I was just watching a tv show when I saw it. Somebody being lifted from a gurney onto a hospital bed. And suddenly I could feel it. So strongly. The memory of being lifted, just like that, onto an operating table. I think maybe I was supposed to already be asleep. I can feel the many pairs of hands; I felt weightless. I should’ve been asleep. It had been a while since the anesthesia slid into my veins, I think. My specific genetic mix means not all that stuff works the way it’s supposed to. Now I can’t stop feeling those hands. The light in my face. The mask over my mouth. The dim, sleepy feeling coupled with knowing I was completely helpless and at the mercy of strangers. I can feel it like it was yesterday, but it was almost a decade ago.
Where did I go? And did I come back all the way? Part of me was missing when I woke up… or was that a different surgery? They start to blend together. They’ve cut parts of me away many times. The hands have come for me more than once. I wonder if I dream of them, the way I dream of bodies in the road. I wonder if the death that stalks me in my sleep is because my body will not heal and so my mind is eternally fractured. Do you have nightmares? Do you dream of vomiting blood, because some of your earliest memories are of capillaries bursting throughout your body? Can you still taste it in your mouth? Do you confuse the taste of salt, steel, blood, and spinal fluid sometimes?
What have I done with the time I’ve been given? I sleep and relive the nightmares I survived. I revisit the blank rooms, the unknown hands lifting me effortlessly. I dream of death waiting for everyone I love. Because I fear for them after I am gone? Because I know that to live must eventually mean to die?
I feel alone. Does anybody understand this prison in my mind? It was constructed to protect me from all the stunning blows that used to knock me off my feet. But no, they can’t knock me down anymore, because I never take my hands off the rails. I cannot love or live because I am always braced to be struck, hands clenched firmly around the guard-rails… waiting for the next earthquake to come. Is this who I am now? The waiter? The expectant-of-more-pain? Why am I in this fog of nothing? Where do I belong?
It is not in the blank room with the effortless hands lifting me away. No, it is in the sunlight and the stars. The wind and waves. I belong in the day time, under the skies, with the breeze chasing my hair. I belong to the day, one day at a time, each day, not the eternal wait. I do not belong to the shadow-dreams that try to convince me I am not real, my pain is not real. I do not belong to the eyes that see only youth and forget all that I have endured. I do not belong to the shiver of cold that licks down my spine whenever some facet of reality suggests more lifting hands in my future.
I do not belong to the hospital bed, or on the operating table. The sleep-givers do not belong in my veins, and the quiet places of the ward do not own me. I am real. I am real. My past is real. My future is far more solid than the phantom hands that keep dragging at my skin. I shake them off and continue to breathe. Nothing can own me but the Star-keeper, whose hands do not need any assistance to lift me.
I am free.