The weight of the sky


There is heaviness in the air. Storms blow, and in between the skies are steel and dense, and the humidity is so high that you have to chew every breath to swallow it.

I have the impression that the air crushes me, presses on my chest, blinds me. But everything is fine, I say, and I believe it. I laugh. I’m going out with some friends. I occasionally perform tasks. I can cook and even eat almost every day. And then this heaviness hits me and all I can do is cry. I slam. It feels like it’s coming out of nowhere. It comes from everywhere. It comes from the cloudy sky, the low, layered clouds drifting overhead that transform every sunrise, sunset and minute in between into the same greenish haze of relentless heat, with showers, drizzle and breakthrough showers, and no relief. The days merge into each other.

But when the sun is shining, it’s worse. It burns, it blinds and it exposes. Under the fire of its rays, I sit in front of the DSW and sob and scream and vomit into an old Culver bag while my daughter cries in the backseat. She listens to my friend on the car speaker, telling me to name five things that I see, four things that I can hear…

“That’s what you tell me to do, mum,” she said, between her own bursts of tears and bites of the popcorn I luckily brought. I apologize to her over and over again for having to look at me and hear me like that. I have never been like this. I have no idea how I got like this. I have no idea what kind of person I am, if the kind of person I am is someone who can’t handle the world enough to catch his breath and keep facing suspicious obstacles.

It doesn’t matter that I don’t remember doing these grounding exercises on my own, my friend tells me that the important thing is that I called for help, and it’s on the way.

When sadness returns, it feels eternal, cloying, and inescapable. Thunder rolls in, lightning bolts, and the kittens wake me up, leaping in panic on my face and chest every time the windows shake. They wake me up from dreams that I don’t remember, but I can feel their anguish and anxiety persist. I think about the days after my second rape, hiding in my apartment and waking up screaming with memories of nightmares so vivid they become the pillars of my identity. Only now I have no identity. I can’t write about dreams that I can’t remember. I cannot paint representations of anxiety that I do not understand. And during this time, I look up to the unchanging color of the sky and find myself shocked at the number of hours that have passed.

My social media tell me all about what happened ‘a year ago today’, and without fail, it’s a pic of me and Mike, along with the updates I’ve sent over and over again. and time after time. The optimistic tone, the cheerful exclamation marks, all of this is a huge lie by omission. I read between the lines now and remember the torment. Terror. The pain of seeing the most important person in my life suffer. I remember encouraging him to smile, even when he didn’t want to. – It’s not for you, I say. “The children will see it,” I said. And even though he was in pain, even though he was scared, even though there wasn’t a single thing in this world that made me really want to smile, I smiled, and he smiled with me. I took photo after photo until I got one where the smiles looked real. Sometimes we laughed. Sometimes the smiles never even came near his eyes.

I didn’t say he was in pain when I informed people. I knew the only thing that kept her pain from overwhelming her was that I was there, telling her that everything would be fine. Tell her that things would get better or get worse, but they couldn’t stay the way they were. “Smile for the update” I would say. “Smile at the children,” knowing that the first time someone showed them these photos, he was probably dead.

From what I remember last summer, the air was breathable and fine and the summer was light. I only remember spending a few moments watching the rain, a few quick runs between the hospital and a hotel room. The hotel rooms all merge. But I remember the derecho. Clear skies, then a wind so strong and fast that it completely destroyed houses, then clear skies again. It was like that last summer. The horrors and the calm between the two.

Now the sky is heavy, the air is heavy, the world is heavy. Each day brings another little torment, but they are commonplace. Last year it was pulmonary embolisms and cataclysmic pain and fears of Covid and the deaths of Shana and Mike spending more and more time in the wheelchair he hated and less and less time for see me when I was helping him stand. This year, the exterior of the house is rotting, the furnace and the air conditioner exploding, my new insurer prevents me from doing a test that costs me three times as much as Mike, thanks to the unfathomable evil of the system American health care system. My esophageal implant was moved by the eventual MRI, before they could scan my brain, then sit at home and watch the bill come in anyway.

