I was in that room again, but it wasn’t the same. The baby in the crib was mine, but she wasn’t, it wasn’t her. The power went out, and the nurses and technicians were all giving the patients oxygen manually, squeezing that large ball, forcing air into that mask, but it wasn’t enough. The doctor who came in was outmatched but wouldn’t admit it. I pulled back her nightgown and a dark red spot was growing on her chest under the skin, and I thought, that’s not right, that’s not what happened. House came into the room. I had sent for him. He was real, not the character on the television show. He limped over to the crib and looked down at her and then looked at me, and then I knew. There was a lot of noise, monitors, the whoosh click of the machines. I had given her Tylenol when I put her down for her nap. Teething, I thought; that’s why she’s been so grouchy. Why didn’t I remember about the teething? The children’s Tylenol will work, but is children’s Tylenol and Infant Tylenol the same? No, I remember, it’s not, so which one? Only Tylenol doesn’t have much effect when there’s something growing in your brain. I didn’t know. How could I know? She fell asleep on her side almost as soon as I put her down, she had been in the high chair, and I gave her a Ritz cracker, only she didn’t want it, and Cheerios were chocolate chip flavored, and I thought that wasn’t a very good snack for a baby, so I pulled up the side of the crib, and then we were in the room, the hospital room, and it was happening all over. House couldn’t help her, and he couldn’t help the young boy who was seeing symbols, the one that the mean nurse had tried to turn away, but a different nurse admitted him. The mean nurse said that he had been to the ER three times with this same problem, and he couldn’t come back any more, but the boy was bleeding from his nose, and his father was frantic, so the nice nurse wheeled the boy into a room and called for House because the boy was seeing symbols in the air. This was all in the dream, and it was happening simultaneously, not linearly. And a woman who came into the room, the room that I was in, with House said that she needed to get back to her job, and I stopped her and said no. If you leave, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. She looked at me and said that I was going to try to make her feel guilty the way that House did, and House remarked that she didn’t know what guilt was. And I said to her, she was Kirsty Alley for some reason, I said, “If you leave, she’ll die, and you won’t be here, and you’ll have to live with that guilt forever, you won’t have been here when she took her last breath, you won’t remember any of this,” so she stayed in the room. So there was me and House and Kirsty Alley and the first doctor, who still didn’t know what to do. And there was the baby in the crib, and she was dying, in the same way that she dies every single time that I go into that room, and the nurses outside the room were moving very quickly because the electricity had come back on, and patients everywhere needed help, but in the room, in that room that is hell and every awful, terrible place that has ever existed, in that room, it was the five of us, and one of us was dying. And the whoosh-click kept going and going, and the only good part was that I woke up before she died this time, and when I did, I felt pain all over my body, but especially my head, and I remembered the teething, and wondered why I didn’t think of the teething when she first started to get fussy, and then I remembered that all of the Infant Tylenol in the world can’t help with that kind of pain.
Tomorrow would have been Caitlin’s 24th birthday.
This song was playing in the background of my dream: Butthole Surfers, “Whatever (I Had a Dream Last Night)”
“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” ~ William Stafford
Friday afternoon. Way too warm for winter, 80’s.
That’s right, 80’s. Ugh. What’s so bad about this is that I’m certain that next week it will probably be in the 40’s. How is a person with sinus problems supposed to thrive in such an environment? It’s hot. No wait, it’s cold. No, it’s hot. The natural immunity that I have gets so confused that it runs and hides.
As it is, I’m out of my Singulair, so my lungs are beginning to crackle again, and because of the hiccup in Corey’s job, I cannot get refills until this coming Thursday. By then, with the temperature changes, this gunk that had taken up temporary residence in my lungs may have come back for an extended visit.
Last night, the progress I had made in getting to sleep earlier vanished as I was unable to fall asleep until 5 a.m., and then I had very bad dreams about dead babies. So not cool.
Corey is working all weekend, which is actually good as it keeps his mind busy so that he doesn’t dwell on the still-unannounced departure date. His truck is finally working; of course, it needs gas, which isn’t going to happen, so while he’s excited that his truck has been fixed, he’s depressed that he cannot drive it anywhere. Of course, there are still a few other things that need to be done, not the least of which is to put new tires on it, but we’re planning to wait until he gets back from his hitch before that expenditure.
Meanwhile, life carries on, as it were.
“Fortune is like glass—the brighter the glitter, the more easily broken.” ~ Publius Syrus
So I’ve been thinking about things that break—real and imagined, literal and figurative. Not really sure why. What follows is stream of consciousness and random association, so be forewarned:
Crystal (too much)
Hearts (too many)
Promises (promises to keep . . .)
