To Point C
by Umika Kumar
CW: description of physical pain/graphic imagery re: bodies, mention of death, suicide, therapy
You are standing alone in your darkened apartment, lit by the fireflies posing as lights outside on the street. The ground is steady, then suddenly, remembering the evening’s latest upset, it flips, inverts: you are upside down. In fact, you are no longer in your apartment. You are alone, surrounded for miles by nothing but clear, smoke-grey darkness. There’s an abandoned swingset that you’re magnetically pulled to - not by your legs, by the magnets - and then, all you can feel in every nerve, every crevice, under your fingernails, behind your ears, inside your rib bones themselves: electricity. You are being flesh-fried from the inside out, and these magnets won’t let you leave. If this is a bad dream, you can’t seem to wake up.
You, in your mind-numbed hellscape, try to remember how you got there. How did you end up melting, being purged? What did you do to deserve such a curious kind of torture? You thought of that evening’s upset, the friend who said the snarky thing / the job that you didn’t yet hear back from / the lost earring / the stepping in gum / the slipping on ice / the forgotten email sent too late / the funeral / the burned chai. How, immediately after that memory (point A), you were in your mind, on a completely empty six-lane highway, paved freshly, magnetically pulled into a self-driving jet, which took you to the playground that provides nothing remotely akin to play (point B).
This is an automatic negative thought, The Therapist soberly explains, nodding, wide-eyed, hands clasped. You can rewire your brain to get rid of these.
You dream of this so-called oasis, this metaphorical point C. A pink-orange-yellow-purple wildflower-filled, velveteen wonderland. It probably smells like cardamom and pistachio, or dew slipping off roses, or sandalwood and your grandmother’s shampoo. It probably makes you feel whole, and held, instead of burned alive. It probably feels like the home you dream of but have never known.
You’ve never wanted to be anywhere else more. Would drinking bleach help? Maybe wafting into the San Francisco Bay with bricks for pocket warmers.
Just because your brain is wired this way, doesn’t mean it has to be this way forever, is the takeaway message you’re supposed to do something about. Like it’s easy.
You’ve never been to point C before.
So the next time you’re in your apartment and the chai burns / she didn’t text you back / you’re sore from the falling on the ice earlier that day, and you start to feel the floor turn, you reach wildly into the ether and grab a machete, and before the magnets can catapult you into the self-driving jet, you hack off the first magnet. It’s too late, it’s still too strong. Burning, seeping, smoked.
The time after, you manage a few magnets off, and the burning is excruciating, but there’s more space between you, and the jet, and the cursed swingset.
Later still - I mean, months after excruciating months of grabbing different tools before the ground shifts - you have a knapsack, and a machete, and you’re in this other world, hacking your way through the forest. There’s no path, there’s nothing good. A bead of sweat rolls behind your left ear and down your shoulder, an uncanny path, a shiver down your spine. The cicadas hiss. You can feel the muscles of your abdomen cramp and seize: you’ve been trekking for forty hours. It doesn’t smell like burning flesh, but you’ve never used your muscles so completely.
It has now been a year since you first grabbed that machete on the way down. Each moment heavy. You’re back at point B all the fucking time, still, but less often than before. You’re leaner, more alert, accustomed to fighting off the human-sized bumble-bees and chainsaw-branched trees that line the unmarked, unpaved, untravelled path you are trying to pave. The magnets are dulled, but if you stop clenching your fists for even a moment, you’re back.
I’ve never wanted to give up more, I told The Therapist, slouched on her couch, doesn’t it ever get easier?
I don’t normally share this with my patients, but we’ve been working together for a long time, and I think knowing this will help you. I’ve struggled with [oh, reader, wouldn’t you like to know?] in the past, and it’s a constant vigilance. You can’t stop looking out for red flags for a moment, because it’s always going to be there, waiting for you to relapse. But it does get easier, she nods solemnly, glimmering warmth and a hope for me that I only ever see when I look in the mirror.
It is three years later. You are lean. Sinewed. You remember the burned chai / the broken promise / the cheating boyfriend / your high school best friend unfriended you on Facebook unannounced / his suicide, and worse, the note / the funeral / the lies / the job you were too scared to try for / the broken ankle / the 2020 election / the white supremacists / the nice white people / the way your mother looked when she said, wait, what do you mean, queer? / the next lost gold earring in a parade of lost gold earrings. The ground twists ten degrees: you lift your arms overhead and roll your neck, left, back, right, down. It cracks. The ground twists ten degrees more: your shoulders roll back, the spaces where there were once magnets, black ink California poppies blooming like a wildfire on your body, a willing canvas. The ground has moved thirty degrees now: your fitted knapsack has gadgets smarter than the latest Apple product, like SpyKids, only less zany, more lethal. Forty degrees, and you levitate into the jungle terrain. The bumblebees bow to the side, and the chainsaw trees respect the mist you spray as you jump onto the mountain bike, bubble basket loaded with snacks, a miniature crochet bunny, fresh sunflowers. Moving your sweet thunder thighs, you arrive at your destination, exerted, but not nearly exhausted, or even tired. More just: alert. Alive.
You are at point C. There, you pull out the election results / the look in your mother’s eyes / the love you had for him / the dress you wore to the “celebration of life.” You let each little roly poly unfurl itself onto the gingham blanket. Watch them scurry away. Breathe.
You look over at the field that is home to the roly polys, each another loss, another mistake, another hurt, squinting: the wildflowers are too many to see all the rolies scurrying around. The sun too soft. The air too salty for the rolies to grow sharp.
You pick a poppy, the time she told you she loved you too. Then, determined to gather a true bouquet, you lean for a daffodil, the squeeze of your arm that your brother gave you at the wake - he didn’t have the words, but he would never let you do it alone. A sky lupine, standing tall in the wind, your Upper West Side apartment, found alone, remotely, without a broker’s fee, sunkissed and with laundry and three minutes from the train that takes you to your lover and thirteen - walking - from Trader Joe’s. Yarrow, your coworker’s ebullient praise for your redo of the powerpoint deck. Another poppy, a bud, the peanut butter hot cocoa mix from London.
The only burning in your life is when you light the candles scented by your wildflower cocktail back in your apartment, when your world hasn’t turned. Though it turns often, the magnets for point B only work once or twice a year. Bad things happen every day. You let them. Your garden is more vast than any electric fire hurt.
Umika Kumar (she/her) is a researcher, writer, and editor living in New York and dreaming of London. She writes prose that explores mental health, identity of all sorts (hello to the complexity of settling on a label! just say queer for now), relationships (familial and otherwise), and that nearly always mentions flowers. You can find her yammering about astrology, vegan food, bunnies, her writing, and the most simple and profound of life’s delights at @lettersfromuk on Twitter.