By Metu Osele
“Not today,” is a flash fiction that discusses repressed memories: humans’ method of escaping realities that threaten our peace.
Credit: some of the conversations included in this story were coined from a Soft White Belly Interview on YouTube.
This story has been previously published on creativewritingbymetu.com, a blog that I run alone and own.
I try to open my eyes, but it feels like a pair of sandbags has been set on each eyelid. I know I am alive but not awake. I want to describe this feeling as being unconscious, but I do not think an unconscious person could know that they are unconscious. I feel my heart throb and thrust against my left breast. I feel warm sweat drip through every inch of skin but stripping myself of the blanket that clings onto me is not an option as my arms and feet feel paralyzed. I am living in two dimensions – the one where I am pinned to and lay still on my bed, and the one where I am a sprinter and a jumper. In my dreamscape, I prop myself up every time I fall, and with a speed of lighting, I abscond the threat that comes for me. The threat? I have been running for what feels like days, but I am yet to decipher what pursues me so fervently. I know this thing scares everything in me because I run like a murderer escaping a lethal mob. But I do not know why or from whom I run. I feel my enemy close in on me. Very close. And right before this mysterious person is about to attack me, I break free in the second dimension. My eyes fling open in relief. My hasty breaths send sharp spasms through my chest, and I realize that I am now awake.
I lay in bed, mind tossing, able to physically move my hands and feet but anxiety holds me down. This feels like a serial déjà vu because I have been in this same place a million and one times. Sometimes, it is a dark figure that reaches to harm me, sometimes it is someone I have seen in real-life, and days like today I am oblivious of what chases me. But in the end it is the same feeling of anxiety that freezes me. I turn my face towards my window hoping that staring at it long enough will force me to open it and let the rush of light jolt me out of my melancholy. My Holy Bible tips from the windowsill, a wind-gust away from falling. I turn my head away. “Not today,” I whisper, and I reach for my phone from underneath my pillow instead. Why am I always running in my dream, I type into the five-inch screen of my iPhone instinctively swiping up to dim the brightness. I scroll through the lengths of articles on Safari and find nothing that piques my curiosity I search what causes a running dream. “Dreams like this can represent running away from the truth or a feeling of being trapped in the daily grind of life and wanting to escape,” my screen reads back to me. Am I trying to escape anything in real life? I ponder as an undesired thought crawls back into my mind. I look towards my Bible again, staring a little longer this time before turning away.
I pull myself out of bed grudgingly when stomach acid begins pinching my intestine, and I set out to purchase a ready-to-eat hotdog from the street vendor camped five blocks from my apartment; this is the only meal I am able to keep down these days.
“Spare me some change, would you?” a homeless lady calls from the street corner. Her thick Southern accent shows me that she has come a long way from home.
“I be so hungry sometimes, I just wanna eat,” she yells out to me.
I place my hand in my pocket but pull it out empty. Instead, I do something unplanned but unsurprising given my desperate need for human interaction. I walk over and sit three feet beside her on the steel bench that she seems to have made her new home.
“I needed to say this for a long time,” the lady starts once I sit like I am an old friend.
“My momma let him do that to me,” she continues now with tears running down her face and her tone getting louder.
“She hated me. What momma treat you like that,” she says.
“I was trying to find God, and she say you ain’t got God in you. You don’t even know God,” the homeless lady continues. “But I feel good because I know the Lord got me. I talk to the Lord all the time.”
I maintain graveyard silence unable to completely decipher her story.
The lady continues her narrative. “She still hasn’t asked me to forgive her to this day, but I forgive her. She don want to admit that she knows what her husband did. But I said you my mother, I still gotta love you.”
At this point, I know exactly what she is talking about. In one breath, this lady speaks about her childhood molestation, her absentee mother, her relationship with God, and her strong desire to forgive her mother. Blood rushes to my face causing a hot flash in the cold November winter.
“I still gotta love her cause that’s a demon in her. We have all got evil spirit, principalities, and demon running around us,” the old lady adds.
“Why drugs?” I manage to add unable to hide the shakiness of my voice or the tears that begin to form. She did not have to tell me she was on something. I recognize the slur in her words. Her greying hair stands out at the corners of her burgeoning skull with a clean bald spot in the middle. The few darkened teeth she has peaks through cracked and sore lips.
