Brianna R Duffin
Every bone in my body ached with the knowledge that it was time. I was out of reasons not to do it and somehow more reasons to do it kept popping up like weeds. My heart screamed it was time every second of every day. I could focus on nothing else. The meds in my brain fought me every step of the way, but they’d chosen not to be effective all this time, so I refused to obey them now. Despite everything that was wrong with me, one thing was not. I was still in control of myself.
Well I guess that’s not necessarily true. My life was dominated by my “decisions” to actually attend my doctor’s appointments and cope with their consequences. For example, my medication schedule. I’ll spare you the details of my complex, hardcore drug regime and its painfully non-addictive components, but let’s just say I’d long ago lost track of how many pills I was “required” to pop daily. If not for the signed prescription forms, I’d be back in rehab, this time as a narcotic addict. I learned to swallow multiple pills per sip, but still needed a full glass of water to get them all down. Pills, pills, pills, repeat. It seemed nuts to me, but I was the crazy girl.
Then there was support group. The first one of the week was actually enjoyable; the leader didn’t care what we did as long it was legal and safe. He gorged himself at the brunch buffet- best part of my day- then took a nap on the settee in the corner. I think it was there for us “comrades in the battle for health” to practice trust exercises, relaxation and de-stress techniques, and opening up to each other in a comfortable environment. The actual group members ate what little food he generously left us, tossed what nobody wanted, and spent the remainder of the hour on our phones. It was a safe haven all right and it let me breathe in some form of inner peace, but only because it was not even close to what it was supposed to be. Rather, it was something I could use to help me.
My second support group, however, was just as miserable as anticipated. Not only did the outrageously nosy leader encourage us to share our deepest feelings, each member was required to open up at least twice per session. Then we had to keep standing while two other people gave in-depth responses to whatever we had shared. And, yes, responding was just as mandatory as being responded to. Naturally, we then had to answer the responses before we could sit back down and get back to our own thoughts. It was torturous for anyone who valued independent, private thought.
My final group of the day was downright hellish. I loathed every millisecond of the hour, but my doctors saw that as a clear sign it was achieving its purpose and nearing success. The group was busy and active. Kicking off the torturous proceedings, all shoes and socks were removed as well as outer layers of clothing. We then donned hideous chunks of metal from a rusty table cheaply decorated to mimic a treasure chest and gathered in a circle for the “trust, faith, and intimacy dance”. I’ll spare you the details of our “steps toward becoming a family” and just say it was painful in its awkwardness. We all had to dance one on one with every member of the group at least once, including some “solo spotlights twice. Furthermore, we were not allowed to speak to each other during this or go in the same order every time. It was awful and honestly I do not know how they thought something like that would do more good than harm. It was ridiculous and, prior to the 2030s, it was a practice that would never have been approved as a treatment option.
When we were finally allowed to keep our hands to ourselves, enjoy some personal space, and shed the excess pounds of metal, it was time for further humiliation. Everyone in the group turned their chairs so they had their backs to the circle, which at first I thought wouldn’t be too bad. Then, one by one, we had to turn ourselves around so we were pressing our chest against the back of the chair. It was then time to stare at the back of everyone’s heads as we unburdened our troubled souls by professing an intimate secret about ourselves. To put it simply, it was a scarring experience for all involved once we were getting down and dirty with our personal information. After the share, we turned around again to endure everyone’s responses and commentary.
Only then were we given access to the snack bar. Now don’t get your hopes up for a sweet little party table. Not at this group! Instead we were treated to a small bowl of nuts, some fruits, abundant vegetables artificially enriched with various vitamins, and a swimming pool of drooping brown leaves. Every so often, the “success story superstars” who willingly and actively participated as if it was helping could be sneaked a morsel of cheese. But it wasn’t that easy. If you decided you wanted this food, you were to stand up and wait. One by one they’d call us up to assemble a small plate. After that, the supervisors would record its contents for what we were told was a variety of reasons we were not privy to. This was recorded in an individualized food log and if your choices were approved, the supervisor handed your plate back with a few complementary lines of poetry he felt were appropriate. To the best of my knowledge he never got one of his troubled souls to agree with a choice, but we acted like we did so he’d dismiss us to go eat, which he would do once you nodded appreciatively and quoted a line back to him. However, he could also disapprove of your choices. In these cases, he could make you a whole new plate or simply send you back with nothing. The supervisor had full discretion over who ate and who didn’t at the end of that hour, which is sick if you ask me. But like I said, I was the crazy girl so my opinion wasn’t really worth listening to.
