A New Playlist

By Joe Markell

           There was a deafening silence as the ringing in his ears loudened to a scream. 

           He was upside down, dizzy and confused. Blood dripped in the grassy snow below his face and when he followed the source of the blood, he saw his arm hanging limp and broken. It felt as though he were looking at it from a distance – searching for the pain that wasn’t there. 

           There should have been pain, but there wasn’t. 

           What happened? he thought to himself.

           The air smelled acrid – burning oil and blood. 

           I crashed, he realized. 

           It only seemed possible to do one thing at a time, so first, he needed to get out of the car. He reached to his waist and pressed the seatbelt release, dropping him to the lumpy mix of snow, grass and glass. Then he rolled onto his right side. 

           The effort exhausted him so he rested and took assessment of his body. His head ached and the ringing was still there, but he was starting to get his bearings. His left arm throbbed, and he was nauseous – his insides seemed to ache everywhere. His legs seemed fine though. 

           “I’m okay,” he said and nodded to reassure himself. 

           Using his right arm, he slid himself sideways across to the passenger side, then out of the broken passenger side window. Once outside he struggled to his knees and eventually to his feet. 

           The sky was darkening and all color and light blended into gray. Snow fell silently and veiled the forest of coniferous trees down the road like a steamy fog. Behind him, a chaotic carving of earth lead away from the car to the mangled guardrails at the road – the car must have slid a hundred feet or more. 

           A low rumble sounded and the trees in the distance illuminated as a pick-up truck rounded the bend where he had lost control. As it drove by, the driver looked at him with an expressionless face and made no move to slow down. The snowy air glowed crimson around the taillights as it thundered down the road and out of sight. 

           Then it was silent again. He shivered and felt tired. 

           He crouched and reached into the back window – grabbed a scarf and shook dirt and glass off of it. He carefully wrapped the scarf a few inches above the protruding bone. Then held the end of it, took a deep breath and yanked it tight. 

           He winced. The numbness was wearing off.

           The snowy fog in the distance illuminated again but more gradually this time. He staggered up the ditch to the road, positioning himself just outside of the guardrail and looked at the oncoming car. The red sedan slowed as it approached and skid to a stop nearby. The headlights cast a wide nimbus of icy white and blue.

           The window went down revealing an ageless woman with black hair and a light brown complexion. She could have been twenty or fifty. Her gaze was serious and full of intent. He swallowed.

           “Are you alone?” she asked.

           He wondered at that for a moment. Was he alone right now or in general? “Yes,” he answered.

           “Are you alright?” she motioned her head toward his left arm.

           He looked down at it, then back to her, “It’s broken,” he said flatly.

           “Can I take you to a hospital?” she asked. 

           “I, um…” he stammered, trying to find the right words but then shook his head, “No…no, I’ll be alright.”

           She took a long, discerning look at him. He felt exposed and vulnerable. 

           I shouldn’t have come to the road, he feared.

           He shifted his feet and put his head down, hoping that she might move on. She must have sensed his fear, “Can I take you to a Healer?” she offered.

           He glanced at his arm, then back at his car, then at her. 

           “What about my car?” 

           “That’s not going anywhere,” she said, “but that’s a bad break and you need help. And I’d say rather soon.” 

           Fuck, I can’t believe I crashed. I’m so stupid, he berated himself. All because I had to go for a drive. He had been so careful over the past years and now everything was at risk. He could die if he didn’t get help, but could he trust her? He had heard of Healers – they’d likely be firm believers in anonymity as they had been hunted for practicing shadow medicine. But he just couldn’t tell.

           When he didn’t respond, she tilted her head and continued, “With this storm, one of the next cars coming down this road will either be a plow or a highway patrol – and either one will radio in that there was an accident. They will also offer help but judging by your reluctance to go to a hospital, I think you may run into problems with them. If that’s the case, I think you should come with me. I can help.”

           He nodded and carefully made his way over the twisted guardrail. He opened the door of her car and frowned as he looked at the clean seat. 

           “I’ll get blood on the seat,” he confessed.

           “I’m not worried about that,” she said earnestly and patted the seat, “C’mon, get in. I’m getting cold.”

