Out of the Woods

Part 6 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

Growing up, my favorite set of books was, undoubtedly, The Chronicles of Narnia. My big sister gave me the box set for Christmas one year, and I devoured the entire thing in nearly a week, pausing only for the occasional rare activity such as eating or sleeping. 

Most people begin their journey through Narnia with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, clueless to the fact that there exists a prequel to this story, in which the entire world of Narnia is born. It is there, in that first book, that C.S. Lewis describes the (in my humble opinion) most intriguing place I’ve ever read about.

“The Wood Between the Worlds”, he calls it.

There, in the mysteriously quiet, magical wood, there exists a series of shallow pools – each one leading to a different world. It’s a pit-stop, of sorts. An in-between place. A doorway leading to other doorways.

And although it’s obviously imaginary, a part of me has always believed that it exists, in some otherworldly place. A place that we’re only granted access to a finite amount of times in our lives.

I know this deep in my heart. And – believe me or not – I’ve seen it for myself.

During my time there, it wasn’t a forest.

It doesn’t always have to be, you see.

Because it’s not really a PLACE in the physical sense of the word. It’s an energy. And it doesn’t matter what it looks like because it presents itself all kinds of different ways, for reasons beyond my ability to contemplate.

But once you’ve been there, you’ll get it. You’ll understand what I’m saying. You’ll recognize it for what it is.

A gateway. A meeting place. A beginning. An ending.

A place, of captivating beauty… and of absolute peace.

My story, goes like this:


It was November of 2018, and I was fast asleep for the first time in several nights, inside my tiny apartment nextdoor to the hospital in Kotzebue, Alaska. I wasn’t on call that night, which means my quality of sleep was phenomenal, as any person who takes call can attest to.

Hours prior, I’d cried myself to sleep. A result of work-related stress (mostly self-imposed) and a slew of other lifestyle factors that I won’t get into until a later post. 

I was honestly at the end of my rope, and had carried that sentiment along into the dreamworld, like a bloated, overstuffed, suitcase. 

I don’t recall what I’d been dreaming about, but I vividly remember that the dream I’d been having was abruptly, and forcefully swiped aside, like a millennial swiping left on a lackluster Tinder profile.  

Suddenly I was standing in a dimly-lit, cozy, sitting room, devoid of people but loaded, wall-to-wall with all sorts of comfy seating accommodations to choose from. 

There were large, puffy armchairs with circular, velvet buttons, lone pillows strewn expertly across the carpeted floor, and a myriad of plush couches in varying sizes and colors.  

A fireplace was crackling near the center of the room, and a small coffee table sat in front of it, bathed in the soft light of the ambient flames.  I made my way over to it, admiring the stately decor of the room, which was minimal, but gave off both an air of importance, and at the same time,  one of significant welcome. 

The walls were paneled with a deep cherry-colored wood in some places, and painted a beautiful royal blue in others. 

This room, looks like it belongs in the White House, I thought to myself as I eyed the magnificent detail of the sconces jutting out from the walls, holding their half-melted white candles as the wax dripped slowly down their opulent shafts.

I’d just chosen a soft, cream-colored, loveseat and sat carefully upon it’s rectangular cushions when I heard a door squeak open on the opposite side of the room. 

Although I’d failed to notice the door when I’d first arrived, as it blended perfectly with the wood paneling of the wall surrounding it, I wasn’t surprised at all to see the outline of a person as she made her way through it. 

I’d somehow known ever since I’d arrived that I was waiting for someone.  But I still wasn’t sure who it was I was waiting for.  A woman, with short gray hair, had her back to me, as she turned to quietly ensure that the door was sealed behind her. 

There was something familiar about her silhouette, but the light was so dim that I couldn’t make out her features.  She quietly, purposefully, crossed the room, and headed for the couch directly opposite mine. 

As she reached the area of the fireplace, the light struck her face, and I let out a tiny gasp.  My grandmother.

As she softly descended on her chosen cushion, she smiled at me warmly.  I was happy to see her, but also extremely confused.  I hate to admit this, but my grandmother and I had never been that close.  I’d visited a few times as a child, but had a million other cousins to compete with for her attention, and we’d lived thousands of miles away from my grandparents for nearly my entire life. 

One of few pictures I still have from visits with my grandmother as a child.

I adored her despite all this, but had trouble understanding why she would go through all the trouble to arrange this meeting, when we’d barely spoken to each other while she was still alive. 

Certainly she had more important things to attend to, a busy schedule to keep up with in the afterlife?

I sat uncomfortably and pondered all this. She smiled at me knowingly.  Can she hear my thoughts?  I wondered.  A jovial glint in her eye gave me the answer.  She was amused by my reaction, I could tell.

After what seemed like ages, I finally couldn’t take it anymore and came right out and asked, ‘Ummm… what am I doing here?’

She didn’t speak.  She simply held her hands out in such a way that I got the hint.  

I was to do the talking.  Not her.

And so I opened my mouth, and began to explain. 

I told her about my last few weeks at work.  How difficult they’d been.  How the pressure was choking the life out of me.  How I felt as though I was a failure.  That I was letting everyone down.  That I couldn’t take much more of it, and that I was so very tired of everything.

If time existed in this place, I’d have said that I talked for hours.  But there’s no way of knowing how long it lasted at all, because time is an Earthly measurement.  And wherever I was,  I knew one thing for sure – it was not the world I was accustomed to.  It didn’t feel Earthly at all.

