Sometimes I Watch the Sky

Do you ever notice how even nature is transformed beneath the gaze of our fragile inner selves? On a night hike a few days ago when I’d summoned some strength, the moon itself appeared cradled in its own warm bed. The next day when I was in real trouble and in an awful amount of pain, the sun appeared as if covered by gauze, as if it had been badly wounded and hastily tended to in the aftermath.

I’ve been at war with my body again; often it’s a secret, silent battle that takes me by surprise in the dead of night or in the loving arms of my husband. I’ve developed the habit of fighting P off like he’s the enemy when I’m infiltrated by the past that way, and I’m angry at him for not being able to protect me properly or take me to some new place where I cannot be hurt.

It is misplaced anger, and I know that, and I’ve been in some silent communication with my mother, wherever she is.

And I’ve been angry at myself for not finding some ridge from which to observe without becoming my feelings, without believing in them with my whole heart. It is only ever after that I can see what I’ve done. When will I learn?

Thankfully my therapist is a fighter. He has learned to tell me no. He has learned to say, no, you’re staying here with me and we’ll work through this together. This is the glorious work we’ve undertaken. (It wasn’t always this way; he is changing and shifting and loving me differently, far more adeptly.)

I’ve been writing to him about all the myriad ways I’m coming back to myself this time,

I snuck past the gate and walked five or so miles northbound on the *** earlier today. There were pileated woodpeckers everywhere, and I watched one lose his grip on an old, dead pine and break his fall with his own wings. The females followed the males to gingerly feed where they’d already pecked.

I was free to walk down the center yellow line, which of course I did.

Do you ever just park somewhere and watch the sky? We haven’t seen the sun in days.

Have you been to that garden shop on *********? Sometimes I just go to wander the rooms and watch the light and they don’t seem to mind.

Sometimes I watch the sky, he wrote. Often I watch birds.

Last time we were together P wondered aloud whether our touching had triggered me somehow, but I remember visiting a place in myself where I know my sanity lives. Where something bright and vast and original stays no matter the battles, the storms, and the pain they bring.

“What was it like touching me?” I asked him, my voice shaking.

“Well…” he breathed.

“There were so many things happening at once.”

“I felt concerned for you, that I might be hurting you, but I also remember feeling so quiet and still inside.

And warm.”

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Continued

I didn’t tell of the warmth, did I? His warmth that mingled with my own in some preserved landscape deep inside of me.

That was days ago. One week if I am to be precise. I remember it all like a dream, the way memory can trick us into disbelieving any deeply felt experience. (Did I call out for him. Did he hold his hand out to me, his palm blushing with color. Did I hold back the moan I felt rising.)

My father only touched to hurt; I’d never wanted my mother’s, having been programmed to view her holding as dangerous and by necessity, covert. With P it felt like the most natural feeling in the world, like I belonged there with him.

I was completely and utterly at ease, like the very best mothers. They are not perfect, Winnicott discerned, just perfectly at ease in their environments. Living, flowing, adapting to what the days bring.

To have been loved in the midst of such ease. To have been gathered and fed and held in some ordinary, divine rhythm, in the landscape that begets being; sometimes I think I’ll drown in my own wanting, my own seeking for just such a beginning. But time is passing like water through a sieve. I cannot go back.

I feel another moan in my throat, even now. Even alone here writing as the last of the leaves fall in yet another perfect rhythm. What if I let P hear me this way. Hear me without the cloak, the decency of words. Hear me aching pure in a proper dirge.

I know he would listen with his whole heart, though he isn’t necessarily mourning as I am; he knows me through the richness of these sorrows; he loves me for them.

I’m already thinking about touching again, but it will only ever be our hands. P told me that in no uncertain terms, and I feel a deep respect for him and his boundaries, protective even. I can adapt to what is possible now between us. For as much as I am thrown back to my past, to the mind and heart of a little girl, I am a woman with a woman’s body and breath and energy.

This is all that is possible now.

I wonder about the next time. What the light will be like and if the air between us will settle with some grace. I’ve imagined him deeply settled into his own body, relaxed and sure and at peace.