           He got in, shut the door and put his seat belt on. She looked at him with kinder eyes and said, “I’m going to bring you to the Healer …about twenty minutes from here. That sound alright?”

           “Yes.”

           She accelerated and the car jerked sporadically as it caught traction on patches of pavement. 

           As they left the scene, he looked in the side view mirror and saw that another car was just coming around the bend. This time though, the trees were flashing yellow. She was right, it was a plow. 

           Ahead of them, the wind picked up reducing the visibility and buffeting the car. She leaned forward and squinted at the road while she drove, “Are you hurt anywhere besides your arm?” 

           “Um, everything is starting to hurt a little,” he admitted, “but mostly just my arm.” It was getting bad. The throbbing was getting worse. The place where the bone broke felt like it was vibrating and sending waves of sharp pain through his arm in both directions – and into his chest. 

           “Just breathe,” she said, “The pain’ll get worse now, but you can handle it.”

           “How do you know?” he said, curtly.

           “How do I know you can handle it? I guess I don’t. But I’m pretty sure you can. Do you think you can’t handle it?” she returned. 

           “No, I just… you don’t know me.” he explained, “So how do you know I can handle it?”

           “You look like a healthy young man – so I have no doubt you can handle it.”

           The snow was continuous, and it was gusty, making it hard to see. In other circumstances, he might feel cozy being in the car, safe and dry and warm. But his body was in peril, and he wasn’t safe, not until he was healed and alone. 

           They rode in silence for a while and he watched the road with a growing wariness. His eyelids felt heavy. 

           “What’s your name?” she broke the silence between them, “I’m Yalai.”

           “Yalai?” he repeated, then winced as a sharp pain pulsed through him.

           “Yes. You?”

           “Paul,” he lied.

           “Well Paul, what music do you like?”

           He moaned. 

           “Why does that matter?” he asked

           “It’s important,” she said as a matter of fact.

           “Well, I like a lot of different things.”

           “Like what?”

           “Well, there’s a playlist I’ve been listening to,” he said.

           “Go ahead and put it on,” she said. 

           “How?” he asked.

           “You’re young, I’m sure you can figure out,” she said, then gripped the steering wheel. The wind jostled the car. She slowed and drove forward cautiously. 

           “This wind…” she muttered.

           He reached for his phone and patted an empty pocket. His phone was gone. He frantically patted his other pockets and flinched as he bumped his broken arm. The phone was still in the car – or buried in the snow somewhere. It had been plugged into to the dash. In all the chaos, he had completely forgotten about it. Anxiety bubbled up through his stomach – like butterflies trying to escape in a frenzy. His whole life was on his phone. 

           “I lost my phone,” he said to her. 

           “Oh good,” she said relieved, but not to him, “the turn is right there.”

           A large snow drift blocked the entrance to the road. She angled the car and accelerated. His heart raced as they plowed into the snow drift, sending a wave of snow airborne. The engine roared as the wheels spun, drifting sideways until finally shuddering forward as the tires caught pavement again. 

           The sign for the road faced the wind and was caked with snow. 

           “Which road is this?” he asked. 

           “Not too much farther now,” she said, again, ignoring his question, or not hearing it. “were you listening to anything when you crashed?”

           He started to shiver in shallow pulses. Each shiver causing him to grimace. His arm felt thick, like it was being squeezed. He blinked through tears and cleared his eyes. 

           “Yeah,” he answered. Why does she keep asking about music? He wondered. 

           The road ahead was narrow – hardly room enough for two cars to pass alongside one another. It was curvy and there was something strange about the trees. They seemed to be growing in a way that formed a tunnel. The farther along they went, the more the trees leaned over them, creating an archway. And the types of trees changed – the bark was lighter in color, birch and aspen interspersing the pine and oak. 

           They drove over a rise and then descended a long, curving slope. After a couple minutes, Yalai turned toward a dead end and stopped the car. She beeped in three successions. Suddenly, the rock wall in front of them began to move.

           “What you see here, stays here,” she said, looking at him. He met her eyes. Her dark irises were laced with sapphire, like streaks of lightning. He hadn’t noticed it before. 