Despite my incessant rambling, my grandmother listened attentively.  She hung on every word, nodding her head understandingly. 

She never spoke.  She didn’t have to.  And as corny as this sounds, all I felt from her as I sat pouring my heart out in that comforting firelight, was absolute, pure, unequivocal love. 

It was pouring out of her.  From her. Within her.  Around her. 

She was absolutely drenched in it.  and she somehow had the power to transfer some of it to me.

As I wrapped up my final thoughts on the subjects I’d just covered, she stood up and walked around the mahogany coffee table that separated us.  Her warm, loving arms circled me in the most complete and total hug I’ve ever received. 

With her arms still around me, I felt her warm breath on my neck, as she whispered quietly, finally speaking for the first and only time.

It’s going to be okay.

And then, leaving me with that sentiment… she crossed the room, and exited through the secret side door, and I knew without being told – I was not allowed to follow. 

Once again, I was alone in the room.  But with remnants of her hug still clinging to my clothes. 

As I turned back towards my side of the room, I glanced upward and my jaw dropped in awe. Above the mantelpiece, was an enormous, hand-painted oil portrait of my grandfather, who is still alive. I admired it for a moment. The detail was incredible.

 Then I walked out a door of my very own. 

And woke up, remembering everything.


September 8, 2019

Minneapolis, MN

Tiny stars are dancing on the periphery of my vision.  The blood is pooling in my face and I can feel the tiny capillaries in my eyes beginning to burst, like over-filled water balloons.  

My hands are beginning to clench involuntarily, the rope around my neck pinching off their necessary blood supply.  I can feel my brain demanding oxygen.  The world is starting to go black.

I picture the room from my dream 8 months ago, that dignified sitting room. 

The room between the worlds. 

And I know, undoubtedly, that if I want to, I can go there now.  That the side-door will be open. Unlocked, for the first time. 

That I can cross beyond it if I so choose.  

But if I make that choice, there’s no going back. 

There’s no peeking.  I know that without being told. 

I can enter the doorway, but it will shut behind me.  And my family will be stuck on the other side of it. 

I picture my mother. Screaming and banging her ineffectual fists on the solid doorway.

Picture myself, jiggling the knob, trying to open it.  Hearing her cries, wanting to hug her, to comfort her. 

And not being able to. 

Trapped in another place. While she attempts to follow me to the in-between. And gets lost there. Hopelessly lost.

And with that searing image burned into my oxygen-deprived brain, that powerful, gut-wrenching image, a jolt rushes through me, and my wobbly knees forcefully straighten once again.

I turn reluctantly from the open door, unlocked, with the light pouring out of it, and walk the other way, back through my own.

As I do, I let out a sob.  I don’t want this.  I don’t want to go back to the pain and the hurt. 

But I’d rather feel my own pain a hundred times over, than watch helplessly from afar while my mother shoulders hers.  I can’t be the source of her pain.  I won’t.  

I reach up, thanking God that I used a slipknot, which can be loosened if the height is right. 

And as I struggle to pull it upwards and feel the knot go slack, I hear the distant screech of a door as it swivels on it’s hinges. 

The resounding click as the lock pops back into place.

I fall to the floor in a sobbing heap, and feel my grandmother’s breath lightly pass over my neck.  


It’s going to be okay.


To be continued…

Lake of Fire

Part 5 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters


** !!! Trigger Warning !!!  ***

This post contains the narration and description of suicidal thoughts and acts, which could definitely be triggering for some people. 

If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, or have suicidal thoughts yourself, you may want to abstain from reading. 

On the other hand, I’m sharing this very vulnerable story with you because I feel it needs to be discussed and especially because it may help others understand what exactly goes on in the mind of a severely depressed person. 

Too often, I hear people wondering why and while I don’t speak for every suicidal person, I do believe the thoughts and feelings conveyed here are much more common than society would have us believe. 

So whoever you are, please know that you’re not alone.  And that if I managed to survive this horrific episode… there’s hope for you too.  

I love you, friend.  Keep fighting. For both of us.



09/30/2019

Detroit, MI

Dew still clings to the grass below me as I crouch down over the damp lawn of the empty playground.  Although it’s midday, the sky is overcast and the breeze is chilly. 

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports, sky, shoes and outdoor

I reach up with two fingers, placing them delicately on the skin of my neck.  Feel the thundering of my pulse underneath. Count the repetitions.  Wait patiently for the pace to slow.

I perform my final set of burpees before collapsing on the wet grass in exhaustion, flopping my head sideways to peer at the glistening dewdrops all around me. 

A hint of movement catches my eye.  A tiny lone ant, struggling to scale the soaring precipice of an impossibly tall blade of grass.  It’s bitty legs are scrabbling maniacally up the smooth, wet surface, and a squint of the eye reveals that it’s got a crumb of food in tow.  The effort seems magnanimous.  I smile softly in admiration.  

Such perseverance.  Such a strong, abominable will to survive. 

To keep living, no matter what.  Whatever it takes.

But is it really something to be admired at all, this survival instinct?  Is it a trait of strong character, or is it simply coded into the DNA of every living thing on this Earth? 

Why do even the smallest, most insignificant beings have a compelling need to keep existing? 

