Life Analogies

It's All How You Look at It

Category: Pain



It starts out slowly…and gradually spreads until your whole life is clouded by this dream-like state. Like a dream, it fluctuates between just slightly odd to nightmarish…and then back again. You suspect that this is not reality, but none of your navigational systems work in this bizarre atmosphere, so you aren’t quite sure.


Some dreams can be very realistic—people act and talk like they do in real life, so at first, it seems so real. No one expects the beginning of a marriage to be easy, so of course conflict will come and probably neither one will handle it very well. But…it’s all so confusing. These aren’t really fights or squabbles or fussing over who forgot to do this or that. Just, one moment everything is fuzzy wuzzy perfect and the next you are caught up in some bizarre episode. You’re not quite sure what it is about or how you got there, only that you are caught in this terrifying storm of emotion. You never even saw the tornado approaching and suddenly your house just passed by and a tree nearly collided with your head. You must escape. NOW. But as always in a nightmare, somehow your feet don’t work properly or when you open your mouth to scream, nothing comes out. You’re trapped in panic.

Or to put it a different way…

He tries to load some highly complex program or throws malware at your system (because, let’s face it, we ALL have malware. It’s called being human in a fallen world) and you get:

>>ERROR<< System failure…aborting and deleting all programs…


Blip! Crap. Blue screen.
Control alt. delete.
Control alt. delete.


But it doesn’t work because he keeps clicking retry. He refuses to let your system shut down so things get very bad indeed. You bolt for the door, but he is much faster and stronger than you. It’s even better if he’s been trained in restraint holds and can incapacitate you in three seconds flat.

When someone blocks your way or actually physically restrains you from leaving something strange happens. If you’ve no idea what I am talking about, be thankful. If you can’t possibly fathom what I am talking about, try taking a fluffy bunny, bored cat, or wagging dog. You don’t have to hurt it or anything, just keep backing it into a corner and give it absolutely no route of escape and see what sort of reaction you get.

Something in your brain snaps. You go quite mad and turn into this frantic, clawing, screaming creature. Your reptilian brain kicks in the flight/fight response—both responses simultaneously. And then of course the other person feels very justified in restraining you because you are a raving lunatic and a danger to yourself and others. Then he can feed you some bullshit about being able to dial 911 and the paramedics would haul you off and hospitalize you or something. They would believe him and not you, because you’re clearly out of control and he is quite calm. He knows how all those systems work, of course. He’s always right.
Even when one storm has passed, the wreckage provides fuel for the next one.

“But you said x.”
“No I didn’t. I said y. You said b.”
“No…I said a.”
“Pft! No. You said b. I recorded it on my cellphone even.* I played it to my best friend. He thinks you’re a total %$#.”

But…I’m sure I said a…I’m pretty sure…I can’t believe I would say b. I know he said x. He did. I heard it. I mean…I think I heard it…maybe? I was sure he said x but…”

(*Strange that I never asked him to prove it and play it back to me. He probably would have blustered and said he deleted it already or something.)
You’re stunned and disoriented, stumbling around in some sinister forest with black, twisted trees whose branches keep snapping back in your face. You shake your head to clear it and somehow reorient yourself, but just as quickly another branch snaps back and stuns you again. You can’t see the sky, but no matter. There’s no drinking gourd to follow to freedom here.

And then, one day, you wake up.

A compass suddenly falls into your hand from the sky and you realize where the hell you are. It’s a bit of relief, but…not exactly terrific news.


It’s kind of like being trapped in the Fire Swamp, only, alas, there is no brave Westley to steer you. So you have to learn to anticipate the popping sounds before the bursts of flames and the telltale signs of lightning sand, and sleep with one eye open lest the R.O.U.S.’s creep up on you. Everything might be “ok” if you just never, ever drop your guard…


The insidious part of mental abuse is that it leaves no visible trace. No one would peek in the window and yell, “Run! Run now!” There’s no verse in the Bible giving it an escape clause. Marriage certificates don’t have to be renewed every ten years, so you can’t stamp yours with a big red NON-RENEWAL. Even inmates can get out on parole, but…