I can’t imagine being touched that way, yet I feel sure that we will find our way to such a place, such an experience.

Holding

I was back there again. Back there as a little girl facing my father and that same dilemma that is with me now like my own breath, my own heartbeat: fight and die or freeze and save yourself.

I couldn’t feel her the way that I used to, couldn’t feel her body in my body like a baby in my womb. Instead I felt energy clutching and churning and pulsing in me, and I knew that I needed help.

I did all that I could do — I reached for P.

“Will you come closer?” I begged him.

“Sure, LB,” P said firmly. He wanted me to know that he wasn’t wavering, and he moved his chair right against the couch, just to my left.

“Is this okay?”

I nodded, ready to fold. Ready to buckle and fall.

“Would you like me to hold your hand?”

The landscape of my whole body changed in an instant: I grew still and vast and brave. I pulled my sleeve up and away from my palm, and placed it into his waiting hand. It was hot and soft like he’d harnessed some life-sustaining energy there, the heat from his body pooled.

He held his fingers like some ledge I was meant to hold onto, or like a gate, and he wouldn’t relax them. I wondered at his intensity but told myself it wasn’t like him not to be aware.

He must have known how strongly he was holding me there. Either to him or away from him, I wasn’t sure.

My hands in his were cool and dry. He told me after that he’d been quite comfortable, but it was me. I was. I held back the urge to run my fingers across his palm like tracing the contours of a globe. I felt playful and completely at ease, new yet so, so, old. A harmony of my history and some new hope.

I lightly glazed his fingertips with my own.

He told me that he could only hold on for another minute, but after some moments I told him that he could let go. That I was ready for him to.

“I’ve been so stuck lately, P. So frightened and boxed in, and now I can’t help but feel this expansiveness, this urgent need for exploration,” I said.

“Do you understand?”

“I think that I do, LB,” he said.

But I could feel his distance; I could feel that he was lost in his own thoughts and trying to process what had just happened between us. All these years I’d been expressing my yearning, my need to be touched by someone who knew every bit of my story and wouldn’t turn away. And now we’d done it. And now what?

The filtered light at the window blazed. The walls made themselves known. The air between us heaved beneath what we didn’t have time to say. There were only a few minutes left.

Since our last meeting, since our touch, I’ve been firmly grounded in my own reality in a way I haven’t been in a long, long time. There are things in my life, in this precious life, that need cleaning up. I want to root around for what I need to carry on, to move forward.

But I’m tired and frightened and tending to sorrow right up on the surface of my worn-out body. Tidying up will have to wait. As for P, I’m giving him space, giving myself space. There’s a snowstorm coming this weekend, so it’s likely that I won’t see him again for a long time.

I don’t dare write to him or let him linger in my mind for too long.

Organic Movement

I climbed a mountain a couple of days ago, and on the ascent I was delighted as a child leaning in close to hear water I couldn’t see beneath the rock faces, pushing leaves with my toes, marveling at the unrecognizable blue of that particular sky. For just those hours I was free of my mind, and I felt small and ordinary and lovely as the few patches of snow along the trail. Out there I was just a being dependent on the sunlight and the air and my own instincts. It’s just life, I thought to myself.

Just life.

I climbed that way for hours. Listening, breathing so deeply, and feeling as close to good as I ever get. I could feel doom gathering like a far off storm, but I pressed on and focused on navigating creek crossings, leaping gently across icy stretches, and identifying flora as familiar to me as some books at home.

I reached my overlook and the layers of mountains there, and the storm rolled closer; thoughts like heavy rain moved in on me and I couldn’t find any relief, any cover.

What are you doing here? What do you think you’re doing? You’re up here running from the world you’re too weak to face. You can’t keep hiding out, living in bursts like some animal of prey. 

“Nothing I ever do, no project I undertake, is ever for the passion or joy inherent in it. It’s about finding the space to exist via my actions. It’s about forcing myself alive in my terror,” I told P recently.

“This is a crisis of identity. I don’t know who I am or why I’m here, and I’ve been this way as long as I can remember.”