Why do even ANTS seem to hold their own lives so sacred?  

Where do these feelings come from?

And why do I, as a human, seem to feel the exact OPPOSITE? Did God cross the wrong wires when I was created?

After all, it was less than three weeks ago that I desperately sought to snuff out that stubborn pulse, still hammering away beneath my skin. 

Only three weeks ago, that I’d narrowly escaped the overwhelming compulsion to die. 

An instinct – to self-destruct. An instinct I’d felt then, just as surely as this ant feels the need to live now.


September 8, 2019

Minneapolis, MN

A dark hotel room

$40.36.

It  costs exactly $40.36 to die.

There are cheaper ways, of course.  Obviously.  But time is of the essence, and bargain-hunting isn’t really something you worry about when you’re not planning on being here tomorrow.  

And I don’t.  

So I splurged and purchased a fancy ‘over-the-door’ chin-up bar from Wal-mart, along with a hunting knife, and the most important material of all: a thick, nylon rope.  

I’ve learned from prior experience that the rope material makes a big difference.  Cheap, scratchy rope irritates the skin as it tightens, making for a rather uncomfortable affair. 

Rope that is small in diameter is also undesirable, for similar reasons. 

It must also be strong, obviously.  But not so strong that you can’t pierce it with a knife to adjust the height.  

And so I’m very particular about my rope. 

I’ve chosen this one carefully.

I nod in approval as I secure my new rope around the freshly-assembled chin-up bar.  This will do just fine.

Amazing really, that I managed to choose an appropriate rope-type, in my current condition.

On the outside, I look fine.  Normal.  Okay.

I’m not.

Inside, I’m burning alive.  

For the past 24 hours, I’ve been absolutely engulfed by invisible flames. 

Ever since I’d missed my shift at work.  Since the panic attack.  Since my life fell apart, for the umpteenth time.

I haven’t slept.  I haven’t eaten. 

I haven’t done anything but cry and shake.  For 24 hours.

It’s happened before, but this time it’s worse.  Inescapable.  Indescribable. 

So much pain.  So much hurt.

It’s not just mental, either.  I can feel it in my body.  My skin is crawling.  I feel both hot and cold at the same time.  Like I’ve come down with a fever.  

Goosebumps cover my body, along with a paradoxical sheen of glossy sweat.  My head is throbbing and I can’t tell if it’s from the lack of sleep or the constant crying. 

The nape of my neck is caked with dried blood.  I tend to scratch myself there compulsively when I’m anxious.  I don’t know why.  But I know it stings.  

I read somewhere once that a black hole is so heavy and dense that the entire mass of the Earth is smashed down into a space as small as a golf ball. 

Can you imagine?  A golf ball that weighs as much as Earth?

I can. 

Because I’ve felt it.  In my chest.

Whenever I’m in this state, my chest feels so compressed that I’d swear the weight of the Earth is resting inside it. 

And just like a black hole, it gobbles up every source of light in it’s vicinity.  Every twinkle of hope, every tiny spark of happiness. Nothing escapes it’s infamous Event Horizon.  

It. Is. Hell.

I fight and crawl away from it, but after a time it drags me right back. It becomes too much. 

I’m being crushed from within.  My mind has ignited with imaginary flames, and I’m writhing in agony, alone in a dark hotel room. 

I’ve fought it for so long.  Years and years of torture.  And now I’m so very tired.  I need respite.  I need to douse these flames, somehow, and the only way is through the loop in this rope. 

A simple slipknot.  Any boy-scout could tie it.  

I scribble a quick note to the only people who have ever managed to put out my sporadic fires.  I tell them I’m sorry.  I want them to know how much I love them.  But the flames are licking at my feet and just can’t take it anymore.

I step up to the gallows and place my head in the coil.  Sink down to my knees, and feel the tight squeeze of death’s embrace.  Close my eyes.  

Gag, and sputter.  Choke. Cough.

Soon now. So soon.

Praying that God will forgive me.  

And all the while, the fire roars around me.


To be continued…

Mad World

Part 4 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters



May, 2019  

(several months ago)

Phuket, Thailand

C’mon, Jules!” Demi shouts, his cheery British enunciation bounding atop the surface of the choppy water, like a smooth, flat rock skipping across a pond. 

I squint into the sun at him and Eddie, bobbing and swaying effortlessly, like tiny pieces of kelp in the distance.  They are waving their arms wildly at me, beckoning me towards them, and away from the safety of the sandy shoreline.

They are only 50 yards away, but that might as well be miles. 

 I’m unable to swim, you see.

Not for lack of trying, of course.  Every boyfriend I’ve ever had has attempted to teach me.  And every lesson has ended exactly the same – with me in tears, and the boyfriend fuming at my complete and utter lack of comprehension.  

I’ve just never been very… buoyant.

And of course there’s that pesky deep-seeded fear of being submerged in any liquid past eye-level. 

And that whole ‘no oxygen for the foreseeable future‘ thing.

It’s a lot to contend with.

My point is – it’s hopeless.

Ignoring all of this, I forge ahead, folding under the weight of the light-hearted peer pressure.  

The warm, salty water laps at my waist, crawling slowly upwards with every inch I cover.  The sand is soft and grainy between my toes.  

