It always seems darkest before you descend into the abyss.
Once inside the void, there’s darkness, you’ve never experienced before.
It always seems darkest before you descend into the abyss.
Once inside the void, there’s darkness, you’ve never experienced before.
When things begin to deteriorate it sometimes strikes swiftly and with a fierceness of a single white dazzling electric thunderstorm bolt. But sometimes it also moves like red lava that slowly seeps down from the mountain, creeping towards everything you love devouring grass and trees in its path until it swallows your home. And there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Miles away with hands clasped over your mouth, and tears in your eyes, you watch as everything that belonged to you is swallowed up by the lava.
“How many times did she ask you that?” Brett asks while his fingers tug on the Budweiser label. It shreds a little more and another part of the label falls to the counter.
“Man, it was only a couple of times. But it was like she didn’t believe a word I said: like I was building a different life behind her back while she was at home making mac n’ cheese for Brianna and David.” My fingers slide down the cold Labatt Blue bottle as I shake my head. Tina Turner’s, What’s Love Got To Do With It, plays in the background of Jackson’s.
This bar, Jackson’s, is a dingy joint with dark lighting. The women here walk by us with dresses too short, and wear pants and shirts that are too tight. My eyes casually pass over a blonde woman as she walks past us wearing a black dress and stilettos.
My thumb pokes at the label of the bottle. I’ve been fighting this fight for a decade. I’m sick of it.
“Maybe you should buy her some flowers, or something? Make sure she feels appreciated for the stuff she does. Puts up with your belly-aching and all?” Brett says as he throws his head back and takes another slug of his beer hiding his smile.
“Who are you, Dr. Phil?” I snicker at Brett. I swivel around on my bar stool adding in, “and, who’s side are you on anyways?” I ask as I peer over at my best friend. I’ve known him since eighth grade when we went to school together and played hockey. We lost contact for a couple of years when he went off to College. But now he’s back. Brett was also the best man at my wedding. I’ve had lots of good times with him. I can tell him almost anything.
My phone buzzes. I flip it over from the bar counter.
The text reads:
Kaitlyn: Where are you?
“Look,” I say while shaking my head. “I can’t even go out for a drink with a friend before the warden’s checking in on me.”
Brett’s eyes quickly pass over the text message. He half nods in my direction when he finishes reading the message.
“Well,” he says standing up, “I’ve got to get home. Jessica needs me home by 8:30 to watch the kids. It’s her book club night.”
I snort at him saying, “What the hell, man? Who’s in charge of your relationship?” My mouth twitches into a half smile.
He looks past me, smiles, and says, “Make no mistake. It’s her.”
“Fine,” I say as I pull out two twenty bills and shout at Mike, “hey, is that enough?”
Mike moves towards us, flicks his eyes over the money, and says, “Yeah. That’s good. Want change?”
“Nope, we’re good.”
Brett and I walk out the door together and I pull out the package of cigarettes in the pocket of my jacket and light a smoke. While holding the cigarette between my lips I mumble, “Want one?”
“Nope,” Brett says with a wave of his hand. “I’m trying to quit.”
My phone buzzes again. “Who’s that now?” My cheeks twitch in response to the annoyance. I wave my hand at Brett that holds the cigarette and say, “Go ahead! It’s probably Kaitlyn again.”
Brett gives a laugh, nods and says, “Okay, we’ll see you later.” Then he turns and runs through the snow to his car.
My phone shows this:
457-892-3675: Are you coming over tonight?
I type: Yeah. Leaving Jackson’s now. Be there in 10 minutes.
My fingers punch at the keys. After I’ve sent the message I delete both of them. Then I take a slow drag on my cigarette.
I’ll be honest with you. I sometimes get discouraged by this “writing thing”. I often second guess my abilities wondering if writing those manuscripts (there’s one that’s complete, and another I still need to rewrite) was worth it. Through weepy, sleep-deprived, blurry-eyed vision, and heart palpitations followed by anxious sweats, I wonder at least ten times a day, will it all be for nothing?
