Written By Greg Giovannini
A hallway, long and dark, stretches before me. Behind and ahead, there is only blackness, an inscrutable fog clouding the distant past and future. I walk forward simply because that’s the last way I remember walking, but I could just as well be walking backwards.
My steps are slow, careful, investigative, as though each movement spawns a clue to unravel the mystery of my destination. A small candle in my hand provides the only light, but it is enough. I am comfortably lost. I think of the future beyond the blackness, and it fills me with hope. I do not think of the blackness behind me; it reeks of despair, a despair that feeds on sadness and pain. As long as I have my light, I am safe – the darkness chases but cannot catch me.
Step after step, and there is still nothing. The corridor narrows ever so slightly. Shadows dance over the wooden floor from my flickering candlelight; there is no sound but that of my shoes rhythmically striking the smooth planks. I do not wonder and walk on.
Eventually the wax drips onto my hand. I wipe it off and shiver. Something tickles the back of my mind, like an unscratchable itch, but I ignore it as I press onward, a bit faster now. The light flickers more erratically, and I notice with a twinge of something else that my circle of light has waned. Still I continue my march.
The feeling deepens, but the word eludes me. An unsteady beat joins the sound of my steps – it is my heart. The candlelight dwindles further. I start jogging.
It strikes me that I don’t know why I’m moving forward. The darkness ahead seems more oppressive, more malicious, harboring the enigma of my destination. At least the darkness behind me holds no secrets. I suck in a breath, heart racing. There is a person somewhere, I think. But which way are they? Surely ahead. I feel that unknown word on the tip of my tongue.
I am running now, the shrinking light nursing my growing clarity; it is a thin barrier between the layers of dark I am sandwiched between, and the shadows kiss through the porous membrane. I feel on the verge of a massive revelation, of some truth left behind and forgotten.
Then the candle goes out. My lifeline vanishes. The darkness is absolute, petrifying. I freeze; the silence screams around my thundering heart. Fear. I feel it like two walls crushing the life out of me, and I collapse to the cold ground in a trembling pile. Someone is yelling in my ear. I curl up and cover them with my hands, but I still hear the voice. Another joins it. Words reach me, and I fight them off, but they wound my feeble defense. It is a chorus of voices now, and they storm my wall like a bellicose army and flood my soul in ruthless fury. Worthless. Pathetic. Weak. I beg them to stop. Useless, sniveling, crying, whining, baby. I scream and want to die. Sad trash depressed worthless burden die die die die die. I feel as though I am being ripped apart by a savage beast. Hopeless, I sink into it and let it take me, the cacophony drowning out every thought until only a white noise assaults me. I remain like that for some time – minutes? Days? – and then I am conscious of my heartbeat, and my shivering body hugging the floor. Terrified that the voices will return, I leap up, my darting eyes useless in the inky blackness. And then a fleeting image of the person pops into my mind like the wink of a lighthouse beacon.
I need to find her. She is somewhere back there, I am sure of it. I propel myself in what feels like the opposite direction at full speed. My body feels sluggish, as though the air itself is viscous. But I run on and on, blindly, searching for something in the nothing. The corridor seems to never end.
Until I smash head-first into something solid. I stagger back, stunned, but my desperation to find her clears my senses rapidly. As though my crash-landing had triggered some response, the tiniest sliver of light appears at the ground. It is enough to illuminate the outline of a door in front of me. I can hear a voice speaking energetically beyond. Hopeful, I search for a handle, some means of opening it. But it is just a slab of wood. I pound it, kick it, yell at it; the unyielding monolith crushes my spark of hope into the ashes of despair.
In defeat, I sink to the ground again with my back to the door, listening. I can hear her, just beyond the threshold, laughing. She says something, and I feel the love in the words, feel it but cannot have it, cannot have what is not for me. The light at the bottom of the door catches my wet eye. It is a spectrum of color, a pattern that reminds me of the promise she never got to fill, the rainbow butterflies that would never fly. Just like her, a flightless butterfly, the world unable to appreciate her beauty.
But I did. I saw that beauty every day, witnessed it on the good days and bad days, watched it suffer through four years of hell. That beauty was my mother, and so much more. She wasn’t a writer, but she wrote for me. I devoured every poem, never thinking, This will be the last, but tepidly understanding that it could be the last, until brutally forced to accept that it was the last. She wasn’t an artist, but she painted for me, each work a bundle of love. They say love is eternal; I say love is my mother. She wasn’t a goddess, but she was perfect.
It all amounts to nothing. She’s gone.
Tears stream down my face; I was wrong – there is no happiness here. Only painful memories muffled behind an eternally-locked door. I brought myself here as I always do when I am lost, expecting to hear her guiding voice, the strength of her commands to move forward, to crush the voices of my insecurities that paralyze me and send me hunting for her in the first place.
But I am alone. The only voice I have is my own.
That’s not true. I stand, slowly, as a light shines ahead in the distance. I walk towards it. My instinct is always to run backwards to find her. To pound on that locked door in desperation, to get nowhere trying to go back to her. But she lives in me. The light grows; a casket surrounded by hundreds of candles comes into focus. The gifts she left for me. An explosion of golds and cherry reds, a rainbow of warmth. I pick one up, and the flame grows brighter in my hand.
I glance at the casket and cry, but through the tears, I smile ever so slightly. The candle I hold burns into my mind the last birthday I spent with her.
Memories have a way of dragging me back to the past. Memories are what will light my way to the future.
I know I will get lost again. But I hang on to the hope that I will find my way back here, not to the locked door, but to the wealth of light she left for me to move on.
I turn and face forward.
A hallway, long and dark, stretches before me. For the first time, I notice the doors on either side. No rainbow of light, no voices, only bare possibilities. I walk forward and wonder which to open first.