It’s midnight. The orange glow on my clock perched atop the wobbly nightstand says so. My clothes are soaked and the imaginary but real King Kong sized hole in my chest starts to ache as the cloudiness of restless sleep fades and consciousness prevails. I try to remember what day and year it is…I’m not crazy, not by a long shot but I am…heartbroken. Yes, heartbroken is the politically polite way to describe the indescribable wretched physical pain that daily, hour by hour, second by second, renders me weak and helpless and pathetic. I’m not a natural born masochist; I don’t get some quirky thrill of feeling such intense pain. But a lifetime of pain and childhood trauma sort of trains you for the superbowl, the greatest height of pain that is humanly possibly…a broken heart. By someone you love, you trust, someone you allowed to see every piece of you, beautiful and destructive…and that said person chose to disappear, walk away right out of your life as if they never existed. As I feel my breathing become shallow and difficult, I make myself sit up in the darkness, eyes closed and force my lungs to take slow but steady air in, I don’t recall where I last sat my inhaler down and I don’t want to move for fearing of the noise decimal rising, awaking the others. When I hear the inner workings of my lungs doing their job, I lie back down and listen for movement around the house. You see, I’m not exactly alone, I mean there are people who live and dwell in the same sphere as I do but I am alone in the sense it feels like no one on this planet remotely understands the darkness that corrodes my insides, forcing me to breathe in the very essence of despair. I call the darkness “the abyss,” and a smile creeps up on my face as I savor in my deepest secret. Am I being a tad bit dramatic? I think. Nah, maybe I am a bit of a masochist but I was never one to be labeled a drama queen. Listening to the soft rhythmic tone of my ceiling fan, I force my eyelids to stay shut like there’s invisible superglue binding them together. If I open my eyes, then I will be conscious which will lead to a swim in the abyss. Not now, I think. I’m too exhausted physically from the day of chasing around my dementia ridden grandmother, Ina or Grammy as I affectionately called her as a child. I have neither the strength nor courage needed to be in any state of awareness. Yet in my silent fight, I feel the familiar illusion net slowly spread over my face like a large spider. Breathe, I command myself, just breathe. Thoughts began swirling around my head at the speed of light and the invisible yet visible lid of the abyss is closing in on me. I fling my pretty brown eyes and wait for the tears. Tears I know are never coming. Cry, I demand. Cry, you will feel better, you’ll… feel. And you want more than anything to feel like a person once again. I wait. The sound of the fan and my heartbeat appear to have joined together to form some sort of eerie musical death key. But alas, there are no tears allowed to flow in the abyss. Wait, I think, I’m already in the abyss? I wait. I feel absolutely nothing. I let out a long sigh. Of course I am, I silently say, after all I am its prisoner AND guard. I shift my thoughts back to the healing flow of tears…such a beautiful human emotion for an incorrigible soul. I feel nothing, as the abyss is in its perfect working order shielding me from feeling. Concentrating, I try to remember when it all fell apart for me. I want no need to feel the stabbing pains in my chest. Ahhhh, yes…there it is. 15,552,000 seconds. 259,200 minutes. 4,320 hours. 180 days. 6 months ago. It was the last time I felt…alive, vibrant, like a person with purpose and a life to live. I refer to that time as “pre-extinction,” an idealistic time, when I was free to be the young, artistic soul of 27 years of age. A bit of an optimist even. “Pre-extinction” consists of endless possibilities and most importantly, the ever delightful happy ending. I allow the weight of the darkness close my eyes. And laminate on who I used to be, not the faux representative of a successful woman I see when I look into the mirror. When I was, if I had to describe in one word, satisfied. Before I lost almost every worldly possession owned. Before being forced to move back in with my aging parents to help care for Grammy. Before the depression, the job loss, the suicidal Sylvia Plath destructive mood swings. Before the blues became the soundtrack to my every move. Am I overly dramatizing some events that appear to have changed the structure of my DNA? Maybe. But being that I have become a stranger to my own self renders me unable to answer that burning question.