The answer is this: I still don’t know.
Why do it then? Why struggle? Why fight? When there are no guarantees of a rainbow at the end of the road.
Stories consist of struggle: struggle between other people, within a person’s mind, or with nature. I enjoy reading stories with a triumphant end, where everything is neatly resolved wrapped up with a pretty red bow. Don’t get me wrong, the ending matters. But when I read novels what makes them intriguing, interesting, and will keep me flipping the pages is the challenge the hero/heroine must overcome. Whether it is Superman versus Lex Luthor, or a waitress wanting something more but plagued by debilitating self-doubt, I want to see them overcome the challenge that is pummeling them into the ground. (Again – whether this is literally Lex, or just a relentless internal negative voice, I want them to win.)
Without it? Without the challenge?
Why would I flip those pages?
It’s the climb towards something greater that makes the story worth it, not simply the ending. Sure, there’s always a chance the hero/heroine while reaching up will place a foot on an unstable rock and will slip backwards falling hundreds of feet. It might be heartbreaking to read, to envision it – to feel it. As a reader, I will find myself frantically skimming the pages while shaking my head in awe the hero/heroine doesn’t quit. Because with each step forward it’s a win, and with each fall backwards it’s a loss. It’s the struggle that makes a good story – whether it lies in fiction, or in reality.
I don’t know how this writing thing will all end, and if I’ll ever reach the top of the mountain. All I know is this: along the way I’ve already seen pine trees that cling to the side of the mountain, with blue rivers and streams that cut along the rocky base, while birds soar in the air above me. It’s not simply the final ascent to the top of the peak that only offers a heart-stopping view – it’s the climb towards it.
“I’ve learned to embrace my failures, as it makes for good writing fodder.”
P.S. At least, I don’t think anyone else has said this based on a quick Google search. If there is someone else, I pass credit to them.
Anywin Castle, home of the Elf Queen Gudrun, is a gold building. But once inside, Alvina notices that her feet are walking on a glass-like structure. Under her shoes are many levels with different rooms where elves are busy tending to various tasks: right below are elves standing up peering through a microscope, and in the next room are elves sleeping in beds as other elves in blue-white pants with matching shirts and black boots, pull blankets up around those who are resting. Are they patients? Alvina wonders to herself.
Several floors down elves rush around chopping long purple carrots and toss them into pots with bubbling water; other elves two floors up from those preparing food clink swords together; other elves are doing laundry; while other child elves are being instructed by an elf with a long white beard. On and on, elves work below Alvina’s feet, separated only by clear glass and see-through walls. None are distracted by what other elves are doing in different rooms.
All of a sudden, Alvina’s lips move together with thirst. It’s as if her saliva glands are working to produce liquid, but everything inside of her has gone dry. Her hands that were relaxed at her side begin to open and close in fists as if she were trying to pump water from her hands up to her mouth. Then the floor beneath her feet and the see-though rooms that were all separated, are closed in gold. Everything is shuttered from Alvina’s eyes.
“Are you alright?” A voice she knows, but can’t quite place, coos to her.
Alvina can’t speak. In answer to the question, she nods her head at the woman in the plaid shirt and blue jeans.
From her right side a hand touches her arm and says, “Here, drink this.”
When Alvina faces the voice, she sees a woman dressed in blue-white clothes, and she holds a clear liquid in a glass in front of her. Alvina takes the clear fluid, pushes it to her lips, and the zesty, sweet taste of orange-pineapple tingles on her taste buds. Some of the drink escapes from the corners of her lips and dribbles down the front of her shirt. Once done, she places the glass back on the tray the woman holds. Alvina whispers the words, “thank you.”
An eloquent and kind laugh echoes throughout the gold walls of the castle. Gudrun pulls from her jeans a white handkerchief and passes it to Alvina. When Alvina peers down at the cloth the letters: H.R.H.G.A. are embroidered on it. She takes it and wipes the corners of her mouth.
