Before I began to heal,
I wasn’t angry–
no, I couldn’t touch that
because that required will
and a kind of passion
You gotta outsmart
and that is where
I began burning.
Trauma doesn’t run
its course and
You don’t bloom from it.
You bloom in spite of it.
And there is something to be said about a body that keeps moving.
“Still, we ignite anyway,
becoming love in
a time of fire, almost
touching our lost
fingers in a collapsing
swirl of sparks—”
–from Brendan’s poem “Love in a Time of Fire”
I’ve been sitting on these words, so many words, and I have been lost on them and yet breathing them for too many seasons. Brendan’s poem above unblocked me, so here goes a start to what I am centering around:
It’s Just You. And a Pulse. And breath.
Carl Jung said
“The highest and most decisive experience of all…to be alone with one’s own self…whatever you choose to call the objectivity of the psyche…the patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.”
I have been spending the last several months to maybe even since last winter when I wrote an essay about a little black flower, Papa Hemingway, and the circles we center around and travel and leave lost footsteps around. Here’s a clip:
“…Walcott’s old and tired voice deep in my own chest it seemed as he read: ‘I broke my own heart too. It’s broken and gone…you were my little black flower…’ And just like that, breathing was suddenly harder to do. My throat hurt, my eyes stung. I stopped walking. I stood there on the sidewalk staring into a sort of what I call a “shiver” of what was keeping me—a glimpse. Emotions rolled to the surface and my heart continued a forgotten ache. That line, that one line (I bit my glove off and replayed the audio) “I broke my own heart, my little black flower…” The tears were a relief and I walked home with a hole in my chest. I replayed it over and over, pacing the warm wood floors, an eagerness growing in my body….”
Later in the essay I wrote “love doesn’t exist when it cannot get in or out-what keeps you are the black petals surrounding your center–and those petals are what you had left out of all that you had and lost , that kept you going.” –They are the pieces of you you spent your life giving away, letting, and taking from, cowering from yet hovering over your gutted pearl someone took from you and threw into the ocean, leaving you the shell sucking up silence like the ocean–an emptiness you would forever try to fill, your identity and worth words others use freely towards their own foundation. You spend a lot of time losing yourself in what you thought you would be versus what you had become, and then that black flower dies and blooms again wild and new, into what you are becoming–constantly becoming. I am my own Black Flower. We all are.
I thought I had to find love from someone to fix this. To be the something that would pull the noise I am into notes. But love never belonged to me as my own, so I put it in a box-designed, painted, framed and absolute–so absolute that I couldn’t fit inside it right–loose in all that room. I thought love meant something was wanted from me that I couldn’t part with because there were so few pieces left. I was too small for what I Read More
“I am Burning and Becoming…
I Heard about shame and I heard about lightning…”
I have spent I wonder how many evenings and dark mornings pausing beneath street lights, circling around and over and through and across but not quite in to the center of what has been festering in me, blooming, burning, becoming. How many trips did Bon Iver take with me as I worked my away around charting the symptoms of lust and love confused, of a discovery of myself, my body.
I have been pretending in my life. Not sleeping. Pretending. Because parts of what I am and who I am are hard to accept for me. This is about looking at myself, stripped of tragedy and triumphs, and I’m standing in the street alone in the dark, my heart fluttering in my chest as I make yet another connection–the big one about my body. Hunger started fucking me long ago. So much hunger. But I’ve passed that point and am now mapping the symptoms I’ve charted.
I am my body.
I just spent six years rejecting that notion, teaching myself with reason, logic, and books from the greats that I am consciousness–I am not my body. But I am. My body has been my instrument since its very beginning. It shut down when it was taken, and it hid so well I lost me for a very long time. It returned in a sick state I tended to once I was able to attend. My body has been my alarm system, enemy and foe and protector for a long Read More
The sun has set and I am standing on the back porch, leaning over the railing.
I hear the screen door creak, his heavy boots sliding.
“Are your friends picking you up tonight?” The nicest question he’s asked in a while. He’s imploring about non-essentials. Something is coming. A faint alarm spins my gut.
