I posted a version of this story before--maybe a couple of years ago. I gained much positive feedback that helped me immensely. However, it was also I guess a bit of a reality check that I need to work many aspects of this piece for it to become something that would entice people to read in its entirety. So I left it alone for quite some time and just starting to become brave again to dip my foot in the pool. Would love feedback again! Thanks in advance for reading this..it is quite rough without chapters etc. Just a warning!
There were many things Carol had learned in her 49 years of life, one of which was that the thing she called The Loneliness was loud, almost too loud for her to bear each day. It usually started at dusk, when the sun set over the mountains. There always was that moment where it was picture perfect, and life seemed completely in balance…then the sun faded over the mountain tops and The Loneliness would start creeping in, almost silently at first but by late evening it sounded like a moaning woman lamenting in her sadness of whatever it was that pained her. There was nothing Carol could do. Each night it came. It didn’t matter if her house were full of guests or her family was scrambling around doing last minute tasks before bedtime. The Loneliness was always louder and permeated her body to her very soul. In fact, the Loneliness caused her each evening to become frozen, very much like a statue, sitting in the corner of her couch…watching, watching the others move about. Carol couldn’t move. The Loneliness won every night.
It was another typical night with The Loneliness creeping in causing Carol to shiver even though she wasn’t cold. She scrambled from her usual spot on the couch and made a half-hearted attempt to straighten her house before the noise became too loud. She often wondered if The Loneliness would ever change from a lamenting woman to sounds and words that she could understand. She wondered if then she could then determine maybe, possibly what The Loneliness wanted.
Carol was considered the peacemaker, the listener, the non judgmental person by those who knew her. If only they knew of her secrets and the sounds she listened to each night. Soon her husband would be asleep snoring, and her daughter in her room using social media to connect with friends. Carol could never decide which was worse—when everyone left so she couldn’t watch them; or having them nearby where she could see what they were doing. She had almost determined that having them around was safer, because they helped drown out the noise in her own head.
The loneliness wasn’t the only thing that haunted her each day. There were others and Carol new their names—in fact she felt she knew everything about the others. At least that is what Carol thought. It was a beautiful morning when she awoke, and she grabbed her mug of coffee and meandered outside. Her step on the side of the garage was her safe place, a place where she could hear birds singing their morning songs, the crunching sounds of people walking along the streets, and could feel the warmth of the sun on her toes. Her favorite days were those that had a nip in the air even with the sun peaking over the mountains. She looked across the street to watch her neighbor’s majestic tree swaying slightly in the breeze and could hear the swooshing sound it made as the breeze rustled though the branches and leaves of the tree.
During the day hours, Carol was a trauma therapist, days filled with endless tears of those who had usually been sexually abused at some point in their lives. They came to her with their last breath of hope, a hope that someone would listen, would hear them, and give them a voice they never had. Carol could hear their voices as she sat there, “It was my fault it happened, if only I had not gone to that party, I knew better than to go, I even locked my door…”. Although there were many clients, the cries and conversations melted into one large caldron of despair for these people. Her job was to help them sort through the mess they were left with, try to make some sense of it, teach them to overcome fears, give them more than a shred of hope, and help them swim to the other side of the abyss. The other side, Carol thought, if only one of them could reach past the abyss, climb out, and reach the shore. There they would see that life was beautiful. They could walk along the beach and feel the soft sand between their toes, smell the salty air, and feel the warm breeze caress their skin. If only one could make it she thought, then it will be a good day. With that thought and silent prayer, Carol stood up to get another cup of coffee and begin the day. However, the others were not silent today. She could hear things such as, “Let’s skip all this and go shopping,” one said. Another one stated, “I’m tired, why do we have to help everyone?” “The house is a mess and I must clean, you can’t go to work until I am finished with MY work.” She ignored all of it and threw on some clothes, brushed her teeth haphazardly, and roughly brushed her hair into a ponytail almost running out the door and forgetting her laptop and phone. “Too much noise!” thought Carol, and I don’t have time for them. And that was how this particular day started. Carol knew that nightfall was the worst part of the others having complete control, but mornings were also a busy time for the others. It was always best to just get busy doing what she was told she had a talent for, listening. The others would have to wait until she returned in the evening, unless of course, she needed their help during a session. Then like a light switch, one would show up and take over for Carol and finish the session. This usually occurred when she was dealing with traumatized children. Truth be told, Carol didn’t particularly like playing children’s games, so in the end Elizabeth who was approximately 9 years old would show up and play games with them while Carol asked those terrible questions such as “Has anyone ever touched you in a way you didn’t like?” Carol and Elizabeth were a good team, and Carol appreciated her help.