Gudrun nods at the other woman and says, “Satya, thank you. You may go now.” The woman smiles slightly, steps backwards, bends forward, and then once she’s no longer facing the Queen and the child, she quickens her pass returning to her other duties.
Gudrun says, “I’m sorry. I should have asked them to close the floor before we arrived. I forget – some of your people are afraid of heights.”
“It’s okay. I’m alright. By the way, who are you?”
“I’m Gudrun,” the elf woman replies with a smile. Gudrun waits a moment, testing to see if Alvina will ask a more precise question.
“Does everyone have a home like this?”
There it is. “No, I’m Queen of the Elves.”
Alvina’s face scrunches as she stares at the woman. “But you’re dressed in a plaid shirt and blue jeans?”
Gudrun’s hands rest easily at her side. She steps back and says, “What would you have me do? Wear a silk gown and tiara on my head while tending to my duties? Also, dressed in an evening gown is hardly practical for flying.”
Alvina’s nostrils twitch as she chuckles. Gudrun watches her guest carefully and notices Alvina’s shoulders relax more while her face returns to a pink glow. The child’s eyes focus on her, and are no longer distant as if they are lost in some other world.
Yes, the girl is no longer feeling faint.
Recalling the statement the Queen said a second ago, Alvina finally says, “I guess I’m a little afraid of heights.” Her voice is a quiet confession.
Sympathetically, the Queen says, “We’re all afraid of something.”
Suddenly a monster appears behind Gudrun with light purple skin, red shimmering eyebrows, wide black eyes, and a glowing red mouth. Wearing a yellow-gold shirt and pants, Alvina notices a white scintillating rope hangs on the creature’s black belt.
“Gudrun, run! There’s a monster behind you!” Alvina squeals. She reaches for the Queen’s hand and tugs at it to pull Gudrun forward.
The monster stops in his tracks. “Queen Gudrun, this is the reason why we can’t simply hand over the plant to the humans! They are narrow-minded!” The voice is an echo grumble as if the monster has a cold. The creature hisses the words at Alvina.
Alvina stops pulling the Queen’s hand. The Queen’s fingers now tighten around Alvina’s hand as she nudges the child forward. The Queen only stops the motion when Alvina stands directly in front of her. Gudrun rests her hands on the child’s shoulders and says, “Alvina, I would like you to meet my friend, Radyalasana, who has travelled far beyond the Pinwheel Galaxy, where there’s a planet called Kysta. That is Radyalasana’s home.
Gudrun bends forward and whispers into Alvina’s ear, “don’t worry. We’ve already fed Radyalasana.”
Alvina twists her lips to the right side with annoyance at Gudrun’s joke. (By now she knows when the Queen is making fun of her.) “What does he mean, give us a plant?”
“I’m not a HE,” Radyalasana’s voice clips Alvina’s question.
“Well, she then,” Alvina corrects.
“You are wrong again, human,” Radyalasana says with annoyance. “I’m neither.”
“You have to be one or the other,” Alvina counters.
“No, I do not.”
Gudrun moves to Alvina’s right side and stares down at her. “Alvina, sometimes you must open your mind to other possibilities. Everything you believe, everything you are told, may need to be corrected at some point. That is why an A is not important. If you reach perfection, where is the ambition to continue to learn?” The Queen’s eyebrows pull together and with a soft smile she adds, “Remember, history is always being written – and re-written.”
Alvina looks over at Radyalasana. She nods, and offers a smile while asking, “What plant do you want to give us?” Alvina asks boldly.
The black eyes of Radyalasana blink quickly at the child. The Kystan’s wide lips remain silent.
“Radyalasana,” the Queen’s voice breaks through the silence, “Alvina pursues knowledge, and wishes to understand things. I sense Alvina has a special purpose in this project, and will be needed when she is older. Our encounter today was no accident.” Gudrun quickly peers over at Alvina as she says this.
