Thursday, March 2, 2017

To Be Cadavre Exquis

"The labyrinth doesn't tell us how to live. It shows us how we do live."— Scarlett Thomas, Our Tragic Universe

There will be a wall that winds its way toward a center. And the wall will be made of jagged pieces of seemingly impenetrable gray stone. And the mortar will be made of the chunky lies you've told yourself, and only the finest dust will lift from it when you run your fingertips along its surface. On the other side of the wall will be a layer of hedges with stiff waxy leaves concealing tangled thorny branches.

But in the center of the labyrinth is the garden, where you were born. It's been a long time, but you remember that when you were there, each morning when you woke the sunflowers and tulips and roses yawned their petals to the sun, straining for the most saturated rays.You toddled between their brilliant green stalks with no fear or hesitation, only delight. And you know this is the place to which you will always belong, and so you must find your way back.

Remember your tongue is sharper than many, so don't lash out at those whom you love. Don't attempt to bleach your freckles with lemon or douse your hair with Sun-In. Never be tempted by the low-hanging fruit. Don't have your mother buy you the same Madonna-inspired dress as Amanda Scherrer. Don't drink nothing but Slim Fasts and then do shots of tequila. Don't get your belly button pierced. Don't cultivate a bad-girl image. 

Listen. Sleep. Take every dare. Go to every funeral. At certain points, get naked more often. Buy Frieda Kahlo's painting "The Wounded Deer" and hang it above your bed to remind you that you are strong and capable. Fall in love, over and over. Eat bread and chocolate every day. When you meet Ryan, trust your instincts and never doubt that he is the one who is meant to be your partner in this life. When you achieve something, never doubt that you deserve it. Pick up the phone. Hike alone. Read more poetry. Run as fast as you can as often as you can; push your body to its limits. Write down your dreams, your subconscious whispers, before you forget them.

And know that by the time you are ready to make your return, you will have had all of your needs met. You will have given all of yourself. You will have been made a mother out of thin air. You will have survived the surreal and experienced the magical. You will be full and content. And you will find that what you feared was harrowing is exquisite in all its twists and turns, and that you were never in danger of getting lost.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

In the Garden

"This is the path I was always meant to take," says my mother. Her lips snap shut like a change purse; what she has said is final. My mom has replaced Steve's atheism with her own blend of metaphysics. She's learned about reiki, reincarnation, and yoga. She will look for Steve in her first grandchild and has told me that she has "left her grief" on the red rocks of Sedona, where she meditated for an hour. She is hard on herself.

Steve's disembodied voice is on the answering machine. His polo shirts and shorts are folded away in dresser drawers. His sons wear his watch and tool belt. The tires on his truck rot in the driveway. My mother has overseen every renovation she and Steve had planned for their new home. She is there as they put in the laundry room, construct a guest house, install a walkway, plant a garden. She pretends that she can make a deal—finish everything they had started, and he will never leave her.

One year ago my mother held her knees to her chest and hid beneath a blanket on the hospital room tile. She muttered to herself, stifled a scream, and tried her best to shut out the image of Steve's cold body on the bed. The decision was made, he'd be taken off of life support. At my mother's request, each of us did our best to ease the wedding band from his swollen finger.
Most people do not put their hands to their throats when they are choking. Not all are rescued. Some, like Steve, slump over at the dinner table, their extremities already losing feeling, their eyes blackening as they struggle to find their breath. They lose control of their bowels or bladders. Sometimes they vomit, in an attempt to dislodge what is stuck in their trachea, and it leaves a stain on the floor. Some choking victims leave their wives feeling like it was their fault, like they should have been more vigilant, like they could have done something more.

If Steve were still here he and my mom would laugh over their memories of Catholic school. They would walk the dogs and go to Irish pubs and make love and sit on the deck drinking wine. They would keep their debts from each other, hide the tragedies of their previous marriages. Tell each other gentle lies because they are in love. If he were still here, the afterlife would stay a mystery and metaphysics would linger behind its beaded curtain, trapped in its crystal ball. Death would remain speculative, not the consuming reality that my mom struggles daily to forget.

She's glimpsed his face in the bathroom tile, felt him in a breeze. She looks for him in light patterns and reflections. She believes, despite all reason, that he might still walk through the front door each evening. She is training herself to stay present in every moment
—every stretch, every bend of her bodydeliberate. She can heal others' aches with the warmth of her hands. She is on the path of spiritual enlightenment and this is how she will find Steve again. On this path, she can dream they meet. That's easier than walking through her garden, imagining her husband where there is only a handful of ashes buried beneath the magnolia tree. Where her Steve is only in the soil, his name only on a stone.