Forgotten Sanctuary

(Rename and post of a piece published on Medium summer 2020.)

This year will be different. This year I will not think about what day it is. It is a Sunday, like any other Sunday. It isn’t special. There’s nothing to worry about. This won’t hurt at all. I’ll survive this. More than survive, I will breeze through it. Watch a few light-hearted movies, take a long bath and stay off social media is all I need to do. Easy peasy.

This is my mantra.

Said with the fervency of a Buddhist monk. What was I to invoke? Peace.

Peace?

Stillness.

The ability to inhale clean air despite the dust storming around me. See clearly beyond the mirages of dirt before my eyes. And what were they?

These mirages.

Delusions.

Illusions in the atmosphere.

My atmosphere.

That I could magically manifest a reality; I could ‘will’ myself into the finish line without ever moving my feet. Transport myself into a victory void of perspiration, mud and sore muscles. Void of defeat. Void of loss. Heartbreak. I would tout a black belt without ever having stepped on the mat! The effects of this day would wash over me like the cool rain on a sunswept day. The trickling of the water on my skin granting relief I hadn’t needed to ‘tip in’ for. And my sadness would escape me as the water escapes the clouds.

Gushing.

Bursting.

Breaking!

Free of this prison that sucked me up without ever asking my permission. Holding me captive until the massiveness of this day becomes too much to contain. Break or be broken.

Broken.

Like this day.

Broken.

Like my family.

Broken.

Like me.

Broken.

Like my dreams of ever celebrating this day, taking joy in the way millions of children do as they post pictures. Memories. Moments.

Fathers.

With their kids on their shoulders.

Fathers.

Their bodies…

Lifting.

Fathers.

Their hands…

Holding.

Fathers.

Their arms…

Steadying.

Fathers.

Their legs…

Balancing.

Fathers.

Carrying the weight of these little beings.

Not my father.

For it was I who carried the weight of him.

How heavy was his soul.

My body…

Folding under its pressure.

My body…

Crushing.

My body…

Not strong enough to lift.

My hands.

Too small to hold.

My arms.

Too weak to steady.

My legs.

Too fragile to balance.

Trembling. Unabated, as the heaviness becomes one with my being.

His being.

His body…

His legs. His arms. His hands.

Exploring my body as though it was an ancient treasure chest waiting to be discovered. As though fate had made it his destiny to discover.

His body…

His legs. His arms. His hands.

Defiling my sanctuary. How dare he not respect its holiness! Does he not know how sacred of a place this is?

His body…

His legs. His arms. His hands.

Violent. Destructive. Unrepentant.

Thrusting. Forceful. Reckless.

Breaking. Tearing. Ripping.

The veil torn as darkness explodes like the breaking of a dam. Flooding my sanctuary with its debris. Pieces. Separated. Lost in the expansiveness of the ocean.

Lost.

Like me. Pieces of my soul. My being.

Separated.

Decades in the abyss of my subconscious.

Dare I venture into the void to retrieve?

Dare I transform the mirage into reality?

Dare I go back to that sanctuary?

Defiled sanctuary.

Abandoned sanctuary.

Forgotten sanctuary.

Forgotten?

Not exactly. For remnants appear like the eruption of a volcano. Vocal. Unwanted but unable to ignore. Unable to look away. Demanding to be seen. Burning. Aching. Dissolving everything it touches with the heat of its presence.

Then returning to stillness. Dormant. Resting.

As though it had not ‘just’ devoured everything that was.

As though it had not reduced everything I built to mere sandcastles.

As though its Power hadn’t rendered me powerless.

Naked.

Exposed.

Bare.

Barren.

Longing.

Waiting.

For the grounds to be fertile again.

Building.

Rebuilding.

Over and over.

Again and again.

Knowing it wouldn’t last.

As sandcastles never do.

And yet I stay here. For I know this land. This is home. This volcano. This land. This longing.

This shelter.

This…

Cage.

Seemingly invincible yet shrinking with each new eruption.

Was it not supposed to be fireproof?

Shrinking.

No contender for the heat.

Shrinking.

Until I am left defenseless.

Naked.

Exposed.

Bare.

Barren.

Longing.

Ready.

No longer waiting.

Ready.

No longer building.

Ready.

To venture beyond this land.

These grounds will never be fertile again.

I start walking. To where, I do not know. All I see are ashes.

Ashes. Stretching as far as my field of vision expands.

I keep walking. Tired. Thirsty.

I keep walking. Through the ashes.

I keep walking. Through the fear.

I keep walking.

Until.

I see something!

There!

At the tip of my vision.