# “Help me! Help me! Help me!” Screams awaken me. Startled at first, I recognize the voice, and immediately swing out of bed in one swift motion. “She’s trying to kill me! She’s trying to kill me! She’s trying to kill me!” A croak of a voice is repeatedly yelling. Standing in my Gram’s doorway, I catch a glimpse of her naked sagging flesh in the corner near the bed, where she has taken refuge, in the fetal position. My mother, not even a foot away from her, is speaking in a hushed reassuring tone. “Ina, please. It’s so cold in here; please put your clothes back on. Please.” The weariness in my mother’s voice is palpable and until a few months ago, I never understood it or even gave it a second thought. A tidal wave of sadness floods my body. “Get away from me!” Gram screams. She attempts to disappear further into the wall. “I hate you, you evil woman, you’re trying to poison me!” My mother opens her mouth to speak but judging by her surrendering posture, retreating is what she is thinking, plus I assume she has heard me come to the rescue. I step in quickly next to her. Fixing my gaze on my diseased minded grandmother, I say nothing until her breathing becomes normalized and she looks directly back at me. Lightness touches the corner of her eyes. I smile. Good, I think, she recognizes my face. “Emmy,” Gram says, “what are you doing here?” “Hi Grammy!” I say as I consciously raise my voice a few octaves. “Aren’t you cold? It’s freezing in here!” I exclaim as playful and lightly as possible. My mother starts to back away, leaving us alone. For the last few weeks, Gram has only recognized me, except not my grown woman self but rather my precocious ten year old self, hence her calling out my childhood nickname she bestowed upon me. Gram shivers a bit when she understands there is nothing between her and the cold wooden floor. I sit on the bed, patting it lightly to motion Gram over. After a few seconds of indecisiveness, she obliges and crawls on all fours towards me and hops on the bed. I start to dress her. She curls up against me laughing playfully. “Emmy, do you want to go pick blueberries today?” Gram asks. I stare into her eyes, searching for something. Something comforting. I want to scream selfishly I need you! but I bite down hard on my tongue and keep my mouth shut. Gram stares back at me, she won’t move or let me finish dressing her until I look back at her. Our eyes meet and for a second, just an iota of a second, I feel warmth between us. But I see nothing else but emptiness in her violet blue eyes. I force myself to smile and continue dressing her as she rambles on about blueberries, summertime, and homemade ice cream in the backyard. She clearly is having an entertaining conversation all by her lonesome self, and is thoroughly enjoying it. After I finish dressing her, I try to study her mood. Gram’s mood will determine the entire day for us. It will determine if I can leave the house, if my mother, who she goes between the boundaries of love and loathing, will be able to come near her. Gram’s mood is the temperament at which everything in our little world is measured, so it’s important that I know what we are dealing with today. Judging by the just had conversation, she may not be too difficult today. Good, I think, I am exhausted. And it’s not just a physical tiredness. I have been emotionally, mentally, spiritually raped for the last six months. Sleep deprived. A walking zombie. I don’t know how much more I can take. Yet I am unable to shake the responsibility, the obligation to my parents and grandmother. A depleted robot trying her best to care about and for loved ones all while running on fumes. While being consumed completely in the saga that is my life, Gram decided to lie down and promptly fell back asleep. Ding, ding, ding! Jackpot! I lift myself quietly off the bed, cover her with a heavy wool blanket, kiss her forehead and creep out of den of craziness.
#Alone in our shared bathroom upstairs, I start the tedious routine of my day purposely avoiding my reflection in the mirror. I wonder, I contemplate, how long has it been since I’ve looked at myself? At that moment an ache so deep escapes out of its confinement. Shaking uncontrollably, lips quivering, I brace myself against the sink in the bathroom praying this doesn’t last long. Don’t think his name…don’t think his name…don’t think his name. The image of a beautiful boy looking man is right in front of me. The soft brown eyes. Curly, always untidy hair. Dimples set so deep I would often dig my fingers in them. A smile so dazzling, my world was set ablaze by it. Stop it Emerald! You can’t afford to remember! Stop it now! My brain is commanding, in charge, strong and trying its best to regain control of the situation. But my heart…it has a different agenda, it wants to remember, it yearns to remember…his scent, his touch, his arms. Oh boy, I think as I slide down to the floor. The imaginary King Kong sized hole in my chest is gaping and hemorrhaging profusely as I am powerless to stop it. There is nothing I can do at this point but let the intense throbbing subside on its own. That could be minutes…or hours…or days. I’m praying it’s the first because I hear heavy footsteps approaching. I already know who said steps belong to and judging by its speed, he isn’t feeling well and he needs me. Get it together girl! You can’t let him come in here and see you like this! My parents, like most parents, have no clue about the extent of my sorrow. And like most parents and elders they believe the old adage of ‘Time heals all wounds’ has applied to my situation. But at the ripe old young age of 27, I’ve come to understand older folks’ wisdom doesn’t always apply and just because someone has more life experience doesn’t mean they are always right. Give it time, they said, you’ll see. You’ll start to feel like yourself again. You’ll forget all about him and then you’ll meet someone new. Just pray about it and leave everything in God’s hands. When all of this nonsensical advice was being involuntarily thrown at me, I wanted so desperately to revert back to my two year self and have my very own temper tantrum. But like always, I was a “good girl,” nodded my head, went to church, forced myself to smile and function, reassuring my parents I was going to be ok. And then at night, when I was alone, I allowed the darkness and despair to swallow me whole. Tap, tap, tap. Three rapid knocks on the bathroom door. “Emmy bear?” My name sake called. “That you in there?” Silence. His concern is seeping through the door. Answer him. “Yes daddy, it’s me.” I call out. “You ok?” he says. Curses. The first love of my life knows me too well, I’m betting he can hear the hollow tone in my voice. Besides, it’s past breakfast time and I need to prepare food so both parents can take their daily doses of medicine. I quickly fill my mouth with toothpaste and began meticulously brushing my teeth. “I’m fine, I’ll be down in a minute,” I spit out with a mouth full. “Ok,” he says but doesn’t budge an inch. I know what he’s doing, he’s waiting to see my eyes. My father and I share a special bond, we can always tell exactly what was going on with each other just by gazing into the windows of our souls. I catch a glimpse of only my eyes before I open the door. Good. Lifeless as always.