           “Wha – what do you mean?” he stammered.

           “Everything you see here, you need to keep to yourself. The Healer will help you but you must not tell anyone.”

           He didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything. 

           They were stopped just short of the opened rock wall in the forest. The snow continued but seemed less here – protected from the forest above. 

           “Promise me,” Yalai said, “Or I will bring you back to the road and leave you.”

           Her eyes, once kind, now looked at him with a fierceness that made him forget his pain and swallow. He looked at the bone sticking out of his arm – bloody, raw and pink. He shivered and felt lightheaded. It can’t be worse than going back, he thought, what choice do I have?

           “I promise,” he said and she looked at him for another moment, not breaking eye contact. He looked away. 

           “Good,” Yalai said and continued into the cave. 

           The car bounced as it rolled over large flat rocks at the entrance of the cave and down a steeper driveway made of stone. The headlights filled the tunnel with light. Water dripped along the sides and small rivulets guttered on the sides as they descended. 

           They hit a large hole and the bottom of the car scraped, he moaned.

           “Almost there,” Yalai reassured. 

           The bottom of the tunnel opened to a large space. The ceiling of the cave was higher and there was another car parked there. It was dusty and old. 

           Yalai turned off the car and looked at him, “Can you still walk?”

           “I think so,” he swallowed. 

           “I’ll help you out.” She said as she unbuckled. She got out of the car and went around to his side and opened the door, “Okay, up you go,” she held her hand out to him. 

            He grabbed it and tried to stand – his legs were weak, but he made it to his feet. She put an arm around him lightly, bracing his chest, and led him toward a doorway in the rock. 

            The cave was damp and cold – and it smelled like black pepper and moss. 

            She led him through the doorway and into a hallway. At the end were two fire lanterns on each side of large wooden doors secured with strips of black iron and thick hinges. The flickering light illuminated ornately curved handles on the doors. 

            Yalai released him carefully, then reached through the handles and triggered a mechanism that initiated a cascade of metal clicks down the center of the doors. Then she pulled them open. 

            The warmth was immediate.  

            He looked in disbelief at a large cavernous room that looked like a storybook tavern. A large fireplace roared on the side of the spacious room and sent waves of heat toward him. Three walls of the space were lined with counters and benches, full of books, candles, strange artifacts, dishware and oddly shaped tools. Four oversized chairs surrounded the hearth and a carved wooden table sat between them. In the center of the room was a massive table with twelve high backed chairs surrounding it. The table and chairs were all hard wood, carved with varying patterns and repeated motif of crows. Two large candelabras anchored on the table and gave the entire room a medieval feel to it. 

           The fourth wall on the far side of the room was all glass. It looked out onto a natural courtyard at the bottom of a cliff. Dustings of snow drifted from above but melted on the ground. The courtyard was rich in life, full of herbs, vines, roots and plants he’d never seen before. It was beautiful but there was something odd about it. Perhaps it was just the falling darkness of dusk casting an eerie shadow to the entire courtyard. 

            He shivered, despite the warmth of the room. 

            “He is here,” Yalia spoke as if there were someone else in the room. She removed her hat and gloves and tossed them on a small table near the entrance, “I’m not sure if he has internal injuries but his arm needs mending.”

            Just then, someone emerged from a dark area beside the fireplace. They moved with a slow confidence. They wore a loose-fitting hooded cloak, dark brown with maroon spades that climbed the cloth like leaves caught in a flurry. The cloak didn’t touch their body close enough to define any gender or sex. Everything about them carried a weight that made him feel as if he were being pulled toward them. 

            “Are you the Healer?” he asked weakly.

            The person removed their hood and long grey hair uncoiled and draped over their shoulders. Their skin had a dark tone, but somehow pale as well – and still, he could not define them.

            “Let’s have a look at you,” the Healer said as they reached forward and placed their hands on his cheeks. Their hands were strong but soft. They moved his face around and opened his eyes wide, peering inside as though they could see into him. It made him uneasy, but he didn’t feel he had any option but do let the Healer work. 

            “Yes, yes,” the Healer continued, “You want to know my name so you can determine if I am a man or a woman – a silly thing that – considering I can save your life – to worry about such a thing.”

