A Shelter in the Storm

#anxiety #chapter #depression #fantasy #hope #mentalhealth #selfcare #story #suicideprevention

I know they’ll be here any minute, but the raw pain and blood dripping down my arm is almost too much to bear. The rhythmic ping of drops into the sink is a little slower than the dripping from the red plastic bucket in the corner. Trying not to cry or scream at the sting, I finish wrapping the gauze around this last gaping cut. It’s little hard to see because of the stormy darkness outside, but the dim lights inside don’t help either. I keep meaning to change out that bulb again. But it seems that I always leave it to the last minute.

Finally, I’m able to slip my sleeve back down my arm. One of these days I really need to sew that up.

Please, I’m begging you, please let today go well. I’m so tired. I need help.

Photo by Sourav Mishra on Pexels.com

Drip. Drip. Drip. My tears create red-tinged splatters in the pristine basin of the sink. I run the water to rinse it clean.

Luckily, nothing gets on the muted vermillion, chiffon gown. I stretch the cherry satin ribbon around my waist twice before tying it against my left hip. It’s all I can do to lift the chain just long enough to accomplish the task. I sigh as I realize that despite my best efforts the two ends of the bow are not even. Why can I never tie a perfect bow? I grasp some scissors and snip off the spare end, leaving it draped over the sink. I’ve only just slightly nicked my thumb. Slipping into my new thigh-high boots, I look at myself in the mirror and try not to frown. They won’t notice. Everything will be fine. I just need to find another bucket.

When I pass through my bedroom, I ignored the insistent tapping at my window. Just a branch.

The dripping sounds coming from the kitchen seems to become more amplified as I place a metal mixing bowl on the counter. This leak seems to be dripping at exactly one drip per second, directly between the ticks of the huge, frameless, twenty-four clock that takes up one entire wall of the living room. Pastor Lemmy had gilded the numbers from samples of my own handwriting, and the three shiny metal arms are made to look like long, slender twigs from an almost denuded myrtle. They have small nubs of branches, and some leaves. The second hand, still and long,, has a few bright berries along its length, delicately hand-made. A few flatter, more two-dimensional leaves have been secured to the wall in a pattern that swirls around and between the numbers as though borne on a gale. Lem Rhinehart is more than just a preacher-man – he isa true artist.

“Have faith, Waverly,” he often tells me. “You can beat this. I know you can. Don’t give up.”

Glancing at the microwave, I see I only have a few minutes left. I wipe up a stray smear of blood on the counter that fell from my shoulder, then reach for the plates and the containers in the fridge. There’s a slight scrape and a clunk as I lean on the counter and push with one arm, trying to hoist myself high enough to reach the shelf. I know I should get a ladder, but finally, I’m able to snag a plate. Gasping for breath, I sit on the floor for a minute. I notice that the living room carpet next to the daybed is looking suspiciously damp. Craning my neck I scan the ceiling – and sure enough, a crack shows through. Is it just me, or can I feel a sharp, cold breeze against me? These drops seem to match the beat of my heart. A little faster than my treadmill clock, but still not as fast as the one upstairs.

I just don’t have time to fix it right now. I also don’t even know if I have a big enough bucket.

I still feel a little dizzy from the exertion, but I have to keep going. I had insisted that no one bring anything, that I wanted to prepare it all. I just hope that no one noticed the distinctive shapes of the pastries and appetizers from the frozen food isle at the grocery store. Maybe I should have accepted the help for the main course, though. I really don’t know if this ready-made lasagna will cut it. But there’s nothing I can do now.

Give me strength to get through this. Bear me up on wings like an eagle’s….

And yes, I can definitely feel a breeze coming from somewhere. Maybe not that crack in the ceiling, but something is raising goosebumps on my arms and making me shiver. My stomach is starting to feel like it’s full of worms. Slick, featureless, sometimes gliding seamlessly, sometimes twitching and jerking. Waving heads searching back and forth, their bodies stretching and compressing like slinkies….

Give me peace. Please.

