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Her office is in shades of white and
blue, colors with names like ‘eggshell’ and ‘cream’ and
‘baby’s breath‘. I don’t know what kind of baby breathes like that
or why they’d name a color after the phenomenon, but I guess it’s
supposed to be soothing.
“Lily, how are you feeling?” the doctor asks. She smiles as I
walk in. It’s a soothing smile. I wonder if she practices that smile
in a mirror before sessions.
“Fine.” I sit down on an armchair of cerulean and beige. “I had
another dream last night.”
“A nightmare, you mean.”
All my dreams are nightmares. “Yes.”
“What happened? Take your time.”
I make a show of examining the armrest as my subconscious
sense-memory rises to the surface.
“I’m outside, walking. The sky is a flat gray and I can smell the
ocean. A few more steps and I stop, just short of the edge of a cliff.
It’s a drop a hundred feet down to the water, but I’m looking at
the sky. The very end of it, where it dips down into the sea and turns
over the other side. I want to be there.”
“In the water?”
“On the other side of the world. Off the face of the earth.”
“I see,” she says. She nods for me to continue.
“I jump. Then I’m falling, but only for a moment. My wings unfold,
feather tips skimming the surface of breaking waves. With each beat I
gain height until the clouds are closer than the cliff I fell from.
I’m still trying to reach the horizon, but I can get there through
the sky, like Far Away is one place and every path leads there as long
as you don’t stop. I can’t see the ocean anymore. Everything’s gray
and white and colorless wrapped around me, and all the blue is just
shadow under the clouds.” It’s perfect.
“Then… it’s wrong. I hear it before I feel it, a crack that
shakes my bones down to my spine. Pain claws into my back, like my
wings are being gouged and torn from my skin. But they’re still there,
big and clumsy as I fall, and it feels like they’re burning. I’m
reaching out but the clouds are steel wool and my hands are bleeding,
the skin on my back is scorching. I’m breaking. I think I’m going to
die, but I don’t. I keep falling and falling. It’s like a bottomless
pit where you’d starve before you hit the bottom, but this is the sky
and the pain will never end.” I meet her eyes.
The doctor’s response trips a step in her throat. “Then you wake
“Yes,” I lie. “And my back hurt again.”
Her lips tighten, but don’t speak. She leans forward in her seat and
looks at me as if she’s trying to read my soul in my face. I’ve
been judged like that before.
“You have wings in a lot of your dreams.”
“Do you know the story of Icarus?”
“The stupid boy who didn’t listen to his father and died because of
“Yes. He flew too close to the sun partly because of foolishness,
but partly because of his desire for freedom. Do you feel like you
lack freedom in your life?”
“I’m as free as I can expect to be.”
We talk in that vein for the rest of the session. Before I leave, she
writes me another prescription for painkillers. “For your back,”
she says. They won’t help. I’ve never admitted that the pain isn’t
in my back, but outside it. Connected to it. It’s the pain of limbs
that are no longer there, a phantom pain that sneers at prescriptions
from well-meaning doctors. I accept it. It’s the price of what I
did. I chose this life on the other side, over the edge of the clouds.
I wanted love and choices, things I could never have up there. But
sometimes, sometimes, I’d give anything to be in the air again. I
want to be soaring, everything I know just a pinprick in space,
getting closer to the sun and looking down on the birds I can only
look up to. This world looks better from afar.
I only fly in my dreams now. They all end the same way, in pain and
falling. But for a few sweet moments I’m in the sky again, and I’m
whole again. It doesn’t really hurt until I wake up.