This story is by JD WEST and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Crack in the Glass.
I am not a religious person but for decades I tried to walk on water. Wobbling with my right foot in what I referred to as my ‘reality canoe’ and my left foot in my ‘fantasy canoe’ I tried to keep my legs together and to hold on to my imagination. When I got married my feet drifted apart, and I fell over the brink. Right now, I am treading water, holding on to an overturned canoe, and watching my alcoholic husband drown and erase, the last bit of fantasy in my exhausted brain.
“God will protect you,” the voice in my head echoes softly. Who is God in today’s crazy upside-down world? God, it’s no longer ‘Good Orderly Direction’ it’s more like a computer run by artificial intelligence. My entire history has been rewritten by my husband to create a future that I don’t want any part of. Who is directing my selective remembering and forgetting and when did I permit them to control me? I feel like a bloated goldfish with no memory.
When I realized that my reality was a mirror reflection of my innermost fears and that I’d married a man who was ten times worse than my alcoholic father; I took a job in Australia and ran. I arrived in Perth and took the mandatory triple-dose flu shot required by the Wyndham Resort I had been hired to promote; I became violently ill. I vomited so hard that I threw my back out of alignment and I could no longer control my bowels. Diarrhea ran onto the ambulance attendants’ arms as he lifted me onto the stretcher. My back went into violent spasms for hours. After three nights in an airconditioned hospital freezing to death, they removed my intravenous and sent me to a ‘back specialist’ who suggested surgery.
I couldn’t laugh, cough, or sneeze without my back yelling at me. When I wasn’t sleeping, I would sob intensely for the whole of humanity. I rejected the pills from the Indian doctor and went to see a Chinese acupuncturist. In broken English, he told me that I had to release the trapped emotions in my body, or I was going to die. The narcissist I’d married had almost killed me with his version of reality. I had no idea what I believed in but being kicked in the shins, thrown downstairs, pushed into a wall, shaken, and yelled at – seemed like a fate worse than death – and finding a job in Australia was like using my one and only, get-out-of-jail-free card.
Due to my violent reaction to the vaccine and my lingering back problems, my resort management job dissolved into a final payment and my Australian work visa expired. I gave up my apartment and accepted a house/dog sit from a professional couple who were flying to Europe for a month. I sat on the couch, with a grieving Fox-terrier named Cracker, who’d lost her only brother Jack. In the days that followed I hand-fed the dainty little dog, until one day she only accepted water by syringe. The next day I found her at the bottom of the stairs – dead. When the couple returned to Perth, and the vet released the dog’s frozen body, we held a small ceremony that made me cry uncontrollably.
I arrived in Bangkok feeling like I was cursed. The irritable taxi driver dumped me in front of a budget hotel. I stood on the side of the road and watched a Swedish tourist get hit by a motorcycle and crushed by a car. A fire alarm of pain burned through my body and exploded my brain. Life can be taken in a nanosecond.
The following day I flew ‘full of gratitude’ to Trivandrum, India. I was alive and determined to fix my back and find some solace in yoga. The two-star hotel was bustling with locals. I slept with a towel on my face to shield me from the sewage smell. I wore earplugs to block the sound of traffic and barking dogs. The following day I was swept up into a spicy heatwave of people and crammed into a train to Varkala. I regretted not buying a first-class ticket. I sat knee-high in rubbish, touching sweaty bodies, and listening to loud voices compete with the radio; there’s no ‘off switch’ in India.
The small yoga town of Varkala was like a white flag of hope dancing in the soft sea breeze. Relaxed yogis floated along the cliffs as if time had stopped and levitation was normal. Below the fifty-eight-meter-high cliffs, the Arabian Sea was barely visible for people. I stayed in an Ayurvedic spa and spent the mornings in a large sweet-smelling yoga studio with a sparkling, brown-eyed guru, dressed in white. I spent my afternoons wandering the crowded beach. My muscles screamed after every yoga session as they slowly releasing a lifetime of memories. At night I cried so much that in the morning I looked like a sick cow with pinkeye.
My body held a darkness that didn’t belong to me. Sure, I‘d met some bad people in my life but most of the time they bounced away from me. This time they were inside of my body like ghosts and gremlins, playing hide-and-seek; I felt like a haunted house.
When I first started to meditate my post-traumatic shock was audible, it sounded like rush-hour traffic. After a few sessions, I found my neutral-still-point: a silent room inside my head. Maybe the guru was right. I was overreacting and taking life far too seriously. My husband wasn’t all bad, it wasn’t his fault that I’d given him ‘my heart’ and he thought it was a soccer ball. When he met me in Vancouver airport restaurant he insisted on ordering my food for me, treating me like a child, and triggering a volatile game of ‘one-upmanship.’ From that moment on, we moseyed around each other like we were muggers in a park. Both of us were looking for ‘safe turf’ on which to vent our anger. His negativity hit me like car exhaust, a silent killer; I ran into the bathroom to breathe.
The following day he drove me to see a therapist. He’d never been to one and thought they were a waste of money. The therapist had silver hair, white teeth, and smile lines around her eyes and mouth; I liked her instantly. She used a gold pendulum to hypnotize me, and I followed her lead into a state of regression. I saw myself in a blue silk dress walking through a field of long green grass. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a cave. I floated towards the entrance, stepped inside, and stood listening to dripping water.
I was staring at three tunnels. The first one was dry, rough, and windy. The second was wet, dimly lit, and covered in fluorescent green moss and ivy. The third tunnel shone like a diamond. Icy electric blue hexagons and strange petroglyphs were carved into the walls. I wanted to enter the icy cave, but I was afraid of being cold. I stepped into the mossy tunnel and waited for my eyes to adjust to the light. Something touched the back of my hand. I was touching a row of fluorescent green triangular nests. Each one held a baby praying Mantis. My ears begged for a sound. I heard a double click and spun around quickly; I stood facing tall Praying Mantis. I didn’t know if she wanted to eat me or make friends with me. I looked down at my feet and caught my reflection in a puddle of mercury. My face was green and triangular. Was I one of her Mantis babies?
As the therapist brought me out of regression I laughed and hoped that I was a female Mantis. I’d heard that the female lets the male mate with her, and then devours him with gusto. The thought of it made me imagine everything turning into me. Everything would die-into-me, nothing existed outside of me.
After my first therapy session, I saw myself differently. I knew my husband didn’t want me anymore; I didn’t make him look good, and that was the only reason he’d married me. I no longer wanted to be a bloated goldfish with no purpose or memory, so – I imagined myself as a powerful female Mantis. I didn’t need to eat or kill my mate, but I was ready to fight for what was left of my heart.
When the glass cracks the truth is seen.
There is no monster greater than a human being.