There were other things on Carol’s mind that morning. Carol wasn’t ready for those other things, even though they were mounting in the back of her mind like a tower of books ready to topple over at any given moment. Her past for example. She had felt like she had dealt with it before, “6 long years of counseling should have solved those issues, right?” was her mantra. Those 6 years did help quite a bit but never quite killed the Loneliness that lived within her. It also did nothing to thwart the feelings that someone else was watching-- always waiting, waiting, watching, ready to strike if necessary to anyone who got close enough to her carefully built walls that surrounded her.
Arriving at work, Carol’s first client reminded her of her own childhood. This client, a young girl, would often speak of a hooded figure that was right outside the window waiting to get inside. She said he would try to talk but she couldn’t understand what he was saying other that she should harm herself or he would. She would often harm herself to keep the hooded figure at bay. When Carol asked her what other secrets she was keeping besides “The Big One” the girl would shrug her shoulders and ask to leave therapy. But today was different. The hooded figure was nearby causing the girl to dig her fingers deep into her skin making lines of blood that dripped from her legs. It was in this state that she said she had another secret to tell. Almost knowing what the girl would say, Carol leaned forward to listen to the girl’s quiet statement about the “people” that lived inside her head. She was afraid she said and had been for years, because they were uncontrollable…Carol could vividly relate to this because there was at least one in her own head. All Carol could do that particular day was ask for a drawing of how “her people” behaved and what their jobs were. When the girl left, Carol knew exactly what the girl was trying to show and say. She knew, because she could almost draw a picture the same way as the girl. That someone who was part of Carol eagerly stared at the drawing, taking it all in. Carol knew that she needed to save the girl before she became a shadow of Carol. The girl needed to live and not just exist as Carol did every day. Carol knew what she had to do to save her, but it frightened her. She knew she would have to go into the abyss of her own mind to reach out and save the girl. She wasn’t sure she was ready. After all, this someone within Carol was not completely within Carol’s control—an unknown factor that Carol was scared of herself.
Carol woke up the next morning after working 12 hours curled up in a ball on the living room couch feeling exhausted. Not physically; after all she had been asleep for a good 8 hours, but mentally feeling like she couldn’t put two coherent words together. She pushed with all of the strength in her and sluggishly started heading straight for the coffee machine to pull herself together. Although making coffee was a relatively easy task, that alone took much energy out of her, enough to want to go back to bed or wherever there was a pillow and a blanket. She forced herself to grab a coffee mug and make herself a cup of coffee and then headed to her usual spot outside with the dog whose life knew nothing but neglect until it came to permanently live with Carol. Carol knew that she should have the dog on a leash, but the dog seemed to instinctively know it’s limits within the cul de sac in which Carol lived. Carol started drinking her elixir as she personally called it and slowly came to life. It’s Friday she thought, but is it? She quickly went through as best as she could the events of the week and decided, yes, it’s Friday. “I made it,” she muttered to herself as she took the last sip of her elixir and called for the dog who came running to her side. Carol got up and moved back indoors to look at her calendar and see which clients she had for the day. Some were easy in her mind, they just needed someone to talk to while others needed preparation on Carol’s part so that they could have a good session and gain some kind of hope during the session. Carol also knew that by helping her clients she was giving herself a sliver of hope. A hope that one day she could look at her scarred body and not have The Loneliness come. She too realized the preparation for was herself—she was tired of feeling, feeling her own emotions, her family’s emotions, and her clients’ emotions. Carol considered herself a very good therapist but she knew if her secrets came out, her colleagues would consider her an “impaired therapist” and she would never work again in this profession. She knew it all too well, and kept her secrets hidden at an enormous price both mentally and emotionally. It has to be done she thought. My therapist told me herself. This in fact was true, because just before Carol’s former therapist passed away told her, “You can work in this field and be very successful, Carol. But you can never, never share your secrets even if you feel like it would be helpful. Never share your story.” Carol worked endlessly at this, keeping her own secrets, keeping her clients’ secrets, and anyone else who had a secret to share. After all, this was her “calling” as her psychiatrist told her. “This is not a job!” he would often tell Carol. “This is a calling. You have been called to help others.”
