(For the Scheherazade Project, on the theme of fear. Constructive criticism always welcome.)

Last night I told Rozz, I’m not always at the edge of the pit, but I’m never far from it either.

She said, That thing you call the pit is there in you all the time, it’s part of you. She said this with that earnest look in her eyes, not cute earnest but bedrock earnest, the kind of earnest that is Rozz when she is conveying what to her is uttermost truth, something she really wants me to pay attention to. It’s part of you, she said, you’ve got to love it, you’ve got to shine a light on it. You’re afraid of it, but you’ve got to love it. You’ve got to go there. Find the cool breeze in it.

Cool breeze: that’s what I feel in me when I’m at ease in the world. There is, of course, no cool breeze in the pit.

I can’t remember what order she actually said these things, or even that these were the exact words she used. When I asked her today to repeat her exact words, she said, Sorry, I guess you should have written them down. I didn’t have a pen handy, it was bloody 3:00 in the morning when she said all that, and we should have been in bed, but we’d gotten detained by one of her late night questions. One of those questions so profound or difficult or just so confusing that she should never expect an answer from me, not with the late hour leeching all sensibility from behind my eyes. I can’t even remember with what question she started things with, just that somehow we ended up in the artificial bright of the bathroom, me sitting on the toilet lid, her on the sink counter, talking. Not idle stuff. Stuff about us, for us, vital. My pit was just one part of it.

When she said I had to go there, to the pit, I thought, fuck no, that’s the last place I want to go. If there’s a place I fear, and I do, that place is it. Shine a light into it — is that even possible? Love it? — this demon that’s dogged me all my life, sucked me into itself like my own portable mini black hole, devouring me alive from the inside? Shining a light into a black hole will not illumine it: a black hole is a voracious mouth, never satiated. Anything that falls into its gravity well is caught there forever. It never emerges. It becomes one with the black hole, its mass accruing to the black hole’s substance to become one with it — increasing, by the very fact of being consumed, the black hole’s monstrous hunger.

So how, then, having been trapped in that gravity well at least three times in my forty-seven years, and skirting its event horizon too often to count — how then am I still here to speak of it? I should have been extinguished long ago. I should have become single with the singularity, folded in upon myself, incapable of generating the speed of the sounds of my voice, much less the speed of the light in my eyes.

I can speak of it because every metaphor is, finally, inexact.

The pit. The black hole. The deep well. Drowning. Hell. The steaming whirlpool of Tuonelanjoki, the river of Death’s land. The void.

Any of those words or phrases, however inexact, are more apt than the clinical phraseology of shrinkdom: depression. Better is the other D-word, the existential term that makes no pretense of scientific objectivity: despair.

But Rozz is right, of course.

Despair, my dear traveling companion: I must shine a light upon you. I must love you. Embrace you. Oh despair, my beloved friend!

Why not? Because it has been with me all this time, duct-taping me to the walls of the whirl around its silent eye of destruction, carrying me unwilling as much as I have carried it. Its as much a household god as the others whose names I’ve been much readier to call upon. Mielikki, my dearest desire. Lemminkäinen, the wayward impetuous wanderluster. Väinämöinen, the steadfast, tietäjä, Eternal Singer. Meet, the three of you, my other long-time companion: Hiisi, the Demon. My demon, my despair, my dread.

It’s not easy to write about, this thing, this phenomenon at the root of my own personal phenomenology. That’s why the metaphors, the words and images I inadequately wield that never anyway become more than just markers pointing the way to the pit where I live, where none else may enter. None except the gods, when I ask them.

I can tell you the stories of the three times I lived inside the pit: my youth of distrustfulness and self-hatred; the Days of Terrorism when a nine-year-old boy brutalized by parental abuse and neglect unleashed his terror and anger on me who had never done him harm, and tore me to pieces; the months when I believed the one I love had betrayed me, flushing all the meanings of our relationship unceremoniously down the porcelain-lined whirlpool of the nearest toilet.

Or I could connect the dots as I did for myself, pulling together all my speculations of how this dread and fear and despair took roothold in the heart of who had once been a smiling and joyful little girl (what in hell happened, why was she taken from me?), that unselfconscious Self who has so long been lost to me, more mysterious and unreadable to me than god.

But if I embrace Hiisi the demon… maybe Hiisi’s mask will melt away, and behind it I will find her again, that little girl I once was, innocent and loved.

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