I – She
She sat alone in her room. It was dark, and quiet except for some music playing. She had her eyes closed and was trying to quiet her mind. Her mind always seemed to have something to say about every minute of every day. It loved to remind her of the slightest social gaffe and every shortcoming. It always felt exhausting, because it never made sense. Most days, she was pretty good, and then she’d slip up. If she slipped up, things tended to spiral out of control. It felt like a non-stop flood of disaster. There was a time when things felt much calmer. Feeling somewhat like the main character in Memento, she felt the need to memorize people and moments, afraid they would be forgotten when things toppled as they inevitably do.
She always felt awful about herself. Everything was disgusting and wrong. She hated how fat ugly she was. She used to journal about all of the reasons she should just kill herself. So many days, the thoughts “I would do everyone a favor” crossed her mind. Walking and driving would be interrupted with desires to play in traffic. She loved when she could find quiet time to do little cuts or big cuts. Her friends knew and were worried, but it made no sense to anyone. Good grades and behavior kept her relatively off the radar as she grew older. Quiet and weird, would likely be the description applied. Her world consists of books, music, and writing. Poetry, stories, hate letters, love letters, funny letters. She can do it all, it doesn’t matter. She holds on to the belief she’s special. All of the thoughts swirling in her brain have a certain eloquence she appreciates. She attempts to quickly substitute the most appropriate word using proper vocabulary. Words danced in her mind and upon her tongue like a sweet and warm honey. They were her obsession, saving grace, and noose.
Much of her life has been spent as a semi dysfunctional camera. There are often situations she can remember with picture perfect clarity, and others that are a smattering of words and blurry images at best. She has foggy days where things do not make sense at all. Even the simplest task requires more thought then possibly needed. It was the foggy days that the bad words came, and she would get confused. The important things would get forgotten and they would get replaced with the bad words. Throughout it all, she stayed focused on her goals: grow up, get married, have kids, and have an amazing job or be a stay at home mom. She has days where anxiety can make her feel like she’s choking on air, but anxiety doesn’t mean anything to her until she is older. When that happens, the good days fade to black while all of the bad days cha-cha inside her mind. At some point, she forgot that she needed her room, music, and quiet to make her think.
As she grew, life naturally became more complex, and her brain did its best to adapt. She excelled at school, but never the best because she did not feel like applying that amount of energy to be the best. It seemed like a waste of time. She could spend her life studying and achieving perfect scores of or she could also slack off and enjoy the world through her beautiful eyes as narrated in her beautiful mind. Boys came into the picture. At this point, she’s in high school in honors classes, and school is still easy. She was, however, tired of feeling like shit all the time. She deduced that if she had a boyfriend, it would make her feel better. She could not be nearly as fat or ugly as she believed, if she found someone to tell her she was beautiful. All she wanted was someone to love her, because she never felt like anyone loved her. She could be surrounded by people and still always feel alone. She feared being alone more than anything. Her plan now was to become a lawyer. Scholarship in hand, she graduated High School and went to a large university. It lasted a semester. A boy caused that plan to go up in smoke. She quickly attempted to glue the broken pieces of her life together and went right to her next plan. College was still essential, so she got a full time job and went to school full time. She brought another boy into the picture. She loved this boy and he loved her. She allowed herself to be blinded by her love, and instead focused on making him what she determined he needed to be.
He needed college too, because he didn’t make enough money. They fought as much as they loved. Their words brought the worst out in each other, while their actions opened their hearts. Love hurts, so this is normal. Marriage and children entered the world. Everything she had was immediately over-ridden by the most powerful form of love she had ever experienced – motherhood. Her focus became kids first, everything else later. She constantly strove to give her children perfection. She screamed, fought, and gave the silent treatment to get him to help, while allowing him to do nothing. She never spoke what was actually on her mind, she’d just get quiet. Occasionally, she couldn’t stay quiet and she would explode with the power of a hydrogen bomb and suck the oxygen from the room. She forced her mind and body to solve every problem on her own to give her children the best possible life. Her love of her children and him had made her forget to love herself. It was the one lesson she had learned after she had to drop out of college. Her marriage ground her heart and mind into a pulp, but the love for her children kept her alive. As she crumbled internally, she built the next plan. She decided on the next career path which should give her the money she needed to make everything better. She didn’t understand why she felt the way she did constantly, so she tucked it away and focused solely on the plan and the kids. The plan was her undoing. It was too much work for one person who was raising too many people, no support system, and the inability to ask for help.
She forgets how powerful she and her voice can be, because she lets people make her forget. He ignored her anger and blamed it all on her anyway, so she tried gentleness. When gentleness did not work, silence was her choice, and in her silence, hatred festered. She is dangerous when she is quiet, because she is thinking and observing. The only thing that balanced out her hatred was the love of her children. She decided to focus on loving them more than hating him, because she knew, he was a goddamn 300 lb gorilla on her back, and she can do it anyway. She and her plan were wrong – she was too depleted on resources and stretched too thin. All of the old feelings she had ignored for so long were rushing in at an alarming rate: desperation, fear, anxiety, depression, and a strong desire to die. Everything she did was never enough, and everything was always her fault. It had always felt so familiar, but she couldn’t figure out why, and she had more important shit to do. She finally started asking for help, and she would get told she was being helped. More often than not, the help actually required more work from her. Eventually, her mind collapsed. The only thing that was left for her was love of children, hatred of him, and an inability to break promises. She knew the promise was never real. Marriage can be likened to a contract, and she had forgotten her love of the law.