Words (is this the same thing as promises?)
Glass (looking glass? walking on broken glass?)
Eggs (secrets and treasurer inside a fragile box)
Families (far too many of these)
Concentration (too easily done)
Fevers (hallucinations or reality)
Negotiations (power struggles)
Wings (fear of flying)
Codes (more secrets?)
Locks (the way in or keeping something out?)
Bones (corporeal fragility)
Habits (bad? broken enough?)
Contracts (see words and promises above)
Records (as in over and over, or in something to surmount?)
Speed of sound (can we travel this far this fast?)
Barriers (all of my life)
Rules (meant to be broken)
Spirits (see wings and hearts)
Glass ceilings (barriers for women)
Systems (this country)
Waves (crash down)
Deadlines (as in promises?)
Bodies (feel this too acutely)
Ties (promises? hearts? families? All of these?)
Covenants (more than a promise)
“I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken—and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived.” ~ Margaret Mitchell
So what does all of this mean? In no particular order . . .
I spent a great deal of time in my 20’s trying to break the glass ceiling. I felt that it was my duty, to myself, to the women who looked up to me and those I mentored, and to women in general to take on the very systems that promoted inequity. I had indoctrinated myself in the whole system of feminism, the idea that there should be no inequality between the sexes, that people were people, regardless of sex, creed, color.
I have learned in recent years that feminism has taken on a new meaning, that the rules by which I lived may no longer apply. All of the unspoken promises that those of us on the frontline made to the cause, those ideologies have been overshadowed by something that is no better than the patriarchy that we fought so hard to replace. Feminism should not be about women being better; it should not be about lesbians being better. The whole point of the covenant that we made was that no one should be considered better or treated better or made to feel inferior.
I am sadly disheartened on several fronts: the young women who see feminism as a dirty word, associating it with women who don’t like men (not sexual preference, just in general), defining it as women who hate marriage, family, children. That’s not what it’s about, or at least what it used to be about. I also hate that so many of the young women who are enrolled in women’s studies curricula have made it an uncomfortable place for men. When I was seeking my women’s studies certificate as an undergraduate, the classes were filled with men and women, all who sought equity, more parity between the sexes, all of whom were dedicated to an idea that women could be whatever they wanted and that men could actively support this. It was a curricula that welcomed everyone, and it still should, but I fear that that is no longer the case.
So many barriers that used to hold women back—in government, in society, in all aspects—these barriers have been broken. They should not be replaced with new barriers, reverse sexism, if you will.
People. We are people, and as such, we can embrace our difference and similarities without building more walls.
“It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and the broken promises.” ~ Chief Joseph
Someone once said that a broken promise is better than no promise. I heartily disagree. A promise reflects the individual. One who is willing to make a promise is giving his or her word. To toss that aside thoughtlessly is to be careless with the essence of what makes us who we are.
When we marry someone, we make all kinds of promises, sometimes in front of large groups of people and sometimes in front of no one more than an official. In so doing, we bind ourselves, create a tie. When Corey and I wrote our vows, we promised to do things for each other, with each other. Time and circumstance should not change those promises. I don’t believe that either of us said those words lightly. Nevertheless, I would not be telling the truth if I did not admit that we have each broken pieces of the other’s heart, have each chipped away at that unspoken code to do no harm to those we love best. We are only human, after all.
Admittedly, I made promises to my ex, or we made promises to one another. In the end, our words ended up on the scrap heap of broken promises; our marriage on the pile of rocks where broken marriages go to die. Years later, I no longer feel the seething anger or intense heartbreak that I once felt, and time and distance have allowed me to see how much we were both at fault, how we broke each other’s spirits, and broke our covenant, which resulted in a broken and fractured family that has slowly rebuilt itself..
We move through time, salve our wounds, fix some things, but are unable to repair completely others. Too often we walk about in a fog, as if in a fevered ague, and only awaken when necessity forces us to confront what is before us.
“The tender heart, the broken and contrite spirit, are to me far above all the joys that I could ever hope for in this vale of tears.” ~ Charles Simeon
Years ago, when I was still teaching at ODU, I was standing on the kitchen counter, reaching for something, and I dropped a glass on the floor, which immediately broke into pieces. I looked down, saw the glass. This fact registered in my brain, but I still stepped down onto the floor in my bare feet and immediately cut a deep gash on the sole of my foot that required stitches.
