Chapter XIII: The Night The Sky Shattered
At nineteen as an art school drop out living at home, my life was nothing short of pathetic. Community college, real college, I’d done them both and I still couldn’t seem to get this whole adult thing right. At least not right enough so I could finally be left alone to grow up in peace.
To no surprise, things at home were deteriorating quickly. My tastes of freedom had left me feeling like a silver back ready for war, and as she aged and the world collapsed around her, my Mother was ready to wage it.
Poor investment decisions left the majority of parents to those my age bankrupt. It was simply a matter of bubble economics. Now, poverty isn’t pleasant, but it’s much less pleasant when you’re a bitch about it. Boy oh boy, was my Mother a bitch about it.
Her aggressive behaviors shifted towards my father, who’d been all but absent 75% of my childhood because he had been tasked with being the breadwinner, as he could no longer provide in the capacity he once had. The economy was shifting dramatically, no one could provide in the means they once had. Regardless, this was unacceptable and he began to see the side of her I’d been pinned under for twenty fucking years.
Many times throughout my childhood I’d explained to my Dad that I didn’t need the things we had, or the experiences. I wanted a family that was happy, I didn’t want things. But I wasn’t the one ruling the roost and what I felt always went to the waist side. Mom and I would fight, I’d leave and go crash on a couch somewhere for a few days until it was safe to come home. This pattern of homelessness and instability is something I’m now grateful for.
For someone to know that you are a rather obnoxious person, coming from an unstable environment and for them to allow you into their home…...well people like that are saints. For those same people to then share their food, hot water and comforts with you, that is a level of kindness that is innate and godly.
Every comfy pillow I got to sleep on was a blessing, even if it was on the floor.
Each meal that was eaten in peace, a catharsis.
Every hot shower, a gift.
Having a nice house, filled with books and clothes and bullshit is lovely for some, but if the cost of being in that house is violence, hatred and resentment, trust me, it’s not worth it.
Drum circles, music festivals, raves, the music scene, became my solitude. I could photograph events for spending money making it so my parents believed I was always working and build my portfolio at the same time. It was a peasants’ life, but one that was slowly starting to take shape. The networking that took place while I did this was beneficial and over time led me to get better opportunities for higher caliber photography work.
College adjourned for the summer and I found myself fortunately enough with a full schedule of music events to photograph. One was set to be particularly awesome, as it was super remote, on a llama farm and hours away!
I was going to get a whole weekend away from my life in St. Louis and get to be a ‘photojournalist’ by documenting the event.
Checking off the crucial boxes of;
Will I be able to get high and it won’t matter? CHECK
Will I be able to get away from my family? CHECK
Will I get my ego stroked? CHECK CHECK CHECK!
Packing up the Navigator, I left the humidity of the city for the humidity of the country driving towards bum fuck no where and what I now know was going to be the most insane birthday I’ve ever had.
Llama's smell and are not the nicest animals I’ve ever met...I much rather prefer the company of marsupials. I arrived earlier than most to the festival and assisted in getting the event setup along with the producers. Shortly before dinner time and after an afternoon of what was truly light drinking, I said fuck it, jumped off the wagon, and did a rail of ketamine.
Proudly, I can say that is the one and only relapse I’ve ever had as an opioid addict.
Sadly, I can also say that is the one and only relapse I’ve ever had as an opioid addict.
Alcohol and ketamine are not friends and to say that I fell into a k hole like an elephant falling from a tight rope into the grand canyon would be an understatement.
Literally, I fell backwards.
Great fucking start right?
Well, after about what seemed like an entire metabolic cycle of me thinking that and feeling like I was going to die, I emerged from my k hole and vowed to;
NEVER DO DRUGS AGAIN FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!
………….can you see it?
...can you see it coming?
Because I sure as shit couldn’t.
I ate a giant cheeseburger, downed a couple of bottles of water, and passed out.
Only of course to be awakened by my angry liver about four hours later.
It was sunrise and I decided to start the day by keeping my promise. Ridding myself of most of my stash, I meandered down to the river shortly after sunrise. A deep orange hue filled the sky with warmth as I sank into the water. It was just cold enough to trigger goosebumps and remind you that you’re alive.
Allowing the current to run across me, I laid there, starring into the sky, heavily contemplating my poor decision of the night prior.