“Every time I don’t do drugs something in me sleeps and the only way to wake it up is if you give me some drugs,” she answers matter-of-factly.
“I know God ain’t like the life I am living, But the Lord strengthens my mind and soul. I will get better.” She pauses as if waiting for me to ask another question.
“I am learning from my mistakes,” she continues. “Anything that I go through is because the Lord allows me to go through it. I am learning from it. I thank the Lord that he don’t select us based on the drug.” She stops speaking when she notices my sobbing.
I had felt the familiarity immediately she had said, “I still gotta love you.” I let her continue her tale while I searched for proof to confirm my thoughts. This is why I asked about the drugs. To keep her talking and to buy me time. Then I searched her legs for the large burn scar, but it wasn’t there. It wasn’t too long before I saw the needle marks on her arms rekindling my hope. Her oval-shaped face and olive-brown skin, although dried up and ashen, held the same bone-structure and hue. Her voice even though now husky and bass from the damage the drugs were doing to her lungs and thorax still had the same warmth I knew. This was undoubtedly my mother.
I managed to leave my life before New York blocked from normal conscious recall. My memories of my childhood consisted only of the life I had before my dad left and before my mother started the drugs. In my memories, I woke up on Sunday morning to the aroma of burnt pancakes, the sweet scent of strawberries and pineapples, and the whiff of strong black coffee just the way my dad liked it. My mom always insisted on using onion and garlic in her scrambled eggs, much to my chagrin, so the house also smelled like a Chinese buffet. I remember teasing my dad in the living room. “Daddy, daddy, daddy,” I would sing repeatedly until he grabbed me by my arms and spun me across the living room while I giggled amusedly. Eventually, we would sit beside on the dining table, say the grace, followed by my mom’s lengthy prayers, and then it was time for highs and lows.
“My high is that I am very happy,” I would say with a child-like grin. Staring at the mound of scrambled eggs, I would add “my low is that I hate onion.”
“It is healthy for you,” my mom would retort slapping me gently on the wrist.
My dad’s high was always some version of thanking God for provision, and his low would always be some version of how he wished he could spend more time with us. He would usually end with a promise of how he would soon start to work fewer hours. Mom would always run through a dictionary long list of her highs. Thanking God for us, her family, her family’s family, her coworker, etc. Then she would end with “I don’t think I have a low today,” causing me and dad to roll our eyes in feigned disgust.
This was the only past I had and repeated to anyone who cared to ask until it became my truth. But the true memory of my past was sitting right in front of me, a caricature of the woman I held on too. A debilitating reminder of the hours spent in family therapy when my parents were trying to save their marriage. A walking shadow of the years that followed with tableware, chairs, and tight fists being thrown at each other. The lady sitting in front of me was an unpleasant portrait of a drunken father who had eventually kept his promise of working fewer hours but not by his own choice, and a mother who started using after my father left.
Hearing my mom speak on her harrowing years of abuse, it all now makes sense. My mother’s past was the downfall of my once-perfect life. Somehow the hidden truth of her past had been the thorn that unraveled her marriage and family. She also was unable to escape.
But I am still not ready or able to live in this reality, so I stand and wipe the tears from my face with the back of my hand. ‘You take care of yourself,” I say coldly pulling a 5-dollar note from my pocket.
She grabs my arm as I try to pull away and says, “you gotta forgive your momma too.”
I am still not sure if she recognizes me or if I am still just a passerby to her. I glance at her momentarily before heading towards the hot-dog truck now less than a block away.
“Not today,” I whisper walking away briskly.
Just last week, I met a woman I thought was my mother in the coffee shop. She had the same deep-black 4C curls with tips dyed light brown. Three months ago, I thought my linguistic professor was my mother. She held an air of confidence, just like my mom did. I had also seen my mother in my neighbor who often offered me scrambled eggs laced with onion and garlic, and I had eaten it forgetting my disdain for onions. But today I know I have finally met the woman I longed searched for, and I beg the universe to make this true. I am weary and sapped of searching.
Metu Osele is a graduate student in the UAMS Department of Biomedical Informatics. She joined the Medicine and Meaning online journal editorial board this year as the new fiction editor. She is excited to bring her experiences as a writing center tutor and a blog writer to support her new role on the editorial board.