            “I just –”

            “But,” they interrupted him, “I suppose that can be forgiven considering what you’ve been through. You are looking for things that make sense right now – looking for things that are comfortable, familiar…things you know. Perhaps something for your mind to cling to and ground you. No?”

            He kept silent but shrugged, then winced. 

            “I’m known as Sh’io,” they said and pressed their hands on his chest, then on his back, feeling around. Sh’io stepped back and frowned thoughtfully. 

           “Lay down there,” the healer pointed at the large table. A long blanket had been draped over the table – perhaps Yalai had done it when he was being examined – he wasn’t sure. 

           Yalai helped him climb up onto the makeshift bed. Despite her help, he practically fell backward onto the blanket.

           “My arm,” he moaned.

           “Yes, yes, that can be fixed easily, we’ll get to that, but that is not the main concern here,” the healer said, not unkindly.

           “It’s not?” he asked nervously.

           “No. Now hold still.”

           Sh’io pressed on his chest, then in a motion like rolling dough, moved their hands over his abdomen. A searing sharp pain shot through his body and he screamed. The Healer withdrew their hands and nodded, “just as I thought,” they explained, “ruptured spleen. That can be fatal.”

           “Fatal?” he asked weakly.

           “Yalai,” the Healer said without turning, “fetch me my Moonroot. Quickly now.”

           From the corner of his eye, he saw Yalai run off toward the shadowed area of the room where Sh’io had entered.

           “Tell me exactly what was happening at the moment of your crash,” the Healer said.

           “Well I was driving, then when I was going around a turn, it was slippery and I lost it.”

           “What were you doing? Were you eating? Sniffing? Looking down? What were you hearing? What was of your senses?”

           “I was looking forward but, no I wasn’t eating,” he thought back, “I think everything was normal.”

           “Think.” Sh’io counseled, “Recall your senses, what were you feeling? What were you hearing?” 

           “I was seeing the road and, maybe I tapped my phone? And I was listening to a song.”

           While he was talking, the healer sprayed something all around his arm – it stung. Then their hands had migrated to his shoulder and arm. It felt as though they were searching, as a blind person might discern an object.

           “Yeah, I was listening to music,” he repeated. 

           “What song was it?” the Healer asked.

           “Umm, it was ‘Mad World’” he said. 

           “Hum it for me,” the Healer commanded.

           He began humming –

           CRACK

           He screamed. 

           The Healer had shoved his bone into place. He saw stars and screamed again as another pulse of pain stabbed through his arm and up through his shoulder. His vision narrowed and he saw a tunnel growing from his peripheral vision, but the Healer tapped his forehead a few times and the tunnel vision retreated.

           “That was the hard part,” the Healer said plainly. 

           Yalai rushed back into the room and set a small leather pouch beside him on the table. 

           “Good,” Sh’io said, “now leave us.”

           Yalai stood for a moment and seemed to be protesting, “But…but I found him. Do I not have right to stay and observe?”

           “Not for this one,” the Healer shook their head and gave Yalai a leveled look, “now go.”

           “What’s happening?” he asked. 

           “Be silent. Be still. Pay attention.” Sh’io grabbed the pouch and leaned over to look down at him, into his eyes, “I will heal your internal injuries, but as all things in this life, there is a cost.”

           “I can pay you later … I just –”

           “Not that kind of cost,” she cut him off, “the cost is unpredictable…but I think you gave me enough.”

           “Enough what? What does that mean?” he asked, struggling. The pain throbbed everywhere. 

           “This healing will change you, but I may be able to channel it…” the Healer trailed off and briskly glided over to a table, fingering through a line of books until settling on one. They grabbed it and came back to the table where he lay. Sh’io raced through the pages, slid their finger down a page and said, “Yes… yes, I can channel it into this type of bond. That should work.”

           “Bond? What are you talking about?”

           The Healer snatched the pouch Yalai had brought and suddenly the warm glow of the candle light and the fireplace brightened – light flared across the ceiling, “The better question is ‘how badly do you wish to live?’”

           “I could go to the hospital still,” he protested. 

