A short story
A heart lay in her body – she was sure of it. Something kept her alive as she lay paralysed. She watched her surroundings with glazed eyes as the lights above her blurred and sparkled, but her mind only pulled her further away. Would it hurt if she moved?
She wished this was foreign, that this darkest part of her wasn’t her truest self—she hoped to God it wasn’t, and in that wish, she almost wished she believed in one.
She hadn’t asked for this; she hadn’t known it was coming. There’d been a nagging feeling for most of her life like something was wrong. It had hit her once before, emerging from the depths of the darkest shadow of that night. And now it had come full circle. For the night which haunted her all those years ago—the night she thought she’d never see again—returned to claim her. She had thought it might someday, and, like someone in hiding after seeing too much, she assumed a new identity. It became her purpose to enthral those who lived in ignorance so they wouldn’t betray her and offer her back to the night.
She hoped she could feed into it once more; feel a part of other people’s existence once more.
She wouldn’t be able to explain it. “Taking a nap.” She twitched a finger and then a toe, then all at once she threw her energy into an arm, which she used to prop herself up on the couch.
“With your eyes open? I was thinking about heating up dinner soon.”
“You want some?”
He smiled and left. He didn’t know that it was as if he had let go of her hand just as he was helping her out of the water. She fell back onto the couch with a splash and clung to the knowledge that if she forgot how to breathe her body would likely take over.
“I think enlightenment is horrible; if it is what I think it is, then it’s horrible.”
“Why is it horrible?”
“If the point of existing is just to be—without the ego and all its constructs—what’s left?”
“What, to you, would be left?”
“Nothing. Am I meant to sit and just be? No. I’ve built a life around myself; I own furniture, I have a pet. And, what, do people who become enlightened just throw it all away because they’ve realised it’s all a weird, intricate lie?”
“Do you think you’re enlightened?”
She felt uncomfortable when he did that. “I think I’ve glimpsed past the curtain of the ego and I hate it. I’ve heard it described as a blinding light—some kind of other-worldly experience. I think they were lying, or masochistic.”
“In what way did it feel hurtful?”
She took a moment to play with the jewellery on her fingers—she always wore rings when she visited him, knowing she’d need a physical distraction as she thought. “I don’t know how to say sorry I’ve just experienced some lapse of ego. It lowered onto me like fog with no promise of dissipating. And when I was in the fog, I didn’t know how I was meant to function—not as a human, let alone within a relationship. I could hardly take care of myself; I hardly knew how to exist and I forgot if I’m even meant to exist.”
He moved in his seat and she had an urge to placate him with a reminder that she hadn’t had any thoughts of killing herself for ten years. Instead, she let him write some things down in his notebook.
“It sounds like you’re dealing with some existential thoughts.”
“Yeah—I, uh,” She was caught off guard and almost filled the air with drivel, like how she had a tattoo of Sisyphus on her arm, but no, he’d think she mentioned it because it was important to her and not just one of the others. No, he’d see it in the summer. “I’d kind of been thinking about that; why meaninglessness isn’t affecting me now the same way it did before.”
He nodded for her to go on.
“I was in high school, and to suffer from this and to be stuck in that world—weighted under all of that pretence and having to care about what others thought of me—it was unbearable. Now I at least have a place apart from them.”
“What is it about pulling away from people that makes it easier? Or, let me rephrase it,” he paused to think and she took the moment to glance at his desk in the corner of the room, thinking of all the times she’d imagined them fucking on it. “How does being perceived by people affect you when you’re in that state—so much that you’d rather be apart from them?”
“Um,” she filtered through his words, trying to piece them together within the context. “I don’t know if it’s solely about being in that state. I think I struggle with being perceived all of the time.”
He nodded, his eyes on his notepad. It wasn’t as if she wanted him to actually do it—not when she was in the room with him at least, but, for some reason, thoughts of it preoccupied her when she wasn’t. He flipped back a page. “We’ve talked about you masking in social situations. Does that provide you with relief?”
“I wouldn’t say they help, but I also don’t think I could ever not use one. It’s just that when I get home and get to lower my defences—to feel myself without it—it physically feels like I’ve been exposed to something. Not exposed as in exposed bare, but my body feels like its been exposed to a virus. Like it’s trying to expel the lies I told? The person I’d been pretending to be? I don’t know. The mask doesn’t protect me from being around people, not really. Sometimes I’ll even feel physically ill after, like I’m coming down with something. I don’t know why. But yeah, wearing a mask is like holding onto a life preserver that’s coated with some sort of poison. Either I drown if I don’t use it, or I live and have to spend time recovering. Or I guess just avoid social interaction altogether, like I do.”
“Would you ever let yourself be emotionally exposed—raw?”
“I do that here.” Admitting it did something to her perception of the room, like the hyperreality glitched for moment. She focused on the tissue box.
“And how do you feel afterwards?”
“I cry—not in a bad way. It’s more like crying in relief, or mourning.”
“But you wouldn’t consider being this honest with others?”
“What do you think would happen if you were? What’s the worst case scenario?”
“Being murdered; that’s an overreaction, but you can’t say that it hasn’t been true in all scenarios. Like Nazi Germany; if you don’t conform, you die.”
“It’s funny you mention that, it reminds me of something Jung said, I can’t remember exactly but I recently picked up one of his books again so I’m sure I’ll find it.”
“Oh, really?” They’d been talking about him in one of their previous sessions. She wondered if he did it to be close—no—reading Jung is in the job description.
“Yes, but anyway, do you have someone other than me that you can talk to like this?”
“My mother.” She wondered what he was thinking—what links he was making about the psychological ramifications of only trusting someone who had previously made her feel abandoned. If he asked her, she’d tell him that you can’t have trust like that without feelings of abandonment; the tie has to sever eventually because everyone has to feel that completely alone at some point—upon death, at the latest. Her mother had just done it early to prepare her.
“Well, that’s good.” He looked over to the clock next to her on the bookshelf and she followed his gaze—they had run over by thirty minutes. “And I think that has to be it for today.”
“Great.” She started gathering her scarf and her coat and wondered if her appointments were earlier in the day, if they’d still run long like he usually allowed them to. “Well, thank you.” She waited for him to move to his computer to find a time for their next appointment, but he didn’t. She feared they would stay in stasis forever—him in his chair and her sitting with her belongings in her arms.
“I didn’t want to tell you at the beginning of our session, but I have to go out of state for a while, around six months. During that time I’m continuing to see my clients over the phone, if you’d be comfortable with that?”
He knew that she hadn’t even been able to call him back when she’d missed his call to rebook an appointment—instead she had dug out his business card from her purse and replied with an email. “I—uh—”
“You don’t have to decide now. You have my contact details, and, if you choose not to, I’ll send you some names of other therapists I could refer you to.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
They moved finally, and he walked her back down the long, convoluted hallway to the front of the office. He usually continued the conversation on from where they’d left off and she usually gave him neutral replies in case anyone was listening. But this time they were silent.
“Have a good rest of your day.”
“You too,” she waved in reply and walked out into the cold, spring afternoon—alone.
Thank you for reading my short story. All of the art was drawn by me, so please do not redistribute it without my permission and proper attribution.