My heart swells against the cage of my chest.
“Be free,” it whispers from the inside out, registering through the chambers of my ear.
My body is speaking to me, telling me what I need. I ignore it. I am frightened by this ominous voice from within, rattling off a riddle of rerouting simplicity.
“I am already free,” I reassure myself.
I fall back into the habit of any available distraction to wash away my focus from my heart’s begging plea.
The next morning, I arise without feeling the aid of sleep. There is an internal battle beneath my skin, blows resounding within the space of my heart.
“The clavicle,” I specify.
“Your heart space,” the voice counters.
What does it mean?
“My heart space…”
I go on through my routine, ignoring this pain in my heart space (my chest). The clogged channels beneath my rigid bone are reminiscent of the effects of anxiety; my logical mind fears this to be the early onset of insanity. What is happening to me?
“Be free,” scans across the news feeder, repeating itself as it crystallizes upon the overflowing thought-bed that borders the incessant flow from my mind’s eye. I see the scene as I step out of reality and into my imagination, in the way that one enters into a daydream. But, this feels oddly real; the encompassing sensation of happiness breaks the mossy cage around my heart, shards of hardened iron and crisp worry repel out of my chest, vanishing into the ether. I am spinning. I am ascending. My eyes are closed and my face rests in contentedness. I nominate it as, what I assume would be labeled, bliss; my face painted with peace. I am a foreigner to such powerful sensational blasts of something beyond the satisfaction of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream paired with “When Harry Met Sally.”
The wind blows over me without ruffling my hair. The sun illuminates the light penetrating outward from the contour of my body. I am gazing upon myself from a bird’s eye view; however, this does not look at all like the reflection of any mirror or car window. I drift into the past; the dullness of the aching in my chest no longer reminding me of something I’ve forgotten.
I fall out of the sky and my awareness drops back into my physical body seated at my desk. Multiple windows left open upon my screen gaze back at me wondering where I have been. I consciously peer around the office; everyone is minding their own business, conducting their lives as usual. Yet, I have returned different. I cannot describe the sensationalized daydream even to myself. It felt ethereal, a more natural inclination than getting lost in pestering thoughts… I had been shown something. I experienced a version of myself that I have always wanted to become, but never vocalized nor explored. I am not religious; I am too busy.
“Excuses,” the internal voice hums.
This voice is accurate. My heart draws in the pull string, engaging a shield; the self-defensive tactic against the enemy of truth. I want to justify the excuses further and take this case to court. As I flip through the stored documents filed away within the tall cabinets of my memory (I am too lazy to digitize them into the cloud, allowing myself to let go of the past, so it can be forgotten), I can feel my heart space sadden and deflate. I have extinguished whatever flame of bliss that I had arisen into by lying to myself; by over rationalizing all of the logical decisions I have convinced myself to believe are the “right” ones for fear of ever coming face-to-face with the realization that I may have been wrong.
“Not wrong; asleep.”
Asleep? I really should get back to work but a magnetizing force repels me away from the computer screen. I am a prisoner to myself, fighting against my will to do as I have been told versus what this newfound advisor inside of me is asking me to do.
“I am fine,” I repeat to myself.
My heart is bursting at the seams, swollen with neglect, bruised with denial. I am now blinking physical droplets of tears, anonymous pain flowing through the emotional centers of my body with the will of a hurricane. I hurry to the bathroom, tactfully grabbing my purse, and putting on my sunglasses so no one will see the havoc playing out across my face. I exit, about to turn towards the restroom, and take a moment to consider; a stall is not private enough. I briskly move towards the elevator, undetected, descend into the parking garage, and into my car.
I am operating on automatic; I am not manually being decisive as I normally conduct my life with exhaustive mental deliberations to consider the weight of each available option. If I do not make a grocery list before I go to the market, I am doomed and have lost an hour of my life for a Trader Joe’s refrigerated burrito… Scratch that, two burritos of two different flavors, Greek yogurt; I can’t decide between 0% or 2%; and some breath mints because I am overly conscious of being that person with the coffee stained breath that prevents the listener’s ability to inhale normally.
I am driving. I have just gotten on the freeway and am heading north. I feel my body tense and grip the wheel, looking over my right shoulder to get off at the next exit and turn around. But, that same magnetizing force nudges my head back to pay attention to the road. People are slamming on their brakes. I shift my foot horizontally and slam the pedal to the floorboard, missing the bumper in front of me by the eyelash of a sigh. It must be an accident; it is too early in the day for traffic. I can see a looming fire truck ahead. An uncharacteristic sense of relief releases my prior angst. I inch closer in pulsating silence to the scene.
I am neither thinking nor feeling anything out of the ordinary; every filament of my being is in this moment. My tires begin to crossover to the other side of the fire truck that had been concealing my view. There is a car — -the exact same car as mine — -flipped upside down, deployed airbags, and a front license plate dangling from one screw, swinging back and forth in the wake of the impact. That is my license plate. Chills snake against the ridge of my spine and disable my neck. I am sending all of my conscious energy to keep my neck up, to survey for more evidence, but my neck cannot sustain an upright position. My eyes are being forced shut and out of the corner of my closing eye, I see a hand strewn across the ground from underneath the foreboding white sheet of surrender. I clench my hand into a fist and rub my fingernails against my palm. The hand beneath the sheet mirrors the exact action; I can feel the texture of the crimson concrete scrape against my knuckles.
