This story is by Kerri Scott and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He left me naked, soaking wet and panicked. My body filled with fear. Darkness closed in around me. Absent of light, my eyes searched the room for a recognizable object. Only the hazy glow of the after image from my cell phone remained. Silhouettes of void shapes burnt into my retinas from the last text I had sent.
“I will be home in a couple of hours.” I messaged my husband.
Home. A house filled with laughter and tears, hugs and hurts. Where my family embraced me with their precious needs. I left them to take a few moments for myself, but this was a nightmare. My heart raced faster as the reality of my situation set in. I felt light-headed from the humid heat in the room. My lungs gasped quick and shallow for each breath.
This fear of confined spaces was more powerful than my desire for change. It locked me in my desperate feelings of uncertainty. With cold fingers, I reached out to touch each wall. They crept in on me from every direction. Would there be enough air? I worried as I continued to struggle in unfamiliar surroundings. The sickness of anxiety rose from my belly. The blood drained from my arms and legs as they trembled. Confusion crowded around me as my senses spun, unable to orient myself in this watery tomb.
I could drown in here and no one would know. I have to get out! My thoughts alarmed.
I silenced my tremors and listened with my whole being, but could hear no one. The expansive sound of my own breath filled the paltry space with fever. Each exhale louder and more violent than the one before. Unable to hear beyond the walls that held me until I quieted the throes of fear that consumed me. I focused on my respiration, trying to lengthen and deepen each breath. The more attention I gave to my breathing the more my mind travelled inward. My vulnerability overwhelmed me.
I waded into the cluttered thoughts that swarmed my brain. What happens next, I questioned and my body tensed in response, poised to jump into action. I listened deeper into the deafening silence. Did I deserve this? How long have I been here? What could my family be doing? Do they miss me? Do I hear footsteps? Is he coming back? Each thought louder than the next. I held my breath to listen.
Thud, thud, thump, thump. Yes, I definitely hear footsteps. He must be out there! My pupils dilated to let in the hope of light. Eager to understand where the sound was coming from. Thud, thud, thump, thump. Swift sounding footsteps of a person stomping down a hallway. I could swear I had heard these before. Thud, thud, thump, thump. They echoed again. I remembered, the last time I heard these angry footsteps, I cowered in my closet as a child.
I had heard these steps before! I recognized them as the sound of my own heartbeat quickening and my inner child running. I released a deep thrust of air. I couldn’t hold my breath any longer as my heart throbbed for oxygen. There were no footsteps. No one was coming. My ego would be the only company I had in here. Tasked with the responsibility of protecting me from the uncomfortable. You can’t get out of here and don’t bother trying my ego scolded.
But all that you desire is on the other side of fear my memory whimpered in reply.
The beating of my heart boomed, amplified in my ears. With each throb, I could hear the blood rush past my eardrum. Each high pitched pulse had more volume than my agonizing thoughts. Why am I here? When will this be over? Keep breathing. I inhaled a long, slow breath and felt the panic subdue. My stomach unclenched and with the next breath in my shoulders fell from the sides of my ears. As a habit of comfort, I put my thumb into the deep stretch mark on my side.
My left eyelid twitched and I realized I must have closed my eyes. It was the only part of me moving except for the rhythmic rising and falling of my chest. I had gotten lost inside my thoughts and my body soothed itself into stillness. I imagined my heroic escape. I raced back home, embraced my children and kissed my husband with the full passion of my existence. Forever grateful for each precious moment life had given me.
What would my mother say? The thought jumped into my mind as my heart leaped into my ribs. That’s an odd question at a time like this! I observed this thought with quick distinction.
Complete nonsense. My ego answered. That is what she would say. Locked in complete darkness with only enough room to lie down. You are responsible for this. You are senseless! All remained pitch black, humid and warm as I crawled back into my mind. I could feel my anxiety rising again. As each wave of thoughts crashed into my head, I knew I needed to get a hold of my emotions before they suffocated me. I had to be ready when he came back.
You have time, try and relax. A subtle voice spoke to me. Allow each thought to become a bubble and watch it float away, said the knowing with soft confidence. A tender invitation, sending a ripple of tingling shivers down my spine. The phenomenal sensation brought my attention to my body. I could feel the burning tension that I held in my shoulders. Each time my children refused to listen to me it was here I repressed my frustration. My head throbbed in pain as I recalled the last argument I had had with my daughter. I raced after her in fury, angry that she wouldn’t go to sleep, irritated that she was too scared to be alone.
Hot tears streamed from the corners of my eyes as the emotion that memory brought filled my being. I didn’t know where to summon the patience my daughter needed from me at that moment. I buried my disappointment underneath my anger. My eyes stung in acid as my tears mixed with the salty water that supported me. I didn’t want to treat her that way, the way my mother treated me. The clarity of my behaviour was all too visible in this dark womb.
I took three more deep breaths in through my mouth as I was no longer able to breathe through my runny nose. The pain of frustration melted away to reveal the years of hurt that I kept protected and hidden away. A tight muscle in my neck twitched with warm energy and then released with expansive relief.
You don’t belong here, as soon as you get out of here they will know you have been crying. Get it together! My ego yelled at me, but I had chosen not to hear, instead, I remained in the knowing. I took more deep breaths and brought my observer self towards the hurt. My breath guided me into the closet where my inner child sat and trembled. She too emanated uncertainty, loneliness and longed for approval from her mother. Immense sadness shook my body and together we sat and cried. I reached out to caress her soft, curly hair. Embracing her, I felt her playful spirit swell. Comforted that she could once again be a child. Forgiven and released from what never belonged to her.
I walked her out of the closet, back into her bedroom and exhaled deeper into the damp air. Back into my body, my attention shifted. I floated still and calm, warm and rested. Soft splashing added to the murmur of my heartbeat and my breath. With a gentle motion, I roused my body from its silent state.
A dim light grew brighter and I blinked my wet eyes open. The basin had opened and I was no longer confined along with my crowded mind. As I sat up and peeked out from under the large lid, he stood there holding a towel.
“I never would have guessed an hour in an isolation tank could be noisier than an hour with my children!” I remarked as I rose relaxed, naked and soaking wet.
He smiled and offered me the towel. “Can I book you in for the same day and same time, next week, Mrs. Mitchell?”