Break to Freedom
I had a car accident.
That was the story circulating about me when I returned to work. I had been absent for four months, and somehow, this excuse for my hiatus was invented. Was it the truth? Absolutely not. Was I complaining? Hell no. This invented story was a million times better than the story of what actually occurred. I accepted this as a gift, a safety net for my landing back into normal life, but it was awkward trying to explain details of a car accident that never took place. When people asked about what happened, I lied and gave scant details, and if pressed for further information, I had nothing else to provide. Some asked details about what happened to the car. Was it totaled? In what direction was the car hit? How did you feel when all of this was happening? This made keeping up the lie difficult, but I did not dare reveal the hard truth.
My supervisor sat me down and asked if I wanted coworkers to know that I needed some space as I was getting back up to speed, and I replied with a resounding, “Yes!”
Four months prior, I made headlines in the local newspapers for my uncanny behavior and a series of unfortunate events that weighed heavily on me. I had endured my second psychotic episode, and the incident was no secret around my home-town.
Looking back, I shouldn't be surprised at what happened. The pressure on my mind and body had been building for some time. I had been suffering from severe anxiety and poor sleep. My work relationships had begun to suffer. During lunch, I resorted to taking naps on my office floor or driving to a store parking lot; I would climb into the back seat of my vehicle and hope to pass out and get rest for my mind. I had become highly avoidant, and often left work early without a valid excuse.
The night of November 5th 2014, my father made the two and a half hour trip from Mississippi to Alabama, where I was currently living, to retrieve me. I was 25 and losing myself. I was scared. I was in great need of rest. I had ascended into mania over the course of the day. My parents found my supervisor's information in my phone and handled the process of getting me off work to recover.
The next morning, my mother prepared for work. The original plan was for me to stay at home alone. My mother left for work, but something told her to turn around and come back to keep watch over me.
Together, we settled ourselves in the den of the house. She laid on a couch next to the recliner I sat in, and as we sat in silence, the gears of my mind began to turn. Mother was privy to this. She could sense my unease.
“Claire, get some sleep.”
I felt that she was invading my privacy. Earlier that morning, she tried to get me to eat. I ate a few bites of eggs and toast, but I was not hungry. I grew suspicious of her. Why was she trying to force feed me?
“Claire, you are not sleeping.”
“Why are you watching me?” I shot back.
I turned my head so that she could not see my face. While lounging in the room, time seemed to stand still. I could hear the sound of the clock ticking on the wall. As the seconds sluggishly passed, I began to feel intense paranoia. I felt that my life was in danger, and that my mother was not trying to help me. Instead, I believed that she was a trickster, and that she was trying to kill me. Maybe she would try to poison me.
I needed to get out of the house, to get out of that space. I feared that, if I did not escape soon, either my family would kill me, or I would wind up killing myself. The wheels of my mind turned in an attempt to devise a way to escape. I told my mother I was going to another room to lie down, but that was not my real plan. I had no intention of lying down. She let me go without a fuss. I got up from the recliner, and calmly walked out of the room. I walked through the kitchen and made it to the living room, my heart racing with every step. When I made it to the living room door, I immediately opened it and bolted out of the house.
I ran off the front steps, sprinted to the road, and ran as fast as I could to freedom. I ran until I could run no more; at which point I started walking; but walking was not fast enough. Walking would get me caught. I had to get off the road and out of sight.
I left the road and walked behind a house that was nearby. Resting in the refuge of the house, I experienced some relief. I stayed there for a while, breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the warm sun. I could see the road from the back of the house, and after a while, I noticed my father drive by in his truck. He was going at a slow rate of speed. I knew he was looking for me, but he could not see me. My phone was exploding with calls and texts as my family desperately tried to connect, but I did not respond.
I decided I needed to get further away. I did not know how long I would be safe behind the house.
I chose to enter the forest.
I walked from the back porch to the edge of the woods. What was that? I heard something. Something peculiar. I began to try and locate the source of the sound. My search led me deeper into the forest. I discarded my phone on the forest floor, knowing that I could potentially be tracked by GPS.
