Happy Holiday Season! or Happy Winter! Here is a free story about love and hope. Enjoy!
For Love of Leelah
I saw her standing in the falling snow. An orange spotlight surrounded her from the streetlamp lighting her short raven hair with sunset radiance. It was one of those breathtakingly cold nights that filled the snow with ice crystals making it glitter as it floated down all around her. I cupped the hot chocolate in my hands comfortable in the coffee house, my feet tucked underneath me next to a fake fire. All the sounds of the baristas making noisy cappuccino and guests chattering away filled my head with the sort of hum that you could disappear into. If any single noise was separate it would have infiltrated my mind like a drippy faucet at night, but all together the cacophony cancelled itself out. I just watched this woman with skin almost as pale as the snow dressed in an ensemble of ill-fitting mismatched parts under a man’s coat thinking she must be cold.
Part of me wanted to go out there and offer her a cup of coffee or tea or whatever she liked to drink just so I could get close to her bathed in snowy glitter, but it seemed a shame to interrupt her. She smiled in the cold, her bare hands open to catch the flakes, eyes cast at the beauty around her. She was all the loveliest things about a woman as she stood there unaware of being noticed. This was what attracted me to my own sex. It wasn’t hips and curves, though those were nice, or the even the baser forms of intimacy, again—nice. It was this spirit that reached out to envelop you, capture your heart with two hands and never let go. It was the essence of a woman confident in her own agency, this joy at life when observed from afar. I’d fallen for many non-traditional women over the years because their spirit cried out to me.
This snow beauty held me captivated.
I turned my head to the voice and saw a man dressed in suit and woolen dress coat looking down at me. He stomped rubber covered dress shoes to remove the slush collected in the entry way and wiggled the bare fingers around his briefcase. He was definitely not from Wisconsin. I turned my head to glance out the window, but caught only the brief hint of a blue winter coat retreating into the dark snowy night.
“Blue,” I whispered to myself and turned my attention back to the man in front of me. “You must be Mr. Everett,” I said leaning forward to shake his hand. Mr. Everett from Shoom Press, here to take my books and take me out of the squalor of northern Wisconsin. While I was happy to take his money, and I really didn’t think the cows would miss me, I wasn’t quite ready leave the forest. Hard bound books in brick and mortar stores though. Quite the allure to a silly little fantasy writer like myself.
The meeting took two hours and three cups of hot chocolate. I left, bundled up from head to toe with a stack of legal papers and much to think about. It was definitely a kick in the pants to my career and could lead to things like best seller lists, but was it worth it to leave the company that valued me as an individual? The company that literally handed me everything on a silver platter? They might be small, but their energy was amazing. Shoom didn’t give me options like only taking the one book, they wanted all them now and in the future, so working with both wasn’t going to happen.
The glittery snow crunched under my feet as I trudged along. I was only 3 blocks from home. It wasn’t worth it to pray the car would start in the cold. Walking served me fine. It was beautiful out. Snow glinting in the pools of orange lamplight with the type of dead silent blackness between that quickly became horror writer fodder. I could dream a thousand stories on a night like this, but only one found me. The snow beauty.
In my mind she was an escaped princess hiding from a cruel and strict upbringing, wishing only for freedom. One night she found a gap in her security, put on the first clothes she could find and made a run for it. Kept inside all her life the miracle of snow was entirely new. Seen only from her window high in a tower, the kind found on the very old Victorian homes, the cold reality of it was an enchantment; standing for the first time alone in her life with snippets of lace catching the light and dancing all around her. It was something out of a fairy tale.
The cars, near silent in the new snow, moved past with low rubbery squeak as tire sought traction. If you listened close you could hear the same sound building snow men. It wasn’t terribly late and the traffic moderately high. Everyone rushing home before the roads got too bad. I almost missed the soft sound as it blended in with the winter night orchestra in pianissimo. Even in a small town in the dark cold it was never completely safe to be alone. As soon as it registered I turned my head.
There she was, huddled into a blue coat, knees and all, in a corner out of the wind between an old mechanic’s garage and the dumpster next to it. My snow beauty shivered with tears freezing on her face she tried to hide, choking back low sobs in a pool of decrepit light from an old bulb.
“Honey, are you all right?” I asked taking a step towards her. She startled but didn’t move. I looked into the liquid dark of her eyes and carefully crossed the distance between us. Her makeup was running pooled under her eyes, ink stained tears making trails on her skin. She was like a magnet to me pulling my soul in with both hands. I hunched down before her fighting my urge to reach out and touch her.
“Are you okay?” I repeated. She turned her head away for a brief moment breaking our eye contact. The light illuminated the gap in the unzipped coat she clutched together in her hands. Something wet and koolaid pink reeking of alcohol glued her white sweater to her skin. It was one of those tight, short sleeved, fuzzy numbers you wore in the summer, practically see through between the fine threads of fuzz.
“What happened?” I tried again.
She turned her head to meet my eyes again and asked in a soft voice, “Why?” The tears broke through seemingly held back by this one word. “Why?” she sobbed. “I don’t understand why.”
“Hey,” I reached out finally and wiped her cheek with my gloved thumb making a dark smudge on ivory skin. I could feel the cold through the leather on my hand. “You’re freezing.”
She only shrugged.
“Do you have a place to go?”
“I don’t know.” One would expect her to look away, ashamed at that admission, but she held my eyes nearly as transfixed as me. Her pain was so clear it became part of me.
“Come on, let’s get you out of the cold.” I reached for her hands and she let me pull her to her feet. She was taller than me, in a good way. Skinny as a rail. Her pink cowgirl boots were obviously too small and probably did nothing to keep her toes warm. The fishnet stockings over purple leggings probably didn’t do much for heat either. I caught the glimpse of a short jean skirt or shorts somewhere under the coat. I linked her arm with mine and pulled her around the corner.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked nervously looking wild eyed at all her surroundings. Smart girl. Good thing I wasn’t kidnapping her.
“There’s a bar around the corner.”
“I just came from a bar. It didn’t go so well.” I could almost hear her swallow.
“This one’s different. Not many people know it’s here.”
“Different how?” she asked eying me.
“You’ll see,” I laughed. “Don’t worry. The people may be a little flamboyant but they’re nice.”
“Ooooh, I see,” she said sounding like she clearly didn’t.
I pulled open a graffiti’d metal door on a windowless brick building. They could have spent some time on making the place presentable but sometimes it was easier to just blend in and be ignored. In a small town this place was safety. No one cared if you liked girls, boys, or both. You were free to be your brand of freak and celebrated for it. No big city club could come close to the culture of a small town gay bar, even in the years of supposed freedom.
The interior was panorama in rainbow; stripes leading out from a glittery stage making sections of color. Everyone but the club owner complained on the eye sore, but it was much a part of this place as the people. It was the running joke but still loved. I smirked to myself every time I walked in the door. The snow beauty gasped and looked mildly horrified. I had to laugh.
“Oh!” she said surprised hearing my voice and looked down at her shoes.
“It’s all right. Gen has no concept of understatement,” I laughed.
“Good lawd, Sabina,” A statuesque woman stood dressed in Cher costume circa 1973 behind the bar. At least today she was a woman. I always admired her ability to blend seamlessly into either gender, though her diva costumes were a little over the top. “What did you drag in here this time?” I just raised my eyebrows and stared at her deadpan. “I know I know, I’m murdered in one of your books. What’s the poison tonight?”
I looked at my companion and for the first time thought to wonder how old she was. “How old are you?” I asked her.
“Twenty one,” she said a little too confidently, thrusting her shoulders back and chin high in the air. I looked at her mildly, not arguing with her but waiting patiently for her to correct herself.
“Nineteen,” she said dropping her shoulders with a small smile.
“Couple of hot chocolates,” I told Sunny.
“Want me to Irish them up?” she asked.
“No, but you can throw a shot of coffee in mine.” Watching her get to work I pulled the twenty one year old wannabe into the blue section. It was a little easier on the eyes if you looked into the purple from there.
“Take your jacket off,” I told her. Winter clothes could insulate out the cold but also the warmth. If you wanted to warm up from the outside up here you took your coat and gloves off so the heat could reach you.
“I really don’t want to,” she said holding the blue fabric even closer.
“It’s okay. I already saw it. You’ll dry off faster if you take the coat off.”
She nodded to herself but didn’t take off the amour.
“Wanna talk about it?” I asked.
“Some people are total twunts.”
“Twunts?” I laughed loudly. “Oh that is a great word. Mind if I use that sometime?”
She looked at me confused but smiling.
“I’m a writer. New words or expressions are like candy.”
“Oh. Well…go ahead,” she said.
“You’re right, you know.”
“I am?” I smiled as I saw her eyes squint in confusion again. Gods, she was cute.
“About twunts. The world is full of them. I frequently murder them.”
“What?” she shifted away from me, every muscle tight, poised to move.
“In my books,” I laughed. “In my books!”
“Oh.” She relaxed. “I’m starting to feel like the conversation is in some kind of code and I didn’t get the key.”
“I’m sorry,” I smiled. “Bad habit. I’m always lost in my stories.”
“So you murder people in your books?”
“Only the bad ones.”
“Oh good. I’d hate to think you murder the good ones. But then you can have them come back as ghosts.”
“And then they become bad?” I raised my eyebrows. “I can vanquish them and eviscerate their ghostly ectoplasm in a glory of fire!” I declared dramatically. My companion burst into fits of giggles. It was a deeper sound than I expected but full of life and heart. It utterly transformed her soul.
“I was thinking save the day, but go ahead, that’s a lot more interesting.”
“What do you write?” she asked leaning forward, her hands on the table forgetting to hold her coat closed. Just a little closer and I could have stolen a glance down her top. I smiled to myself but decided to be a lady. I’d save leering for when and if she leered back.
“Fantasy mostly, but I’ve been told I could make a market for romance or horror from the same books.”
“Ah, so a mix then.”
“I suppose. I never really thought about genre. There’s a story in my head; I just put it on paper. Sometimes it’s as if all these people are real in some alternate dimension and begging me to tell their story. Writing for me is organic. I don’t plot much—though I really should—I barely even outline. I see a scene in my head, write it down, and the rest flows like water.” I paused thinking to myself. “Or like smoke in some cases… Yes. Definitely smoke.” I get lost in thought process like that sometimes and I must have been gone for a minute or two marinating that new way of expressing what is in my head. I looked up and she was leaning towards me, hand holding her head up, wisps of short curls teasing her fingers.
“Where did you go?” she asked with a smile. Her voice was wistful instead of teasing and I got the impression she was actually curious. Be still my beating heart, a person interesting in the inner workings of my mind and not just the stories I created. At that moment that was the sexiest thing in the world. I think I actually shifted my legs and leaned towards her.
“I’m obsessed,” I admitted. “Or a little compulsive. I could spend hours in my own head just dreaming.”
“And what were you dreaming?” This girl was Sabina candy. Young, almost young enough to make me feel like Mrs. Robinson with the words jailbait echoing in my head, but I just couldn’t keep a distance. The snow beauty captured my heart from the moment I saw her.