He leans against the house under the yellow glow of the porch light and I turn so my side is toward him—I don’t want my ass in his view, and I can read his body language this way. His arms are crossed over his plaid belly, hands under his armpits. He’s nervous.
Hesitating, “Amy, I want to tell you something.”
“What? ‘Is Jeremy going to be there?’”
“No. I trust you.”
Silence. The crickets are loud this spring. I hear the frogs mating out back behind the pole barn. Beyond the tree line, a semi’s headlights float.
“That’s a surprise,” I smile weakly at him. He smiles back and makes room for himself.
“Amy, what are you going to do with your life?”
My smile ends. I look down at Kurt Cobain on my black t-shirt, and hear ‘nothin’ on top but a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds!’ I look into the railing’s grain.
“I don’t know. Why?”
I cannot fully absorb this question.
The atmosphere has changed; I feel my body instincts alert my senses… but this pressure is different—his presence isn’t to harm right now. His voice is closer, but he is not.
“I want you to know something—something I think you need to hear—you have so much potential in you, Amy–so much more than in anyone I’ve ever seen. You’re talented, you’re smart, you can do anything. There are so many things about you that you can use in this life and you don’t even know it.”
I turn my back to him and watch the tear seep and spread into the wood. Come on, Lori.
“I just wanted to tell you that, because you don’t know. Because you act like you don’t care. Because I see you wasting your talents and time and you’re so…I…”
The pressure is starting to push itself down on my chest and make way for something I am not ready for—to look at him, to see him, to hear his words as human. He wanted to say what I’d chased after from him over a decade ago, on that nappy carpet, me crouching behind the owl lamps, spying on my new father, giggling until he turned his greasy nose in my direction and blew smoke in my face. My wet hair, my itchy nightgown stuck to me.
And I felt a forgotten piece in me move-an isolated bubble in my chest rising—a shape of a silent center I can’t quite feel, and then I felt it start to grow into a globe–a planet–a world of loneliness, the ocean where I had sucked up all the silences in the shell of what I was becoming, the land masses the million faces I was dividing into, shifting each continent of myself either away from or crushing into each other, dismantling. Only the beginning of how I masterfully destroy. But that anger doesn’t bubble up here. It is stripped away, and so is my guard, and in that slip of a bare moment, a kind of shared sorrow I’ve never heard of floats between us-I saw it. I’ll never forget what I saw in him that night under the porchlight-a shame and grief so deep, so big it cut through me into that lonely center. I saw him saying he was sorry; almost as if he were saying leave, get away from here, this is not meant for you; there is nothing that can be done to repair the damage I have done, so I will give you away. Maybe you’ll make it. Get out of here.
My sorrow is him. All I had ever wanted was him to love me. I wanted to be his daughter. All the years of my girlhood spent in the dirt in the garage watching him with engines and tools, pretending I liked Deep Purple, asking what a socket wrench was, who was Led Zeppelin, how do I bait a hook…and he couldn’t love me like that. And he knows it. And I know it. And that very fact hangs between us like a breath on frost. The shared sorrow from opposite sides of the ice.
This center he had pressed, it is the only thing left I do not hate about him. And I have denied that center ever since.
The moment passes and I remember my defense—that he is despicable. That I was naïve for allowing this. I thought I’d fear him looking at my body again—but my chest is hurting, trying to swallow that earth, that world, that small center I cannot hold.
Beneath his sickness, beneath his ghost-like existence, beneath his perversion and depression, there is something in him to speak past all that, step on what pride he had left, to tell me what he sees in me-as a human. As a person. Maybe he wanted to, as a father, give me something no parent had ever given me—hope.
I can’t look at him anymore. I cannot bear seeing someone in so many pieces who has broken so many things there are no words.
Headlights, then bass. “Lori’s here.”
“OK. I just wanted to say it. Have a good night.”
“Thanks,” I say without looking at him and trot down the steps toward the car, heart pounding.
“Hi my Jo-Jo Bean!” Lori smiles, her bouncy self turning down Tupac and putting the Buick in reverse. Night slips around me, the only light from the dash. She hands me a cigarette.
“Hey turn that up,” I say and smile. As if nothing had happened. As if I could forget this.
