Life is cast in light and shadows Some days, the darkness devours me whole Wraps around my mind, body and soul Dragging me down to the unknown Down, Down, Down… A bottomless pit, an endless void Smothering every sliver of light Shadows dissipate until darkness is all that exists My psyche clawing, demanding to find the lone ember The ember of light in this vault of nothing Kindling in the distance, embracing the faded flame The burn of a torch spearing through my cold frame A beacon, beckoning me Igniting the entity that illuminates inside Tugging me back to the ether An exhausting game of tug and war A lonely battle for a dark star - A. Stuebbe
That’s all anybody wants, right?
To feel safe and warm all night
Finding herself held tight in his embrace
Her heart frantically begins to race
His searing green eyes drink her in
Sparks ignite against her petal soft skin
Tangled in cold sheets until first light
Welcoming the morning rays that shine bright
Admiring the glints of yellow glowing across his face
As her fingertips lightly caress his jaw at a lazy pace
Her heart soaring knowing this is not a fantasy
Because he centers her, becoming her gravity
Happy wife happy life? But what about happy husband happy life…?
Is this never said simply because it doesn’t rhyme?
I always, ALWAYS hear the first phrase, never the latter. How is that fair? Husband and wife, we are equals. Give each other 100%.
Ladies, if you find yourself reading this, then let this be a reminder that we are not more deserving than our spouse when it comes to happiness. Mom’s are always saying they will raise their sons to treat a women right, but what about your daughters? Teach them to treat men right.
I understand there are good people, and there are bad people. But, there is too much expectation on singling men out for how they treat us. And I am talking about everything aside from common courtesy and being polite. Men need women to go the extra mile and find ways to make them smile. Even if it’s the little things.
So, here’s what I say. Let’s stop the stigma and treat men how they have been told to “treat” us.
… And that’s the tea.
The light would fade in an hour, and darkness will take over the forest. I could see my breath and feel the crisp, cold air straight to my bones. The breeze’s bitterness made my body feel stiff and my muscles burned with every step I took, but now I have slowly started feeling numb. My threadbare clothing underneath my cloak does nothing against the frigid air. Hunger was consuming my every thought, and I felt my body struggling to keep pushing forward as exhaustion was slowly creeping in. I have been traveling since early this morning and am thankful that the snow has not started to fall yet. Winter is close to arrival, making my task at survival that much harder.
Deciding I need to rest and replenish some energy, I gathered up some wood for a fire and will try to shut my eyes for a few hours. I hated not being aware of my surroundings when I had to sleep; it makes me an easy target to the hunters who have been after me since I was young. Prior to starting the fire, I needed to hunt before the sun completely vanishes from the sky. Retrieving my bow and arrow, my limbs protesting as I began my search, hoping this wouldn’t be another fruitless hunt like yesterday. The animals have been scarce since snow is almost here. All I have left in my bag is the end of a stale loaf of bread.
Twigs and leaves crunch underfoot as I slowly scoured the forest. Crouching beside a tree, trying to ease my breathing, and straining to listen for any hint of game passing by. Readying my bow as slight movement rustled the bush ahead. Holding my breath, my stomach aching for food, a rabbit appeared in my line of sight. I needed to be as efficient and silent as can be. I drew my bow back, feeling the smooth wood against my cheek, readying my aim. I was reasonably good with a bow, I learned when I was young since it was my primary way of filling my hunger, aside from the minor stealing I have had to do. Drawing my bow back a little farther, I took my shot. Letting the arrow race towards its intended target and I would have hit my mark, but something soared overhead that startled what would have been my supper.
Glancing upward to where the moonlight is slowly filtering through the trees, searching for anything overhead. The forest around me became eerily quiet; the only sound I could hear was my pounding heart and the faintest whirl of the wind brushing the leaves. The hair on the back of my neck prickled, my body and mind frozen but alert. Substantial black wings zoomed above the trees as quick as lightning. Panic seized me, clutching my bow and arrow as I took off through the woods. The will to live overpowered my body, demanding me to rest. Racing between trees, dodging branches, and leaping over roots, my lungs stinging from the exertion. Before I could form my next move, pain blasted me in the back of my head, and everything went black.