Why do I mention this? Because even with knowledge, foresight, we still take steps that are foolhardy; we still knowingly step into a pile of sharp edges, and then we are surprised when we are wounded. We enter into frays knowing that we might exit with wounds, yet still we do it, perhaps because we think that if we make it through to the other side, we have outpaced our own limitations, we have approached the speed of sound, come close to shattering yet another barrier. Or perhaps it is something much more simple: We are not careful enough, not mindful enough. We do not treat our hearts and our souls like the fragile eggs that they are, always believing that we can go just one step further, take one more chance.
We have no fear of flying, convincing ourselves that it cannot possibly happen to us, that is until it does, until our wings are broken, or at the very least, clipped. And what then? Does the reflection looking back at us become unrecognizable, distorted as if reflected from broken glass?
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
Ultimately, this is a world of broken people, fragmented lives, and no matter what system we depend upon for support, we are all still imperfect beings. How we seek to attain perfection varies as widely as there are people on this planet. How we attempt to reach that state of grace is limitless.
And as I sit here now, contemplating the mutability of life, I am brought back to the corporeal as a stabbing pain shoots down my spine. And I know that even though my body is broken in so many ways, that I often do not recognize the person in the mirror as I glance quickly and then turn away, I also know with just as much conviction that the places in me that are broken have been stitched together with things that I have borrowed and stolen from everyone I have ever encountered:
A bone of contention here, a sliver of spine there. I have amassed fragments and pieces, facets and slivers.
Sitting atop my jewelry box is a rather small Waterford crystal salt cellar, an individual dish for salt. My m-in-law gave it to me years ago, and it was my first piece of Waterford. She had received it as a present from an elderly woman to whom she delivered Mobile Meals. This vessel contains three small pins that I no longer wear as I have few occasions to wear suits. This tiny crystal container is perhaps one of my most treasured belongings, so I handle it with great care, probably more care than I take with my life as a whole.
Why do I mention it here? Because it is one of those things that I have amassed that is as much a piece of me as anything else. It does not serve the purpose for which it is intended, but if I were to employ it for salt, it could hold my tears. Or I could stand at the edge of the shore as the waves break onto the sand and collect sea spray that would dry as salt, and fill it wave by wave.
For now, I allow it to contain memories, and I protect it and everything that it symbolizes, which, in the end, is all that we can do really—protect that which can be broken or mend that which has already fractured.
More later. Peace.
Music by Livingston, “Broken”
The Opening of Eyes
That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out
I knew then as I have before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages of a great book
waiting to be read
It is the opening of eyes long closed
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold
It is the heart after years of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air
It is Moses in the desert fallen to his knees
before the lit bush
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven and finding himself astonished
opened at last
fallen in love
with Solid Ground
André Kertész, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Desk at Bernard Lamotte’s Home, ca 1960
“I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Friday evening. Overcast, feels like rain.
I have wanted to write a post for days now, but just haven’t had it in me. I feel completely enervated—weak and listless. It took everything I had to go to the concert on Wednesday, which really sucks. I hate feeling as if I have to steel myself to go somewhere or to do something.
The house is quiet. Corey is at work, and Brett has gone to see his friends Gordon and Tailor. Tillie is hanging out on the couch, looking out the window, and the two Jack Russells are probably on the bed being lazy. Good day for it. Today I’ve consumed Nilla wafers and Pepsi (caffeine free). Just one of those days.
Well, supposedly the world is going to end tomorrow . . . again. The guy who is predicting this also predicted the end of the world sometime in the 90’s, but says that he got his math wrong. Yep. I’m surely going to trust my future to someone who cannot do math properly. Excuse me for being flippant, but if the world is going to end, does that mean that I don’t have to worry about bills any more?
End of the world, you can stockpile books, or you can stockpile canned green beans. I know what I’m hoarding. I can’t eat the books, but I’ll never be bored. Besides, canned vegetables have no nutritional value and taste like tin.
“No one forces you to write. The writer enters the labyrinth voluntarily . . . ” ~ Roberto Bolaño
So many things to not write about. So many words tumbling around inside me, none floating to the surface. As a child eating alphabet soup, I used to make letters sink by pushing them down with my spoon. That’s how I would rid myself of the excess letters that did not fit the pattern I was trying to make. If only life were still so easily manipulated. Perhaps if I keep writing, something will float to the surface.
Then there were the boxes of animal crackers. Why were they called crackers when they were in fact cookies? Did you ever wonder how they decided which animals to use? Camels? Now there’s an animal you see everyday. Monkeys? If you took the empty box once you had finished biting the heads off the animals, supposedly you could make a circus cage (back in the days when they acknowledged using cages). I never made the cage as I had enough of a moral dilemma in eating the animals. Truly.
