By the time I step outside, the leaves are on fire. Panting, I run straight past the pile of leaves that had, only moments before, been a symbol of fall and new beginnings.
I run straight past the hot dog cart that has been there ever since I can remember. My mom used to bring me here as a kid. We were happy then- but that was before. Now, in place of the friendly older man who promises a smile with every sale, there is a monster with his sharp teeth bared and claws poised to attack.
Where are you going? I’m here to help you! I’m the ONLY one who wants to help you! The only one who cares!
Before long I hit town square, milling with people like ants at a picnic. They smile. They laugh. They lick their dripping ice cream cones. They have no idea the world around them is ending as they know it.
Run. No one wants you here. You mess everything up. The world would be better without you in it.
Making a sharp turn to avoid the dragon in the middle of the road, I run straight into a girl my age walking with her bicycle. “Whoa! What’s the rush?” With teasing eyes, she opens her mouth to perhaps strike up a conversation. Maybe she is going to ask me my name, or who I am running from, or why my eyes are filled with panic. I’ll never know, though, because before she has time to make any attempts at conversation, her neck sprouts three additional heads with cruel eyes and snakes for hair. In a gasp, I leave her behind in a cloud of dust.
Run, Zach! They’re coming! You have to get away before they catch you!
I remember when I used to have normal conversations.
They’re all staring at you. They think you are strange. A freak. Crazy. Insane.
I remember when my big sister and I used to ride our bikes to the diner near our house, and I used to eat smiley face pancakes and play tic-tac-toe with crayons on the back of our paper placemats.
Don’t run from us Zach! We’re your friends! We love you! We are the ONLY ONES WHO UNDERSTAND.
I remember when my dad used to take me camping. We would stay up late and roast marshmallows. We would catch fireflies and eat hot dogs until our stomachs hurt. He would let me drink all the soft drinks I wanted and instruct me not to tell my mother. He would tell me stories about when he was a boy, and we would laugh until our sides ached.
No one loves you.
No one LOVES YOU.
NO ONE LOVES YOU.
I remember going to the county fair with my cousins. Playing all the games. Having races. Eating cotton candy and drinking root beer.
What are you doing? Do you think you can RUN FROM ME? YOU CAN’T ESCAPE ME ZACH. I’m ALL you have. NO ONE ELSE wants you here. You should be THANKFUL I'm here for you.
I remember when my life was normal.
You are NOTHING without me!
When I didn’t hear voices.
Freak. Crazy. Insane.
When I didn’t see things.
Psycho. Loser. Weirdo.
Still running, I bypass a family of lions in the road, instead running towards the creek up ahead of me.
Freak. Crazy. Insane.
Sweat pouring down my back, tears streaming down my face, I run as if my life depends on it. Because it does.
Psycho. Loser. Weirdo.
I come to a screeching halt when I get to the edge of the river.
FReAk. CRAzy. iNsANe.
I peer down into the depths of the dark blue abyss, seeing my disheveled appearance in the surface.
PsYchO. lOSer. wEIRdo.
I imagine myself being held by the loving, soothing arms of the water.
I imagine my eyes closing.
Everything around me going quiet. Going still.
Leaving it all behind.
I turn from my position in front of the river, still poised to dive into the bottomless pit.
“Zach, honey, come here! Get away from there! Come here, baby!”
My mother stands before me, out of breath, hair in a tangled mess, tears streaming down her face like rushing waterfalls.
My tears are coming in earnest now.
Don’t listen to her. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I am the ONLY ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS.
“What’s that mean voice telling you to do, baby? Tell me.”
I shake my head, trying to clear my thoughts- everything is running together-
“You don’t have to do this, Zach! Come here! I can help you! We can get through this together!”
Freak! Psycho! CRAZY!
“I love you! We can do this together!”
NO ONE LOVES YOU!
“You don’t have to do this- you have so much to live for!”
Crying, I run towards my mother, wrapping my arms around her and crying my heart out.
“I’m so scared, Mama. I’m so scared!” I cry.
NO!!! LISTEN TO ME!!
She rocks me back and forth in her arms, keeping me safe.
You are NOTHING without me!!!
The earth is spinning, and dragons are swarming, and fires are roaring, and monsters are screaming, and the earth is opening up beneath us and-
“Listen to me, Zach.” She grabs my face with her hands and looks me in the eyes.
“I know you’re scared.”
You should be scared.
“I know that there is a lot going on in your head right now that I can’t even begin to understand. “
She will NEVER understand.
“But I know someone who does.”
NO ONE understands!
“Will you pray with me?”
No, no, no!
“Okay, pray. We are gonna pray right now.”
“Lord God, I need your help Father. Touch my baby. Touch my baby, Father!” She sobs.
“Heal his heart, Lord, heal his mind, touch his life, God.”
“Wrap your loving arms around him, Father and show him your peace. Your love. Your faithfulness.”
“I cast out any trace of Satan in my baby’s life in the name of Jesus Christ!”
As my mother prays and rocks me back and forth,
All the voices-
All the monsters-
All the demons-
I remember when I used to have schizophrenia.