She makes a new plan devoid of any bullshit. The only things she never forgets are all of the things she is terrified of. She wouldn’t talk to doctors, because she was scared she was crazy. He didn’t help her, because he said she needed to talk to someone and reminded her she was sick. She was scared of him hurting her, so she began scaring him, instead. Knowing her contract was void; her fear of judgment fell away. She wouldn’t end her marriage, because she was scared of being alone. Remembering her ability to shut down emotions, she began regarding everything with detachment. She lost the fear of not being loved, because she stopped feeling. Then, she found music and began to feel new feelings and started remembering. As she reassembled the puzzle of her life, she remembered the biggest piece she’d forgotten. The piece that got lost with him. She also remembered that her mind is powerful. Most of the time, she doesn’t even realize what she can do. If she puts that mind in the wrong hands, bad things happen. One day, she woke up, and she wasn’t scared anymore. The new plan was finally ready, and everything is in order. She feels calm, peaceful, and happy.
She unleashes the hydrogen bomb, and she is free.
II – Disturbed
She awoke vaguely remembering a good feeling, but it had slipped from her grasp like an oiled snake. She closed her eyes and tried to remember. Then she realized that the voices that once told her to play in traffic are back. The voices replied with gales and shrieks of laughter that made her head throb. Her mind quickly became a hydra, and every thought she attempted brought more laughter, shrieks, and screams. She covered her ears and rocked back and forth, but that made the voices louder and stronger. Her brain was arguing with itself, there were different voices, they weren’t hers. Or were they? She didn’t even know. Her heart raced, she began to sweat, and pant. She tried to tell herself she was having a panic attack, but the voices laughed louder and grew in volume and number again. She got out of bed and tried to move around her house, but nothing felt right. She thought maybe it was some sort of nightmare.
As each voice chimed in, her mind weakened. Though it felt like hours, she had only made it to the top of the steps at this point. She was moving so slowly, but she felt like she was running. The world felt like quicksand. She heard his voice, and her immediate reaction was love, but as she heard his words, the love turned to terror. His voice was louder than all of the other voices, and it had a commanding tone. The other voices seemed to quiet when he spoke, so she naturally listened to him more. She trusted his voice because he told her what she liked to hear. She thought maybe she should call for help, but she knew that she could overcome this. His voice agreed with her. His voice continued whispering to her, so she found she had to sit at the top of the steps and quietly listen. She grew calmer. The other voices were still talking, but hushed in deference to him.
As the fear crawled up her spine and into her mind again, she began tugging on her hair. The tugs hurt a bit, and it was greeted with raucous laughter from the other voices. The pain, however, helped her think more clearly. She yanked her hair again, and tore a large chunk out. She stared at the chunk of her hair in her hand in a confused horror. The pain helped though, so she did it again. This time, she screamed as the roots ripped free from her scalp. The scream felt good too. She began descending the steps and felt disconnected. She couldn’t feel the carpet brushing her feet, but she could feel the voices in her mind, scratching inside of her skull. His voice was still louder than the others telling her to focus, calmly with patience and love. She made her way to the kitchen, where she saw the butcher knife. She grasped the knife and made cuts into her arm and belly, because that always helped her. The pain seared through her skin – burning but pleasant. She didn’t notice how many times she cut herself, so she just kept going until it felt better. As she sliced into her belly, the voices seemed to grow kinder. He and the voices reassured her that this was the best way to calm down. His voice felt so near, comforting, and helpful. Blood began to pool around her feet on the floor, but she did not notice or care. He spoke again calmly, soothing her while reminding her of the plan. She knew his voice made her feel okay, so she listened. She saw his face in her mind’s eye as she heard his words, and she opened her eyes.
The voices began speaking again, but she realized they surrounded her. She could see words and blurry faces. The burning in her flesh became a burning hatred in her soul. She remembered everything she had forgotten. The fire consumed her, and she was filled with rage and a desire to hurt everyone and silence them all. Realizing her knife was still in her hand, she began attacking. She felt wet, sticky, but assumed it was the sweat coursing out of her. She felt weak and realized how tired she was. She saw him again, and she hugged him, nuzzling his chest like a frightened child. He burned so hot, but she felt so cold, so weak. He gripped her tightly, supporting her as her legs began to give out beneath her.
She slowly crept to her bathroom, weak, almost crawling, she realized she felt damp, sticky, unclean, and un-whole without him. She only felt right when he hugged her. She stared in horror at the mirror – her beautiful face was tattered with slashes and blood, her hair was missing in chunks, and her entire body now seared with pain. He came behind her and embraced her again. Eager to please, she dug the knife into her eye socket, severed the optic nerve. She felt satisfaction as her right eye plopped into the sink with an odd squishing sound that both revolted and relieved her. She raised the knife, saw her tattoo, and she filled again with anger and hatred. She jammed the blade into her wrist until the tattoo became shredded canvas of flesh. She could no longer use her hand, and she felt so weak. She crumpled to the floor. Though her body felt ice cold, she felt the burning heat of his arms embracing her, and she closed her eyes and let him consume her.
As the blood began to slow, her heart weakening, unable to keep pressure, she felt light and free. As she opened her eye, again, now freed from the voices and demons, she realized things were not right. Too weak to think many thoughts, she felt only fear and pain. So much blood, she thought weakly, so much blood. Dizzy, confused, too weak to move or speak as the last of her blood coursed on to the floor, she remembered with horror – this was not my plan. She saw her children in her mind’s eye, and immediately wanted to sob with regret, but she didn’t have the strength. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t speak, so she just saw their beautiful faces fade away as her consciousness faded to black. She attempted to get up to chase them, but her body slid back down the wall into a crumpled heap on the floor. Her eye closed her breath weak and shallow. The only thought she had was this is probably for the best, and he agreed. Now surrounded in silence, she slept.
