By Cheryl Jacobs
I never know when it’s going to happen, the sensation of pressure on my body, trapped, breath catching in my throat, desperate to escape. It makes me feel crazy.
I pay attention to traffic, think about what time I leave, the roads to take, all to avoid Los Angeles congestion. I don’t like the feeling of being caught, pinned in. But this morning I have an early therapy appointment and, as soon as I make the turn onto Olympic Blvd., I see only bumper-to-bumper traffic. I ease my car in, all the while talking to myself.
“Relax, breathe, it’s okay, it will ease up soon.”
But it doesn’t. I’m caught in the middle of three lanes of traffic moving slowing forward, connected by some unseen muscle keeping us tightly joined.
My car inching along, stopping entirely for minutes at a stretch, I feel the unwelcome tightening of my body. The feeling of entrapment rises up, no exit, no exit, no exit, acutely aware of the hardness of the metal surrounding me, pressing, leaving no room to move left or right.
Panic rises like vapor, choking me.
Then the walls climb up around me closing me in further. My history is on those walls and they begin to move toward me in unison, the space around my body getting even smaller and tighter, breath catching in my chest, stuck, neither moving in or out.
I look at the wall in front of me and see my father’s hand moving up and down, releasing his rage on the bodies of his young.
“This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you.”
He will say he does this at my mother’s insistence that the children need to be disciplined but he has his own demons to exorcise.
I turn my gaze to the wall to my right and see the face of my mother. This wall is a mirror but my own face reflects hers no matter how I move my head. I hunt for my own image but there is no self to be found.
“You are the only person I can talk to,” she will tell me and confide in me things I don’t want to know.
I twist around to the wall on my left and see the image of my first husband, all Texas swagger and twang.
Good looking and charming, always saying the right things, ignoring the voice inside warning, “go, run, go!”
He is a man of secrets, secret women, secret lies, secrets even he doesn’t want to know. He is a made up man.
I know without looking that the wall behind me is husband number two, Midwestern Jewish.
“Cheru” is his nickname for me.
I think he is as far from husband #1 as I can get. But he is a magician appearing to be one thing, a devoted husband and father, while being another. He covertly bankrupts the family and, when his deceptions are uncovered, disappears.
My body floods with memories of them. I was bred to know these men, to be able to pick them out because they felt…familiar. My cells like radar finding them in a crowded room.
They are the birds with broken wings that only I can fix.
Secrets only I can keep.
Except I can’t and I am the one who is broken.
I close my eyes and slow everything down taking in short gasps, holding each one a little longer until I relax enough for a breath to go deep, hold it, and slowing let it out. I remember I am.
Only then can I look again at the walls. They are still there, relics of my past, but now the walls didn’t look quite so impermeable. I feel the space between my body and the walls, finding relief in knowing we are not one and the same.
I reach out a finger to touch one wall and noticed ripples moving out from the center like the movement of a rock thrown into water. I touch another and the same thing happens. Feeling braver, I place my hand against the wall in front and watch it disappear up to my wrist. I quickly pull it back.
I have to go through them to get out and the last thing I want is contact. I gather myself and push a foot through the wall with my father looking down at me. There is a rise of anger and with it an aggression that propels me forward and through to the other side.
Now I can fill my lungs with things I am only just beginning to recognize.
Freedom. Space. Breath.
A horn sounds behind me. Startled, I inch my car forward.
In this incarnation, Cheryl Jacobs is a writer, teacher and healer. She has published online and in print and was a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. She gets up every morning to write and has quite a catalog of shi**y first drafts! Writing feeds her soul and makes her happy.