I wanted something extraordinary to happen to me.
Every night as I walked home alone, scenes from movies would play out in my mind, vampires rushing out from behind the trees, ghosts flickering in and out of sight just behind me, their faces lost in the fog that wrapped loose around me, feet scraping across the pavement that had been worn down by tires and time combined. I’d imagine someone running out from between the anorexic bushes and the thin trees that stood too far apart, screaming for help, demanding my attention, their nightmare now shared with mine, but no monsters ever burst out from those piles of dead leaves, just the bugs that writhed beneath, heads sticking between the debris, all of them too small, too dark for me to see.
Cars would pass, and I’d imagine some stalking semi, faceless and inhuman, a shell of a suggestion of a living thing waiting to pull right over and pull me in, never to be seen again as one whole woman, just pieces scattered through the parks of other towns, other places, all traces of forensics abandoned, but none ever stopped, just slowed, seeing if I was alright, checking for blood on my forehead, hair matted on my face, finding none like one once did, one night.
I’d think about the way nights like that one worked, far enough from me that it had begun to fade, important enough that the bones of the memory remained. It was caught in the same space where trauma and childhood lie in wait, both lost in a dream state, a fog in my head, fuzzy at the edges and focused in the center and vibrant all around, blacks never thicker, reds never deeper, the pale orange lamplight of the sky never more haunting, never more alone, just smears of shades trying to cast something greater than they ever could, not knowing they were built to be this way, built to suggest something that never comes, longing to become the sun when all they were was stunted stars, and they would never, ever know just what it was they were.
Walking home on nights like these, I’d see the bus stop where it had happened to me, and I’d stare straight ahead, never turning, never stopping, never letting it be anything other than a bench, other than an overhang, other than a piece of metal bent and stuck into the dirt and sand. It was nothing more than so much metal and fiberglass, a shattered window hit by rocks and a bench covered in spider webs, small things’ paths intersecting, sticking to a fate that they didn’t see coming.
Sitting in a circle and sharing echoes of our similar pain on every second Tuesday of the month, we were always busy thinking of our own words without listening to anyone else’s. Scrapes waited at every corner; every second spent awake threatened to become a bad dream, and then we’d repeat ours, the same recurring nightmares that we had all lived out in our own ways. None of us were special. None of us were unique. All of us had simply survived variations on a theme. This was what people did to each other. This was humanity. This was being alive. Bad things happened. Survive and repeat. We were told we had to forgive ourselves for what happened to us. I knew there was nothing to forgive. “People” as we had imagined them did not exist, just animals, just machines of blood and skin and hair and teeth.
“All change is good,” we’d mutter under our breaths on the second Tuesday of every month until we almost started to believe in it. We mistook erasure for redemption. We mistook damage for development. We were children mistaking ourselves for adults, and when someone fell on the playground and their wound became infected, all we knew how to do was amputate.
I wanted it all to stop. I wanted to lock all the doors and block off the hall and crawl into bed and never wake up again, but no matter how many times I tried, it would happen – I’d wake up, and life would go on. The machinery in my chest would not stop, an engine that refused to quit, that wouldn’t stop doing what it was built for. Another week would pass. Another day of work and another birthday party and another movie and another drink and another dinner and another friend and another partner and another smile and another cry would come and go, and it was like nothing had ever happened – like the whole world had forgotten that anything had ever happened, even though the whole world had never known that anything had ever happened, and it was happening again, that same night lived out by somebody else, by everybody else, and I’d be taking a bite of food, and I’d spit it out; I’d be sitting beneath a tree, and I’d get up to leave; I’d be brushing my teeth, and I’d make my gums bleed, because I’d remember it, would remember that this was all still happening, that it was still continuing, beating on like machinery, and even I had almost forgotten it. Even I had almost given in to accepting it as passive reality again.
They found a body in the woods right next to that bus stop, and I wondered if she went through just what I did, if she was just like me, if I was simply one of the ones that “got lucky.” On her arm she had the words “this is forever” tattooed onto her. I hoped as hard as I could that it wasn’t.
Sometimes, on long enough walks, the backs of my heels would begin to bleed, and I’d welcome it, sensing the sock beginning to tear and, beneath it, the flesh, something vulnerable, something revealed. They’d been broken down and up again so many times that it had become countless to me, just another note in the song of the long and winding dream. It had become a comfort, skin becoming leather, something that, even when it broke down once more would still put up more of a fight than before.
All I wanted was the chance to but up more of a fight than before.
I’d long for monsters and I’d long for snakes and I’d long for great birds of prey and for terrible things, myths becoming reality, fiction becoming non-, and I’d remember, when nothing came bursting from the trees, when nothing came careening down the road, when the ground beneath me never opened up, that I’d already found one, and it wasn’t a monster; it wasn’t make-believe; it was a human being. Humans did these things.
I needed another chance to fight back, to prove that I had done all I could, to prove that I was not to blame, and I knew – in my mind, I knew – that I’d never hold anyone else accountable. I would not walk up to the spider webs I passed and lean in close to the captured fly to tell them, “You should’ve flown differently; you shouldn’t have flown at all; you shouldn’t have thought you could come out here, not at this time of night.” I’d look at no field mouse caught in a trap door spider’s lair and tell them, “You should’ve known better; you should’ve looked closer at the ground.” But I thought of myself as something different.
I wasn’t a field mouse and I wasn’t a fly and, even though, in my deepest sleep, I’d see one as me, I was no spider; I had no fangs, keys not compensating for the venom waiting to shoot out of teeth. There was only venom in my veins; there was only webbing in my brain, thoughts for me to walk into, memories like bad dreams, emotional infancy. I thought of myself as something different, because I knew what I had become.
I had become something that was expected to die, and my body didn’t know what my head already did: that part of me had, and that corpses are fertile, that something else had grown up and out of it. I had become something different, and maybe it was something beautiful, or maybe it was something ugly, and maybe it was none of these things, maybe no one was ever any of these things, but I couldn’t tell, because there was no sun inside of me, just streetlights spaced too far apart, everything lost in the distant dark.