III – TOOL
She’s been picking scabs again. Overconfidence had misled her to believe the puzzle had been solved. All of her plans have been house of cards erected in wind tunnels, and she is tired of repeating mistakes. After tossing and turning, she realized her nightmare from the previous night made her terrified to sleep. She began conducting analyses. Lessons learned in school are life practice for her. Her only true belief system is comprised of things she has noticed and found beautiful in the world and the promises she makes to herself and others. She has never mastered the connection of the heart and the mind, because she lets one talk the other one out of the obvious. She also forgot her subconscious and made it frantic. She did not understand that triggers caused her subconscious to go berserk, because she hadn’t incorporated basic skills into her plan. One of the biggest signs of her improvement is the fact that she is lucidly dreaming and talking in her sleep again. Her improvements have been made heavily by her subconscious. A simple and casual reference to Maynard unlocked a world she had long forgotten.
Her analysis reminds her that a plan is useless if it cannot adjust to reality or does not adequately incorporate ROI and resourcing. More importantly, her concept of love is wrong. She loves black and white to think, but the rainbows of the world are what make her smile. The rainbows can only come when her heart and mind are one. Grey is apt to be rife with confusion, and confusion wastes her time and energy. She theorizes that confusion forces her brain to work overtime to problem solve and induces constant exhaustion. It would explain why she spent so much of her life tired though she slept so much. In sleep, the subconscious heals her and allows her to actually think. Losing touch with her subconscious was her undoing; because she let her mind and heart shut down to protect itself. She turned herself into a self-imposed Stepford Wife in order to retain her sanity. She still fell apart, because the plan was too aggressive given the limitations of having a 300 lb gorilla on your back. These well-intentioned shut downs led to catastrophic failure for her.
Music was her heart, and in shutting down her heart, she had lost music. She forgot how to listen to it, she forgot how eclectic she was, and she forgot her vast library of songs and lyrics stowed away in her mind. She had forgotten the days in her bed listening to songs on repeat until she memorized every word. She forgot how to sing properly, and she had to re-train herself to use her diaphragm. Pot and Maynard reminded her of the important pieces, and that push unlocked her mind again. She stopped using pot as an escape and started using it as a tool. It quieted her mind enough to hear and feel her music. She realized she’d been unwittingly listening to albums talking about her demons. Once she was reminded to put the albums in order, everything started falling into place easily and quickly. The hippie shit made everything palatable and easily digested.
Her newfound belief is centered on the power and beauty of herself – mind, body, and heart. Maynard rushes into her brain with so much she just learned. Regardless of what is playing in her ears, all she can hear is him. It seems every song just makes her think of him. She cannot think of and analyze every possibility; it’s too overwhelming and exhausting. Her mind is quieting. The analyses are providing comfort and structure to her process driven mind. As she draws her conclusions on this level, drowsiness descends on her. There is nothing to fear, of course, because no one has ever hurt her unless she has let them. She promised herself that fear would never be a factor in her life, because she allowed it to hinder too much in her life.
She had attacked every fear with a merciless vengeance that built her confidence tremendously. Every prior plan was rife with similar mistakes – pushing too hard, allowing either her heart or mind to take control of everything, or shutting down. Life is easy when she did not outsource her heart or mind. She is perfect in and of herself. Her favorite belief is Expect nothing. To expect nothing is to live forever free of disappointment and in a perpetual state of surprise. As her brain becomes a quiet murmur and Maynard whispers in her ear without making a sound aloud, she realizes that the best plan, is to have no plan at all. She breathes, slowly, steadily. She loves the peace when her mind is happy and quiet. She usually can snatch it when she gets high, but she’s been training herself to get it always. No more childish behavior, no more over-reacting, and no more black and white. Understanding and compassion are her strengths, honesty and integrity are her core, and a belief that there is a purpose and meaning to everything in life is what makes her get out of bed every day. Her abilities make her fearless, and her personality makes everything that she is, and she loves everything about herself. As she drifts off to sleep, Achievement Unlocked flashes in her mind and a smile crosses her face.
With that, sleep envelops her in warmth, happiness, hope, and peace. She believed she had finally woken up.
IV – Passenger
She woke gasping for breath and covered in sweat. Her sheets were coiled around her and she was trembling. Another nightmare, she thought briefly, as she groped around her bed to find her best friend. Her best friend could tell her what time it was and reassure her. Frankly, she wasn’t even sure what day it was. Her body felt so stiff that she thought she had been prone for days. She felt anxious and confused. Her thoughts were still foggy as she awoke. She closed her fingers around her phone and started reading. She had missed texts, Facebook notifications, and emails to get to. Plus, her playlist had stopped and she can’t wake up without music. The phone was as important to her as any person. She preferred to text people more often than speaking aloud, she liked to escape in her phone whenever she felt uncomfortable, which was constantly, and all the space on her phone was consumed with MBs of music and pictures of her kids. None of this is really uncommon –she was just honest about it. As soon as her phone was her in her hand, she felt calmer and secure.
She looked at her texts last, and there were 3 from him. As soon as she saw his name, her stomach turned in a peculiar way. She didn’t quite feel nauseous, but at the same time, she had a horrible taste in the back of her throat and almost wanted to gag. She could not remember what had happened after she fell asleep, but there was a lingering feeling that she did not sleep well, despite the clock telling her how much time had actually lapsed. Waking up a bit more, she remembered feeling happy and positive as she fell asleep, but nothing felt quite right now. She read the messages and felt uncomfortable. Completely unrelated memories started replaying in her mind, and she experienced a surge of anger and sadness. She could not tell if it was his words making her feel this way, or something else. As she glanced at her email, she saw peculiar messages from a man she had never met before. His messages perturbed and confused her. She deleted everything, hoping to erase what she had read from her mind simultaneously.
