On Fire, But Not Burning

Melanie is the product of someone’s imagination, a character in a story that is still being written. As she develops—as she is developed—she begins to question her existence in between her maker’s writing sessions. Why can’t she remember her childhood? What do the blank spaces mean? Why does she not feel free in the world? And most importantly, what if she wrote a book in which the main character is much better, stronger, and more beautiful than she could ever be? After all, books are written all the time, and always for the same reason, she suspects.

Melanie didn’t like her name. She thought it sounded too much like ‘melody’ and she didn’t like music either. She had no idea why. People are often told that their likes and dislikes are closely related to their fears, but she didn’t believe that. She couldn’t name anything she was afraid of that came with a soundtrack.

Everything passed through her like white noise, a mildly irritating sound-like the buzzing of a mosquito in the dark-that she wanted to block out as quickly as possible. Melanie thought of herself as odd, lacking the fine sensibility and love of musical complexity that everyone else seemed to possess, and did her best to hide it. She often thought that she should have studied music more as a child, but she couldn’t quite remember herself as a little girl; this was another thing she did her best to hide.

Most of the time, Melanie’s facial expression said, ‘I am still here, but I am already gone.’ Some found her mysterious and provocative, and learned to like that look, like a dark hint. Others found her sweet and gentle, but didn’t take her look as a hint of anything, for there seemed to be nothing behind it. No wild soul shaking the thunder from the sky, no creative courage of the young heart, no play in her eyes, no fire. Just dry logs. As poetic as it may seem in retrospect, at that moment it was just ugly and exhausting to be Melanie.

Fatigue only made way for more of the same. Often she wanted to break away from her body, quickly and loudly, as if in a car accident. To run from her skin and bones and muscles and fat and nerves and let it all fall to the floor, like a garment she’d been waiting to take off, fold up, and never put back on. So rough it felt and so badly she wanted to scratch it off, but she couldn’t tell anyone that, because people generally looked pleased with how they turned out. Melanie’s body, on the other hand, felt like a strange thing that she seemed to have hastily picked up on the way to becoming the wrong size and the dullest colour.

But her emotional landscape was a minefield. Colourful and juicy at first, sometimes huge monsters crept in, destroying her inner mechanisms and eating away at her heart. At least, that was the only way she could make sense of the seizures. There must have been such struggles inside her.

Melanie couldn’t decide if they were friends or if she wanted them dead on the floor, choking with a piece of her heart in their throats after trying to take over like that. It started with someone reaching inside her and tugging on all the wires, then moving the whole party there. The first kind of pain was the release, which hardly felt like pain at all, but more like a lightness that spread through her body from the blows. Then she would fall asleep and wake up moments later with ice-cold limbs, a razor-sharp mind, and a strange taste in her mouth.

At the bottom of her body was a little girl in a large transparent container without a lid. She was always small and always screaming, which Melanie could somehow swear were the same monsters. Her arms hugged her knees, her knees kissed her chest, and her whole body rocked back and forth like a carousel horse in a deserted park.

Melanie knew her because she came at her several times at full speed, followed by a fumble on the floor. She could peek through the fishbowl and watch the little girl circle around for a while, but never for long. Soon it would get dark and damp and sticky, and she’d try desperately to flip a switch, cut a string, shed her skin, float up so she wouldn’t feel so drowned anymore. Then she’d fall through, every time, without exception.

Both the duration and the intensity of it all made it hard to put two and two together once she was on the other side. Usually, Melanie was just glad she’d made it somewhere else. After a while she got used to seeing the little girl, so she usually shook her head, chin on her chest, and promised herself not to go again the next time. The little girl was not real, and she knew that, despite the magnetic pull to see more. You know when the reality you almost believe in is just a product of your imagination.

Her only fear was that one day she’d not know the difference, so often did the seizures occur. They weren’t frightening at all, except for the beginning. The dreams that brought them to life-or the life they brought her to-were always the same. She was in a kind of sweet short coma that whisked her away to a place where life hadn’t yet blossomed, but would at any moment. The near-emptying and the sense of possibility made it a beautiful experience.

You know that place between sleep and wakefulness where you’re still dreaming but slowly slipping away? That’s what it felt like. Melanie felt light but connected, like the one drop of water on the edge of the hurricane slowly dissipating in the storm. There was no struggle, no resistance. She wanted it all while she was there. Only in real life, in dear life, she thought about it and despised its power because she couldn’t understand it. On the side of the whirlwind, she was one with it. Almost one with it.

It was always cold and hazy in there. Melanie was probably swimming, but she couldn’t see anything. She couldn’t even see her own body, which was a nice change. Whatever she was made of in these strange dreams was completely invisible, blocking out any feeling. The only thing emanating from it was the occasional smoke rising from where her heart had been, but strong winds coming from all directions at once seemed to put out the invisible fire.

Melanie also doubted its existence in real life, but there she loved her fire with the fiery power of knowing that everything is fleeting. She knew she’d soon hate its absence again, but for a short time she could rejoice that it was only dormant. She might be small and gentle, with soft edges and a tired look, an obedient lapdog in her slap-in-the-face life, but in the bizarre dreams her creative, crazy self seemed to have created, she was the magnificent beast.

When she came back, her memories of the dark side of the world were like dreams fading at the edges as you shake off the night. She spread silence on toast, thick and crisp and flavoured with nostalgia, ate it in big bites and waited patiently for the damned devils to turn the magic back on. As much as she wanted to fight off the uninvited guests that forced themselves on her, she always fell asleep with a prayer. May they never give me peace…

For peace meant tossing and turning, living and bleeding until the secret chamber of the heart opened again and a monstrous, relentless wave of nothingness washed over her existence. These interruptions of life taught Melanie the importance of being somewhere else, of losing her religion, of feeling like she was coming home, to another time and place where she could be who she could be nowhere else.

And there was something else. Melanie didn’t believe in the little girl, but what if the little girl believed in Melanie? Melanie would have shaken her head again in disbelief, except it wasn’t so easy in the real world. The visions had claws here, long after they’d disappeared.

to be continued

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