He looked into the Abyss. It looked back. He leaned in a bit closer and it spoke.
“Come,” it said calmly. “You needn’t jump, just lean in and glide. It isn’t cold or hot. You won’t feel the wind rushing past your face. It will not suck the air from your lungs. You will feel enfolded like a child with a blanket. You will feel soothed.” It had a woman’s voice. It was cool and unhurried. At the same time it was warm and inviting.
He leaned in a bit more. He felt big, strong hands ready to catch him, welcoming him, holding him close, and he didn’t fear the dark. He knew if he leaned in just a bit more, this pain of life would just melt away. He understood that his life wouldn’t end unless he ended it, and he could do that any time. But for now, just slide into the abyss. Remove the anxiety. Let the loneliness float away. Let go of the panic. Quit fighting. Just be.
It started to feel like sleep–weightless and care free. When you sleep, all you see is what’s in your brain…and if you don’t like what you see, you wake up and change your picture. Wait, no. Your brain is against you. It brings up painful memories and twists them into nightmares. Your brain tackles an impossible task and keeps working and thinking until you’re more exhausted from your sleep than you would have been wide awake for that time. It remembers all your failures and throws them in your face until you jerk awake with tears in your eyes. Real Life sleep isn’t weightless and care free…it is a descent into madness. But the abyss… The abyss is like sleep should be: nothingness and rest from life. He smiled to himself. “Now I know what Rest in Peace really means.”
He leaned in a bit closer. He felt his consciousness rising like dust in the sunlight. He felt the harsh heat of failure begin to fade. He could feel individual hairs on his arms. He could truly experience his breath going in and out and feel the blood whoosh from his heart to his fingertips and find its way back. But then he felt tethers, as fine as spider’s silk holding him. What were these? He located one and felt along it, following it to its source. It was an unfinished book. He couldn’t read the title, but he knew by the bookmark that he hadn’t finished it. He followed another tether and its source was a person. She (he was pretty sure it was a she because her hair was long) had red hair but he didn’t get a sense of what she looked like. Her facial features and her body shape were fluid and changing. She laughed and he recognized her, his childhood friend.
There was another tether leading from his chest. It seemed to pulse in rhythm to his heart beat and appeared thicker than the others, though still fragile and fine as sewing thread. He followed that one. It was very long and seemed to rise above him. He was beginning to wonder if it had a source and was becoming less and less interested in its source when he felt something cool on his face and could see brief glimpses of color. He looked at the thread and noticed it wasn’t a single thread, it was twisted. There were multiple strands, but they were too fine to see how many. He continued to follow the thread. There was something hot on his face. It wasn’t painful. He reached up and brushed at it and realized it might have been a tear. There was another glimpse of color.
The color flashes were coming closer together. He looked down at the tether. It didn’t look as fragile as it had. Were there more strands? He stopped to ponder this. As he looked to his chest, the tether was fine and hair-like. The one in his hand was almost the weight of crochet thread. Why did that description come to him? What was it about crochet thread that he thought was important? Why not wire? Why not dental floss? He looked at the tether and realized that now it seemed to be taking on a color, pale and vaguely yellow. It sparked a memory. Memories are bad though! They made him think of bad things he’d done, people he’d hurt with unkind words, missed opportunities, unfinished jobs… This memory though, it seemed different.
He looked at the tether again. He pictured a hand holding cloth, and the thread, vaguely yellow, being pulled by a needle. He heard the conversation:
“What are you sewing?”
“It’s a sun.”
“It isn’t round.”
“That’s right. It’s just that particular color in the sun.”
“The sun is yellow.”
“The sun is many shades of yellow.”
“But it isn’t round.”
“It will be when I finish. As in everything in life, you must see with your eyes and your heart, not your head.”
“I remember, draw the space between the leaves first, then draw the dark green and the other greens and all the shades of brown, one at a time.”
“Then you will see the tree as it is and not as you know it to be.”
He felt another tear forming and brushed it away. It was a comforting memory. Then he looked down at the tether and decided. He continued to follow the thread. He looked at the tether that had led to the book. He grasped the book and put it into his pocket. His childhood friend laughed again and whispered in his ear, “Let’s go on an adventure!” Her voice echoed through his body. She wasn’t with him, she was in him.
The abyss whispered, “Why follow the thread?”
He replied, “To see where it goes.”
Then the abyss seemed a bit agitated, though still in a calm voice it asked, “But don’t you already know where it goes?”
He stopped, floating in time and space, looking for the source of the abyss’ voice. “How would I know where it goes?” There was no answer from the abyss.
“It goes back there. It goes to where the pain and the loneliness is. It goes back to the hopeless situation I’ve been avoiding. It goes back to the impossible task.” There were more tears. He reached into his pocket and took out the book. He broke the tether and let it float away. He found his friend, hiding in a closet in his brain. He opened the door and let her out. Then he cut her tether. She floated near him and started to cry. Her tears didn’t move him. She slowly started to fade away. He felt helpless, then he felt hopeless and turned his back on her. He could still hear her sobs. Then he looked down at the tether from his chest. The part in his hand was as big around as his little finger now. He couldn’t cut it, let alone break it like he’d done with the book and the…girl? He could hear no sobs now, but got the feeling of a presence near him. He looked down at the broken tether that had gone to his…object, thing. What was it? Square. He felt some regret. Then he looked at the tether he’d cut to release that, um… person? He felt some twinge of pain like a pin prick. He thought to himself, “Would I really like to cut this last tether?”