Anyway, the one thing that I promised I would do myself was cut the vegetables. Just this, and then I can finish setting the table. Last night I spent almost two hours working at it. Looking at it now, I realize I need to switch everything over to the deep crimson set, in case anymore blood escapes. I really should have thought of that last night.

The smell of the lasagna warming in the oven makes the worms inside me become frenzied, straining toward the tantalizing aroma. I reach for a knife in the draw just as a crack of lightning sounds, and I nearly scream when something goes through my hand. It’s not pain, exactly, but just an odd spreading and pushing sensation that I know shouldn’t be there. Carefully, I take my hand out to see a small cob holder poking out of me. I curse. My brother had gotten me these as a joke, knowing that I never eat corn, let alone straight off the cob like a horse. Steaming, I kick the drawer closed and whirl to turn the stove on for the tea.

Reach out your hand, child. Come, and find rest. Come.

I have to finish this, first.

Fine then. No freshly cut vegetables. They’ll survive. I put on some music and I can no longer hear the ceaseless, maddening drops of water or the turmultubent wind stripping the siding off my house.

If I were the wind, I would make you fly…”

There’s a metallic rasp against the floor as I try to dance around the table, placing napkins and cutlery and glasses just so. I’m just placing long-stemmed roses onto every stack of plates when the kettle begins to whistle, the timer on the oven dings, the doorbell rings, and another crack of thunder lights up the gray afternoon.

You’ll only find your peace when you come and rest. You don’t need to do anything else. Just come. Rest.

This time I know where the drip is coming from – the ceiling directly above the newly set table. Luckily, there’s a bowl directly under it where I was going to put the freshly re-warmed biscuits. So I guess we’re not having those either.

“I would wrap you up in a warm embrace…

Shing. Shing. The metallic dragging against the hardwood floors follows me as I cross to the front door. On my way, I flick the carmine drape hanging above the sliding glass doors leading to the pool and backyard, trying to make sure I don’t catch a glimpse of the devastation outside. There’s a wet, steamy handprint on the other side of the glass, and I briefly press my own hand against it before turning away. The twisting motion as I draw the drape from one end of the long rod to the other sends a stabbing pain through my back, and I feel a coolness as the air moves over the now slick, wet skin. Hopefully the ribbon soaks up most of the damage.

I need help. I can’t do this on my own.

You’re not alone. Listen. Come. Rest.

I get to the main door and stare at it. The worms are in my lungs now. I can feel them, wrapping around my bronchii and bronchioles, leaking their slime into my pleura, wrapping around alvioli until it seems they might burst. I begin to unlock the door. Sliding bolts, unhooking latches and chains, turning knobs, depressing a button, and then finally typing in the fifteen-digit code. I really should get something biometric one of these days; it would save me at least a few minutes each year.

“I don’t wanna share you with nothing else, gotta have you to myself.”

This is starting to sound a little menacing.

I can’t help it, I’m so in love.”

Shaking my head and wishing I could telepathically lower the volume on the music player, I finally open the door.

My family bursts in with the wind as soon as the latch releases. The whistling, screaming, howling draft feels like it will lift me off my feet and send me crashing into the glass cabinets behind me. Envelopes are stuffed into my mailbox, piled high on a small outdoor table next to the door, and a few stray pieces scatter along the porch. I can’t even bring myself to find out whom these messages are from.

“It’s been so long since we’ve seen you! How long has it been? Oh, dear, how are you doing?” Their words surround me as they descend on me, hugging and kissing me. I try to bear it. I really do. But one small tear does escape.

Mom pushes her sunglasses onto her head and chatters happily as she hangs a wide-brimmed beach hat for my sister. My niece, now too old for me to believe it’s really her, fans herself as she removes a light mesh cover-up and drapes it over the coat-tree shaped like a slender young maple, with bright leaves and elegant branches. Another masterpiece by Pastor Lem. Once she finishes hanging her wrap, she carefully leans the coattree back against the wall where it had been resting.

And when the sun’s on your skin, I can’t hold it in.”