There!

At the edge…just beyond the reach of the eruptions.

A bit of green.

Could it be?!

With each step, it gets greener and greener.

I see it.

It’s beautiful.

I keep walking.

Closer.

Hope.

Rising.

Closer.

Hope.

Soaring.

Like the birds in that enormous sky.

I keep walking.

Trees. Vibrant. Full. Flourishing. Fruitful. So much fruit. My mouth coming alive.

Wetness.

Waking.

Wanting.

I reach the edge. My feet right at the place where the grass meets the ashes. Overwhelming desire. I can almost taste it.

I close my eyes.

I lift my right foot. Set it down. Slowly. Carefully.

I lift my left foot. Set it down. Slowly. Carefully.

I smile. Breathe in deeply.

Exhale and open my eyes.

No!

No!

No!

Why am I here?!

I recognize this place. It is bigger than I remember but its essence is unmistakable.

My sanctuary.

Forgotten sanctuary.

Abandoned sanctuary.

Defiled sanctuary.

Tears fall as the gravity of this moment pulls me into a collapsed ball. My body collides with the floor, unable to withstand the force of such a blow.

Had not my eyes beheld trees with an abundance of fruit?

Was it another mirage? Illusion in the atmosphere.

This atmosphere?

Its resemblance, a vague recollection.

I lift my body off the floor. Stumbling then still. Present. Being. Seeing.

My eyes, refusing to be rushed as they adjust to the darkness.

Shattered, boarded up windows; a few cracks allowing just enough light to see into the space.

Dust. Debris. Waste.

Instead of pews, there are beds. The first bed belonged to him. His bed making way for the others. And there were so many others. Different sizes. Shapes. Some I remember. Some I don’t. One is just a mattress on the floor. One is bare. All, battered or broken to some degree. White sheets. Gray sheets. Plaid sheets. Yellow sheets. All, old and worn. Dirty. Dusty. Stained. Unsalvageable.

I decide to take a step forward. I lift my foot. It is met with light resistance. I pull harder, breaking its grip. I turn my shoe to examine what I had stepped in. A dark black substance. Curious of the texture, I glide my fingers over its surface. It feels like it is composed of old bubble gum and molasses. Gumlasses. I couldn’t get it off.

I move forward, feeling its stickiness with each step. I reach the center of the room; the windows nearer. The light exposing. Revealing. Gumlasses everywhere.

It embodies this place. Or does this place embody it?

Integrated. It has become one with the atmosphere. One with the beds. One with the sheets. One with the altar. The floor. The walls. The doors. The ceiling. It is one with every piece of debris. One with the dirt. Small particles amid the dust. It is at every step. Every corner. Every crevice.

It is on every picture. Every memory. Every moment. It is in every breath. Inhale. Exhale. Chest rising higher and higher. The enormity of its presence overwhelms. I fear it will engulf me.

But it is I who swallows it.

My stomach, unable to digest. Unable to contain. My body regurgitating.

My body.

Remembering.

My body.

Experiencing.

My body.

Recalling.

I know this feeling.

This dwelling.

This house of…

Shame.

Constructed quite some time ago. Built on a graveyard; scattered remains brought by the death of these beds. Skeletons of ‘never enough.’ Rooms filled with the ghosts of yesterday. No amount of exorcising would suffice. Are they not the rightful inhabitants, anyway? Was I not inherently bad? Damaged. Soiled. Broken. Shattered like these windows. Boarded up; not enough light to eradicate the darkness.

My darkness. His darkness. This darkness…

I must move through.

Every step a little more effort than the one before; as the stickiness builds. As the residue accumulates below my feet.

I reach the altar. My nostrils ambushed by the stench of dried vomit. Ejected morsels beneath blankets of fungi.

Little Debbie wrappers. Too many to count. Razor blades. Tissues with dried blood. Hundreds of little pieces of paper with the words ‘I hate you’ and ‘You’re ugly’ written on them. Broken mirrors. Distorted reflections. Images. Moments frozen in time. I bend down to get a closer look at the picture before my feet. I don’t touch it. It is covered with stickiness. I am sitting on the couch in an EMDR therapy session. Body. Stiff. Eyes. Dismal. I remember this session. My eyes are moving left to right. Watching the small red circle. Left to right. Right to Left. Trance. Transported. From an adult on this couch to a child in his bed. My body jolted by this abruptness of time travel.

My body. Shaken.

My body. Awakened.

My body.

Aroused?

My body. BETRAYING.

Confused by this incongruous response.

Enraged as shame expands in my throat, leaving no room to speak. Silent.