The day with the girl proved to be a futile attempt in eliciting more information about the picture she drew. “She doesn’t want to talk today, because she is scared,” thought Carol. However, she was unsure exactly what fears the girl held today. The sky outside had turned cloudy, and the wind had begun to pick up and cause small, swirling tornadoes of dust just outside the window. The girl seemed to be not in the present moment and dissociated to a place where no one could reach her. Carol used all her therapeutic interventions to bring her focused back to the present moment but with no avail. Finally, after listening to the clock tick for what must have felt like hours, the girl spoke up and said something. Mumbling at first, the girl simply said, “he is trying to get in the building.” Carol looked over to where the girl had been staring and asked if he was over there. She nodded yes, and said, “he wants me to do bad things to myself.” “What kind of things?” asked Carol with a soft, even voice. “He wants me to hurt myself,” she stated. She then began to cry and told her of the two rooms that were the safest in the building. The first one was Carol’s office; the other was the supervising therapist’s office. She believed that the hooded figure would at some point come into the building and those two rooms would be the only place that could protect her. After this brief conversation the girl stated she wanted to listen to music. Carol fumbled for her phone and let the girl choose songs to listen to off her phone. This appeared to comfort the girl for the rest of the session and then left quietly from Carol’s office. Upon leaving, the girl turned back and caught Carol’s eye. The girl was terrified to leave, but knew it was someone else’s turn.
Carol held the next person from coming into the room for a few minutes. She locked her office and went to the supervisor’s room and showed her colleague the picture and retold the story of the past two sessions. It was clear that more help would be needed; a psychologist to assess the girl for things of which Carol prayed she did not have, but knew in her heart she was right.
The Housekeeper showed up two days later after Carol had seen the girl. Carol was never there when the housekeeper came, but Carol recognized her presence only after she had left or was on her way out the door. The Housekeeper was not the best, but she managed to keep the home from becoming in total disarray. There would be neatly arranged piles of “stuff” for each family member to take to their room and put away, the dishes would be done, countertops would be wiped off, laundry would be done, and bathrooms cleaned. Carol marveled how she could do so much since Carol didn’t care about cleaning the house or any kind of upkeep. Carol’s children knew the housekeeper; they both had met her and disliked her very much. According to Carol’s children, the housekeeper could clean but was “not nice.” They would tell Carol that they hated her the most of anyone who came to the home because of her monotone voice and lack of any emotion. The housekeeper was considered to be an unwanted member of the household but a much needed one. Sometimes Carol would hear a “Dean will be home in 15 minutes you’d better hurry.” Then Carol would quickly return home, and the Housekeeper would be gone. Carol had ignored the warning before and her husband had met the Housekeep and disliked her immensely. Dean even questioned what the deal was with the Housekeeper, and all Carol could muster herself to say was, “she must have been in a bad mood.” Carol did not explain to her husband about the arrangement that had been made between the two of them. After all, the Housekeeper did do her job and kept the house together-something Carol wasn’t great at. Because the housekeeper and Carol were never together at the same time, often times Carol would spend what seemed like hours finding things like her car keys, or a pot in the kitchen, the mail, and other miscellaneous items. The children would often roll their eyes when Carol would ask the children on an almost daily basis, “Where are my car keys?, or Where is my phone, have you seen it?” The children even set up a system where Carol could put things in the same place each day. Each time the housekeeper came she would move it. Carol knew she and the Housekeeper were at odds, but the Housekeeper was a powerful woman who took charge and made Carol feel very small. Thus, Carol continued to put up with the Housekeeper even when things went completely missing, which also wasn’t unusual.
Carol was still completely intrigued by the girl a few days later (at least in Carol’s mind.) In fact, it was the following week when Carol came to her senses and realized the date. It was in fact a Saturday, and Carol felt the urge to do nothing but go shopping. With every credit card she owned in her purse, Carol set off for a nearby town to have some relaxation and some fun by herself. Four hours later, Carol had racked up a good amount of money buying endless clothes. Some were her size, some were not, some were Carol’s style, other’s looked like they were teenybopper clothes. Carol felt a twitch of guilt, but shopping appeased The Loneliness as well as obnoxious voices in her head telling her, “this would be perfect for me!”, or “I like ruffles! Can I have the pink one?” Of course, when Carol returned home, the clothes would sit in the closet unused for days or months. Carol would return to them only to not really understand why they were there in the first place. Then she would painstakingly find the receipt and return everything but the clothes that fit feeling guilty the entire time. She also knew eventually Dean would ask why there were so many charges on the credit card and ask, “Where does all your money go?,” to which Carol of course had no real answer so she would lie or shrug her shoulders and listen to a lecture on budgeting her money.