“Come on in, guys,” I say, smiling brightly as I lead them into the house. Their strappy, high-heeled sandals go click, click, click on the hardwood, and I cringe. It will take me days to fix it after they leave. “Lunch is pretty much ready.”

“It’s been so long since I’ve been here,” my sister remarks as she steps into the dining room. “It feels like it’s been forever, actually.”

Xavia glances into the living room. “When are you going to get that clock fixed, Auntie?” she asks. “What’s the point of a clock that doesn’t tell time?”

Face hot, I look down. “It’s right at least once a day,” I tell her. There’s no way I can explain that solace that comes from that one second when everything feels perfectly aligned, right and functional. If I focus only on the minute hand, I can stretch it out. If I focus on the hour, i can stretch it out oven more. But yes, fixing it was on my to-do-list.

I ignore the new crack as it snakes across the ceiling, continuing to lead the women of my family to my beautifully prepared tea table.

Ari selects a sideways chaise on the side of the table facing the myrtle clock. Mom sits on the other end of the lounge chair and swings her legs under the table. That leaves me and Xavia on the other chaise, facing the kitchen. Ari glances at the bowl in the center of the table, now filled with water instead of bread, then smiles at me and her daughter.

“How are things?” she asks, stroking the stem of the rose on her plate.

“Oh, perfectly fine,” I answer, trying to work around the lump in my throat and the tightening in my body, shifting so that my ankles are crossed on the other side. “Lovely weather we’re having.”

“Yes, quite,” mother says, admiring the china tea set inlaid with small rubies. “It took us a while to find this place. It’s been a long time.”

I nod at her, wincing at the clank against the table that accompanies the motion. “I know, when I first moved here it took me quite a while to learn my way around.”

Is it just me, or do I hear a loud crack upstairs? I flinch and glance down.

“Sorry,” Xavia mutters, jerking her hand back. She’s accidentally brushed the corn skewer digging into me, and another small trickle has started. Oh, brother.

“It’s okay,” I say brightly, discreetly wiping my hand on the red table cloth. It doesn’t even show. I knew it would come in handy. “How’s Nel dong?” I ask, changing the subject. The sound definitely wasn’t thunder. My stomach tightens.

“Oh, he’s doing well at the Lab,” my mom says proudly. “As a matter of fact, you’re father has just promoted him, and now he…”

I’m not really listening anymore. There’s something wrong. I can’t quite pinpoint it, but something definitely happened upstairs. I wish I had turned the music down just a little bit, even if it did mean I had to hear the thunder, and the dripping water, and the fruitless ticking of that clock. Suddenly, the roiling mass inside me moves upward. Something catches my attention at the edge of my vision, and I flick my eyes down to see a pointy, slimy, blind head poking out of my nose. Searching, weaving, waving back and forth.

Please, i beg silently. Please.

“Also, I think he’s dating again. It’s hard to tell with your brother sometimes, but I recognize that look in his eyes from when he was younger. I swear, when your brother hit puberty he had a major crush on someone and it was all I could do not to slap him out of it. Arian, do you have any idea who…”

The segments on its body ripple and pulse as it makes its way out. Trying not to cry again – or throw up – I surreptitiously pull it out and drop the wriggling thing onto the floor under the table. It’s a little bigger than the nightmare I had been imagining, at about seven inches long. The rest of them continue to coil and slide around each other inside my stomach and chest.

“What about you, Auntie?” Xavia asks, laughing. “Are you dating? What about that cop that’s been hanging around? At least half of the envelopes out there are from him.” And at least half more are from the rest of us, she doesn’t add.

I laugh at that one. “No, Vi, I have never dated anyone, and I don’t think I ever will. The Bible is all I need. Plus, he’s a private investigator. Not a cop. He was hired to figure out what happened to your mom and uncle, remember?”

Do I hear a trickling sound? This is different from the dripping. This sounds like running water. Not the water running in dark streams down the windows of the kitchen. But something inside the house. Or is it something inside me? Am I bleeding from the inside? Are the worms eating me alive?

Xavia snorts in a very unladylike way. “Right. Well, I have a boyfriend.”

We all stare at her. “What do you mean?”

