Alt Journey-Serpents

Part 10

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If all you can do is crawl, start crawling – Rumi

Professor Fritsche kindly allowed Phoebe to submit both her and Shana’s essays on the topics of marriage, lust, and consequence, as portrayed in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Their deceased parents served the young women’s purposes as bad examples similar in scope to Anna’s, although they had different opinions about her karma. Professor F peered above his glasses at her and mumbled something about, “a waste of talent” and “Hope you’ve started your final despite everything”. He finds the ground under academics more stable than death‘s abyss of unknowns, Phoebe thought later over a cup of peppermint tea as she sat in the grass and pretended to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the umpteenth time. With her urging, their 19th Century Lit prof agreed to submit a final grade for Shana, minus a final exam essay, if the Dean of the English Department, and one of Shana’s most loved professors, approved. Phoebe simply framed her request as a memorial to Shana, and gave the Dean a copy of her friend’s last and final essay. The Dean found Shana’s ideas about passion versus fidelity especially naïve and moving in light of her suicide. Shana would receive a grade for her favorite class that semester, and Phoebe would remember it as the last course they took together. Classmates gave her shy nods, their sad eyes relaying the words they didn’t find. A few were obviously surprised when she walked into chem lab an hour after being released from Resting Pines, not that they imagined what Phoebe ran up against after her best friend’s painful exit.

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Golden Eyelash Viper

Her fists slid off it’s slick stark white scales as a serpent with Doyle’s dark eyes fully consumed her. Phoebe discovered herself a golden serpent who slid across symbols carved on tangerine colored walls within her Grandmother tree, an ancient cedar in the Northwoods of Michigan. The symbols pulsed with heat as if alive, but the Ankh is where she fit her slim viper form. Her head rested in the opening of the key of life and Phoebe finally surrendered all she was before Shana’s suicide. Intelligent and witty, her well-crafted college persona came apart at the seams like a sun-bleached scarecrow, mere stuffing of knowledge, sarcasm and friendship scattered, buried, and carried off by crows. Or snakes. Phoebe dreamed of a snowy white python with hinged jaws thanks to Kazmir, Death’s demon who orchestrated these nightly feasts. Warm blood pulsed and squirted into her eyes and mouth as she yelled out, foot, ankle, tibula and fibula crushed like glass in a grinder with each agonizing swallow. Smothered screams with the last gulp of her skull and then nothing until she opened slits and felt her essence in a snake’s condemned existence. “As low as a snake”, Kazmir whispered as she envisioned her cedar sanctuary finally on the third night. In the Ankh, considered in Hebrew as the “Key of Life”, Phoebe’s essence glided among reeds along a lake’s shoreline, her slim serpent body a ribbon of gold amongst the cat tails and lily pads. She dove and swam along the bottom between weeds that rose toward the light above, rocks risen from below, and an occasional clam, the silt velvet against her tender underbelly. Deeper and deeper into the dark she searched and undulated her length as she came to embody the viper and her eyes adjusted to see every shadow. Unsure of what she sought exactly, Phoebe swam until far away she thought she heard a song one only ever sung for her, in private. Ahead, a blushing glow grew and beckoned with a sad melody where only friendship existed before.

“Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed. Some say love, it is a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed.” Shana sang Bette Midler’s The Rose for Phoebe not long after their blood sister ritual at the end of 7th grade in 1985. She’d sang it to her countless times over the past seven years, when Phoebe felt like anything but a rose, and it served as a soothing balm. Although she’d never been able to express how special it made her feel, she didn’t have to. For Shana, Phoebe’s patient tutoring, whenever she needed her, felt like acceptance during the years that followed her parent’s abuses. Phoebe had never made her earn love, and forgave easily, but Shana had never skipped out on classes before. Her personal drug usage consisted of a couple puffs during marijuana movie nights at a friend’s apartment last summer. Her parent’s addiction served as a constant reminder of how drugs and alcohol changed people for the worst, hard-won knowledge which kept her straight until Doyle’s manipulations opened the door for Death. During the last weeks of her life, paranoia about losing Phoebe’s love grew as Kaz gleefully watched her create her own scenes of rejection, including burning insults it planted in her psyche. The two friends had never exchanged insults, had never even had a blowup disagreement, but Shana’s artist’s imagination had always been powerful. If they had fought, Phoebe would have explained how it was simply impossible to lose her friendship for a mistake. She would have said “Love forgives”. As Phoebe the golden snake entered the pink glow of a temporary healing chamber, miles deep in a Great Lake, their human essences reformed as womanly silhouettes. Shana and Phoebe hugged and cried dry tears as they held onto one another. No words sufficed, so none were exchanged.