Alvina can’t catch her breath. She’s special. The Queen said so. Alvina’s ears perk up as she waits to hear what Radyalasana will say. She is aware now, that whatever the Kystan says today, she must remember for when she is older.”
Radyalasana’s eyes blink rapidly at the Queen and through clenched black teeth to Gudrun these words follow: “Very well. Only because I know you can see the future, and we have known each other for several hundred years, do I trust what you say is true, and will give the information to the runt human.”
“I’m a child!” Alvina shouts.
“Hmph,” Radyalasana grunts at Alvina. “You call me a monster, and when I call you a runt, you get angry?”
“Oh,” Alvina says as her eyes shift down to the floor. Then she blinks up to Radyalasana, and says, “I’m sorry.”
Nodding at Alvina, Radyalasana says, “I’m sorry too.” The Kystan traveller begins to pace back and forth and says, “It’s a plant that I brought from my home, and will transport and place in the ground in Brazil. It will be found by a researcher in the Amazon Rainforest, and will be the cure for many diseases that plague your people, according to Gudrun. Assuming your species doesn’t destroy the plant before it’s found with your clear cutting of the jungle, it will mean many illnesses will be eliminated.”
“Why don’t you just give us the plant?”
Radyalasana’s face scrunches. Eyes squint tightly at the child.
“Oh,” Alvina says.
With amusement the Kystan traveller smiles at Alvina, turns towards Gudrun and acknowledges, “You are right. The child is clever. She will find it.”
The short story, Alvina’s Quest for Knowledge, sits incomplete on my hard drive. I know how it will end. What I’m struggling with are the parts in between: the building blocks that will add momentum and suspense keeping readers engaged so that they can complete reading the story.
I’ve spent the last week in a lethargic state. I feel every foot strike of my boots hitting the pavement, while at the same time my feet also work as anchors slowing me down. Each roll of my heel causes my calves to burn, thighs tingle, quads wish for the whole process to end. If there’s a jerk from the end of my dog’s leash, my shoulders ache causing a pulling sensation to ricochet through my arms. The tug of the leash doesn’t need to be very strong. By the conclusion of my slow walk with my best dog in the world, I’m yearning for a nap.
The smallest of tasks are impediments. I thought twice about attempting poached eggs this morning because boiling water seemed strenuous. It’s as if I’ve run a marathon by 9 AM depleting my energy leaving me physically exhausted. As anyone who has a run a marathon knows, by the end of 42 KM your exhaustion levels are high causing the simplest of mental calculations to be nearly impossible. What’s two plus two? Not a clue. Ask me again in a couple of hours, and perhaps, I can answer the question.
T’s are no longer crossed. I’s are no longer dotted. Words evaporate as I attempt to form sentences in conversation. While sitting at my desk in front of my monitor, my fingers slip here and there causing me to incorrectly spell the most mundane words. Worst of all, I lack the mental stamina to put words together to create worlds, people, and events that would form a story.
I’ve made several attempts to complete Alvina’s Quest for Knowledge and barely mustered one page. The irony is not lost upon me that in attempting to write a story about a little girl who only wishes to be smart, I’ve lost my vocabulary skills and find myself unable to complete the tale. Through fog, blurry eyes, and dizziness I struggle to conclude Alvina’s quest.
At times it seems I’ve become Alvina. In truth, I may have always been her. When I was a child and attempted to learn something new and had difficulties, I remember getting visibly upset. My father, who never completed high school, would be able to help me with my homework because he had a natural aptitude for learning and in particular mathematics. This week I’ve become my twelve-year-old self again at multiple times, teary-eyed, and frustrated at not being able to complete one short story. I want nothing more than to finish putting together my Lego blocks and complete the tale of Alvina and Gurdun. My overwhelming concern is this: after years of neglecting sleep, eating poorly, and pushing exercise to the sidelines – will I be able to complete that story? Or more concerning, do I have any more stories to tell?
