As I sit in my favorite chair, by the lake, at my most favorite place on earth, the ache of my muscles, the pain in my head, the twinge in my neck, all remind me of last night’s restless sleep. Five acres of nothing but trees, encircling a lake that had never known a rod and reel. Inherited from my grandmother, it was the one place where I felt remotely normal, safe. I rolled out of the bed early, because I had to. Life doesn’t stop, it goes on, appointments have to be kept and bills have to be paid.
I am a photographer by trade, mostly because it affords me an outlet for my creativity, but also because it enables me to meet a client, do my necessary work, and then move on. I don’t have to deal with co-workers or family, I don’t have to explain my life, my choices, or explain why I am 30 years old and single. For some reason, it’s expected that I should have a husband and 2.5 kids. But in my life, there is no room for more faces. The faces I see day to day in my head are enough to fill a dozen photo albums, to be placed on a coffee table and shared with guests. If I had a coffee table, and if I ever had guests.
My name is Lena, by the way. As I said, I am 30 years old, and alone. I walked away from my family 10 years ago, with just my camera and a duffle bag. The next milestone for Mother to write in her book that she cherished so, was my admittance into a psychiatric hospital, and I was not going to stick around for that. No amount of therapy can help me, believe me, they’ve tried it all. Doctors have diagnosed me with schizophrenia, which is bogus, because I do not live in a fantasy world, the fantasy world lives around me. I am fully functional; I just can’t and won’t deal with someone else’s interpretations of what I see, what I hear, and what I go through. Another Doctor in another state diagnosed me with Depersonalization Disorder. Beep, wrong answer again, I don’t think or feel that I am in a dream world — my dreams are just more vivid than others. I have taken numerous antipsychotic medications, but none took the faces away, if anything, it made them much more animated. Sleep studies, and being hooked up to machines and analyzed like an insect, is not my idea of a normal childhood. So I walked away.
My visions began when I was 5 years old. What started out as “awake dreams”, slowly turned into a nightmare. The first one that I remember began on a normal night. I had just began kindergarten that day, and was settling in my bed for the night with my dog, a German shepherd named Major. Being an only child, and somewhat a loner, I was allowed to have whatever pets I wanted, to keep me occupied, and it seems that it was always a dog. I chose the bigger breeds, because I relished the feeling of security that a burly canine provided.
Major awoke me growling. That low, guttural, snarl that usually indicated he was startled from sleep. Without opening my eyes, and thinking he was having a dream, I just patted his back and told him it was okay, and nestled back into slumber. I awoke again to another growl, this one more gravely and louder. As I sat up in the bed, I startled Major and he jumped up and planted himself beside me. I looked to find that my cover had been pulled from my bed, leaving me exposed, and my legs and feet like ice. That is when I heard another loud growl.
My eyes darted around the room, searching for what could be making that noise, and Major jumped off the bed with his hair standing on end, and starting barking. I jumped off the bed, and gathered all the covers and jumped back onto the it and pulled them up over my head. I trembled with fear, wide-eyed and my heart pounded out of my chest. I mustered my courage and peered out. In all his enormous glory, stood a grizzly bear. Yes, a bear, in my bedroom, at the foot of my bed staring back at me. I yanked the covers back over my head, and raised my legs straight up and then back down so that the covers enveloped me like a sleeping bag. My mind raced, and my hands got tingly, and I knew this had to be a dream. It had to be. There are no bears around here, and how on earth would one end up in my bedroom, at the foot of my bed, staring back at me? It occurred to me that Major had quit barking and I knew I must be brave and coax him back into bed, under the covers, ’til this nightmare was over. I jumped straight up and off the bed, only to find him lying in the floor, sound asleep. Had I dreamed he was barking
I looked over my shoulder. The bear reared up on his hind legs, like it was human. I blinked. I blinked again. I rubbed my eyes frantically, hoping that this illusion or nightmare or whatever it is would disappear. I don’t know why I could not muster a voice or why I did not run from the room and wake my mother, it just occurred to me to climb back in bed and it would go away. I venture to guess that I was asleep before my head hit the pillow, and I slept soundly until my mother came to wake me for school. All through class that day, as I was struggling to keep my eyes open and wanting very badly to go back home and go to sleep, I pondered just exactly what I saw, and the even at such a young age, I reasoned that it had to be a nightmare, that there was no other logical explanation. That night, I slept like a baby. And the next. Over time, I would continue to see what I learned to call my visions. But none have ever been as scary as the first.
Let’s skip ahead 10 years. High school. Freshman year. A whole other world, different challenges and deeper pitfalls. I didn’t fit in. This was the time to try and conform to all the others around you, belong. The harder I tried the more of an outcast I was, so instead of yielding to the trends and making-nice with the cliques, I drew myself inward, and that is pretty much the bulk of my high school years. I made excellent grades, and having no friends or social life, I had plenty of time to study. My grandmother purchased a second-hand camera and a bag of film for my birthday, and photography became my escape. I read everything I could get my hands on, and I practiced every day.
If I could not have been a normal teenager, I would be an extraordinary photographer. My mother, ever worried about me fitting in, believed the tales I told of visiting friends, all the while I was hiking, photographing landscapes, bugs, rabbits, anything that crossed my path. She truly believed that I was a popular girl, and rather than break her heart, I allowed her to believe that I had many friends and that my social calendar was always full. Fair? Probably not, but I truly didn’t want her to be as miserable as I was.