Phoebe awoke to Doyle’s yell from the kitchen, “Time to get up, Phoebe! Gotta fly, but there’s hot water in the kettle. You awake?”. “Yeah” she croaked followed by a stronger, “I’m up! I’m good!”. Her voice squeaked a bit. She prayed Doyle didn’t check on her behind the privacy screen and spy the perfectly shed golden-hued snake skin complete with eyelids stretched out on her bedspread. Doyle flipped the switch on the radio and turned up the volume so she’d get up for sure. Paula Abdul accused her of a being a “Cold Hearted snake”, a dark start to her first day of crafting a final essay about the merits of Dr. Frankenstein.

Alt Journey-Stars

Part 5

“A great portent appeared in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of 12 stars.”

Revelation 12:1, The Bible

As energy within a healing tetrahedron saturated Phoebe and Shana’s souls they became thoughtless, closer to original than either had been since the first few years of their friendship, when they were new to womanhood, tried on relational influences and found safety with one another. Two green stiches closed the fissure between them, forgiveness barely begun, but Anam Chara remembrance enough to satisfy Tri-Eloh for now. The Tri, having realized a quickly escalating danger to Phoebe’s physical being, gently moved the pair from Mary’s constellation and handed them off to escorts from Michael’s Divine Army for transport to their in-between place. Emboldened by El’s interference, the Tri assumed survival of this Anam Chara link warranted favors from even the most high. The higher the angel or spirit, however, the busier the angel or spirit, as Archangel Michael reminded the Tri of their lengthening line of souls who awaited healing during this deviation from routine cosmic life. Mary’s blessing, however brief, accomplished what would have taken longer than Phoebe’s lifetime and justified the choice even if it did not entirely eradicate Shana’s shame. Tri-Eloh rushed toward their purpose with gratitude that flowed behind them in wide swaths of golden starlight and touched every ethereal being they passed. Visible in the final hour of dark before dawn, a thirty-three-minute meteor shower built upon a Spring Triangle created by the stars Regulus, Spica and Arcturus. Intimate mysteries often revealed themselves to solo audiences on earth.