Having given up on college, accepting my co-dependent relationships at home, I was feeling like it was just time to give up completely. Reflecting upon the choice that morning, I understood why I’d had the backslide, but I also understood that I didn’t want to feel like that ever again. I wanted the hope to keep that void full instead.
For the time, I simply existed there.
Fingers dancing across the rocks as the water moved around me, and at times what seemed like, through me. Safe, secure, the water was where I was meant to be. Solace, it would seem, was finally upon me.
The sun rose and as dawn grew into morning others began to join me in the river. It was pleasant, with a breeze keeping the humidity manageable. While, I can’t recall, and also won’t dime out, exactly who it was, around lunch time alcohol began flowing and feeling like I was recovered enough I began to partake.
I was twenty after all.
Now, the addict in me wants to say ‘one thing led to another’, but no, that’s not what I’m going to say. After years in therapy I’m going to tell you the truth.
My body rebounded from the k hole and the water rejuvenated me enough I believed I had a second wind. While I will never speak for others suffering from addiction issues I can explain the thought process I went through.
‘Well, my body can handle this, I can probably handle a little more.’
*consumes more of whatever substance*
‘Well, I can surely handle more.’
And down and down and down the spiral I go.
A few drinks turned into ten.
Ten drinks turned into weed.
Weed turned into LSD.
For those in the world who hate anti-drug assholes who use any sort of ‘gateway drug’ argument, don’t worry, you’re going to like this ending.
For those anti-drug dickheads, please go jump up your own assholes.
You’re not going to like this ending.
Lastly, for the squeamish, jump to the next chapter. This next part gets rough.
Cheeseburgers, margaritas, blunts and L. 80 degree water, live music and a breeze to die for. It was an iconic summer moment in my childhood. The sun began to set behind the trees and the water began to chill. Dispersing from the river, most festival goer’s were heading back to camp to eat dinner, nap and prepare for the evening’s festivities. Following the crowd, I began to compose my mind so I could head back to base when from behind me I hear a couple of ladies scream as they stood up from the river themselves….
“OH MY GOD, LEECHES!!!!! THERE’S LEECHES EVERYWHERE!!!!”
I could hear the leeches falling from their bodies and hitting the shallow water. Filled with fear but knowing sooner or later I would need to stand up and most likely clear the leeches from my own body I gathered my strength.
Tripping my balls off, and standing up with the grace of a new born baby giraffe weighing as much as a new born hippo, I heard a sound that still haunts my dreams….
‘plop, plop, plop, plop’
Surreal as all get out, I looked down towards the water trying to see to the rock bottom and see the leeches that had just fallen from me. The current leaving me unable to see where they had landed, I ran my hands down the backs of my thighs, immediately coming into contact with many, many more leeches.
What do you do when you are tripping on acid and find yourself covered in leeches in a river?
Well, you certainly don’t run away.
Why would you do that?
You certainly don’t start, RUNNING away from the leeches that are ATTACHED TO YOU.
In a rock bottom river?
That certainly sounds disastrous.
You’ll fall and bust your chin open.
Can’t you hear your mom yelling at you while you were at the pool as a kid now?
“NO RUNNING ON CONCRETE!!!”
I’m sure you’re wondering, upon the discovery of my predicament, what I decided to do.
At full speed I took off sprinting in the river in an attempt to run away from the leeches that were stuck to my body.
Luckily, they fell off quickly as my rotund body wiggled about in my sprint.
Unluckily, rock bottom rivers are not known for having the most level surfaces. In fact, the current of a river often moves, smooths and shifts the rocks in it’s environment.
Oftentimes creating holes in the bottom on the river.
The fall took me by surprise for the most part, only really realizing what had happened as my chin bounced off a rock and my mouth filled with water. As if my skull had to be physically effected for me to realize what was happening in this reality.
Hunched forward from the fall and dazed from my high, I sat up and realized my left leg was underneath my well over +300lbs body. My right foot was cut and bleeding significantly signaling to me that I was actually injured and this wasn’t going to be something I just recovered from in a matter of hours.
Pulling my left leg out from under my bottom, I sat with both of my legs outstretched before me. My left ankle was at a 45 degree angle, but I’d seen it in worse condition than it was.
Alright, fuck this, I thought to myself. I’m a beast, I just survived a k hole, my bad ankle is rolled, my other foot is bleeding and there’s god damn leeches in this river. Fuck this. I’m going back to camp.