When I’m this lost, this confused, I turn back to the rhythms of my childhood for answers. I’ve been thinking about my father’s dictates and my mother’s powerlessness, about being and non-being and the danger and agony both states represent.

I remember that my father would beat my mother then berate her for not enjoying a sunset marking the sky or for failing to find the nuances in a jazz piece he was blaring. She was already gone, gone long before her actual death, and he hated her for it — though he was the one who’d killed her.

“She was to be alive but not too alive,” P mused.

“Dead but not too…”

“Exactly, P.”

I couldn’t look my father in the eyes or make any sudden or organic movements; living was done by a dim light I snuffed at his boot steps. Beneath his gaze I wore a type of shroud, just like my mother’s.

I can only lift it off when I’m far, far away. Way out in the woods or keenly focused on my body or with those few souls I love and I know love me in my shaking, awful nakedness.

I cannot keep up the balance of movement and erasure, of being and non-being, my father depended on for his own sense of safety.

“You can look me in the eyes,” P told me. “I don’t ever feel threatened or challenged.”

“What if I just move closer to you in times of ease instead of times of distress, LB? What if I move closer to you and take your hand…”

One Year

Three days ago I quietly celebrated one year in this safe space with each of you. I am still, and may always be, hoisted above myself in my father’s iron grip, but by some miracle my voice has been wild and free here — free and subtle and powerful as the wind.

What is left of me evades the trappings of my own body. This year I’ve come into close contact with that stuff we call our ‘essence’. Mine being called to the unique cadence of silence, the woods I love, the right words, warmth shaking in me until it sets and holds.

Next week I’ll celebrate another birthday with real gratitude for surviving another year when we all know how hard life is, how fleeting hope can be. I keep on going for my daughter, for the community of child abuse survivors who are still told either directly or indirectly to ‘grow up’ or ‘get over it’ or to ‘find something else to focus on’.

Scientists now know that there are significant changes that occur in our brains — changes that affect emotional processing and regulation — that are distinct from those without an abuse background. That knowledge is only going to grow and expand until we can link this early trauma to so many complex problems that ail our society.

It’s already happening, and the stories we tell are adding the richness that is a necessary partner to any new scientific discoveries on this topic. When we are hurt when we are so very young, something in us breaks like tender shoots. Something vital is severed and our sense of self, our faith in our purpose here, withers.

The grief endures, in my estimation, a lifetime. That relentless grief for who I might have been had I been loved and protected properly, right from the start. As I grow older, as time continues rapidly passing, I’m less and less willing to pretend that each day isn’t difficult, that each breath isn’t; we owe it to ourselves, and to our vulnerable community, to help others understand the link between our suffering and our pasts.

By some strange miracle, something in me, something there right from the start, was untouched, somehow preserved, while I was fighting for my life. That same something — call it an essence, call it a soul — wants me here in this marvelous, frightening, awful, striking, fruiting present.

This next year I’ll strive to stay right here telling these important stories while reading more and more of yours; thank you, thank you, thank you, for being here with me.

LB

The Nature of Pain

There’s an ease developing between P and me that feels like falling. That delicious kind of falling that feels safe right at the edge of letting go. We are becoming familiar to one another and so it’s easier to take chances, to take risks. He’s been feather-light, navigating my needs and wants with a new deftness born of knowing me, of knowing us and how we are together.

To say that it feels good is as futile as telling of the beauty of the stars; being with him has felt as spiritual. There’s nothing I won’t voice, including the dark earth of my wanting — that cold, dark, trembling place I’ve known since childhood. When I close my eyes I’m sometimes buried there even in an intimate space with just one other person.

“I want you,” I told him just yesterday. “I need you. How pathetic it sounds by now.”

“Not to me, LB,” he said so firmly, so softly.

He’s settling into his new space and it’s bare and cool and soothing. There’s a wall of creamy curtains and french doors that stick, and a little bell that knocks against the glass when I enter through the front door. We have been alone there, completely alone, and I can see him, sense him, so clearly.

