How It Begins by C. C. Russell

How It Begins

You’ll be standing in the shower one morning, still half-asleep while hot water steams the world around you to a dull glow. You will try to bend down to touch your toes, but your body will only let you go halfway. You will realize that this quick shock of pain no longer catches you by surprise.

You will be taking a pull off of your first cigarette of the day and feel your breath catch for a second, one sharp stab. There – behind your ribcage. You will shake your head. You will tell yourself that it is nothing. You will think that it must have just been gas. You will finish the cigarette on the way to work, making sure as you pass the bodega that you have enough to last you through the day.

Driving home through traffic, you will suddenly realize you do not remember having passed the last few traffic lights – whether they were green or not. You will blink your eyes and for that one split second you will not be sure which cross-street you’re near. You will not recognize any landscapes. For a moment, you will see beauty – sheer beauty in the terrifying intensity of the world.

It will start with headaches that grow so slowly in your skull that they’re unnoticeable at first. Ibuprofen will become your constant bedside companion – one stiff handful for sleeping. When you close your eyes, you will press the lids so tightly together that it will feel as if you are pulling all of the skin of your head together into these spots. You will walk with this pose stapled to your face, hands out to your sides like a drunken tightrope walker until you reach the doorway and fumble for the light switch, momentarily shutting down the world.

You will start to see your body as a foreign landscape after a long war – craters in what was once the flat plain of your stomach, the burnt remains of your once full head of hair, the disrupted topography of your previously smooth face. You will know despite any peace accords offered, battles are still being waged. You will know this as the earth knows this – constant upheaval.

It will begin with these insignificant pains. Pricks of light from within your own body – insufferable and then forgotten. It will begin with numbness somewhere – toes, one arm, a foot. It will begin with a numbness in your life.

It will begin with denial and a quiet gnashing of teeth.

It will begin with blank spots in your vision, small empty spaces in your memory. You will hear voices that will bring you back, ever so slowly, into the present tense. More often than not, their tones will be asking if you are alright, if you were paying attention to them, telling you that you don’t look so good. You will not always realize that the voices are there. When you do, you will not be sure how long they have been speaking.

It will begin in small mannerisms. The soft flutter of hands in the morning, the consistent rhythmic spasm of muscle in your calf. It will begin with homegrown diagnoses, self-prescribed home remedies. It will begin with your quiet moments. It will begin with you for once, keeping your mouth shut – this sudden, unsure silence. It will begin when eventually you are ready to speak again.


C C Russell


C.C. Russell has lived in Ohio and New York and currently resides in a one-bookstore-town in Wyoming with his wife and daughter.  His writing has appeared here and there online and in print and has been nominated for a few awards.  He can be found on Twitter @c_c_russell where he struggles with brevity and excels at losing followers.


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(Picture by Jon Bunting)