My attempts to move about were futile, and eventually, in tears, I had to ask others for help back to camp.
I was done.
Completely defeated and it was entirely my own fault.
Thankfully, I was surrounded by deeply compassionate people, and I was quickly assisted into a chair, legged propped up and fed anti-inflammatories. A kind soul dressed the wound of my right foot, another brought me water.
You know who you are. You know what you did, and to this day I am still forever in your debt.
A stranger with a big heart found our base camp whilst I was posted up.
“Whoa, what happened to you?”
I recounted the previous 24 hours, tearfully and ashamed. I told him I was an addict, and I had no control. I couldn’t even control myself with actual medicine like psychedelics. I couldn’t break the cycle of abuse in my home and I couldn’t break free from my pattern of addictive behavior.
Wallowing in self-loathing, this stranger recognized that I needed a shift in my perspective.
“Wanna make it to the other side?” He asked with a smile on his face.
Confused, I asked him what he meant.
“I’ll stay by your side. You need to break through, it’s the only way the pain is going to stop.”
He opened his hand where he held a small piece of folded up tinfoil.
God damn it, I thought.
Usually, I thought from my limited life experiences, this meant it was a research chemical.
Regardless, I put the ten strip in my mouth and rolled my head back.
My body was never going to be the same after that day I thought to myself, at bare minimum, I’d need major reconstructive surgery on my left ankle, and if I couldn’t get to safety at dawn as I’d been promised by others, who knew if my leg would be salvageable to begin with?
Why should my brain be the same?
Why should my perspective be the same?
Starring into the sky, unfettered by light pollution, it felt like it was the first time I’d really ever seen the stars before. Our location, so remote, I could almost see the dusty arms of our galaxy. The movement of time, rendered unreal by the state I was in, I began to fixate on the stars as it looked like they were beginning to vibrate.
Well, they are stars after all, and stars are rotating, gaseous, celestial bodies, so trippin or not that’s still a pretty accurate assessment.
But, how exactly was I seeing them vibrate? What? My naked eyes couldn’t see that.
Always one for hyper-vigilance and fixation on irrelevant bullshit, as soon as I wondered why the stars were moving….
The stars began linking up, as if some sort of cosmic connect the dots was being played on a grand scale. Lines that hadn’t existed before bridged stars to stars, and before I knew it, the sky looked like a windshield that had been shattered. A visual I’d seen only once prior as a child.
For a few mere moments, I starred at this cracked sky, wondering if it was going to cave in upon me. The thought of such a thing, had only barely come into existence within my consciousness, but it didn’t matter.
Inhaling deeply and realizing I was not breathing reasonably to begin with, I closed my eyes and attempted to find my center.
Shutting my eyelids did not shield me from the cosmos itself as it shattered in a million pieces down upon me. My head rolled forward, I wanted to open my eyes and come back to the reality I knew existed, but there was nothing for me there.
‘Keep em shut. Keep it from goin sideways,’ my internal dialogue murmured to me.
Darkness surrounded me, similar to the void of the nothingness I’d experienced doing heroin, but this wasn’t a void. No, it almost felt like the ground floor of my consciousness. As if, my soul was this giant sky scraper I’d never even gotten into the elevator of, and the glass ceiling had shattered.
Pieces of cosmic glass surrounded me on the floor, still vibrating from their fall. Whilst, I wasn’t embodied in the same capacity I am walking around as a sapien with a conscious, I carefully moved around, noticing that what once looked like pieces of the sky, now looked like shattered pieces of a mirror.
Gazing at each one I noticed they weren’t displaying a reflection of whatever dimension I was in, each piece was playing a memory from my childhood.
Here it is, all those memories, right here and now, starring me down.
Suddenly, I was running.
Running around the broken pieces of my soul as they played my memories on repeat desperately trying to find a piece that could reflect me here and now, and not show me some painful memory.
No, not right now. I can’t.
Nausea ensued reminding me that I was indeed frac’d out and there was a very broken body I’d be needing to get my soul back to shortly.
But I can find the piece.
I can find the piece that truly reflects me.
I will find it, and then everything will be ok.
Stumbling upon what appeared to be a piece that captured my reflection, I snatched up this piece of metaphysical metaphor and screamed to the cosmos,
“I FOUND IT. I FOUND ME!”
