So We Ran

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I found her lying on the cracked linoleum floor, soaked in a pool of her own blood. The door thrashed on its hinges as the wind whipped through the tiny kitchen to blow the papers she had stacked with painstaking precision around the room. A blizzard of fluttering white swarmed my mother, the rarest of winter roses, who blossomed beneath the papers’ hurried flight, her body blooming in vibrant, rich pools encircling the fragile remains of her broken shell. 

Her eyes were still open, and her pupils dilated until the irises were nothing more than brown rims around fathomless black pools. Fear hung heavy on the air, its metallic tang fueling my own anxiety until an erratic thrum pounded through my veins, urging me to flee.

I knelt beside her and took her hand. Her eyes rolled in her head, but my whispered “Mama?” focused her gaze on me. She squeezed me hand and whispered, “Run,” then took a shuddering breath, a wispy fragment of remembered humanity, and died. 

I took the stairs two at a time, woke my younger sister, grabbed our emergency packs we stored underneath our beds and fled into the enveloping darkness. 

We ran. We ran through the night, past towering pines and over beds of fragrant sweet grass. No one who followed would notice the path of our hurried flight. We were surefooted and silent as does. Even the animals  avoided us, perhaps because we still smelled of fear and grief, so we ran unhindered farther and farther into the forest. The dense foliage hid us from circling helicopters, their angry buzz becoming less incessant the deeper we ran. Even the search dogs’ barking grew fainter, their scenting abilities confused by our masked scent. Day after day, we ran.

At least with our feet in motion flying across the fragrant forest floor, we could pretend for just a little bit longer she hadn’t died. We could imagine a childhood free from paranoia, locked doors, furtive whispers and from hiding in plain sight. We could convince ourselves she had been a normal mother who taught us to bake instead of how to load and shoot a weapon in less than a minute, or that family trips had been to the mall and not survival training deep in the wilderness. That photos on the wall were of family members and loved ones, not a complicated web of key government officials and their biographies she had forced us to remember.  While running, we could pretend her mania had been the over protective instincts of a single mom and not symptoms of a deeper disturbance.

Because to stop running was to give up hope. It was admitting the monsters she had warned us about weren’t real, a truth more frightening than the evil who trailed us even now.

Running held back fear. Running kept us alive. It was the only thing we knew how to do.

So we ran. 

(C) Sara Ackerman, 2017

Behind Glass

I stumbled out of bed, staggering sightlessly to the bathroom. The sting of bright  lights dispatched the lingering fog of Morpheus, and with great reluctance, I cracked open my eyes. Leaning over the sink, I stared into the mirror. Blood shot blue eyes stared back, and a riot of strawberry blond waves tumbled in disarray over slumped shoulders.

“You screamed again last night,” my  husband said, toweling off from his shower. I turned around, unsurprised to see him already awake and ready for the new day. He smiled, though worry bracketed his eyes and furrowed his brow. I jerked my head away and stared at the woman trapped in the glass, both of us searching for answers neither of us possessed.

Shaky fingers fluttered and rested on the slim column of sinew and skin,pressing on the wildly beating pulse found there. “Did I?” That question raised an awareness of a raw, previously unnoticed stinging. I swallowed, the convulsive gulp abrading the tender tissues with its nervous action.

“You don’t remember?” he asked. He pulled on his pants and shirt, the casualness of his question recalling to mind fragments of terror, of immobility and fear.

“There was someone by the bed,” I whispered and closed my eyes.  There was always someone by the bed or lurking in the corners, a dark shadow that was never far away. “He was going to kill me.”

“That’s what you said.” He ran a comb through his dark hair, his efficient movements cutting through the noise and chaos clouding my mind. Watching him, I matched my breathing to his.

Inhaling when he inhaled.

Exhaling when he exhaled.

My breathing calmed. The frantic pace of blood pumping through veins quieted until all I heard was a regular thub-thub.

Thub-thub.

Though fear wrapped me in a tight embrace clinging more tenaciously than a vine to a tree, I concentrated on that rhythm. For in its regularity, there was comfort. There was order.

