She woke into silence for the first time in –
Hannah stopped to think. How long has it been since I’ve woken to silence?
Long enough that the silence and every joy that came with it seemed foreign and almost scary to her.
Like she had been walking through an underground maze for years and the walls had been covered by blow-up tubes to keep the vile dust and the sharp edges away.
But she knew from experience that those blown covers were all an illusion and the jagged rocks rarely cut her skin in the same place twice. She had made a choice a few years ago to test her innate lung filtration system against the coal dust. She had made a choice to walk the catacombs alone in the dark without indoor plumbing, without Modern Family, without the simple intimacy of shared experience with another human being that so many take for granted.
She knew the journey would be long. She knew it would be dangerous – though she had no idea how dangerous nor where exactly the danger lay (which was all part of the danger).
Hannah stopped for a minute, lifting her head in the coal dust storm to let out a wild yelp. She ran her hands along the bare, wet walls. Some would see it as an act of defiance. But it was an act of worship, for she cherished and honored the earth in all of Her beautiful forms. She bathed in this exquisite moment of freedom where she was given the blessing of connection.
If blood was meant to be, there would be blood.
All she asked was that any other wandering soul step back while the earth drank it in.
Hannah made it sound like there was no need for anyone to get their toes bloodied on her account, and this was true, but deep down, she also feared those who did not hesitate at the sight of tar-laced crimson tears.
She knew the earth would bring her home. She knew that if she could just balance her intake of water, which dripped through cracks in the cavern ceiling, with her bloodletting, that she would somehow make her way through the last tunnel and into the sunlight fully alive.
If she could do this, she could trust the sun to be gentle with her pale skin.
Hanna remembered when she was a teenager. She used to walk the tunnels at night while her parents slept. She walked them with determination, though to most it would appear a restless, aimless nervous habit. She was speaking with the curves. Learning what was hidden beneath the blown covers. How many steps until the next dip. Where the sharpest corners waited.
Though she never took time to imagine what true pain felt like. Somehow, she could tuck that away and focus only on the belief, the knowledge, the faith that she could handle pain. Whatever it was like.
When Hannah finally found the exit, she danced like an unleashed warrior beneath the moonlight. It was the eve of her fourteenth birthday. She threw her head back and opened her throat. Whatever she had held in her stomach for that long poured from between her stretched lips like raw silk.
This beautiful song danced in the air before her. They were not notes in any way similar to those she had been taught underground. They were something different. Something that shimmered from within and stayed bright in the dark sky even when the moon was obscured by clouds.
Hannah was both fascinated and frightened by this stunning song. She wanted to run. She wanted to take her chance in the desert that night in her bare feet and her simple cotton nightgown.
But a voice, a feeling, a sensation she both knew intimately and could not describe, said that she must have patience.
Though she couldn’t remember hearing that voice before, she trusted it right away. It was something that could not be mimicked. Not out here beneath the open sky. And she felt as though everything in her body had aligned that moment to decode just one small piece of her future to ensure there would be one.
After that night, Hanna did grow restless. She had less patience for her parents and the way that they treated her, their impossible expectations and the boxes they tied her down with. She used to enjoy finding her way out of those boxes, but the maze of the tunnels became everything to her.
The mysteries of the thread spun between her and her family and boxes and where she fit or did not fit seemed completely false. Like not only did they no longer matter now that she had seen the solid shapes that shimmered without the moon, they weren’t even real.
A girl raised on bland, genetically altered food tasting organic carrots and spinach fresh from unmarred soil for the first time.
Hannah tried her best to be patient while her restless heart tumbled ahead of her and back out beneath that star-filled sky. The true night. Fresh, cold air that stung her lips and froze the hairs in her nose. The night that had brought easy tears of joy to her eyes for the first time since she was a child, still young enough to be allowed to suck her thumb and make blanket forts and cuddle with a hand-sewn deer. Even though Hannah had always gotten more comfort from folding her blankets into a bundle because the deer was flat and the ears were too pointed.
Hannah soothed her need for adventure with stories of good husbands who would hold her hand and walk the acres of land with her. She tried to share her stories with her two younger sisters, but they were glass-eyed and focused on the spun threads and the boxes that no longer seemed real to her.
This realization stopped Hannah dead and set her off on an anxiety-fuelled trek into her parents’ den that nearly ended in falling off the edge of a cliff (which was really just another carefully hidden box).
She hadn’t thought to pretend. And not once had her parents given away their awareness that her eyes were no longer glazed over. Maybe they didn’t notice. How could they not?
Hannah couldn’t eat for weeks. It wasn’t the rot in her stomach at the thought of it all. It was the fear that her food would be poisoned.
And soon enough, she overheard talk of finding an invisible and tasteless poison to mix into her water.
Without food or water, her hope of making it through the desert was snuffed. Over and over. Until the mere thought of trying to strike a match with her shaky hands was exhausting. Getting to the kitchen unnoticed. Taking matchsticks unnoticed. Striking the flint against the stone walls without sound. Hiding the tiny flame where neither parent would see the glow or the shadows it cast.
Hannah dreamed one night of a yellow bird perching on her window.
She didn’t have a window.
She had never seen a bird. but she had been told of their beautiful voices.
This bird was silent.
She woke starving. How long had it been since she’d eaten? Had she been ill?
She hoped there would be extra porridge that morning.