“About you,” I smiled.
“Me?” she grinned.
“I wondered where you came from, what kind of life you lead.”
“And what did you come up with?”
“Hmmm,” I leaned back in my chair thinking. Cher for the evening visited our table with the steaming mugs of chocolate. Gen spared no expense on food. It might be five dollar hot chocolate but you could bet your ass it was made with imported chocolate, real cream, and blended to a confection not unlike liquid mousse. It was nectar of the gods. “Thanks, Sunny.”
I watched while the snow beauty took her first drink. The look of surprise and wonder on her face as the liquid gold hit her tongue. Sunny never brought it too hot or cold to drink. It was always perfect the moment she put it down.
“Oh my god,” she said while I smiled at her. “That’s amazing!”
She took another gulp and put it down leaning into me again. “Go on. You were about to tell me what you decided my life should be.”
“Something terribly dramatic and fairy tale-esque.”
“I like fairy tales.”
“You were hidden away from everyone by an evil step…aunt?”
“Okay,” she laughed.
“Well step-mother has been overdone.” She giggled that low raspy twitter that was enchanting in the way Gen’s hot chocolate was. A little dark, a little sinful, but so pleasant you can’t let it go.
“Keep going, keep going!”
“You were hidden away by your evil step-aunt who failed utterly to see you as a person. She didn’t see your spirit…or was jealous of it. She kept you inside all the time and only let you out as something to parade around. You always had to put on an act so no one would know you were really made of magic. One night, very dark and cold, you escaped. Your aunt was going out and your keepers were busy elsewhere bored with their jobs. You took your chance and ran from your room high in a tower stealing out the back door where you fled through the snow to your future.”
She looked at me with wide eyes, the deep sadness I saw before pushing out from her core. It enveloped every cell, every nuance of expression and gesture, until all you could see was this sadness. It breathed on its own like a demon riding her back. As I held her gaze a single tear slid down her cheek. I didn’t even think. I just reached out and brushed it away spreading her running makeup even more.
For a moment, for a single shining moment, we breathed the same air and shared the same existence. I don’t know if that was some sort of magic spell she wove on me or if it was fate, but I started to believe in love at first sight. I felt for her in that moment the way I would feel about someone after years of toil, pain, and survival together. It was insane. And I didn’t care.
Someone walked past and bumped my chair. The moment was gone, slipping through my fingers like smoke on the wind.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “That was a little close to home.”
“You mean I was close?”
“Oh I’m the one that’s sorry. I didn’t mean to dredge things up.”
“It’s okay,” she shook her head and leaned back. “People are twunts.” I only nodded agreement and sipped my hot chocolate. “My family doesn’t see me,” she said after a time. “They only see what they think they should see and when I try to tell them they’re wrong, they flip out. It’s like they care more for how the world sees them than the fact they’re killing my soul. I always have to pretend and I never get far out of the house.”
“Aren’t you a grown up?”
“A grown up with no place to go and no job,” she snorted. “It’s live with them or be on the street. Nights like tonight I think it’s better to be on the street. So I walked out. I’m sure they’ve locked the door on me by now. I just wanted to be me. I wanted to meet people, girls—even boys—I just wanted to be seen as who I am for once. It was all going so well. Laughter, flirting, playing pool. I don’t know what went wrong. I must have said something wrong or used the wrong bathroom…” she trailed off thinking hard.
Wrong bathroom. That’s when I understood. She was trans. I’m not that dense really. It was just she was so completely woman in all the right ways it never occurred to me she would have the wrong parts. Personally, it didn’t bother me or put me off. She was a woman. I could never look at her, even in man’s clothes and ever see anything different, and gods she was beautiful, and smart. All this did was tie together all those strange little details. I was only mildly shocked. I’d met many trans before and sometimes you could tell and sometimes not.
“Anyway,” she went on, “some dude got upset and next thing I know I’m wearing the drink he ordered for me. I still don’t understand why? I’m still the same person he was talking to. Nothing changed about me. Then his friends are laughing at me and he starts pushing me around and threatening me until I left. I don’t understand what happened. I’m just a person…aren’t I?”
“He’s a Neanderthal twunt,” I put my mug down hard. “Did you get a name? I’d like to go have a talk with him about how to treat a lady.” What was wrong with people? What was so frightening about a person born in the wrong body, or hell a person who liked the same sex even, that sent grown men into raving fits? What are they scared of? That they might be attractive? Or that they might be gay—gasp!—because they found the person on the inside attractive? Fuck heads like that make life miserable for everyone, even the straight folks. They give humanity a bad name.
This amazing, gorgeous woman was just abused for being a…woman! All my protective instincts screamed at me. If she actually had a name I would have marched down to the only other bar in six blocks and done I don’t know what, but it would be bit more permanent and painful than a literary killing. I wasn’t just angry for her. I was angry for myself and every time some misogynist pig decided my orientation was his business and a threat to his masculinity. Every time a straight woman decided if I was nice to her I must want her body. Every church that put me out, every business I couldn’t bring a date, and every goddamned parent who thought I was a bad influence. I can legally marry who I want, but I still have to decide everyday whom I can be out to and whom I have to watch out for. Every stranger on the street who sees me walking hand in hand with a woman, I have to choose if they are a threat.
It wasn’t fair.
It would never be fair, and I’d long given up on the idea of it ever changing.
“I never caught his name,” she shook her head and looked down. I could feel the shame mingling with her pain coming off of her in waves.
I caught her chin with my fingers. “He’s a cocksucking twunt and probably a closet case. He’s nothing. He’s less than nothing. You’re too beautiful for a nothing like him anyway.”
She turned her face in hand and kissed my fingers. The gesture was so simple and soft but articulated better than any words could hope to dream.
“Thank you,” she said softly.
The bar started to fill up as the evening got later. Gen, dressed in a blindingly shiny green suit like something out of a drag show, strutted among the tables and dance floor. You could see the pride beaming on his young, light brown face. He was something a celebrity among the local LGBTQ community. At 25 he was the first to get legally married in the area, had become a public figure speaking out for several charities, and ran a safe house for teens of all orientations running from abuse. The man was a community organizer and looked fabulous doing it, as he frequently told us. He was probably one of my biggest fans, but never did make the connection between himself and one of characters that managed to show up in almost every book. He was my easter egg, tying all my worlds together.
The snow beauty’s eyes followed him around the room obviously recognizing him. I saw her visibly relax as if Gen was her own guardian angel and realizing she really was safe here. Gen went the stage to welcome everyone and introduced the first of local garage bands for the night with his usual flare. Her attention didn’t come back to me until after the first song started and Gen disappeared into his office. The band sported all proudly butch lesbians doing a fairly decent female pronoun cover of I can be your hero.
“Do you want to dance?” I asked her.
She stared at me almost shocked before she finally answered. “Um…yeah, sure.”
She started to get to up but I made it to my feet first and made a show of helping her out of her chair. She smiled almost shyly but let me lead her to the dance floor and put my arms around her in such a way as to lead the dance. There was a look of wonder on her face, the lights glinting off the soft sparkle of her mascara still spread over her cheeks. She soaked the attention up and I lavished her with it. I enjoyed treating my women like ladies, giving them the respect and honor so often missing in this world. I was the one that opened car doors and bought drinks.
“You never did tell me your name,” I said when both her hands slowly found their way to my shoulders and under the button down sweater I wore over a tank top, her fingers soft on my flesh.
“Leelah,” she said quietly. “Call me Leelah.”
“Wasn’t that that poor girl in Ohio?”
She only nodded.
“Did your parents name you that?” I asked intrigued.
“I didn’t want her forgotten,” she said by way of answer.
“A lovely name, for a lovely woman,” I said trying to dip her. It was a little awkward because she was taller than me and I wasn’t that strong. Giggling she saved herself from a fall even my ass hit the floor. She pulled me up and ran back to the table with a silly grin dropping off her coat and kicking off the too small boots. When the light shined on her right I could see the outline of a black bra. I shook my head thinking I was going to have to give her some lessons in undergarments at some point. Maybe once I had them off of her… Slow down Sabina! It’s only a first date.
“Okay my turn,” she said coming back to me holding her arms open. “This time I lead.”
“Okay,” I laughed and walked into her space.
“Just don’t step on my toes,” she warned with a laugh.
“I’ll try. I wouldn’t want to stomp on perfect toes.”
She made a little noise of contentment and restrained passion and pulled me flush with her body. She guided my hands to her shoulders and wrapped her own around my back, one hand lowering suspiciously close to my ass. I almost wished she would have gone for it.
“Follow me,” she said, a twinkle in her eye. I looked to her feet and she lifted my chin in a near perfect mimic of when I had done the same to her. “Not down there. My eyes are up here, madam.”
“Sabina,” I corrected her.
“Sabina,” she said slowly, tasting every syllable, and pulled me along the dance floor holding my gaze. She was light on her feet and guided me effortlessly in complicated, meandering swirls. We moved in and out of the other couples as if we were alone on the dance floor. The music changed and we didn’t even notice the fast beat. We just kept dancing in a lover’s embrace, spinning and spinning along the edges. It felt like a dream. She leaned me back in a real dip. I let my head fall back, my black, white tipped hair, spilling on the floor. She brought me back up and laid my head on her shoulder perfectly content. We spun a few more times before she slowed down to simple rock, and the band took up a cover of She’s Like the wind.
“Mmm, I love this song,” I said. The soprano on stage changing the key and making the notes more lyrical than the original artist. “Where did you learn to dance like that?”
“My mom made me learn.”
“Money well spent.”
“Hey, I uh…need to use the bathroom. Want to sit this one out?”
“Sure.” I stepped back from her and took her hand when she escorted me back to the table. “I’ll be waiting,” I grinned watching her go. I saw her hesitate just a moment, looking back at me, before she walked into the ladies room.
Definitely Sabina candy. This girl was going to drive me to distraction…in all the right ways.
After a few minutes I wondered if should have followed her in there, made sure she was okay. Just as I would have stood up, she hurried out of the bathroom with a determined look on her face. She was fresh faced, all the make up having been washed off, but instead of the smile I wanted to see she was nervous and started putting her boots back on quickly.
“Leelah…?” I questioned.
“Do you want to get out of here?” she asked.
I started to answer, but a couple of women slammed out of the bathroom and stormed to our table. One was big, and dressed to the nines with leather lace up boots, tight jeans, and silk shirt. The other was short and thin but mega butch in a man’s plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves torn off and a chain from her belted baggy jeans to what I assumed was her wallet in her pocket.
“So is this what you’re bringing here now?” the butch lady demanded.
“What? A lady?” I countered mildly.
“That thing was in our bathroom!”
“What thing? Your dick?”
“I won’t have it threatening my woman!”
“Well gee, you better leave your dick at home then.”
“I should say the same to you. I didn’t know this is what you were into.”
“Into what?” I stood up getting between her and Leelah. “Look around. We’re all freaks here. You try taking your date to straight bar and see what happens. Grow the fuck up! What are you scared she’s going to steal your girl?”