NASA image

First they heard “shooosh (pause) shooosh”, then they felt sand beneath their feet at the same time the water came into view, waves shining and dark with frothy remnants when the tide receded. While it possessed key elements of thousands of their summer days, the air was different, shimmering and energetic as if alive and moving on the edge of vision. Shana reached for Phoebe’s hand as a fishy breeze cooled their faces wet with tears. “I am”, they said, “I am you”. “I’ll see you again”, Shana’s whisper landed as Phoebe opened her eyes in a dim cold room. Dry prickly hands rubbed her calves irritatingly, an unidentifiable acrid smell filled her nostrils as she shook her head back and forth on a thin sheet over a plastic mattress that crackled beneath her. “Where am I?”, Phoebe snatched one foot away and kicked at the air. She wanted to go back, to go back to… damn it! She rubbed her nose and noticed the IV in her left hand. “What is going on?” Her heart began to race even as she closed her eyes tight and took a deep breath. Formaldehyde and ammonia overlaid with something worse stung her nostrils and throat and made her stomach lurch. Dry Hands let his other hand descend to her foot before she heard, “You are safe under my care at Resting Pines Hospital, Miss Monteer. You’ve been catatonic for a couple days now, so I’m helping the circulation in your legs so you don’t get bed sores.” Back to my beach dream, back to Shana, Phoebe thought, but the ambulance ride, flashes of her dead friend’s neck, questions about heroin and drug dealers crowded her mind instead. Her breath came faster as she remembered it all and wondered if she’d lost her mind, if her mother’s weakness had finally showed up to claim her intelligence and grip on reality. “Water peese”. Dr. Cooper desperately needed composure, but his body betrayed him. It was as though he watched himself rub her foot against his khakis in slow motion. Engrossed, he was blindsided when his dentures clapped loudly as Phoebe’s foot jerked away and met his chin with force. Kazmir bid the Doctor, “Make her pay. Hurt her NOW.” “You will be restrained if you can’t control yourself, Miss Monteer!” “Wow! didn’t think this one was going to come around without ECT, Doc”, a new voice echoed and startled Dr. Cooper out of what he assumed were his own deviant thoughts. “Want me to get the restraints?” Why were they turning off more lights? “Water”, Phoebe croaked. “Yes, good idea at least until she calms down. I don’t know how I would’ve managed if you didn’t come in when you did, Farwin. You are truly indispensable!” The orderly blushed with the doctor’s approval. Dry Hands roughly grabbed Phoebe’s ankles. Hard plastic straps snapped over them at the corners of the bed. She struggled in silence as Kazmir planted images of archaic electroshock methods, biteplate in her mouth, her eyes rolled back in her head. “Give me your hand and I’ll help you with a drink in a second.” Phoebe tried hard not to panic as her arms were restrained. “Go ahead and finish your rounds, Farwin. I’ll take her vitals and give her some water.” “I’m only a little behind, but thanks, Doc. Kinda surprised after that kick, but she’s lucky to have your firm expertise. I’ll check back and make some notes on her status this afternoon. Please page me if you need any assistance before then.” Minutes passed with no sound but breathing from the end of the bed, out of range of sight. A tall thin man in a white coat approached her without a word and pressed a button on the wall behind her. While the bed raised slightly, he clamped his fingers over her nose. “Open your mouth and tilt your head back”, he instructed as he held a cup of water before her face and smiled, thin lips stretched into obvious pleasure as Phoebe opened her mouth. “Further!” he snapped. The doctor let go of her nose and held her head by the hair at her nape as he poured the water. Her nose gurgled then spewed like a fountain as she struggled and the doctor pulled her hair painfully. “Let’s get those vitals now”, he said cheerily as he let her go, brushing her hair from his hands onto the floor. “You really do smell, Miss Monteer. Since your attendant is occupied with other patients now, I know just the man for the job.” Phoebe sputtered and swallowed air as her throat spasmed and her lungs emptied. I have to get out of here, she thought as Dry Hands explained how he might have to take her temperature several times to get an accurate read, but not to worry-he would insure her records were detailed. Regret that he couldn’t report catatonia for a while longer frustrated the doctor. Kazmir plotted out the next few hours for his fully-compliant gadget Dr. Cooper, another fool who’s guilt and unworthiness birthed virgin evil. The doctor opened a drawer on the table next to her where Phoebe saw syringes and a horseshoe-shaped apparatus that he removed and shoved in her mouth before she knew what was happening. She tried to free her tongue to push against it, but it was pinned. “You’ll drool, but we don’t want you to injure yourself during therapy, young lady”, his face moved close enough for her to see flakes of white in bushy brows of grey and black like dirty snow banks in early spring. The doctor moved a machine with gauges next the the bed and flipped a small red switch. He widened her eyelids with his long course fingers, thrilled as his other hand flung the sheet back and exposed her trembling body, bikini underwear her only cover. Both Dr. Cooper and Kazmir delighted at the pure terror evident in her expanded pupils before he blinded her with a tactical light he’d purchased just last week with the demon’s persuasion. Wait a sec. A shiny speck grew in three directions in her left pupil. Surprised and worried he’d damaged her visibly, Dr. Cooper’s breathing quickened and his erection fled. He could lose everything, and all because of one plain girl who hadn’t cooperated, who he’d barely treated yet. A neon green triangle pulsed and cast a glow into the dim room as Phoebe’s body stilled and her soul found itself back on the beach with Shana.