The word “forever” pops into my mind and it terrifies me. I had never had to consider “the rest of my life” before, it was only “the rest of Mike’s life”. And now this is where I am. I am starting the rest of my life. I’m in my late thirties and as society continues to tell me, life begins at forty. I have a few years to wait until my life begins, and it feels right to me. I feel a few years away from having an idea of ​​what I do and how I am.

Or who I am.

I remember the month after my suicide attempt, hiding in my room and learning to paint. I wonder if the transformation is ever less than traumatic. I am no longer who I was before I was raped and tried to kill myself. I am no longer who I was before I was raped and harassed. I am not what I was six months ago.

A woman on the phone tries to calm me down while I scream and cry. She’s not trained for that. She is the planner of the MRI room, but she understands that between the panicked sentences I shout at her: “My husband died of brain cancer in January”, “It is my nine year old child who cries in the backseat. there is a world. “You are so strong, I can tell you are so strong,” she said. I collapse against the steering wheel and cry harder, without a word, my chest heaving and my glasses tucked into the bridge of my nose. I am sobbing under the weight of the air and the sun and the clouds, and my daughter is crying, and the woman says, “I can tell you are so strong. I can tell your daughter knows how strong you are.

I don’t know what that means. “You are so strong” is a phrase I’ve heard for so long, but it doesn’t mean anything. How come I lose days, a whole week sometimes? How is it the strength to stand still and write checks for siding and furnace fans, cars and MRIs that I haven’t had when I haven’t been able to work for over? a year ? When I haven’t even opened my email for a week? When I haven’t been able to eat something that hasn’t come from a drive-thru or foil bag for days?

What does it mean when “You are so strong” simply informs: “You always breathe and sometimes you shower and sometimes you laugh and those are basically all the requirements to meet the definition of life”.

“You are the strongest person I know,” some people tell me. Many people. Is this their way of congratulating me for not dissolving me in the air? So as not to ignite or melt into a puddle of grease under the ceiling fan, my flesh collapses around my bones as if my insides were a black hole.

At the same time, some people treat me like a silly child. As if I couldn’t handle the simplest organizational tasks. Like helpless shit that ended up with no work and ever-growing bills and an army of children without fathers, with no ability to improve. And that doesn’t feel right either.

I’m trying to find who I am. She is a beautiful woman. She’s tattooed and smart and funny and quirky and sometimes her mind is like a knife and makes people wince when it cuts. Sometimes she is so full of love and joy that her smile makes people cry. Sometimes she is so sad that she manifests clumps of white lilies and no one walks past her without asking, “Are you okay?” “

Sometimes she’s fine. Sometimes she’s reckless. Sometimes she gets lost in the haze of the thick gray air. Sometimes she wonders if she has always known what the cacophony of birds singing at 4 a.m., begging the sun to rise, was like. Sometimes she mistakes a white car parked down the block for a snowdrift and doesn’t question the presence of so much snow in the sweltering heat of the solstice. Sometimes she sees the rain fall in sheets and walks around the yard to hold onto it until she trembles, fully aware of every place on her skin that the run touches, not expecting to be better than she, stronger than she, whoever she is. Sometimes she wonders if she ever knew who she was.

For now, it’s an unknown. My friends remind me that it is dissociation. It will stop, they tell me. I’ll be back. But I won’t. As the apps claim, there is no turning back. The past is like the sky, no matter how accustomed you are to it, how deep you look, you can’t hold on to it. You can’t touch it. It grows, rolls and moves and you stay with your feet on the ground and your lungs breathing air that is stale from it, but still keeps you alive. And life is, on the whole, good.

If the strength continues to bear the weight of the sky on you, goodness is the early morning birdsong. Goodness is the rain seeping into the flower beds and the gray-black sky turns gray-blue again with the sunrise. Goodness is to be awake to see it turn momentarily pink in the east within an hour before gray sets in again, and to know that it is beautiful.

If it is strong to have the grinding wheel resting on you and not turn to dust, then it is good to stand in the rain and not get carried away.

– I know you are so strong, said the woman, listening to my heart fold in on itself.

I wanted to tell him, “You know more than I do.


You can read more about traumatic stress management here: Colposcopy and the hippocampus, or Your stress is killing you


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About Hannah Schaeffer

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