#Angered, I hurl the paintbrushes out of my hands into the wall. I’ve been sitting here for two hours staring a blank canvas. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Opportunities like this one do not come along often. I’m angry because I cannot seem to take advantage of some good ol’fashioned me time. What’s wrong with me? Why am I staring off into space? But the truth is…I know the truth, I know the reason why my paintbrush hasn’t touched paint or a canvas in almost 7 months. When he disappeared, I feel like every single ounce of my creativity, a craft I had been honing since the age of three, disappeared with him. I hate him. Hate him. Hate what I’ve allowed myself to become because of him. I try to remember what it feels like when I’m painting, creating, opening my imagination. I used to love this so much, the smell of paint, the endless possibility of a fresh new canvas. The excitement I felt mixing colors; sometimes I would mix and mix for days before I achieved the right color! The freedom I felt when I allowed myself to create from a place of authenticity. The hunger, the restlessness that would overtake me if I hadn’t done anything in a few days. Creating was the essence of my soul. I was incredibly proud to sign my name to every piece of work and even more elated when my creations starting selling. How alive I was! Now look at me, nothingness has seeped into every cell of my body and rendered me utterly unproductive. I hate him! I look around at my settings; the stuffy ancient garage…old…rusted…with its useless piles of junk no longer thought about, missed or loved. It is the perfect metaphor to represent who I am. Once beloved paintings now crammed into tight spaces, torn and ripped and has lost value. Yes, yes that is definitely me. I am the aftermath of a hurricane on the inside just like this stinky garage. Flashes of anger color my pale skin. This isn’t supposed to be how my story ends, in some catatonic existence, no, I’m supposed to have a happy ending! I did everything right, everything! I’m no longer seated as I’ve began to circle around the tiny garage. I pick up a pair of my father’s large yard cutters. Just the thought of losing forever my creativity brings the flashes of anger to a low grade simmer. I’m starting to feel…intoxicated? Yes, intoxication is coursing through my body and it feels right. Because I was never allowed to get or be angry as a child which spilled over inexplicitly into adulthood and now I live with the consequences. That low grade simmer? It is becoming a slow raging boil. I began destroying my work, my paintings, those distinct representations of myself. The more I cut and rip and tear, the more the rage boils, the more intoxicating the freedom becomes. All 5’4 of me is roaring through the garage like a tornado, unhinging every piece of work ever created by me into tiny shreds of nothing. As though I ever existed. Hot burning sweat is drenching down my face causing my vision to blur but I no longer care. This goes on for minutes, I only pause because I’m covered in paint and bits of canvas and there is a strange sound in here. I’m not alone. A low moaning is echoing, bouncing off of the walls in here. It sounds like…a wounded animal? I frantically search the garage except I can’t see well because I’ve worked myself up into some unnatural frenzy. Why is my sweat burning me? I think. The sound is close to me and I start to fearfully turn in circles searching, depending on my other senses to find the culprit…what is going on? Is this what is feels like to go completely insane? Unable to stand the suspense any longer, I yell out, “Who’s there?!” And at that precise moment the moaning wounded animal noise escapes my lips. Stunned, I fall onto the wet cold floor. Oh, it’s me, I’m the wounded animal. Sanity sets in. I then realize it isn’t sweat burning my face, but a torrential tidal wave of real human tears spilling uncontrollably from my eyes. I sob and sob and sob, sprawled and limp on the floor of my parents’ garage. Covered in paint, I cry for the little lost girl trapped inside of the grown woman who can’t seem to understanding the disappearing act of Jacques Ellison Hayes. I cry for love lost, never gained, never quite grasped or held on to for any length of time. I cry for false promises, child-like naivety and fake fairy tale endings. I cry for the artist in me, no longer able to tap into the magical realm of creativity, fearing I’ll never again be admitted to the land of inspiration. I sob for the days and nights filled with the darkness, the abyss, despair and emptiness. I sob for the King Kong sized hole in my chest, terrified of the notion that it is irreparable. I cry for all of the negative, death producing thoughts, emotions and feelings that seems to have disintegrated my soul to ashes plunging me down the road to hell, feeling powerless to stop it. I