In holographic embodiments of their most recent vessels, the Anam Chara sat cross-legged and sunk into warm sand within a clear crystalline cube open to a sky bleached innocent by scorchingly bright sun rays. “There’s something I have for you”, Shana said as she took her hand and pressed their palms together. Like most of their peers, in high school Shana and Phoebe experimented with alcohol, boys, and marijuana at house parties of classmates with vacationing parents. Phoebe’s mom’s heart-to-heart talks with the girls about dangerous situations and people made little impact. Then, she hit pay dirt when she restricted them to their respective rooms for a month with a threat of additional time if they spoke to one another. Although the friends lived together, went to school and church together, and even sneaked letters to one another, loneliness for their connection far outweighed any popularity they’d gained. If anything, they yearned for their previous invisibility, rather than being known as stupid freshman who could not hold their alcohol. Cautiously optimistic about the girl’s future afterwards, Phoebe’s mother even gave them a later curfew after improved grades proved their seriousness and they talked openly about everything at dinner-time, often seeming to forget she was even there. They were able to launch their plans in earnest with Phoebe’s talent for planning and foresight and Shana’s boundless imagination. Their futures outlined, hard copies reviewed and agreed on, Shana produced a jack knife from her backpack, opened it and swiftly cut her palm to Phoebe’s astonishment. Phoebe put her hand out with her eyes closed and head turned away. Their blood mingled as they joined hands and vowed to never betray one another, just as she dreamed during their separation. In her dream they wore long cotton nightgowns, and she could not make out the details of their features, but she recognized herself and her best friend in a floral wall-papered room with a high ceiling and tall leaded windows, tree branches and a night sky wavy through thick glass, a bed with four posts she knew they shared. A dagger rather than a kitchen knife sliced their flesh and in the dream they also vowed to protect one another.

Shana’s soul recovered a soul memory of this promise shortly after they departed the in-between. Death howled with outrage at her scrap of redemption.

In this moment, sitting on the sand with Shana, a lake lapping the shore on the other side of the cube, Phoebe felt a calm strength fill her mind as her Anam Chara’s soul energy met with reciprocity, light making their joined hands glow. “See you on the flipside”, Shana smiled.

Phoebe opened her eyes to find herself on the plastic mattress again with a low pillow beneath her head and daylight filling a sterile white room. “Great! You’re awake!”, sang a sunny voice. A youngish woman with smooth skin and golden eyes approached her bedside, poured water from a plastic pitcher into a paper cup and announced, “My name is Carrie I’m going to raise the bed slowly, then help you take a tiny sip of water so you don’t spill, ok Miss Monteer?” Phoebe nodded her head. Cool water trickled down her throat and she smiled a little in appreciation. “There you go. Now you just relax while I go get Dr. Pressman. She will assess if you need any more inpatient help. You’ll like her.” The nurse stopped at the door to turn and smile with the last part before leaving. Phoebe picked up the paper cup from the tray table over her bed and sipped while she took in her surroundings. Outside the window an apple tree budded, white scrolls yet to unwind and blossom. She opened the tray table to find a comb, a toothbrush in cellophane, the smallest tube of toothpaste she’d ever seen, and an attached mirror that slid out and angled back to reflect her tangle of red hair and Shana’s golden eyes, a green speck in the left. “What the… ok, ok, Shana.” Phoebe closed her eyes and made herself take a deep breath. Had it all been a nightmare when she awoke before? As she opened her eyes and stared once again into the golden eyes she’d loved, she realized she needed a new outline for a new future. Tears welled as a sob caught in her throat.