I was a complicated child.
Writing, always writing, even before I knew words, I wrote. I would take scraps of paper and write notes to our neighbors in the large apartment building in London. Then I would slip the pieces of paper beneath their doors and wait for them to reply. They never did. Some of the neighbors thought that someone in the building was a bit mental until my mother explained that I was the source of the mysterious notes.
My first poem in first grade. So proud of it. I read it out loud for one of my mother’s friends, who suggested that I jazz it up by adding some more words. I was highly affronted and told her so. Even then I could not abide criticism.
Words. So many words. So much paper. So much that I felt that I needed a satchel to carry them all in. I lost a tooth and convinced my father that instead of a shilling, he should give me 10 shillings so that I could buy the leather book satchel in Mr. Higgins’ store that I had been coveting for months but which my mother would not agree to buy for me. He did, and I ran to the store and bought it. I filled the tan leather briefcase with paper, pencils, and Barbie dolls. I carried the satchel to Flora Gardens school even though the school supplied all of our necessities.
It was the start of my history as a bag lady. In love with words and bags to hold the pens, pencils, and notebooks.
“The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.” ~ Jules Renard
I think that satchel is still somewhere in my mother’s attic. Wouldn’t that be grand? Wouldn’t it be grand if I opened it and found something that I had written a lifetime ago? Conversely, wouldn’t it be sad if I opened it and found nothing? Perhaps I shan’t look for it after all.
Carl Sandburg once wrote that the past “is a bucket of ashes.” If I remember correctly, that’s one of the first quotes that I collected. The rest of the quote is something about living for the present, ya da ya da ya da, nothing nearly as eloquent as the bucket of ashes. But consider, if we truly relegated our pasts to the ash pile, if we burned the memories, charred the moments, what would we have to build upon?
Everyone needs a foundation upon which to build. That’s what the past is. That’s what my little leather satchel is: all of the words that my young mind possessed at that time and how I committed them to paper in my early attempts to make things last.
This is not to say that I have not thrown moments of my past upon the pyre, that I have wished them to be gone forever, that I have poured enough kerosene to ignite the pages, only to find that my mouth tasted of ashes, but the past was still there, could not be unwritten no matter how hard I tried.
Fire destroys. Fire cleanses. I think that I fear death by fire more than any other kind.
“Schizophrenia may be a necessary consequence of literacy.” ~ Marshall McLuhan
Do not look for coherence in this post. There is none.
T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (1922) is heavy upon my mind tonight. Yes, I do think like this sometimes, like the Penelope chapter in James Joyce’s Ulysses—Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, words tumbling out without internal punctuation, stream-of-consciousness, free association and complete nonsense.
Yes, I remember my Eliot, but not by heart, except for the Shakespeherian Rag that Susan (long gone from my life) and I used to recite on our way to Blacksburg. Four hundred thirty-four lines of poetry, prose, prophecy, reflection, repudiation, the parsing of life itself. Just a few, here:
“I will show you fear in a handful of dust” (30) — If only fear could be reduced to dust and blown into the wind. I carry my fear with me.
“I knew nothing/Looking into the heart of light, the silence” (40-41) — We seek out light, thinking that it will bring truth, but in reality, light is silent, just as dark is silent. The layers in between light and dark harbor the truth.
“Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,/Unguent, powered, or liquid” (87-88) — The sense of smell is deeply connected to memory. I inhale essence of spring lilacs and am transported to the side of a mountain, to the cup of fresh lilacs my first husband brought me to atone for his deception. It was a salve, an unguent for my soul.
“My nerves are bad to-night. Yes bad. Stay with me./Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.” (111-112) — My nerves are bad tonight, every night, all of the time, some of the time, sometimes. I get so tired of speaking of it.
“‘Do/You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember/’Nothing?'” (121-123) — My mother-in-law remembers nothing most of the time, some things, some of the time. I ask Alexis if she sees anything. . .
“O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—/It’s so elegant/So intelligent” (128-130) — Can be sung to many different tunes.
“HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME” “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME” “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME”(141, 152, 165, etc.) — Said in pubs and bars worldwide, but do they ever specify just exactly what it is time for? Time to go? Time to pack up your troubles and smile, smile, smile as we march off to war? Time to make time? Time for change? No more time?
“By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .” (182) — From “The Fire Sermon,” not Psalm 137, weeping will not be enough to quench the fires of my soul.
“Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.” (432) — Three Da’s: give, be compassionate, be self-controlled. No explanation needed.
Shantih. Shantih. Shantih. (Children of Men, bearded Jasper (Michael Caine) and his strawberry cough.)