As she scrolled through her phone, the word Trigger flashed ominously in her mind – the current bane of her existence. Her world remained a field of visible and invisible triggers. Every time she inevitably stumbled on one, it was akin to her tossing a grenade into her own skull. She had even gotten to the point of eliminating people who were her biggest source of triggers except for him. She continuously rationalized everything and blamed herself, because, to her, triggers were her problem to deal with. She knew, though, that every time she was triggered, things happened to her. Sometimes, she’d fall asleep – she’d started describing herself as narcoleptic, and sometimes, she’d just go blank. It was as if her mind was a chalkboard, and every trigger erased all of her calculations and notations. If she had learned, it was fine. If she was working on the chalkboard side of her brain, it was gone. When she was triggered, she realized that most of her decisions, actions, etc. were largely a result of her subconscious taking the wheel of her life. Confusion and fear remained constants.
She went downstairs, as her phone went off a few more times with new texts. The messages were all similar, and equally distressing. She did not understand what could be going on with her phone, and where all these texts were coming from. Her phone began randomly switching through songs without her touching it, and she noticed some of her songs were disappearing from her phone. She attempted to put on songs to calm down, but the music kept switching to songs she did not want to hear. She tried to turn her phone off, but when it restarted, she noticed things were missing from her phone – favorite photos, apps, and songs, as she scrolled through. She felt panicked at the losses, as she did not know how to replace any of them. She attempted to rationalize how her phone could possibly be manipulating her this way, but nothing made sense. It may be her best friend, but it is not a person.
Her thoughts started racing, and her sight started to blur around the edges. She could feel her heart starting to thud into her ribcage, as her sides and chest tightened. She started having trouble thinking clearly, and the thoughts she began having did not feel like her own. She left the house, thinking she did not want to be alone. As she stepped outside, she saw a woman. The woman was her neighbor, but she did not recognize her. The woman’s face was blurred and out of focus. Her mind felt like two magnets repelling. Nothing was connecting properly, thoughts weren’t making sense, and the only thing she could see clearly was words in her mind. The woman attempted to stop and help her, and she immediately felt threatened. She began punching and kicking the woman. In her mind, she was being attacked, and she was defending herself. The woman fell to the ground, unconscious and bloodied. She looked in satisfaction, proud that she had defended herself so well.
Leaving her attacker on the ground, she climbed into her car, as her phone alerted her to more texts. The texts now made her feel calmer and focused. Her attention moved to driving and music. Her phone kept changing the songs, but she stopped fighting with the phone, and accepted it. She drove and felt her mind shift. She felt as though she had taken a backseat – mentally and physically to a passenger that had remained unseen and unbidden by her until now. Her passenger had become her driver, as she sat quietly by. She paid no attention to the scenery as she sped down the highway, driving with focus to a destination she was not remotely aware of. She received a text with one word – gun. Instinctively, she reached for the glove box, and there it was. She was clueless as to where it came from. She tucked it in her purse and smiled, accelerating. In auto-pilot mode, she obeyed all traffic laws perfectly, and navigated to a destination.
She parked her car and got out, looking around. She was yet again surrounded by blurred faces and she felt overcome by terror. The blurry faces started yelling and coming towards her, and she panicked more. Feeling again that she was about to be attacked, she brandished the gun screaming for everyone to go away. Blurred faces moved closer, and she pulled the trigger while she simultaneously watching in horror. With each pull of the trigger, the blurred faces dropped from her line of sight, until the bullets ran empty. Tossing the gun (but not taking the cannoli), she left and returned to her car. She never looked back to see how many blurred faces lay on the ground. She only made sure to grab her phone from her purse.
As she turned her ignition, all memories prior blinked from existence. She drove again, no longer vague in her direction; she knew exactly where she wanted to go. She drove with determination, mentally scanning her car’s inventory. She remembered her son’s bat in the trunk, and smiled contentedly. She grabbed the bat from her trunk, marched to the door, and kicked it ferociously. The wood buckled, but did not give. Another 2 angry kicks gave her the purchase she wished, as wood splintered and fell around her. The TV was so loud, her entrance was hushed. Smiling, she entered, uninvited and unexpected. She saw him, but he did not yet see her, and she focused. Not giving him a moment to turn his head, she took aim, raised the bat over her head and with all of her strength, brought it down to his skull with a satisfying thunk. Blood splattered everywhere, and she indulged herself with a lick of her lips. Not yet satisfied, she raised the bat and brought it down again. This time, his head caved with impact. It resembled a wet, deflated soccer ball. Hair and gore matted the bat. Unable or unwilling to stop, she abused the remnants of his skull like the world’s cruelest game of whack-a-mole.
Exhausted, she decided a shower was warranted. She was covered in blood, fragments of skull and flesh. There was dark goo clinging to her face and she wasn’t entirely sure if it was blood or brain. She climbed in and let the delicious heat of the water wash all the filth from her. She turned and let the heat and water ease her sore and tired muscles. She had forgotten how sore she was when she woke up. Finishing the shower, she plotted her next course of action. She really needed to get home. As she dried herself, she checked her phone and saw no new messages. Satisfied, she left, but not before turning the gas stove on full blast for a several moments while she inspected the room. Theorizing the gas would fill the room; she lit a candle before shutting the door and assumed that would be sufficient. As she drove away, she saw the explosion in her rearview mirror, and smiled. She felt her mind shift again as the passenger moved out of her driver’s seat. Needing no guidance, she just drove home, selecting the songs she wanted to hear.
