This One Time, 56

This one time the old fear came back — the fear of getting lost someplace familiar. I’m an old woman, and you can’t be one of those without having been through your share of fears coming and going, but this one was the biggest one I ever ran across. The one that nearly made it too hard to live.

We keep our grip on reality by being able to trust what our senses tell us. Make someone doubt what their senses tell them and you pry fingers loose. You’ll see a breakdown on the spot. We build a picture of the world inside our heads out of the trickle of data we let in. And we take a lot of shortcuts. And sometimes we ignore stuff that contradicts what we think we know because it runs the risk of smashing the world as we know it and making us start over.

Did I say sometimes? My mistake.

You know your man loves you so you ignore the signs that he’s faking it, looking for excuses to not come home to you. Stuff that’s obvious to anyone who really doesn’t care one way or another. Because once you notice, it shatters your world. That kind of thing. Everybody has comforting illusions that are too dear to part with.

Mine is that I know where I am, where my home is, where my things are.

I live in a big building with lots of floors. Everybody who does has gotten off on the wrong floor sometime, not paying attention, and only been shocked out of it when their key doesn’t fit the lock. Carry that feeling with you for a few hours, that whole-world-out-of-joint feeling, only add to it not knowing how far back you need to retrace your steps to find your way back to the real world.

Imagine sitting in your comfiest chair by the window and worrying that if you get up and start walking with the wrong foot first, you’ll end up not being able to find your way across the room. That you’ll eventually find your way across some room, but it won’t have been yours, and you might not be able to find your way back to your chair.

It might be worse for me because I’m blind, but I imagine it’s the same with strong enough OCD.

It was really bad for me at first because my eyes worked fine up to halfway through my twenties. But it went completely dark overnight. It was a rough adjustment. Once you get to know a place, though, you feel safe again. You can light a room with white noise from a fan, a bowl of potpourri with a particular scent for each room, the smell of a wooden bookcase, the sharp plastic tang of a new bathmat. You might even learn to smell the cat before you sit on him — though if he’s smart, he learns to greet you when you come into the room. Because nothing really ever keeps you from sitting on the cat from time to time.

So this one time there was this loud crackle outside the window where I was sitting, and I could feel the light from whatever it was on my skin like a wave of heat, and then things went quiet. And then there was a roaring, but not a loud one, more like the blood in your ears after a run or sitting up too fast from having been asleep or sex. And then the air in the room changed, like it got colder, or maybe there was more of it. I felt the doorways on the other side of the room, lemon soap and metal in the kitchen, lavender potpourri in the far corner by the hall with the bookshelves, cotton and musk from the bedroom, but there were echoes in the air that were slightly different. Instead of just lemon, a kind of lemon-orange blend. With the paper of the old books, a combination of the same only with more leather. With the cotton and musk from the bedroom, another waft from the same direction with a hint of the smell of a man.

And then instead of just doubling, it doubled again. And again. Like the doorways opened up into a range of variations. Into a dozen pasts and futures.

I was frozen. Terrified. I’m sure I cried out. But eventually I got up and felt my way across the room to the hallway. To a hallway. And then back around the room to my bedroom doorway. Inside there were murmurings not quite drowned out by the sound of the ceiling fan. Scents of things, some of which were mine, some belonging to people lost to me more than a decade ago.

I made my way around the bed and made sure it was empty before climbing up on it. The textures were too stiff, too silky for a brief second under my hand, but settled down to a familiar cheap cotton. And then the sensation of extra space went away. Slowly. And I must have fallen asleep.

It’s been nearly as bad a couple of times since then, reminding me of a time I was out on a frozen lake once and the ice cracked. Everything’s fine before then, but afterward? Afterward you know it’s broken, and it’s just a matter of time before the cracks catch up with you and you fall in.


February 25, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


2 Responses to “This One Time, 56”

  1. almostjezebel on July 8th, 2011 1:56 pm

    i love this one…

  2. xalieri on July 8th, 2011 2:05 pm

    Thank you. I was kind of proud of this one. :) I don’t know that I got the execution perfect, but I’m sure the mood is close to what I needed — plus this one gives one of the hugest clues as to what’s going on in the series….


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