The walls are white. The floor is white. It’s clean and bare and open. His artwork is lined against the baseboards. There’s an old wall unit for warmth that shoots slender blue flames. It’s really perfect for him, for his own unique being and spirit. I’ve imagined him curled on the very couch where I sit, cradled in that gentle light, reading or thinking or drifting away into sleep.

During our last few sessions in this new place we’ve spoken about the nature of pain (something about the energy there lends itself to the exploration of those dark places) and I told him I’d recently had the thought that being immersed in it isn’t the end of the world.

“I always survive,” I told him. “I always make it through.”

It’s true.

I can sit and I can wait through the worst of it all, through the past shaking my foundations, while concurrently feeling the wholeness of the place I will return to. The shaking, the ripping, the crumbling, doesn’t last forever — it never does. The pain comes, the pain goes. It isn’t the end it masquerades as.

It just isn’t. How wonderful to finally know.

I’ve just thought of a line from Vievee Francis, also about renegotiating our relationship with pain:

“It seems as if I might ride the beast that haunts me if I could just let go. Let it take me up easily as this gale is lifting me now.”   ~ From “White Mountain” Forest Primeval.

Lightly, lightly, ever so lightly, rock through it; moan through it; dance through it; tune a music box tight through it; ripple your legs like wings through it; sing an awful song through it.

Run through it; walk at a snail’s pace through it.

We cannot go back in time to change what happened to us — the heinous crimes, the murdering of our souls — but we can be ready when the past comes

and takes

and wants us back where we hurt.

It is like surviving some disaster, a storm, a pillaging. Choose your own metaphor. When it’s over, though, and I look around at my life, I ask myself if anything is truly wrong, truly missing, truly broken beyond repair.

And the answer is no. The answer is always mercifully, no.

Love to you all,

LB

Watch Me Let Go

I had my last session in our little blue room, and I didn’t so much as utter a single goodbye.

“I’ve loved loving you here,” I told P. “But this is just a room. Just four walls.”

What I’ll miss is the intimacy of the space. The fact that if I spread my feet just a little I could touch his so easily. I’ll miss feeling that we were sitting high up in the clouds and the miraculous appearance of any birds in flight. I’ll miss the shades pulled down low and golden light on grey winter days; our new room won’t have them.

And it will be larger. This new place. Much larger. I’ve already had fantasies of pacing while we talk like Dr. Paul Weston’s patients in that HBO series, In Treatment. Maybe there’s a window ledge to perch upon while I’m chimney sweeping.

It will be so, so quiet. Just the two of us my entire hour. I feel sure that he’ll order things so that I will not see anyone else there, coming or leaving. He enjoys a small number of clients in the long-term, so I imagine that scheduling is done with a certain intentionality now. With a certain kind of love and care for each of us.

“It has an industrial feel,” P told me. “It will be imperfect at the beginning, but later with the right furnishings…”

“I love imperfect spaces. I’ve never lived anywhere that was perfect,” I said.

I want to buy him a little desert flower that can survive in a glass ball with just a few sprays of water. One on an almost invisible string he can hang from the ceiling, in a place where it will just make the light. He’s funny about gifts, but he’s getting better with time and practice. I gave him a copy of Giovanni’s Room (my favorite book in this whole, big world) for Christmas last year and he’s just now finished it; I remember his remarkable frown when I handed it over to him. But now,

“Just about every word is stunning,” he wrote me. “I don’t want it to end.”

What feels most remarkable about this shift, about this change in environment, is that he is able to make it. In his way, in this way, he is teaching a valuable lesson:

Watch me let go. Watch me move forward. See these rhythms. See me here flowing easily down my own life.

Row, row, row, your boat gently down the stream…

I’ve been watching him these nearly three years. Watching him the way I watched my mother, the way I watched my father. Looking for the truth of my fate in their voices, their gestures, their negligence, their violence, their fear.

You aren’t going to make it, girl! You can believe what you want, but I’m telling you what I know!

I feel the first shudders of doubt, some opening inside, however slight, leading away from their dark prophecies to some new room with space for me.

Watch me let go.