How deep would you go to reclaim yourself?
An emotionally scarred woman decides to take a journey to find her abused inner child. She thinks she knows what it takes. She thinks she knows what she needs to do. She goes on the journey she expects. After all, it's her meditation, her body and her mind. Isn't it?
Innerone is a contemporary myth of courage and healing, in which the protagonist meditates to her mind's underworld to find the younger self she betrayed. Although she thinks she knows what to expect, the surprises keep coming. Her expectations dashed and esoteric ideals thwarted, she discovers she is neither alone nor in charge. Her spunky inner-child, her esoteric higher-self, skeptical inner-scientist and others - all of whom hold different beliefs, values and desires - converse and argue, travel and shop (not your usual mall).
Gut-wrenchingly honest with moments of levity, this book challenges simplistic new-age platitudes and partners with its readers in an experience that leaves minds whirling long after the final words are read.
There is a dark place. It is full of violence, pain and humiliations. It is where the phrase ‘life’s not fair’ gathers and howls in swelling, triumphant choruses, sick shades of yellow and red filling the surroundings until all that is left is an angry, wretched sobbing. I despise this place and visit it often. It is I who sobs. These are my memories, sectioned off from others in my head, though they taint everything anyway.
You who are reading these pages, you have your dark side. It may be larger or more hidden than mine. It may be more green and blue and purple. When I evacuate the tenants of the rotting structures in my head, it will not be safe. It may satisfy the morbid part of you. It may annoy you. If you are tough, if you think I’m whining, if you think because everybody gets it bad sometimes, I should not air out these fumes that are killing me, stop reading. I don’t want your pity, your blame, your ice or your shrug or even your assistance. You can only be a part of this if you are strong enough to be vulnerable and just to stand with me. Otherwise, don’t stay. I have dealt with the reality of this forever and I enjoy my privacy and my solitude now.
Today I am here to perform an exorcism - not to kill, but to acknowledge and set free. There is a difference. I have tried to kill before. My weapons were reason, segregation and guarded hints to cautiously loved friends. It worked to some degree; then the memories rushed out, crowded, and overwhelmed me when I was least expecting it. They ambushed me two nights ago and it hurts beyond imagining. The truth is that time magnifies. Whoever said it healed was simply having a good day.
The dark side is vast. Its assembly began when I was four or five, haphazardly constructed and populated and haunted and diseased every day since with my past. I have to find the one person who knows this place. She’s in here somewhere. Without her, whom I have stalked and slapped and ignored, it’s useless. I understand that now. I need to coax her to my side and together we can invade this place, flush the vermin inhabitants from their holes and raze the foul-smelling structures to the ground. Each rotting building is a memory, its inhabitants, the protagonists. They leave their buildings and walk about and tangle themselves with others like themselves. They drink and smoke and fight and hate. This is a city. There are obscene statues of frozen events in open lots where rubbish is gusted about by unfriendly whispers. I pause at the city gates, smelling jeering odours from smoky drains, and know that the people inside couldn’t care less that I am there. They hardly know that they are there at all, for they are in the real world somewhere. They are my demons and, somehow, I must set them free.
I start searching at night. Just ahead, feeble yellow flickers dance off vast warehouses with filthy walls and rows of cracked windowpanes. Glass and other debris crunch underfoot as I walk. Eerie laughter bedevils the night and I stop for a moment, shaken. But innocent love is laughed about in drunken saloons in the dark side, where betrayal nightly upchucks with despair. I don’t need to harden myself to this. I’ve had years of practice. The warehouse is empty and I move on. Wooden buildings, rickety with sarcasm, rock gently and vacantly to my left. I begin to realise that nothing in sight holds what I’m looking for. They are just past symbols of self-pity, built on places that have collapsed into rubble. I have to go underneath, to the maze of tunnels that stretch twelve long years under the city. Other subterranean structures include sewers and cellars and basements and pits. I have never asked what they hold for fear of the answer and the school runs through some upper layers. I tried ignoring school as soon as it happened, each day behind me another to forget. I have wasted so much effort in obliterating my past. Now I have to dredge up all the terrible hours, even the little things I managed to hide from myself. Those memories are like looking through a coarse and ragged cloth in an ill-lit dungeon, probably because they are the oldest sad memories and each happened in rooms with little illumination. Evil does hide in the dark where it can be felt but not seen. I have not visited those rooms for a long time, though one lurks under a holy place and the other, in a flat. I lost my way, on purpose, years ago.