Alt Journey-To Dream

Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. – Kahlil Gibran

Part 3

Tea infusers, filled and ready, sat expectedly in dainty chipped teacups, another dagger of “never again”. As she poured the water, she muttered, “alone again… you promised… you more than promised…”

When Phoebe closed her eyes she heard Shana’s giggle, a drawn out “Gurrrrrl”, a standard intro before she recounted another meet-cute on campus turned weird. Shana coyly promised a reward to admirers who proved they were not “dull”, with hilarious results for the retelling. Phoebe, who shied away from a hormonal trickle of admirers, accused her friend of using people for stories, entertainment purposes only. Shana justified their degradation with a reminder to Phoebe that most of her dates aspired to motorboat her boobs, probably dreamed about it, their “weakness” as Phoebe’s mother would say. For her part, Phoebe failed at Shana’s mockingly serious introductions, one long-fingered hand involuntarily flying up to cover her mouth, but not her repressed laughter, as she envisioned Brad, Kylie, Geri, or whoever barking like a dog. If they were exceptionally fit and handsome, Shana asked them to meow like a pussy cat for the price of a kiss. Merely “placeholders” is how Phoebe thought of them until someone, THE one, arrived and fell madly in love with Shana’s expansive vitality: her corny anecdotes related with sound effects and body movements, her talent for creating poems and sketches in the moment whether they were on a hike or in the grocery store, her insatiable curiosity about large families, her pride of uncombable dark curls that covered her face when she studied. Pale, slight, and often invisible, with Shana by her side Phoebe felt stronger, more capable, even witty at times. Despite Death’s earlier intrusions, THEIR bond was supposed to endure anything. They’d dreamed together since 7th grade, their friendship fertilized with wounds, apologies, manicures, stories, meals, academics, long hugs, gossip, and Phoebe’s mom’s peanut butter cookies. She let herself believe a tale they wove of a city/country life, with fertile gardens and edgy gallery openings, a book shop or small market where Shana could have poetry readings and Phoebe might curate curious treasures, for sale when they needed an adventure to stir their blood/imaginations. Or, they’d travel, be vagabonds for a year, soak up sunny ocean breezes down south while it was freezing in Detroit, meet characters and write their stories. The friends had plenty of time before graduation to figure out their next steps, or so they’d said. Then Shana met Doyle with his deep-set eyes fringed in white blonde like spider legs and wide smile. Doyle with his ambitious load of pre-med courses and enough natural intelligence to render bioengineering “fascinating and fun”. He set himself apart and made her curious when he set a cup of peppermint tea down next to her textbook. “Take a break. I promise I won’t bother you very long”. And he hadn’t bothered her, only staying long enough to tell Shana how he noticed her before in the busy coffee shop, watched her as she studied at one of the small tables outside. “And how did you know I like this?” “I smelled it last Thursday when I walked by. Wanted to catch your eye, but you are always so engrossed”, he’d said before he told her his name and asked for hers. All the while, Doyle’s eyes never wandered from her face, and this detail she repeatedly told Phoebe several times that evening, who thought she should be more concerned about being watched. “Jealous?”, is all her friend replied. Kinda, is what Phoebe thought. A week later, he came over for dinner. A bottle of Shana’s favorite zinfandel and a petite jade tree in a green ceramic pot presented with a memorable line, “A symbol of you and Shana’s friendship that I hope will grow to include me, Phoebe.” Like a dude in a cheesy rom-com, Phoebe thought, although she did appreciate the lucky plant, if not the accompanying sentiment. “How thoughtful. Doyle, right?” When she put her hand out, he beamed at her and gave it a soft shake in his. She hoped Shana made him meow later. “Thank you for inviting me in, Ladies.” Although perfectly charming on the surface, there was something slightly off, too sure, a tiny bit spooky, about him. While the girlfriends typically cooked (and danced) together when they entertained, Shana had eggplant parmesan in the oven and the loft tidied up before Phoebe got home stinky and soaked from a spinning class Shana swore would tone her ass before it killed her. Phoebe wasn’t convinced, but admitted the release had improved her concentration. Even their notebooks, sketch pads, books and plethora of writing tools normally littering the coffee table had disappeared, bean bags thrown behind their respective bedroom screens. She remembered how unusually nervous and quiet Shana had been, how she’d paced between the single tall window that looked out on the street and the loft’s kitchen, peeked in the oven window each time she made a pass. “Why don’t we have a tablecloth, Phoebe?”. Long before, their overexuberance frosting Valentine cookies had left pink stains on the uncovered edges of her mother’s old Formica table that she held on to purely for good memories. “Next time we go to the Salvation Army we’ll get a vintage one, maybe with lace or embroidery if we’re lucky”, she’d yelled as she begrudgingly slipped on her loosest jeans rather than pajamas. Phoebe thrived on predictability and preferred Shana’s detours on weekends, when she felt she’d earned some fun. But, her curiosity didn’t want to wait in this instance. How lit up Shana was as soon as Doyle arrived, her rare insecurities gone right up to the moment her parents were exhumed. His faded black t-shirt, well-worn jeans, and scuffed biker boots belied his piercing after dinner conversation, “How old were you, Shana, when your folks OD’d?” and “Did you ever see them shoot up?” Normally, Shana’s dates were intimidated, but not Doyle. After a half hour of squirming through Shana’s stammered descriptions of a past she rarely spoke of, and never with such detail, Phoebe interrupted, “Sorry, but I have some reading tonight; that last chapter when Anna left Alexei again… I want to understand it better. Professor Fayed stresses me out before I’m even awake”. Despite her earlier promise, she awkwardly excused herself before Doyle’s curiosity turned to her. Looking back, she thought maybe her friend was the one intimidated and she had been too self-involved to notice. Why did she leave her in the middle of that brutal questioning? Did her withdrawal help him create a trauma bond? At the time, she didn’t expect to see Doyle again, didn’t expect life to change because of him. He’d left by nine, and hadn’t called Shana for a week.

