Where are you? she says.
I’m in a thick dense forest, with two or three huge paths leading through it. They’re the colour of blood and they glow in the gloom. They’re my neural networks and the type of paths which have been much travelled and the red glowing soil under my feet is as hard as rock. No one can see where they lead to, because the dark of the woods swallows any light they give off. There are no sounds in the forest of my mind. But it’s the kind of place where eyes are everywhere. They can see without the light.
She tells me to follow the road, and though I try, it’s as if my feet walk in the same place. I’m trapped with the same view and the same feeling of helplessness, powerlessness and I can’t seem to get anywhere but here. She asks me if there’s a guide I can find and immediately I see the spiders. Perhaps they’ve been here all along. They know the way, but they’re poisonous. I will never ask them the way. I will never invite them on this journey. And then I see a smaller, silver spider. Just one. A spider spirit. The essence of the all spiders’ patience, craft, and knowledge. This spider has no need for poison to protect her. She is magical. And I follow her.
As we travel together the path gets gradually smaller, into a thin ruby line and at the end of the path is a hovel where all the paths meet. Paths I hadn’t seen before. Most of them are white, almost transparent, as thin as spiders’ thread, but a few are red and these must be the tail ends of the others I saw before. They were much larger, but they all lead here to this tiny place. What is here? Neglect is here. Overgrown plants are here. This hovel has never been occupied, never lived in, loved or cared for. It is dirty and lonely. It is private. It is the core of all things. It is locked and there is no key. What was the purpose of my coming here, I wonder, if I cannot open the door? For I know, above all things, that this is my hovel. I am the owner of this hovel even though I cannot recall its existence. So I sit next to it for a while and ponder. Perhaps my spirit spider can get into the keyhole, I think. But I do not command the spirit spider. She is not mine to command. Yet still she sits in front of me and waits. My eyes adjust to see the finer details of the thicket and I see a flower. A white flower. It doesn’t belong here. I see it and I know that it marks the place where someone–is it me?–buried the key.
I wish the key to my hovel was finer, grander – like a medeival fortress key. But it’s not. It’s ordinary, double ridged and the patina is rusted. It’s a key, full of tarnished hope and promise. I wonder what treasure I will find in the hovel. I have come so far to see it. It feels like I’ve tried so many times to get here, I just didn’t know where to look before. Maybe it will be something. Maybe it will be something worthwhile. So I open the door. And I find… nothing.
It’s a hut. No more, no less. It is dry. Oddly warm. Peaceful. It’s also blank. Utterly blank. Devoid of all personality. Whatever I was hoping for is not here. Then I realise. That this hut, is mine. This space is mine. Nobody can find it. Nobody knows about it. It is my core, and no one is allowed here. But I think, I think I remember battles here. Battles when I was too small, too weak to defend it.
She says, ‘Most people have a control panel in there so that they know what survival response is best suited to any situation. Whether you fight, flee or freeze.’ When she says it I imagine the panel in the Starship Enterprise. An advanced civilization. Not this hovel in middle earth. Nothing has advanced here, grown here, evolved here, not since a long time ago. “Most people can regulate their anxiety from this place. You don’t have that ability. So you can’t. And you know why better than I do.”
I do know why. I remember now why I abandoned this place after all the fights. I know why there is no control panel. I tried to build my own but everytime I tried, it was destroyed. That’s how it is when you grow up with a narcissist who needs to govern your every move. Who views you as an extension of themselves. Your life is not your own. Your feelings are not your own. Fighting, fleeing, freezing are futile. No you must become someone else. You must fawn. But when you’re all grown up, that also means there’s no ability to recognise, manage and regulate your emotions. No off-switch for anxiety because you’re out of control. You have no control panel. There is no core to your being because you once sacrificed it just to stay alive.
‘Now the work begins,’ she says.
‘What if someone finds me again?’ I ask. It has been my finest ability. The transformation of myself into other people. Once a compulsion and now?
‘The spiders will protect you,’ she replies. ‘That’s why you put them there.’