The light started filtering in as I began to peel my eyes open. My head pounding as I took in my surroundings. The contrast from the vast darkness that overtook me to the blinding light caused me to squint. How long have I been out? Where am I? Fear gripped me as reality caught up to me. My vision blurred for a minute before my eyes could fully adjust. The room was cold and musty; the stench of urine and something rotten instantly made me nauseous. The floors were damp, the old tattered brick walls were stained with dry blood. Probably from the previous victims that were captured. With force, the truth settled in my chest as if it was being crushed by a stone; they caught me. Shit.
I have been hunted my whole life by the demons, and I still have yet to figure out why. I am just an orphaned human girl; my parents died in a house fire when I was twelve and have been on my own for 10 years. Unable to settle anywhere for long, I have not been able to make friends either, especially the part of putting them in danger. Every few months, I have to find a new location to lay low for a while. Why do the immortals want me? I have no ties to the supernatural realm. Looks like my luck has run out. Escaping wasn’t on my side this time. I didn’t even get a fighting chance; they knew my location earlier than expected and ambushed me. Now I am chained in some wretched cell, the sharp cuffs digging into my skin. I stalked up towards the thick iron bars peering down the hall. A clinking sound snapped my attention to the cell adjacent to me, and I sucked in a breath. Another girl who looked a little younger than me stared at me with wide eyes, curled up in the corner. Her clothes were torn and covered in filth, her skin pale, and her body looked haggard from whatever suffering she has endured. Her brown hair is dull, cheeks sunken in, and dark circles under her fear-filled eyes.
Carefully I lowered myself to her level to try and get some answers from her. “Where are we?” She stayed silent; maybe she was mute or too scared to simply talk. I crossed my legs on the floor and tried again. “My name is Natalia; what is yours?” She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She swiftly glanced around and whispered so soft that if I wasn’t so focused on her, I would have missed it. “Elise.”
Phew. Okay, not mute. I tried again. “Are you able to tell me where we are exactly?”
She double-checked to make sure we were alone again before she quietly spoke. “In the realm of the underworld. The Dark King’s castle.”
My jaw hit the floor … did she just say the underworld and Dark King?! What the hell would he want me for? I have done nothing to him! Putting my fear and confusion aside, I wondered why Elise was here. “Were you hunted down too?”
She tilted her head slightly, turning over what I just asked. “No … my mother could not pay off her debt, so he took me as a prisoner in exchange. Uhm, did you say hunted?”
I regarded her curiosity that hung onto her question, but before I could say another word, footsteps sounded down the hall. I took a quick glance at her and watched her cower closer to her corner. Dragging her knees to her chest and tucking her chin down. I was terrified and lost, but I did not want to show an ounce of fear. I needed to shove that down right now and put on a strong front.
Three mountainous-sized men appeared in front of my cell. Two of them looked like pure blood demons with their grayish skin, horns, bat-like wings, and pale eyes. Their stare felt like they could see into my soul, causing me to want to shrink back. The third one was slightly different looking; maybe he was half-demon? His wings were black but with soft, beautiful feathers, no horns, golden skin, and searing green eyes. His eyes widened when he noticed me, but just as fast, his eyes hardened again.
The one pure-blooded demon banged on the iron bars with the handle of his sword. “Well, well, aren’t you a pretty little witch.” He spat, seeming intrigued and disgusted at the same time. Wait… witch? They definitely got the wrong girl. I gave him no reaction, just a cold hard stare. Clenching my fist to help me focus on not making the wrong move. The demon unlocked my cell, grabbed my chains, and yanked me across the floor to him. My knees banged on the ground and I landed on my side. He leaned over, getting in my face, “Let’s have some fun with this witchling, shall we?” He went to kick me in the ribs, but before the blow could land on me, he was thrown back into the wall. The third demon, who looked different, glared at his companion.