They’ve promised dreams can come true. But forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams, too.
– Oscar Wilde

Belladonna slowed Phoebe’s racing thoughts, picked up and tucked away her memories, and kicked blame out of her head temporarily. Phoebe thought she heard boots on hardwood in the hallway and wondered if Mom would yell at Daddy; late again. As she tumbled loosely into her underworld, she let go of everything except a prayer, “Hail Mary full of grace…”.

Bare feet cool on smoothly worn stairs carved into the sides of the tree, she climbed round, her eyes trained and face tilted back in search of tell-tale lightening, until one foot met only air. She’d run out of stairs. Although she’d hoped to step out in the forest, a soft peat pathway underfoot, admittedly she’d be sorrowful company for her flying friends. Exhausted was any peace she’d discovered in a stream of liquid crystals meandering around mossy boulders and emptying into a pool lit from below. They’d floated for hours the last time they drank Belladonna tea together, she and Shana; no need for words. It’d happened once before, dozens of stairs not advancing to the top, twice if she counted her initial trip to what she imagined as a base, perhaps HER base, within a cedar tree. In the months following her daddy’s heart attack in his corner office on the 23rd floor, she and her mother lit a candle for him 9 a.m. every Saturday at St. Josephs’ Parish, then prayed for his soul until Father Daniel began readying for Noon mass. Her mother, who’d had to take a front desk job at the Marriot, seemed to find solace during those hours, so Phoebe kept her sore knees and desire to join classmates at the skating rink, or the mall, or the movies, or anywhere other than church, to herself. She often wondered why her daddy’s soul required so many rosaries for so many Saturdays. Deep in the earth at the base of the tree’s unique stairs, is where she found herself one Saturday morning, mesmerized not only by an expansive interior of this mammoth cedar tree, but also by a signature of characters burned black into its’ honey-hued walls. As she did then, Phoebe trailed her fingers over these symbols now, some of which she’d encountered in her studies, most still unrecognizable. A pulsing yellow Sun the size of a dinner plate interrupted the chain and radiated an enveloping warmth, comfort she absorbed for a few seconds before unworthiness prodded her onward. More unknown charry characters passed under her fingers until she reached an infinity symbol, one of five, this one streaming oceanic shades of blue and black. It was the first symbol she’d recognized, and researched it only to find finite understanding by even George Cantor, the famous Set Theory mathematician who classified “absolute infinity equal only to God’s realms”. Unlimited, endless, a brush of her fingertips and she no longer embodied a human, but a sparkling star in the constellation Lyra, not far from Vega the Harp Star, and neighbor of Hercules, Cygnus, and Draco. Eternity was perplexing with Earth’s limited lens, but from here Phoebe remembered Shana could never be entirely erased. An enormous azure and orange ring nebula caught her attention in the distance, neon green twinkling in it’s heart. As she reached for it with her will, a steely vise pulled her forcefully by her head and dumped her naked on an amber resin floor, flat on her back. Just as her breath expelled in a huff, a silver pregnant moon fell from above to pin her motionless. Phoebe sipped the air frantically, unable to expand her lungs as the moon cooled her flattened frame. A frequency emanated from a newly inserted needle at the top of her skull. Hyperventilated and panicked, she stilled finally, spent and empty. Proof of her vileness, her ugliness, played on the moon’s surface like a bad movie, times she made fun of other kids, times she lied, times she wished people dead, like Shana’s parents. I AM vile, she thought, to which Death replied, “Vile, jealous, and ugly. Take whatever love you can because you won’t get much, especially after your ultimate failure as a friend”. A smoky cloud filled the space around her and she felt long hard pinches simultaneously on the sides of her thighs that punctuated every word. “Now repeat it back, you worthless bitch, and I might let you go”. Phoebe repeated the words in her head, over and over. The cloud dissipated, as did the moon, and her breath came easier, just as promised. When she tried to sit up, however, a band encircled her brow and lowered her back to the floor as laughing and attractive faces appeared above her, most unknown, but very familiar. They appeared to make bets with one another, their voices muffled.