Burdened by the evidence that I am broken.

My eyes too heavy to meet those of my therapist.

She speaks but I don’t hear her; the voices are too loud.

How could my body do this to me?

How could my body respond with arousal to such a horrendous thing as this?

How could you betray me?

ANSWER ME! Damn it!

Betray you?

I… betrayed you?

Look around this altar. It is you that has betrayed me. I carry the scars made by your hands. I store the memories in my cells. My skin. My flesh. Forever changed. How you have hated ME. Destroyed ME. Abandoned ME. Despite my numerous sacrifices. Who is it that holds the darkness?

His darkness.

Their darkness.

Your darkness.

Pain. Sadness. Anger. Rage. Shame. Grief.

Placed all in my hands so that your little mind wouldn’t succumb to demise.

It is ‘I’ who remembered so the brain could forget.

Until it was ready.

Until you were ready.

It is I who has lugged this around for years. Dragging. Holding. Gripping.

Struggling to stay strong. Fighting to stay well. An impossible feat for such a place as this.

Years of sleepless nights. Screams. Disturbing. Waking. Breaking.

Trapped in this sanctuary.

This prison.

Waiting.

Year after year.

Waiting.

Day after day.

Wondering if you will ever return. Wondering when and if I am to be released from this defiled place. This darkness. This altar. Wondering if I will ever be more. More than sacrificial slaughter for these gods of stained sheets. These gods of broken beds. Wondering. Wanting. Waiting. To feel more. See more. Do more. Be more. To be free.

I did not betray you.

Perhaps there could be compassion for what I’ve been through? I did not ask to be awakened so young. To be aroused before I could even read or comprehend the meaning of such a word. I did not want that any more than you. Abuse guised as love and affection. Pain camouflaged as pleasure. I am meant to be awakened; to be aroused. To feel pleasure. But it was not meant to take place on these beds. It was not meant to take place when I was so small. So fragile.

I am just as confused as you.

I did ‘not’ betray you.

On the contrary. I have carried the weight of His hunger. Their hunger. Your hunger.

And each time. I was the one left starving.

Selah.

I inhale slowly. Mouth open, I release. Out into the atmosphere.

I look ahead. Behind the altar are two doors. One Copper. One Gray. I head to the door on the farthest left. Copper. I reach for the handle. Twist the knob. It opens in my direction. I walk in. There is light shining through the cracks of the broken windows. The room is smaller than the main sanctuary floor, making it easier on my eyes to absorb what is contained in this space. There’s a painting of a tiger hanging on the wall. Two green sofas. There are games everywhere. Monopoly. Operation. Yahtzee. Decks of cards throughout. A basketball. Two cabbage patch dolls. Trolls. Jump Ropes. Drawing pads and pencils. An abundance of books; easily a hundred. I am in the living room of my childhood home. I notice two small chests on the coffee table. I walk over to inspect its contents. The box on the left is wooden. Scratched. Faded. Tarnished with the stickiness I have come to expect. It has only my name written on it. I explore this one first. Carefully opening, determined not to leave with any of the stickiness on my hands. So far, successful. Photos. Myself. My siblings. Our mom. Our dad. Photos of parades with our mom. Photos of fishing trips with our dad. Road trips up north. Memories. School plays. Field trips. Christmas. Wrapping paper everywhere. Games. Thanksgiving dinners together. Old photos. Sticky photos. Surely there was at least one still intact? Searching. Delicately. Anxiously. Almost to the end of the stack. Hopelessness materializing in my bones. Wait. I think I see one, unscathed. The very last one. Or would it be the first? I pull it close. Hold it with the fullness of my hands. I am five in this picture. My hair is in little ponytails. I am smiling. Wide. Teeth showing. Chubby cheeks. Bright. Curious. Undefiled. I hold the picture to my chest, savoring this moment. It is the only picture I have been able to fully grasp. I place it in my pocket.

I observe the second chest. Glass. Clean. No stickiness. It has the names of all my siblings. My name is not included. I discover it has the same pictures that were in my chest. The same photos but a stark difference. All untouched. Unharmed. Unspoiled. He had not torn through their veils with his darkness. They had not carried the weight of his soul. I look at a picture of my mom and all of us. I look in the faces and eyes of my siblings. Why do they get to have memories unscathed? I look at them. Together. I look at me. Separate. Detached. And I remember. The resentment. Theirs. Mine. I remember the loneliness. The type of loneliness that finds you at three in the morning. Dark. Quiet. Every sound magnified. Unsettling. Undeniable. The stillness of the night refusing to conceal. Refusing to pretend. I remember. The anger. My anger. Explosive. They had all felt the power of its blast. I was the raving one. The crazy one. The rebellious one. I remember. How they had called me the devil; how fitting a name for the hell of his darkness. If only they had known the numerous ways in which my soul was tortured. The toll my body paid. The price of being ‘daddy’s girl.’ The cost of his hunger. Ravenous. Insatiable. The cost of my hunger. Craving. Aching.