It sounds like I’m being dramatic, I know. But I’ve never struggled as much as I have in the last week to write anything. Even this blog post took several attempts, starts, and stops. After a couple of days at home, and seeing little improvement in my health, I began to wonder maybe this isn’t a virus? Is this what burnout feels like?
There was another event that I should mention. I meant to write a separate blog post on it, but it didn’t happen. In November 2017 I was taken by ambulance to hospital after I had difficulty standing at a full upright position after cleaning the floors. There was pain in the center of my chest below my breasts causing me to bend forward. It did subside by the time the ambulance arrived, and the paramedics gave me the option whether I wished to go by ambulance, or by car. I decided I would take the ambulance because the pain had lasted nearly twenty minutes.
When I got to the hospital I was checked in, and my husband arrived shortly after. We waited long enough after check-in that I told my husband I felt ridiculous. It was probably indigestion, I told myself. Heartburn plagued me for nearly eight years, and I failed to take my heartburn medication most days. (I’m resistant to taking medications because most of the time I experience side effects.)
But I went to the hospital because I was worried it was my gallbladder, appendix, or some other organ that is completely useless and serves no other purpose except for it to rupture at the most inopportune moment. As we waited, I mumbled to my husband, “I feel ridiculous. I should have just waited it out. It’s probably just heartburn.”
The nurse eventually took me into a room and ran an ECG. I wondered, why? She explained that whenever someone goes to the hospital complaining of pain between their neck and abdomen, an ECG was always run. She reassured me it was routine. I nodded at her as if I understood. But I didn’t. Then she took some blood. Before I headed back to the waiting area a plastic attachment dangled from my arm and the nurse said, “just in case they need to do more bloodwork.”
I remembered I furrowed my eyebrows and thought, that’s weird. That’s never happened before. I shrugged it off as some new procedure the hospital had implemented recently. The nurse also mentioned someone might come and get me in a few minutes, but in the meantime, I should wait in the waiting room.
Me and my husband didn’t even have a chance to sit down before another nurse summoned us to what I now realize was the emergency treatment area. I was ushered into a room, my husband and I separated, and I plopped myself on a bed as two nurses descended on me with one of them kindly, but very quickly, asking me to put a plastic gown on while another nurse mentioned they ran an ECG and it looked I may have had a “cardiac event.” Once I had the gown on, another nurse began attaching ECG electrodes to me so I could be monitored, while the other woman continued providing information as to what the next steps would be.
I stared down at my exposed foot. It promptly started to involuntarily shake. My mind grasped to make sense of my situation flooding my brain with defensive questions hoping this was a mistake: I’m 43? I have low blood pressure? Normal cholesterol? No family history? I exercise? How can this be happening?
Then honesty took hold of me. Possible answers at how I may be suffering a cardiac event at 43 included: years cheating sleep; poor diet concentrated heavily with sugar; and other than my walks with Hershey, little other exercise. My life had taken on an unstoppable pace of commuting two hours a day to my job; working full-time; coming home and doing chores; walking Hershey; squeezing in writing in the morning before work, evenings, and weekends; and maybe watch an hour of television. There was little to no time to relax.
Finally I realized I could be a genetic anomaly. I’ve heard of situations where healthy people dropped on race courses due to unknown heart problems. A possible valve issue that remained dormant for years, until under the right circumstances, it had risen to the surface like a whale breaching for air. There was no explanation for it. It was a completely random event.
I stayed that night in the hospital until 4:30 AM. The nurse had spent some time calming me down, reassuring me that I, “didn’t look like I had a heart attack”. When a doctor came in later she said my ECG was a little wonky, but they would run another at 1 AM and if it was normal, I would be released. My husband stared at me pale-faced. I sent him home to rest, frustrated with myself in putting him through my “cardiac event” experience.