Suddenly, a tiny wave jumps upwards, and bites me right in the chin with it’s frothy teeth.  A sharp hiss escapes my mouth as the fallout rains down upon me, covering me in foamy droplets that glisten in the beaming sunlight. 


September 7, 2019

2:30 PM

Minneapolis, MN

Hotel Room #213

I step awkwardly over the low porcelain wall of the hotel bathtub, flinching slightly as the tepid spray strikes my back.  

I pause for a moment, letting my body adjust to the temperature before committing myself entirely to the growing warmth of the cascade.

I’m exhausted, yet wired.  I know that I’ve slept…  yet feel like I haven’t. 

Why is that?

I reach absently for my loofah.  As I draw circles across my naked skin with it’s soft, springy texture, my mind begins to wander.  

Lunch today… I’ll bring that salad. Cut some avocado up and mix it in.  

Need to fill the car up with gas on the way home tonight.  Getting kind of low.  

I can’t believe I watched the entire third season of Stranger Things last weekend what will I watch tonight after work–

–now I need to find a new show I could ask my coworkers but I’m pretty sure they all hate me because why wouldn’t they because I suck at my job —

–and I’m not very likeable and last night was a disaster and I felt pretty dizzy and I don’t remember driving home and why is that  I still have lots of anxiety about it remember that guy that tried to kill my coworker and that mean nurse and the supervisor well I’m-certain-she-hates-me

becauserememberallthatwhisperingandshe’sneverbeenverynicetomesincetheminutewemetand–and–and–and–and-and-and–


Back in Thailand...

Months Earlier

Beads of twinkling salt water glide down my nose as I fervently study the rhythmic pattern of the waves.  My toes grip the shifting sand as I rock back and forth in perfect harmony with their beat, bracing myself for the impact of each note as it chimes, melodically through the tropical air.

Eddie and Demi are nearby, chatting animatedly with their disembodied, floating heads.  

I’m barely listening.  Not for lack of interest, though.  It’s hard work, anticipating the next wave, and it requires nearly all of my attention.

Until….

Until I begin to feel it, that is. 

An invisible force, pulling us towards the ocean, like the entire beach has just drifted dangerously close to a supermassive black hole. 

It’s gravity is inescapable. Even the water level responds to it.  I watch in awe as the ocean succumbs to this strange new vacuum, draining it’s bubbling contents from the shoreline, and towing all of us along for the ride.

Eddie and Demi grow quiet as they turn to face the ominous presence, which has now begun to manifest itself as a towering wall of water, barreling towards us at frightening break-neck speed.  

My legs are working tirelessly, attempting to resist the inevitable collision by running, ineffectively, in place. 

I have just enough time to hear Eddie’s panicked, gurgling laughter and watch Demi dive gracefully into the mountain of brine with the practiced ease of a veteran sea-otter, before it’s on top of me.  


The freight train is upon me.    


Minneapolis

2:45 PM

I watch anxiously as the images stack upon each other, growing in size by the second.  

A helpless patient in an oversized hospital gown.  Breathing quickly, too quickly. 

 A man in khaki scrubs with his arms outstretched, chest-to-chest with a wriggling, angry patient.  Attempting to smother violence with proximity. 

 An eye roll from a nurse with thick, clumpy mascara.  

Whispering.  People whispering. 

Whispering and Staring.  

Staring at me. 

Whispering. About me.  

I can’t make out their words.  Only the sharp hiss of the occasional ‘S’.  So many S’s.  Why so many?  

The S’s join together in a constant, high-pitched hum.

Keening… like snakes. 

So many snakes. Wriggling snakes.  A nest of them, all around me. 

Sssssssssssssssss….  Sssssssssssssss….  Ssssssssssss… 

 Getting louder.  Louder. Joining with the squeal of the shower spray. 

ssssssssssssssssssssssssssSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS….. 

 I slap my hands over my ears.  Soapy water sprays from them. 

It’s in my head.  All around me.  I can’t get away, Can’t get away.

Can’t.  Get.  Ah-way.  


SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Shut up.  Shut up.  SHUT UP.  SHUT THE FUCK UP

I sink to the floor.  Leave a trail of soapy slime down the tile wall.

Leave me alone.  Please.  Please, stop.

please


Back in Thailand….

Months Earlier

The ocean punches me mercilessly in the gut, expelling all my air before I’m even under water.  

It scoops me up in it’s massive tendrils and sends me cartwheeling violently through space.  No way of telling what direction I’m spinning.  

Which way is the surface?

As if to answer, the ocean bottom presents itself abruptly, and painfully. My forehead erupts in agony.  Although my eyes are closed, stars explode across my field of vision.

A muffled snap! announces the complete destruction of my favorite pair of sunglasses – loud enough to penetrate the deafening roar of the violent churning all around me.  

My lungs begin to burn, demanding oxygen.  My chest is growing tighter by the second. 

I desperately need to break the surface, but I’m trapped inside this effervescent fist and it’s dragging me bodily through this weightless, alien landscape.  

Am I going to die… in 5 foot-deep water?  

Yessssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss


Minneapolis

3:00 PM

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

The liquid panic burns in my belly as my chest heaves violently.  I can feel it crawling upwards into my esophagus, like the mercury in a thermometer. 

Steam surrounds me and thickens the air, making it impossible to breathe.  My lungs are working like pistons in an engine, but no oxygen is getting in. 