“You disgust me,” the woman snarled getting in my face.
“Yeah you too. Get the fuck away from us, the stench of your ignorance is dumbing the whole place down.”
“I’m talking to Gen about this,” she threatened with a finger in my face. Then she took her girlfriend’s hand and stormed off to the bar.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, go ahead,” I muttered at their backs. “Twunts,” I said to Leelah gesturing behind me with my thumb. She looked miserable shrugging into her coat, all huddled into herself. “Let’s take off,” I said to her taking money out of my wallet to leave on the table for the drinks.
Leelah only nodded.
“I know a place where the drinks are free and company is pleasant.”
She looked up at me, surprised again. “You’re not walking away from me?” she asked.
“Of course not. I was inviting you home,” I smiled.
“Oh,” she said and thought for a moment. “Oh!” she exclaimed sitting up straighter. I extended my hand to help her up and she took it.
“Yes,” she said softly.
“It’s only a few blocks away.” I wrapped my arm around her waist and guided her out to the street.
It was a quiet, quick walk home, both of us eager to get out of the cold. We were greeted at the door by the ugliest cat known to man. He was a chimera cat, but not in a pretty way. The front half was short hair grey, while the back was tiger stripe long and fluffy. He had a squished face making him always seem angry or sad, one blue eye and one green eye, and black paws. Leelah actually jumped a little when she saw him.
“Meow,” he intoned.
“This is Nietzsche,” I said picking him up. He was a fabulous cat, full of personality.
“Nietzche?” she asked reaching out to tentatively pet his head.
“Well if god made you this mixed up wouldn’t you be depressed?”
She snorted in response.
I let Nietzche go and he ran off in search of lingering bits of catnip from his toys. He may be ugly but he was also the most spoiled cat in the world.
“Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back,” I told her while I ran into the bedroom. I pulled out an old t-shirt, several sizes too big, thinking too big was better than too small. I came back out and Leelah was wandering around, fingering nick nacks and reading paragraphs written on coffee or potato chip stained paper. A homemaker I was not, but I kept my piles to one corner…mostly. She had taken off her boots and coat. Nietzche had already decided she might give him treats if he was nice to her. She glanced up at me and smiled before going back to her casual perusal.
“Sabina, why are you being so nice to me?”
“Is there a reason I shouldn’t be?”
She only grimaced, still not looking up. “I was thinking I don’t want to move too fast…I mean I’m not ready—.”
“Oh honey, no,” I interrupted her and crossed the room in two strides to take her hands, t-shirt crumpled in one of mine. “I mean, well, yes. You’re gorgeous and…and kind. But that’s not why I asked you here. Nothing’s going to happen unless you want it to.”
“Okay,” she said letting out a breath and dropped her tense shoulders.
“Here,” I held out the shirt. “It’s not much, but it’s clean and dry. Why don’t you go change.”
“Thank you,” she said and I steered her to the bathroom.
Door closed I ran around the room, fixing pillows, hiding clothes that should have made it to the hamper, picking up random shoes and plates. It was so obvious I hadn’t planned on bringing anyone home today. Wow, I thought organizing the stack of plates to be washed in the kitchen, I’m a slob.
“I think it’s a little big,” Leelah said from the doorway startling me. I laughed when I looked at her. The shirt neck left one smooth shoulder free revealing a black bra strap. The hem hung down almost long enough to cover her skirt. Somehow it was more feminine and attractive than all her clap trap girly finery.
“I like it,” I grinned.
“Really?” she looked down at herself.
“Nothing sexier than a woman at rest.”
She crossed the floor, backing me up against the counter, her hands firmly on either side of me. “You keep complementing me and I’m going to start believing it,” she said, her head bowed close to my face.
“You take my breath away,” I said looking up into her eyes. She closed the inches between us and kissed me with all the nervous restrained passion and sweetness of a first kiss. I let her lips linger on me soaking up the innocence in that simple touch. She went to pull away and pulled her back letting the kiss deepen. It wasn’t long before I found myself bent over backwards on the counter, her hands hesitantly roaming. It was so clear this was her first time with a woman, but even that was endearing to me.
When she finally backed up for breath I took her hand and pulled her to the living room. She let me push her down on the couch and stared in awe when I pulled my shirt off. I wasn’t thin, or particularly well shaped. The look on her face made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. I straddled her lap and kissed her forehead, then her eyes, then her cheeks, her nose making her giggle, her chin, her ears, before finally alighting on her mouth.
Her hands clutched at my skin hard enough to leave marks and I let her mouth find its way to my neck. I clutched her body to me desperately wanting her to touch me here, there…anywhere! I reached for a breast knowing nothing was there but wanting to love what was there anyway. She stopped me, her face terrified.
“It’s okay,” I told her. “You don’t want me to touch you, I won’t touch you. You tell me what you want.” I leaned back on the couch sliding off her lap, my arms above my head.
“I want to kiss you,” she said.
“Then kiss me.”
Her mouth made a tentative trail from my throat to my breasts. I felt my bra being peeled off gently. I let her explore, mouth and fingers carefully taking in every inch of my exposed flesh, the tips of hair tingling as it brushed along her path. There was no time in this space, just two bodies, two souls, enjoying sensation. I would have let her do anything she wanted to me and never pushed for what she didn’t.
After a time she laid her head between my breasts and started to cry. I crossed my arms so I was holding her shoulders.
“It’s just been such a horrible day, with horrible people and yet I find myself laying here with you.”
“Oh sweetheart,” I breathed. “You’re safe here. Let it out.”
“I wish there was more time,” she said softly.
“There’s as much time as you want.”
“Maybe,” she sighed.
She cried herself to sleep on my naked skin, my fingers tracing patterns in her hair. I probably should have gotten up, but I didn’t want to wake her. I didn’t know everything that had happened, but what little I did know told me her day was beyond miserable. How did human expect to survive when they could destroy a soul so easily? I would never understand. So much of human behavior I would never understand. This was a person, a woman, a soul, who needed love to survive just like the rest of us and yet the world found itself utter incapable of providing it. I wanted to protect her. Hold her in my arms forever and never let another bad word or harmful action near her again.
It wasn’t long before her even breath lulled me to sleep.
I woke cold, the night still dark, dawn hours yet away. Nietzche jumped on me looking to snuggle in the same place Leelah occupied before. I jumped when claws caught me.
“Nietzche! Humans don’t have fur!”
“Ugh. Silly cat. Where did Leelah go?”
Nietzche ran off to find something else to pounce on.
“Leelah?” I called standing up and looking around. I was cold so I put my shirt back on not bothering with a bra. I checked the bathroom and bedroom. “Leelah? Where did you go?” There was no trace of her, as if she had been a fleeting nymph in a dream. I found a note taped my fridge. I kept forgetting to by magnets.
“Oh my god!” I grabbed the note and threw my coat on running out my door. “No no no no, Leelah, no…” I muttered not even sure where to go first. I read it again and again searching for clues.
I wish I had more time. I wish we had more time. You are amazing, but life for me holds no more joy. Everywhere I go people are going to hate me, and if I’m with you, they’ll hate you too. I can’t bring you down. Thank you for tonight. You fulfilled my dreams. It was nice to be loved before I die. I’ll hold on to that in the last moments.
“Where would you go, Leelah?” I regretted not talking to her more before other pleasures. I regretted not pushing when she cried on me. I had no idea what places were important to her or why or where she would go. It was still dark. She couldn’t have gone far. I retraced our steps not knowing what else to do. At the very least I might catch her on the way home. It was a total shot in the dark, but it was all I could think of.
I ran. I probably should have walked in case she was hidden in some corner somewhere, but my feet wouldn’t slow. I had to find her before she did this. I couldn’t let her go. My gut just screamed at me and in my panic I went where it guided not even thinking.
It was only a few blocks, but there I saw her, standing under the same decrepit yellow light barely lighting her face beyond an abstract of black and white. A gun was held to her head and I thought for a brief second I was too late before logic told me wouldn’t be standing.
“Leelah!” I cried breathlessly.
Startled, she dropped the gun to her side and turned around to stare at me.
“Leelah, don’t do this,” I pleaded, my tears freezing in the falling snow.
“Sabina, I don’t want you to see this.”
“Don’t do this,” I said taking a step to her.
“No!” she screamed and pointed the gun at me. “Don’t come any closer.”
“I have to!”
“Why? Just tell me why.” I tried another step.
“Stop! You don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t. Make me understand. Please, Leelah. Please.”
“You’re too good. I don’t want you to remember what I am, just remember the dream.”
“What dream?” I took two more steps ignoring her shaking hand and the gun.
“This!” she grabbed at the borrowed shirt, tears streaming down her face.
“I don’t understand!” I came close enough for her to touch me with the gun.
“I’m a man! There! Now you can hate me with the rest.” She brought the gun to her head.
“No!” I screamed.
“This body is god’s joke on me. I hate you god!” she screamed at the sky. “Send me to hell! It’s better than earth.”
“You’re not a man, Leelah. You’re not.”
“I am! Do I need to show you my dick?”
I put myself right up against her so she’d have to shoot me if she shot herself. I took her face in my hands and kissed her. “You’re not,” I told her. “Don’t you get it? I know you’re trans. I knew all along.”
“What?” her hand faltered.
“I don’t care! I don’t care if you have breasts or a penis or even horns for god’s sake! I just want you! I just want you. Please, baby, give me the gun,” I cried not letting go of her face. “Give it to me.”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” she said feebly.
“Then don’t shoot. You’ll get me too. Give me the gun.”
“Why did you come?” she asked.
"Because I want you. You! Parts mean nothing. Put down the gun and come home with me. Please.”
“It’s so hard,” she said, gun hand limp at her side.
“It is. Oh, baby, it is so so hard, but I’m won’t let you go through this alone.”
“You can’t save me forever.”
“No, but when I can’t you can save me, and you can’t I can save you.”
I heard a click and braced for impact, terrified, staring into her eyes. Then the gun dropped harmlessly to the ground and both her arms were around me.
“Let’s go home,” I said to her.
“Take me to your castle far away from my evil step-aunt,” she smiled shakily through tears.
“Yes, with Nietzche to guard us.”
“Do philosopher’s make good guards?”
“I don’t know,” I smiled and kissed her. I dropped to the ground picking up the gun and dumping it in a trash bin. Let the junkyard find it and call the cops.
“Come on, princess,” I said guiding her down sidewalk towards home.
I didn’t kid myself. It would be a long hard road before she would be safe and happy. Medical procedures needed to be done, and lots and lots of counseling. But for this one night, she was safe and loved and maybe tomorrow she’d wake with hope.
Hope held us together and years later at our wedding, our vows were said in front of a castle with my poor ugly cat in an even uglier knights costume that he clawed to pieces before the end of the day.
All anyone needs an ounce of hope and a smidgen of love.
This year has changed my life. I had no idea when it began just how far things would go or how much of my life would change. Things are harder now, but in true cosmic twist it’s also better. My life makes a lot more sense even as things get more and more confusing.
I am we. We is me. I am currently going through the process for diagnosis of a Dissociative Disorder. This is a group of trauma based disorders that can cause multiple personalities. The most famous and extreme version of this is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). This used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder and was used, badly, in movies like ‘Sybil’ and ‘Split’. [Please note: these are terrible examples of DID and have just enough information to be dangerous] There is also Otherwise Specified Dissociative Disorders (OSDD formerly DDNOS) 1a and 1b. There are even classifications in between. Some experts include Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in the dissociative spectrum. I can go into detail about the differences between them and which disorder we expect to get diagnosed with and why, but in the end, all this means is one thing: There are other, real, people living in my head, or our head. You’ll notice I switch from I/me to we/us frequently. This is to acknowledge the others that share this body, this life, this existence.
We all have parts. A work self, a home self, a party self. Many people say they have to have their “work hat” on to answer a question in their field. This is fairly normal to the human experience. We all compartmentalize and dissociate to some extent. There is a stage of development between five and nine where personality development is fluid. Normally by age nine (some experts set the bar as late as 11) all those parts get smooshed into one cohesive personality. What happened for us and others with certain dissociative disorders is repeated trauma stopped that process as a way to cope. Each of those parts developed independently as full complete individuals. If you met them you would not think them flat or an affectation. You would see a normal person with their own likes and dislikes and ways of understanding the world. If you hooked the body up to an EEG, each personality would have different brain waves.
But we are not left with just those people. The brain is now locked into this coping mechanism and will continue to make new parts as needed to cope with stress, a new skill, anything needed. This is not purposeful. It’s entirely unconscious and no one in us has the ability to control it. New personalities, called alters, come when they come. The alters can diverse and are often fully developed. Not all are human. This is very common. Some can be characters from beloved movies or books, even real people in your outside life or historical figures. It all comes down to whatever the unconscious brain thinks we need at that time to deal with what life throws at us. Dragons, wolves, demons, fairies, your favorite uncle, even your abusers can find their way into the fabric of the inner landscape.
Every system, or group of alters in one person, is different. Some switch out overtly like we see so commonly in movies. Some merely blend with the host, the alter that handles daily life. You might see the speech pattern or gait of the host change subtly. If you never thought to look you might not ever notice. Some systems there is amnesia between who is out, meaning no one else holds the memory of what they did while in the body but them. Some systems everyone remembers everything, or has access to those memories…and everything in between. There are literally no rules. Systems learn their way of coping with life as a multiple based on the personalities formed and the unique stressors life hands them. There is no one way to exist with this.
There are no hard and fast rules. Nothing we say here is a blanket statement, merely our own experience.
DID/OSDD is a response to trauma at a specific stage of personality development. It is meant to be hidden. Some systems are better at hiding than others, but many fight to remain hidden, even after the host learns of their existence. A fear of letting anyone know about it or convincing yourself you are faking this and just delusional seems to be built into the fabric of many systems. It is very common to fight with these feelings. Many systems go round and round with themselves about this. How long they fight with it or the ability to open all the closet doors has a lot to do with the collection of personalities in their system and how deep or extreme the trauma is.
It is almost a joke in the DID/OSDD community that the most successful systems are never found out. While some discover they are part of a system in their teen years or early adulthood, a large percentage are not unearthed until 30’s or 40’s. Two systems very near and dear to us were in their 60’s when their alters first felt safe enough to show themselves instead of pretending to be the host. Our experience finding out at 41 is not uncommon.
DID/OSDD is not rare. It affects more of the population than schizophrenia. It is estimated that diagnosed systems make up 1% and 3% of the world’s population. Undiagnosed systems are estimated at 5%. That sounds small but think about it for a minute. That means 5 out of every 100 people in the world have a system of alters. The world population is over 7 billion people. 5% of that is 350 million. 350 million people worldwide have alters. This is not rare. Here are some more detailed numbers.
There will be friends and family reading this wondering how and why. Quite honestly, I, Susan, as host, don’t really know. My alters have given me snippets to give me some ideas. I do have flashbacks and the true c-ptsd (complex post traumatic stress disorder) is rearing its ugly head. But I do not have enough information to definitively say this person did XXX to us at age X, XXX times. In many systems specific alters will hold specific trauma memories. The host could not live and be functional if they held that information. That is the primary purpose of a system of alts. What registers as trauma for a child is all over the map. This does not necessarily mean abuse of any kind. There are children of warzones who developed systems. Medical trauma, like cancer, or repeated operations due to accident. Emotional abuse or neglect. Bullying in extreme forms. For most, what makes the alters form, is a complicated mix of several things in the child’s life at that time. There is rarely any one event or subset of events that cause this.
For us, beyond our own personal therapy and journey inward, it doesn’t matter. This is who we are now. This is the life we have to lead now. We will not share our trauma with anyone, friend or family, besides mental health professionals as needed for diagnosis and learning to live as we are now. Learning about and coping with our trauma is a personal undertaking and private. If you have loved ones who have opened their closet doors to tell you they are a system, I urge you not to pry into why. Focus instead on all the people that make them up now. Let the alters know they are safe. Let them make themselves known at their own pace. See each one as a different person and learn just like you would with any new friend.
To paraphrase a quote from someone we respect: We do not go through this life as one person. We are and always will be, the dragon, the dude bro, the father figure, the protector, the little girl, the panther, and many others.
We are the Collective Radio System.
For research and general information:
DID in the DSM5
Dissociative Disorders AMA
Dissociative Disorders: CRCC Lecture
Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES II)
How common is DID?
Living with DID/DDNOS and Dissociative Disorders FB
An Infinite Mind
The Ivory Garden
Dissociative Disorder Hotline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
Voices in DID/OSDD:
The Entropy System
DID Mom Vlog
Multiplicity and Us
Acrylic and Aether
My son is 17 today. One hell of a wild ride and a year to go before he's on his own. I don't know whether I should be relieved or scared. Probably both. For this week's #WednesdayWritings I submit to you Cry. A poem about motherhood.
A baby cries
Nothing fills me with more fear
Am i good enough?
Will he know me?
Am I up to this?
280 days of insecurity led to this
6720 hours of thinking and rethinking my choice
My desire for motherhood
Making a choice to try
403200 minutes of breathing for another
Listening to frightening advice
Feeling the naysayers tell me
This wasn’t right
Deflecting badly the 1001
telling me everything from
lanolin for tender suckling
to poisoned needles will make him sick
280 nights of worrying myself to sleep
A baby cries
Nothing fills me with more relief
I did it!
My body did this!
Through 6720 hours of his mother
Through doctors taking my choices away
And cutting him out
His beautiful face
Covered in the substance
That kept him alive all this time
Red skin and dark hair
I was made for this
I was created with organs
That held him close
I live in a world where science
Can create those organs for others
So that I could love him
So that he could grow up knowing love
A million tiny movements
Inside of me
And I meet him face to face
A baby cries
Exhaustion covers the worry
Is he hungry?
Is he scared?
Is he sick?
Do I need a doctor?
Does he have a rash?
Will it get worse because I didn’t see it in time?
Use diaper rash ointment every time
Never use talc
Don’t eat spicy food
Did I eat something spicy today?
Is that why he’s crying?
A baby cries
Blinking sleep from my eyes
I hold him close
The routine takes thought away
Endless nights rocking in place
No rocking chair in sight
Taught me it’s easier
To just lay side by side
Ignoring a thousand complaints
A thousand what if’s
Naysayers using it as explanation
For my bad parenting
For every time my son cries
His little baby cheek rests on my breast
Warm body tucked in next to mine
And I know I made the right choice
And all those nights ago
When I chose love
A baby cries
He cries and cries and cries
No end in sight
Makes one bit of difference
They’re all right about me
I can’t do this
I’m not a good mom
Why won’t he stop?
It’s all the spicy food I like
It’s the formula
He’s allergic breast milk
He’s allergic to peas
Too much sun
Too little fresh air
Everyone has an answer
That tells me I’m doing this wrong
But not one of them
Can make him stop
Make him sleep
A baby cries
For hours everyday
I’m a mess
I just want someone to hold me
Tell me it will be okay
That’s all he wants
This being with my son’s face
I rock him through
Singing to drown it out
Never giving up
Strength I never knew I had
Showing this tiny person
When the nightmares are too scary
When the bully pushes him down
He’ll know I love him
He’ll know he can come to me
You cry little boy
You cry for however long it takes
We’ll cry together
I’m your mom
I love you
A baby cries
Stretching his little baby legs
Urge to move and explore
Pulling him farther and farther
From my protection
What will he put in his mouth?
What will he touch?
Should I be keeping closer watch?
Should I spank?
Should I shout?
Should I laugh?
Should I pen him in to a tiny space
Or leash him to my wrist?
Should I let him find out
Or protect from every last lesson
The world has to offer?
I am not up to this
Moving about thing
Why can’t you just smile
From your carseat
And bat at toys I dangle?
Don’t put that--
--in your mouth
Well no wonder the tears
Stream down your face
That should never be in your mouth
I’m a horrible mother
And the questions
About my ability
A baby cries
Weary I shake my head
And hold him close
Cleaning the mess
He looks to me
Like I have all the answers
Like I can make any booboo better
For a moment
I think I can
There will be a day
When love is no longer enough
To heal the hurts of the world
But that day is not today
He’s a baby
Nothing is safe from
A marauding mind
And flailing arms and legs
And today a lesson was learned
He smiles reaching
For the next NoNo
I seem to have forgotten to move
He knows I will catch him
Every single time
I know I’ve done everything right
A baby cries
This one is not mine
But I know how old
I know what it wants
Just by sound
I didn’t know I had a super power
Given to me by my son
Instinct drives me to tell
This hollow eyed woman
Fear and exhaustion in her gaze
What the baby needs
But I only smile
Remembering all the advice
All the times I thought I wasn’t good enough
And I know my words are not what she needs
Eventually she’ll find the love
She’s strong enough
A baby cries
A little girl
While her brother watches on
Nothing fills me with more fear
Nothing fills me with more relief
Nothing fills me with more
My opinion of bras. They suck! Man, I could end this right here. Bras have never been simple for me. I’m a very large breasted woman. So large in fact most places don’t even make my size. Anything over a DDD and you’re stuck searching. Even the rare G can find stuff in specialty stores. Not me. H’s are near unheard of unless you want to pay $90 a pop.
Let’s add insult to injury. I have not one but two, yes you heard that right, two frozen shoulders. It has become near impossible for me to put a bra on without help. Not that my willing spouse in the house has a problem with that (I think he enjoys it), but there’s something a little soul destroying about not being able to take care of your basic needs on your own. Let’s not even talk about what it’s like to dangle five pounds each from your shoulders (yes I weighed them. Shup. Don’t judge me). No matter how good your bra is, and mine are rather impressive with under support, when you get to my size pressure will be put on shoulders and upper back. Doesn’t matter how I wear them, it just hurts. Frozen shoulders are no joke. Some people don’t get a lot of pain with them, but I have a pain disorder so the universe decided I could handle even more pain. Gee, sometimes I wish the universe didn’t think I was so strong. Talk about karmic backhanded compliment…but I digress. Bras now hurt in a way I can’t cope with, so I gave them up.