My Dad, you ask? My parents divorced before I was born and he remarried when I was two. He lives in another town with another family. I’ve never laid eyes on him. My mother threw away all photographs of him, so I have no idea what he looks like, if I took after him or if he thinks of me as his daughter, or if he even thinks of me at all.
I do know from the grapevine that he has two other children, a boy and a girl, and that they live in a fine house, the American Dream. Am I bitter? No, really. I would not call it bitterness, just an acceptance; knowing that I was cast aside for whatever reason and moving on. If I dwelled on it, it would not change it. Nothing could erase or make up for the years lost.
As I grew older, my visions matured as well. The visions not only came as nightmares at night, but also manifested into daydreams, so that it all seemed an appendage to my life. Something that I had to learn to accept, conquer, interpret. I saw normal, everyday looking people, bloody cadavers, soldiers in war zones, patients in hospital beds. It was all so much to conceive, but as time went on and the visions became more prominent I began to understand that I was a messenger of sorts, and that the people in these visions were looking to me for comfort, support, to be their voice. I gained an understanding and learned to not be afraid.
One day, as I was hiking and snapping pictures, an old man appeared to me on the path before me and asked if I could help him. I knew that this was an apparition and that he was not real, but I asked him what he needed help with. He told me in the time before his death, he had hidden a gun in fear that his grandchildren would find it and be injured. He had placed it in a brown paper sack and placed it in a metal box and buried it behind his home. His wife had since passed away and their home and land was sold to be developed, and he worried that the gun would be found and end up in the wrong hands. He simply wanted me to go and dig it up and throw it in the river. He gave me the address, and I went and dug it up and threw it away, pleased that this was an easy assignment.
While I believe there are a thousand miracles to behold each and every day, it still troubles me how I play into the whole scheme of things. Why did I receive this “gift”, and is this what I am to expect for the rest of my life? Will there ever be a day or night when my daydreams will be of puppy dogs dancing in fields of wildflowers or children frolicking and jumping rope? If this is my destiny, am I supposed to give up the hope of ever finding my true love? Should I bring a child into my world of illusions?
I have a photography assignment, product imaging for a local jewelry store, so I must tear myself away from this serenity and gather my gear. The assignment should only require a few hours and maybe I can finish up early, knock the editing out and still have some daylight left to hike. I load my jeep and head out. Traffic is heavy and anxiety kicks in. It seems that the panic attacks I’ve acquired over the years only rear their ugly heads when I’m driving, so that’s became another of my many dilemmas- I have to drive to assignments, I have to pay bills, I have to eat. After battling the congestion of early morning road chaos, I finally reach the store and the employees help me load the boxes of the goodies I am to photograph. They requested a fresh, outdoorsy feel, and that is my specialty. I decide that I will go back home and utilize the beauty of my own property, so I drive to the backside of my lake and unload the boxes, and sit down on a fallen tree and take it all in, seek my inspiration.
As I am pondering, I hear a splash behind me, which startles me. I turn around to find a man, in his thirties, dirty and scruffy making his way out of the lake. He’s staring at me with cold eyes, and as I always do, I smile. I wonder what he will “need help with.” I blink and he’s gone. I blink again, and still, he’s disappeared. I look around, positive that he will appear again, but nothing, no sounds, and he’s nowhere to be found.
I get up and start unpacking the boxes, and on an oak trunk scattered by a pile of oak leaves, I see a spider’s web. I find a beautiful charm pendant unusual shape, looks almost custom made, and place it carefully in the web. The lighting is perfect at this time, so I grab my camera and kneel down to get just the right angle. Compose, focus, click. Adjust my aperture, compose, focus, click. Perfect.
Behind me, I hear another splash. I stand and am paralyzed by the scene before me. The man I saw only moments ago is in the lake, to his waist, and is holding someone or something under the water. He looks at me, with a cold, hard stare. I don’t know what to do. My visions have never been so vivid, and the splashing and gurgling, attempts at breathe I hear makes this scene look as it’s happening in this moment. I have to do something, but I feel an anxiety attack gripping me and each time I try to take a step, a pain runs through my chest, taking all the air from my lungs. Who is he trying to drown, and how am I supposed to use this vision for the good, save this person?? What benefit is this vision, if I am helpless to stop this? My heart is beating so hard, I can feel the thump in my ears, and I cry out for him to stop! “Who are you, why are you doing this?” I scream. I blink, I close my eyes so hard it hurts, and blink again, only to find his glare, still aimed at me, and a slow, evil grin creeps across his face. It is a woman struggling. I can see her long hair, as her head bobs up from the water, trying to claw at her assailant, trying to get to her feet to get away.
I sit down, frozen in my panic, and scream to persons unknown for help. No one can hear me. I am miles from another house. My head is throbbing, I cannot breathe and my legs feel as though they are glued together and I am helpless to do anything. The scene before me brings tears to my eyes, my throat is raw, and my body is doused with sweat.
I hear a scream, the woman has her head above water and she is gripping the man’s arms and clawing and tearing, “Who are you, why are you doing this?” she breathlessly wails. She has almost gotten her footing and he pushes her back down, attempting to place all his weight on her and take her life. Adrenaline kicks in and her strength is gaining, as she stands to face him, still slapping and struggling to break free. But she is no match for his strength, and her determination only fuels his fervor. He pushed her down once again and her arms go limp, as I scream for her not to give up. It is at this moment I realize that the woman before me, fighting for her life, is me.
Darkness falls over my vision like a veil… a black, mourning veil.
TrickWild (AKA Angie Callahan) is a mother, wife, photographer, and bookworm. Click here to check out some of her work at her TrickWild stalker page!