I realize I can’t run from myself, but I cancel an appointment with the breast clinic so that I can go on a road trip. I already know I have a “palpable, previously identified probable benign breast mass in (my) right breast at the 7 o’clock position measuring approximately 1.2 x 0.5 x 1.2 cm.” I snuck a peek at an image of it once while the ultrasound technician left the room to speak to the radiologist; it looks like a lima bean. The emotional toll of these visits—in the waiting room I overhear the elderly praying, making bingo plans, cracking jokes, and gossiping about mutual friends to soften the blow of the truth of why we’re all here—isn’t worth it for me just to “confirm two-year stability.” Besides, I don’t have insurance right now.
The last time I went to the clinic, I saw a young woman about my age as we passed in the hallway, her arms crossed tightly over her chest; it wasn’t her mother wearing the white robe nor the patient bracelet. We locked eyes and in hers, I saw my fear of my own mortality reflected back, but only for a second before the spark of connection was gone, and we walked in opposite directions towards our futures—whatever those may be.
While considering passing a semi just after sunrise on a one-lane stretch of otherwise empty highway somewhere in southwestern Kansas, I realize that if I don’t take the risk and just do it, I’ll never escape this horizontal nightmare. Everything is so eerily vacant and vast that it starts to feel impossible, surreal. I begin to believe that I was murdered last night, after all, in that basement Airbnb with its in-suite landline phones, over-the-top encouragement to try the jacuzzi, and holes in the ceiling strategically placed over every sitting area. You’re in a voyeur’s dungeon and you’re going to be in a snuff film tonight.
Beach House’s “Space Song” lazily drifted down from somewhere above and never seemed to end as I noticed a previous guest had the foresight to put masking tape over the ceiling hole centered above the bed. What a perfect soundtrack.
I could never be an astronaut.
I go left of center, pedal to floor.
I need to get out of here.
The bare flatness is nauseating.
There’s no one out here to save me.
Please note that in order to see the fireball meteor blaze prismatic as it crests over the edge of a mesa in Jemez Springs, in order to hear it sizzling loudly like a blowtorch out here in this place where the only other sounds are the neighbor calling to his dogs or the occasional splashing of crimson water far below as cars drive through the Pueblo, in order to feel that childlike sense of awe, gurgling, undistilled, up here near natural hot springs, I have to get over my fear of unpaved mountainous roads.
All of this was once cloaked beneath an ancient sea.
Pecos County is Texas’ energy leader. The landscape that in New Mexico nearly an hour’s drive northwest is pristinely scenic, home to Carlsbad Caverns and Lechuguilla Cave, here is overcome with oil fields. In Pecos, the Guadalupe Mountains and the caverns within are a commodity to be abused for corporate gain. Little fires flame atop metallic towers for miles on either side of an unkempt highway. The air stinks of pollution and I can’t help but think all of this is ready to explode. That night, I stick a stained towel under the motel door to keep the spectral smoke out and I fall asleep watching movies my mother loved when she was my age.
My dad calls to tell me he’s been watching The Weather Channel again and no hurricanes are currently due in Texas.
Surrounded by giants born the year Leonardo da Vinci died, I think only about the things these trees must have seen during their long lives here in Memphis until my partner points to a dead sycamore leaning precariously over the path in front of us. “That one’s going to fall at any minute! That’s really dangerous; be careful!” He runs ahead, quick and limber.
My mind inserts the sound of a giant tree quaking. I’m stunned immobile, look around; I’m surrounded. This leaner might be a red herring.
I sprint ahead and my autonomic nervous system reminds me that it’s still faulty. I feel dizzy. Vision static. Heartbeat in throat. Tinnitus. My heart rate flirts with 200.
But all of this is how I know I’m alive.
In the end, the tree never falls and neither do I.
My mom told me about a dream she had recently. My sister and I were helping her clean up abandoned mansions in some post-apocalyptic scenario. My sister got separated from us, and my mom and I searched the town for her. We wound up in a field. Bats were sleeping on the ground. You don’t belong here. I remained still. My mom called out for me to follow, but I stayed with the bats. She eventually found my sister back in the same place where the dream had started. She asked me what it all meant. “You weren’t moving! It was like you were stuck!”
Back in Ohio, my phone rings and it irritates me as I’m trying to find somewhere to kill time before my friend’s wedding. I, in an act completely out of character and without thinking twice, answer, but say nothing. The line clicks off. I ride this high of atypical bravery by calling back all of my most recent missed calls.
None of the numbers exist.
Atychiphobia, Pt. 2
My sister texts me, I’m afraid you’ll leave one day and never come back.
Her fear is my greatest desire. Come with me.
Courtney Skaggs is a writer from Columbus, Ohio studying creative nonfiction and literature as a MFA / MA candidate at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Their work has previously been published in Lammergeier Magazine. Courtney was a writer-in-residence at the Appalachian Forest Stewardship Residency in November of 2019.
image: Kyla Houbolt