Stricken with regret, you realize you must make the Fire Swamp your home and there’s nothing for it but to start building castle walls. Construction is surprisingly swift in these DIY projects. Within days you can have your fortress and a moat—with crocodiles even. You might put in a drawbridge…you haven’t quite made up your mind about that one yet. The sentries you post at every corner must be forever vigilant. They might be able to catch quick naps while you’re at work, but they can never really sleep. It’s exhausting though, and sometimes one of them starts to nod off only to be awoken by a whistling arrow shaving past his head. The alarm is rapidly sounded and boots rush to gather defenses. They have no weapons. They could, of course, if you permitted them to, but you prefer to keep clean the rules of war. There will be no boiling oil or raining of arrows on the enemy’s head, merely smoke bombs and magical explosions of vanishing mist. Distract and avert your enemy, try not to injure him. You will sometimes, of course. You’re not perfect. The fact that you never lower your drawbridge for him is injury enough…if he’s really aware of how far away you are. His perspective is quite tilted, you see, and he might truly believe the wisps of smoke that suggest that you are just very tired. Work is stressful. You’re not unhappy you’re just…so very tired.

Sometimes the castle walls aren’t enough. Sure, they keep him out, but they don’t keep the pain away from your heart. So you may begin (or lapse back into) some maladaptive coping mechanism. (*See E.D.) Eventually—hopefully—that will grow wearisome too. One day you will wake up and say, “Enough.” (After all, E.D. is just another abusive boyfriend in the end.)

That’s when things get really disheartening, because then the numbness wears off and you can clearly see how appallingly obvious it is. How tragically damaged and stunted his own life made him. You feel a twist of pity for him, but…would you lower the drawbridge just for that? I wouldn’t. I don’t.


Recently, I started to peek through the arrow loops and strain my eyes to see off into the distance. I’m not quite sure why. Do I really expect to see someone riding to me? I’m not waiting for some glorious knight on a galloping steed to rush to the rescue. (Bleh.) And still…I’m scanning the horizon…By now his horse would be plodding with weariness. Or maybe he’s on foot…that’s what took him so long. Just the thought of the lines of exhaustion and battle scars on his face makes my throat close and my eyes sting. How much worse if I looked down and actually saw him there signaling from below.


“It’s bloody freezing out here. Do you mind lowering your drawbridge or throwing down a rope at least?”

That would be excruciating because I would have to say,

“Sorry, no. See that man over there trying to catapult flaming missiles and heave battering rams against the walls? Well, he happens to be my husband. I’m so, so terribly sorry. Please forgive me. I tried waiting, for a really long time, but you see, I thought you were dead. I should have kept waiting. I’ve regretted it ever since.”

I know this and yet…I keep looking and listening for some signal out there. If I could just know he was out there, it feels like it would be easier somehow. Or if he really died…at least I would know.

Sometimes I wander around the internet, as if I could discover some way to send a message to an unknown recipient. I write stories to keep me company. (You never would have guessed that, right?) Some of the stories are in present day, so the characters send little texts back and forth. For some strange reason, seeing that font, that size, in print is a little bit too real. On more than one occasion I’ve taken my phone out and was startled to remember that there will be no message there for me. There’s no


Today was awful. I miss you.


There was a beautiful sunset this evening. I was thinking of you.

So I just swallow, hard, and slip my phone back into my pocket and send a prayer to God. “Please take care of him for me…wherever he is. And if he’s in heaven already, please help me wait to see him.”


They say, “Time heals all wounds.”

Well, I don’t know who “they” are, but they are full of crap.




To me, crying is something that is supposed to be quiet—silent if at all possible. Tears sliding down in the darkness, biting the edge of the pillow so no sound escapes. Alone in front of the computer with your hands clenching your skull, eyes squeezed shut to keep it in.

But when grief first explodes your reality, it’s just not possible. There’s nothing quiet or dignified about it then. Just wrenching sounds like some wounded animal while hands claw the mattress as if to dig to some escape from the unspeakable. Strange that it can last until the first pale colors of dawn creep across the room. You wouldn’t think that it would take so many hours to reach the point of complete exhaustion. At last you sleep.

But then you have to wake up. And there it is.

So now you walk around like a zombie—only eyes, nothing behind them. You watch life passing by all around you and vow never to let it inside again. There is nothing to invite it into, just this empty, echoing chamber. In a bizarre way it’s liberating. You’ve just completely detached from everything around and you’re looking at it from outside of yourself. None of it really matters very much. All of those things that were so intensely important are worthless now. You’re hollow. It’s so uncomplicated.