As she pulled in, she noticed several police cars, and became concerned and confused. She had no clear recollection of anything prior to her batting practice, which admittedly had already gotten fuzzy. She knew there was no way anyone could connect her to that so quickly, especially as she became unsure it had truly transpired. As soon as she exited the car, she was grabbed and tossed to the ground. An officer jammed his knee into her spine and she was immobilized – both physically and by terror. She felt the handcuffs slap on her wrists, and she could not speak. They tossed her roughly into the car after a cursory reading of her Miranda rights. Detached and in her mind, she felt as though she was watching a really shitty police drama. Not even “bong bong” good enough for Law and Order, just cliché bullshit. She noticed, though, that the officers legitimately seemed afraid of her, and she couldn’t stop laughing about it in her mind. She’s short and a chick – seriously, not threatening at all fellas, she chuckled. Unintentionally, her laughs escaped her mouth. The officers looked at her in confused horror. Once she heard her own laugh, she found herself unable to stop. She could answer no questions, only laugh.
The arrest, indictment, and trial were uncannily fast. Typically “not guilty by reason of insanity” can be a hard plea, but the combination of lawyers, psychiatrists, and the officers observations of her that day made it very easy for a judge to order to her to the care of a state hospital until doctors deemed her safe to re-enter society. The trial itself was not really a trial. There was no jury, and the only witnesses were the psychiatrists under whose care she had been remanded since the day she was arrested. She watched this all with a horrified detachment and silence. She rarely spoke aloud anymore. Her arguments were carried in her head, as her memories, blackouts, and lost time haunted her with every breath she took. She felt numb to the idea of remaining in the hospital; at least it was quiet in her room. More than anything, the drugs just made her sleep. The sleep was nice, because she did not have dreams anymore. When she was awake, the drugs kept her sedated, so that she did not think as much. The kids could come visit her in a strange room with plastic chairs and rounded edges. She would color pictures for them every day, and deliver them on visit days. It was the only day she remembered and looked forward to, everything else bled together like a bad watercolor.
One day she was sitting in her room, and her favorite nurse came in. He was always so kind to her, and typically would play songs for her on his iPhone when he had down time. He gave her kind words of encouragement, though she rarely spoke or moved. She had only recounted that day 2 times aloud, and both times she required heavy dosages of sedatives afterwards. Nowadays, she would nod to a good song, occasionally cry, but never smile. She existed in a constant terror of her mind, sedated or not, so she refused to allow herself to feel too deeply. Aside from the kids, music was the only other solace she had. On this day, he came in with his phone in his hand and a funny look on his face. He showed her his phone, the fear overtook her, and she felt her mind shift once again. As his face blurred and she attacked, she vaguely noticed digging her nails into his face and biting chunks of his flesh and spitting them out. Hearing the commotion, help was immediately summoned, but not before damage was done. As they were injecting her with Haldol, she saw another nurse pick up his phone, and glance at the screen. Before the medicine could overtake her, she realized he had just been trying to show her a picture of her and her kids. Confused and frantic, she swore to herself that is not what she saw the first time.
Tears sliding down her face, restraints being applied, she remembered purchasing a gun and placing it in her glove box. She felt constantly threatened by everything, and she had thought a gun would make her feel safer. She remembered checking her text and call history on her way home from his house and seeing nothing was there, except a few messages from him, but no one could determine what the messages had contained. Those memories came only after finally recalling the day for trial purposes. It was confirmed via call and text history from her cell phone provider. She required heavy sedation after being informed that the records had shown she had been texting herself all day. No one could explain the missing files or song changes. She remembered the people falling to the ground as she shot the gun, and she remembered bashing his skull in with a bat. She remembered the judge noting that she had shot and killed 9 people, and she had wounded an additional 6. She remembered describing the passenger, the mind shifts, and being told it was psychosis. Her remaining lucid thought was “What the fuck….” as her consciousness faded away. Tucked away in the dark recesses, restrained by drugs and her own mind, she slept.
V – Welcome Home
In the prison of her mind, time, thoughts, and her very existence had melted into a grey blur. Her doctors were unrelenting in the face of her silence. Eventually, cracks formed in her closed off mind. She was forced into group therapy, daily 1:1 sessions with her therapist, and doctor. Through the cracks of her shell, she began to notice colors again. At first, they seemed like a mirage in the distance. She wasn’t sure if it was medication, therapy, or both helping her. Steadily, she began to emerge from the shell like a baby bird. She felt blinded by the colors, as she freed herself from the grey, dark prison of her mind. She embraced the new feelings she was experiencing as much as she feared them. Steady progress was made with her doctor, as she expressed how the medication changed her in negative ways, as opposed to blindly swallowing pills. The ghosts of her past eventually came forth to her therapist. There was a comfort in seeing the horror on her own therapist’s face at the memories she had repressed for years.
With her newfound ability to talk, change was profound. Emotions overwhelmed her and tears were a constant – good and bad. In the hospital, she felt warm, safe, and protected. For the first time in her life, she felt cared for, not afraid, or alone. She learned how to trust others, but not to allow others to dictate her own feelings. She felt the strength that was long ago hidden away. She saw the world through new eyes. So much had been overlooked while she had her head down and shoulders hunched in silence and sadness. Eventually, diagnoses and treatment were modified. The voices that plagued her fell quiet and ultimately silent, as her own voice grew stronger and louder. Her therapist constantly reminded her of the amazing qualities she had and helped her forgive her past mistakes. She began to smile genuinely, and she realized that people liked her and were drawn to her. With the shell now gone, her true personality, like her smile, had emerged.