Trembling, Phoebe came to with a crowd of paramedics, firemen, and police around her bed, an IV in her arm, an empty syringe on her nightstand. “Wha’ss goin’ on?” “It’s going to be ok, Phoebe. I called them when you didn’t answer the door or your phone. We’re all here to help you.” Doyle stood by the jade tree in the window. The streetlight at his back cast his shadow over her and she thought his platinum hair glowed. “Is thisss a dream?”, Phoebe slurred. “Transporting to the state hospital, repeat, transporting female, age 20, name Phoebe Monteer, to state hospital for evaluation following her self-termination attempt.” In the ambulance when she explained she drank Belladonna tea to meet her friend in her dreams, and that she certainly did not need to be restrained, the paramedic looked at her with a smirk and said, “You’ll get a chance to explain all that, Honey. Don’t worry.” He turned toward the front. “She’s getting agitated. I’m going to give her clozapine. Always easier that way and we get home for dinner”.

My Online Friends = Good Medicine

During the past decade I’ve tried dozens of traditional and alternative treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. I’ve appreciated pain complexity and adjusted remedies to fit, backed off harsh medications or added steroids, adjusted my diet almost daily along with activity levels (completing a project may take 5X as long as it used to). Consistency vanished along with my life outside disease management until I joined an online support group, but not JUST any online support group. This group is fiercely devoted to humor (you may get ousted for complaining), support served on the side (in heaping portions, if needed). Not long after joining this group, my focus shifted, and I began laughing again. Sometimes I was in horrid pain and unable to walk, but I felt better after connecting and laughing. Sometimes I provided the laughs, and it felt good, like I contributed something positive! I’d almost forgotten that feeling.

Truly understanding the effects of disability and pain on a person’s self-worth when you are healthy is beyond difficult even if temporarily stricken with an illness because you get better. That’s not a judgement (YAY for healing), but reality as much as I cannot possibly understand what it is like to live in (Insert Least Liked Country) for the rest of my life. I can learn as much as possible about (Insert Least Liked Country), even visit, but without being forced to live there when I don’t want to, it is a topical comprehension. Experience is where empathy grows, and from shared experience friendships are born.