She smiles coyly. “You heard what I said. And I think you know who it is, too.”

Mother gasps. “Is it…that older boy? The drunk’s boy?”

“Grandma, you can’t just go around judging people,” Xavia says, rolling her eyes. Arian doesn’t say anything.

Mother doesn’t look angry, she looks…rueful. Like she can see something Xavia can’t, and knows there’s no point trying to explain it to her. “You’re not going to believe this, Xavia. But I once felt the same way you do. Bullheaded about a boy. A man, I mean. Your father, actually.” She nods at me, lips twisted and eyes miles away in the past.

“Mother, we don’t speak about him,” Ari interjects coldly as thunder rolls again. The bowl on the table looks like it’s about to overflow. A quick glance tells me that the one in the kitchen already has. It’s dripping onto the floor now. But that weird trickling sound continues, distinct from the rest.

Mother’s eyes snap back to the present and she winces. “Honey, I didn’t mean…”

“And Xavia, you’re too young for a boyfriend. End of discussion.”

“Yea right, mom, as if you have the right to tell me anything after you- ”

“Now Xavia, don’t you talk to your mother that way – “

Rising and nearly toppling me over, Xavia throws her rose down and glares at her mother and grandmother. “I’m going to marry him one day. Just you wait. Auntie Waverly will support me, won’t you?” She turns triumphantly, but then freezes at the expression on my face.

The rose she threw had landed with a splash.

Water sloshes around my ankles as I turn to look behind me. As I had feared, water cascades down the steps from the top floor, spilling chaotically over the sides and dripping down the railings. The music continues to surge. And just to add to the mess, the bowl suddenly starts to overflow, quickly soaking the table cloth. Reddish water drips off the cloth and into the flood below. Then, suddenly, water splashes against the outlet where the music player is plugged in. Sparks fly, and suddenly the sound is dim, warped, and crackling.

“I got… have … to self.”

“I’m really sorry, Waverly, I know you’ve been looking forward to this for a while. We have, too.” Arian says quietly, and I realize Xavia has stormed out of the room. Arian carefully takes my free hand, inadvertently scraping the bandage I had applied to my arm over the sink earlier, and kisses my cheek. As she hurries after her daughter, mother comes up to me and gazes into my eyes. “My dear, I will see you again. I really wish you would take better care of yourself.” Tenderly, she frees a hair pin that got stuck in my neck a few weeks ago. It plinks into the water as she lets it go and gently embraces me.

“Mom, I’m failing at everything. Nothing I do works. And I don’t know how much longer I can keep trying. I don’t think I can keep going on.”

My mother smiles sadly at me. “You’re wrong, Waverly. You’re strong. You’re doing great. You are so loved. Please don’t forget that.”

Nodding in resignation, I clutch her. I try not to get snot all over the fancy dress she picked out specially for today.

As she hurries after her daughter, I’m alone, knee deep in the water.

Wind rushes in as they file out the door on the other side of the house, whipping my dress and making me stagger. I scream as my back scrapes against the table. Suddenly, it’s darker than ever. I fight my way through the quickly rising water to the living room and struggle to climb onto the top of the bunk-style futon, dripping water and blood down below. The chain around me scrapes loudly against each rung as I climb. Trying to be careful, I lay down and close my eyes.

Pastor Lem made this furniture for me. The rungs and railings are made to look like raw tree branches from a majestic oak.

“…drip… your…And… be.. drops…your back….love linger.”

Oh, great, I had forgotten to unplug the music. I try to use telepathy again but it just keeps playing. I bury my head in my arms, and try to breathe. I can’t breathe. My stomach feels like it’s made out of spaghetti. I know that there are more worms escaping from my nose, my ears, and my mouth, and wriggling around on the cushion, but I refuse to open my eyes. Tree branches scrape against the sliding glass doors, invisible beyond the red curtain.

Suddenly, the whole house groans. I squeeze my eyes tighter, trying to block out the ongoing cacophony . I didn’t even serve them the food I prepared. Now they’re fighting again. My family is gone. Everyone I loved is gone, and I don’t know if, or when, I will ever see them again.