Looking back, there was no reflection. There was no memory. It was an empty piece.
The dimension quieted. My jaw un-clenched back in reality.
Struggling to understand, the floor was suddenly bare, and all that remained of my shattered pieces of cosmic consciousness was the single blank piece I held.
Within me, a warmth began to rise, and a calmness consumed me. Those noisy, painful, arduous, jagged cut memories are no more. All that remains is a blank canvas.
A voice within me, a piece of my subconscious that had yet to speak through my internal dialogue to date spoke up.
“Great sacrifice is coming, but with that sacrifice comes reward. Endure and the reflection will be what you want.”
Weeping, I opened my eyes and rolled my head back again to thank the stars, but I was beyond the point of being able to compose words.
My new friend put his arm around my shoulders and embraced me,
“You needed to get to the other side. I’m glad you made it back.”
Holding true to his words, the following day I received immediate medical attention and safely made it home.
While I did not loose my leg, my body was irreparably damaged, and there was simply no way I would be able to recover from such an injury without living at home and having the assistance of my parents.
Having never been surgically repaired with the two prior significant injuries, this fall did the trick and left some of my bones as dust. The ankle itself was shattered, bones broken everywhere, ligaments and tendons torn through. It was a complete rebuild from top to bottom, complete with hardware and donor tissue.
Surprisingly, I made it through the first days of post op recovery without any opioids and primarily just smoking weed. Mom was taking it easy on me, Dad was helping me move around when I absolutely needed to get up. As I got farther out from the trip itself, I began to reflect on what I’d heard from my own subconscious, endure and your life will be what you want it to be. I couldn’t help but think perhaps the ankle was the whole thing. Make it through this recovery peacefully with your family, you’ll have a new perspective on them, that was what was meant to be endured. When they’d seen the state I’d returned from the woods in, there was a distinct shift in their energy towards me. The aggression from Mom was sidelined, and my Dad’s frustration over what I now know was their impending financial collapse was well masked by his concern for me.
Recovery was going smoothly and a few weeks post op I was seen for a follow up and placed into a cast. That evening my Dad surprised me with a new television for my room, delightful, unexpected, but I wasn’t going to complain. I was not in a place to be stirring any shit up. Smoking a shit load of weed, I was floating in and out of consciousness most days, I was in recovery from a major surgery after all.
Around eight that night I could hear my parents fighting. Nothing out of the ordinary I thought, until I heard my Mom’s roar. Once she got going into one of her blackout rage fits, there was no stopping it, just let the storm rage until it runs out of rain.
From what I could decipher they were arguing over something that she believed had been stolen from her. He was doing his best to reassure her that everything was fine, that she was drunk and she just needed to go to bed.
Piece of life advice, don’t tell a drunk person they’re drunk.
Here’s where I need to bring in a small disturbing fact about the household I grew up, as it is relevant to this story.
Our home was filled with loaded guns. Loaded riffles, sawed off shotguns, pistols everywhere.
Great combination right?
An abusive alcoholic in a household with loaded firearms.
Nothing bad is gonna happen right?
Struggling to even get myself out of a prone position, I managed to hop out of my bed and down the hall towards the stairs. They were going at it, and I was just stoned and just confident enough in our recent interactions that perhaps I could play peace keeper.
Scooting down the stairs on my bottom, my Mom pushed past me and stammered up the stairs. I figured she was doing her normal- fuck you I’m gonna storm out of the room- thing that she did. Dad helped me to my feet and I meandered over to the pantry when I heard my Mom come back to the top of the stairs and scream something to the effect of
“Don’t you ever think you can do that again.”
Having lived in the St. Louis metro area for long enough at that point, instincts took hold and I dropped to the kitchen floor and crawled my way to the garage knowing there was a 9mm in the glove box of the Navigator I could get to. Retrieving the pistol and cambering a round I turned back towards the house in hopes of being able to stop her from killing us.
Inching back towards the door of the house, I could hear her screaming and I knew this the moment I had to make a choice. I lifted my hand towards the door knob and realized that if I just reached a little further I could hit the garage door opener. I could scream, I could try to get away from the house, get help.
There was no time, she’d only fired two rounds, there were seven more she could unload into Dad and then into me if I didn’t move quick enough. We were going to die if she wasn’t stopped.