I’m standing on the roof of a four-story building downtown in a city. I’ve just taken Ecstasy. I don’t feel ecstasy. I feel what I learned later to be verging on a psychotic panic. I’m going to jump off if someone doesn’t stop me, if someone doesn’t touch me.
The sky is clear. Alisha spins and spins, her arms out “Amy, oh Amy I love you,” her red hair flashing.
I tell her she looks like Satan.
I feel like the roof is going to tilt and my body will let itself slide to its death. I’m too embarrassed to speak; the stars pulsating in time with the veins in my temples.
It intensifies. I feel the depth pressure when I look over the edge and then run back to the center and fold, wrapping my arms tight around my legs. Alisha is sliding all over in smooth colors. She’s scaring me. And then suddenly I am fire; I am bottomless.
“I am I am I am.”
Fucking Sylvia quotes in my racing brain. And then I see her head stuffed in the stove and I hear the blade wretch back on my wrist. Suicide. The very word gives me metal chills, the way the “-cide” sounds like a knife slash on cold teeth.
I can’t take it. And now I start believing I am going to die. It has been per-ordained from a higher power that my heart will stop. ….Now
Alisha’s laugh peals through the air and I choke down my fear of the word. It must be obvious, this affair I’m having with “suicide”–so now it feels like a major question on my lips, but I can’t get up and tell her. She’s holding her breasts through a Dropkick Murphy shirt. The moon high over the rooftop glints on the barbell piercing under her lip. Ed, her boyfriend, makes me think she is a suggestion to a woman like me. Nonsense. Ed. I feel a wash of compassion for Alisha. And then the memory of Ed Norton’s forehead creases, “I am Jack’s raging hard-on.”
I’m a train. I need the ultimate climax in everything I do until I’m repelled by fear—that is all that I have learned about myself, living out here. And that new fear –it’s hard to scare me. Alisha takes my hand and pulls me through the thick air and into the stairwell and kisses my lips, “Let’s go,” and I hold her hand and crash into another night.
I find myself rocking in the dark wet grass behind my apartment. I don’t know how much time has passed since the rooftop. A few people are here and there, bottles of booze and clear baggies of coke. My head spins and then stops, spins and stops. Someone comes out of a threshold somewhere, and I think it’s my dead father, no, I know it’s him. The familiarity I felt when I turned to look over my shoulder was real. The moon shine’s down on a large, flat, white face. A choker with spikes. I am alarmed at this apparition, and then at this ease of myself seeming to slip between reality and delusion. I feel the blood in my temples pound. I’m tearing at the grass, desperately making piles under a calm facade. My roommates are having a party inside and after what seems like hours of confusion, I see clearly, a thought. An act. I have an idea.
I feel myself stalk. My arms possess waves and my hips are on rails. Lily comes to me and she hugs my face and dances in the square of light coming from the kitchen window. “Rider’s on the Storm” is humming and rolling through the house. I scream for Bill to play “Not to Touch the Earth,” and before I realize I finish asking, it shakes me to my core—that high organ keys sounding like an Atari ghost chasing me and I smell brown smooth leather boots and jackets and “Wake up GIRL, WE’RE ALMOST HOME!” And we are dancing. Or we were. Or I just thought we did. Because in another moment I am alone in the quiet grass, easing out of a scare and into a numbing. Not a fine numbing. It used to be fine until it started mattering. It’s easy not to feel. I lie down and let it, inhaling anything that might fill me—be it words or fantasy or pills or gin—until I am brimming with and drowning in just a reflection of myself, pooling into a glass the man I have sex with takes a drink from. Electrified flowers. Naked shoulders.
Erica’s in a rectangular room with one-hundred and four strangers–people sitting in a semicircle, some in chairs, some standing against the walls, all facing Sobonfu Some, “keeper of the rituals” of African spirituality, traveling the world on a healing mission. Sobonfu talks for a few hours and people ask questions, discussing grief and fear and abuse and loss and pain and where it comes from. Erica explains this in a letter, and she is getting ready for a grief ritual, a “transformative experience” she writes, and I am instantly sucked in.
