My grandmother's porch rocker is special to me. I spend every night in the creaking, paint-chipped wood watching the sky's gradient velvet blue curtains fade to black as they close the day's stage, and make way for the moon and star’s debut.
Reminds me of my younger days spent with my grandparents snapping beans from the work stained apron draped across my grandmother's lap, until the late hours of the afternoon.
I wish I could go back to those days.
My grandparent's farmhouse, weather-worn, rich in history and rugged charm, is in great need of improvements. Ivy clings along the crevices of the faded logs, creeping its way into forms of valances that keep the shutters fixed to the house. Overgrown roses lacing the railing of the sagging porch bid a warm welcome.
Stepping across the threshold the wood-framed screen door swings back startling me with a loud,BANG!. Quickly locking the door and securing all the windows, I take one last look into the yard.
No matter how many times I walk into this house, I still feel their presence. The house opens up into a large room shared between the kitchen and the sitting room. The log walls are an album of family faces from past and present. A small round wooden table, displaying a small milk glass lamp, placed on a delicate white doily separates two blue wingback chairs that dress the large bay window overlooking the porch. Heavy floral drapes drawn back by braided tassels, expose white sheers that allow the sun to warm the room. Memaw’s chair still has her ash-colored shawl and latest knitting project clinging to the arm of the chair from the basket snug at its base.
Adjacent to the chairs rests a dusty blue sofa draped in memaw’s multicolored granny square afghan separating the rooms. There's no T.V, just a large soot-stained rock fireplace to gaze into from the furniture.
As strange as it may seem this is my home now and yet I still can't bear to add anything more than my presence.
A well-worn oak table and four chairs set across from the sink wall, lined with faded pine cabinets that valance a small square window overlooking the clothesline in the backyard. Along the corner of the scarred butcher block counter is a small white gas stove. A tall oak Hoosier cabinet rests along the adjacent wall leading to the hall that welcomes you into the bath and bedroom. Time has stood still, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Filling the kettle for tea the faucet drips just enough to be a nuisance, so I lay a rag in the basin to quiet the impact. Striking a match from the tin box fixed to the wall, the room smells of sulfur and propane as I light the burner on the stove. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda lay half-open on the table where I sat reading at breakfast. A cup of hot tea and a good book under memaw’s shawl should put me right to sleep.
I came here to escape for a while, I never intended on living here permanently but, here I am.
Flinching, as the silence in the room is abruptly interrupted by the screaming kettle I prepare tea, pull the book from the table, and snuggle into memaw’s shawl on the sofa. Feeling a bit anxious I find it hard to relax and focus on the book. The last two weeks have been just what I needed. There's been no sign of them and I couldn't be happier. Perhaps, I can start over here, live again, be happy. Forget.
About six pages in, my eyelids struggle to stay open and the house has chilled beyond the warmth the shawl has to offer. Flipping my book over open on the sofa I take memaw’s shawl with me down the long shivering walls of the hall to my room. Leaning on the door frame I peer in at the bed, gulp panic-stricken, my heart somersaulting; as usual. Bedtime or rather the very thought of sleeping sends my anxiety soaring; I’m a walking corpse. I want to relax, I do, it’s, well, you know, difficult for me. Every night the same game of roulette, my feet rooted to the chill of the aged hardwood floor. I swear the floor knows, like tendrils of the ivy, it attaches itself to my feet, climbs, and anxiety consumes me. I wish I could say that I fight it, but honestly, I willfully let it draw me in until the last minute. I’m not an over-imaginative child anymore, this is so silly.
The air in the hall outside my room is crushing. I don't want to go in, but if they find me, it's too dangerous not to. For while what may be waiting for me in the room is horrifying, what could be waiting in the larger open rooms of the house are deadlier. Quickly leaping into the bed, the iron headboard bangs against the wall leaving its usual scuff as it's done many nights before. As I scurry under the blankets, the white cotton sheets and the weight of my mother’s scrap quilt are cool but comforting.
I wait for my heart to settle as I meticulously wrap myself up in the blankets, careful to leave nothing exposed. I should drift off to sleep, but I begin my safety checklist. Are all doors and windows locked? Are any edges of the blankets hanging off any sides of the bed? Pulling the blankets over my head, I poke a hole wide enough to breathe. I need to sleep, but everything in me screams not to.
I still don’t feel safe, I must stay focused on my breathing,
I’m claustrophobic, so wrapped up like a cocoon adds to my anxiety, but there’s no other way.
