I often find that feeling there in the muscles of my back, tense and twisting, forcing me to double over in fear. What should I do? How do I deal with this?
No. I shove those questions down, deep, further than I knew I could. Lowering my head, I barrel forward, forcing my way through my path.
Stop. Please make it stop. You're hurt.
Head down. Push forward.
It won't work. You can't go on like this.
Head down. Push forward.
Kacey, it has to stop.
No stopping. Head down. Push forward. A carthorse pulling a heavy load up a steep hill. Just keep going forward.
But you're not. It's too muddy. You're slipping.
I dig my feet in further. I will not stop. I cannot stop. To stop is to say that I can't do it. I must do it.
If you don't stop and listen to me, you will stop completely.
I can't stop. To stop is to fail. To stop is to end. If I end, if I fail, I will have no meaning. No worth. Nothing.
Stop it all.
I can't. I can't stop it. It keeps coming. The rain, the mud, the burden of the yolk. I can't stop it from coming, pushing me toward the muddy banks of the river, swirling with darkness.
Take another path.
THERE IS NO OTHER PATH! CAN'T YOU SEE THAT? THERE IS NO OTHER PATH! THERE IS ONLY THE RIVER BESIDE ME! THE WIDE And deep river...
The river is wide. And deep. And cold.
Is it worth it?
The river is deep. The currents are fast. But there is another path.
I want that one.
Take the other path. There are so many to choose from!
I want the river. I want the swirling eddies that mirror my fear, my feelings, my guilt. I want it to wash me clean as it pulls me down, down where I don't have to be anymore.
You must choose another path. You know this.
I should never have been. I should no longer be. The realization hits me like a spotlight. It is so clear and vivid, I know what needs to happen.
Don't. Don't walk so close to the banks.
Just let me peer into the water. Let me see the hole.
You will slip if you don't walk away now. Please walk away.
I can't walk away. If I go back to the cart, I will die from exhaustion before I reach the top of the hill! I will be nothing more than a shell, barely resembling the being I once was. Everything that brings joy is gone, far far away from here. I can't push forward anymore.
Please. Please walk away. You're going to trip on the branches of despair.
It looks so empty.
Please, Kacey. You don't have to do this.
It feels cold.
It's lonely there.
I'm already lonely. I'm already completely alone. Don't you get that? Don't you see that? I am totally alone! I am a nothing, shrouded in pain and fear, failure and disgrace. Nothing is around me except the entities that drain me. I give, and I give, and I give. Do I get anything back? NO. NOTHING. NO ONE.
I am so totally alone.
Run. Run away from the river. Run NOW.
So I run. I ran. I ran without looking and ran into a field. There was nothing in this field. Whatever crop had been there had been harvested, the remains removed. It was nothing more than a wet, muddy field, with rows plowed in straight lines. I lay there, sobbing, letting the numbness subside as the fear and hate and discouragement slowly surfaced from the deep grotto where I'd buried it. The pain, the loss, the loneliness. So much more than I knew was even there. It filled me up and boiled over, frothing like a rabid animal, incoherent, inordinate, inconsolable. What can I do? How do escape this deep dark place?
Then I remember, I know this field.
I remember the seeds I tried to plant months earlier.
This field hadn't been harvested. It had never been sown. Except for those few seeds I scattered in fear and hesitation.
I start to scratch at the dirt, throwing clods of messy mud all over myself. My fingers run through the grains of mineral as I pray for roots to be there.
Finally, I grapple what once was roots. An undernourished plant that failed to live.
I had failed. Again.
And now I was undeniably completely alone.
I curl up in the mud, my eyes resting in their open position. No more tears could be produced, and the visions of failure danced before me when my lids slid closed.
The rain masks the footsteps.
The footsteps of the gardeners.
"What are you doing here?" the new voice asks me.
"I thought I planted something here. But I can't find it." My reply is weak. I can't even move my head to look at the girls.
"Oh yeah, I remember seeing those. They sprouted a few months ago."
"I remember you planting. You never came back."
"Was that what was happening? Sprouts? I thought they were weeds."
"Well, you obviously didn't look close enough, either of you. They were quite certainly sprouts."
They argue among themselves, unwittingly soothing my tension with their banter. I look up.
"Yes, I planted those seeds. I didn't think anyone noticed."
They look at each other. One gardener looks down at her shoes. She speaks next.
"Where have you been? On the hill all this time?"
I swallow hard as I decide to be honest.
"I just came from the river."
One gardener looks unremarkable. Two, the one looking at her shoes, and the one who noticed my sprouts, quickly glance at each other in alarm.
"Why were you by the river?"
"It's dangerous there!"
"You could have died!"
I look down again.
"I don't want to go back to the river. But I can't pull that cart up the hill anymore." A loud sob escapes my mouth, violent and sudden. My hands slide to my neck and rub the spots where the yoke had lain not ten minutes earlier. "It chokes me," I whisper, "and drains me."
A gardener kneels by my side.
"I know just the cure for that."
She offers her hand. I stare at it silently, deciding if I'm ready to accept what might come with her offer.
I decide to accept.
"I know an easier yoke," one said.
"Same load, lighter burden," another chimed.
"And you'll have help."
"There's no way you're going up this hill alone."
The top of the hill wasn't what I'd expected.
But I got there.
My load was intact.
My soul began to mend.
And as I stood at the top, I decided not to look back.
I didn't look back until I was at the bottom.
On the other side.
Starting a new climb
Similar, but not the same.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.