Without A Space
Warning: If recovering from a car accident, perhaps think twice before reading. Fictional but based loosely on a personal experience. I'm still recovering years later from a TBI.
The elementals are at work everywhere. Bringing and taking life as we know it, refashioning matter as nature sees fit. The ingredients of Prithvi (Earth), Vayu (Air), Agni (Fire), Jala (Water), and Akasha (Space) are powerful forces. Deemed liable that night for causing the earth shattering collision which lit the fiery spark, changing my primordial composition.
Weather, lack of visibility; an act of nature. Traveling through an intersection on a straightforward path through an innocuous green light, meager snowflakes danced in the air, squalls moments earlier. A car waited to turn left. Wheels far out into my field of vision, but stopped. Three cars went through before mine; I was last in line.
Suddenly, lights in my periphery forever burned into my memory, anticipating what was coming. I attempted to swerve, brake, then speed up, seeking escape from my fate. They smashed into my driver’s side, smack dab in the middle, making the cross on which I now lay.
It’s just as people say, in slow motion with space enough to think, “This is it. I’m going to die.”
The next discernable event was the lifting of my head, silence all around me except for the buzzing in my ears, eerie calm, watery hot liquid dripping from my nostrils. The light above remained green, then yellow. I tested the car's faculties; it moved, although reluctantly, grinding and creaking. Close to the corner of the intersection, it ground to a halt.
The rest of the world rushed forward as the light favoured opposing traffic, Christmas shoppers going about their business. To my dismay, cars honked and breezed the corner, inches from the mangled side of my vehicle. An obstacle to some, and others, imperceptible or ignorable, their thoughts and worries elsewhere.
Shouts for help. I realized, my own; head swimming into high gear, forgetting the location of the emergency lights, “Where are they? How could I've forgotten?”
Defeated, I searched my work bag on the passenger’s side floor for my phone. Mind changed, rearranged. I hunted for the hazard lights anew. Then repeated the madness, indecisive; swept up in the hurricane of chaos plaguing my brain. Sobbing breaths; teary rivers coming from my eyes. I wiped my nose, fire engine red streaks on my hands, rubbed on my pants, becoming a rusty brown colour.
A knock on the passenger's side glass; the other driver. Hands now clean, I rolled down the window, gathering myself. They found my emergency lights, reaching in and pushing the button invisible to me moments before, in its rightful place on the dash in plain view. I ignored this first clue, additional injuries deceptively and temporarily hidden.
Our hands both shaking, left thinking, “Must be the shock.”
Afterward, the driver apologized with a caveat, “You came out of nowhere. I couldn’t see you through the snow.”
The elements must be at fault, humans rarely responsible. They passed me their information; a whirlwind, then gone. My mistake? Not going to the hospital, in denial, anything was wrong. The following day, I went to a clinic, complaining about head and neck pain; numbness down one arm.
Recommending chiropractic and physiotherapy, the doctor finished with, “You’ll be fine to resume your regular activities in a few days.”
After a two-week holiday, I returned to work. Colleagues encouraged me to see another doctor, noticing I stared off into space and reacted out of irritation when students made noises. I wasn’t behaving normally. Lessons went unplanned. Using my emergency supply teacher stash, I struggled with basic math and reading. I concealed this all the best I could, but succumbed after I forgot my pin to the bank machine. Empty-handed, I entered my home, sank to the floor, my chest heaving with rapid gasps, rocking back and forth.
It took showing up to school with my night guard in mouth for me to stop and go to an occupational therapist. Three years later and I’m continuing to experience symptoms from the mild brain injury I sustained. "Mild" being a relative term used when your brain isn’t bleeding or punctured.
Many doctors chalked up the challenges I faced to anxiety from the accident, not able to tolerate light, for example. I understand to a degree as the last thing before unconsciousness was a pair of bright headlights; jerked awake countless nights after their reappearance. My screams, I still hear them in my dreams, but the scenarios are not exactly as the scene of the accident unfolded; nor do these visions happen while awake. No PTSD designation here.
Once the results of the SPECT Brain Scan arrived, the doctors who thought I might not enjoy working; paid attention while I appealed for referrals for more fringe treatments. Rebuilding my constitution, tolerances for light, sound, and stress increased. Volunteering and then working part time. I credit meditation and yoga for my progress by nurturing the five building blocks inside me, strengthening my body, mind, and spirit to face my greatest phobias.
No driving for over a year and once back on the road, I travelled through intersections with my hand covering the horn saying, “Please see me, please see me…” until safe; fires of adrenaline coursing through my veins. Similarly on foot, almost hit crossing the street wearing my red coat and carrying a rainbow umbrella, walking sign on display. Someone turning left every time, a comparable situation replicated to reinforce my fears.
“Maybe I'm slowly disappearing.” I thought.
