In high school I read a story about three people from different stations in life being asked to describe their idea of hell. This was a blanket statement. What is your idea of hell? Most would have heard that question and assumed it means the place no-good-doers go to when their life is over. The answers were very much in line with that school of thought.
The first was a middle-aged man, white, married with several children, of a stable financial class. He said that hell would be a burning, hot place. Cliffs and ridges of brimstone and hell’s fire. Loud sounds of moans and screams, explosions, and lightening but no rain. Nothing moist or wet. Everything is dry and life-sucking. In this man’s hell he could hear his wife and children screaming but could not discern where it is coming from. The screams are shrill and speak of violence and fear. The man is paralyzed in place. His feet are engulfed in quick sand but it isn’t pulling him down further, it is turning to cement. The cement burns and bubbles and scolds his feet. As he continues to struggle to get out of his cement shackles, he can feel and hear his bones breaking until his legs separate, knocking him to the ground with bleeding stumps. This scene starts over again. In his hell, he lives these moments over and over in eternity. Though, he could not say the crime he committed to warrant such a horror.
The second person was a woman. She was a school teacher in her early thirties. Recently married, no children, with no plans for children in the future. She was stuck on the why. Why would she be in hell? What could she have done that was so terrible to constitute an eternity in hell? The why seemed to dictate the what. Depending on how bad the crime was, depended on how bad hell was. In her mind, there were different degrees. If she had been a liar or stolen or some other offense that was not life taking then she described a hell that was being lost in a maze of trees on fire. There was a way out, the maze had a beginning and an end but she could not remember where she entered or how to get back out. The trees that made up the maze, similar to the one in The Shinning, were all ablaze. She could hear children screaming, and yelling for her but she was unable to find them. Her fear of burning alive made it impossible for her to make the decision of which direction to begin. Her eternity was spent in that burning maze. If she had murdered someone, or taken a life in any way, she would be in the same maze only she was the one on fire. The trees were dense and she was not able to find her way out. Her husband could be heard yelling to her so he could help but she could only hear the crackling of her hair burning, and skin melting from her bones. This was how her eternity would be spent.
The third participant was a child. This was a young girl, around the age of 11, with no specific religion noted. She was of Spanish decent, with both parents living, and had lived a typical childhood with no traumatic experiences to note. She described hell as a place that people go when they do not deserve heaven. It is hot, and dry, and people there have no eye lids. They are never able to close their eyes no matter how tired they are, and they have no thumbs so they are not able to grip or grasp or hold anything for any length of time. People do not have any big toes making it difficult to move quickly, run or dance. The ears are removed but not the eardrum making all sound seems louder and more intense and the sounds never stop making sleep impossible. She described a mouth so dry that it hurts and her lips would be cracked yet she could see a water fall, a ways out in the distance, with no way to reach it. There are people enjoying the water. Playing in it, splashing around, laughing and enjoying each other but there was no way to get there with them and participate so the only thing to do is watch them with longing and jealousy. Her eternity would be spent as such.
Those things have always been in the back of my mind. I’m not exactly sure why but I have thought about that a lot. My idea of hell isn’t a place I will go to when I die or spend my eternity. My idea of hell is right now. To have a child that is not dead, who lives and breathes, who wakes up every morning but is not really alive. Not really living. Not really awake. To have a day that is snowing and cold to be spent with my children shoveling and watching movies and cooking dinner and baking a homemade chocolate cake (courtesy of Cinderella) but not really enjoying it because we are missing one. One child that isn’t really alive but isn’t really dead. Who is alive and part of this world but who isn’t part of my world is being in hell. To know that I cannot reach out to her because doing so would help her stay sick, and is not good for anyone, is hell.
We are living in a time that addicts are dying by the multiples every day. There is no warning sign. A person may get a batch laced with something else, or something in it that they aren’t aware of, and it will kill them instantly. Or just take too much, and bam- you are dead. Knowing that, and knowing that my daughter was in treatment, in a safe place, but chose to leave to go back to a life that is like playing with a match in one hand while holding a gas can in the other is hell to me. Getting the call that she had left again was not a surprise. It wasn’t shocking or even really upsetting, if I am being honest, because I knew it was coming. I knew that her attitude wasn’t right, she was so busy making sure even one pitied her she didn’t have time to focus on recovery. She was on her game while in recovery. She was on her scam game, who can do the most for me, my mother won’t help me, I’m just a poor victim game, while she was in recovery. And that was hell to me.
I know where she is, even though she thinks I don’t and knowing where she is, is hell to me. It is hell to know she is crawling back to a place she used to be that isn’t good that lead her to be abandoned in a park in the dark on a cold night. That night was hell to me. It was hell to me getting back in my warm bed, knowing she would be sitting on a park bench until someone else would pick her up. It was hell to find out another time I refused to pick her up she was actually sick, and in danger, without the use of her legs, but I didn’t believe her because she cried wolf so many times. Facing myself then was hell to me. Explaining to the doctors why she was alone on the street in the freezing cold was not only humiliating to me, but it was hell.
And now, I have no contact with her, and I know that I can’t, is hell to me. I have done all that I can. Others have done all that they can and she doesn’t stay in recovery and that is hell to me. She does not value her life as I do, and she doesn’t care if she lives or dies, and I think she doesn’t believe she is entitled to live a happy life, is hell to me. I am in hell while I am alive, and I will be in hell when she dies. This hell is not worse than fire and brimstone, or eyes with no lids, or waterfalls I can’t reach. This is a hell only a parent can understand. I live in hell.