Three altars were set up, she wrote, the grief altar with a black cloth, to the left of that is the ancestor/strength altar with red cloth, and to the right, in blue, is the forgiveness altar.
I imagine her sitting there during Sobonfu’s talk, her head cocked to the side in a deep focus and secret pain she’s about to ’hare with strangers–I know her private bravery. I think of the letter she wrote me years back about her journeys through Nepal and Europe, basically backpacking and doing housework for boarding. She had saved up, left her job, and took a plane to Hawaii where she met Matt. They traveled together, scraping by on a journey across the east, when she had a breakdown and locked herself in a bathroom for nearly a week in……..
In 1996 you would have found us jumping onto moving trains together near Lake Superior, back when trains still ran around the quieter parts of town and on the outskirts. We’d take our bikes and get lost from dawn until dusk, walkman speakers wrapped around my handlebars playing Green Onions. We’d found mountains of sands before the cemetery out on Sanborn Avenue on the edge of town, and we’d climb up to the top and leap off, rolling and tumbling down. The ridges looked like ancient, carved faces, and in middle school that’s what our essays and poems were about, huddled together in the cold little room of our Catholic School, in a class of thirteen, reading The Red Pony and writing. We wore Airwalks and chucks, cut-offs and Nirvana tees. We’d roller-blade before school to the grand hotel on the lake front and break into the pool and swim on hot summer mornings, and then head for school. We followed the tracks once out past the Bay City Creek and rolling countryside spread out before us, rolling with a horizon of pines. It began to sprinkle and then, to our amazement, the largest rainbow we’d ever seen arched over us from behind us, nearly over us, and then into the horizon. We looked at each other and just knew–this was magic. We did our handshake and said “Philly,” as w“ always”did. We talked about our dreams, about the unknown, about music and philosophizing on our lives. Sometimes we just walked and sang “California Dreaming” in two-part harmony.
She never said much about her mother and her own pain and confusion. I never told her I was sexually abused and getting hit and mistreated at home. It was like, when we were together, it was paradise–a real kind. We were more ourselves and we were safe. Safety was a thing I’d never known, ’nd to have it just blocks away changed me. I grew braver. Damn near fearless. We both did. And yet I wonder, if only we’d confided in e’ch other what was happening in our hearts and scaring us, maybe none of the bad would have happened. Maybe I wouldn’t have broken h’r heart and humiliated her in front of our friends over a guy, leaving town with one of her best friends to a bigger city. Maybe, if she’d only known my’fear and insecurity of men, my utter loneliness in my pain, and her in hers, maybe things would be different. Yet I feel they’re meant to be ’his way, as fucked up and bittersweet as it is. My connection to her was strong, stronger than any I’d ever known. ’ knew, even then, she’d always be an important part of my life, a spirit I would judge everyone else’s by to check their w Read More
I read a beautiful essay in Huff Post Parents on The Blog entitled “A New Season” by Lindsey Mead (on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and her blog–A Design So Vast). And it struck a nerve. A big nerve. And I’m now going to confront exactly what I’ve been avoiding for a while now–my Emma is growing up.
You know what my trouble with parenting is? I’m always so prepared TO BE prepared, I plan for the worst and hope like hell for the best–the idiotic thing about this is no one can control everything. ESPECIALLY with children. Emma surprises me daily from her new-found 10-year-old ways and seemingly closer to her teens by the minute, to coming home with a drawing she made of flowers that says “To Mom Love Emma I love you” on the back. And man alive the looks she gives me-! And that’s just it–welcome to……dut dut daaaahhhhh–your child growing up.
