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Breath & Shadow

Spring 2009 - Vol. 6, Issue 2


written by

Ilana Jacqueline

I am not on fire. Not on fire. I have to convince myself not to let my arms jerk open to swing where they might catch the air. Every part of me wants to, every part of me hurts. Every singular molecule of my being is radiating with misery. I used to be proud that I did this every day. That I let myself breathe in and out the intolerable--but always shockingly bearable crushing of physical hurt and that panicked starvation for relief. It was never coming, and the pain was undoubtedly never ending. But it had ended--and if not ended had at least become livable-- manageable and beautifully noiseless in its daily existence in my life. For months I've been just fine. For months I haven't....But today I am flayed and raw and choking back angry tears and bent almost in half as I march across the back lot to my car. I walk out of that building, crunching invisible metal bars in each fist and dropping the phantom iron to the grass every few feet. 


It's her voice in the back of my head screaming that I should be grateful. Her voice warns I should be patient, that I should tough it up--because she too knows what it's like and she too gets up every morning and lives her life despite it.


I jerk my car door open, throw my shit into the passenger seat and reach through a mess of cables to find my iPod. My hands are shaking so much I can't turn it on--I throw it into the passenger seat as well and crank my car into reverse. Out, in, I breathe. Even the air feels wrong in my mouth and I can't keep it in, it's just more suffocating. My eyes stare at lights that my brain can't comprehend. Red is stop--I remind myself. Green is go. I stop. I go. I turn right twice. I weigh two tons less than this machine-- but my body is not as easy to maneuver. There are too many controls, too many instincts, too many lights flashing in unison. There are lights that no one's ever seen before. How am I supposed to explain these tangerine street signs? I park haphazardly and nearly take out a trash can. I am blind when I pull out the keys, blind when I grab my bag, blind when I open the door--turn off the alarm--take the stairs...I'm still not me yet. I'm still in the wait. I lay on my stomach, my feet up by my hips and my face ground in to the carpet. My teeth chatter uselessly, my heart is beyond the beat--it's dead in there, waiting for the rest of me to follow. Only I do not follow. Cannot follow. The red light is too fast for my liking. It palpitates teasingly. It's green again. I roll onto my back, taking in the breath. My throat is hoarse with trying. And that's when I am angry. NO, I want to scream, you don't get to relapse. You don't GET to go back to this crap again. You nip this--you end it. And the dog is barking, and I am crying, and the fan is blowing papers, and I am pulling myself up from the base of my bed, towels bash the innards of the dryer from the laundry room, and I am wrapping burnt arms around burnt knees. Yellow slams itself into me. Slow down, it warns, slow down. Shamefacedly scalded, my lips fall to a close. My hands unclench from where they've begun to grow in on themselves. The pain does not recede, but neither does it increase. It just stays where it's been and I try to think of how to put it on the backburner so it doesn't boil over again. I know things now. I know that there will be good days, there will be bad days, and some days you'll feel like you've fallen completely off the bandwagon but you won't ever go back to being that girl. You won't ever be afraid to leave this room again.


"The world has been receptive," I try-- feeling very much like I'm mollifying a stubborn child. "The world has been kind."


And I try to think of all the things I have done that might acidify a tunnel through the thick, smothering clouds of shame that are curling in on me, clogging up these hopeful pores and weighing down my logic.


There is a bursting of mantras erupting in my brain, words fall over words---Things I say when the pain is too much, when the panic is hemorrhaging from my brain--Wise things like, "This too shall pass," silly things like the Pledge of Allegiance, wishes, prayers, promises.


Oh I've made a thousand promises. Every one I've tried to keep. Some promises are unkeepable-- There are just some things in life that are uncontrollable, aren't there?


Wait. This has brought me back. Back to where I was before I ever woke up this morning, back before I crushed those iron bars and sweated them to melt-There is nothing uncontrollable. There is no light I can't dim, no body I can't manipulate, no panic I can't pacify. Red is stop. Green is go. Yellow is slow down.

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