I’m drowning.  Drowning in the heat and the moisture.  

I reach out for the knob with a strangers arms.  They look like my own – identical, in fact – but they feel wrong.  Everything about them.  Someone has transplanted my arms with someone else’s.  Cadaver arms.  Cadaver legs too.  

I watch as the cadaver hands clamp around the knob, twist it to off.  Then the strange, trembling body  launches itself across the tile and crumples onto it’s knees. 

It scrambles jerkily for the toilet lid and forces it upwards just in time to release the geyser of liquid from it’s stomach, heaving and retching until the poison is fully expelled. 

It rests it’s head on the cold porcelain, heart racing, lungs burning, vision tunneling.  


Back in Thailand…

Months Earlier

I’m fighting the urge to let my traitorous lungs take in a large gulp of water, but slowly losing strength.  Time is crawling. Seconds feel like hours.

But then, suddenly,  I feel a slight release of the ocean’s vice-like grip around me.  I hear the roaring overhead begin to pass by, leaving both me and a swirling trail of silt and destruction in it’s wake. 

The ocean, it seems, has finally lost her interest in me.

A tickle of sensation near my toes tells me the sea-floor is near.  I dig my heels into it, like a child dragging their tiny feet into the gravel below a swing-set. 

Extend my knees, forcefully.  And explode upwards.

Glorious, oxygen-filled air stings my face as I finally break free from the shackles of the dark abyss. 

I drink in a large gasp of air with my eyes closed, and hear a voice that sounds like Eddie’s to my left. 

Another one!  Another one!”

God Dammit.


Minneapolis

4:45 PM

My skin is no longer damp, and the light has begun to fade, when I slowly blink open my eyes.  My right top lid is cemented to the bottom. Why is that? Crying. I’ve been crying.

I look down, see my own hands.  Mine.

My pulse has stopped thundering, breathing has slowed. 

My ears are still ringing.  But the hissing, has subdued.  The snakes are gone. Finally… gone.

I ache, all over.  My stomach still feels a bit dodgy. 

But I’m me again.   Safe and sound.  

Except I’m not.

Because I was supposed to be at work, 45 minutes ago.


To be continued…

Domino

Part 2 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

I’ve never met a person  that actually knows how to play Dominos. 

I’m talking about the REAL “match-the-dots-up” style Dominos – the original purpose for which the inventors intended.  

I know there’s some type of scoring system, which means there’s got to be a legitimate strategy involved, and I’m pretty sure the rules are printed directly on the box. 

So why is it, then, that I’ll probably be struck by lightning before I’ll ever meet someone who knows how to actually play?  

The answer, is simple.  

No matter what the rules say, we all know that the true fun lies in arranging those little rectangles up just right and then watching them fall over in perfect synchronous harmony. 

Take any five-year-old off the street (but maybe only do this metaphorically, cause that’s sort of weird)  and ask them how to play Dominos and that’s exactly what they’ll show you.  

It’s a hypnosis of sorts, watching those little pieces topple. One after the other. An elegant cycle of Cause and Effect and Cause.

But the true beauty lies in knowing that if just one of those blocks has been slightly misplaced, the chain is broken. The entire entertaining process comes to a screeching halt and the fun… is over.  

There’s a special name for this phenomenon in the airline industry, referring to all the tiny ill-foreseen events preceding a plane crash. 

Cascading Failures, it’s called.  

If I had an Indian Name, Cascading Failures would probably be it. 

I can hear it now:

Cascading Failures… get over here and finish your supper!”

Did you clean your room yet, Cascading Failures?”

All jokes aside, I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing the Domino effect firsthand in my own life as of late. 

It was a series of unfortunate events that lead, ultimately, to my disappearance. 

My very own set of cascading failures.  

And this, my friends,  is the story of that very first Domino.



September 6, 2019

Minneapolis, MN

An Undisclosed Hospital

Tiny beads of sweat draw a slow and agonizing line down my back.  They pause briefly as they reach the little peaks of my vertebrae, crawling up the miniature bony slopes determinedly, only to hurdle down towards the valleys in between before repeating the entire process over again. 

I fight the urge to awkwardly reach backwards and smother them as I dart around the CT room like a deranged bumblebee, preparing hurriedly for the next scan.

A glimmer of stainless steel in my peripheral vision announces the entrance of another patient, and I barely have time to bark out a quick ‘hello’ before the worker pushing the wheelchair disappears like an apparition. 

I don’t blame him, of course.  He’s already informed me that it’s his first day on the job, and he couldn’t have picked a worse shift to act as his introduction to the medical field.  Poor kid has been running back and forth all night.  

Not that I have much time to grace him with my sympathies.  I’ve also been inundated with back-to-back patients all night.

Despite the annoying back-sweat and complete lack of time for eating, drinking, or peeing, I’m actually quite enjoying myself.  I’ve trained at a Trauma 1 center in downtown Detroit as a student, and had always thrived in fast-paced environments as a server before that.  Busy days make for quick days and for that I am eternally grateful.  

The end of the shift tonight will mark the near-end of my second week at this site.  I’ve already told my dad and mom that I’m quite enjoying this travel assignment.  I’ve already voiced my interest at extending here, should the offer be made.  I’ve never had a travel site NOT ask if I’d like to extend my contract beyond 13 weeks.  Not once in 5 years.