Eagerly, I waited till 1 AM and continued to quiet my fears by explaining to myself that the EGC was probably abnormal because of the pain I felt in my chest (heartburn, I told myself) that had caused the abnormal ECG. At 1 AM, I was not released. At 4:30 AM after more than eight hours of observation, the doctor released me with no sign that I had experienced a heart attack.
In the last few months, I’ve gone through multiple tests. For a short time, I was reassured in thinking maybe it was an ulcer. In February I went for an endoscope, and the test results showed no ulcer. However, my EKG showed that there was a little fluid, and that my left ventricle had been remodelled.
What does that mean? The fluid may have been an infection around the lining of my heart. It happens, and may explain the pain I felt in November, and with rest it will typically clear up on its own. The left ventricle remodelled? NOT A CLUE, what that means. Hopefully, when I see my cardiologist in May he’ll have some answers as to whether that’s a reason for concern, or not.
I’ve been running at a thoroughbred’s pace trying to cross some imaginary finish line that would allow me some time off to rest and recover. Most days it feels like I’m within a whisker of crossing the self-imposed line, and then someone moves it back another ten meters.
This was part of the reason for my tears and hysterics last week in front of my computer. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t think. Just like little Alvina I want to know stuff, I want to learn, I want to be challenged. Not being able to communicate at all due to fatigue, makes the thing I love to do the most (write), impossibly difficult as well as tending to all my other responsibilities. If it’s burnout, I know I’ve done it to myself.
I went to see my doctor last week. She was fairly convinced that the rapid descent of my symptoms meant my body was battling a virus. A few weeks of rest, eating well, and taking care of myself, will most likely result in a speedy recovery.
I’m still frustrated I can’t complete that story. Patience is not one of my strongest traits, and in truth, I hoped my visit to my family physician would mean a prescription for antibiotics and I could return to my thoroughbred pace. Walking Hershey a couple of nights ago, I had an epiphany: I’ve written through grief, loss, financial, and family problems. Why not write about what it’s like to push through debilitating fatigue? Because this is the blog of stories, and whether the struggle is internal or external, I know there’s a story in there – somewhere.
I want to write stories.
Stories that are weird and magical, stories rooted in my life, or stories dipped in humour. There are lots of topics to cover from how I feel today, to day-to-day life lessons and hassles, to whether aliens really exist. (I don’t know the answer to that question. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.)
I’ve had two other writing projects that are available to the public. One was titled, 1500 Words or Less, and it is a collection of stories written under 1500 words. The stories told consist of both darker (loss, depression, grief) and lighter (chasing your dog, travelling) stories. Currently, I have only 5 stories on the website. I hope to add more stories soon, but we’ll see how it goes.
The other project I completed this year was titled, Pushing Boundaries, and it was the first blog I started here, at WordPress. The blog centered on pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. From Pushing Boundaries I learned many things about myself. But one of the things I reaffirmed: is that I missed writing stories. Whether they are fictional, or non-fiction, I enjoy hiding behind the veil of a story.
Also, after creating two rule-loaded projects (stories written in 1500 words or less, and Wow! there were SO MANY rules for Pushing Boundaries!) this blog will have no rules. I’ll post whenever I write something new that I want to share in this forum. There will be no limits on the number of words, no time frames in terms of how often I will post, and no expiration date.
This will be an ongoing project.
Enter: Tortuous Tales.
Now that I read the title of this blog, it sounds creepy. One of the definitions for tortuous according to Dictionary.com means “full of twists and turns.” (There’s another definition as well, that means “excessively lengthy and complex” but I’ll try not to let that happen. Of course, this first blog post seems long. Hey, it’s a work in progress.)
So, tortuous. What does this mean for this blog? The stories can be any type of genre: fictional, non-fiction, science-fiction, romance, memoir, children’s stories…whatever I want.
According to Oxforddictionaries.com tales means: “a fictitious or true narrative or story, especially one that is imaginatively recounted.”
I’ll do my best.