“NO harm is to come to her, Amon! Those were direct orders from the Dark King.” This man was seething and was about one second away from ripping someone’s head off. He stalked towards the demon, who apparently is Amon, and grabbed him by the front of his armored tunic. “Get out of my sight! Both of you! Let me deal with the witch.” The two demons bared their teeth but followed his orders, nonetheless.
Once they were gone, the half-demon crouched down next to me, offering a hand. I shoved his hand away out of anger and got up on my own. When I looked up at him, it seemed like there was concern in his eyes. He stood up and folded his arms in front of his chest. “I’m Damien and am on your side” Hold up… what the heck?!
“What side?! You DEMONS have the wrong girl! I’m human, not a witch! Is this why you have been hunting me? Because your “Dark King” thinks I’m someone else?!” I was fuming, and from all the confusion, lack of food, and just overall being kidnapped, I took it out on him. I am pissed.
He took a deep breath in and sighed. “Look, Natalia, I can’t get into all the details now, but I am here to help you escape. I have been here for years undercover in case you were brought in so I could make sure the Dark King doesn’t get his hands on you.” I stared at him in shock. Before I could say a word, he continued. “To be blunt, you are a witch who was hidden amongst the humans. The Dark King wants to drain you of your powers to have them for himself and become even more powerful. We can’t let that happen; I need to get you out of here. I can explain the rest once you are safe again.”
I eyed him suspiciously, not sure if I can trust him. But what other option do I really have? I need to get out of here, and then I’ll process everything he just told me; it’s too much right now. I peered over at Elise. “Okay, but I won’t leave unless Elise comes with us.” He looked confused and jerked his head towards her cell. He sighed, closed his eyes, and swiped his hand down his face. Dragging his stare back to me. “Fine. But she will need to do what I say and keep her mouth shut. This is already risky enough. I will be back at nightfall.”
*This is a creative non-fiction story that is based on my own personal past. A journey that shaped who I am today, and impacted my view on life. After years of keeping my inner thoughts to myself, I feel a sense of relief to write it down and put it out there for you to read.*
Normal Is Overrated
Lying in my twin-sized bed, staring up at the old faded stars stuck on the ceiling. At some point over the years, they stopped glowing, and I have been too dang lazy to take them down. It’s dark now. Leaving my window open to feel the crisp fall breeze filter inside and letting my thoughts drift with it. Four years. That is how long I have been imprisoned in this unknown agony. Trapped in my own body, my personal cage. My soul is wild and unbound, craving to do everything my body is denying. Forcefully squeezing my eyes shut, I clutch the downy blanket underneath me as I fist my hands. Not fair. This anger and frustration are pushing me to the edge of being defeated. Wanting to let myself succumb to the sadness within. I’m only 13 and 9 when this all began. Four long years of numerous doctors, tests, physical therapy. All were stating that there is nothing they can do, possibly arthritis or something I will outgrow. But this pain abusing my hips feels like a knife is slashing through my joints relentlessly. Depriving me of running, walking with being forced to limp, and even hindering me from putting on my own damn socks. Helpless. My eyes burn as a single tear wanders down my cheek as I drift off to sleep. Mentally preparing myself for another doctor’s appointment tomorrow and seeing no hope in sight.
The following day, I was sitting in University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. Another waiting room in a different hospital, but they all began to look the same. The warn leather seat I’m sitting in does nothing for comfort. I start mindlessly scraping my nail over the rough edges of a tear in the cushion while silently watching people shuffle around the halls. My mom sits impatiently next to me as we wait to be called back for my MRI the doctor requested before meeting him. Checking in and answering the nurse’s questions feel robotic to me now. Time dragged on before we were called back. The MRI tech informed me that I would be receiving a contrast dye intravenously before the scan begins. The pinch from the needle was minor, and I could feel the dye’s chilled liquid creep through my veins. A sudden rush of metal and a tang of bitterness overflowed my taste buds. The scan was almost tranquil, even if this platform I lay on is unwelcomely cold. Goosebumps raised on my arms as a shiver swept over me. Closing my eyes, enjoying the steady hum of the machine and savoring this unperturbed moment.