Meds, support group, doctor’s appointments, individual therapy- which was actually alright-, and family time made up my external world (I was banned from internet use for a period of four years while I recovered after my diagnosis last year). Internally- it was mostly the same as it had been before the intensive treatment began. But there was a new fear. The presidential election of 2040 had not gone well for people like me. The new leader of the free world was a strong advocate for incarceration with everyone deemed a danger to others placed in prison and everyone deemed dangerous to themselves placed in asylums. I was by no means free, but I wasn’t incarcerated either and a monkey in a suit was out to change that fact.
And that was why my heart told me it was time. I knew how I wanted to do it too. I was going to climb a mountain and never come back down and it would be beautiful in my eyes. As it should be. On a Thursday morning in April I left home to watch the sunrise on my way to the train station. My journey to peace had begun. On the train ride I was talkative with stories about a fictional aunt I was going to see for the first time in years. I delighted people with my lies even though I couldn’t force a smile. On the next leg of the journey I didn’t make a sound and went incognito just for balance. But finally I was right where I needed to be.
It was a small town with a lot of money coming in from tourism. It rested at the base of my mountain and lived quietly. Small business boomed, declared the mayor with pride, but huge companies with greedy corporate capitalists left it alone. I sensed a strong community life from all the ads for block parties, family barbecues, garage sales, church events, school fundraisers, everything. The locals were kind to for the most part and I received an escort the inn outside town where most climbers stayed if they arrived at an inopportune time. The antiquated place was cozy and multiple fires were going to keep it warm, but my soul was consumed by glacial ice as I sat around. There was no one for miles around who knew who I was or cared what I did. Also, my meds were wearing off and human emotion was quick to creep in as the wall against it did not receive its daily buildup and consequently began to crumble. On the verge of a mental breakdown, I hugged the pain close to me. I would release it on the mountaintop, far from potential fatalities.
And then I was outside, standing on my own as the winds chilled my face. I felt free in that moment as I stared up at the mountain. There was a dark knot coiled within me as well, knowing I was walking towards the end of my existence, and a torrential storm of pain let no breath go painless or uncaught. But I was at peace. My heart felt like it was not moving at all, but my mind was at peace. I was at peace. So I slowly put one foot, one foot, one foot up, up, up. Each movement produced a new round of tears from my eternal well- but it wasn’t eternal anymore. Nothing was. I climbed the mountain to its cold peak.
And there it was. The sun cracked a whip of soft fire over the horizon and the strings of a billion ballet slippers streamed out to herald its arrival. The sky was baby blue, pure and blissfully far from human touch. Not for the first time I began crying, but the tears washed me anew as I stood there and sank. I could feel the burdensome weight of each diamond as it whispered its way down my cheek and slithered down my neck. It was a snake that choked me but was a comforting friend and, after all, was the only companion I had available to me. I had sank all the way by the time that first snake took his leave. Or was it life, I thought as I watched the second jump to the snow and become absorbed back into nature, never to be caught or seen again. Silvery snakes, more honest than I could ever know, kept coming as I desperately clutched at the ice particles. It hit me that I was chasing diamonds, just like men of old times. I breathed in deeply with each breath rushed, as if I was high. I had just been born from the ashes of a billion catastrophes and missteps and I was desperate to take in “alive”, as they called it. Mother Earth slipped a tentacle into my brain and a hand was laid over my war wounds. It was supposed to be a like a bandaid on a bullet hole, but it nestled inside of the deep valleys and began to bring healing. My heart was scorched earth and it finally had a gifted gardener. I breathed in deeply. And then I was sobbing, just letting go and releasing tears by the second. I had no sense of time; everything that existed was measured in tears. My one way of glistening. It was then that I knew: I was ready for whatever came next. The tears stopped and I breathed deep, afraid to open my eyes. I stepped forward- from one life to another, my slate wiped.