           “No,” Sh’io said, “Yalai wouldn’t have brought you here if that were possible. And even if you tried now, you are more than an hour away – and already your insides are poisoning.”

           “But what about–”

           “Choose.” The Healer urged, “and choose quickly!”

           His head felt thick and slow, but he considered that if he went to a hospital he may die on the way, or be detained. He thought about what it took to stay anonymous, how far he’d made it through life. He thought about the things he wanted. He thought about his mother and how she…how she gave him everything she had. 

           “Heal me,” he said finally, “Please.”

           And with that, the Healer shoved their fingers into the Moonroot pouch and pinched some of it into a mortar. Sh’io moved rapidly, but each step was measured and controlled. They rummaged through pockets in their cloak and added some other powders and herbs and then smashed them together with a stone pestle. They grabbed a knife, pricked their finger, squeezed blood into the bowl, then moved to grab a bottle and poured some liquid into the mortar. Sh’io then poured the entire mixture into a vial, capped it and shook it fervently. Lastly the Healer grabbed the vial with tongs and held it over a candle flame until its cap popped off. 

           The Healer grabbed the finished potion from the tongs with their bare hands and said, “Drink this.” 

           “Isn’t it hot?” was all he said.

           “It’s quite cool. Hurry now.”

           He grabbed it and poured it in his mouth. He gagged for a moment but swallowed all of it. It tasted awful, bitter and sour. It coursed down his esophagus, into his stomach, and then like fierce mint, a coolness spread through his insides, slowly, and hauntingly bizarre. It coated everything, everywhere, from his feet to his head.

           The Healer touched his forehead with one hand and pressed down on his spleen with the other.

           They began to speak, “Bel vel leck lo, Mi’joato, tal tal toe leckoack,” then somehow at the same time overlapping they also said, “remember the exact moment of your crash. Think of the song ‘Mad World.’”

           His body contorted; everything was shaking.

           The Healer intensified.

           “Think of that song! Vel leck lo, Mi’joato. Of the crash! Tal tal toe. Of the moment of leckoack impact!”

           The accident flashed back in his mind – he was white-knuckled and wide eyed as the car slid on the ice, losing traction and swerving into a spin across the road. The seat belt tightened to a brace and the car slammed into the guardrail sideways, airbags exploded, the music ‘no one knew me, no one knew me…’ stopped. The car flipped sideways lifting off the ground. His whole body was thrown to the side then up and he was weightless for a silent moment before the car slammed down on the roof – carving down the ditch – chunks of earth and snow spraying his face. With a final jolt, the car stopped against something hard in the ditch. 

            ‘no one knew me, no one knew me…’

           All light and flame went out in the room – even outside, shadow and darkness came over him like smoke, his body lurched, and his insides vibrated into a fizz. 

           He screamed. 

           A timeless moment later, he couldn’t say how long, the fire and flames returned, light filled the room. 

           “Hush now,” Sh’io said and removed their hand from his spleen and combed his hair back.

He whimpered.  

           “You need to sleep Mi’joato,” the Healer said as they picked up the Moonroot pouch and moved away, “You need to sleep.” 

           “How…how did you know my real name?” he asked but the Healer had already left the room. He closed his eyes and sleep took him immediately.

            Mi’joato woke on the table. There was more padding beneath him than before. He felt comfortable on pillows and beneath a blanket – just a bit groggy. The fireplace still cast a warm glow to the room but the candles on the table were extinguished. And outside the sky had brightened – suggesting it was early morning. 

            His arm had a bandage around it, tight and clean. He touched his stomach, where the pain had been. It felt normal. Was it real? He wondered. 

            “Ah, Mi’joato,” Yalai’s voice came from somewhere behind him, “you’re awake.”

            He sat up and leaned forward for a moment. He was not just groggy, he felt exhausted, as though he had spent the past week running nonstop. Every part of his body felt weak in some way but none of it was like the pain he had had the night before. Short of feeling weak, he felt healthy. 

           He turned to look at Yalai who was sitting in a large chair by the fireplace, reading a book. 

           “How do you know my real name?” he asked her.

            She looked disappointed suddenly, “After all that’s happened, that’s the first thing you ask?”

            He looked away from her, “I don’t understand any of this.”