A huge crash of glass and a freezing, wet gust makes me jerk my head up. The curtain blows inward on the breeze, billowing and undulating. I scream when I see him there.

“What are you doing here?” I yell over the shrieking wind. Shielding his eyes from the swirling debris, he fights to get closer to me.

“You can’t stay here, Waverly!” he yells back, his voice faint and distant, snatched by greedy blasts. The wind blows even harder, and I realize the front door is open now too. They must not have latched it properly, and I hadn’t followed them to replace all the locks. I should have. I knew I should have. Why didn’t I? Why can’t I just do it?

The air pressure sucks all of those envelopes from the porch into the house, and they swirl around us, cutting and slapping and landing in the water, which is now at the bottom rung of the ladder. I refuse to look at the names written on them.

“You can’t save me,” I sob, turning away slightly. “I’m not leaving. I’ve been here for too long.”

“You’ve been here for far too long!” he insists, finally reaching me through the monsoon. “It’s time for something new, Waverly.”

Shaking my head, I wrap my arms around myself and try to stop the shaking. “This is my home. I built it with my own hands. It’s protected me for years.”

“It’s not protecting anymore. It’s killing you, and you know it. You’ll die if you stay here!”

“Then so be it! I’m so tired. I can’t do this anymore. Everything I do just fails. I can’t even put on a stupid lunch.”

He climbs the ladder, water streaming off him with each step. “Waverly. You must know that’s not true.”

“It is true! Today is just one example! I nicked my arm upstairs and forgot to shut off the water when I rinsed it off, now the house is flooding. I forgot to turn off my music player, and now that’s probably fried. I put on a lunch and didn’t even remember to bring the food out. Everywhere I turn something scratches me or cuts me or pokes me. I keep meaning to patch things up but then it seems like it will be fine for a while, and now I can’t even find enough buckets to fix all these leaks. I keep meaning to! I really do!” I can’t control the torrent.

Eye to eye with me, he touches my face. “That’s a lot to manage on your own, Waverly.”

“You don’t know the half of it!” I wail, trying to make myself even smaller. “There’s worms inside me. They’re going to kill me.”

He smiles softly. “They have to come out when it’s raining, Waverly, or they’ll drown. You have to let them out, or they’ll kill you.”

“I don’t know how,” I sob, barely able to catch my breath. “Don’t you think I’ve tried? I don’t know how to get them out, I don’t know how to keep my house from falling apart so that I can just have people over and be a normal person!”

There’s a sharp stinging, and I turn around. He’s holding the corn cob holder in his hands. I glance down at my trembling fingers. “What are you doing?” I cry.

He reaches for a safety pin from a while ago, jabbed into my side when I tried to patch my favorite pair of pyjamas. “I can’t help with the worms, Waverly, but this is something I can do.” He yanks it out, and the pain takes my breath.

“Stop it!” I shriek. “You’re hurting me!”

All at once, the wind gives an even bigger gust, and the whole roof comes off. The top floor, I guess. It almost takes me with it, but he is faster. “Don’t go, Waverly!” he commands, flattening me to the bed. “I’ll stop trying to fix you, but dammit if I don’t keep you here with my own body if I have to. I’ll wait as long as it takes for you to let us help you!”

“My house!” I cry, shaking and clutching at the rails of the bed. “I’m going to lose everything!”

Carefully, he rolls off of me and lays beside me, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me close. I jerk at the pains that shoot all over my body, but no way am I going to give him any ideas about trying to pull anything out. At least when he’s holding me I don’t feel so anxious and short of breath. The water has now reached the bottom of the top bunk, and I think the whole thing is beginning to float.

“You’ve got me, Waverly. I’m not going anywhere. You can come to my house for a while. We can read and pray together like we used to. We can just spend time together like we used to. Let me take care of you, and help you until you’re strong enough to do it on your own.. That’s what others did for me. We’ve got to go now, before we’re hit with something even bigger. We’ve got to get shelter.”

