Ghosted.

It’s like suffocating. Your lungs on fire in your chest, heart smashing its way through your rib cage, your synapses screaming at everything that you’re fucking dead if you don’t breathe soon. And the panic, the panic that touches every inch of you, that slides through your veins like liquid nitrogen chilling your bones and shutting you down so that all your brain can think about is

how scared

and alone

and hopeless you are.

Except you are breathing. And your lungs keep burning. Air’s flowing in and out but your heart’s still trying to shatter your sternum. Your chest rises and falls, synapses frenzied because none of their signals are being heard.

It’s like walking around all day with that dream falling feeling in your gut. That split second when you drop, just before you wake up, and you think it’s all over. But you don’t wake up,

you just fall,

and fall,

and fall.

Eventually the sheer terror and desperation and confusion gives way. A human being can only withstand so much physical and emotional distress. It burns you. It starts inside, spreads through your tissues like necrotic poison, creeps slowly into every cell and every fiber you’ve got. And when everything’s singed, it fizzles, and you’re a shell of what you were. Hollowed out, everything you were, gone. A zombie ruled only by the basics – eat, sleep.

Your friends, your family, they see something that used to be a person they knew, something that used to be a person. They know something is deeply wrong, but you can’t form the words to explain what, because that would make it true, so you avoid them. You sink into the empty cave inside your head and wait.

Sometimes you wonder if you want to die, but you can’t muster the energy required to care that much. You reflect on the fact that at least it wouldn’t hurt because you’re so numb.

One day you look in the mirror and see an approximation of the human you were. The outside’s roughly the same – it’s only the inside that’s a wasteland. You force a smile onto the mask that is your face. You arrange clothes on the frame of your physical existence and you let your feet carry you out into the day. You play at being a person, at work, with your friends, for your family.

After a while you’re surprised to find you don’t have to try so hard. You’re surprised to feel surprise. You remember you like laughing. You feel things again, which is good, but also bad, so you focus on making the good outweigh the bad.

You focus on the way grass smells after a pouring rain. You focus on the wind rushing through your clothes when you hit 80 on a motorcycle. You focus on the way your ribs tumble together in your chest when the beat slams through the speaker, the way your dog’s ear feels against your cheek, the way the ocean crashes endlessly against things that would block its way and never gives up fighting.

You become you again, an updated version. You live, out there in the world, you face it, and live through another day. Every day.

You nurture the scars, keep them as a reminder. You bandage the cracks and splits and remember the big break that caused them. You clean the wounds and let them heal as best they can.

You forgive. Because you have to, to be you again. Hate is the slow, secret pain that kills you while you’re not paying attention. To ever be able to feel the way you did before it broke you, you let it go, because hate takes

too much space,

too much time,

too much effort.

 

But you do not forget. You will never forget.

 

Work haiku.

The phone rings again

How may I help you, I ask

Not that I want to.

 

Thousands of folders

People as numbered pages

Lives made of figures.

 

The boss drinks coffee

Always black, bold blend, white cup

Left empty on my desk.

 

The thermostat war

Fiercest of office battles

Winter clothes worn all year.

 

Clock reads five thirty

Friday afternoon freedom

Weekend adventures.

Bang.

                How did it ever come to this, Gem thought as she clicked the hammer back, palm slick around the handle, and rested the gun against Ell’s temple. His eyes, a blue so dark it verged on black, stared hungrily back at her.

“You know it’s wrong,” she admonished, and searched his face for some reaction, some semblance of understanding.

“You know I don’t believe you,” he sighed back, his hunger fading into a passive mask.

Gem grimaced, displeased with his answer, and thought back to the first time she’d seen Ell kill. The woman had been 74, called Monica, a retired CEO. Ironic that she’d chosen a pristine and remote area of the Oregon woods for her golden years, having been the 27 year leader of a company that existed only to destroy by way of commercially logging the Amazon rainforest. How many people had gone homeless at her word? What number of species driven extinct under her reign? No way to know for sure, but she deserved to die.

And Ell had done it masterfully. He’d used the exact model chainsaw the loggers employed; the noise of it was astonishing, and it was all for Monica’s benefit. He wielded it as a conductor wields the baton: deftly, with premeditated movement. When it was eventually over, the silence seemed foreign, and Ell stood amidst the pieces, a red god surveying a sanguine kingdom, and Gem knew she’d never seen anything so beautifully primal.

“Why can’t you just stop? For me?” Gem knew the answer before she asked the question, but it flowed past her lips anyway, like exhaling smoke.

“You haven’t the right to ask me to stop when it was you who asked me to start. Why can’t you love me anyway?”

Ell looked at Gem as pain flickered across his face. She felt only regret. “Elliot,” she began, “I loved you because you were everything I wanted the world to be. Innocent. Good. And I ruined it. I made you a monster, just like the people we’ve killed. You have no place in the world I’m building.”

Gem flexed her hand around the gun, slid her finger over the waiting trigger as Ell replied, “Well then, neither do you.”

The bullet smashed his skull as his words fractured her mind. He’s right. I don’t, and I miss him already. Gem flicked the hammer back a second time, shoved the burning barrel against her own sweaty temple and thought, We made the world a better place.

                The shot rang out, but no one heard.

I was.

In 1985, I was a handmaid, with strength of will my sole possession as a slave.

 

In 1952, I was a piglet, saved by a farmer’s daughter, who learned that the web is mightier than the sword.

 

In 2006, I was a father, who gave up everything in a place of nothing, to save my son.

 

In 1995, I was a doctor’s wife, the only person left in the world who could actually see it falling apart.

 

In 2007, I was a 17 year old boy, who learned what it means to truly love someone “always.”

 

Today, I am a healer parading as a soldier, and a thief masquerading as a scholar, and a warrior struggling to become a savior.

 

Tomorrow? I could be anyone.