Much like the old me, vanishing from sight. Driving through the world, I showed up grounded, patient and calm with an underlying fire. At present, the flames blaze uncontrolled, encouraged by the winds, transporting smoke that conceals me from myself. My inferno, too intense, led to a cooling of many relationships; though sparse, others grew intimate.
An airiness overtook me that night, memories faded away, gales changing direction, in need of space for grounding. Now, most people turn away, disability equals invisibility; without a trace if I can’t carve out space where I’m included.
I continue to chisel, my dusty remains twirl in the air, blown away.
The Blown Shadow: Lights Out
I miss the sun. The feeling of heat on my face, kissing my cheeks, freckles deepening each year. Now we're a pale version of ourselves; frail from lack of sunlight. Hydroponics and stockpiled food keep us fed, for the time being. I never knew volcanic ash could disrupt the power supply. Glad my father drilled us such a deep well, water is in high demand, traded for fuel.
The vog from Vesuvius blocks most life-giving rays. The smoke lingers; a foreboding cloud adding to my anxiety. I wish I'd gone to sleep to never wake. Like so many closer to the eruption, Italy now Pompeii in grand proportion, an ashen pile of rubble. I visited The Gulf of Naples with my girlfriend; it was a beautiful place, with lots of people in tight proximity. Adding insult to injury, Kilauea and Maunaloa in Hawaii responded in kind, within weeks of the primary blast, smaller in scale yet mighty.
My car died recently, remains of embers affecting the machinery inside. It coughed out its last bit of life; so did my mama, lungs made black from years of smoking only to be taken by a different sort of cinder. Not much of a funeral, few of us left. Empty of tears, eyes irritated not from crying, "the shadow" responsible for both. The nosebleeds grow more frequent.
We buried her in the backyard, my brother Elijah and I. He's sixteen.
"If I go next, will ya bury me with a pic of Daphne?" Elijah said.
"Yeah, sure. But you're not going anywhere without me."
Eyes downcast, he fingered something in his pocket. "Funny, she said the same thing." He still wears her necklace.
He shuffled his feet for a while before going inside. I was off at college, the first in the family, final year, when things blew up. I wish I'd been able to reach him in the early days, to provide comfort. It was difficult to travel, roadways covered in a slick ash; chaos. The last time I saw my girl, she was headed north to her family.
Sarah’s last words; "I'll call you when I get there. I love you."
We kissed like in the movies, her breasts against mine; I could feel her heart pounding.
Holding her tighter, "Bring them to the farm, it’s safer."
I dream about her most nights.
At first, countries fought over food and oil, planes going down. Shouldn't have been flying blind up there. Several US military aircraft went down before they smartened up. Oil is like gold, although it always has been. Generators coughing smoke to fuel the fires, that's just what we need, extra containments to breathe.
Better than freezing to death, though. For many places north of the equator, that's exactly what happened. The days and nights grow colder. I think of her further north. Communications are sparse globally, I assume, cell networks down, the ash interfering with reception. Same with planes and machinery; artificial arteries clogged; an attack raging on their technical organs.
Nuclear power plant malfunctions ended the pockets of power a week ago. My brother and I won’t take unnecessary risks, keeping our stockpile of gas from prying eyes. The door to the root cellar bolted shut. Walking past it, I smell the fuel, no longer the scent of rotting apples from last year's harvest, jars of my mama’s preserves long gone. The rations and fuel share an identical purpose, ensuring survival. My mouth waters, the hydroponic tomatoes almost ready; the fresh juice will run down my lip, a welcomed treat.
Bless mama and her depression era mentality. Despite my gratitude for our relative safety this next month, my stomach gnaws at itself, not from hunger but a mixture of fear and guilt for hoarding, considerably more than others; a churning tornado of emotions eating my insides.
True to the southern stereotype, we have guns and use them when necessary. For years, I refused to touch one, notwithstanding my father insisting I learn. Once I reached my teen years, we stopped agreeing on much. We didn’t speak of my lack of boyfriends in senior high school or democratic views. He missed the ash cloud although lived a life in a shadow of ignorance. He died while I was a first year at college, disappointed. After the eruption, my brother taught me to shoot and we've protected this isolated farm. He doesn’t know about Sarah.
My thoughts travel to my best friend; lover. In that city, there’s little hope she’s hidden, safeguarded from thieves or worse. I text a tragic monologue, cell charged in secret, using up precious resources. I lie to myself, swear it’s my last feeble attempt to connect with a ghost.
I’d trade every drop of fuel, all the food in the world to hear her voice, gaze on her smiling face or watch the way she tilts her head back, laughing at the stupid things I say.
The meager sunlight fading into preemptive dark, I look out the window,
into the budding blackness, then turn to the calendar and check off another day.
The candle blows out, smoke twirls in the air; in the darkness I lay.
Nighty Night. Don't let the ashes bite.