“What happened after that?”

I didn’t want to know, not really, but I had to ask. Because it never stopped at screaming. There was always an after. He didn’t respond immediately, and guilt took root in my stomach, clawing its way up to my throat until fear and pain mingled, creating a dread more potent than the echo of agony I relived in my dreams.

“I didn’t lash out at you, did I?” That had happened before. Locked in a nightmare, unable to awaken, I had kicked, hit and punched my way through the horror that kept me rooted in the past.

He put away his comb and straightened his tie, smiling at me in the mirror. “No, nothing so awful as that.”

“Then what?”

“You cried and held my hand until sleep came again.”

Relief, when it came, was swift. “Oh, that’s progress.”

“I thought so.” He came to my side and wrapped an arm about my waist, enfolding me into the solid surety of his embrace before taking his leave.

At the door, he hesitated and asked, “Do you ever wonder why after all these years you are screaming now?”

I regarded the woman in the mirror, and her empty eyes stared back. I knew her life before. I knew the terror she felt waiting behind closed doors, hiding from the dark shadows. I knew the sting of pain as it lanced through her body when she had been discovered, tasted the blood in her mouth as she bit her lips to keep in the screams. I had heard her silent sobs and had watched as her attempts to fight back were silenced.

Yes, I knew why I screamed. I knew why a decade after leaving those dark memories behind  blood-curdling screams shattered the peace of my slumbering family. Trembling fingers reached out and touched the glass, and the woman in the mirror cried, quiet tears streaking down her cheeks.

“No one heard my cries before. Now everyone does.” I turned to look at my husband, but he had already gone, leaving me alone to stare at the wreckage of the woman before me.

Her pain, as it had so many times before, nearly crippled me and her burden was too heavy to bear this morning. A mantle of shame and defeat descended, a tangible reminder of the past which refused to die. Far too long it had marked me as different, depriving me of a normal existence where fear did not hold me in its iron grip. 

I could not stand to look at her one minute longer. I closed my eyes, but not before the woman in the mirror opened her mouth and screamed, her soundless cry trapped behind layers of metal and glass.

© Sara Ackerman 2016

I don’t mean to interrupt…

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I have a tendency to over-share. And blurt things out when others are talking. Oh, oh, oh! And sometimes I say what everyone is thinking but no one has the guts to say. Then there’s that awkward silence where I’m the recipient of baleful glares of offended individuals who act like I’ve suggested we hunt baby rabbits for sport instead of providing an honest answer to a question no one but me had the courage to answer.

Yup. I’m that person. It’s a problem, one that ADD meds have gone a long way to fix. While I don’t know if I will ever be ‘cured,’ life with ADD has given me a unique perspective on this idea of compulsion and what it means to act without thinking.

After a particularly embarrassing incident where I recounted to a casual acquaintance what happened to me while on the dentist’s chair with a mouth full of goo, (BTW, I puked all over the dental technician and bawled like a baby), I wanted to know what compels me (aside from the misfiring synapses in my brain) to act as I do. As it often does when I think about my thinking, I dissected the conversation I had with all the skill of a sports commentator asking a disgraced athlete how they feel after a major screw up.

Chet: (Don’t ask me why, but my snarky inner commentator is male and named Chet. I would have liked a Filipe with a sexy Spanish accent or maybe a Christophe who whispers French poetry to me when not making me analyze my actions, but I got Chet–a balding, middle-aged man with a nasal twang and a burgeoning potbelly. I’ve learned to live with the disappointment). So, you just alienated that acquaintance in an epic story fail. Tell me, Sara, how do you feel?

                Me: Well, Chet. I’m feeling pretty shitty about now. I can’t believe I told her I barfed all over the hygienist.

Chet: That was something to witness. If we look at your encounter on instant replay, you can see the exact moment when the expression on her face turns from polite interest to veiled horror. (Chet circles the woman’s face in red marker a number of times).

                Me: (I put my hands over face to block out image).

Chet: I think everyone is wondering the same thing right about now: Why did you tell her that story?