Of course there had been that incident earlier this week, in which a nurse had been choked by a patient in one of our CT rooms –  with her own stethoscope.

And then oddly, that very same day, I had been moving a patient onto our CT table when he suddenly cocked his arm back and struck me sharply in the pelvis with his fist.  The sudden and brash violence had stunned me into silence. 

It hadn’t been until several hours later that I had thought to mention it, and when I finally did, it was more or less regarded as a ‘necessary evil’ that went hand-in-hand with working in our industry.  I mean, I get it. It happens, you know?

Yet while all that had given me pause, the good had continued to outweigh the bad here. Honestly.

For now, I stand on the other side of the CT table and extend my arms out coaxingly to the young girl on the other side of it.  She easily transfers from the wheelchair, as I launch into autopilot and explain the CT process. 

I ramble on as she stares at me with dazed eyes, giving no sign whatsoever of having comprehended a word of my monologue. 

As a precaution, I fold the large seatbelt-like velcro straps over her tiny body and secure them round her waist.  She flinches, slightly, at the contact.  I think nothing of it.

I speed-walk to the control room and shut the door, plop into the flimsy computer chair and roll myself towards the monitor.  with practiced ease, I perform my quick set of preliminary pictures that I’ll be using to set the parameters for the scan. 

But just as I prepare to hit the button and initiate the exam, something on the CT table stirs.  Having caught the motion in my peripheral vision, I quickly hit the “abort” button and squint through the lead-impregnated glass at my patient.  

I leap out of my chair so quickly it goes rolling across the carpet and with a loud thud, and crashes into the counter on the opposing side.

As I tear the door open and run into the room, I am immediately relieved to find that my patient is not having a seizure, as I had originally thought. 

But the relief doesn’t last. 

While she may not be showing seizure-like symptoms, the violent,  involuntary shaking I’d just witnessed from the control room had not been imagined.  My patient’s chest is heaving wildly and she is trembling so wretchedly that I fear she may vibrate right off the table and fall directly to the floor.  

I rush over to her.  Pull her to a sitting position and place my hands on hers.  

Are you alright, ________?‘  I ask.

No response.

‘_______, talk to me.  What’s going on?  Tell me how I can help.  I want to help you, okay?  But I can’t do that if you won’t tell me what’s wrong.

 Her eyes are wide with panic. 

Lips trembling.  Breathing shallow. 

The blood is draining from her face and the hyperventilation seems to be worsening.

And then, I realize it.  Curse myself.

How could I not know? 

I get these weekly.  

It’s a panic attack. 

A full-blown, terrifying, and yet all-too-familiar panic attack.

As the realization dawns on me, a look of recognition crosses my face.

She notices.

Okay,’  I say.  ‘You don’t have to tell me.  I get these too.  I know.  I know.  You just have to breathe through it.  It’s scary.  So scary.  But it goes away after a while. Lets breathe together, okay?  You and I, right now.

We inhale.  We exhale. 

 We inhale.  We exhale. 

Together.  

And slowly, ever-so-slowly, I watch as the blood returns to her face. 

Her breathing slows.  The trembling peters out.

I smile. 

 ‘See?‘  I say, ‘You did that on your own.  Look at how good you’re doing. I’m so proud of you.’

A hint of a smile.  Of trust.  

And then…

From two rooms over, where my coworkers are performing a scan on another patient:

DON’T YOU MOTHERFUCKING TOUCH ME!!  FUCK YOU!!  FUCK YOU I’LL KILL YOU RIGHT NOW YOU MOTHERFUCKERS I’LL SHOOT YOU IN THE GODDAMN FACE!!!!!

My patient and I jump in unison and I watch in horror as she reverts back to the state I’d just spent several minutes coaxing her out of. 

Worse, actually.  The hyperventilation returns and this time, it’s showing no signs of stopping… of slowing. 

God DAMMIT.

Just then, both my coworkers voices ring out in unison. 

Julie!  Julie, we need you! Get. In. Here. NOW!!

I flinch and start off in the direction of the voices. Stop briefly to touch my patient’s hand.

I gotta go for a second.  I’ll be right back, you hear me?  Breathe.  Just Breathe.

As I run backwards out of the room, she stares after me, trying desperately to catch her breath. 

It’s easily one of the worst moments of my professional career.  Watching that trust crumble away. Watching helplessly.

Yet as I tear through the CT control room and catch a glimpse into the second exam room, an even more horrifying event is taking place.  

My male coworker is struggling with a large and overwhelmingly strong, combative patient, to keep him from tumbling to the floor, and he’s dodging blows from every which way to do it. 

The crazed patient’s angry screams are reverberating off the walls of the tiny room, and the sheer violence of it all is almost paralyzing. 

This patient, is hell-bent on killing my coworker. 

Of that, I am sure.

shit shit shit shit shit shit.  

I run into the room. 

And directly into hell.


To be continued….

Renegade

Part 1 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

September 16, 2019

Potosi, Missouri

The steering wheel is hot and sticky in my hands as I wrench the tiny rental car to and fro around the unfamiliar winding roads of some random town in Missouri.

My body whips violently from right to left, a slave to the centrifugal force of this spontaneously curvy highway. The seamless vibrant green splash of endless thriving farmland paints a blurry streak of bright green across this dazzling earthly canvas. The engine hums loudly near my toes, joining the loud homogenous buzz inside my brain.

