On surviving the tempest


The following post is very descriptive of a difficult period in my life. I have not shared this story with very many people until now. Within the past few weeks, it has been swirling about my head, wanting to come out. As it did in the story, it took me a very long time to get these words on to paper. But tonight they came. I’m grateful. Grateful to have them off my chest and out in the open. If you feel you cannot handle a difficult and potentially triggering read, go watch the following video, Michael Franti & Spearhead’s Say Hey, I love you. This song makes me sqeeee with glee every time I hear it. Also, FYI, the triggering things in this post? Start right off the bat. Be SURE this is something you can handle reading before you scroll past the video.

A Quick Note:

The following intertwines words I wrote tonight with words I wrote in college as part of a short story. The words in italics are from the short story. Toward the end, there are words in bold italics. They are explained directly below, in red.

Perfect

When I was seven or eight, or perhaps a little older, I wrote a poem about death. It was quite graphic. My mother kept it in her jewelry box for a very long time. She may still have it today – I don’t know. You see, as a child, Death and I often played in the same sandbox. That bastard repeatedly stole relative after relative. He snatched them out of my arms as a greedy toddler snatches toys away from other children whilst shouting, “MINE! You can’t have them!”

I hated him.

Death faded out of the picture for a few years after he stole my grandmothers. My junior year of college, Death came back with a vengeance and stole my grandfathers. Just for kicks, he stole both of them in less than three weeks. Insolent greedy toddler prick.

For the first time, I experienced a deep, dark, sinister physical grief. I often lost control of myself. I hit, punched, kicked, screamed, cried, wailed, and writhed until I passed out. I drank. Heavily. In places I should not have. With people I really should not have. I did things I now regret with people I really should not have. And then….

Then.

I signed up for a Creative Writing Course as part of my Major Coursework as I sought my degree in English Literature.

As part of this course, I wrote a short story about a Latin American Author, Alfonsina Storni, who killed herself as she faced certain death due to cancer.

Brilliant, right?

Still grieving, I struggled to write this story. You would think it would be easy. But no… it wasn’t. A numb void – that’s what I was when I set out to write this story.

It was spring. Slowly, the buds poked their heads out, the freshness of a reborn earth filled the air, the chirping of baby birds echoed across the forest. Rain fell to push the buds closer to blossoming.

Spring. Rebirth. Water.

There was a lake nearby the college. I often drove to this lake, sat there, dipping my toes into the cool water as I watched the ducks and geese swim and fish. Sometimes I even fed the geese, getting them to eat from my hand. I even discovered an underwater cement jetty at one location which allowed me to walk almost halfway out into the lake yet only be ankle deep in the water. The mere thought of standing in the middle of the lake like that still makes my head spin – very surreal.

As I struggled to understand Alfonsina, I visited the lake more and more.

You see, she killed herself by diving into the Atlantic Ocean from some cliffs in Buenos Aires. I struggled to understand why she would do such a thing – why, when she was a mother and would leave behind a son. I struggled with this because I was not yet a mother but I could not bear to think of my own mother doing such a thing.

Finally, I began to write:

I know they talk about me all the time. They say what a bad mother I am, those proper mujeres de Buenos Aires; what a distraught pilgrim she is, along for a ride of simple ecstacy. How crazy she is; the woman who lives away from the society she should be embracing. I see no point in embracing the false, that which inflicts pain and suffering upon others for mere appearances. Stretching out under the covers, I open my eyes to face another day. At least today there is no treatment for my cancer. Today I have all to myself and know exactly what to do.

After tossing the covers aside, I reach for my bathrobe. I pit-pat to the bathroom to shower before heading out for the day. No one else is home, my son is off at University listening to his Professors ramble. Warm water flows about my body for more than half an hour. Water lifts my soul. It is my freedom, my saviour.

It is dark outside now, night. I have a glass of wine and a pack of cigarrettes beside me. As I sip on the wine, I hear crickets outside. I also hear the soft echo of traffic just down the hill from my dorm room. There is a soft breeze which plays with the leaves on the tree outside my window. I let the last sentence rumble about in my head for a bit as I chat online with friends.

Water has been my own saviour. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, less than a mile from the beach. Each day as I walked to school the air was infused with the scent of saltwater. To this day, that scent is a very soothing scent for me – sometimes I smell it even when it is not there.

I think this is why I was so drawn to the lake just outside the town limits of my college. For me, water is peace. Water is solace.

As I lay down to sleep, I continued to brainstorm about this story. Due in just a few days, I had to finish it. I had to…

The next day I wrote a few more paragraphs.

Alfonsina comes to life on paper. And in my head.

Every action intentional, deliberate. This woman had a plan.

I find what I want, a pure white ankle-length dress. Low cut, it hugs my curves as I slide it down over my naked body. Staring at myself in the mirror, I smile, sliding my hands down over the cotton fabric, smoothing it over my hips. I rub some blush upon my cheeks and lipstick upon my lips. I whisper to my reflection, “I am Alfonsina Storni, and I am beautiful.”

