Its always there, the black ice. Not the kind that lies beneath the pretty illusion of a fresh, white snowfall, but the kind seen from below, the kind that grows above the unwitting swimmer and traps her beneath its unyielding, opaque weight. I swim for months, in this case for years on the warm, buoyant current of illusions and small consolations and then look up to see that there is no way to surface. There is really no way to break through and breathe, no point in battering my head against the wall above my head. I am down, staying down, unable even to feel the tears that leak and become cheap as they mix with the surrounding salt water of despair, self-pity, and resignation. I am down.
I ruminate now, grasping onto a scrap of poetry or a song lyric and repeating it to myself like a mantra, as if turning it over in my brain will trigger some shift of neurons and make me happy, capable, and powerful again. I have no power at the moment, no charm, nothing much to offer. I have become a ghost as transparent as the water of misery that surrounds me, moving unseen through the world and hoping for nothing more than the ability to maintain, compensate, appear to be swimming vigorously and purposefully. I don’t want to be seen like this, and I keep thinking that in a day or so it will end. I will feel a rush of interest in some snippet of life – the comfort of a purring cat, the beauty of a strain of Brahms, the domestic siren song of freshly washed sheets or a loaf of bread. Now I feel nothing; I am down.
I want someone to save me, fix me, and show me the night sky with no obscuring scrim of ice. I know, though, that there is really nothing but the beating of my own heart, and the broken machine that is my brain. There is no rescuer, no outside source of warmth and safety once a person is an adult. There is no one with me as I float below the surface unseen, unmoored, submitting to the motion of the dark, cold water. There is no one standing on the shore calling to me, chartering a boat to find me, or bending down to peer through the ice to catch a glimpse of my pale skin and the hair that floats free from gravity in oddly beautiful patterns. Connection, compassion, community are all illusions. The people of the world, of my life, are thinking about work, and supper, vacations and television shows. I remember, keenly, living among them and navigating sure-footed across dry land.
I am going to stop fighting for a bit, use no more energy kicking up towards the ice to see if I am strong enough to make a hole and crawl to safety. I will float, merely noting the salt tears, the heart that beats too fast, and the emotions muted to near silence by the enveloping water. I will let myself float gently to the bottom and rest there, noting the sand beneath me, and the roots of the graceful, waving flora. I will conserve, not resist, make only the smallest movements and try to slow even the flow of my blood until the time I am ready to kick hard, push up, through, and out into the world above the ice. For now, still, small and invisible, I am down.