Imagine with me, if you will, that one day you wake to find yourself inside a tunnel, one of those damp, black and trickling spaces you might find at the beach, a corridor through a mountain whose toes have jutted out into the sea. You stand up straight, blinking, waiting until your eyes stop searching for a glint of light and accustom to the dark. Your hands reach out, recoil at the moist unknown, grow brave and flatten against the rough walls. You know you have to move forward, step toward that pale glimmer far ahead, perhaps the tunnel's mouth, perhaps an opening to the sun. You step.
Imagine now the way your ankle turns, the blind fall, the way the rocks jut up and take your breath and you sit, wet and shaking, wondering how close you came to a broken wrist, a punctured eye, the fracturing of your legs, the only chance you have of escape. Imagine the way this repeats, again and again, until you grow in turns, angry, then hysterical, laughing and slapping and taking handfuls of your own hair to pull and shock yourself back into reality. You must not quit moving.
In the interest of time, we'll compress our story into moments, but you can imagine yourself after hours of this, after days, perhaps a week. If we stretch and invent a pool of fresh water and a supply of quick, young fish, perhaps some seaweed, we can imagine the dreadful monotony of a year, years. At any rate, you stumble along for what seems forever, and then longer, always reaching with hope toward the glimmer and finding it slipping just ahead and just ahead and just ahead, until hope be damned, you only want that glimmer so you can strangle it and force it to lie in the muck and die with you.
This has gone on so long, but now the hard part. One day, behind you: a roar, a crash. You cannot see it, but you know it. Perhaps a tsunami, perhaps a hurricane, has stirred up the ocean and it has come like a beast to claim you. You have one chance, and that is to chase this terrible tunnel to its end and escape. Imagine, as you run now, the ceiling is getting lower, the walls are compressing. Imagine how your sun-deprived skin is tearing against the rock walls, how you taste the iron of your blood in your mouth though you have no idea why. All your nerves are screaming to run faster, fiercer, and escape the howling beast. Imagine when the tongue of the beast licks at your back, when the first quicksilver of water reaches the tender skin of your neck.
And now, because this is a story, your own story, we might imagine that the water doesn't swallow you, but carries you instead, a carnival ride through the cavern, lifting you over the broken floor and up, sweeping you toward your inevitable conclusion. You are slammed against the still-narrowing walls and ceiling, you are hungry now for oblivion, to be black and unaware before the end. Please, is what you think to whisper.
Let's just breathe together awhile, and then go on.
Imagine if the light begins to come in now - ahead is not a wall, but an opening. The light comes as a glimmer, then a glow, then a wish, then a bellow. Could you bear it? The hope that arises after that sorrowed, tumbled journey? The brazenness of sunshine when you are in the claws of the beast? Perhaps you curse, and shout and shake your fist, but then you reach.
Imagine the long last thrust of the monster; imagine your birth from the tunnel onto the beach, the gasping and the blood and the way your limbs are shaking, tremored, and your eyes are burning because the world is so very, very terrible and bright. Imagine the cold and the way your wounds sting and curl and the way the sand invades your body, grain by grain. Imagine you will lie there on that sand and weep for days.
I am tired now; let's skip ahead. Imagine with me, if you will, the life that comes after. The way your arms will be bruised and the chill you will get when the sun goes down each night. Imagine how you will sleep with the light on and make sure that one foot is always left out of the covers, just in case you become entangled, trapped, in the night. Imagine your reluctance to visit the beach, the way the ocean will seem sinister and toothsome, instead of mysterious and awe-inspiring, as it is to everyone else. Imagine how you will tire of telling the story, learn to smile patiently and deflect the subject at parties or family reunions, ignore your trembling hands.
Perhaps one day, when you have slept many nights in the glow of your overhead light, when your arms are scarred over and your limp has disappeared except on too-long walks, one day, when you least expect it, you will begin to tell other stories, magical things that sparkle under the sunlight and make you laugh, if only to yourself. Perhaps the birds will fly in and whisper poems and you will write them down frantically, urgent not to lose them, in a language only tunnel-smudged souls could understand. Perhaps you will begin to think again of the person you were before the tunnel and realize that person was not lost, as you thought, for good. Perhaps you will begin to see your battered arms, the wounded line along your cheekbone, the way you curse, then bite your tongue, your squint into the light, as something tender, sweet, and almost, beautiful.