Most of the time I focus on the memories of my mother’s scrap quilt. It was her mother's quilt and her mother’s before her; made of old printed flour sacks and worn-out clothes. She rocked me in it as a child, telling me the same stories and singing the same hymns her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother told. Stitched in the squares were not just any clothes, but clothes of many long past. It’s comforting to think they’re all here with me, guarding me through the night, but it never lasts. Just when I feel at ease, anxiety creeps back in. Part of me wants to roam a well-lit house roaring with the sounds of radio to stay awake. While the sounds would keep me awake, it would filter the sound of them coming and as much as I would rather I didn't see it coming, a part of me still wants to.
At least, in my blankets, I feel hidden and somewhat in control of what they see. Like stalkers, they’re obsessive and have no respect for my boundaries. They play on my emotions, my insecurities and make me feel like I’ve gone mad, and maybe I have.
The rhythm of my heartbeat and the clock in the hall have synced and though it should soothe me, it scares the hell out of me. The sound of my breath filtering through the blankets overload my anxiety.
As I lay in bed, my mind is a gymnasium of spectators heckling the images of my life. I pray for it to quiet and let me rest but relentlessly the images replay through the night. My torment is quickly distracted with what sounds like a distant helicopter. Chuff-chuff-chuff-chuff, chuff-chuff-chuff-chuff, chuff-chuff-chuff-chuff. It must be the local hospital helicopter.
Maybe it’s another accident on the curves down from the house. The end of the road is dark and if you're unfamiliar with the road, it can be a bit of a scare. The curves are sharp with little warning, one slip off the edge and the trees swallow you.
Town folk speak of an out-of-town man and his young son crashing in a Jeep several years ago. Rumor is the windshield popped and came back into the seat, beheading the boy; both died from their injuries. Though strangers, their deaths shook the entire town. Driving those curves to this day still creeps me out.
The sound consumes the room, chuff-chuff-chuff-chuff. The aged timber walls tremble, rattling the windows as though it were an earthquake. Perhaps they’re landing in the field near the house. As I carefully move the blanket just enough for my eyes to peek unnoticed, I see blue flashing lights through the drapes. The heavy burgundy drapes swing, scattering light as if they were thin sheers. Second-guessing whether I closed the windows, the tip of my nose chills as the icy air flows into the hole. As the light flashes through the windows my throat clutches, refusing to swallow, and my heart fights its way through my chest like a crazed animal after prey. A malevolent presence lingers in the shadows of the room, watching and waiting; I can feel it! I can smell the insufferable pain resting in its ravenous silhouette. The stench twists my stomach into a retch.
I knew deep down I could never escape.
Is the helicopter real, or is this some new tactic to distract me. Just breathe, keep quiet, don’t tremble, please don’t tremble!
My heart, roars through my ears and into my throat, forcing its way off my tongue into silent screams of desperation, I wish could be heard. Please go away, go away, you’re not welcome here! Imprisoned in my mind in a flood of panic and prayers, overflowing with every chant I can think of to make it go away, but nothing seems to work!
The heavy drapes once cladding the window, slap the sides of the bed near my head. I flinch in terror with each blow as if they were swinging at me.
The house uncontrollably shivering as the air becomes bitterly cold, rattles my bones into rigidness.
I want to run, the door is so close and yet so far away but fear has chained me to the bed. As the mattress sinks at my calves, leaning into me as it does when a parent sits on your bedside to kiss you goodnight, I lay breathlessly rigid.
I can't breathe, god help me I can't breathe!
With force, a hand clenches my ankle, the pain is piercing as my bones feel crushed under the pressure. The blankets pull toward the foot of the bed as I bear my body weight into the bed, gripping the sides of the mattress. Screaming muted screams, it drags me to the base of the bed. My lips fasten one to the other, my heart refuses to beat, struggling to breathe, my head tingles as everything vanishes.
Like an electrical jolt my heart bolts through my chest, gasping for air, ashen-faced and strangling on my own spit, I feel birthed into the hall where I now stand, saturated in a cold sweat. I don't recall leaving my room. My blankets lay spread across the floor trailing from the bed to the door. As I step forward to collect them, a searing pain shoots from my ankle up the side of my leg. My ankle swollen and bruised, I stagger, falling into the door as I push it closed.
Tick, tick, Do--ng! Do--ng! I nearly fall on the floor as the clock announces 2:00 am into the room.
Exhausted, I replay the night's occurrences until the moon settles into the shadows of the rising sun. I feel so broken, so hopeless and out of control. Honestly, I’m not sure who’s in control anymore, me or them; I know only that I’m growing weaker.