The sound appeared again. It sounded almost wiry, like some type of technology. A spaceship perhaps. I have never seen a spaceship. I began to really focus on the sound and use every sense I had to track it down. I thought I was on the right path to discover the source when suddenly, I heard the sound coming from an entirely different direction. I changed course, but how could I know which sound to follow? Reason began to ease back into my mind like the morning dew coming to rest on blades of grass, gradually pooling until I became fully aware of my situation.
What am I doing out here? I felt foolish, embarrassed. I began to retreat from the woods, and embark on a walk of shame back to my home. Luckily, I came across the phone I had discarded as I made my exit. How am I going to explain myself when I get back?
When I finally arrived home, I was greeted by my parents, pastor, and uncle who were gathered outside after their initial search for me. I joined them apologetically, and I attempted to explain myself. They listened and reassured me that everything was okay.
At some point, everyone dispersed leaving just my father and me.
I liked it better outside, so instead of going back into the house, my father sat beside me as I lay down on a bench. It was a nice spot under a tree. As I lay there, we talked intermittently about different things. My father has a gentle way about him, and his tone was calming and soothing. We talked about some things past, and some things present, and as we talked, my mind became more free, and I became more relaxed.
After a long while, we got up from the bench and walked back into the house. I laid on the couch instead of the recliner, and this time, my dad watched over me. We settled in place and began talking again; shortly after, something triggered in me. My father would later report that, when he looked at me, my pupils had dilated, and I appeared distant. The paranoia had invaded my mind once more, and I entered a state of high alert. I had to get out.
I got up, hurriedly found my way to the door, and jetted out of the house a second time. My father quickly followed in hot pursuit, but he was unable to catch up to me. I was light footed, and I had gained remarkable speed. As I ran, I proceeded to strip every piece of clothing from my black body. I wanted nothing on me, nothing holding me back. I wanted to be completely free.
I felt as though I were an escaped slave, running for my life, as I darted through the thick, dense woods. I gained several cuts and gashes on my skin, but I did not feel any pain. I lost track of conscious thought, but continued to run deeper into the woods. I do not know how long I ran, but it did not seem very long at all. In my next conscious moments, I found myself wandering around in the darkness.
I felt completely at home now. I felt safe. At the same time, I felt a strange sense that I had entered another dimension. A different space and time.
“Claire, Claire, where are you?”
I could hear my family calling for me in a cacophony. It sounded as though they were only a few feet away, so close. But I had traveled so deep into the woods. Why am I hearing them now? I did not want them to find me, and when the calling ceased, I was relieved.
I continued to wander the woods. Naked, unashamed, and unafraid. In and out of conscious awareness. I was driven reflexively, my brain and body hostage to my subconscious mind.
The season was fall; it was cold, but I did not feel the cold at all. I had no clue where I was, but I did not worry.
I came upon a clear opening. I thought of how it might be hunting season. I did not want to be mistaken for a poor deer and be shot; I wandered further.
More time passed.
I grew weary of wandering. How many hours have gone by? I suddenly noticed a light appear. Whether it was a figment of my imagination or a physical reality, I did not fully know, but I followed that light.
It led me through a cool creek; my bare feet sloshed through the wet stream. I followed it up a slight hill and emerged from the woods: my exodus was complete.
I found myself in a stranger's backyard, but I felt as though I had reached my promised land, like I found the place I had been searching for my entire life. I was tired from the journey, so I found a spot to sit under a light post and listened to the faint sounds of crickets chirping. The wind was still, and for a few short moments, my mind found stillness as well.
A subtle curiosity eased over me. I left my area of solitude under the light post. I walked around the house and spotted a door. I sauntered toward it. I tried the doorknob. It was unlocked.
I walked in.