The words Release Date started being discussed. She felt both excitement and terror. While she had embraced her fears and triumphs, she felt unready. She still likened herself to the baby bird – frail and scared to fly on her own and leave her hospital nest. As time went by, and she grew stronger, she acquiesced, focused solely now on the thought of seeing her children daily, as opposed to visitation days only. Courts were involved, and after time, a release date was granted. She counted the days with increasing elation and anxiety. If she left these walls, she would not allow herself to return again. Grimly, she promised herself she’d eat a bullet before she came back. She did not reveal that dark promise to her therapist, worried it could delay her release. What she did promise aloud to herself and therapist was that she would continue all of the good habits that she had established, because, for once, she had found ways to both heal and find herself. Every day, she continued finding new things about herself that she genuinely loved, and her confidence grew dramatically. At their last visitation day, she promised her children, that when she left, she always would be healthy Mommy.
Release Day was met with tears and smiles. The tears were for the connections she had made, most especially with her therapist, but she was no longer afraid to leave. Gone were the days of warm nest, the hospital had now felt like the prison her mind once was. She had become a caged bird, desperate to fly free. She did not have anyone come get her from the hospital. Her actions and choices had put her there, and the same had released her. With the exception of her children, she had barely any connection to the outside world. She had murdered the only person she could call to pick her up, and she had been unable to maintain friendships with anyone. The hospital arranged for a cab to take her to the home she was to stay in. Given the circumstances and length of her hospitalization, the courts and doctors created a “re-acclimation” plan. She would first live in a group home. Given she was innocent of her crimes, there was no probation or parole, but she did have a court appointed caretaker that she would meet with weekly. She would have therapy daily and weekly sessions with a psychiatrist. She would have support with day-to-day activities, if needed, and freedom to restart her life as she deemed fit. Most importantly, she could go visit her children as often as she wished. The thought of seeing them every day made her cry constantly. No more delivered mandalas with notes. No more awkward waiting room meetings with questioning eyes. She could smile and tell her children “I will see you tomorrow” with certainty and joy. She knew one day, she could make them a real home again.
For the first time, she could say honestly that her life was primary importance to her. At first, it was only their faces that she could focus on. It was their voices, giggles, and whispers that she listened to most when the other voices had been screaming inside her imprisoned mind. It was their ears that heard her voice when she refused to speak to anyone else. Every day of her life since she gave birth to her first son was met with her undying love for them. When she accepted her fate after she attacked the nurse, it was with the belief that they were safer away from her. That belief slammed the bars on the prison of her mind, but their tears missing her made her force the bars open again. She loved no other person more than herself and her children. She referred to them as her compass. She was her own north star, but her children had guided her back when the night got too dark to see her own star. They have always been the love that guided her home. As the cab drove, she pictured their faces and longed for their embraces. She could hear the excitement that would greet her tomorrow, when she got to go see them for the first time outside of a hospital visiting room. Her heart exploded with joy, and her eyes once again brimmed with tears.
When the cab pulled in front of the house, a twinge of foreboding crept up her spine. She did not like the appearance of the place and felt shocked this was her selected group home. It appeared dilapidated and unkempt. “Hmmph, America’s superior mental health system” she angrily mused. She confirmed with the driver that it was the correct address, and that he would be back tomorrow at the same time to take her to see her children. She exited the cab and stared at the house. It was grey, with lamps hanging askew, shingles missing, and an overgrown lawn. If a house could have a personality, this house was like a hungry, grumpy old man. She had no idea what she meant by hungry, but that’s how she felt. Despite feeling taken aback, she felt intrigued and pulled in. The windows had a welcoming, beckoning appearance, oddly inviting, if you could get past the rough exterior. She grabbed her few belongings, straightened her back, and walked up. She had to admit, she was damn curious of what this place looked like inside. This was where she was staying, for better or worse. With her children in mind, she was hoping to make it as temporary as possible, anyway.
She walked in to a shockingly warm and welcoming atmosphere. Beautiful hardwood floors covered in red, lush area rugs led her in. To the right, she saw a sitting room with a large hearth and hearty fire roaring. Comfortable chairs that screamed sit and cuddle were placed around the fire. There was a large bay window with pillows, and she immediately envisioned herself curled up journaling, and gazing at the fall leaves tumbling to the earth. Walking further into the house, calling hello, she was amazed to see an enormous kitchen that was equipped with everything she could ever hope to use. It was restaurant grade, stainless steel, and stocked. A grin exploded on her face. She had the idea to bake something for her children and a squeal of excitement escaped her lips. As she was gazing around the kitchen, a short, plump woman came up to her. The woman immediately hugged her, and welcomed her home. The woman led her up steps to her room, which was small, but adequate. There was nothing notable – bed, blankets, and window. She did not love her room, but she did not despise it either. In some ways, it reminded her of the room she had in the hospital, except, she noted happily, she did not have to share it with anyone. It was hers and hers alone.
As she placed her belongings in the room, the woman ran through some basic rules of the house. She nodded, already aware. She was hoping the woman would make herself scarce quickly, so that she could get herself by that fire, and lose herself in her journal. She may have become comfortable talking, but writing was still her home. Before the woman left, she thought of the only question she actually cared enough to ask. “Can I listen to music?” she inquired with a desperate hope. Her ears, for too long, had been deprived of the sacred healing music granted. Her heart and soul were starved for any artist to nourish her. The woman smiled, said yes, and handed her a phone and ear buds. The woman explained that every resident was issued a phone to ensure they could stay in contact. The phones had unlimited data, so most residents would use their phones to listen to music or purchase radios. The only rule was that headphones must be used when not in your room, so as not to disturb anyone else. She brushed off the initial terror she felt at the sight of the phone by focusing instead on two long lost treasures – Spotify and YouTube. She felt as if she had won the lottery.
