisoner. the boat carried me downstream, dragging me along the rocks, sticks, trees and various debris. the boat finally got stopped as it washed ashore along the bank, which was covered in sharp-edged rocks.
i laid there, coughing up water, fighting for air. eventually the others caught up to me. i could tell by the looks on their faces that things didn’t look good. as it turns out, being drug by a boat along the unforgiving debris and sharp, irate rocks of a ‘flood level’ river will leave you bloody and bruised, which about 70% of my body was at that point.
not being one to ruin anyone’s fun, though, i sat up. i smiled and asked if they found my ziplock that contained my cigarettes. my friend proudly proclaimed that she had! i lit a smoke and said, “well, that was fun! let’s smoke and see what else this bitch can do to us!” they laughed, loaded the boats back up (including all of the stuff from ours that they found…even that idiot man, who was unharmed) and off we went again.
the third, and final, time the boat capsized that day, though, is the reason i am telling this story. as you can imagine, being bloody and bruised (with a few things broken that i would find out later) slows down even the most intoxicated person. being that i thrive on pain and punishment, though, it added a bit to the pleasure of the trip. we continued on for some time without incident. i enjoyed the beauty of my surroundings, the laughter of friends, the sounds of the water, the peace of the day.
i found myself totally lost and immersed in the calmness of the day. i got lost in the moment that this experience was providing.
i was completely busy in my own head, wandering and traveling about freely between my own thoughts when the boat capsized for the final time. i never saw it coming. the third time it was violent.
before i knew what happened i was in the air. not for long, though, because my face, forehead, collided with a low-lying tree. hard. when i fell back down, heading into the water, the back of my head was hit by a part of the boat that had been thrown up out of the water by a violent wave, of sorts. this sent me forward, smacking my face into something i don’t quite recall. things got dark for a minute.
when i came to, i was under water. i don’t know where or how deep, but i could not see the bottom or the surface. up until this moment in my life i had always assumed that i would’ve been someone who would panic under pressure. for whatever reason, that day i did not. maybe it was because almost dying wasn’t something new to me. maybe it was because i had taken many beatings in my life, far greater than this. or maybe it was simply because i didn’t much care if i died or lived.
regardless, instinct took over and i began to swim up. i got to the surface and took a few desperate breaths. the current was so hostile that day, though, so i was unable to stay in one spot. it kept dragging me further and further downstream. i fought the current for a couple of minutes but quickly decided that that was too much work, and was useless. so, i let it carry me with it.
eventually i felt a very sharp stab and then a tear rip through my side and my back. part of a tree limb had been caught under the water. i decided to grab ahold of it. i figured i would just hold onto it until the current slowed down, or my friends found me. i was very tired by this point. every part of my body was in pain. my lungs, my head, my arms, my chest, my legs…it had been a long day.
i don’t know how long i held on. in a way it felt like i held on for hours. in a way it felt like i held on only for seconds. i don’t know. i know i was so drained and exhausted. holding on became more and more difficult as the current kept trying to rip my fingers off of the tree limb and steal my body away to take captive. water kept invading my lungs, covering my head as i struggled to keep my nose and mouth above water. blood was running down my face, into my eyes.
but i remember vividly thinking in those last few moments, as i struggled to hold on,
why am i holding onto this? why am i fighting so hard? why am i holding on so tight to a life i don’t even want? now’s your chance. now. just…let go.
some people say that their life flashes before their eyes right before they die. i have had a few near death experiences. i have even died once (after an operation, in recovery). my life never flashed before my eyes in any of those moments when death was right in front of me. perhaps because my life just isn’t worth remembering before my death happens.
so as i was holding onto this limb, struggling to hold on, and i realized that i was struggling to hold onto something i didn’t even want…as soon as i realized that…i did. i just let go. and that…that was the most peaceful moment of my entire life. i let go of the tree branch and the current took me. i didn’t fight anymore. i accepted my fate, was grateful for the end to be here.
the current became stronger and stronger and started to pull me under as it pulled me farther downstream. and just as i let out the last of my air and the consciousness left my body, a miracle happened. yes. another fucking miracle.
my eyes were shut and yet i saw it. this hand reached down into the water, took my arm and pulled me out. that’s it. that’s all i remember. this hand, this forearm. a man’s hand and forearm. strong. muscular. white. with a white long sleeved shirt, rolled up to his elbow.
they say that they all thought they had lost me. after i suffered the two first blows to the head, blood covered the water when i fell in. the river took me too fast after that. there was no sign of me. the guy that was in my boat was fine. he tipped over, swam to shore. the others frantically tried to get their boats over so they could begin running along the bank to look for me. however the current had really picked up and no one was getting anywhere fast.
there was one friend who jumped out of her boat and swam to shore. she ran. she ran and ran, looking and yelling, they say. she isn’t a religious person, but i am told she prayed. she doesn’t like to talk about this at all…so we never do. i guess she is the one who found me. i was lying half on the bank, half in the water, completely unconscious, not breathing. she preformed cpr.
i didn’t have to ride back in the same boat as that idiot. there’s always a silver lining, i guess. lol. it made for a good story for everyone to tell when we finally made it back to the house. the friend who saved me, and myself, weren’t much in the mood for stories by then.
a day day later i took a trip to the doctor. some stitches, a couple of bones set, some wraps for other fractures and i was as good as new. the bruising and gashes that covered about 80% of my body just added some color. but the internal scar left of being robbed of another death stayed with me for a very long time. to this day, to a point.
this storm that has started to roll in has me wondering how i am going to handle it. will i be like lt. dan? will i be on my boat in the middle of the ocean, looking out at the raging waters, shouting and cursing at the skies…at God…fighting back? enjoying the storm, enjoying the battle, enjoying the fight.
will it be like the second time the boat capsized and i was drug along the bottom and through the debris and took a beating that i enjoyed? will i beg for more pain during this storm, like the me of my youth? will i push death, shove death, taunt death and brace myself for the pushes and shoves back?
or will i simply just skip it all, let myself flow freely with the current downstream and allow it to just take me under? skip the battle, skip the torture and pain. skip the self-mutilation and harm that i usually thrive upon.
as i’m in the middle of this storm, when it fully rolls in and starts raging all around me, i will be alone on my boat this time. alone. if i decide to just jump into the raging waters and allow them to take me under without putting up a fight, it will save time and energy.
if i do that, though, before i jump i will look back at this one person. i will make eye contact with eyes that i once thought i knew so well. i want the eyes of this person who has turned out to be a stranger to see inside me. this person who once came under the pretense of helping, of saving. but now who stands on the very same boat as i am, in the middle of the same storm, holding no life preserve. screaming at me from two feet away, pushing me in the water before i can jump, “it’s your own fault for never learning how to swim! learn how to swim!”
as i look back into those eyes i was just sure i knew…so sure i knew so well, i realize i never knew at all. that the person i thought was always standing on this boat with me, protecting me, was nothing more than a ghost. when i reach out my hand to touch his face, his face disappears like fog…and my hand touches nothing. nothing but the memory of a lie.
the storm is coming. will i surrender and let it take me quietly? or will i unleash hell upon myself first, giving the storm a run for its money?
there’s no one to save me now. no one to look after me. no one to care. no one to ask for help.
death and destruction are free. free to do with me what they wish. i don’t matter to anyone now.
the only question that remains? will the storm be quick or will it take its time?
i don’t have the answer to that.