Tag Archives: trauma

This Is Not A Pretty Story

by Melissa D. Johnston

shadows and faultlines new

November 16, 1992. Clemson University. I am flying. My new blue and white running shoes pound orange clouds from the ground. The clouds multiply, leaving a trail as distinct as any fighter pilot’s. I rewind and play the intro to Tori Amos’s “Precious Things” for the fourth time, fine-tuning the details of the video I’m directing in my head: A lone girl sits on an underground train. Successive light and shadow flash through the windows, illuminating and darkening her face. The alternation syncs simultaneously and steadily with the music and implied speed of the train. Slowly the changing of light and dark lose their rhythmic cadence until there is no discernible pattern and the scene becomes a rapid chaotic flash of light and dark that ends abruptly. Complete blackness. First line: “So I ran faster…” Cut to—

He comes from nowhere.

“And it brought me here—”

A slam so hard my tailbone cracks. I see nothing but his lips. And something shiny. So shiny, catching the mid-day sun.

“If you scream I’ll kill you.” His eyes. Hard. Polished black marble occluding blue-sky iris. I open my mouth and the shiny object takes shape. “C’mon!” he jerks my arm and pushes me into the only wooded section of Clemson’s perimeter loop.

I remember the sun. Through barren trees. Black flat human shadow with liquidly muted colors.  Moving. Back. Forth. Backforthbackforthbackforth. Back. Sweat drips. Mine? His? The crunch of leaves. Reaching. His. My limbs are rock, legs endlessly falling.  He picks up the knife. Holds it, suspended, under my right eye.

“You’ll never forget me, sweetie.”


I wake up screaming. Again. My face chasms, splitting the bed. Far away voice. An arm reaches across the divide. “Annie?” I stone, protecting my side. Again.

In the morning light I can barely see it. A nearly four inch rough-edged, floss-sized scar below my right eye, running nose to ear. Eric always says he can’t see it. He wraps his arms around me and smiles into the mirror, meeting my eyes. I brush his arms aside. “I need to go,” I say, picking up the carryall.

“No human being should be reduced to a thing,” my philosophy professor had said my junior year. “Human beings are always ends in themselves, never simply means.” I raise my hand. “What happens if someone treats someone else as means alone?” He pauses for a moment. “I believe the act of treating someone else as a thing—no matter how small or brief—is an act of force. It cuts both ways. Both people lose their humanity in the interaction.” After class I cry in the third floor bathroom in a puke green stall.

“Are you okay?” a strange voice asks.

“I’m fine.” I wipe my tears, blow my nose, and walk calmly out the door.



My mind somersaults the dusk-colored shapes of Willow Street in an elaborate water ballet.

“You’ve hardly touched your food.” His words float with street shapes, freely and indistinctly.

“Annie!” I startle and turn from the window, in shame. It’s our first anniversary.

“Why don’t we go?”

I grab my coat.

Outside, Eric takes my hand.  Stopping in front of a metal bench, he says, “Let’s sit here for a minute.”

We are silent, our faces mirror. “I’ve been thinking,” he says, nervously spinning his wedding ring. He pauses. “I need to say something to you.”

The bench begins to split.

“I do see it.” He raises his finger against the glare of streetlight and places it gently on my face, tracing the entire length of the scar. My body shakes. I need to leave. Now. I stand up.

“No, you’re not leaving this time.” He tugs my arm downward. My eyes narrow. I will not be forced.

He lets go. “Please.” I sit down. “Please talk to me. I’m so tired of this coming between us.” His eyes graze my scar. “Tell me the story. All of it.”

I turn away. “It’s not a pretty story.”

“Sometimes we don’t need pretty stories. We need true ones.” Time suspends for one brief moment. He holds me. We both cry together in the middle of the bench, for all the world to see.