I held on to my daily bra torture for a long time with these shoulders. I had fears of embarrassing my teenagers with their friends or school officials. See it’s really obvious when I don’t have one on. They are big , and a gift of genetics and the fact they were working breasts feeding babies means they hang. I personally do not care that they hang. Never had a partner give a rat’s boob about it, and these things made milk. That’s kind of a miracle when you think on it. I wear my stretch marks, saggy breasts, and gray hair with pride. They tell my story, and a big part of that story is being a mom. No regrets there. Not for one second (even when I want to toss the kids through a window). However, the last thing I wanted was to walk into school and the teachers and all their friends notice I had no bra on and the things they would say to my kids.
I also couldn’t shake the memories of women and teenage girls in my life and around me. Listening to their judgment of proper female dress code and the hell they wreaked on those that didn’t live up (not that I ever did live up as the school basket case ala’ Ally Sheedy in Breakfast Club). Isn’t it funny how we impose the greatest social mores on our own culture groups?
It came down to sanity. It wasn’t worth the searing pain, and I’m talking not able to lift my arm enough to adjust clothing and use the pot after wearing one for a few hours. I started out with really baggy and thick clothing, and scarves (forget that its like 60F outside…I’ll just sweat). I went out nervous as hell entertaining my spouse with a rapid fire monologue of all the reasons why I shouldn’t bother with a bra. How I was in so much pain it wasn’t worth it anymore and we were only shopping not going to a five star restaurant.
But something amazing happened.
No. One. Noticed.
Not one person did a double take or stole a backwards glance at my chest. No one said anything nasty. There were no whispered conversations when I passed. The check out people looked at my face (which was sometimes unusual because with a bra my assets precede me. I’m almost used to certain individuals seeing boobs first). I did not end up on People of Walmart. And, boy, I was ready for all of that if it happened. I had entire monologues of scathing repartee about minding their own business, and my right to go topless if I wanted. Even jokes both self deprecating and insulting to the other. I was armed to the verbal teeth. Haven’t had to use a single one. Talk about taking the wind out of my sails. I’m half happy and half disappointed I didn’t get go toe to toe with an asshole.
I started caring less and less about going out braless. I’m a modest sort naturally (not that anything is wrong with flaunting what you’ve got. You are an autonomous person regardless of what you wear or don’t wear. You do you, it’s not just me). I doubt I’ll go out in a tanktop braless, but pretty much anything else is fair game now. Oh I’m sure if I want to dress up I’ll put the girls on display. There is a certain amount of power that comes with big breasts when you want attention. On a day to day basis, though? You can forget it. My life is easier, less painful, and more confident without well presented boobs. In some cultures my shape without a bra is considered normal and even beautiful. Why have I let the others convince me I need this thing of metal and canvass (for those that don’t wear one underwires are curved metal rods…okay so they’re not typically canvass, but cloth can be stitched and layered in a way that is just as strong) strapping me down?
Let the ta tas free! Unless you feel better about you with one on and they don’t cause you pain or discomfort, toss the bras. They aren’t worth it. Very few people will notice or care. I promise. Those that do notice are probably not worth your time.
Side note for the bra believers: Yes I have been professionally fitted, and get refitted on a regular basis. If you choose to wear one, don’t trust what size you think you are, go to a pro and get fitted. It’s the difference between wearing pants made out of cactus needles vs. silk. An estimated 70% of people with breasts are wearing the wrong size bra. Most higher end dept. stores like Daltons or Macy’s, or actual lingerie shops, will have someone trained on staff to help you for free. You don’t have to actually buy, but if you’re big like me it might be the only place you find your size for under $100.
We need to talk about this spoon theory business. For those that are unfamiliar Spoon Theory was originally created by Christine Miserandino in the blog, But You Don’t Look Sick. The short version is she was in a restaurant with her friend who asked the loaded question, “What is it like to live with chronic illness.” Thinking fast she gathered spoons as a visual aid and used them to describe her life in units of energy represented by the spoons. The main take away is that people with chronic illness have a finite amount of spoons (energy) and we always have to think about how we going to spend it. Being sick for a short period of time is one thing, but when you live your life constantly thinking this way it changes how you see the world and the decisions you make.
This resonated strongly with me and I immediately jumped on the spoonie bandwagon. It was great to have this lexicon to describe my life to others and to help loved ones get that sometimes I just can’t do things because I have to spend my spoons elsewhere that day. As I got deeper into spoonie culture more and more fellow would be spoonies were unhappy with how this definition of living with chronic illness took over and sometimes fell flat.
I spent time looking into this trying to understand or think of yet another way to describe life that would fit these holes and there just is nothing. Looking at able bodied people’s response to spoon theory I realized they weren’t fully getting it, causing them to misuse spoon theory and create gaps in understanding. This is not to say spoon theory fits everyone with chronic illness or that there aren’t some issues, but I wanted to spend some time breaking this down a little better.
Imagine every day you have a finite number of spoons. Every person with chronic illness has a different amount of spoons. It has to do with medication, other treatments, self care, what needs to be done, weather, ect. Some will have five spoons in a day; some 20. Each day can start off with a different amount. Some days I’m down to three, easily, and others I have fifteen or more. There are so many variables I cannot tell you from day to day how many I will have. My ability level changes every single day. I have learned to gauge quickly what I *think* I will be able to do but I’m not always correct. I personally know a person with Fibromyalgia, like me, who gets through their day with 25 on average; and another person, also with Fibromyalgia, who is lucky to get seven spoons on a good day. It is all very individual.
For the purposes of this blog let’s say I average twelve spoons a day barring any weirdness. To help compare, using people in my life as a model, the average able bodied person starts most days with thirty. A younger or very fit person who is active will have more, and an older or unfit person who is not very active will have a little less.
Using myself and the twelve spoons, think about your day. Based, again, on myself and how much energy I expend doing various things, use this table as a guide for how you want to spend your spoons.
Remember you only have 12 spoons to work with and you’re not guaranteed having that many the next day, how are you going to spend them? You can sometimes steal from the next day in emergencies but then however many spoons the universe gives you the next day are down from the get go. You cannot just decide I will do XYZ one day and ABC the next. You are not promised the ability to do that.
Every day I have to think, consciously, what needs to be done, and what is most important and what can I let go if my body doesn’t work. I can’t go to the beach or get a random ingredient for dinner or sew a quick button on a pair of kid pants just because I want to or it needs to be done. Sometimes I will wake up feeling like I have 20 spoons and an hour or so later suddenly have five. I don’t make many plans because I don’t want to have to say I’m sorry, today is a no go after a friend or loved one put in all this work to do something that included me. I miss out on school things with my kids because even though we knew this concert was coming my body doesn’t care about calendars, and I can’t just push through it. When spoons are gone they’re gone. It isn’t about weakness or grinning and bearing it. You can’t magically make a dollar appear when you’re broke. Same thing here.
The hardest part about all of this and where the main problem lies in bridging the understanding gap between persons with chronic illness and able bodied persons, is that there is no formula. Explaining how we make choices about where our energy goes is only one step. The next one, and quite probably not the final one, is understanding that every day changes. I’ve said many times in this post that each day I have a different amount of spoons. One day I might have 15 and the next three in a row, four. I have many well meaning people in my life who love me and just want to help in some way look at my activity level from day to day like we would look at a financial budget and try to audit what I do and then “discuss” with me why I may or may not choose to do this activity they really wanted to do with me. I don’t have a simple answer for them and it gets very hard to explain in a loving way what is going on.
It frustrates me that people feel the need to do that. The belief that I must not be active enough or too active or not doing something right or I just need to push through it takes away my sense of autonomy over my own life and sometimes my own body. Even if I was somehow missing some important thing that would make life better or at least more predictable, no one has the right to judge whether or not I do it. I don’t have the right to judge if you decide a big screen tv is a better investment than new car tires. I’m not in your head. I’m on the outside and you may have a very valid reason I haven’t thought of yet. Able bodied people are by and large given this kind of autonomy.
I have to live in a way that most people can’t even imagine. All I want is to be trusted that I know my body and I know my illness. I am going on 13 years diagnosed, and a strong possibility I’ve had it since I was a teenager. Your friend with fibromyalgia is living life the same way I am but they are making the choices that work for them. Their choices will not necessarily work for me.
I want to say to all the people in my life that do this, and there are many: I love you! I love you so much I don’t have words. I recognize that you love me and want me to be healthy and happy and have a good life. I recognize you feel helpless watching me go through this and are grasping at as many straws as I am to help. Please remember, I know me best. Please remember, when I have to bow out, or just smile and nod as you speak of “all your other friends who are sick say to do this”, I am not angry with you or trying to hurt you. I’m just trying to live my life on my terms the best way I know how.
Feeling helpless is the hardest part of watching someone you love go through this. Here are things that help me. I encourage you to speak to your own loved ones about what helps them. Their answers may be different from mine. Some of these things we expect spouses/partners to do, but sometimes spouses/partners can’t or just need a break from constant caretaking.
I usually like to have a clear wrap up, thank middle school English courses for that. Today though I think I will just say: Thank you for reading, I love you, and I hope this helps you understand loved ones with chronic illness, or how to speak to loved ones about your chronic illness.
*Side Note* A friend recently pointed out to me this also translates well into mental illness and those coping with death, abuse, and/or violence. Sometimes we have limited emotional or mental spoons too, and when they’re gone, we’re basically goo.
Death happens. It is unavoidable. It is a time of change, varied emotions, and has long lasting repercussions. The person you loved created a shape inside of you where your souls touched. When one dies that imprint, that space for them, is always there. It can never be filled by another, or things, or places, or actions. Every person we touch has an effect on the shape of our souls. In Western cultures there is pressure to get on with things after a death doing a disservice to the loved one now gone and those left behind to grieve. Death has become frightening and lonely, relegated to hospitals and for the very lucky, hospice care. I’ve always believed that it was the way our culture treats death and grieving that make it feel so foreign and stunt the healing process of everyone…and the acceptance of those that know death is coming for them. There is a movement now, pushing back against this paradigm, reclaiming death from fear and stigma.
Doula is a from Greek and means “female servant”. This has been adopted by the midwife community to mean individuals of all genders that help assist a person in labor and the first few days of life with the new baby. The Death Doula movement further appropriates the word to mean individuals of all genders that stand beside the dying and help the family with the early stages of grieving.
Janie Rakow, president of INELDA, the International End of Life Doula Association, describes a death doula as, “... someone who acts as a guide and companion through the end phase of an illness. This work can start as soon as someone is admitted to hospice.” She says, “the doulas work with the dying person and their loved ones through the final dying process and into the early grieving stages afterward.”