            “Not a ‘thank you’ or a ‘I’m hungry’ or a ‘what the hell happened last night?’”

            “Well, yeah, I’d like to know all that too,” he admitted, “but, I don’t know.”

            Yalai was looking at him like she had done when they first met. He felt uncomfortable. She set the book down and walked over to him.

            “You’re lucky to be alive,” she said as she handed him a plate with bread and butter on it. He took it and spread the butter. The bread was thick and heavy, moist and warm. The butter spread easily. He bit into it. The butter was sweetened with honey and some herb he didn’t recognize. The food tasted better than anything he’d had in months. Yalai approved of his eating by nodding. 

           She sat beside him on the table and continued, “Most people are named by their parents – a name chosen at random or by whim. Maybe something they looked up on the internet with a nice ring to it, or maybe they name their child after a relative or someone they admire. But some names, are special. These names can become the person and the person become them.”

           “What does that mean?”

           “It means that your name comes from you and you from it. You are linked, bonded. Whoever named you knew it. I knew it and the Sh’io knew it because I told them. That’s how Sh’io was able to heal you the way they did. If you could not be bonded, it wouldn’t have worked.”

           “I still don’t get it.”

           “Names have power, Mi’joato,” Yalai explained, “What are we, if not associations to our past, present and future?”

             With that, she went back to her chair by the fireplace and picked up her book. 

             Mi’joato looked around the room. All the books, potions and artifacts were scattered throughout. There was no one but Yalai and him in the large cavernous room. The room looked as though it were used by many people, and yet, it had only ever been him, Yalai and the Healer Sh’io. The fire crackled in the fireplace, but he never saw anyone put wood in it. A small detail maybe but it was one of many things that wasn’t quite right. He started retracing everything in his mind, weaving together a narrative of everything that had happened since the accident and his heart started racing. 

            He needed air. Instinctually, he looked outside.

            “Can I go out there?” he asked Yalai.

            “If you wish,” she said calmly. 

            Mi’joato swung his legs over the side of the table and set his feet down lightly, testing his weight – he was weak but capable. He wrapped one of the blankets around himself and walked over to the glass sliding door and stepped out. 

            The air was cool and earthy like the mud of a streambed in the spring. There was a small ornate metal bench on the side of a vertically terraced herb garden. He brushed a dusting of snow off and sat down. 

            It was calm and beautiful there. Birds chirped from overhead and a light breeze rustled the pine needles of the upper canopy high up the cliff face of the garden. A squirrel jumped across a branch and cast off a sprinkling of snow. The squirrel gave a long look at him, then scurried up the tree away from the little garden. 

           Mi’joato took a deep breath and for the first time since the accident, he began to relax and collect his thoughts.

            “The bonding has solidified,” The Healer’s voice startled him. It had come from his right, down a small pathway he hadn’t noticed.  Sh’io was plucking herbs off the terraced wall and carefully placing them in pouches sewn into their cloak.

            “What?” he asked. 

            “You survived – and by the looks of it, are quite healthy. Which means that the bonding was a success. That’s good. Very good.”

            “What bonding? What are you talking about? I still don’t get it.” he said, trying not to sound frustrated.

            “Yalai’s insight saved your life. She identified you as a Bonder. So, I saw a way to heal you. Do you understand?

           He shook his head. 

           “To heal you, I had to bind your injury to something. I had to solidify an association,” The Healer moved closer and wiped their hands briskly on their clothes. Then they leaned over and grabbed his shoulders, “at the time of your injury you were hearing a song and you recalled that song at the same time the Moonroot took hold. It set the bonding.”

           “I don’t remember what song –”

           “’Mad World’, you called it.”

            At that instant, he writhed in pain, reliving both the accident and the moment he was laying on the table while Sh’io yelled in that foreign tongue. The pain coursed through him and he buckled over further and fell to the ground, brushing against the Healer’s feet.  

            “The strongest bond I’ve achieved yet,” Sh’io said, “I’m amazed at the bond’s strength. They leaned over and gently pressed one of their hands on his shoulder while he shook in agony, “It will pass, but you must not think of or hear that song.”