“The void,” echoes throughout my body.
I am not struggling nor in pain. I float like a lost balloon that has been accidentally released into the sky, venturing upwards without any care to return to solid ground. Darkness — without depth — encompasses me. A light faintly flickers ahead of me; the tunnel effect of the light growing closer as I swim towards it, pushing back the space between, until I pause. I am stuck; the force has magnetized my body into suspension. I am not sure if this qualifies as caught in time or caught in space. I am not quite sure of anything anymore, but fear is not smugly reminding me to be afraid of all that I do not know. A larger flash of light bursts from the end of the tunnel. It does not configure into a celestial body or an angel with feathered wings. It is a vibrating orb of light, the bulb of a comet without a destination.
“Why are you here?”
The borders of the amorphous form shake as it speaks. Our conversation does not consist of words; rather, I read the text of subtitles across the cinematic screen of this surrealist film that has become my life.
“You brought me here.”
A sharp frostbitten wind gusts across my body. Sensation is revived.
“You brought yourself here.”
The light orb can hear my thoughts.
“You stopped. You gave up.”
The force wraps itself around my neck, reintroducing the pain from the car accident scene. I cannot harness onto an associated response.
“Why do you think you exist?”
The life defining moment has arrived and I am as much speechless as I am disoriented. Is this the throne of judgment?
“This is not a test, Vera. Why are you so afraid?”
Photographic moments of my life are projected onto the enveloping screen of darkness and rewound through untraceable amounts of footage. I had seemingly subconsciously recorded, through the portals of my eyes, my life since I had arrived. My eyes are closed; yet, I can still see everything that is going on around me. The moments flash at hyper speed, until it stops precisely on a day I will never forget: the death of my grandmother.
I had come home from college to attend the funeral. It was the first time that my mom and dad had inhabited the same space at the same time since their divorce. Ah! That word! Every time I think of that word, a needlepoint slowly pushes against the cushion of my heart, concentrating the sensitivity of my pain out of the buried remains of who my family used to be in one swift prick. It was just us three; my grandmother was the last of her friends and family to go. My mother had been living off Social Security and VA checks as best she could. We were not a particularly well off bunch and my grandmother required full-time care, which would have cost my mother more than working all day would afford her to pay for an in-house aide.
My mother’s face sat vacant; I saw no trace of the woman who had raised me. Struggle and heartache had sucked her once lively eyes and healthy cheekbones dry. I cried more that day out of my mother’s suffering than the physical vacancy of my grandmother’s corpse. I felt that the timeliness of her death had been appropriate. In death, the living has a more difficult time accepting the loss than the person that once was; they are not privy to the mystery beyond what they can see, whereas the dead are just moving onto the next phase before the living are ready to be released.
“Was your mother upset that her mother had passed?”
“No,” I speak confidently and without thinking, “That moment represented a culmination of her life. She was left abandoned, once again, by someone she had loved after sacrificing herself and the things she wanted in order to take care of them.”
“Did she do that with your father?”
I nod heavily. My mother’s pain crawls like a fleet of fluorescent spiders beneath my skin, consuming my ability to discern my physical body from my mother’s pain.
“Are you happy?”
The spiders are cast away and I am naked, exposed, held up to an examining light that shines, highlighting the dark spots of my soul: an atrophied flicker of who I am.
“When you are a baby, the light of your soul is as bright as the Sun, just like I am. One goes through life as if it is an obstacle course. I am sure you have found many metaphors for this during your time on Earth. These perceived obstacles are not meant to destroy your life. They are teaching tools; situations that create lessons and form you into you who are and what you believe. Most lights dim as people grow older, having forgotten about feeding the light inside their soul through the infinite options available to them that unlock their happiness. There is a prevailing rhetoric in the world of humanity that suffering, although unjust, is prevalent. There is no choice but to navigate through it until you die. The happy moments sprinkle the cake of pain, but one does not believe that bliss will ever be an abundant mentality that one will permanently behold.”
I recall my earlier experience of bliss that I had abandoned for the distant memory of pain.
“How do I heal it?”
The light flashes for an instant as it is sucked back into the tunnel. A cosmic storm thrusts me backwards from the velocity of the light shooting in the opposite direction. I sink out of the darkness at hyper speed, as I am sucked back into my body, into the recognition of the familiar, grating sound of my alarm.
The clock reads “5:55.”
I have overslept by twenty-five minutes. My body is physically vibrating; alert yet exhausted.
I drift into the bathroom; I will forego a shower today. I retrieve my toothbrush from the medicine cabinet — still not fully within my body — close it, and begin to brush my teeth. I gaze upon the reflection of my face; my eyes are puffy from what looks like I have been crying. I do not recognize myself. I get closer to my reflection, examining for traces of who I was yesterday or had been the day before. She is not to be found. I put my hand to my heart space; warmth emanates, hugging the sore curves of my heart. Calm diffuses.
I drop my toothbrush.
It had been real.