I press as close into the bed as I can, trying to block out all of the sounds and focus on the faint, piney scent of him. The bed rocks, and rolls, and I’m not sure I won’t throw up all over him. “I can’t. You go. Save yourself. I can’t leave.”

He holds me closer as the world tears itself apart around us. “Okay, my heart. We will stay here together. I’ll protect you.” I feel him flinch and open my eyes. I realize he’s still mostly covering me, and getting stabbed almost worse than I am.

“I don’t want to take you down with me,” I plead. “I don’t want you to get hurt.” Thunder and lightning crack and flash around us in the open, endless sky. The bed has stabilized but we are still moving up and down with the waves.

Nodding, he snuggles closer, moving a little more on top of me in the process. While still painful, my body enjoys the respite from the storm and debris and noise. I plant my ear against his chest and listen to him breathe, to his heart, to his organs working tirelessly to keep him alive.

“We can’t stay here forever, or we’ll both die,” he agrees. “And I can’t make you come with me. If I try to fix this for you, I’ll only hurt you more. But I’ll stay until you’re ready. And if you go, I’m going too. I won’t let anything part us. Not ever again.”

Suddenly, I realize we are out in the middle of the ocean. There is nothing but roiling black waves beneath us and angry black sky above us. Terror grips me, but I don’t realize I’m screaming until he presses his hand against my head and holds me closer, stroking me.

My house is gone. My myrtle clock. My maple coat-tree. The dishes and backyard and my room and everything. The only thing I have left is my dress. And the various sharp items from different rooms that I had somehow gotten stuck in my body. Oh, and this idiot man who was now stuck with me because he hadn’t listened when I told him to get out. I move away from him slightly to look into his face. I can’t bare to watch him die. Not the way I have been dying, slowly, over the years. Not quickly, either, snatched from me before I can make a move. There’s no way that we can reach his house now, out in the middle of the cold, wild sea. But there is nothing I can do now. Everything else is gone. Everyone else is gone.

“Waverly,” he says tenderly, smiling. I realize now that there is nothing left for the wind to hurt us with. The wind is still cold and biting, but no longer loaded with shrapnel from the past. It’s gone, carried away by the sea. “Don’t worry about me, dearest. I’m stronger than I look. And what my body can’t handle, my mind can. What my mind can’t handle, my heart can. And what my heart can’t handle, my soul can.”

Hiccuping, I smile crookedly at him. “And if your soul can’t handle it?”

“My soul is not my own, love. The breath of life dwells within me. My faith is safe, and my soul rests.”

For a moment, all I can do is stare. A feeling is building within me. And now I cry harder than I ever have. And maybe harder than I ever will.

And I don’t know if I will ever be ready to pull the shrapnel of my life out of me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get these worms out of me. And I don’t know if I will ever be ready to let go of this chain. But he is with me now, in this storm. That’s never happened before. As our oaken raft drifts over the waves, I sob and hold him, worried that if I clutch too tightly he’ll pull away, but unable to keep my hands from tightening in a death grip around him. Right now, I know that if I let go, I will die. If I stop crying, even for a second, I will burst, and die.

I can’t go on like this. I’m on my knees now, and I’m done trying to fight this on my own. Help me. Please.

And then I realize the wind has died down. The sky is still grey, but a lighter, dovier colour. The sun is asking for the willingness to be willing to shine. And it no longer rains. The surface of the water has calmed, and stilled. Even though I can’t stop crying for everything I’ve lost, I know now there isn’t a bucket in the world big enough for this.

And when it rains on your face
I almost can taste
Your beauty, your grace
.”

So I cling to him, and the pain reaches deeper inside me and around me, and him, and we cry.

Thanks for reading!

I wrote this today and it just kind of poured out of me. While I haven’t gone through nearly the same amount of craziness that Waverly and her family have, I can still identify with a lot of the inner struggle that she faces. Sometimes music from my childhood really helps! What do you do when anxiety “worms” it’s way inside you or your depression makes it hard to even tend to emotional stab wounds? Is there someone in your life who sees through you and joins you in the turmoil, and won’t leave you no matter what?

And which Waxflowers character can you identify with the most? Discuss below!

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