Feeling Color

photo by Teia Pearson

by Teia Pearson

I am grateful to be alive and enjoy life as I feel time passing me by. My last sense of innocence was playing under a maple tree at sunset on my fifth birthday. Like dominoes falling, that day set my life on a course of uncertainty. Since then, I faced one challenge after another. Enough to make anyone else lose hope. With every obstacle put in front of me I persevered stronger, never giving up.

The biggest challenge, nearly ten years ago, threw me into a different life with internal head and spinal injuries. My then spouse and I were driving to dinner as a treat for my ovarian cancer recovery. While waiting for a stoplight to turn green, a utility truck slammed into us. Like an overloaded circuit, the impact caused a major fuse to blow in my brain. Surging forward in time, with one last clear memory of flying into the front window, I live on to share my life lessons with others.

At nearly age 40, retraining my brain and body function has been a lifelong process. Every morning I wake up feeling the same as I did after the truck accident. Head spinning ready to explode with a loud high-pitched sound ringing through both my ears. Feeling like a Mack Truck hit me, or that I’m suffering the worst college party hangover ever—times ten. You may be able to relate.

Before pushing myself up from wherever I lay, I savor a brief moment when all pain is quiet and muscles are relaxed. Daydreaming I have a partner to share a dance with all night as I once did before. Such a lovely vision to savor.

Dream over. I use all my strength to push through brain fog and severe fatigue to start my day. Once standing up, all muscles tense as vertigo pulls me back. Starting the day ever so slowly to avoid causing a massive muscle cramp. All of my joints and muscles are stiff causing me to walk like a rusted Tin Man. Ice picks pierce in waves up and down my spine as my body ignites with a hot flash. Immediately I run to a cold bathroom or an open window before I pass out. My stomach starts summersaults while my right brain is asking “Where’s breakfast?” Left brain just wants me to hurl so I can feel better. Not happening!

Strong tea with supplements and medication start my day as long as my hand decides to function and not drop another cup. Having little to no memory of previous days, I open my laptop to help me recall what I am doing. I feel stuck in time, like it is still the year 2003, as if the lives of others move on and I am standing still.

This is what living with constant vertigo, tinnitus and fibromyalgia is like after surviving a traumatic brain injury. There is no Band-Aid and no cure, just hope for a new, brighter day. I enjoy life to the fullest like everyone else. “Where there is a will, there is a way,” words I came to live by growing up.

As my brain functions with a broken memory circuit, I read through old journals revealing shocking things written not too long ago. Feeling like I am reading about someone else, I do not recognizing my own writing or photos. Horse photos remind me of a Secretariat grandson I rescued off the racetrack many years ago. In my younger days, I had a passion for riding dressage and cross-country jumping. I remember living the American dream with my own business and custom-built house out in the country.

After a bitter divorce ending with a black and blue face, I wonder how I ever did it all. I could not have been very happy as I love living, as I do now, in a big city. Where I once had the great physical strength of superwoman, I now have the great mental strength of Anne Frank to make every day count.

When I was young, my biggest inspiration was creating things with color. Every different shade of color and feel of paper provoked my senses. Time disappeared when creativity carried me away from lonely mornings waiting for the bus, or lonely nights waiting for my parents’ safe return.

I hold onto the feeling of innocence, taking me back to the moment spent coloring under the big old maple tree at sunset when I was young. I go back to this feeling before everything changed. The feeling of peace in times of pain and uncertainty. It has kept me alive over so many years.

I was taught to be a perfectionist. “Color in-between the lines,” my mother would say. Yet, little did I know my life would be so full of color inside and outside the lines.

After surviving ovarian cancer and developing vertigo with fibromyalgia and tinnitus, Teia Pearson retired from her lifelong career with horses. She now focuses on her other life passion for writing and art. She currently lives in Chicago helping to promote the arts as director of EscapeIntoLife.com. Currently working on her inspiring new memoir Writing Color, about surviving a very troubled childhood and life’s most tragic events. Teia strives to show everyone the more positive side of life. Read more about Teia at her blog  Just Breathe and learn more about her upcoming memoir at Writing Color.

%d bloggers like this: