Katja Elk Writes

The time of my death, it was decided, is set for later this afternoon. An aerial view shows the leaden-blue expanse of the ocean that, encircled by about thirty ancient, three-masted sailing vessels, shows the area where I’ll be lowered into the deep, cold darkness of the water. It will be death by drowning. The time and location that will mark the end of my story were chosen by those who know about these things. There was no disagreement on my part. The details no longer matter. No further hearings or discussions will be held. The matter is closed. 

I find myself in a large waiting room. A low humming sound accompanies the constant coming and going of people, human beings of all ages, genders and ethnicities. I don’t know any of them, and that’s ok. No need to make friends in this liminal space that’s neither good nor bad, where we all seem to know that things are past the point of turning back and low levels of anxious energy fill the air as if a snow globe’s heavy particles weigh down our collective breathing. It doesn’t matter because all of our breaths, felt individually and or as an accumulation of uncertainties, are numbered. Some part of me can’t wait to get out of this stuffy waiting room, to pour myself into the wide open space of the limitless body of water that will mean freedom of a whole different kind. Soon. 

The sun peaks out from behind the curtains of her mood-filled clouds. A few of her rays melt onto the surface of the liquid arena that will be the stage of my impending departure. A glistening silvery disc of light forms a mirror on the water where gliding around in their ring-like formation, the ancient sailing ships keep a steady pace. From a distance, the scene looks like an oversized merry-go-round. I see warrior-like figures, men and women, moving large wooden chairs to designated viewing areas on the decks of each vessel.

One of the men in the waiting room points to the ships and says, ‘They still have tickets to watch the show. Only fourteen silver coins per person. Can’t beat that for a live event.’ Some of the people raise their eyebrows, others pull down the corners of their mouths and nod their heads in appreciation of this great deal. I watch them in silence, resigned to the fact that I only have a few hours left before it’s time to go to never-never land. What does it matter if they watch? I feel the water in the cells of my body reaching out to the waves of the ocean, longing, stretching, aching to be one with the open sea again. The reassuring draw to follow those who’ve gone before me is strong today.

There is the aerial view of the ocean again. Towered by billowing sails, the ancient vessels are floating across the glistening sea. An enormous, swirling vortex pushes the ships out and away from its center, slowly dispersing them into all directions of the wind.

I feel a stirring, a quiver somewhere near my stomach. It makes its way up to my chest, my heart and finally, it’s in my head and whispers, ‘Hey, are you alright in there? Anything you’d like to say before you go?’ I shake the head inside my head and think, ‘No. No, I’m good, I’m ready. It’s all good. There’s nothing left to say or do now.’

The quiver, this slight and trembling movement, it nods its head and curls its tiny fangs around the lower edges of my tongue. It almost makes me want to gag, but then it’s going for my lower lip. And, oh, it’s crawling up the back of my neck, a shudder rolls through my body before it finally exits my mouth as a whimper that finds its full expression in an all-out, mournful wail. 

‘Waaaiiiiiiit!’

Startled by the long-drawn, howling sound of my voice I wake up, blink and turn my head to the side. My cat’s yellow-green eyes pour questions into mine. ‘What the hell just happened? Why are you howling like a banshee?’ I look to the other side, and my dog’s amber eyes seem to lick my face. ‘Are you ok?’

I shake my head and shoulders, and then my hips and legs as if an aftershock of the shudder I felt in my dream is traveling through my body. Now that was interesting. What was that all about?

I close my eyes again and try to feel my way back into the lower levels of my conscious mind. Ok, so I was going to die. And I was ok with that. There were people with me in the waiting room. I felt no connection to them. My death was going to be some sort of public event, a spectacle put on by the sea-faring warriors who sold tickets to those interested in live performances of this sort. And that was ok, too. And then, as the ships were leaving, something else started to rise inside of me. What was that? Why was I wailing? ‘Wait?’ I thought that everything was fine. What made me stop?

Ok, let’s see here. Let’s see what’s underneath all this. The answers are usually right beneath the surface of this transitional state between wakefulness and sleep, ‘hypnagogia’ I think is what it’s called. The mind remembers the darnedest things when it’s relaxed like this. Ok, let’s see here… 

‘Tell me what you want, and I’ll help you.’ 

‘What I want? I don’t know. I thought I was done wanting things. I was ready to die.’ 

‘Why do you think you’re done wanting things?’

‘It’s easier that way. Just let it go. Don’t be attached. Don’t be a part of anything. Surrender. Isn’t that what being at peace is all about?’

‘I don’t know. Is it? What does peace have to do with not wanting anything?’

‘If I don’t want anything, and no one wants anything from me, then all is well, and…’

‘And what?’

‘And I can leave.’

‘Why do you want to leave?’

‘Because there’s nothing left to do, and… no one wants me… or much of what I am about. So, that is that, it’s time to go.’

‘Oh, now we’re getting somewhere. No one wants you? What a fantastically absurd notion. And for how long have you carried that precious, little stinger with you?’

‘Hmm, you’re right, for quite a while. It’s old and tried, and probably, that much I give you, not altogether true. But somehow… there’s comfort in that old pain, especially now when so much is dissolving.’

‘Dissolving? Good one. As if there’s ever anything that’s permanent or solid in this place we’re calling space and time. But keep going. Nothing tragic here, in fact, it’s quite amusing really. Let’s see where this is going.’

‘People and animals I love are dying. Not long ago my mom, my dog, two horses I took care of. More recently my dad passed away, and my good friend, Pat. Gone all of them. Dissolving. Leaving. Leaving me behind.’

‘Ok, I see, and that’s a lot. These things take time to understand and tenderness to heal. Don’t rush yourself. Just keep on asking, seeking truths. Where else do you feel things are dissolving?’ 

 ‘Some of the people I love and think of as family are leaving our shared living space. My sense of safety and belonging is crumbling… once again. It feels like everything I trusted is spinning and spiraling away from me.’

‘I see. Trust. It’s not something stationary, you know?’

‘It’s not?’

‘No. Trust is something that needs tending to. It’s a living thing. It breathes, and it needs room to move with all the changes and the curveballs life keeps throwing our way. Trust comes down to context… and the sense that we’re all vulnerable creatures who need others. It’s about accepting and embracing that we can’t do everything on our own, that sharing hardship and asking for help is a gift that can bring meaning to others. And that sharing joy, perspectives, knowledge and art brings as much pure light to the lives of those who give as it does to those who receive these gifts.’

‘Hmm. I feel the truth in what you’re saying for others. It’s harder to believe it for myself.’

‘See yourself. Hear yourself. Know yourself.’

‘It’s like I’m standing in a fog. Why did I cry out “Wait?” 

‘I think you know.’

‘Hmmm.’

‘Trust yourself.’

Pictures are drifting in and out of my sleepy wakefulness again. The aerial view of the circular plain on the ocean reappears. The ancient sailing vessels are gone, but a spiral of white foam still coils around the midpoint of the vortex. Except, something is different. 

I feel the quivering coming back, a sense of longing, a taste of sadness, a reaching, a rush of things gone by and lost forever, and whispers of the things to come, budding blossoms, fruits still green, shivering and waiting for the sun’s loving gaze to warm them into ripening.

The swirling motion of the vortex has changed direction. It is circling clockwise now, drawing water from the surface into its funnel-shaped core. And there is that humming sound again, but I’m not in the waiting room anymore, so where is it coming from? In the distance, a large, luminescent, bluish-green cloud appears as the sun bows down to the darkening horizon. The plume’s outer form is shifting as it moves closer to the vortex on the water. Zooming in closer for a moment, the humming sound turns into a slow, trance-inducing drumbeat. The cloud, I can see it now, consists of millions and millions of dragonflies. Brilliant flashes of orange sunlight play catch with the iridescent blue-green tinges of their wings. Dragonflies. Symbols of change. I shouldn’t be surprised. Their aquatic larvae take up to five years to reach adulthood. Following the dare-devil, aerial acrobatics of these magnificent, powerful creatures with my eyes I can see it’s worth the wait. 

The cloud is drifting and shifting until it forms the shape of a large drop right above the center of the vortex. Earth seems to be taking a deep breath in as the swirling motion of the large water-borne spiral stretches out its arms like tentacles, drawing tiny outlines of three-masted sailing vessels in from the distant, glittering edges of the sea. Lightning flashes. Thunder follows as the cloud pours her water-falling heart into the subaquatic tornado of the vortex. Earth’s thirst is being quenched. She drops her shoulders and exhales. A single, low-humming drum beat picks up a slow and steady rhythm again.

Waves lick my feet as they carry me along the sandy shoreline of the beach. Several large, three-masted sailing vessels are approaching the island. They are still too far away. I can’t make out individual people on board of each ship. But I can see them. I see them lowering smaller boats to the water from the sides of their ships as they are preparing to come ashore. And then I see us, human beings of all ages, genders and ethnicities, sitting around a large, roaring fire. We are talking, laughing, crying, eating, drinking, celebrating our togetherness as it’s been customary since the dawn of days. 

We are bringing out our gifts — all manners of books, laptops and tablets, holographic imagery and fluorescent symbols floating inside prismatic glass containers, ornate treasure chests cradling rolled-up, painted canvasses, scripts and sheets of music, old-fashioned movie reels, a cloth-bound bundle holding sculptures — oh, and there’ll be more to come — such riches!

‘Tell us what you feel, and we will see you.’

‘I feel tender. I feel raw. I feel hopeful.’

‘Tell us what you know, and we will hear you.’

‘I’m not done yet. I have time.’

’Tell us what you want, and we will help you.’

‘I want to share what I’ve been given.’

‘Then this is your truth. Then this is your path.’

This story doesn’t end here. Let’s toast to new beginnings. Let’s gather some wood and build a fire. Some of us are here already, and more are on their way. What is your story? Come sit with us and share your treasures.

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