Lisa Unger

Black Out

© 2008


Ocean Rae, Sophie, Lucy, Matilda, Zoe, and Josie,

my daughter and the daughters of women I love and admire…

Let’s love our girls well and protect their spirits,

Introduce them to their own strength and power, and

Keep them as bright and beautiful as the day they were born.


Today something interesting happened. I died. How awful, they’ll say. How tragic. And she was so young, with everything ahead of her. There will be an article in the paper about how I burned too bright and died too young. My funeral will be small…a few weeping friends, some sniffling neighbors and acquaintances. How they’ll clamor to comfort my poor husband, Gray. They’ll promise to be there for our daughter as she grows up without me. So sad, they’ll say to each other. What was she thinking?

But after a time this sadness will fade, their lives will resume a normal rhythm, and I’ll become a memory, a memory that makes them just a little sad, that reminds them how quickly it can all come to an end, but one at which they can also smile. Because there were good times. So many good times where we drank too much, where we shared belly laughs and big steaks off the grill.

I’ll miss them, too, and remember them well. But not the same way. Because my life with them was a smoke screen, a carefully constructed lie. And although I got to know some of them and to love them, not one of them ever knew me, not really. They knew only the parts of myself I chose to share, and even some of those things were invention. I’ll remember them as one remembers a favorite film; beautiful moments and phrases will come back to me, move me again. But ultimately I’ll know that my time with them was fiction, as fragile and insubstantial as pages in a book.

Now I’m standing at the bow of a cargo ship. It cuts through the night with surprising speed for its size, throwing up great whispering plumes of foam as it eats the high waves. The water around me is black. My face is wet with sea spray and so windburned it’s starting to go numb. A week ago I was so terrified of the water that I wouldn’t have dreamed of sitting close enough to feel it on my skin. Because there is such a myriad of things to fear now, I have been forced to conquer this one.

The man at the helm has already gestured at me twice, made a large gathering motion with his arm to indicate that I should come inside. I lift a hand to show I’m all right. It hurts out here; it’s painful, and that’s what I want. But more than that, the bow of this boat represents the farthest point away from the life I’ve left behind. I’ll need more distance before I can climb back inside, maybe get some sleep.

I can feel the heat of my predator’s breath on my neck. For him I will never be just a memory. I’ll always be a goal, always the thing that lies ahead just out of reach. If I have anything to do with it, that’s where I’ll remain. But I know his hunger, his patience, his relentlessness. His heart beats once for every ten times mine does. And I’m so tired now. I wonder here in the frigid cold if the chase will end tonight and which of us will be dead, really dead, when it’s done.

I stand in the bow and support myself on the rail. I remind myself that death is my easy escape; I can go there anytime. All I have to do is to bend, drop my weight over the railing, and I will fall into black. But I won’t do that, not tonight. We cling to life, don’t we? Even the most pathetic among us, those of us with the fewest reasons to keep drawing breath, we hold on. Still, it gives me some small comfort to know that death is an option, handy and at the ready.

Finally the cold and the wind are too much for me. I turn to make my way back to my tiny cabin, and that’s when I see it: the round, white eye of a spotlight coming up behind us, the small red and green navigation lights beneath it. The craft is still too far for me to hear its engine. I can just see the white point bouncing in the black. I turn to signal to the captain, but he’s no longer at the helm. I think about climbing up to warn him, but I’m not sure it will do any good. I hesitate a moment and then decide I’d be better off finding a place to hide myself. If he’s found me, there’s nothing anyone will be able to do. I realize I am not surprised; I am not at all surprised that he has found me. I have been waiting.

There is a familiar thud-thud in my chest as I look over into the big waters and think again about that dark temptation. It would be the ultimate defiance, to rob him of the only thing he’s ever wanted, the ultimate way to show him that my life belonged to me and no one else. But a small round face, with deep brown eyes framed by a chaos of golden curls, a tiny valentine of a mouth, keeps me on deck. She doesn’t know that her mommy died today. I hope she won’t have to grieve me, to grow up broken and damaged by my early demise. That’s why I have to stay alive. So that someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, I can go back to her and tell her why I named her what I did, so that I can take her in my arms and be the mother to her that I always wanted to be.

But first I have to fight and win. I’m not sure how much fight I have left in me, but I will fight. Not so much for the shattered, cored-out woman I have become but for my daughter, Victory.



The fair Ophelia!-Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins remember’d.



When my mother named me Ophelia, she thought she was being literary. She didn’t realize she was being tragic. But then, I’m not sure she understood the concept of tragedy, the same way that people who are born into money don’t realize they’re rich, don’t even know there’s another way to live. She thought the name was beautiful,

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