I’m finding it hard to remember what actually went on - surely it can’t be as bad as I recall? I look around. Everywhere in the grey streets, open sewers lead towards drains. The stench is overpowering. I know what those slimy, turgid streams represent. Links to my memories, the ones I have been avoiding. I force each foot to do its part and follow the sewers to their conclusions. I know I will recognise which beginning will be the correct one. I start following a particular, stinking stream, and crunchy stones underfoot echo in the increasing stillness. The whole city, I realise, is watching me. I see their expressionless faces peering out of windows, leering behind broken street lamps, intense on the inside of goods-less shop windows. I ignore them and focus on the moving filth. It ends not in a pool or drain, but dribbles and slops down steep, concrete stairs leading, presumably, to a subterranean passage. I must join it. It’s strange; I have a distinct impression that nobody expects me to come out.
“When I was five, I believed that God had given us a certain amount of words to use in a lifetime, and I was terrified because I thought I was using them all up...”
Terror. Terror. Did you know that you can hide it? I didn’t. How can you, if you have forgotten? I was twelve when I remembered - first week of standard six and we were sitting in a monotonous classroom on the second floor. Mr Neilk, our ‘Guidance’ teacher had just finished a lecture on sexually abused children and how such pupils must turn to their teachers for help. I was digging little splinters of wood out of the desk with a sharp HB pencil and had accomplished quite a marvelous little hole when I wondered idly, in a sudden rush of sympathy, what that must feel like. It hit me like a mallet and left me so dazed that I recall trying not to act fuzzy when we had to stand and walk to our next class. I knew what it felt like. I knew, I knew. I never ‘forgot’ again.
Going to talk to Mr Neilk was out of the question - it would have been all around the staff room within the hour and broken up my family - and even at my age I knew this. I relied on my family for the support I did not receive elsewhere. Besides, I had dealt with the situation already.
I’m edging down the dank passage way. Yellow light puddles every so often, leaking from flickering bare bulbs. I fumble through narrow air that stinks as if it has not breathed in twenty years and I’m amazed at the panic I am feeling. An academic should not react like this, I tell myself, conjuring years of case studies of abused and neglected children, chanting the lessons as if intellectual theories can protect me from emotion. Most likely there’s no one there anyway. I’m just making sure. I take in a deep breath and spit out the taste of mildew. I step forward in the stirring dark. After a while, my toes hit the crumbling steps and the pain I feel echoes within the pit inside me. I step up and up, puffing unevenly, harshly. The door that eventually confronts me is grimy and barred with heavy steel. I expect this. I know that I am the only person who can lift it. I knock, feeling bloody stupid. A warning, so that I don’t frighten anyone inside, I explain to myself.
Please, Heavenly Father, don’t let there be anyone inside buried an aching-cold place like this.
I press the side of my face to the sweating door. I do not hear movement. I do not move. I know she’s in here, for I jailed her myself.
“Hello,” I whisper.
I clear my throat.
“Hello, inner one.” That’s better. Not as croaky.
I sense a listening, nothing more.
I feel like a fool that I went so deep and I drag the bar rawly away to jerk the door open. Rocks landslide to my feet, echoing and clanging, narrowly missing me. I shake as I reach down to shift them to the side. I speak as I work, to reassure both of us and to delay the moment I look in her eyes.
“I’m feeling scared and maybe you are too. I know I haven’t treated you with the gentleness you deserve and I’m sorry. I want to love you, to make you secure, for you to love me. I guess that’s easier said than done, because I don’t know how I am myself …that’s not what I meant. I am trying to say that, to give you those things, I have to have them first. In order to reassure you, I need to feel safe myself and come from a place of trust.”
Bitterness overwhelms me; I sound like a university lecturer. I’m trying to reach a child here.
“Are you listening? All I ever wanted for you was the best. All the harshness and judging and unforgiving were to help you be stronger. I did hold you, once. Please don’t ignore me now, when I am just beginning to understand you exist and that we need each other. I can learn to give. Strength can come from love and forgiveness. I know that now.”
There is no answering sound. I clear the last of the rocks away and I am left with a room, pitch black. I don’t see her and my desperation peaks.
“Where are you? What do you want? Can you tell me what I feel? What do you see? Who are you? What are you afraid of? What do you have to tell me? I am seeing you as wise beyond your years - you always were, weren’t you?”
I stop and take a breath. I cannot force myself to enter the room. I am a vampire without an invitation and she knows it.
“I did love you once. Please, come out and talk to me, inner one. Come to my arms. I promise you’ll be safe. We’ll both be safe.” And then, diving again in to the protection of intellectual esoteric waters, I add: “Real safety lies in being secure inside.”
Nothing. Of course, nothing. Then the truth bursts out of me in a wail. “I need you!” I shock myself. This is too honest - I press my lips together tightly against the raw exposure. I’m too vulnerable. I’d like to go now. I’m wasting my time anyway. She’ll never come out. Why should she? I wouldn’t. Oh, but I cannot be ruled by what I like any more. I must stay. I must remember why I’m here. I must see this through. I wait.