I look into the eyes and face of my mom. Rage moves like fire through my body. Burning. Boiling. Where was she when these beds were formed? How could she not have known? Not sensed anything. Weren’t mothers supposed to protect? And was she not also to blame for my hunger? Her arms incapable of holding. Leaving me starving. Empty. Just waiting for him to fill. Had she not left me alone? Rotting. Wasting. In the dungeon of his darkness. If only she had been a light, guiding me out. If only she had been a safe harbor instead of someone I also needed to seek shelter from.

Breaking under the weight of these pictures, I unload them in the glass box. I pick up my box and empty its photos into theirs. I set it back down, pick up the glass box, walk to the door and push it open. I turn back around. With all the strength in me, I hurl the glass box against the wall. I watch as the photos fall. Watch as the glass breaks. Watch as it shatters into the atmosphere.

I walk out the door. Closing it with such force, the sound echoes through the room.

I look at the second door. Gray.

I look back at the entrance to the sanctuary. Temptation.

I take a deep breath. My feet propel forward. The second door is just ten steps from the first. I place my hand on the knob, twist and push the door open. I step in. It looks similar to the room before. The same cracks in the window. The same light. The same size. Only there are no games. No books. No dolls. Nothing on the floor. Two gray sofas. A gray coffee table with a large gray chest atop; the size of the previous two combined. The walls. Gray. No tiger painting but instead portraits of my siblings. Adults. Each one in their own frame. My mom. In her own frame. I walk around the room, looking at each picture. Each photo. Each being.

I walk to the coffee table. I open the chest. Similar pictures as the ones before, but these are all clean. And the eyes and faces are different. We are happy. Together. I am not separate in these photos. And there’s more. Pictures of me with my dad. No stickiness. Pictures of my mom holding me. Face bright. Eyes big. Smile real.

What is this? Is this some kind of joke?! I toss the pictures back inside. The room is changing.

Suffocating. Enclosing. Choking. Grief lodging in my throat.

I can’t breathe.

Grief.

Blocking.

Grief.

Strangling.

Grief.

Squeezing.

Crushed under its force. Formless.

Fetal.

Feeling.

Flooding.

Waves…

Of truth.

Waves…

Of longing.

Waves…

Of loss.

Truth.

Unveiling. Exposing. Releasing.

Longing.

Love. Belonging. Family.

Loss.

Childhood. Innocence. Safety.

Childhood.

What I would give to have memories untainted by his darkness.

To have a mother who I could show the beds to.

Tell her how the stains got there. How they had left me feeling dirty.

How was my little body ever to get clean on its own?

Innocence.

Kidnapped. My purity, the ransom for his hunger.

Safety.

Will the ground ever stop moving beneath me?

I stand up, preparing myself to leave. I look around the room again. My eyes meet hers. Her photo. The farthest from mine. I walk over. Stare into her eyes.

Seeing. Perhaps for the first time.

Listening. Her eyes. Telling.

Books of pain. Stories of sadness. Chapters of grief.

Hearing. Her eyes speaking.

I would have given more if only I had known how.

I never wanted to leave you starving.

Denying my own hunger, left me incapable of feeding yours.

I didn’t know how to be a safe harbor. My ship. Always at sea.

I could navigate rough waters. I could keep us alive.

How I wish I had learned to anchor at the dock.

Rest in the stillness. Bask in the sunlight.

Light.

Pulled you from the darkness. His darkness.

But you were not alone in that dungeon. For I too carried the weight of his soul.

I look into her eyes.

I see loneliness.

I see ache.

I see strength.

I look into her eyes.

I feel.

Compassion.

Forgiveness.

Hope.

I feel.