She installed the apps on her phone. She searched for the one band she needed, hit play, and fell onto her bed with elation. She could not move, being transfused with the lifeblood of her music. It was all she wanted to hear, and she let his voice consume her as she closed her eyes and felt heaven on earth. Music was finally released from the repeat of her mind, and actually dancing in her ears. She had not listened to her music since the day she attacked the nurse. In her mind, it was just punishment for her crimes. She had promised herself that she would not hear music until she was healthy. After the shooting and the nurse, she had been too afraid of triggers to try. Her feelings and promises didn’t matter, anyway. The hospital forbade any type of electronic device for her. Second only to her kids, it was part of her desperation to get the hell out of the hospital. Luckily, the nurse had pressed no charges, accepted blame for breaking hospital rules, and took a handsome settlement instead. This made her release relatively uncomplicated, all things considered. She had no idea how long she lay entranced in her bed, but she finally got up, placed her ear buds in, and went to the fireplace. She noticed lots of closed doors and assumed residents must be resting or wanting privacy. She appreciated the quiet relative to the noisiness of the hospital where chaos and screaming were the norm.
She settled in the bay window and began writing furiously. She began planning the coming days as she wrote, because she cannot think if she’s not multitasking. When she was done writing, she’d either go bake the surprise or wake up early to do so. She could not handle the excitement of being able to make food for them. The days spent at her table having dinnertime conversations felt like another lifetime. She felt lucky that her children still loved her, if she was honest. She remembered promises made during visitations about fun times they would have and yummy things she would cook, desperate to remind them that there was a time their Mommy was good. As time went on, and Mommy sometimes became Mom, she felt relief that the love remained unchanged by distance and her hospitalization. She planned immediately to get a job so that she could treat them with whatever meager income she could gather. She also planned to buy speakers for her room. She had already begun planning how to make this place comfortable, even if she hoped it was a temporary housing situation. The re-introduction of her music into her world and flooded everything anew with colors – mirages now a distant memory. Hours flew by as she sat writing and listening, and she realized how late it was. She stood, stretched, and headed back to her bed. As she passed the kitchen, she saw with delight there were cookies and milk sitting out, so she stopped and scarfed it down. She realized she hadn’t eaten all day, so she was immediately grateful for the unseen cookie benefactor. Belly stuffed, and milk making her drowsier, she made her way to her bedroom, snuggled into bed, and closed her eyes. Her acceptance into her new life was immediate; she relished the joy of falling asleep to music for the first time in forever.
Her dreams weren’t notable when she awoke, but the house felt colder than she remembered. Her feet hit the floor; she shivered, and felt confused. She checked the time on her phone and noticed it was late morning. She quickly got dressed, and left her room. The cab to take her to her children would be arriving in 30 minutes, so she had to move. Immediately, she scolded herself and felt frustrated that she would not have time to make a surprise. As she headed left toward the kitchen, she felt turned around. The hallway looked different. Previously, she had noticed several shut doors, but now there was only one. She thought maybe she made a wrong turn, so she went right instead, but this did not look correct either. She continued down the hallway and found a blank wall. She turned around again, and marched determinedly down the hallway, certain the kitchen must be that way. She found the stairs that led to the kitchen. Gone was warmth and cookies; in their place was scene northing short of horrific. As she stepped onto the tiled floor, her foot slipped in a dark, red, chunky substance. She smelled something rotting and rancid. She gagged as she saw curdled milk and what appeared to chunks of flesh on the counter where her milk and cookies had sat.
Panic consumed her immediately, and fear slammed into her mind like a hammer. “No, no, no. I just want my babies” she thought as she went to the sitting room. That, too, was no longer warm and welcoming. Instead, the room now matched the house’s exterior – run down and filthy. The welcoming atmosphere was eradicated by essentially the scene of a horror movie. The comfort of the bay window was replaced with the same filthy, slimy substance that covered the kitchen. As she grew closer, she feared she was seeing a combination of dirt and blood. It was rusty colored ooze, interwoven with years of neglect. The fire was out, and the chairs were gone. She saw nothing but gorey puddles. She could not, for a second, understand how the welcoming home had become a terrifying nightmare. “What the fuck is going on..?” was the only thought echoing in her mind. She focused on her three compasses waiting to see her. She was not losing a moment to this fucking nonsense again. She had to get to her children. She started to go back to her room; certain she could close her eyes and force herself to wake up. She learned to navigate these goddamn nightmares and hallucinations in the hospital. There was a tiny voice in her mind that kept saying this was not a nightmare, and she was wrong. “Fuck it,” she thought stubbornly and climbed the stairs. Instinctively, she grasped the railing and recoiled in horror. Looking at her hand, she knew unmistakably it was covered in blood. She did not care who or where it came from; it wasn’t real anyway. She ran up, desperate to find her room. She found herself in an unfamiliar hallway lined with doors. Some were open, some were shut. Despite the morning hour, it was dark and difficult to see.
