The day had dawned gloriously; bright and full of hope. A breathless troupe had huddled over her slippery, squirming, screaming form. She, too, had been perfect. So much potential and promise. There was nothing she could not reach for, achieve, contribute. At least this was the message that now echoed in the remote chambers of her active mind.
Nothing indeed! She had been presented with a combination of nurture and demand, a plethora of opportunities, experiences, mentors, coaches and professors! She was destined to flourish! Be a success. Eclipse the ordinary.
Valiantly she had complied; exerted herself; risen higher than any of them had dared dream. Her reputation as a relentless debater, along with her skilled interpretation of securities law had brought exclusive opportunities and unsolicited attention.
Every day she had forged ahead, focused and driven, unaware of envious glances and muted voices, which either predicted her next success, or lay in wait for any sign of misstep. At night she would collapse into her threadbare, musty army-green couch, unable to comprehend the unrest within her. Without pulling the chain to illumine the lone bulb under the lopsided lampshade, she had sat in growing gloom, legs folded beneath her. She had done this every night, at midnight!
“What drives you? What serves as your inspiration?” Had anyone ever questioned her incessant push towards excellence, she would’ve had no response. She had no idea what energized her. She knew she had a fortunate blend of intellect, attractive athleticism, advantaged connection and confidence.
And she had memories. Memories that were continually being resuscitated with an endless display of awards, degrees, file folders stuffed with articles which had appeared in prestigious professional journals, and pictures taken with the influential.
While memories nourish some, they debilitate others. But her memories more resembled rivulets, which had carved rugged canyons into her soul. They had created narrow paths with steep, impenetrable walls on either side. There were no forks in the road, no trails that beckoned into obscured intrigue, not even markers that indicated miles traveled or distances to future destinations, such as she had come to rely on when she still hiked. Nothing. Just the present; having never owned her past and without vision for the future.
She had shifted – her knees drawn to her chin, arms securely clasped over calves, eyes wet with tears. It was unclear for how long or for what reason she had not moved.
She had remained unresponsive in a secluded cabin retreat, surrounded by anxious faces, voices which battered her with invasive questions, involuntarily ingesting handfuls of prescribed medications multiple times daily. Day after dismal day had served only to further secure her suffocation. Impatience and blame from those around her had replaced fear and concern
One day her place was vacant, her belongings deserted. She vanished without a trace.
She left no clue as to her whereabouts and submerged herself in the colors, smells, textures, tastes and sounds of another life. Another world. There was no need to speak – to explain, to justify, to rationalize, to win. There was only space without the measured passage of time. Smiles and simple gifts enfolded her beleaguered person. Salve which was neither tangible nor applied massaged every part of her being.
She would later be able to point to the exact moment in which radiance dawned. Her steps had taken her over a seldom traveled, dusty path, behind hovels and amidst soggy vines covered with insects. Their eyes had met as one bent over the other. Instant recognition, not of outward identity, but of kindred spirit. The tall woman had lifted the bundle out of the tangled shroud of weeds and held it to her beating breast. Time, love and laughter, music and dancing knit the two together. Unlikely and inseparable. Words were born to replace the rigid, lifeless utterances that had once served to entrap her; colors exploded as they created vibrant meaning; community consisted not of competition or conquest, but of kindness and compassion. Two entirely new lives emerged, inextricably linked, yet fiercely independent. It was a dance of the divine in solidarity with those abandoned; discarded.
Together they eventually emerged on what now seemed foreign terrain; disbelief descended from everywhere with brutal force. It nearly absorbed her companion, but since she still recognized the turbulence and cacophony of this former life, she intervened swiftly. There was no welcome, not even relief. Disapproval, disregard and disdain began to join an already rushing stream of consciousness, which had thundered through her years like a freight train in a narrow mountain pass. Earlier her psyche had buckled under this force; now it was unshakable.
She had found her marker, a beacon, a guidepost which had led her out of the torturous cavern and brought her to a magnificent outlook from which she could witness not only this deadly serpent winding its way through unsuspecting, tormented lives, but the brilliant splash of color, which opened her heart again and again. Without further word, they turned, melting into the oranges and fuchsias of the sun that was setting on the land.
© Julia Penner-Zook, 2016
photo credits: Tyssul Patel, Dương Trần Quốc, Matthew Wiebe and Carolinie Cavalli via unsplash.com (in order of usage)