Kobayashi Maru

In Star Trek© II there’s a scene from a Star Fleet© Academy training simulation. The cadet doesn’t know it, but the simulation she’s in is a no-win scenario. No matter what action the cadet takes, she will lose. It’s called the Kobayashi Maru and it’s a requirement for graduation. The test is designed to see how the cadet faces death. Admiral Kirk tells her “The way we face death is at least as important as the way we face life.”
I have one memory that particularly haunts me. It’s not the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it tenaciously holds me in its grasp. It’s my Kobayashi Maru. When I was about fourteen, I was afraid of two people. I was afraid my brother would stab me with a knife and kill me. I don’t remember how I came to feel this fear, but I clearly remember feeling it. I was also afraid of my mother. I was afraid she would kill me by stopping me from breathing. I was afraid she would either hold something over my mouth and nose, stopping my breathing until I died, or that she would strangle me by putting her hands around my throat and pushing down until I was dead. Sometimes, she acted out killing me without going all the way. I could see that she desperately wanted to kill me, but that she was too afraid of the consequences to do it.
One day I made one of them angry. Really angry. Try as I might, I can’t remember which one it was. My memory fails me at that point. There was one safe room in the house. It was the only room that had a lock on the door. It was the bathroom. If I could make it to the bathroom, I could live. When I knew I was in danger I ran as fast as I could, and I made it. I just barely closed the door and locked it. The big angry person outside the door couldn’t get in, and I was safe. I sat down on the floor with my back against the wall and hugged my knees. I waited for the angry person to calm down, give up, and go away. They always did.
I waited and waited, but the pounding on the door didn’t stop. Instead the pounding and yelling grew louder. I sat there watching the door shake. The door began to strain. I nervously eyed the door jam by the lock. It began to bulge. I started to cry. Maybe I wouldn’t make it. Maybe the angry person would get in. Maybe I would die today.
I sat there crying and rocking and hugging my knees. I was terrified. Soon I realized I was crying too hard. I couldn’t get enough air. I gasped and gasped, but no air came. The harder I tried to breathe, the more I suffocated. I had hyperventilated.
I knew what to do when you hyperventilate. I was always the one who knew what to do. When you hyperventilate, you’re getting too much oxygen. You’re supposed to breathe into a paper bag. This tricks your body into thinking that you are breathing, but by taking in your own exhaled carbon dioxide, your body is able to bring the level of gasses in your blood back into a normal balance. Once you have a normal level of oxygen in your blood, your autonomous nervous system gives your lungs permission to breathe normally again.
I knew what to do. I needed to go to the kitchen and get a paper bag and breathe into it. It was simple, but it was impossible. If I unlocked the door and went out, I would probably die. The angry person was still outside the door, still pounding. I couldn’t go out. But I couldn’t stay in. I was there alone and I couldn’t breathe. My hard breathing only created a feedback loop which made breathing even harder. I was becoming dizzy and the edges of my sight were starting to blur. I began to think that if I stayed in the bathroom, I would die anyway. They would find me, dead and cold on the bathroom floor after they broke down the door because I had stayed in way too long. It was a no-win scenario. There was no solution. Kobayashi Maru.
That was the day I got my first headache. My headaches are like a toddler having a temper fit. The toddler lies down on the floor of the grocery store and screams, and the mother can’t go on until the toddler lets her. When I get a headache, my world stops. I can’t pretend I’m OK. All I can do is take painkillers, lie down on my bed, sandwich my head between two pillows and wait. I rest, I pray, and I submit to the pain. Sometimes I wake up in the morning after a headache ready to take back the reins of my life and discover that the headache is still there. It says, “I’m not done yet, you’re not ready yet, you haven’t learned yet.” Headaches are time-outs for grown-ups. I always come away from a headache a little bit smarter, and a little more determined not to get one again.
I get headaches when I’m in no-win scenarios. I get a headache when I’m forced to make one of two impossible choices. I get a headache when I’ve committed to do two things, but only have time for one. I get a headache when I’m forced to choose between two people I love. I get a headache when I’m forced to choose between being true to myself and being true to my Maker.
That last one is not real. It’s a figment of being raised by someone who told me what to think, what to want, and how to feel. It’s a phantom pain from an emotional limb that was amputated long ago. My head knows that God accepts my feelings. He created feelings and He expects me to feel them. My head knows this, but my heart denies it. So the headaches still come.


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