The abyss replied, “Does it tether you to something you love or something that brings you pain?”
“Only those things you love can give you the deepest pain.”
The abyss then whispered in his ear like the hiss of a snake. “You have to decide if you want to face certain pain with a small possibility of love or stay here surrounded by nothing that can hurt you.”
Then he heard another voice. She laughed, and the tether from the person seemed to be growing back. Not like a hair grows, not like a web strand, just…reappearing. “She’s right you know.” Then she laughed again. She seemed to be rematerializing. “Nothing CAN hurt you! Absence of sound and light and color makes you disappear like I did.” She let him think, and then she continued. “Look at all these strands, how they’re twisted together, how strong they’ve become. They don’t come from all different places, they come from one place. It isn’t just one person, or many persons, one location or many. That place is Love itself.”
He thought. He couldn’t bring himself to speak.
The abyss insinuated herself into the conversation. Her voice was lower, and it seemed it was sneering. “How did you feel when you were outside the abyss? How do you feel now?”
The friend stopped laughing. He could see her face now. She was smiling as if she knew she’d won the argument. “Why does the abyss ask you how you feel if the purpose of the abyss is to feel nothing?”
It hissed and drew back.
Suddenly he felt afraid. He looked to his friend in panic. She held out her hand and indicated the tether he still held. “We can go together,” she said. They headed off, following the thread. He started feeling like he was walking instead of floating. He could feel solid ground beneath his feet and his friend’s hand in his. He had the impression that something was coming up behind him. He looked back to see…eyes closing the distance between them. His friend seemed unconcerned. “It is nothingness. It can’t bite you or grab you or hurt you. It is something that everyone sees and has learned not to fear.”
The glimpses of light were now a dull glow…reds, yellows, just a hint of green. Colors were swirling around him like dust when walking down a country road. He could smell the warm grass, hear the bugs and the bird calls. He could hear the sound of the leaves in the breeze. “Come,” she said, “It’s close now.”
“She takes you to a place of pain,” the abyss whispered. It sounded more like a hiss than a voice now.
“Do you remember that trip to the mountains?” his friend asked. Her name was… S something. Sharon? Shelly? Sheri? “What do you remember?” He thought. He didn’t remember the mountains. “Can you picture the campfire?” He did. He remembered the crackling of the wood, the sting of smoke in his eyes. There was an owl. It was so quiet. “I can see what you’re thinking.” He was startled. “How?” “Remember that room you found me in your brain? I opened the door. I can see what you see and hear what you hear. It’s nice in here. It’s not a closet, more like a cabin with a porch and a view of a lake. Where is this?” He smiled. It was a postcard he’d picked up. “You’re smiling. She said there was only pain there. You don’t smile at pain.”
The abyss hissed angrily. “She’s trying to fool you. Remember the sprained ankle? Remember the fight in the car? Remember the sunburn? Remember throwing up for 4 hours? You never even went to a place like that post card.” His smile faded, and he felt the dull ache in his ankle. His sunburned shoulders started to itch.
Shelly said, “Did you feel that ache before you came into the abyss? Were you sunburned before you came to the abyss?” Shelly was her name. He nodded. Shelly continued, “Didn’t it fade away?” He nodded again. “With growth comes pain, right?” she went on. “You Know that, but what have we learned about ‘knowing?’ He thought and then said, “You have to see things as they are, not as you know them to be?” “That’s right. So you know pain, but what is it really?” He and Shelly stopped moving. The glow was not as vague as it had been, and there were more colors. He hadn’t even noticed when it changed. He closed his eyes and felt his heart beat again and felt his breathing.
He pictured the campfire. He pictured the postcard he’d bought on the trip. He remembered leaning over a stump to empty his stomach. He remembered having to sleep sitting up so his shoulders wouldn’t hurt. He remembered his harsh words in the car. Then he remembered drinking the water from the edge of the lake. It was so cold. He remembered the hike up the trail and the riot of color in the meadow…thousands of tiny mountain flowers. That must have been when he got the sunburn. He could remember feeling that he was getting burned but he couldn’t pull himself away from that beautiful view. He remembered that someone had said they had to leave and he was mad. He didn’t want to leave these smells, these sounds, these views. He must have been very young. Someone said it was good he wanted to stay, but he shouldn’t keep these experiences to himself. He needed to tell his friends about them. He remembered starting to cry. Then a deep voice said, “Every time you repeat your stories, you get to live them again. You can take this vacation any time you want by just telling someone about it.” He remembered someone noticing he was very red in the face and asking him if he’d taken some water with him on his hike. Then he remembered getting out of the car and running to the stump. He must have been dehydrated. That was the cool on his face…the wash cloth. The ice chips. It wasn’t the POINT of the story, it was just a detail.