Sometimes I look back on that point and I almost miss it. Isn’t that odd? There was something precious about a pain that big. As if it really mattered. Perhaps I believed that if it were bad enough, something would have to happen to reverse it. Life couldn’t just carry on.

But it’s not very long after that when you must push it aside and at least do a passable job of functioning in society. They’ll give you a free pass for a moment, but grieving people grow tiresome, and humans have a very short attention span. Just look at the evening news. Everyone gasps in horror at one atrocity in the world and three days later it’s fallen by the wayside. There’s a new one to speak of in shocked whispers. Your grief is quickly forgotten, by them. You must close it up tight in a box—at least from 8 to 5—and go through the motions of being normal.

After a while, it’s not so much of an effort anymore. Moments of joy tiptoe in quietly and you realize the sky can still be unfathomably blue and the grass can still ripple in the breeze like the waves of the sea. You might even go days—and then soon perhaps even weeks—without thinking of it, directly. But it’s still there. One day, for no particular reason, while you are just minding your own business, grief appears out of nowhere. A vehicle that was in your blind spot slams into you and you’re spinning out of control again.

Time doesn’t heal wounds—quite the opposite. When new pain comes it seems to have this cumulative effect. Each new laceration of heartbreak seems to slice even deeper. You thought you’d built fairly decent fortifications between your heart and that pain, but you are dismayed to realize that it was about as effectual as a house of cards.

I wish I could tell you that the rent in your life’s fabric really does knit together, but it doesn’t. True, nothing will ever compare to that first raw anguish, I can promise you that. God will begin to bring bright spots of joy and you will discover that you are not completely hollow after all. I can promise you that too. But grief never goes away; it just cycles back around again. The intervals in between may grow longer, but pain can still swoop in at any moment and snatch you in one breathless second. Sometimes you may even find yourself drawn to those songs that you had listened to, that are so intertwined with the grief that just hearing the first few notes causes that chill of pain to tingle across your scalp. I think that must be necessary somehow, to purposely open it up and let it bleed a little. That way, when pain materializes at your elbow, you can clench your jaw and blink quickly and say to yourself, “Later. This will hurt later.”

My songs:

“Shine” & “When the Body Speaks”—Depeche Mode
“Run”—Snow Patrol
“Rain”—Breaking Benjamin
“The Valley Song”—Jars of Clay (play it last)


Grief Revisited

June 2, 2015

I have escaped the perplexing labyrinth of a forest for a brief respite in the real forest. The fields and hillsides are so saturated with green that my desert eyes can scarcely take it in. They scan the display and try to fix it in my mind, to remember later. This is our homeland, but it could also look a bit like his. Wherever he is.

Tuesday we left the hayfields and woods to go to the coast. It’s not the sunbathing sort of beaches. I’m not sure what is even appealing about that when you could wander across wet, grey sand searching for pebbles (there are very few shells) and draw in the sound of the waves and look up across the misty, forested fingers of land beyond. Every time I go to a beach like that, I am on my quest for the perfect pebble. I know it’s out there somewhere. I’m not quite sure what it will look like. The shape and size must be just right to fit in the palm of my hand, smooth to the touch. The color must be something nice too, not flashy, easier to spot when wet by the sea, but still appealing after it has dried. I never should have left off looking for my pebble. Never, ever settle for less.

I’m sorry. I wish I had waited for you.

We’re going to try and find it Thursday. Somewhere there is supposed to be an obscure memorial with his name on it. I’m not sure what it could be. He didn’t die a hero’s death or anything, so what could it say? “In Memory of Idiots That Didn’t Have to Die”? I suppose it must be something rather more general than that. I’ve never even visited his grave. I was overseas when it happened. In some ways that was a relief because I could hurt in private and not have to see it on display in others. In other ways it was awful, because I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t qualify to be one of those grieving people over there and no one here cared. But I’m not the sort that has to stare down at someone’s artificial looking face to accept it. An email is believable enough.

When I got back to the states I never really wanted to visit his grave. What’s there isn’t the person, he’s in heaven. Some people think they can look down on us from heaven. I’m not sure how. Heaven is supposed to be wonderful beyond description. How could they be so filled with joy and peace if they had to look down on us, stumbling around in confusion and pain in a world full of the ruthless consequences of sin and stupid decisions?

