What Insomnia Told Me by Märtha Custis

The fact is that there wasn’t a reason, or even a cause, it seemed for the daily grind. You know what I mean, there isn’t a reason why our lives were full of chaos or why we were told not to doubt the process, there isn’t a reason why the well fails and the neighbor’s fields catch fire from ours and we burn two counties in an evening. These things just happen.

But I cannot see a cause why your step dad hits you, or even worse, tries to have you in entirely the wrong way, but there must be a reason. It must be yourself and all the idiotic things you ever did coming back to wreak havoc on your life when the opportunity arises. They have been waiting a long time now to mess things up for you and they finally made it. Maybe they even felt like Zebulon Pike when he finally made it to the top of Pike’s Peak (before he was hit by a rock and died somewhere later).

No one’s story is interesting to those who aren’t involved really. Policemen ask the required questions routinely and sigh when you have to excuse yourself and go throw up in the bathroom. It must be hard watching people rip out their own and other’s souls daily. A tedious existence of facts and figures and death considered just a sorry statistic. Yet we hope that maybe by asking enough of the right sort of questions we will finally attain to the knowledge of why what happened did. Come to the end of all the misery and pain, see why life unfolds as it does. But we don’t, we can only surmise.

I was fifteen when it all happened and seventeen when I finally told. It took years to find a time when he wasn’t around and the guns were out of the house. Firearms are a funny thing really, we claim we need them for self-defense, others claim they are dangerous, but the one truth that remains is that only the person who has them matters. Was it cowardice to not tell earlier? It probably was, but seeing the purple lines like deep amethysts around your mother’s neck helps you keep quiet. Fear silences our voices and daily we convince ourselves that life is fixable, that it gets better and becomes whole again. But the fact is that it doesn’t, at least not without a miracle.

I have often wondered what you call the opposite of miracles, you know what is the name you give to something that is so horrible it doesn’t seem real but it happened? I don’t think anyone knows really, but that is what I would call the way the pig died. I still can hear the sounds echoing, shrieks so shrill and pained that put to silence our hopes of mercy. And then to see the mallet afterwards, red and wet, lying on the barn floor. It seems like an image of him in my memory almost, that in the stains of the metal the truth was somehow hidden and always there. That’s another reason not to tell what happens at home–it takes so long for uniformed officers to arrive, and yet so little time to cancel an animal’s breath for climbing in the water tank.

“It’s only an animal, it’s only this or that,” people would say. But they just don’t understand, don’t understand what it’s like to live seeing animals killed and fearing you will be next. Maybe standing outside they can see a sort of logic to the ways life plays itself out, but when you are the one in the middle of existing sometimes it is hard to understand why.

Have you ever noticed how things you are too afraid to remember come out in your dreams? Well at least, that is how it is for me. Once you let your mind out of your control it plays tricks on you and brings up everything you thought you had erased. That was the real reason I saw things in the darkness and why I woke up my sisters screaming. It is embarrassing really, telling people you see random men in your room when all that is really there is soft darkness caressing the room in silence.

It really is no use asking why at all, why people do the things they do, or why you don’t do the things you should. It’s better just to accept it and the labels that come attached. “Anxious,” “Hypersensitive,” “Agoraphobic.” All these terms mean is that someone is trying their best guess at why you’re messed up, why you can’t walk down the street without your heart racing and why you can’t sit in the chair he sat in because that unknowable thing would attach itself to you.

Sometimes we even look back at the past and laugh. The things that happen can be bitterly funny, but still funny in a way. If you could separate yourself from it all, place yourself in another person’s mind, maybe you would say, “Goodness, that really happened? We should make a movie of our life–no one would believe it. No one would believe that we lived for years without electricity or continually running water, lived for years being beaten for wanting to go to school, lived for years being touched and grabbed and praying you could run fast enough before he got you down to the ground, lived praying that when you got home everyone was still breathing.” But what is the point of even telling it all? It just is life really. It doesn’t seem factual, and it doesn’t follow reason and that has to be alright, because that is the reality which is.

The beauty in existence isn’t believable either, that with one word a counselor can tell you it really isn’t you, it simply is life. The idea that someone can tell you it’s alright to hope and be happy, or find a way to keep going day by day. Even the thought that people can see through the shatters of glass to the photograph behind. That there is worth in the shell that hides all of your neuroses and fears. You truly can learn to love and like yourself, or that at least it’s good to try.

We can live through so very many things, and never learn our lesson. We make ourselves think. But then who is to say you haven’t really learned something? Is it our mind’s job to define experience or that of another’s to tell us why certain events happen time and time again? Patterns repeated have some aspect which enthralls the human conscious, and gives them an almost sinister love of examining and searching through our hearts for answers. So why blame oneself if you are the specimen of eternal contradiction?

But I learned in Theology that in any chain of infinitely subordinated clauses there cannot be a regression to infinity. There is a beginning and an end. There is time and time again repeated until we finally stop being, but at the forefront is always a first cause. So we come back to an eternally circling thought process which you wish would at least tire you out, but instead ceaselessly keeps spurring your mind on. There must be a reason, that there is not reason, it can’t be chance, or can it? There is a beginning and an end and if you are T.S. Eliot your beginning is your end and death becomes some sort of existential lottery win.

So what is the answer? Is there an explanation to anything at all? Or actually the fact is maybe life doesn’t need a reason, at least not in the technical, text book definition sort of way. But then again you know how the human condition is, we ask questions, we doubt, we can’t just accept life, or what it means to live. Perhaps if we could just see that, we would see that this is how life simply is, and that we never can possibly understand. We are not what has happened to us, the scars in our souls don’t define the person whom we are, or who we decide to be. And about life— you know what I mean, perhaps it really is okay to just be existing and wondering. The only thing that is definite is that we can control what our hopes are, we can decide that we don’t want the past to control our future any longer, we can be happy if we want to. We might not be able to change what has happened, we can’t turn back time and write a happy story, or find the secret riddle that was always there. But there is something which we can do, and that is to not repeat the actions of others that hurt us. We can’t ever fix ourselves but we can want to.


Märtha Custis lives in Kansas, holds an MA in Creative Writing from Kingston University and tries to write the wonder of the world around her.

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