                Me: (I remove hands from face and shrug). She asked how I was. I answered honestly.

Chet: Classic rookie mistake. Most people don’t want to know how you are. They ask the question to be polite. You should have said you were fine and kept your mouth shut. (Chet places a big red X over my mouth). Easy win right there.

                Me: But I wasn’t fine. I felt awful. Besides, she asked.

Chet: Is she a close friend?

                Me: No.

Chet: I think it’s safe to rule out the possibility of her asking you how you feel ever again. She might even move to the other side of the street if she sees you coming. (Chet circles woman and draws a big arrow pointing away from me).

                Me: That’s not right. It should be acceptable for someone to answer with the truth.

Chet: You’re telling me you never lie. I find that hard to believe.

                Me: No…not exactly. (I squirm because, hey, we’ve all told a Little White Lie before).

Chet: So you do lie. What makes a person do that?

                Me: To avoid hurting someone’ s feelings or to spare someone you love a truth too horrible to contemplate.

Chet: What if you could only tell the truth? What would happen then?

                Me: I’d be alienated. People would avoid my company and the friends I do have would disappear.

And just like that an idea formed. What if someone was compelled to tell the truth? What would happen to that person over time? As I explored this concept, my heroine took shape, a lonely outcast shunned by a society that values deception over honesty. How had this woman survived given her strange compulsion?

This idea of never lying intrigued me and I explored the various emotional and societal ramifications of never telling a lie. Navigating social interactions would be difficult. My heroine would have to answer honestly and in doing so would find herself on the outside of what is ‘socially acceptable.’

How had that shaped her? Because no matter the compulsion–telling the truth, lying, or over sharing–our compulsions do shape who we are. They shape our thoughts and color our experiences. The trick, as my heroine and I have learned for ourselves, is deciding how much space to give those compulsions and whether or not to let them become who we are.

 

One of “those” days,

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Have you ever had one of these days?

You step into the shower with your glasses on and immediately your vision clouds because of the steam, and the harder you try to see the more difficult it becomes because moisture drops have obscured pretty much everything.

Then you start to panic that you are losing your eyesight and you immediately start worrying about how you are going to miss seeing the little things like the sight of fresh, green grass covered in dewdrops sparkling in the early morning sunshine or your daughter’s eyes that are the color of rich, milk chocolate fringed with long, black lashes, or the way your husband’s smile crinkles his eyes when he looks at you.

Then you start thinking about all the things that you are never going to see like your daughters graduating from high school and college, the face of your first grandchild, or a school of dolphins skimming alongside your (fictional, but totally possible) yacht as the sun glints off of impossibly blue water that seems to stretch forever.

Once you start thinking along those lines, you get a little misty eyed and maybe a tear or two starts to gather in your eyes, so you go to wipe them. And that’s when you realize you’re still wearing your glasses. You take them off, and though everything is still blurry (the normal amount of blurry), you realize you are not losing your eyesight and you’re so happy that you shower alone because no one ever need know how you freaked out about forgetting to take off your glasses.

Of course, then you have to blog about it because it’s been one of those days and the original post your were going to write about is lost somewhere in that Swiss cheese grey matter you call a brain.

That gets you to thinking about this thing called ADD that you have, which is usually a good thing (with meds and management) because it allows you to be creative, see lots of ideas, and get a lot of stuff done. Then there are the days when it isn’t a good thing, like today, and you totally freak out because you forgot to take off your glasses. Like I said, Swiss cheese.

Consequently, in honor of my own fallibility and because I’m having one of those days, (and also because I really like word games) I am going to play an analogy game using the initials ADD to remind myself how I usually am versus how I am feeling today.

Most days I feel like I’m Able: Driven Doer. Sometimes I even feel Academic: Dedicated Director.

But some days I am Apathetic: Dreary Downer or Able: (but still) Difficult Day, much like today.

How about you? Can you come up with your own analogy using ADD or another acronym that’s near and dear to you? Or have you ever had one of those days like me?  I’d love to hear from you!