An hour later, the nurse sent me to the doctor’s room to wait. I figured I should try to make myself comfortable in this faded brown suede chair since it will be awhile. My mom next to me began flicking her nails. Ugh. The sound of it makes me cringe. Every. Single. Time. Before I tell her to stop, she starts to enlighten me about what she feels might be “wrong with me” from her latest search on Google. My mother thinks Google knows all and can “cure” me. Restraining from rolling my eyes, I ignore her and glance around the room. Just another white, sterile, and impersonal space that smells like disinfectant. My chest begins to feel tight, but why? I have no hope left to give. Maybe it’s nerves or the depressing expectation of another dead end. Amid my thoughts, a knock sounded right before the door edged open. The doctor ushered himself inside, his face brightening offering us a cheerful smile causing the corners of his eyes to wrinkle. He reached out his hand to introduce himself.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Hashkis. So nice to meet you!”. He beamed, gently shaking my hand.
I looked up hesitantly as I shook his rough, calloused hand. “Hi… Ali. But you probably already knew that.”
He nodded in agreement. Then proceeded to introduce himself to my mom. I braced myself for what he was going to say next. I could see his eyes vaguely dim as he crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the counter. His smile softened as he looked at me. The pounding of my heart began to quicken. My breath caught when he started to speak.
“The contrast dye that was administered for your MRI scan allowed me to see a more in-depth view compared to a regular scan. What I found was cysts on your hips that are slowly causing those joints to deteriorate. In simpler terms, your body is attacking itself.”
I think I blacked out. Not sure if I was still breathing. Shell-shocked. Dr. Hashkis noticed my distress and continued speaking before I could ask what all this meant.
He uncrossed his arms, folding his hands in front of him—sympathy in his eyes. “I need to be blunt on this, and I apologize. Your diagnosis is called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which is an autoimmune disease. Your case is rare since, typically, this is most common in someone much older. Then, add that there is no family history with this disease that you are aware of. Unfortunately, there is no cure. There are treatments, though. You are so young, and I am afraid if you do not start treatment… you will need a hip replacement by the time you turn 20.”
My eyes were burning from the tears that I struggled to hold in. This doctor just laid it all out there. My chest felt like it was just ripped open. My mom began rubbing my back, asking about the treatments, while I retreated to my internal chaos.
The doctor turned those empathetic eyes back on me. “I want to start treatment today. This will be in the form of injections twice a week, and we can provide your first one here to show you. The shots will need to be administered behind your arms, stomach, or the top of your thighs. The medicine will help, though, significantly.”
No words left my mouth; I just nodded and let my mom discuss the rest of the details. Well… I got my answer I so desperately wanted. Was I ready to face it? Do I have a choice? No. No choice. I am being forced to dive headfirst before I can even grasp my new reality. NOT CURABLE. Those words constantly cycling in my head. Devastation. Confusion. WHY ME?! I should be thankful the doctor found the reason for my pain. But, why do I feel so frustrated towards him? How awful can I be to be mad at the one person who provided an answer? Deep down, I knew why… it was an answer I did not want to hear. My head dropped down, my eyes downcast, my hair falling over my shoulders, and the tears that threatened to fall finally let loose. Each drop trailed down my face, speckling my denim jeans. I felt broken.
That night I holed myself in my room, keeping the lights off and drowning in my own misery. My mother now looked at me with pity, as did the rest of my family. I just want to be “normal” like the other kids. Clenching my teeth together, I tucked myself deep in my closet, pressing my face to my pillow, and screamed my bloody heart out. My throat ached as I crawled back in bed. An unforgiving pounding started intruding my head. No more tears would fall tonight as I welcomed the blackness that swept over me, allowing me to escape this harsh truth that was now my life.
I’m ashamed of myself for the maddening thoughts I have, even though a month has passed. Staring at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, taking in the bruises that marred my body. The injection sights stayed permanently sore each week. This darkness that invades my thoughts is not who I am—becoming infuriated with myself. Why am I wallowing around when so many others have it worse? The reality of that epiphany slapped me across the face. Dragging my gaze to my eyes, I stared directly at myself—determination washing over me.