Get up Rue.
Hobbling into the laundry room that connected the kitchen to the garage, I could see that she was on the stairs and he stood in the kitchen, both with guns pointed at one another.
They saw me, Dad screamed to me to put the gun down and get out. As she began to point her gun towards me, he yelled at her to go back upstairs or he’d kill her where she stood. He began to advance, she backed down and went back upstairs.
“Go get in the car, I’ll be right there.”
I hobbled out of the house and climbed into the Navigator. Silence fell.
Waiting for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was all of about four minutes, he emerged from the house with our dogs, and a handful of necessities. We left.
Dad found us a hotel where we posted up until morning. I called a few friends that night to ask if I could crash, but in my weakened post op state, no one could take me on. Morning came and Dad returned to the house, armed and prepared to do whatever needed to be done. He found her more out of it than usual, and disgusted by her own state she agreed to be seen by a doctor.
The dogs and I returned to the home while Dad took Mom to be evaluated. Needless to say, she was seen rather quickly.
While they were away I asked a friend to come over, explaining I was in desperate need of help. Making my way upstairs to see the damage myself at first I noticed that the bullets she’d fired had been fired into my bedroom. In fact, they were not only fired into my room, they came through the wall about ten inches from where my head would normally rest at night.
She had been trying to kill me.
I hid weapons around my room, not knowing at what point she would be returning and what the next escalation would be. Knowing that I had the gumption to be prepared to shoot her, I wasn’t as consumed by fear anymore. This woman who’d taken my entire childhood from me, manipulated me like a puppet, drugged me, and then blamed me for everything that had gone wrong for twenty years was not going to take my life.
This is my life, and it’s not ending in this house.
My friend arrived and quickly was overwhelmed by the danger I was clearly in. Between the bullet holes near my pillows in the wall, the knives I’d hidden everywhere, and my inability to walk like a normal person, he knew this situation had reached critical mass. Something had to give or we were going to end up on the news.
“Rue, you know, you could always like go, go back to school. Like, get a dorm on campus in old town. It would suck and I’m sure cost a lot, but why couldn’t you live on campus?”
A suggestion that came from the purest place in his heart, only being articulated to offer help and support, and yet I was so defeated I shot the idea down initially.
“I’ve already fucked up at the college thing twice and gotten so much shit for it, I just can’t go through all of that again just so one day the rug will get pulled out.” I told him.
We wept and hugged. At that moment in my life I was completely convinced I was going to have to fight and shoot my way out of this family.
“Have you found the bullets?” He asked.
“One, not the other. Dad’s cheap, it was wad cutter, probably broken up around this room or still broken in pieces in the wall. Dunno.” I responded.
Looking around the room, he let out a little chuckle.
“Welp, there’s one impact.” He said pointing to the bottom of an old mirror in my room that had once been a part of a buffet. Distressed and far older than even I was, not all of the mirror provided a clear reflection. The bottom of the mirror had clearly been hit by something as it was shattered in the corner. Pulling one of the pieces from the frame I tried to see my own reflection, however I was unsuccessful.
Dad called with an update on Mom’s condition, only to reveal a piece of information I’d long suspected to be true, but could never prove.
“She’s been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and they believe paranoid schizophrenia too. She’s very angry but is coming home.”
“Did she say why she did it?” I asked
“Yes, she said she was angry you stole the television remote and she was going to kill you so know understood not to do that again.”
My jaw dropped as did my friend’s.
This. Is. Insanity.
We argued back and forth over her coming home, stressing that she needed a stay in the ward, but being met with the reality that at the time there were not enough beds for someone like her who without police intervention wasn’t going to be deemed a real threat. Our conversation deteriorated into an argument where it was revealed he’d begun to agree with her that to them this whole thing really was my fault after all, and even if it wasn’t, she needed more help than I did.
To put it simply, I was never safe or welcome in that home beyond that. Helping me pack what could be packed, and what I could manage as I still couldn’t walk my friend assisted me out of the house. I took one last painful look at that shattered mirror before I left.
The lesson was clear. The universe had spoken.
The days of sacrifice and endurance had arrived and if I could make it through, one day I’d be able to see something in that reflection worth looking at.
All images are copyrighted material of Sarah Rue. These images may not be used without the expressed consent of the owner under penalty of law.