Once upon a time… once upon a time. Just once?
How do you cope with a life that magic has touched then left? It wasn’t even his story! Despite that, the change in perspective was amazing and horrifying. It’s not as if he had ever believed in or seen magic, before – he had a hard enough time believing in it when it happened in front of him! But there it was and now nothing was the same.
The sky was gray. Not… gray gray. It was blue enough, he supposed, but… just not vivid. It was as if the sky had gone through the laundry a few times too many, but he had never noticed it until somebody came by with a brand new sky for him to see. Except, it wasn’t something wrong with the old sky – it hadn’t changed. This was the sky he had lived with for forty years, every day and every season. He just saw it differently now, after his experience.
He dragged himself through his days, barely managing to get up but having a hard time falling asleep. A colorless life seemed purposeless to him, but it was the only life he had. Friends commented upon it and tried to shake him out of his mood, but he was having none of it. He tried to explain to them what was going on, but they hadn’t seen what he had seen and did not – could not – believe him.
In the face of their disbelief, he started to pull back from those relationships, too. He learned not to share the experience with anybody, no matter how much they assured him they would not judge. Sometimes they laughed outright. Sometimes they had the grace to hold it in – but it was still obvious that they were holding it in. And sometimes they did not seem to want to laugh at all; they just pitied him. It was probably the pity, more than anything, that made him stop sharing.
So, he bottled it up and trudged along.
He wasn’t suicidal, though he would not have minded the confidence to feel that way. Unfortunately (from his perspective), he had no reason to believe that death would not be just that much worse. Whereas before he had had no notion of how washed out the world’s colors were, now he could all too well imagine its being worse. At times, it seemed, he could not stop himself from doing just that. With a humorless smile on his face, he hummed “all the world is sad and dreary, everywhere I roam…”
Therapists. God save him from therapists. If there is a God, which he supposed there might be, once magic was real. Or any number of them… maybe instead of trying to find a therapist who did not want to lock him up immediately, “as a danger to himself or others” (they explained), he should try religion! A small bit of hope made its way into his heart, despite his best efforts.
And was dashed.
God save him from priests. And shamans. And gurus. And… anybody smacking of spiritual higher beings! They all were possibly worse than the therapists!
Of course, they had no answers. None of them. Despite his hope, this was not a huge shock. That was just not the problem. But they had no answers! Not for him, not for themselves. They did not dismiss his tale, they embraced it. His sincerity convinced them that he had had a more other-worldly or spiritual or magical experience than the lot of them had had in their lives – and they wanted to follow him and worship him. Too much. Beyond too much.
Drugs. Psychedelic drugs. Mushrooms, peyote, acid, whatever. Something, anything to put color back into his life and world! And they helped, some, but not enough. It wasn’t the same. It felt different.
He got a call from one of the therapists – one who had listened politely and with a somewhat less judgmental air than most:
“I cannot say that I believe you, but it is clear that you believe you – and other than that singular, deeply held sincere belief, you don’t feel crazy to me. You don’t feel off. So, I’ve heard about something that would ordinarily sound totally bizarre, but which may just be the thing for you.
It’s a group that is forming for support for people with stories like yours. Yes, you heard me right – stories like yours! It’s to treat what the group leader calls “Post-Wonder Stress Disorder” or PWSD.”
He listened to the words, to the description, and played with the notion on his tongue. Post-Wonder Stress Disorder. He couldn’t even fathom how such an idea would come into being, let alone become a therapy group – but the concept resonated, so he took down the contact information.
The office, when he called it, sounded like a hundred other therapists’ offices. “Please come in early to fill out your medical history and our questionnaire.” “No, I’m sorry, the group leader can’t come to the phone, but she will give you all the time you need in group.” “No, we don’t take insurance, but we promise that our sliding scale will be able to accommodate your need for therapy combined with your ability to pay.” Still, none of it was thoroughly off-putting. The employee who answered the phone seemed competent enough and not at all bizarrely out there; just matter-of-fact in going about business.
He came a bit early on the night of the first group meeting. He wanted to get the lay of the land, check out the space if possible, and maybe suss out the kinds of folks with whom he would be sharing the evening. The building and waiting room were non-descript. He was slightly taken aback to find another person waiting when he walked in, but supposed the person might have the same anxiety about it that he had.
The waiting room was also bigger than he expected, with a dozen seats in it, which filled up over the next 45 minutes leading up to the start time. The other members seemed pretty average in appearance – but, he supposed, so did he. Several times, he almost said something, but was too nervous. On the other hand, he thought he’d noticed others with the same impulse. The door opened, and they straggled in.
Apart from the group leader’s introduction, things started slowly. For all that she explained that each of them had had what seemed like an inexplicable event in their lives that had devestated their views of reality, he felt a reluctance to share his story one more time. And he couldn’t help himself – when he heard the first of the others’ stories, it was incredible! It couldn’t possibly be true, could it? But how could he, of all people, judge somebody for a bizarre story?
The first speaker shared: “I drive a cab, usually on the hotel circuit near the Park. One night, I’m on a fare, not far behind one of the Park’s horse-drawn buggies. It pulled over abruptly and the carriage shrunk and turned into a pumpkin! And the horses disappeared!
The man went on to share what he’d tried to do immediately and then in the weeks after the incident. It was totally different from his experience – yet, the reactions to the event, both on the spot and after it, were so familiar that he could have used the same words to describe his own sentiments. He listened as a few others spoke up, the same sorts of tales presented of impossible sights followed by nearly complete shutdown and detachment from their world.
Frogs and beasts turning into humans, a talking bird, a statue getting off its pedestal, and several other wonderments poured out. As each member of the group took the floor, he unwound, bit by bit. The acceptance of the others when his turn came gave him his first feeling of connection since the event. It didn’t solve the grayness problem, but it gave him reason to come back next week. It was a start.
The last of the clients had left the group therapy room, about 30 minutes after the session was formally over. They were a jaded and anxious lot; their trust would be hard to win quickly. But tonight’s session went pretty well. It was a start.
With a wave of her wand, the therapist was gone.