cry for my parents, aging, sickly and withering away like day old flowers knowing eventually I will have to sadly discard. I cry for my Grammy, once so beautiful and full of joy, now full of anguish and confusion all of the time. I sob for the goodbyes I’m not ready to acknowledge, prepared for or desire to give. I lie and let the human woman, once thought of as eternally dead and buried, slowly emerge from the ashes of what once was nothing more than a shell. Somewhere between the gates of hell and earthly dwellence I fall into a deep coma-like sleep. Unsure of how many hours have passed, I am awakened by deep breathing and heavy sighing from a figure next to me. This time I know someone else is present. I open my eyes and let them adjust to total darkness. My throat is parched, eyelids are heavy and my body is weak from the physical and emotionally purge. “Emmy Bear?” A smidge of a smile runs across my lips. Daddy. He always knows. Judging by how close his voice is, he is sitting with me on the floor which is certainly no small feat on his part. The disease of MS has invaded his body the last four years has made even the most menial of tasks extremely difficult for him. “Hi Daddy,” I manage to croak out. “I got a little worried about you,” he says. “You ok?” I cannot contain the smile now, it has made its way across my lips and my face. I pause before answering him because I don’t want to dish out the normal pretenses. “I’m…ok, I mean I think, for the first time in a long time, I’m going to be…ok.” I allow my words to sink into my soul. Do you hear that wicked darkness? I am going to be ok. I survived your best shot, the most heinous array of bullets fired at me. I’m going to be ok! Silence. Beautiful colored silence between my first love and I. My father clears his throat. “Good, Emmy Bear, I’ve been worried for awhile now. I’m going back into the house, will you stop by room before you go upstairs?” I stand up to help my father rise off of the floor. He tenderly kisses my forehead. “Sure Daddy, anything else you need?” I ask. He shakes his head, gives me a squeeze and his famous crooked smile and wobbles out of the garage.
#Standing alone in my parents’ bathroom in front of the mirror, I repeat my new found mantra…I am fine, I will be fine before attempting to stare at my reflection full on. What I see just tickles me pink! I am a walking canvas as paint has dried and covered my entire body. I feel like an Amazon woman warrior, ready to take on any enemy. I hear the sweet sound of my own laughter and I cherish it knowing it didn’t get swallowed up whole by the abyss. After trying out several warrior poses in the mirror, I shower and change. I’m starving. When I step out of the bathroom, clean and presentable, my father, sitting in his chair, looks up at me and smiles again. I love that smile. “Sit for a minute, honey?” my father asks. “Sure Daddy,” I answer. I scoot next to him and rest my weary head on his shoulder. We stay in that position for twenty minutes watching Wheel of Fortune. It is the most peaceful and relaxed I have felt in almost a year. I savor the moment, feeling everything, tucking it all away in my memory bank. My father interrupts the sweet silence. “Emmy Bear, I have something for you but I don’t know if I should give it to you.” Fear laced his words. I get nervous. “Daddy, whatever it is, I will handle it, I can handle,” I say in my best reassured voice. My father lets out a heavy sigh and pulls an envelope from behind him. “It’s been here for awhile but I was afraid to give it to you but when I heard you crying earlier and then laughing I felt it was time.” My father bore his dark eyes into mine. “I love you Emmy Bear, you are my heart and I wish I could have protected you from all of the bad things but life is made up of good and bad. Sometimes it seems it’s more bad than good but you’re tough like me, you can handle it.” Shaking I take the mystery envelope out of his hand. “Good night, Daddy. I love you too and I’ll see you in the morning.” My heart is racing but I don’t look down at the envelope until I am upstairs alone. Behind the closed door, I toss the letter onto the bed and pace nervously for a few minutes. Stop being dramatic Emerson and just open it. Whatever it is, it certainly can’t be as bad as heartbreak. I sit on the bed and for the first time look at what my father had been keeping from me. It’s a letter addressed to me except I don’t recognize the handwriting. That’s strange, I think. No one really knows I’ve moved back home, who would be sending me mail here? I flip to the backside of the thick letter and see the gold stamped emblem I know all too well. His initials, JEH. The letter slips out of my hand, falls to the floor as I scurry into the corner of the room. Curled up against the wall in the fetal position, I feel the lid of the abyss slowly swallowing me whole again.