            “B…but,” he said, “How can it? I mean…how can I not think of it?”

            Mi’joato thought of the song again and tensed, crying. 

            “It is possible,” Sh’io continued, “to not think of the song. But you must learn to live with it. It is the cost of associating a bond.”

            “You mean…you mean every time I think of that song, or hear it, I’ll –” his voice was shaking, laying on the cold ground, the song repeated in his head again, and he convulsed, “…this’ll happen.”

            “Yes.”

            “How do I not think of it?!” he yelled and held his eyes clothed as he groaned. When the pain lessened for a moment, he saw that Sh’io had already gone down the path, plucking herbs.

            He shivered uncontrollably for some time, and for a few brief moments he forgot the song long enough to crawl back inside and climb onto a chair by the fire across from Yalai. The warmth felt wonderful and his body felt healthy again. He didn’t know how he could live with this. How he’d be able to ignore a song that he’d heard so many times. 

           But the song came back in his memory again.

            Mi’joato curled up from the pain and trauma. This time besides the pain, a sudden awareness that he also felt panicked. Panicked that he would have to live with this the rest of his life – that he would be trapped in it. Reliving the trauma over and over and over. 

            Yalai was there, watching him with a concerned look on her face. 

            “How do I?” he sucked air in rapid breaths, “How do I go on?”

            “You go on,” Yalai said, “moment by moment.”

            “But how?!” he yelled, “I can’t stop thinking about that so—”

            He writhed in pain. 

            “Mi’joato!” she yelled, “You must adapt and you will adapt. Think of a song – one of your favorites from when you were a kid. Really think. One that made you happy and that you haven’t thought about for a long time?”

            Mi’joato thought back, thinking about a song called “Hey, Man,” from a playlist he made when he was a teenager. He nodded, “I remember.”

            “And how long has it been since you thought of that song?”

            “Years,” he answered.

            “So you’ve already successfully not thought about a song for years,” Yalai leaned in, “So you can do it again.”

            “But… but it’s…”

            “Stop!” She said, “you’re alive and you need to make a choice here and now. You can either accept what is and choose to live… to fight and train yourself to think of other things. Or you can choose to give up.”

            “How?”

            “Moment by moment, day by day, song by song if needed.” Yalai said, “It’s no different than others who’ve experienced trauma, or permanent medical conditions. People with Tinnitus hear ringing in their ears constantly, but they adapt. They train themselves to ignore it and over time, they don’t notice it or don’t get bothered by it as much. Some people lose limbs and they adapt. Some people go blind or deaf, but they all adapt. You have been given life and all you have to do is focus on everything else but one song. That’s not a bad price to pay for your life.” 

            He realized that for the entire time she’d spoken he had felt normal. Listening to her voice, feeling the fire and his healthy body. He felt alive and free for a moment before he thought of the song and screamed again. 

            “You’re already doing it,” Yalai comforted him. “You just spent about 30 seconds normal, that’s the longest span since you found out. Next time it may be 45 seconds, and then it may be 5 minutes and after some days, it may be weeks and after some weeks it may be years.”

            Taking Yalai’s advice, Mi’joato started humming “Hey, Man.” He liked it and it always made him happy. 

            He hummed the whole song and felt healthy again. 

            “See?” Yalai said, “that was about three minutes.” 

            He sat up, supporting himself as though he were balancing on a cliff, but somehow maintained his thoughts on other things, forcing himself to block it out. He looked at Yalai and said, “What happens now?”

            “Now,” she stood up and went to grab her coat from the table by the entrance, “I bring you home.”

            “And what do I do? What about my car? What about everything?” he said and just as he stood up, he thought of the song again. He collapsed back into the chair. 

            She came back over to him and put her hand on his back and rubbed it in slow circular movements. It called his attention away from the song and into his body. He breathed deeply and started to relax.

           “You can and will live a healthy and normal life,” He looked up at her, afraid, and she looked back and gave him a supportive smile, “moving past trauma feels impossible at first, but you will. If I were you, I’d start by making some new associations.”

           “Like making a new playlist?”

           “Yes,” Yalai said, “and Mi’joato?”

           “Yeah?”

           “Give it a strong name.”

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