Death Doulas are on the forefront of a movement to take dying out of hospitals and institutions and into compassionate care. The primary role for a Death Doula is to literally stand and take witness. To hold the hand of those that are dying alone or help loved ones hold the hand of the dying and give peace on the start of this journey. No one should die alone, unless they have chosen to do so. A Death Doula stands present for the dying and gives them what care they can. A soft voice. A song. A story. A held hand. A hug. Gentle brushing of hair. Reminders that it is okay to free themselves from the fetters of this world and all the pain being caused by whatever it is that brought death to them. Reminders that there is nothing to fear and they will not leave this world unloved.
A secondary, but equally important role, is to help the loved ones left behind. Even when you know death is coming, even when you take the time to say all the things and are present for the moment, it does not diminish the grieving, the fear, or the pain. Even shock may still happen. Part of that, as I said before, is because of our own societal mores on what grieving looks like. Loved ones are left to clean up all the loose ends, comfort others who may not have known the dying nearly as well as they, and then get on with it. Shove themselves into a awkward box that no one truly fits into, and lock it up tight. The death turns into trauma. Death Doulas seek to end that.
Often this role will just look to outsiders like the busy person. Giving hugs. Listening. Making calls. Talking them through dealing with remains and appropriate remembrance services. Taking in all the information that may get missed when the medical staff bring in forms or speak. The grieving sometimes zone out and can’t catch all of that. It is being the strong one so the loved ones don’t feel they have to be strong and can actually begin to grieve in a way that is meaningful to them.
This work is very similar to hospice care, whom I hold in the highest esteem, but with less emphasis on the medical side and physical comfort, and more on the spiritual needs and peace of mind. Death Doulas can sometimes work with a specific faith but more often they will be secular but spiritual, offering to learn about the beliefs of the dying and to speak about other cultures until they find what is right. Or in the case of being unable to meet the dying before the event to walk the family through those same things. This is midwifery to the soul as we send them on their journeys. It doesn’t matter if that journey is to feed the ground and rejoin the earth, to walk into Hel (Norse/Germanic afterlife not the same as Christian Hell), to dance in the summer lands (early pagan belief), or live in peace in Heaven. All of that is valid and necessary to help the dying take that step with peace.
The movement, it should be important to note, are not advocates of suicide as we understand it in Western cultures. There is a difference between having no medical options to stop or slow death and choosing to go out on your own terms (assisted suicide), and suicide because of depression, trauma, or mental illness. Even in the Death Doula community there is a split on beliefs about assisted suicide. Death Doulas celebrate life and honor it’s passing with reverence. Helping someone to take their own life is not a part of the average Doula’s belief system. Even in extreme cases it is not taken lightly or easily.
I walk the path of a Siedr, an early Norse/Germanic hedge witch. These were the witches of yore that traveled where they willed and could be helpful or not as they deemed necessary. One of the primary roles of the Siedr was to assist in births and deaths. I gladly serve as a birth or death doula upon request. It is how I practice my faith and honor my gods. Every Doula has their own journey to bring them to this space. Some will do their greatest work here, and some will move on. We are as varied as humanity, but we all come together for the belief that death is not something to fear and should be treated with respect and love.
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I’m sad. Not depressed in a clinical sense. I’ve been there before. I know what that feels like. This isn’t it. I’m just...unhappy. I have things to be happy about. I am in no way destitute, but I am still unhappy with life in general. I haven’t reached the pinnacle, though in many ways I’m much closer than most realize.
As I look around at the landscape I realize this wasn’t the mountain I wanted to climb. It was so hard to tell down there at the bottom which one I had started on, and the crossroads were all blind instinct. Now, after all that work, I’m not where I wanted go or even on that path. There is nothing wrong with where I ended up. In fact some seem to be impressed by it. How do I explain that yes, there is some notoriety here, but I wanted the notoriety over there instead. It’s like shooting the hat off a person when you were aiming for the apple. Yeah it was a cool shot, but not what you wanted.
Some people find themselves in this situation, and happily surprised, just keep going. There are those that the question of which mountain they are on never mattered as long as they had something to reach for. There are those that any success acted as personal empowerment and they gladly set on that mountain path headless of the rocks. In fact those persons seem to be able to leap over chasms and move boulders. We look at them as shining examples. I am not in competition with anyone so I am happy for their success.
I was not meant for mountain climbing
I’m not made for that kind of life. Success to me is far less tangible. All those plateaus and peaks and crags and valleys are fun and interesting, but not meant for me. I’ve always rejected the rat race. I reject the idea that I have to reach for anything at all. I challenge the need to have a traditional job, or parent like our society says, or live my life by any standard. I fully resent money. I resent the need to earn by someone else’s standard in order just to live. Why can’t I barter for food? Why can’t I make my own shelter? Why must I live life in this way? I can fool myself, by finding something semi interesting to do for a time, into thinking that I can live by these means. I excel most of them time when I set my mind to it. I’ve even made a name for myself in certain circles, for what it’s worth. In the end, though, I always end up feeling dissatisfied.
I have a deep need to live life unfettered. I hate being tied down by anything. Some ties I choose, like my children and lovers, but my lovers know never to hold me back, and my children will one day fly on their own. While I love animals of all kinds I don’t own many pets, other than cats, because I can’t just up and go when I want to. Cats can handle a night or two without you as long as there’s ample food and water. My dream is to live out of a mobile home so I can pick up and go whenever. Once we almost did just that with plans on homeschooling the kids, but we didn’t get the financing in the end.
I’m tired of trying. I concede the need for gainful employment and income so we don’t starve, but I’m going to do it my way. The truth is while my body *does* make working from home a need, I’d choose it anyway. I’m going to learn what I want to learn. I’m going to write what I want to write. I’m going to do my weird crafts. I’m going to do the things that nourish my soul even if that means I’m a large woman belly dancing in the living room. If it doesn’t nourish me, it’s gone. There will be some changes. Some will not agree with my choices and some may even be hurt by them. I’m done trying to make my soul fit in a box. I’m done making the mountain top my only goal. I don’t feel good labelling myself or closing myself into a space. Some really need that to feel safe and to grow. There’s nothing wrong with it. Just not for me. I am expansive. I am limitless. I am more than the surface you see.
I am adrift in the All That Is, and I go where I am willed.
"My disease is progressing. It's getting hard to cope."
"Oh my. What do you have?"
"Oh. Well. That's just silly, you just need to get moving again, you'll feel better!"
Now I feel silly for having even spoken.
Fibromyalgia is not just pain. I've struggled with this post. Rightly or wrongly I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia for 11 years. I never wanted to be the fibro poster child. I never hid it and once in a while I'm moved to post about it, but preferred to let it sit in the background. I've tried a few ways to explain what this monster is, to varying degrees of success. Most commonly I am ignored. That is for a few reasons I'm sure. Answers that run from not wanting to hear the bad stuff to just being tired of hearing about it. People who live with chronic illness are known in the media as being huge complainers. If you have a sexy diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis or Lupus, diagnoses that are well accepted by the community, or if you have something new that no one's heard of that you can teach others about, then you are heard.
Sometimes I believe there must be something wrong with how I present myself. So many people discount this huge thing going on in my body. Twice I've been in a position where my diagnosis was largely ignored as me being whiny until someone else in my circle of people was diagnosed similarly. It's as if my experience is somehow invalid. I've learned to expect that from the medical community, especially emergency services (don't get me started on the time EMS told me I was lying or the multiple times I've been told I'm a drug addict). That's frustrating enough, but it's worse when it's those you allow close to you.
People with chronic illnesses speak loudly and often. No one can see the battle we fight every day just to breathe. Medical professionals often don't have a reason why your body has decided to break down. We have to almost scream to get noticed, and then that very screaming is considered evidence that we're unbalanced, it's all in our heads. That reaction leaves me feeling guilty every day. Why can't I get out of bed at a "decent hour"? Why can't I just walk there, it's only a few blocks? Am I a good mom? What are my kids seeing and learning when mom is always sick?
Like most people, I've learned ways to make the world work around all my stuff. We all do it. Healthy and ill alike. We create patterns and habits around preference, finances, fears, and dreams. My world looks different because of my illness. If I were healthy I'd be labeled eccentric or lazy. Because I'm ill others feel they can judge me and my choices. It feels like they are looking for a way to tell me it's my fault. When someone is sick we look for reasons and therapy. Cold and flu are viruses, bronchitis is irritation or bacteria. But this has no reason, nothing to blame it on. It is easier to blame the person for bad things happening than to accept sometimes life happens.
Fibromyalgia hits each person differently and to differing severities. I've often said there is no one big answer and cure. There are hundreds as varied as the people who have it. For me, the pain, while no easy thing is the least of it. Fibro pain centers around 11 groups of tender points generally near joints in the soft tissues. It aches like arthritis and flares upon over use the same way, but is actually more painful. It's not painful enough that you can't learn to cope, but enough to make you exhausted with the coping. The pain moves around. Most people with fibro have one or more places that are always a problem but then the pain in the rest of the body comes and goes almost at a whim. On a normal day my pain is about a 5. That is half way between no pain and pain so bad you break your teeth clenching. When I take the right amount of the right medication I can get it down to about 3.
Think about that for a second. The average run of the mill non migraine headache is about a 4. A stubbed toe is like 7 and then aches at a 2 for a few days. So your stubbed toe is a person with fibro's best day. Imagine walking around all day every day with 20 stubbed toes and nothing you can do will fix it.
The pain is also different. Normal touches that shouldn't hurt do. A tap feels like a slap. Sometimes rough clothing hurts your skin. Sound which shouldn't "hurt" can cause physical pain. For me it's sound behind and to the side, even low level sound. The timbre of my husband's voice often makes me cringe. I back myself into a corner so all sound is in front of me and constantly tell people to turn it down. Bright light hurts more than just my eyes. You'll see me with sunglasses even on cloudy days sometimes.
This unremitting pain and exaggeration of stimuli is caused by my brain misreading the signals. I cannot force my brain to read them correctly. There is no behavior modification, or neurological therapy that will change how my pain centers experience pain.
Like I said, this is the least of it for me. I have learned to cope with the pain. I actually have a higher tolerance than most because my body has been trained that extreme pain won't kill it. I don’t like pain and will cry out like anyone else but my body has ceased catastrophic systems failure that high levels of pain cause. That said, it's still not fun and I'd give much to not be walking around like an open sore all the time.
Next, like most neurological issues, is brain fog. It's hard to describe. We all feel funky at times, lack of sleep or need that first cup of coffee, but this is different. I can only tell you what I experience from the inside. I will sit on my bed because I need to get dressed. I know this has to happen. I can see my clothes. I can't tell you if they're clean or not. I might not remember the name of the color. I will hold my jeans in my hands thinking, "How do I put these on? I need to put these on…" Every task during this time takes a lot longer and leaves you feeling exhausted and frustrated. When I say I'm in a fog, I mean it. I won't be any good to anyone. It really is like standing in a grey mist, sounds muted, vision blank, even the air feels heavy. Once in a while if you wait you'll catch a glimpse of reality. A bright spot where you know the brain works but can't quite get there. There is no medication or regimen for this.