Em and I, it’s always always been Em and I. And gradually her life is ballooning out in front of her in such healthy ways (compared to a lot of my moments growing up). Now there’s a boy she has liked forever and she found out yesterday he likes her too. And the greatest part?–she couldn’t wait to tell ME all about it. But I’m becoming more of that back-pocket person now: i’m here if she needs or wants me, but she’s more than ready to take on many things by herself. Terrifying. Fucking terrifying. And it’s okay, too. Fear doesn’t bother me, it’s the lack of control and the speed in which this is moving that bothers me. All of the sudden, she’s not my partner in crime. No one can teach you this shit–that those years of pure joy and discovery and companionship only lasts so long, and you have to let go. And the harder you love, the harder it is to let go. In the essay mentioned above (read it!) Lindsey writes:
“The predominant emotion of this time, as Grace embarks upon the vital transition from child to young adult and to an autonomous and independent sense of self, is wonder. Wonder upon wonder, so many layers I have lost count: there is awe, fear, and astonishment, and also an endless list of questions. I gaze at my daughter, coltishly tall, lean, all angles and long planes, and wonder where the last ten years went. It is not hard to close my eyes and imagine that she is still the rotund baby or chubby toddler that she was just moments ago. At the same time I can see the young woman she is rapidly becoming in her mahogany eyes…..”
and lastly, and ever so eloquently, Lindsey writes:
“And all I know to do as we move into this new season is to pay attention, to look and listen and write it down. Everything I write, and everything I live, is an elegy to what was and a love letter to what is.”
So, I think she sums it up best. Pay attention, because this moments are so precious and yet slipping from our grasp, soon we’ll just be watching from afar. Are we prepared in our hearts for this? My guess is–never.
Join in the fun at Kellie Elmore‘s Free Write Friday! It’s fun and great brain exercise for all you writers out there looking for inspiration. This week the inspiration for the Free Write is a beautiful summer picture with this quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Then followed that beautiful season…Summer.
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
K, here goes nothing. No editing, no self-criticism, just write:
Outside the decrepit white farmhouse, the lush yard is our menagerie of imagination. Arching trees soar into the blue sky, their heavy limbs creating a canopy over the dirt driveway. Two apples trees blossom near the fence, and when June’s breeze blows, the pink petals fall like snow across the green grass, a lazy hammock swaying between the trees. Fat bumble bees buzz low to the ground. Honeysuckle in the air.
I’m in a white summer dress, my white blond hair in a pigtails, my skin sun-kissed. I’m standing beneath the plum tree, sucking on the bitter purple fruit, wiping the juice on my dress. I bend over and pick the yellow dandelions, squishing the soft center into my cheeks. I hear my sisters laughing on the swing beneath the pink blossoms, my daddy pushing them, one at a time, higher and higher. I want a turn but I can’t help but follow that scent–the scent I’ll carry with me dearly for the rest of my lives. I follow it and I’m taken to the lilac trees against the house by the humming bird feeder. The aroma fills me and I crawl into the tree’s cavernous entrance and huddle down inside. This is my summer–the summer of my life. The summer I dream I will return to after so many cold years.
In the mornings, it was excused for sleepiness. We’d pass each other in our own floor patterns and habits, maybe say good morning., My cigarette smoke leaked into the morning yellow on the back deck where I’d wake and listen. Birds and wind and traffic and exhalations. Then my brain would squeeze as the sun rose higher and the dreams cleared, knowing it was time for the day to begin, wondering how it would go, if it would last, if we’d changed.
We dressed at different hours–I, with the comfort of time suspended, unable to work and trying to heal–and he, in the rut of unemployment and agitated fingers buttoning his shirt. The hush of clothes as we passed in the hallway to the bedroom, maybe a polite ‘excuse me’ to break the air. I sought space at this time, for meditation and thought and perspective. He sought with hot flesh and prodding fingers and a tired way to love me. I couldn’t be touched. The possibility of my lover touching me quite thin, as my skin was too awake and afraid. I wondered if we had anything else to give–what was left to receive from each other when we needed such different things? One day I had said “space, Justin, space…I need to be alone because I’m broken. I need to take care of this mind” and I could never tell him how my soul wept for him in loneliness. I could never tell him he could have my soul if he tried to take it.
The year before, when I was healthy, he proposed through a poem he had written, down on one knee, his hands shaking. I cried the moment I understood, and the ring glittered like snow; I was really loved. We’d lay in silence together be and making love, our minds lax and limbs jello. How I could love him then, in the floating hours of the day, and I told him through my fingertips how I loved him. We’d laugh and touch our lips together. We’d flirt with argument. Later, in the kitchen Read More