She then wondered why the fuck she went up instead of out of this fucking house. “Could I be anymore dumb blonde in a horror movie?” she angrily thought. She turned around, and in the seconds she took to realize her idiocy, the steps had been replaced with a blank wall. “No, no, no. This is just another goddamn nightmare, stop.” She defiantly sat in filth, and put her head down in her bloody hands, shut her eyes, and rocked. She counted her breath, and waited until she calmed down. She remembered all too well what happens when she loses control of her thoughts, and she refused to repeat history a day out of the goddamn hospital. Breathing and thoughts under control, she cast a steely eyed gaze around. “Fuck this shit” she thought angrily. She stood, and went in the opposite direction of the new wall, and entered a room that looked like hers. The bed appeared occupied, but the room was obviously hers. Her boots and blanket were tossed on the floor where she’d left them. She smiled in relief when she saw Jack Skellington smiling up at her from the blanket, a talisman that brought hope all was not lost. She now reassured herself confidently, this was a goddamn nightmare, that’s her sleeping body, and she just needs to wake up. She pulled the comforter back, and was greeted instead with a rotting corpse. The moment she moved the covers, putrefaction assailed her nostrils. The corpse was covered in maggots lazily crawling in and out of the cavities, satiated from the buffet of rotting flesh. The flesh was green and rotten; gelatinous ooze covered the once white sheets. Hair, bone fragments, and dried blood lay on the pillow. The face/skull had been smashed in, so it was hard to distinguish much about the corpse’s likeness. Cloudy eyes free of their sockets looked crookedly – one at the ceiling and one at the floor. She didn’t understand how she hadn’t smelled it when she entered. That urge to vomit exploded out of her mouth and all over the corpse. She gasped desperately, attempting once again to collect thoughts and breathe, but this was too much. Each breath brought more of the stench and expunged more vomit. Frozen in horror, she noticed the chunks of brain splattered on the wall previously hidden by the comforter.
She remembered how her face had been covered in chunks of his brain after she murdered him, and she began sobbing. The sound of her sobs brought her back to reality, and her body and mind finally unfroze. She grabbed her boots and blanket and ran out of the room. She began talking to herself aloud again. “Get out of this house and get to your children. You can do this.” she repeated. The steps were now off to the right. She ran to them, desperately hoping they would lead her to safety. Her chest was tight as if every muscle she had was collectively attempting to crush her rib cage, and her thoughts were a unanimous chorus of GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. As she descended the steps, she began to hear other voices again. “No, no, no, please god, no” her voice cried out weakly. She felt her firm hold on reality slacken, unable now to distinguish reality or nightmare. Her blanket and boots dropped from her hand, forgotten. As she descended the steps, she heard his voice, and experienced deju vu. She sobbed and attempted to ignore his words, weakly reminding herself this was not real. “Intrusive thoughts, Intrusive thoughts, Intrusive thoughts” she sobbed her therapist’s words with each step down. One hand began tugging at her hair, and the chunks began falling to the ground, mingling with the filth and blood. His voice grew louder as hers grew weaker. Punishment in bold, red letters began flashing in her mind. As she reached the bottom of the steps, she saw him. Equal parts relief and horror flooded her as she rushed to him. In her ear he whispered tenderly, “One last kiss for you.” She felt the coldness of his lips touch hers, and the tears stopped, and she felt overwhelmed with the sick love she had held onto for so long. She embraced him, feeling home. “Welcome Home, my love,” he confirmed. She nuzzled her head into his neck and shoulder, covering it with relieved kisses. It didn’t matter that she had caved his skull in with a bat; she kissed him with the ferocity of lovers separated for years. As she went to kiss his lips again, he vanished, and she was alone and afraid again. She longed to feel his arms around her, her children’s light now extinguished from her mind.
The warmth of his embrace was replaced by the icy chill of the house. She looked for the door, but it was gone – another blank wall. She glanced and saw the room with the fireplace, she turned around and saw the hallway to the kitchen, but there was no door. The bay window too was gone and replaced with a blank wall. She walked dizzily, attempting to find any way to exit, but it did not matter how she went. The house shifted every time she turned her back. Everything changed infinitely. The stairs were an endless loop between the sitting room, kitchen, and hallways that led to nowhere lined with doors that did nothing. Though she had tried every door she saw, any that opened revealed her room. The closed doors did nothing; she had kicked one in but found a blank wall behind. Though locations changed, the appearances of the rooms did not, except that all windows had been replaced with walls. She gave up attempting to escape or even figure this out. The time to get the cab to her children had long passed. Her phone didn’t have service for calls. There were no phones in the house, no windows, no doors to escape. “I’m fucked,” she accepted, feeling like she was being eaten alive. She glanced at her phone, realized it was dying, and tossed it on the floor. She sunk to the floor and rested her head on her knees. She felt an illusion of calm had since he had welcomed her home. A sense of destiny had replaced any thought of leaving and hope of seeing her children. She remembered the day she had attacked the nurse and realized her feelings now mirrored those moments. She felt like the butt of the world’s cruelest joke. Despite all of her hard work coming out of the shell, she had found herself in a cold, dark, confusing hell. Her therapist and psychiatrist had spent god knows how much time reassuring her that she was not sick or crazy. A voice had whispered, “But what if they are wrong…?” With tears streaming down her face, she remembered how many times she told herself that the voice was wrong. She remembered how weak that voice had gotten as she grew stronger, and that she hadn’t heard it in a long time. She curled up into a ball on the filthy, blood smeared floor, closed her eyes, not entirely sure if she was alive or dead. She grabbed her phone and put on music, so that at least she could have something while the battery lasted. The same voice began singing in her ears as she lay elated in her bed yesterday. She hugged herself tightly, focusing her mind’s eye on her children’s faces, and her love – for them and herself. Her breath evened and she felt actual calm and ultimately, peace. She had promised herself and them she would be healthy no matter what. “I never break my fucking promises,” she said and stood up.