The one picture I managed to snap while on the lam…

My eyes struggle to adjust to the foreign landscape as my mind reels tumultuously from one hurried thought to the next. The cadence of these rapid, urgent thoughts is perfectly synchronous with the turbulent forces exerted upon my body.

Both physically and mentally, I am helpless against the violent forces pulling me in all directions. They are indestructible, these forces. Strong enough to bend the very fabric of one’s reality. I watch in amusement as it bubbles around me like boiling water, stretching and shrinking and threatening to tear its delicate fibers apart, as it borders on the limits of its own fragile elasticity.

I’m exhausted. Hours, days, weeks of running. Go go go. Never stopping. Never slowing. Always going.

What am I running from?

I don’t remember anymore.

Where am I going?

Couldn’t tell you.

Have I ever known?

When does this end? Where does it stop? I need it to stop. Want it to stop. I’m so very tired.

That membrane that was bubbling outwards… roiling and stirring ominously? It’s so close to bursting and I’m not sure I want to know what’s underneath.

What lies beyond the boundaries of reality? What happens when the very tendrils of space-time are penetrated? Can the tear be stitched? Or does it spew out its contents irreversibly like Pandora’s box?

So many questions. Too many answers. Too much. Too fast. Too far. Too wide. Too. Much. Too. Much. Too Much.

I can’t take much more. Can’t handle this. The car is barreling down the road, the thoughts are ripping through my mind.

Faster fasterfasterfasterfaster.

And then… those flashing lights.

Blue and red in my rearview. So many lights. From so many directions. Police cars on top of more police cars.

They are coming for me. Finally. It’s over.

I slow the car to a crawl and wait for the lights to draw near. Relief washes over me. I close my eyes. Breathe. Sweet, pure oxygen fills my lungs. It’s over. Finally over.

The buzzing in my mind fizzles. A ringing calm takes it place. Help, is here. Finally. It’s over.

There’s no beginning to this story. Nor is there a middle, or an ending. I have always been this way. It was always going to turn out like this.

There are triggers. Things that make it more noticeable. But the pot is always simmering, threatening to bubble over the rim. Certain things, they heighten the flame. Stir the pot. Bring it to a boil. But the water was always simmering. Always.

I’ll tell you all about my little stove. How it was fanned and fed. And how it tipped me past the boiling point. To the point of no return.

For now, the cops have arrived and they’re slowly, cautiously approaching my vehicle. Their hands are on their guns, which makes me chuckle. For Christ’s sake it’s not like I’ve killed someone. I haven’t even broken the law.

As I roll down the window I flash them a giant grin. “The jig is up, and news is out. You finally found me…”

Badfish

Early 1990

Albion, Michigan

As the car crawls to a stop and we turn off of J Drive North road, I smile to myself.  Not just at the comforting presence of our tiny 3-bedroom home, but at the secret that only I know.  

When we’d first moved into this quaint little country-house, my dad had pulled me aside to entrust me with the secret.  

J Drive… you know what that stands for, right?” he had asked. 

I had shaken my head in confusion and stared at him with wide eyes.

“It’s short for Julie, and Jim,” he had explained, “Your name and mine.  This is OUR street.  Julie – Jim Drive.  Now you’ll never forget what street you live on, right?”

I had nodded, speechless and awestruck.  

Of course it will be years before I realize what a brilliant ploy this is to help me remember my own address.  And the fantastic luck that we’d had in purchasing a home on this road, as opposed to the neighboring I-Drive North or K-Drive North.

But right now, my four-year-old mind is deeply immersed in the deception, and I can barely contain my excitement at having a street of my very own.  

The engine cuts out, as do all thoughts of my secret, allowing more pressing concerns to come to mind – like the audience of stuffed animals patiently awaiting my return.  I unlatch my seatbelt  and prepare to leap out of the van, but before I get a chance, my mother’s voice grinds me to a halt.

“Hold on Julie-bug.  I want to talk to you about something.”

I freeze, wondering what kind of trouble I’ve landed myself in. 

“You’re not in trouble.”  

I release the breathe I’ve been holding.

“But I spoke with Mrs. Kulakowski when I picked you up today.”

That’s my friend’s mom.  Okay, what’s this about?

“She mentioned… that you…”  the corners of her mouth are quivering, like she’s desperately fighting the urge to laugh.  “…she said that you had changed into your bathing suit.  Is that true?”

I stare. “Yeah…”

What’s your point?

“Okay.  So listen, honey, it’s winter time.  It’s a little cold for swimsuits, don’t you think?  And our swimsuits are meant to be worn in the pool, or at the beach.  We don’t wear them under our clothes and change into them at our friend’s houses.  That’s not what they’re for, okay?”

I nod, understandingly. 

Well, that did not go according to plan.  

What my mother didn’t know was that I’d been wearing the swimsuit for weeks now, underneath my regular clothes. Everywhere.  Day and Night.

It had begun with the summer Olympics.  I’d been entranced by what I’d seen on the TV screen, in those giant, sparkling pools.  Those majestic creatures donning their Latex caps and thick, plastic goggles.  Their spandex leotards with giant Red, White, and Blue letters.  Their magical ability to move through water as quickly and easily as an astronaut through space.  