To anybody reading this, there is one stupid decision I can tell you not to make. I don’t care if it’s uncomfortable or restricts you from throwing the perfect cast. Don’t be a complete idiot. Always wear a life jacket. Even if you can’t be bothered it matters terribly to someone else.

June 4, 2015

We found it today. It was so obscure that they were going to drive right past it, but I spotted it off to the side. When I walked to it, I scanned it quickly and turned away. His name was so small and blurred that I didn’t even notice it there amongst seventeen other names. They found it. I took pictures, some for me and some for people who can’t bear to go there. It just says, “In Memory of Those Lost at Sea.”

Then suddenly, standing there, fiddling with my camera and trying to find the right composition that would include the marker and the pretend boat next to it, I feel angry. I don’t think I felt angry before. If I did, I don’t remember. Thirteen years is a long time. And not. I’m angry at them.

How could you just leave him there on the deck and waste time fishing the other body out?

                How could you just leave him there, cold and wet and alone?

                He was still breathing when you went to pull the other body out. That man was already dead. Ours could still be alive today.

                How could you?

                The Coast Guard office is right there, a tiny white building that needs a new paint job. I could walk just a few yards and open the door and tell them that. I doubt the same men even work there now. It occurs to me to wonder what it is like for them. Do they ever wake up in the pale hours of the morning, haunted by that choice? They have to make decisions like this every day, and live with the memory of them, while everyone else has to live with the consequences. I know they know that. It can’t be easy.

So I stumble away to the edge of the water. There’s absolutely nothing romantic about that spot. Just broken chunks of asphalt sliding down to meet the lapping water. I sit there anyway, looking out at the graceless view. Nothing appealing about it. There is a wood chip mill just to the right of me, so there is the constant grind of trucks and beeping of backing up bulldozers. The air is filled with this wretched, sweet, rotten smell. I’ve never understood why paper mills smell so horribly. Paper is such a bland, inoffensive thing and trees and freshly cut wood smell lovely, but paper mills…You couldn’t pay me enough to live in a paper mill town. I can’t see how those people don’t all starve to death, nauseated by the constant smell of that in their nostrils.

The wind is unrelenting, battering and cold and the water that laps quietly in that bay is red and sludgy. As I said, completely devoid of grace and beauty. But I sit there, and let it open up a bit again, and let the tears and sniffing out for a little while, I’m not sure how long. Gradually I stop, and stop asking—begging—God.

God please, if he’s out there somewhere, let him find me somehow.

                I can’t bear this anymore. I need him every day.

                Somehow…let it be possible, even though I didn’t wait. Why didn’t I wait?

I know the answer, but it’s illogical and wouldn’t make sense to anyone else. I know it’s because somehow this other death killed the hope of him. The signal out there was lost somehow. I tried to dial in the radio but there was just static. Still…

Why didn’t I wait?? Why didn’t I wait just in case? How could I have been so incredibly stupid and let myself be drawn in, relentlessly, until I gave up and settled for less. A less that dissolved into worse than nothing only a few months later.

                How could I have left him out there?

                Please God.


                I slowly turn off these taps. This can hurt again. Later.

I watch three cormorants slip under the water and bob back up again. They seem to be together, a little dark trio. Then I look up to the hillside above. So very green.

I’m finally ready to stumble back up through the rubble to the car where I hope I can just sit and not have to say anything. After a few minutes I will be able to tune back into the debate about which town to go to next and where to have lunch. I will be able to pull back into being just a basic person, on an ordinary day. We decide that we are going to leave the coast behind, but there is much more beauty to seep into my soul. So green. My brain can’t say that enough. A few more days to pretend I’m back home again and back in time and…I’m not going to finish that thought. I think you can figure it out.

I was recently told that my latest writing doesn’t have that glimmer of hope that the first pieces had. Sorry. I’m not going to lie to you with some Pollyanna drivel. I don’t think that would be particularly helpful to you if you are in this same place. I can’t pretend that I can see it yet. I know it’s out there, I wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t. God can see it and someday we will see it too. I’m not sure on which side of heaven that will be, but it will be someday.


*Note: Visiting  ‘home’ was so powerful that I realized I couldn’t go back to that blighted, rainless pit nor the life I had there. I am home now, for good, under the green trees and (mostly) overcast drizzling skies. Ahhh… There is no comparison. Dorothy was right. I see the hope now. Life is not a whirling kaleidoscope of joy, but the air is clearer. There is a new future.


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