From there, I briefly summarized Alfonsina’s life. Her childhood, her marriage, her life as a single yet determined mother. And then. Then I type a single word.

Perfect.

What’s perfect? Who is perfect? Who says things are perfect? Who has that authority? How did they get that authority?

I had learned an important lesson…not everything is perfect nor could it ever be, at least not here on Earth. Earth by its very nature exists on an imperfect plane, riddled with rills, ridges and faults.

Sorrow and guilt live among those ridges and rills, I thought to myself. So does death. Death. Perfect.

My story is due within a day or two. I need to write my conclusion.

I have to write her suicide.

The next day it rains. A deluge. Complete with thunder and lightning. Lightning. Water. Person. Death. Perfect.

I change my clothes. Flowing skirt. Flowing shirt. I grab my keys and purse. Run for my car. Drive to the lake. Park my car. Sit and stare at the choppy lake, listen to the thunder and watch the lightning. I get out, leaving my keys in the car. I won’t need them anymore.

I walk down onto the lake’s beach. Into the angry water swirling under an angry sky. I begin to cry. I wail. I scream. I shout. I lift my arms to the sky and ask why. I scream even louder. I pray for lightning to strike the water. I contemplate sinking beneath the water and staying there. I wonder how long it will take anyone to notice I am gone. I breathe. I wonder what it will feel like to fill my lungs with gulp after gulp of water. What the sting of lightning will do to my body. Grief has finally opened it’s gaping mouth to swallow me whole. I’m circling the drain. Gleefully.

The rain beats down on my face, mixing with the saltiness of my tears. I close my eyes and am reminded of the ocean. The ocean – Alfonsina.

Then it hits me.

At first it is a whisper. Then a scream.

This?

Is not what my grandfathers would want for me. Is not what my grandmothers would want for me. Is this really the BEST I have to offer? The BEST I promised my grandmother? IS it?

Is it?

I scream back. Angry at them for saving me.

I wade back out of the lake and trudge across the muddy beach. I get back into my car. I’d left it unlocked so anyone finding my vehicle wouldn’t have to break in.

I sit there, in my car, until the storm begins to subside, draped over the steering wheel, drenching my seat, crying, wondering what’s next.

I finally start my car. Drive back to school, trudge up to my dorm room, change, and plop down in front of my computer with a deep sigh. I open Alfonsina’s story and stare.

I begin to type, my hair still soaked, dripping onto my shirt and arms.

As I walked to the edge of the cliffs, I hear the thunderous roar of the ocean greeting me. My eyes drink in the beauty of the view. The cliffs went down about fifty feet, and at their bottom, a small sandy and rocky beach stared up at the sky. In the distance, several boats bobbed about in the ambivalent sea as they struggled to find their way.

I closed my eyes, held my hands out, and drew in a deep breath, relishing the scent of the sea. Keeping my eyes shut, I breathed in the sweet scent once more, holding it longer this time. I sat there a long while, holding it in longer this time. I sit there a long while, listening to the waves crash and the sea gulls cry overhead. Here, at Mar del Plata, I find my peace. Here, I glance into the mirror of God and am appeased momentarily. But then the pain and horror of my cancer grows larger and looms heavy. Recovering from a radical mastectomy, I’m to be home. But I had to come. Water is my saviour.

I draw out a small pad and my favorite pen. I write a few lines, as I always did when I visited the cliffs. Today is different though. Today is the last time I will ever drive here.

I Am Going to Sleep


Teeth of flowers, hairnet of dew,

hands of herbs, you, perfect wet nurse,

prepare the earthly sheets for me

and the down quilt of weeded moss.

I am going to sleep, my nurse, put me to bed.

Set a lamp at my headboard;

a constellation; whatever you like;

all are good: lower it a bit.

Leave me alone: you hear the buds breaking through . . .

a celestial foot rocks you from above

and a bird traces a pattern for you

so you’ll forget . . . Thank you. Oh, one request:

if he telephones again

tell him not to keep trying for I have left . . .

Alfonsina Storni

(*Note here: The above poem was mailed to a local newspaper by Alfonsina the day before she committed suicide. Those are HER words, not mine.)

I sign my name with a flourish and set my purse on the paper so it will not blow away. Standing up, I smooth my dress down over my body as the wind plays with the bottom of my skirt. Walking close to the edge of the cliffs, I lift my head in prayer. I ask God to forgive me, explaining I could no longer endure the pain. I take one last deep blissful breath of that sweet scented Atlantic air. I dive head first over the cliffs, my eyes wide open to see just what endures below God’s mirror.

I slump back in my chair.

Grateful to be finished.

Grateful to be alive.

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2 thoughts on “On surviving the tempest

  1. Wow Lauren…wow. I am speechless. This is so well written. I really felt that I was there with you going through this journey. Hugs Momma. It must’ve been hard to write this.

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