I wanted to be like them.  Needed to be like them.  So much that I began to dream about it every waking second of every day.  All of my energy poured into it.  I couldn’t think about anything else.  It consumed me. 

We had a big, ratty, blue blanket that we had spread on the grass last fourth of July, to watch the fireworks.  I sought it out and secretly stashed it in my room. 

Transformed it into water.

I’d lay it on the floor, change into my swimsuit, and use my bed as a springboard.  I’d leap through the air with my arms overhead and with a loud sploosh, I’d land in my imaginary pool. 

I’d run across the floor, circling my arms wildly in the air, and proceed to win eternal glory for my country.  I’d step up to the lego-box podium with tears in my eyes and thank my stuffed animals for their endless support and encouragement.

My obsession was all-encompassing and I could no longer stand to walk around NOT wearing the uniform that would one day lead me to international distinction. 

Not feeling the familiar tug of it’s spaghetti-straps around my shoulders began to spark nervous butterflies in my belly.  And so I slept in it, ate in it, and played in it.  And in a moment of pure artistic insanity, attempted to share my newfound enthusiasm with my friend down the street.  

Like Clark Kent changing in the phone booth, I entered my friend’s room in normal 4-year old clothing… and emerged as a miniature Olympian. 

Unfortunately, the world was not ready for my heroic feats of imaginary athleticism just yet.

“I won’t do it anymore mom, I promise,”  I say as we make our way up the circle driveway and into the house.  And I keep my promise.  This time.  But it’s not long before I find another harmless obsession to fixate on.  

Years later, these obsessions will take on a life of their own, and have  much less amusing effects on my life.

Ironically, to this day, I’ve still never learned how to swim.

Sweet Child ‘O Mine


I’m not exactly sure how many people on this Earth owe their existence to beer – all I know is that I’m one of them.  Green beer, in fact.  


On St. Patrick’s day of 1978, just outside of the Northern Michigan University campus in Marquette, my father and a college buddy strolled into the local grocery store, Mike’s Supermarket.  They were on a quest for some cheap beer to ring in the Irish holiday with.  A pretty brunette clerk smiled flirtatiously as she rang up his 12-pack, and as he made his way toward the exit she yelled, “Is that green beer?”  To which he suavely responded with, “I’ll have to let you know.”

Later that night, egged on by his buddy and emboldened by the 12-pack, he returned to Mike’s… to find that the girl, had gone home.  He asked another store clerk for her name, and learned that it was Kathy Weston.

It was now midnight, but armed with this new information, he returned to his dorm room, grabbed a phone book, and spent the next hour waking up every Weston household in the county. 

Eventually, he reached someone who was related to my mother and asked them to pass on his phone number, along with the following message: Tell her the beer wasn’t green.  

5 months later, they were married.  My dad – the shy, dirt-poor, aspiring young Engineer, and my mom – the former head cheerleader and charismatic social butterfly. 


Early 1985

Two Rivers, Wisconsin


My mother sat patiently in the cold doctor’s office as she awaited the unnecessary test results.  Unnecessary, of course,  because the constant puking, headaches, and lack of period were more than enough evidence to confirm her greatest fears. But pregnancy tests didn’t exist back then, and one couldn’t just go around telling people they were pregnant if they didn’t know for certain.

My mom with my oldest Sister, Christel


None of that stopped her from bursting into tears when the doctor relayed the news.  He patted her arm, gently, and cheerily assured that, “Everything will be okay.”  Easy for him to say.  He wasn’t the one living in a cramped, two-bedroom apartment as a family of 4.   Soon to be 5.


Things could have been worse.  At least she was happily married.  And although they struggled with money, her husband’s career as a young Engineer for Hamilton Industries was beginning to show promise.  But a 2-bedroom apartment with a family of 5?  How on Earth was that going to work?

The fam, shortly before my arrival


In the months that followed, my early presence wreaked havoc on her body – much more than my 2 older sisters had.  In fact, somewhere between the endless vomiting and migraines, my father was sent off for a vasectomy – to which he willingly obliged.  


Finally, on a cold night in November the misery came to an end, as  I very narrowly escaped being born in a warm bathtub. 

Apparently it’s rather difficult to ascertain that your water has broken when you’re… well…. immersed in water.  Nevertheless, my mom did indeed make it to the hospital just in time for me to make my dazzling entrance into the world.  I came out with a full head of thick brown hair, my mother’s eyes, and a special knack for the occasional sarcastic quip. 

Well maybe the sarcasm came later, but I’d like to think that it’s a superpower I was born with, rather than a byproduct of environmental conditioning.

Me, as a tiny human


My story isn’t terribly unique, especially not my early years.  But interspersed between the happy, normal, and often embarrassing childhood memories are hints of something darker, growing just beneath the surface.  Precursors to the eventual explosion of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and major depression that would invade every aspect of my teenage and early-adult life. 

Writing, is my favorite form of therapy. Mainly, because it’s free.

And so I write. About the past. About the present. About the obstacles. About the losses. About the wins. And by doing so I will, hopefully, begin to heal.


I don’t expect that many will be interested in my tale, but for the select few that are… I welcome you on this journey.  So strap on your seat-belt and hop in this DeLorean because where we’re going… we don’t need roads. 


Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Many of these events occur on or near major highways. I just can’t resist the opportunity to reference one of my favorite movies.  Sorry about that.  


Anyways, welcome, and thanks for coming along.