My friends are online mostly, but please don’t pity me or assume I’m lonely/depressed. I have people I can be 100% real with, if not in the group, then on messenger. Around-the-clock support is there when steroids keep me up all night because: 1. I have friends across the world. and 2. I’m never the only one on steroids at any given time.

We have regional meetups, where I get to hug a few of these Warriors in person vs. our usual cyber-hug routine and we laugh for hours, and end with promises to meet again. Whether online, or in the flesh, the founding member in my neck of the woods teases mercilessly, tells great stories, and is a pretty good sport when humor boomerangs on him. Some friends have travelled for hours to meet each other, in my city this summer and in Elkhart, Indiana yesterday. These are not only friends I laugh with, but also friends who pray for me and send me positive energy when I’m very sick or just walking with a limp. They are the friends who invite us for a big spaghetti dinner, and add special details like twinkle lights and grapes hanging from the ceiling and little gifts of jasper. And they are the ones at home watching us online, hopefully getting a little ambient flavor through the screen. 

I don’t socialize less because of this group, trust me. If anything, they help keep me fit for decent company.13257

 

 

Essential and unsurpassed friendships

I will ask your forgiveness at the outset of this post for my sentimental remembrances of friendships that have been cornerstones to my uncharacteristic character and offer my advancing age as the only excuse for this mushiness.  The time to give credit where credit is due has arrived and I can no longer keep them unvoiced in my head.

She knows who she is, the friend who risked her popularity to befriend me, a clear underdog in a harsh teen landscape.  We bonded over cigarettes, painful childhood secrets which had never before been shared, and belly aching laughter that made the tears stream down our faces.  I never understood why other girls were intimidated by her, but her protection saved me more than once and bullies steered clear of me for the first time in my life.  She made loving gestures, surprising me with cards, posters, and even a birthday party.  Her love helped me grow strong, confident, and free to be silly.  She has downplayed her impact on my life when I have tried to impart how happy she made me.  Have you ever noticed how generous people do that?

She knows who she is, the tenacious friend that I could not shake during the darkest period of my life.  She did not run from my overwhelming grief over losing my infant son.  It seemed to last forever and I gave her nothing, yet she expressed her love for me every single day of those two years.  I wanted to be left alone with my pain, not even answering the phone most of the time.   She would leave simple answering machine messages saying, “You don’t have to talk to me, but I am here if you want to.  I just wanted to let you know I love you and am thinking of you today.  Please let me know if you need anything and I will be there.”  And she was there, even though I rarely let her know.  She was the friend that loved me out of it, that helped me see that good still existed and it went by her name.

She knows who she is, the friend that shared her creativity and became a safe haven for mine.  She encouraged me to write and found value in pieces that I believed were garbage.  She is better than Strunk & White and was my first editor.  Our visits are an encouraging fix for me that fill my creative well and result in positive forward motion.  It is believed that friends are mirrors of our own selves.  In her case, she is often my best self.

He knows who he is, the volunteer who recognized how overwhelmed I was and generously offered to help with whatever I allowed.  Although he dislikes the term, he IS smart and shares his intelligence with me at a rate that my brain cannot absorb.  The most valuable knowledge I have gained from his friendship is how happiness can be derived more so from life’s simple aspects such as nature, food, giving of oneself, camaraderie, and butter pecan ice cream than from temporary material goods.  I now treasure my experiences and memories more than I did before I knew him.  He is an interesting combination of stimulation and serenity.  I hope that one day I can accept myself as wholly as he accepts me (and himself).

Lastly there are my two best friends, the one that gave me life and the other that gave me new life when she was born.  Although bonded by blood and mother-daughter love, our friendship was not guaranteed, but we actually like one another.  Our similar independent natures require that we each have differing views and personalities, yet no one could tell our cores apart.  It is the personification of friends mirroring one another.  They are both fiercely loyal, opinionated, and brutally honest.  I know them like I know myself.  We are like a stout tripod that cannot be tipped.

My public gushing may very well be influenced by my bouncing hormones, but my appreciation of my friends has always been there, unexpressed until now.