This story is by Kenda Alexander and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The whole world moved in next door and brought a playground and a dog park with them. Now my door is blocked from the outside as if the giant fir tree fell across it. I chose this spot. The most private one I could find. My choosing hasn’t helped.
If I had planned better I would already be out in the woods alone. The steady stream of visitors in all their different camping setups began on Thursday. I was too distracted by what was in the mail and I didn’t pay attention. Now I am stuck in the middle of this public mass exodus from city and suburb into the woods where I find my preferred solitude. Preferred is me being kind to myself. It’s my necessity.
I imagine myself escaping at night and disappearing into the woods just yards away. Rushing through the wooded park to the entrance of the wilderness. There’s a little sign with a logbook to autograph that marks the transition. I imagine climbing the steep trail into the mountains and getting lost there until the masses retreat to their city homes. Waiting for my private chosen spot to return to its usual isolation. But that would require me to find a way past the fear that locks me behind my unlocked door.
I keep it unlocked as a personal challenge against what I should be able to conquer. That’s as much as I can muster today under the cloud of foggy panic that has settled over my brain. I say brain, not mind because it’s physical. I can talk my mind into all kinds of things. I have commitments to keep and places to be. I’m past all this now. I’m a risk taker, confident. I traveled to Taiwan last year. I climbed Denali this year. I like people, mostly. They interest me and I love their dogs. But my brain won’t be changed and the fog won’t lift. My mind remembers. My brain takes too long to catch up.
This little moving house contains all I own and need. The cats have plenty of litter and food. I’m safe. The floor holds my backside with unseen force, below the window level. I sit in silence and darkness. I hunker down, accepting this pattern, trusting it will end a few days beyond the emptying of my woods when these intruders leave. Trusting my mind will win over my brain and I will be functional again.
I pretend the letter last week doesn’t matter. I pretend it has nothing to do with my fragility or my slide back into that cloud. It’s just a bad weekend.
I ignore the phone. I don’t even look to see who it is. Not my style and I chastise myself for being inconsiderate. A text follows. I can handle a text.
I know if I don’t respond someone will show up to check on me. They’ll be able to get in past my unlocked door.
“missed you this morning. U ok?”
“that, the people, the rain….(emoji face)
“should I come by?”
“no, I’m fine, maybe tomorrow.”
“you sure? It’s no problem.”
“nah, I’ll conquer it.”
“K, got your door locked?”
I lie. It’s too hard to explain.
“don’t forget to eat.”
“you’re mom-ing me”
“someone has to.”
I will myself off the floor and take the two steps from the “dining room” to the fridge. I should eat, then I won’t be lying. I’m glad I made soft-boiled eggs yesterday. I know cooking is out of the question today. Tomorrow will be better. The cats appear when I crack the egg and watch me expectantly while I peel it. I share a small piece with each. Another text. I would shut my phone off but I would rather deal with texts than someone showing up at my door.
“He’s in the park.”
I hear the sound of rushing blood, the freight train of adrenaline in my head. An acrid copper scent overwhelms my senses. I take a few slow breaths and my heart rate slows. Meditation practice is paying off.
“What are you talking about?”
“Not in the mood for this.”
“Not joking, seriously.”
“How could you possibly know that?”
“Saw it on FB like a big announcement.”
“That isn’t possible. There are restrictions.”
“I’m coming over.”
“Please don’t. It’ll just draw attention.”
“He doesn’t know my new car.”
“Be there in 10.”
I know there’s no point in arguing. I set the phone down deliberately. Bile rises and I taste the sourness. My brain can’t take it in and I don’t try to force it.
The light outside the little window fades and the wind whips the maple leaves. The fir trees hold out for a few seconds and then they’re dancing in the wind too. The rain lets loose. It sounds like hail on the thin fiberglass roof above me but it’s just heavy rain. The people outside get noisy. I can hear the excitement in their tone as they scatter for cover and then there’s just the pounding rain. I feel safer in the heavy rain. I note that in my mind. I’m a sun-lover but so is everyone else. The rain brings solitude and I’ve grown to appreciate that.
The letter that started this brain shutdown draws me. Maybe I hadn’t read it carefully enough. My mind wants to solve this, figure it out, defend myself. My brain resists. Shuts down to survive.
I feel a soft stroke against my bare leg. I resist the instinct to jump away. Just Jazzy, the gray one. She always knows my moods and tries to comfort.
“Fayville County Courthouse – Family Law”
Even the heading mocks me, minimizes the gravity, says this is a small court matter, not important enough for bigger courts to get involved. Even the word “family” sneers. There was never “family”.
“In the matter of Wellburg vs. Adams:
Case #: 15FC128948 Case type: Civil
Notice of Entry of Judgment:
Nothing to miss. As usual, unclear. No mention of why. Not enough evidence is what they told me.
I want to lock the door. I won’t let myself. It doesn’t matter where he is, even in the park. I won’t lose the ground I’ve fought for. I know how to fight back. I’ve taken classes for that. I’m safe. My brain screams, “liar”!
The rain stops abruptly. The sun turns the woods to liquid green. I hold the letter limp at my side. A dog barks, then another. A group of kids whiz by on bikes, hollering at each other. I wince. A diesel pickup drives by slowly. I tense. I can’t help it. I know it’s driving by slow because the speed limit is 10 mph and there are kids on bikes but my vigilance is aroused. Out of control. I breathe into my belly, just like I’ve learned and slow my heart rate, willing my mind to win over my brain.
The crinkling paper feels satisfying in my hand. I squeeze it smaller and tighter until it’s a little wad of useless white. Not completely useless. It can still burn. The blue flame ignites on my little propane stove. The ball burns yellow, tries to unfold, falls into pieces and disappears into brown and black ash.
I hear gravel crunch under tires. A familiar engine turns off. A car door slams. My house shifts slightly under the weight of someone on the metal steps. The door is unlocked.