I found my way into a bedroom and looked around. I studied the items laid out on a dresser and looked at myself in the mirror. My hair was disheveled, filled with dirt and twigs. Two dogs entered the room. I turned around to face them. They showed no aggression toward me, no barking or growling. Just bright eyes and wagging tails. Then, a young boy entered. He saw my naked body, and I felt ashamed.
He immediately dashed away to relay his discovery to his mother.
When she entered the room, surprisingly, she greeted me with concern instead of fear. I soon met the whole family. They were genuine, and they showed me great kindness. They clothed me and waited with me until an ambulance arrived.
I entered the ambulance and a police officer kept watch as we rode to the hospital. Upon arrival at the hospital, the first people to greet me as the doors of the ambulance opened were my parents. I did not want to see them. I was still suspicious of their intentions.
I was provided with a hospital gown and taken to a room where I waited for what seemed like an eternity.
It was at least an hour.
Finally, a doctor walked in along with my mother. I was a bit calmer now, and lucid enough that I could engage in conversation with the two of them. The conversation did not proceed well. There was discussion about my treatment options. I resisted the idea of being treated there. I felt that even with all that happened, I was not in need of what the doctor was offering. At the end of it, the doctor issued me an ultimatum that he would send me to a mental facility if I did not cooperate. A mental facility? This was not anything that I wanted. I decided to play it cool to buy some time. I asked if they could give me a moment alone to think about what we discussed and to decide how I wanted to proceed. I thought if I could get them to leave the room, I could find a way to exit the hospital and avoid being imprisoned in a mental institution.
My plan worked, insofar as they left the room.
This was my chance. When the timing felt right, I bolted from the bed. I had no idea where I was going as I skittered through the hospital, but I noticed the sliding door entrance to the emergency room. I saw that this might be my only opportunity to escape. I ran toward the sliding doors. Because it was not an exit, the doors only opened slightly, but this was enough for me to get through. As I exited the building, I tasted freedom once more.
Behind me, I heard my mother cry out in a blood curdling scream,
“Do not let her get out!”
It was too late. I ran. I maneuvered over a fence. I began to strip the hospital gown from my body; then, I ran free. I ran and ran. I managed to find my way to the interstate, and began to run along it. I felt as though I could run forever. As if I could beat time in a race.
Being such a late hour, the interstate was clear. I felt the wind blow on my body. Freedom felt good.
Then, I heard sirens. Damn. It was law enforcement. They were in pursuit. The atmosphere filled with the sight of red and blue flashing lights. They gained ground until they were almost right upon me. Someone got on the loudspeaker,
"Stop running. I repeat, you need to stop running."
I was not going to stop. I had no intention of it. No one would detain me. They continued in pursuit. Edging forward until they were at my heels - too close. What now? My energy was dwindling. I could not maintain my break to freedom. I saw that only one option remained: with one sharp movement, I pulled myself up over the rail and dove off the interstate bridge. As soon as my body left the bridge, a strange force filled me, and I lost consciousness.
In my next conscious moment, I was in an ambulance, body full of pain, headed toward Jackson, Mississippi. I blacked out again.
I suffered a broken neck, a shoulder injury, a traumatic brain injury, and collapsed lungs.
As the story goes, I leapt from an approximately 30 foot bridge and landed on the only soft spot of ground. In the woods, I traveled approximately 3.5 miles.
The sheriff who searched for me in the woods found my clothing neatly folded in a pile.
The black raven visited me for the first time. I marveled at her appearance. She had an awkwardly shaped beak with a patch of hair on top and her shiny, black plumage shimmered in the rays of the high sun. I was not expecting her. She slowly waddled up to me, as if not to scare me, to gain my permission to approach. I was not alarmed and really, I welcomed the company. I observed her as she observed me. I wondered what she was thinking. What is she up to?
She looked me squarely in the eyes. She opened her beak and began to warble a song. A song that spoke directly to my mind. This is what she sang to me,
“My dear, you are brave and courageous. You are bold and daring. Claire, times will change for you. You will experience much woe, but you must reach back on good times, and believe in who you are. Take heart, and remember.”
With that, she raised her wings, and took flight.