Love

I walk back to the door, out of this room and into the open sanctuary floor. I face the door. Still behind the altar, I begin moving in its direction. Walking a different path than the one I had taken to get here. After a few steps, I notice another container. This one looks like one of those photo boxes they sell at art stores, except it is twenty times the size. I carefully move its lid and look through. More photos. More memories. People. Faces, I remember. Faces, I’ve forgotten. Friends. Losses. Every picture. Every memory. Tainted with stickiness. Shame always coming back to the surface. People I couldn’t love. People who couldn’t love me. People I couldn’t ‘let’ love me. For I had not really known what love was. Love was pain. Love was abuse. Love had been a distorted concept. Theories formed by the principles of these beds. Photos. People who had tried to give to me. People I had tried to give to; attempting to feed them while my own hunger went unnourished. People who tried to feed my hunger, only too soon to realize that my appetite was insatiable. For I had not yet done the work of filling myself. Of loving myself. Wholly. Completely. I had not yet connected to the immense love of the Universe. The endless love of the One whose love fills. Overflows. The One whose love freed me from my cage. The One whose love has moved with me through this sanctuary. Loving. Healing. Restoring. Always present. Always enough. Always.

I began walking to the entrance. When I reach the door, I look out over this sanctuary. And I let out a long sigh of relief. What now? I feel an urge to look down. Kerosene oil and a box of matches. I pick up the kerosene oil. Walk through the sanctuary, tossing it over every bed, over the altar and inside the rooms. I walk back to the entrance. Pick up the box of matches. Remove one. Lift my hand. Turn my head to the right.

Wait.

What’s that? Under the bed? Under his bed. Is that…

I set the box of matches down and walk over to the bed.

I push it aside.

And…

Another door!

White. In the floor. What could possibly be here?

No doorknob. Instead a circle door handle. I pull it open.

White light floods the room.

There are steps leading down into the unknown.

I lower down into the opening and walk down the steps. There’s a hallway about ten feet long. And a single glass door where it ends. I walk slowly down the hallway. White walls. No stickiness. No darkness exists in this place.

I get to the door. I reach for the handle and twist. It is locked. I look through the glass into the room. The room expands beyond my vision.

I see a colorful mural on the wall. A small white bookshelf filled with children’s books. Coloring books and crayons on the floor. A play mat. I press my face as close to the glass as I can, trying to take in more of the room. Right at the edge, I see a shape. A shadow.

Is someone in there?

I knock on the door.

The shadow now moving. The shape coming closer.

I catch my breath, unaware that I had stopped breathing.

I drop to my knees as the gravity of this moment draws me in.

I stare at them through the glass. They stare back.

Eyes: Big and Wide. Curious. Questioning. Scared. Face soft. Innocent. Full. Chubby cheeks.

Hair in little ponytails.

We stare. I at them. They at me.

We stare, as if meeting each other for the first time yet knowing we were always meant to be.

We stare.

And then they walk away.

“Wait. Don’t go.” Unsure if they could hear me through the glass.

I watch as their little body becomes a shape again. A shadow.

It moves again. Coming back. I see them. Holding something in their hand.

They bend down and push it under the door and then walk away.

I look down at the floor. The key!

I quickly unlock the door. Burst in. Tearful. Joyful.

They are sitting in a purple plush chair, facing away from the door.

I walk over to the front of the chair. Bend down.

Their head rises. Tears streaming down their face.

“Oh, love. Have you been here all this time?”

They nod, slowly. “I was waiting for you. It is scary up there.”

Their voice small. Squeaky.

I reach out and touch their face. Wipe their tears.

“Oh, love. I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I know it is scary. You are safe now. I’m here. I have you.”

They look at me. “Can I go now?”

I smile, reassuringly.

“Yes, love. Let’s go.”

I scoop them up, gently in my arms. Lift them onto my torso. They wrap their arms around me. Tight.

I carry them out the room. I carry them down the hall. I carry them up the stairs. I carry them to the entrance. Door wide open. I look out.

Blue skies. Birds soaring.

Trees. Vibrant. Full. Flourishing. Fruitful. So much fruit.

I see a rack with two white garments. Hanging. Flowing.

I set them down. We stand in the entryway. I remove my shoes. Their shoes. I remove my clothes. Their clothes. I toss our clothes and shoes into the atmosphere. We will carry no residue from this place.

I pick up the box of matches. Strike the match and toss it into the abyss.

We walk out into the open. We put on our new garments. White. Clean. I pick them up. We walk further out into the green pasture. Letting the flames devour the darkness of this place. Letting the flames destroy everything in the atmosphere. It can burn.

We will build a new sanctuary. Not on these grounds. It could never dwell here.

We build a new sanctuary. Fill it with light. Fill it with love.

We build it in this new place. This beautiful place. This flourishing place.

Where we are free.

Kai Alexzander Love

Love and be loved, dear ones.

May we all be free from our cages. May we all be connected to the One whose love is endless. May we all be FREE.

Photo by Tara Evans on Unsplash

Kai Alexzander Love

-I came here for love

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