Panorama of San Bernardino

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Mountain

"Daddy, I can't see anything," a young girl said.  That was my own voice I heard in my dream last night.  My eyes shot open and I saw that I was in my bedroom, my husband snoring next to me.  It was three a.m. and it took me at least an hour to fall back asleep.   As a small child, I had the same dream over and over.  I was driving on a mountain road and could not see a thing and eventually went off the edge of the mountain.  I would wake up right before the car hit the ground.   Terrified.

I was an anxious child.  Always waiting for the latest explosive fight between my parents.  I hated bringing friends home.  If it was a good day, my mom would say hi in her nice voice and offer to go get us something to eat.  If it was a bad day, she was likely to tell me off in front of them.  It wasn't worth the humiliation and eventually, I stopped having people over other than my best friends Melinda and Tracy who had learned how to navigate my mom's moods.  We would laugh about it, but it wasn't a laughing matter really.  Wouldn't you be embarrassed to be the girl whose dad came home drunk and fought with their crazy mom at deafening volumes?  All the neighbors could hear.  My sisters and I would leave and walk to the park.  I remember sitting on the swings wondering why I couldn't have a normal family like the one on The Brady Bunch.

I lost myself in books.  It was the place I could feel safe.  My first love were the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  She had a difficult life as well albeit in a different way,  There were blizzards, droughts and wild animals.  And, food was always scarce on the prairie.  Hunger was real there.  Not like in our house where despite my family's limited finances, we always had more than enough to eat.  Dad was born right after the Great Depression and lived in an orphanage and like Scarlett O' Hara, he swore he would never go hungry again.  But, at least, Laura's Ma and Pa never fought like mine did.  There were nights I would read by flashlight and try to imagine myself into her family.  I wouldn't want to be Mary.  She went blind you know.

My other love were my mom's Harlequins.  I read hundreds of them along with her water stained True Story magazines.  And soon, along came Nancy Drew and Judy Blume.  Later, I discovered a fantasy world in the Tolkien books and CS Lewis.  My favorite book in junior high was Lord of the Flies.  It reminded me of my life in a way.  The unpredictability of it.  The fear.  The chaos.  I read it over and over, not able to get the image of Piggy's stolen glasses out of my head,  He was blind without his glasses.

Life to me has always been an adventure.  I suppose I have always imagined myself as a heroine of sorts,  The narrator of my own life.  There was a time when I created chaos out of nothingness, but I have eventually learned to love a more peaceful existence.  I look back at it all wondering where all the time went.  Have I actually reached my forties?

I wish I had a child I could read to.  I would craft her stories out of thin air, filled with webs, whispers and witches, but in the evening I would make sure she was lulled to sleep in a peaceful existence.  For her, the scary stories would only be fantasy, not reality.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Coolness

One eye halfway closed, I type and listen to my husband snore beside me.  I am warm, but it is cold and windy outside.  Every night, I put on some type of pajamas and every morning, I awake, unclothed.  It is as if while I sleep, I am burdened by something that has to be thrown off in the middle of the night.  First my shirt, then my pants.  I wake up naked and curled in a little ball, shivering sometimes.

But right now, I am in a cocoon of blankets, my Shih Tzus resting by my feet.  I feel peaceful although my stomach is a bit queasy and I can feel the subtle yet persistent beginnings of a headache behind my temples.

I have not written for almost a week. Work has been hectic and I have been obsessed with listening to a novel called the Goldfinch in my car every day.  I might have called in sick today, but for that audio book.  I had to find out what happened.  The book makes the hour or so drive to work easy, but whenever I get caught up in a book, it is hard to write myself.  It is almost as if I can only focus on their words rather than my own.

But, this evening, I felt compelled to write.  You see reader, writing for me is as much about a declaration of self as it is about communication with others.   I write to feel alive.  To prove that I was here, am here I mean.  Some days, it is all I have.  I told a friend the other day that writing keeps me from going bonkers.  My restlessness and irritability makes more sense on the page than it does in real life.  On the page, I can imagine myself into being the person I yearn to be.  But in practice, my truest self, the one in my mind's eye, is only half formed.

Who I am and who I want to be, are two vastly different things.  Like a warm Diet Coke and one with ice.  The warm Diet Coke is still Diet Coke but it lacks the freshness and clarity of the iced version.  The warm diet coke is tepid and has a bitter aftertaste.  It eventually goes flat.

These days, most days, I am a warm Diet Coke version of myself, but the chilled Diet Coke is who I aim to be.  Pure refreshment.  All zing and cool bubbles.  That was how I used to be.  Before I became just a shell.  No, that is wrong, not a shell.  Now, I am just a verb.  An ordinary verb.  Sitting.  Working.  Sleeping.

I know what is missing. Everything feels stagnant.  My heart is still caught up in the grief of that child which was not yet meant to be.  I want to move on.  I don't know how.  They don't teach you in law school how to cope with life's deepest disappointments.  That is what art is for.   To capture the indescribable.

That said, there are some days when I know I am starting to feel better.  Sometimes, I can feel my center returning and when I feel the lightness of my old self, I try and hold on to the essence of that feeling.  Writing helps.  And therapy.   And reading.  And the look on my dogs' mugs when I walk in the door.  Their Ewok like faces looking up at me, tails wagging in time to the beat of their names spoken aloud, makes my heart beat again.

If I knew what this essay was about, I suppose I would be fully back to my old self.  But sadly, this is more of a warm soda musing than a chilled one.

What scares me is that, perhaps, the old, cool me is gone.  For good.