The thing I hate the most is costochondritis. It is chest pain near the heart. It's actually an inflammation of the muscles around the ribs where they connect to the sternum. It feels like a lead pipe going the center of my chest to my back. Movement hurts, especially changing position, anything that ups the breathing rate makes it worse. Breathing, talking, even eating are especially hard. My pain hits 9 easily during these episodes. For years I had no idea what it was. No doctor could tell me. I'd call in about this horrible chest pain. They send me to ER, ER rules out heart, accuses me of just wanting drugs, occasionally gives some to me for comfort, and sends me home.
Restless legs is my enemy. I can't stop moving. It's more like restless body syndrome. I’m always bouncing, moving, twitching. To stop actually hurts even as the exhaustion of the constant movement sets in. If I spend time to think about it, I can make it stop, but as soon as I am concentrating elsewhere it starts again. This makes bedtime dreadful. Worry over shaking the bed and waking my husband, taking hours to not get comfortable and waking up frequently only to have to go through the same process of flopping like a dead fish to get to sleep again. Thank gods there is a medication for that…when it works.
Sleep. Sleep is my frienemy. I love sleep. I need it so badly. I am constantly tired. On average I need about 10 hours of sleep to be functional. But then I oversleep and miss things that I felt were important for the day. It takes an hour at least to even try to get up. It takes 2 to fall asleep. Sleep aids do and don't help. The pain medication wears off before the sleep medication, which means I wake up basically paralyzed in pain. Not fun. Sleep is where people get the idea I'm lazy. I keep crazy hours because I work nights, then I can't sleep until the kids are off to school then I can't get up until it's almost time for them to be home, then I didn't get enough sleep so I'm not at my best, it’s a vicious cycle and leaves me basically a vampire. I've heard many "jokes" over the years saying "If Susan can get up…" or "Let me guess, she's still asleep." If I could just be allowed to sleep the way I need to sleep without having to hear those things I would be a much happier person. It's exhausting to know what your body needs and then to deny it in order to fit what others are imposing upon me. I know that what others think of me is none of my business, but you can't always shut it out.
Raynauds is not strictly a fibro thing but it is common. Magic color change toes! Raynauds can affect toes, fingers, nose, and ears. What happens is stress or even a cool breeze or air conditioner triggers a hypothermic response causing the body to remove blood from the appendage. Your toes or fingers turn white or blue in response. There's nothing that can be done. It just happens. It does not cause permanent damage. It's more annoying than anything else. I’m cold all the time. It will be near 80 degrees in the house during those stubborn late spring days when you're avoiding turning on the air, and I will be using a heating pad on my feet. I live in shawls. Even working the mouse on my computer can set it off. Winter in Wisconsin may have been a mistake.
Migraines. If you’ve ever had one, no explanation is needed. If you haven't, no explanation will suffice.
Irritable bowel syndrome. Certain foods will make me very sick for no good reason. Extreme stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhea taking turns. This is largely controlled by diet, but can cause some serious issues if not kept in check. If an attack goes on too long it can cause sores in the bowel which can bleed. Bowels can also become impacted. So I'll stop there before it gets too gross. You get the point.
My fibro symptoms are resistant to medication. Some people get relief from various medications, diets, or natural medicine. I get so tired of being told, my best friend did this, or I tried that and it was great! Each person is going to react differently. You don't know that I have or haven't tried this or that or that it will work for me. I have been on many medications from weed, nerve mediations. Only one has had any effect. However, that one medication only helps with a small portion of all I experience. I watch what I eat to a point (I still like food). I'm into yoga and tai chi and belly dancing. But the symptoms are pervasive and all encompassing. And it's getting worse. I don't know yet if this is a random cluster flare up that happens or if my disease is truly progressing. It's taken from me energy, thought, ability to do basic things like grocery shop, it's even taken the sun. What else can it take from me?
I still feel silly. Like it's all in my head. Everyone seems to think it is, right? But that's the reality. My disease is progressing and there is nothing anyone can do to fix it. I will have more pain. I will have more fog. I will have constochondritis more often. I will need even more sleep.
But all I need to do is get out there and move some more, right?
:Jump up and down, do a little dance, sing a happy song, one of the rare glimpses into the world of my writing I offer up a free story just for you my wonderful fans.
DISCLAIMERS: 1. This story is for a HORROR anthology. It is goryier than my usual work and has some difficult themes (well admittedly all my work deals with difficult themes I just treat it differently in romance/fantasy vs horror). This is a graphic look at homicidal insanity from the inside.
2. This story has not seen the love of an editor yet. THERE WILL BE MISTAKES AND TYPOS. This is normal. ALL work needs an editor, even when written by an editor...or rather especially then. I am a special snowflake, but only to my family and friends who love me. To the rest of literary world I need editing just as badly as anyone else.
3. This story will be published in the upcoming JEA anthology Fata Arcana. Each of the stories is based around a single Major Arcana Tarot Card. I got THE MOON: The Moon indicates that things may seem somewhat confusing to you now. You may find it hard to understand where you are coming from, much less what others are thinking and feeling! You need to try to sit with the uncertainty, don't try to force things or people to do things before they are ready. This card is the "Pisces" of the tarot deck.
Without further Ado, I give you:
Cyndee in Lunacy
Grey, grey and more grey. A hundred shades burned everywhere she looked. Never quiet white and never quite black. Color ran and hid in the corners until it was just a mirage; a memory of a better time. Cyndee frowned in front of her antique, full length, mirror adjusting the long platinum strands of hair wishing she could color her hair or find something other than grey to wear, but pigment ran dry in this world, faded as everything else. Besides, it was better to blend in.
Blend in with the crazies.
She wasn’t quite sure when it happened. She knew the world was different long ago. There was color, there was laughter. Voices and screams in the night didn’t keep her up long dark grey hours until the pale grey of daylight filtered through the dusty blinds in her room. It was as if the apocalypse happened, the world turned upside down, and she was the only one to see it.
The truth was revealed to her slowly. Flashes here and there until she was convinced for a short time she was looney as a toon. Slowly the world as it is filtered in until all she saw was reality. Death and decay hiding beneath a veneer of grey paint. Color leached from the world as if it never existed. Frightening monsters lurked in shadows looking for anything…anyone different. Strange animals stalked the streets preying on the unsuspecting, the old and the weak. People wandered to and from meaningless jobs like zombies and everyone she talked to expected her to pretend it was all okay. Even Television shows insisted on the old reality, trying their best with script and myriads of grey to convince everyone nothing had changed.
“…joining us now in Olde Towne East, correspondent Matthias Dulaney. Matthias, what can you tell us right now?”
She turned to watch the screen, as colorless as everything else in the world, while the news casters chattered on. Old Towne East wasn’t far from her. Maybe a block or two. It was a hodge podge of dilapidated old buildings owned by either low income housing or yuppies actively fixing them up. The man on the screen was pointing at the carcass of a homeless man…or woman. It was hard to tell. The body had been flayed and field dressed, meat and limbs hacked off like a butcher would do. It wasn’t a bad job. If she didn’t know better she’d say the ropes and knots could have been her work. Still…gross. She shook her head and watched.
Towards the end, while he was questioning police, one of the baahcula’s ran past. She made up the name herself to describe the blood thirsty giant rams that infected the city. Big as men, shaggy and dirty, with bloody teeth always dripping some nasty mix of drool and whatever they ate last. Their crazed eyes and mewling sounds disturbed her to the core. Didn’t anyone see that? The newscasters, police, even the bystanders noticed nothing and looked right past the monster with a glazed look.
“Sheeple,” she muttered before turning it off.
She opened her fridge, the light flickering from some short she hadn’t been able to find yet. There wasn’t much. She would have to hunt again today. Food at grocery stores was like something out of a movie. All optical illusions, facing, and plastic. Sure, some of it was edible, but it was as leached of life as color. She learned long ago that hunting and foraging was the way to go. Not only did it taste better, but she wasn’t sick like everyone else. Sometimes she theorized they drugged all the food and that made everyone complacent and lost in the past.
“Don’t go too far down the rabbit hole,” she admonished herself with a smile, walking to the back room to gather supplies.
She threw the duct tape rope over her shoulder crosswise across her body. The rope was hand braided by her on long nights trying to keep from screaming back at the endless moans. She checked the edge on her machete looking for nicks and making sure it was sharp enough to cut through bone. She prided herself on a clean kill. A tranq gun would have been great, but she had trouble convincing the deluded store owners it was necessary for survival.
Once she tried. Once she spent hours talking to a gun store owner trying to convince him of the truth. Nothing she did convinced him. In the end she left in tears wondering how long this good man was going to live. She truly cared about him and his miserable life, but he called the people. The ones, that for whatever reason, wanted everyone to see the lies. She spent the rest of the day running from men with smiling masks made of skin and preternaturally clean, light colored, jackets. Ironically that was the scariest thing about them. What exactly did one have to do to stay that clean in a world of dirt, gore, and decay? She shivered just thinking about it.
She donned her Alice in Wonderland baby doll dress with the puffed shoulders and the micro skirt that flared almost a foot out with the help of a petty coat, her knee high zippered boots, and thigh high stockings. It seemed ridiculous, but the dress was made out of some stain resistant material. Water and blood beaded right off, and with such a short skirt it was only prudent to make sure her legs were fully covered. The outfit had the added benefit of being easy to run in, and full mobility of all her limbs.
It was time to go. Get this unenviable task done and she could enjoy the rest of her day. Well enjoy it as much as one could enjoy anything in a grey world.
Five flights down. She looked down the kaleidoscope center of the winding antique stair case. Once it would have been beautiful. The sun shining on polished wood banisters, pristine paint a stark relief. Now it was dirty, creaky stairs worn and bowed in the center. Rat holes and spiders the only decoration. She made her way down wishing she could have seen the building in the nebulous before time.
Outside the main doors, barely on their hinges, she staggered and fell back against the brick. Dizziness overcame her and she was rewarded with a rare flash of insanity. For a moment; just a moment, the street was filled with people. They were all dressed in the lively colors that make up a city on a busy day. Smiles, laughter, music, talking, new cars and old cars side by side on a busy street intent on their destinations. Children playing hopscotch while grandma's and elderly aunts looked on from porches. She could even smell the long dead peach roses next door suddenly back to life.
It threw her off balance, and for that moment she wasn't quite sure which world was real. The people started to gather around her in a loose cluster, all of them had horrified looks on their faces, one young man had his brow scrunched up in worry an arm reached out to her. There were gasps and murmurs about gore on her dress…
And then it was gone.
Reality came crashing in, and she found herself surrounded by tired looking pale zombies who didn't quite look at her. They listed as one to the left. Taking a breath she stomped hard and growled at them. They scattered, grey tattered clothing trailing behind them.
"What the hell was that?" she muttered and stole away to the alley. Beasts didn’t like crowds. They cowered in the shadows and attacked you from behind. It was the best hunting ground. In the dark alleys you didn't hear the screams as Baaculas attacked innocent people. You didn't have to see the rare face of a smiling child taken by the dark. Even sheep knew enough not to wander here.