A few months went by, and the pain was subsiding. I could run again. The door to my personal cage tore open. I ran and never stopped. I was reveling in the feeling of the wind brushing through my hair and against my face. The sound of my feet pounding on the concrete, pushing my legs as fast as they would allow. Arms pumping and lungs burning, I felt free.
With this new form of freedom, I joined the track and cross-country team in 8th grade and all through high school. I pushed my body to the limit every practice. I still felt that my disease was on display as if everyone could tell I was not “normal.” I kept my condition a secret from even my close friends. Afraid they would see me different, with pity-filled eyes.
I refused to feel helpless again, and a fire developed to keep my body strong. Punishing and demanding myself to exert more strength, I began improving. Finishing each race with a faster time. Reciting the well-known phrase “pain is weakness leaving the body.” I willed that to be accurate and exhausted myself each day, filling my need to do better.
*15 Years Later *
Sitting on the white wood bench, looking out at the crystal blue water of the ocean. The salty breeze billowing around me, seagulls soaring overhead, thinking back to when my life changed. My lips curved upward, wishing I could tell that little girl back then that everything will be okay. I began writing in my journal, becoming aware of the hardship I had to work through; that’s what made me stronger. The battle I had to face mentally in the past had fueled my will—a will to overcome those struggles. I’m proud that I made my body strong because at 28 years old, I still have not needed a hip replacement. My recent MRI scan showed no further damage inflicted on my hips. A sense of calm washed over me, taking a deep breath and exhaling. I looked up at the cloudless sky and huffed a laugh. Remembering that I just wanted to be “normal.” Smiling to myself, I knew with absolute clarity that normal is overrated.
What is our purpose? Where do we go from here?
This life we live is ours to take
People tell us what we should do, how we should think…
What’s the point?
Their meddling and unsolicited advice makes me want to drink
Craving the path that has not been traveled
Let them judge. Let them spew their biased opinions
The headache attached to them is not worth the hassle
Let us not follow the crowd
But to choose our own destiny and be proud.
Surges of crystal waves roll upon the shore
A wondrous sight that cannot be ignored
Life up here is quaint and peaceful
But appearances can be deceitful
Reeling me in like a magic trick
Only to pull me under lightning quick
Anchors tugging me down below
Darkness engulfing me nice and slow
Trapped undersea silently drowning
No one would hear if I tried shouting
Pain ricocheted from loss? Grief?
The bond severed; my trust stolen like a thief
These rugged scars placed on my heart
Retaliated by slowly tearing me apart
Accepting the end of motherly love
Willing the cold depths to take me, praying to God above
Blades of green swaying gracefully
The wind fluting dreamy melodies
White plumes floating up high
Birds chirping sweet lullabies
Rays of yellow making everything vibrant
Emotions filling with excitement
Greedily inhaling the open air
The fresh earthy scent is everywhere
The landscape so lush and serene
Disbelief as to how much of the world is unseen
Laying back to soak up the beams of the sun
Wishing time would stop, this feeling has me undone
The doubts fester and surface with fear
Fear she lost herself
Desires shoved up on a tattered shelf
Struggling, lost in the abyss
No one to save her, she’s been dismissed
The tears are casted aside, ignored
She fears no one truly cares anymore
How did she get here?
She’s lost and who she is just disappeared
The love for her has waned
His passion seems restrained
She wants to feel worth it
Her body to be worshipped
To show the desire
Rekindle the love that burned like fire
But there are parts of her he hates
The hurt sinks her heart with grievous weights
They’re change has caught up with reality
Praying to find herself and heat their love to a new degree
Inky clouds veiled the night sky, filtering in
Rain pelting on my porcelain skin
Sounds of God’s bowling from up above
A beautiful ballad to be sung
Deafening roars tumbled around
Then silence ascended, hearing no sounds
Streaks of white flared the world alight
Crackling loud, a magical sight
Ceaseless drops chilled my bones
Restless thoughts invade of the unknown
Sorrow absorbing all the air
Loneliness? Despair? I almost can’t bare
Vortex of winds swirl about
Frightening visions unfold as I cry out