She said, “That’s right. It was a detail of the trip. It wasn’t the point of the trip. The view of the flowers came with a sun burn and an upset stomach. Why remember the sun burn and throwing up and not remember those amazing flowers?”
He pictured the field of flowers. Yes, he could see them any time he wanted without getting the sunburn or losing his dinner. The growth was the vision, the vision would not disappear. The pain was only temporary. It was permanent because he chose to focus on it. It was like looking at the trees and seeing green blobs on brown sticks. He was seeing pain as he knew it instead of what it truly was. He and Shelly with the long red hair and overalls and t-shirt started moving. He pictured the wild flowers again and looked down to see tiny flowers along the path of the tether. The tether now was nearly as big around as his wrist. When did that happen?
The abyss was still hissing behind him. Suddenly he felt something grab his ankle, the one he’d sprained. It hurt. He cried out in fear and pain. The abyss’ voice was low and raspy now. It didn’t sound like a woman’s at all. “Boy?” it said harshly. “If you think the worst pain you could have was a sprained ankle and a sunburn, you are in for a world of hurt. People you try to love won’t love you back. People close to you will die or leave you abandoned. You will be rejected and mocked and hurt over and over and over again. You cannot escape that pain once you leave the abyss. You will fear for your life. You will have so many regrets. You will never have that ideal life you keep clinging to. It’s hopeless. Better to just slide into the abyss and feel nothing than to be tortured.” He cried out. “Stop!!!! I can’t face it! I deserve no love! I will always be abandoned and left alone and in pain!” He sat down and began to sob. Sh… Sh… What was her name?
She came and sat next to him. She tried to hold his hand but he couldn’t feel her. “Shhhhhh. No one deserves love. Love isn’t something you earn. Think of how you love.” He was still whimpering. “Do you give someone a test before you love them?” He shook his head. The abyss said, “Maybe you should. If they cannot pass this test, you know they won’t stick by you. Don’t waste your love on those who do not deserve it.” He started to cry again. She patted him on the arm. He didn’t feel it. “There is no test for the heart. There is a connection. You can decide to love someone, but it has to be more than just a decision. It’s the same for everyone in the world. People love you because you’re you. You don’t earn love. You earn respect, you earn admiration, you earn disdain and fear, but you don’t earn love.” The grip on his ankle weakened. “What does she know?” the abyss whispered. He said, “Shell? Do you love me?” “Of course,” she answered quietly. He hugged her and she hugged back. She was solid again. The grip weakened. He pulled his foot free. They stood and started walking again.
There was a pool. It was upright like a mirror, but it was liquid. As he got closer he could hear laughter beyond the surface. Shelly was smiling. She had one thumb in her overalls strap and she was barefooted. He looked down and saw he had one shoe on and one off. “Where’s my shoe?” “Oh!” Shelly laughed, “the abyss grabbed at it like that deep mud in the little creek. You wore your creeking shoes so you don’t have to worry about losing it.” He looked at the pool and there were two hands reaching through it, one man’s and one woman’s. “Should I grab their hands?” he asked. “You don’t have to,” replied Shelly.
“They can’t have you. They don’t love you or you wouldn’t be in the abyss. You’re MINE.” The gravelly voice seemed quite close. He felt jerked away from the pool and from Shelly. “Do you really want to go back there? How could you? It’s just as dark there as it is here, but you don’t feel it here. I can cut that tether for you. I have the edge that will slice that.” He looked at the razor edge, then he looked at the pool and Shelly. The razor edge was easing closer and closer to the tether. “Don’t,” he thought. The edge moved closer. Then instead of cutting the tether, it started slicing his arm from wrist to elbow. He looked in horror and screamed. Someone grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him through the pool.
He was on the floor. The room was too bright and he closed his eyes. His arm was on fire. “Make it stop! Make it stop!” In his head, he was screaming, but his voice was faint. “We got you, we got you. Help is on the way. Don’t go. We love you! Come back!”
The faces he saw as he opened his eyes were all sad and worried. All but Shelly. She was smiling. Then Shelly started to melt away. “SHELLY!” “We’re here, hon. We’re here.” “Where’s Shelly?” “Don’t worry about that now, hear the sirens? You’ll be ok soon.” He closed his eyes. The abyss said, “You’ll be back. I’ll always be here.”
He woke. He was in a bed with a long bandage on his arm. His mom and dad were sleeping in the chairs next to him. They both had their hands on his chest. “Mom? Dad?” They woke up and smiled. “Welcome back sleepy head.” “Where’s Shelly?” “Oh, honey. She’s been gone for years.” “What happened to her?” “Don’t you remember? She was in that accident?” “It wasn’t an accident was it…” “What?” “I could tell. She seemed too comfortable in the dark.” There was silence. Then his dad said, “She…she took some pills.” There was more silence. “You saw her in the dark? Was that yesterday?” asked his mom. He nodded. Then he started to sniffle. “How am I going to make it without her? If the only way I can see her is when I’m in that…that…abyss?” His dad, nearing tears himself, wiped his eyes and asked, “Remember the trip to the mountains? You were 5.” “What about it?” “Remember that I said you could go on vacation anytime you wanted by just repeating the stories?” “Yes?” “Tell us about Shelly.”