I don't know how long I wandered.
There comes a time, when you are alone and wandering, when you realize you are lost. There is fear. Anxiety. Worry you will never find your way out. The unknown stretches before you. How long will you wander before you find your way out, or someone finds you? No idea.
Then the thought comes: Oh god, I'm going to be lost forever.
I think my fear of being "lost forever" has been one of the most powerful driving forces in my life.
How many times had I shown up for work at one of my many dead-end jobs and just been struck with that visceral clarity --when my ears buzzed with that high-pitched whine, my vision became superhumanly sharp, and time slowed almost to a full stop-- when I realized "Dear God, I'm going to be doing this for the rest of my life."
My responses to this realization have ranged from immediate resignation to frighteningly violent nausea.
I liken it to my other constant realization, one which has been so constant I can almost consider it a defining characteristic of my not-self: "This isn't who I am."
Whenever I stood quietly and let someone verbally abuse me. When I said, "no thank you" and my boundaries were violated anyway and I let them for the sake of peace and not looking like a tantrum-throwing brat because my graceful no was ignored. Whenever I was mistreated at work. Whenever I smiled and played along at stupid family gatherings for my spouse and realized nobody there gave a shit about who I was anyway. Whenever I cleaned, or cooked, ran errands, kept the house running smoothly, or did anything I could to warm the hearth in the home I was trying to build, and had to sit and listen to what a lazy, worthless piece of shit I was.
It's amazing how nearly identical the two feelings are. The only difference between the two is that the sharp, encompassing panic of "I'm going to be lost forever" has fermented over time into the quiet resignation of "This isn't who I am" when there is no visible escape.
Not a very enjoyable experience, this one. Looking about the ruins of my beloved Delenaland, I wondered which had brought it to ruin: the sharp and mindless panic, or the slow erosion of resignation?
Perhaps panic had blasted it apart, and erosion had caused the ever-present dust and the worn edges of the rubble.
As I sat there digesting these things I would've rather not faced, there was a flicker at the corner of my eye. I turned just in time to see a...shape...a blur, meld into a pillar. I raced after it.
"Hello? I know you're there!"
Two more days passed just like that, chasing something that wasn't there.
I was sitting in the fading light and singing softly to myself, trying to remember all the lyrics to Rhinestone Cowboy, when the faint scrape of dust on stone came to me from somewhere behind me and to the right. I ignored it and kept singing.
Well, I really don't mind the rain,
and a smile can hide all the pain.
But you're down when you're ridin' the train
that's taking the long way...
Again from the corner of my eye, I saw the stone take form. Or maybe form came out of the stone? Or maybe it just came out from its hiding place behind the stone. At this point I didn't care; it had evaded me for so long, I really couldn't remember how many weeks I'd been in the chamber.
I finished Rhinestone Cowboy and launched right into I've Got You Under My Skin. I was never very good remembering songs; I could hear the melodies of thousands of songs in my head. Once I heard it once, I knew it forever. But lyrics? Yeah right.
All these new songs I liked, I couldn't sing on my own worth a damn. The only ones I remembered were from when I was a kid, and later the Broadway and musical hits I'd performed in my show choirs.
So I ran through what I remembered. And I ignored that flicker at the very corner of my vision. And for some reason I sang what I could of Fire and Rain. About sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.
When I was done, the dark had almost completely fallen. I lay where I had sat all that time, knowing nothing would come out of the dark and attack; nothing had in all that time, and nothing would.
Daylight came a few hours later. Everything about me was still, as it had been every single day before. With nothing else to do, I got up to continue wandering, knowing that at some point I would come out of this "Holy crap, I'm lost" feeling into the "I'm not lost, I'm right here" mentality, where time and place forgot to be significant anymore.
About fifteen paces from where I had spent the night, there was a flat rock about two paces long and one wide.
And upon that flat surface was the first sign of life other than my own I had ever seen in this place: two narrow, oblong strips where the dust had been cleared. And by the edge, mirror images of a half-moon mark. Like prints in the dust.
Like butt prints in the dust, to be more precise. The half-moon marks were probably hand prints where my unseen company had rested their weight, fingers curled over the edge.
They were small, whoever they were. And they had sat so still there was no smudge in the prints. No shifted weight, no fidgeting. Just those perfect little butt prints.
I sighed. "How come I can never get the exciting stuff others get, huh? They get flaming bushes or talking birds, good fairies and unicorns. I get butt prints."