I see the glow of a white face illuminated by darkness. Still, guarded brown eyes assess me. I don’t know what I said that brought her out and I get the impression of bubbly laughter and enthusiasm jailed somewhere in her. She is as unnatural in this state as the dark side is in me.
“Hello.” Her voice is cautious and I almost break down. I was so scared she would not speak to me. Tears well up but I manage a warm “Hi.”
“You judged me and found me ugly.”
Oh, God. Here we go.
“You always thought I wasn’t good enough.”
“I was wrong.” I am eager to reassure her but she is not done with me.
“I hate you for beating me.” This is delivered in a measured tone of concentrated fury and contempt. I try to remind myself that I’m negotiating battered emotional territory with a betrayed child - but we are dealing in truth here and I can’t compromise.
“I hated you for whining.”
She looks at me with interest and takes a step closer. She is wearing dirty red shorts and a Maya the Bee T-shirt, stained.
“I was telling you things you didn’t want to know.”
I change the subject. “I know how alone you are.”
“You know shit.”
“I’m sorry.” I’m appalled.
“Nothing I did was right.” Her voice is rising and I try to explain.
“I wanted perfection from you. I wanted you to be the best.”
She is five feet away and closing in “You wanted other people to tell you you were the best!”
She runs her words right through me. I hang my head before the lance of her truth and surrender.
“Yes.” I admit. I let it go. “I wanted the acknowledgement.”
”No acknowledgement was ever enough.” She stands with her statement two feet away from me, filthy and bedraggled, hair tattered. I want to cry at what I have done. I want to clean her up and get her out. I want her to trust me. She wants that too. That’s why she’s here, accusing me. She wants me to give her that chance to see me as trustworthy. I can do that.
“I was lonely and afraid.”
One foot away. She raises her little face to mine. It emerges shyly out of her tangled, matted hair like a rabbit from its burrow.
“Those men hurt me.”
“It was my lesson.” Now I was crying, using an explanation that was more a hopeful new age belief than a fact. “It was a lesson I had to learn.”
“I’m scared to love you.” When she says this, out in the open, it’s worse than in my imagination. Just because I knew it beforehand does not make the shock easier to bear.
“I know.” Painfully. “I find it hard to talk to you, to listen, to give. I find myself thinking it’s stupid.”
She erupts into a blaze of fury.” There you go again! Calling me stupid!”
“That’s not what I meant.” I smear away the tears, marking my face with the back of my hand. She has retreated now and the darkness is swallowing her up. “Will that help?” Calmly, now. ”We have hardly talked together.”
“Yes. I don’t have to hear you insult me.”
“Until later, then. I’ll be here when you want to talk.”
“Maybe that will be never.”
The very thought of waiting outside this room raises goose bumps. How long was she here, trapped? In this moment, I know I can never leave. I make myself comfortable by seating myself on a rock.
“I’ll be waiting.”
“You can’t make me come out!”
“No, I can’t. From now on, you’ll have to call the shots.”
There is an awed silence and relief gusts through me. I have said the right thing. Tentatively, she steps back into the light. “Me?”
“You.” I agree. She sneaks right out the door and sits in my lap. She whispers in my ear. ”I’m afraid of the dark.”
“Why?” Warmth seeps into me. She smells dusty and as if she hadn’t brushed her teeth in years.
“'Cause they both happened in the dark.”
I’d forgotten that. She said: “I’m always here.”
“Let me take you out. I’ll take you somewhere warmer. Somewhere it won’t be dark. Somewhere you can meet and play and laugh with other children.”
If I can imagine this, I can imagine anything.
“Is it a park?”
“It can be.”
“Lots of them.”
“Will the children be nasty to me?”
I wince and make nice.
“No. In this park, all the children think you are the best. They think you are smart and pretty and agile and fun. They want to be with you.”
She snuggles against me, as if she is trying to burrow her way into my heart.
“I don’t want all the children to love me.”
“It doesn’t seem real.”
“You can be loved unconditionally by others.” This is possible. I am only here because I am loved unconditionally by others.
“No I can’t.”
I look around, alarmed. Shadows are lengthening menacingly, as if I was slap-bang in the middle of a cheap sci-fi re-run with Dr. Evil flicking the switches and this demon in my lap is screaming, “Because I’m ugly and stupid and everyone always leaves me out alone or laughs at me. I HATE IT! I HATE IT!”
Breathe. “What do they have to do to become friends with you?”
She considers. The shadows flicker, then recede.
“I want them to die painfully.”
“Okay,” I say.