We walk down the dark road under the cover of trees, like something out of a fairytale once the lights go down. I hold the Walgreens bought flashlight out in front of us and swing the beam back and forth to ward off animals. And people. I can’t decide which would be worse, running into an animal in the middle of the woods or running into a person. I come to the conclusion that either would be terrifying, and then wonder why I didn’t just stay in the tent. But E wants to see the stars.
“You can’t see them in the city,” she tells me as we emerge from the tree cover into an open area that is the junction of several different roads. “It’s nice to just look.”
We both crane our necks so that our faces are parallel to the sky. “That one’s the…” I pause, uncertain. “It’s one of the dippers, anyway.” It has been years since I had an astrology course.
“Which one’s the North Star?” E spins around in a circle, her face still pointed at the sky. She points at one. “I bet it’s that one.”
“That might be a plane,” I respond.
“Or a UFO.”
We are quiet, both of us observing the beauty that isn’t visible in the city limits.
“I love this stuff.” E breaks the silence.
“I took a class in this a couple semesters ago. Did you know that the light from stars takes so long to reach us that the original star is dead by the time we see it?”
I did know that. Everything dies.
I am sitting on a table. It’s cold. The gown they made me put on does not in any way fully cover me, and I fight the urge to bury myself under the disposable blanket that covers the table. It isn’t meant to cover me. It’s meant to separate me from germs. Rational me knows that, but irrational me just wants to dig a hole to China. I could. Dig. But I don’t. I stay, because that is what I am supposed to do.
I always do what I am supposed to do.
I wish that someone had written a guidebook for this situation, a narrative that I could read and follow to the letter. But there are no letters or tricks or people who have went before, because I am alone. I want it that way. I do. I really do.
I keep telling myself that. But the truth is, I wish someone was there. I wish someone understood. Anyone.
“I could call someone. Is there…someone?” the doctor asks.
Drowning: the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion or immersion in a liquid substance. I am drowning in this and I don’t know what to do.
I remember the conversations from the day it happened in a strange hazy detail, like I am watching them on television at the same time as reading a book. Like they happened to someone else. It couldn’t have been me. Not me.
I shake my head no. The person I came with doesn’t need to be here. No one needs to see me like this. I lay back and the doctor begins the exam, pokes around. I close my eyes.
When I was younger, I believed that marriage was forever. I believed that I would marry this awesome guy, buy a house with a picket fence, have at least three kids, and live happily ever after. The “perfect” life. What I didn’t realize then is that happily ever after is different for everyone. Life is not always a fairytale. The “perfect” picture isn’t necessarily the ideal it appears to be. Allowances must be made.
I didn’t realize I’d spoken out loud until I opened my eyes and realized the doctor was staring at me. “Are you okay?”
Fantastic, I think. But I say nothing out loud. The doctor continues. There is a poster on the ceiling, a picture of a line of cowboys, all with tight jeans and cowboy hats. And no shirt. They have tight abs and awesome hair and their eyes seem to stare down at me. I am struck by the irony of it, by the men staring down at me in the place that I am now. Exposed.
I would rather I die.
I see stars.
My life is a series of flashes.
Of him. Of babies. Cribs.
I picture the hat. A swirly white kaleidoscope of everything baby. It echoes, bangs inside my head. And all I can think is how sorry I am. It all twists and turns and echoes inside of my head and I can’t make it stop.
So sorry. So, so sorry.
I cannot be this person. This person cannot be me. Please. No.
I am expected to put on real clothes. The nurse asks if I want help and I nod, but I’m not sure if I do. I’m not fully aware of what’s happening. They need me to stand up to put my pants on, so I do. The lack of awareness inside me morphs into full blown numbness that morphs into a shattering pain when my feet hit the ground. Ten million knives stab my insides and my heart. They have to put my pants on for me. I would much rather fold.
There are instructions, prescriptions, notes, talking. So much talking when all I want in the world is to sleep. Forever.
I am brought home. I let myself out of the car, refusing help. I am numb, medicated, deeply heavy. I don’t want anyone. Not now. I take the stairs one at a time, hauling myself by the railing. I’m dimly worried I will fall, but I don’t. I make it. I collapse on the bed.
I won’t remember any of this until much later. Until I come back out. Until I see the light.
The light that is shining right now, the light we see? It’s an old story.