This woman is an island

The room was dark and damp. A faint smell of mildew tickled her nose, caused her to remember that her inhaler was at home. She hadn’t needed it the last several urban adventures and she didn’t want to need it now. She vowed to be careful, to breathe shallowly. It wouldn’t do to have an asthma attack here.

Urban exploring had become her secret passion. Early in the morning, at least an hour before the sun came up, she was out walking across deserted fields to abandoned buildings, her car parked a mile away to avoid attention. She was always back home in time to wash up before going to work. Nobody knew this was how she spent her time. Nobody would have suspected, and this was how she preferred it. Left alone, a silent life, away from the masses who didn’t think, who let their computers think for them.

This was her version of a video game – places to explore, rooms to discover. Who needs virtual reality when actual reality was so much better? Of course, this reality came with real dangers – loose flooring, rusty nails. You could land a trip to the hospital, or the jail, or the morgue.

She wandered alone. Plausible deniability. Nobody could rat her out if they didn’t know. Nobody had to lie for her. She was on her own for everyone’s benefit. She preferred not having to make arrangements to meet or what to bring to the site. If she didn’t have something or was late, it was her fault. She’d rather not have to be mad at anybody for letting her down.

She thought back to her family, her friends. They all had failed her. They all had lied, intentionally or not. She was done with it. Maybe it was true that no man is an island, but this woman was.

To everyone she was a girl, but she knew better. They called her a girl to keep her small, to take away her power. Maybe even to keep her from ever getting power in the first place. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.

She lived two lives, the public one and the private one. Maybe it was more than that. Her life was divided at home too – the life her husband saw, and the one she lived when he wasn’t around.

When she first got married she would cry when he had to leave – to work for the day, or away for the weekend on a project. But that was when she wasn’t sober. She feared sobriety at the time – that it would mean she’d feel too much, too often. How would she function?

But now she was sober, she’d learned how to feel and move and be alive multi-dimensionally. All those who looked down their noses, those who thought themselves as sober because they didn’t do drugs, they were fooling themselves. It was like people who weighed 200 pounds thinking they weren’t obese because that was normal, even svelte in comparison with others around them. Why change?

Over eating, over drinking – too much TV or social media, whatever. Fill in the blank – the thing they used to avoid life as it is was their drug. Legal or not, it is that which draws away from life, the path that leads to destruction, to being asleep.

Being awake was like riding a wave. So many changes, shifts. So hard, and yet so essential.

This skill was what she honed on her walks into unattended buildings. Fully present was the only option. Anything else meant death.

And death was the last thing she could afford right now.

She had 15 more years of time to do at work, 15 more years of wearing a mask, of faking it. It was still better than what others did. She couldn’t call them friends – more like acquaintances. They weren’t even friends of friends. Just people she knew. Maybe it was time to have better friends. But then again, why?

People thought she needed to read this book, watch this film, listen to that album. She never liked those things. It all felt fake, like they were just talking to themselves. Maybe they were. So maybe “you need to have friends” wasn’t for her, just like all of their other suggestions. Why force herself into their mold? The same people would turn their nose up to taking welfare but were OK with begging from friends to support their habits – namely not working a full-time job. Her take on it was that if you don’t work, you shouldn’t expect those who do to pay your way.

So her way was not their way. Yet she remembered – she used to be like them. It was grace that knocked her out of that groove, that horrible broken record. Perhaps the same grace would come to them. In the meantime, she stayed away from them. She had to. Their ways drew her back into bad habits and new ones. She tried to help them, fix them, and then realized that too was an addiction.

So here she was, alone in an abandoned warehouse. The more she thought about it, it seemed apropos. The building had housed a thriving industry, hundreds of people had worked here, made their lives here. And now it was crumbling away. Now only thrill seekers and transients came here. Perhaps she was a little of both, prowling around these dusty rooms with their peeling paint. Perhaps she too was near the end, but of what? Did the workers here know they’d never get a pension because this “sure thing” wasn’t?

So how had it come to be – for them and for her? How had the tried-and-true, the solid path, become unsure? How had their jobs ended? How had her life moved into one where she felt she had to put on a mask in front of everyone? Perhaps that sort of dishonesty, that lack of being truly present, as is, with no hedging and no apologies, is what finally closed down this business too.

She was going to have to watch her step, in more than one way. Being less than honest is a guaranteed way to get tripped up. And yet, there was this – she’d never lied. She just hadn’t revealed all of her truth. Was that being polite or politically correct? Who was she protecting with her silence? Them, or herself? Did it matter?

Soon it would be time to leave. Soon she would put on her uniform, put on her face for the world. Or maybe she wouldn’t this time. Maybe she’d just simply be herself, unedited. Could they handle it? Could she? The last time she was fully herself they thought she was sick, or crazy. Many’s the time that she did not fully put on her happy mask and the customers or her family accused her of being a bitch, or worse.

But she was tired of shoehorning her extra large personality into an extra small world. They were just going to have to make space for her. Maybe they’d be inspired to follow her example. Or maybe they’d try to commit her again.



(Started early June 2018
Completed late January 2019)

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Monkey boy

monkey boy

Phil loved his monkey mask. Maybe he loved it more than his big clunky shoes. It was hard to tell. Just to be sure he never wore them separately. Why ruin a good thing?

It didn’t take long for him to settle on this routine. Every day after school he put on his mask and boots and sat on the front stoop. It made the rest of the evening go better. Otherwise he was out of sorts and not really worth being around. If he forgot, his Mom reminded him. She was the one who was most affected by his behavior if he forgot.

All day long at school he thought about being able to wear the mask and the boots, and it made the day tolerable. Sometimes he would hold his hand up showing three fingers to his teacher, meaning “is it 3 o’clock yet?” – meaning “is it time to go home yet?”

Class was unbearable most days. It was too bright, or too noisy, or the food was too rich. Life was too much for Phil, but he didn’t know it. Every day at school his shoulders were tense and his head ached. Only by sitting on the steps with his mask and boots on could he begin to feel somewhat normal again.

He’d asked if he could wear them to school but the teacher said no, said that it would be too distracting to the other children. So the pain of one little boy wasn’t important, but the discomfort of 28 other kids was, apparently. It didn’t make sense. How did she know how they would feel?

Maybe they would like his mask. Maybe they would want one too. Maybe they all felt the same way and all were overwhelmed by the noise, the clutter, the all-too-much-ness of it all. Maybe they were being loud to compensate, to hide their terror.

In the meantime, Phil would continue to sit on the stoop staring at the cars that whizzed by. His Mom could tell what kind of day he’d had by how long he sat outside. Sometimes it was an hour. Rarely was it less than 20 minutes. One day he sat outside like that for nearly 3 hours. When it had become dark his Mom insisted he come in. Sometimes the day was so bad that no length of time outside would fix it. Then it was best to just come in and try again another day.

His mother was unsure if she should teach him better coping techniques since this one seemed to work so well. He was in seventh grade when she realized he’d stopped doing it, and assumed this meant he’d outgrown the need. She couldn’t be further from the truth.

A schoolmate had seen him in his mask on the front porch and told his friends. He’d been walking by on the way to the ballpark and noticed. Enough shrubbery was in the way that he’d not been spotted, but he had no reason to worry. Phil couldn’t see anything anyway in that mask, and that was part of its appeal. But the damage was done. The next day it seemed like the whole school was calling him “monkey boy” and that was it.