Rusted metal industrial trash cans resting idly by condemned doors made shadows and hiding places. The stench of rot permeated the air. Behind her someone screamed. She spun in time to see a Baacula taking down an old man. It looked up at her, blood oozing down its fur like rivulets caught in time. She decided now was not the time to intervene. She backed up a few steps before turning and running, zig zagging through forgotten yards and the between spaces always left forgotten away from prying eyes. If it followed, it should not have been able to track her. She could hear the frustrated howl in the distance and knew she was safe…for now.
On with the ghastly business of self preservation.
She found herself a nice little hidey hole between two back door stoops. Across from her was another. If anyone came out that particular door, they'd see her, but she was hidden from everyone else. She smiled reading what she could of the rusted out sign on that door. Police. What a joke. No one would be coming out of that door any time soon. Baaculas had long since taken over any enforcement or protection strong hold. Maybe Baaculas were how the people kept order. Scare everyone into submission.
It wasn't too long before one the grotesque cows came galumphing down the cracked pavement eyes red and steam coming from a well chewed nose. It was big. One of the bigger beasts she'd seen. Normally she wouldn't have tried, but she kept thinking, this one would feed for her a good month or more. She wouldn't have to do this again for a long time if she managed. She didn't even think about how she would get it home and store the meat, intent only on the kill. All other problems could wait.
She watched it. Studied how it moved. Gauged speed and size. Judged distance. Watched the long folds of leathery skin hanging off like ill fitting clothing. If she could grab one of those, she could, if she timed it just right, propel herself up onto its back. From there she could make a clean kill by slitting the throat. She gathered herself up on her haunches ready to leap and waited for the last possible moment. It was almost past her.
Her honed reflexes did their job. Without even much thought, she leaped, catching more air than should have been possible, gripping her hands in its skin. Her feet barely touched ground before lifting off again, pulling and lifting herself up its back. Her feet found purchase in another fold of skin and she pushed off scrambling up high enough to grab a tuft of fur at the top of its head. The beast bellowed something fierce and tried to dislodge her. She nicked its neck in her first swipe. She had to get the jugular before it had a chance to fight too hard.
The beast slammed its back, and her with it, against the wall, making as much noise as possible. Poor, sad, beast. It had no concept that no one would come to help. The second slam made her head bang against the brick making the world swim for a moment. It was long enough for it to reach behind and drag her around, leg first. She was dangling there by one leg when she heard the warbling bleats of the Baaculas. The beast dropped her and backed up a few steps. There was a pack of them, staring at her, drool making their chins moist.
Good luck for the beast. It might live another day. She, on the other hand, had to get out of there fast. She got to her feet slowly, waiting for them to descend on her, but all they did was watch, and bleat…and drool. Adrenalin was her friend. She managed to feint left and then make to the top of the stoop on the right. She bounded over to the trash can, it's rubber lid closed on one half, and from there to the ground right behind them. She ran, the maze of between spaces coming to life in her head as she raced. They gave chase for a short while, but she kept going until the only sound was her labored breathing and blood rushing in her ears.
So much for a month's worth of meat. It would be a long time before a score like that came along again. Giving herself a moment to calm down she rested against one of the dirty walls. It was…moist. If her side didn’t hurt so much she would have retched. As it was she choked back bile. Who knew what manner of liquid was decorating the walls.
It was only a minute later, maybe not even a minute, but she heard movement to her left. Checking the grip on her blade and stretching her limbs to make sure they were ready she slowly eased out into the ally. She had to find food fast or she'd starve tonight and who knew when the weather would be right to try again.
A little one, the size of an actual sheep lumbered about in the shadows. Wooly white fleece and little black feet and hands stuck out like a sore thumb in the sea of dirt the city called alleyways. It was almost cute…until it turned around. Cyndee almost let it go until she saw the face. Fangs and bloody drool slid down its face reminding her what it would turn into…what it had already become. Something in her snapped. Normally she didn’t bother with the little ones unable to tell them apart from children, but this one already likely covered in its first kill broke some small part of her.
"Small," she said to the wind. "But at least I'll eat. And at least it won't kill again."
It started to back away, but she lunged, her reflexes faster than this small beast. It only took a moment. Much faster than it should have been, but she wrapped her arms around it and slid her knife along the throat. Warm, fragrant blood, black as oil, smelling of filth poured down her arms as the first few drops of rain started to fall. All the better. The stench would be washed away. The beast didn't scream, didn't utter a sound. It only stared, wide eyed while it struggled for breath. A single shudder was all the fight it had before the head went slack and the eye no longer saw. The rain picked up and she shoved the whole body in her bag figuring it was small enough to butcher at home.
She moved through the streets like a ghoul herself, back and head weighed down by the rain and her inky bloody bag. She wasn't as far from home as she thought, and found herself back at the old staircase in less than a mile. Even so she was drenched like a drowned rat, and felt not much better.
Alone in her apartment, closed off from the world in her bathroom, she emptied the bag into the tub and began the grisly task of breaking down the beast for meat. "At least it's tender, even if it doesn't last long," she sighed cutting through the velveteen meat. It didn’t' take long before it was cut, packaged and stored. She saved a hunk of ham to boil into soup for dinner and threw the head in with the kitchen trash. She showered in part to clean herself and in part to make sure all the black blood went down the drain. She normally didn't do this at home. Too messy.
Showered and changed, the apartment fragrant with herbs and meat she finally relaxed and turned on the TV.
Matthias Dulaney, investigative reporter extraordinaire was on the screen again with his arm around a crying woman. She wore and OTENA t-shirt, either proudly a part of the Olde Towne East Neighborhood Association, or not caring what thrift store shirt she had on. The nearby police station was behind her. She held up a picture of a beautiful boy with bright shining eyes.
"…Please if you know anything call the number," she pleaded. "Brandon is only seven years old and diabetic. He needs his medicine!"
"For those just tuning in, this is Matthias Dulaney live, once again, in Olde Towne East. Seven year old Brandon White is missing. He was thought to have been taken when he wandered into an ally near his home. Please call 1-800-The-Missing if you have any information…"
"Some people," she muttered stirring her soup. In this world you should never let your children out alone. Hell you should never have children in the first place these days.
There was a quick knock at the door making her jump before it opened and Nick walked in. "It's just Me," he announced.
"You scared me!" she laughed at him and brought her attention back to the stove. Nick was one of the few people she could stand to be around. He was a little nuts like everyone else. He sure didn't see reality, but he saw more truth than most and didn't insist she'd lost her mind. He probably thought she had, but he never put in her face. Besides, it was nice to have company on the long nights. With him she could pretend she didn't hear the screams in the darkness. He also sometimes brought her fresh fruit and vegetables. How he acquired them she didn't ask afraid of the answer.
"Did you hear about that kid?" he asked glancing at the TV while the famous Mr. Dulaney rattled off what the child was wearing that day and again how to contact the police.
"Yeah," she sighed. "It's too bad. He was very young."
"So you think he's dead?"
"In this world?" she looked at him mildly.
"Point taken," he remarked walking over and grabbing a spoon out of a drawer. "Whatchya got cookin'…good lookin'." He flashed her a boyish grin and she laughed.
"Soup," she answered while he helped himself to a taste.
"Mmmm, that's good. How do you do that?"
"It's all in the meat," she laughed. "They may be ugly as sin but they sure taste good."
"Moooooooo!" he cackled struck by how silly her comment was.
"Well go look if you don't believe me. Its head is in the trash." She pulled out a good chopping knife and cut up some wild tomatoes she'd found a few days before.
"You have its head?" he crinkled his nose. "Here?"
"I don't normally bring them home, but it started raining," she shrugged.
"In here?" he pointed at the trash with a mischievous smile.
He pulled back the lid and stared for a few minutes completely silent. Hadn't he ever seen one of the beasts before? It was possible she supposed. Most didn't. He put the lid back on slowly and turned to stare at her and then the pot. He started to shake and all the blood drained out of his face.
"Nick? Are you all right?" she asked. He shook his head violently and started retching. "Oh my god, Nick, what's wrong?" She moved towards him with the knife still in hand. He backed away so fast he stumbled over the furniture. "Are you sick?"
"Yes," he managed.
"Why don't you sit down?"
"N-no, I think I need to go home now," he started for the door.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," he said running for the door and slamming it open. "Home!"
"I'll save you some soup!" she called after him thinking some broth would be just what he needed. She could hear his retches echoing down the hallway. Poor guy.
She settled in to an old movie and a bowl of her hard won soup.
It was maybe an half an hour later when someone knocked on her door. Who in the hell? "Nick? Is that you?" she called before getting up. If she didn't know them they weren't getting in.
She heard a cough and then, "Yes!"
"Oh good," she got up and ladled a cup of just broth. "I have that broth for you—"
She opened the door and startled so bad she tossed the cup behind her in a panic to back up. Nick was there, surrounded by baahculas and People in white coats.
"Cyndee? Ma'am?" one shouted at her as Nick was thrust to the side behind one of the slavering beasts.
"No!" she screamed as hands reached for her. There were too many of them. She wasn't prepared or armed. "Let me go!" she pleaded as she was tackled to the ground. Knees pressed the side of her head and her shoulder to the floor with bruising pressure. Noise was everywhere as hooves and booted feet charged into the room. Shouts and growls surrounded her in a swirl until she was unsure if the beasts spoke and the white jackets growled or vice versa.
One of the beasts opened her trash can and screamed. Words seemed to form from the fanged mouth as spittle sprayed over all that were near. None of them noticed or flinched. There was a pregnant pause followed by her being unceremoniously lifted. Beasts held her arms while the people wrapped her up in bindings like a reverse coat.
Cyndee screamed over and over begging for help. "Nick! Help me!" He had to be there somewhere. If there were two of them she might have a chance. "Nick!"
His hands came into view and he took her face in both of them gently, shocking her while her arms were pulled uselessly against her and her feet bound. "I am," he said softly with real tears in his eyes. She kicked and screamed and struggled as they carried her away, not caring if it was useless. If she was going down, she was going down fighting. They half hurled her onto an ambulance gurney and strapped her down until she couldn't move. A pin prick on the side of her neck made her flinch against her bindings.
The world slowly went dark and the last thing she saw was the head of Columbus's own Matthais Dulaney of Channel Six getting out of his van across the street and the zombies of the city crowding around. For a spit second before all went dark they looked like real people and the world was alive with color.
A man in a suit with a long trench coat and a badge hooked to his belt held a hand over his mouth while he looked in the trash can. The apartment was sparklingly clean if old and ill maintenanced, but that was normal in this part of town.
"We're going to have to show the mother," his partner said quietly next to him.
"At the morgue. She doesn't need to know this is all we have."
"I don't envy you," said a uniformed officer shaking his head, holding his mouth in a grimace to keep from getting sick. "I don't know how you do it."
"Do what?" the first detective asked.
"Look at this stuff every day."
"This isn't every day."
A grim faced woman in jumpsuit with the words Medical Examiner and CPD emblazoned on it reached in with gloved hands and carefully packaged the head of a little boy known as Brandon, a red stained white coat, and black gloves and shoes.
Susan is a writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends. She walks the path of a Siedr and strives to grow day by day.