Extant

“Do you want me to read to you, LB? Your books made it over from the other office.”

I shook my head no and imagined standing, slowly, and wrapping myself into the long, grey curtains separating his office and storage space. It was some last resort I’d use to force his understanding, though I didn’t move an inch. It is what children do when adults stop listening, stop seeing them. They act out their grief in ingenious ways.

He stayed with me through my silence; he turned away to the light. I could feel that he didn’t know what to do, that he was at a loss for how to continue on.

Then, finally, mercifully, he left me there.

“You know,” he said, “I really need to work on my plants. I wasn’t expecting to do this today, but some of them are hurting.”

“Do you think you might want to help me?”

I nodded and stayed stock still on the couch watching his every move.

“There are all of these dead leaves that need to be cut away, and then they all need to be watered.”

He moved like he was very, very tired. The sadness I’ve always felt in him followed close behind like a child waiting for instructions. There was some weight across his shoulders keeping him from standing tall, from allowing himself his full height. He looked old and sad and beautiful and fragile.

His hair kept falling into his eyes.

“Did your mother keep house plants?” he asked.

I said nothing. I wanted to say everything. I wanted to tell him that she’d been too sad to try and keep anything alive.

“Do you have plants in your home?”

I told him that I did. That I had a fern that nearly died until I moved it right up against the window in the room where I write. Now it was reaching, I told him, and saving itself.

He disappeared behind the curtains and came back with a red pot, a blue watering can.

“You shouldn’t over water them,” I said. “That’s the worst thing you can do.”

He swept the dead leaves into a pile, then placed them inside the red pot. He walked back to his chair, sat down and looked at me.

I told him that the philodendrons were beyond the point of survival, he said they could be revived.

I miss talking to you, really talking to you, I said wordlessly; I hoped he’d heard me.

There were voices outside, women working in some capacity and laughing and beckoning me back out into the world.

“Goodbye, P.”

“See you next week, LB.”

Advertisements

Our Pain is Our Own

There is a lot of pain in my relationship with P just now, and because I can’t speak with him about any feelings his boundaries have brought forth in me, I have to let them go. By taking this space, by stepping away from me, he is attempting to save our relationship. And I trust him.

Yesterday when my daughter was at gymnastics, I walked down past the bars, the warehouses and outfitters, to find the river. Lights were starting to glow in the houses tucked into the mountainside, and I wondered, as I always do, about the lives inside.

It was cold and I was grateful for the discomfort, and I looked down at the blue-grey water swirling there, slowly lapping the boulders against the bank, and I thought of how I might channel that kind of fluidity to help me through the confusion and loneliness and hurt I’m carrying.

“Have I endured loneliness with grace?” Mary Oliver, may she rest in peace, wrote in her poem, The Gardener.

The answer is mostly no. I have fought during these last sessions, and cried, and spewed the self-loathing I’ve met in me like some hulking figure in a dark alley. By letting me in all these years, by allowing me close, P helped keep the worst of my shame at bay. Now he isn’t here protecting me, and I’m vulnerable to shadows.

I hate myself; I’m all that I have.

When it comes right down to it we are solitary travelers here. Yes we love. Yes we find community. Yes we try our best to understand one another. But we are born alone and we die alone, and our pain is our own.

I’ve been badly triggered since Thursday, first by smells and then by physical touch, and I tried my best to root through my stash of magic stones, those precious techniques I’ve foraged for in the harshest conditions, but none of them was right.

And so I reached for him, I reached for P, and I wrote even though I knew he wasn’t likely to read my message or respond. And when he did it was to say that he was enduring a personal tragedy and wouldn’t be able to help. Would I like the number of someone who could?

Now I’d like to be the good girl who can make herself scarce, if not invisible, so that he can care for himself and grieve for his friend. I am worried about him; I am human. I sent a poem for an offering when I should have supported him in silence.

I don’t even think I said that I was sorry, though I will when I see him again.

The worst of the battle is over in me. I have an appetite now, and I’ve noticed the trees on the ridgeline beyond my window shrouded in fog. I will read out loud to my husband this evening until my voice breaks and then try to sleep.

When I close my eyes I can feel what I cannot control coursing on through me, down and out through my toes.

Teach Me to Let Go

I have written to P, and I have told him that I will not email anymore or talk about our relationship in any future sessions. I did it because I was weary and because I know in my heart that he wants what is best for me, even if I do not always agree with his methods.

I have sifted through the muck and the mess, and I’ve seen that he is only making space for me and for himself, too. Our work has become quite futile, with the only energy coming from my seemingly requisite criticisms. I won’t even look him in the eyes or allow him close in that way we have often known that has nothing to do with touch and little to do with words.

I miss him.

I’d like to let go of my anger.

To this end, I’ve allowed the idea that things will change again. P could move away, or his health could decline and he could decide to leave private practice altogether. Teach me how to let go of you, I want to tell him.

Teach me to let go in this life. 

I cannot keep clinging to illusory constants, or daydreaming about those sleepy days (which were actually really, really difficult in reality) when I spent three days a week in therapy and P held back time so that I might one day join the rest of the world here in the present. And no amount of manipulation will make him change his mind and see me more often.

So, yes, I’ve been angry and P has been the unfortunate, and largely unwilling, recipient. He had to take some measures to protect himself — he just had to.

To be fair, I can still write emails as often as I’d like, but he mostly won’t respond to them, and this decree about not speaking of our relationship is only for the time being (his words); I do not believe, I simply cannot imagine, that it will be sustainable in the long term.

I don’t know what is going to happen between us moving forward and that feels really frightening but also hopeful. I have learned that these kinds of changes usually illuminate some greater purpose.

In the meantime, I’m relying on mindfulness practices to take the edge off until I can talk with P again. Our regular session fell on New Years Day, and he had either given the time away since he wasn’t sure I’d be returning, or he took the day to simply rest. So we will have had a two-week break by the time it’s all over.

I’ve had a massage, and I have acupuncture scheduled for tomorrow, and I have plenty of good books and a lot of wonderful poetry to read. As soon as I’m finished here I’ll put on my boots and walk down out of our woods into the valley, past the little blue farmhouse and the horses grazing there to the lake where the water is running high, with my sweet daughter in tow chatting away about the fairies adults can’t see.

Never There

I knew that something was very wrong on the way to my last session. I was too depressed to listen to the radio, though this has been typical lately, and I felt a heavy omniscience that left me somber and ill at ease. I hadn’t wanted to sit in the parking lot at P’s office when I arrived eight minutes early, such was the weight of what I knew, so I turned left beside the park where I used to take my daughter to play when she was a toddler (there is a sunshade over the sandbox that brought so much relief on hot summer days) and followed that road for a little while.

I sat in my car in silence for the last remaining minutes before heaving myself into the winter light.

There at the glass door I turned the metal knob to lock it (like P always does) and turned right to his open french doors. Instead of waiting in the frame for me he was off to the side leaning against the wall. It was like he was frightened, or maybe I was, but he was also deeply unhappy and I could feel that he was.

“You didn’t answer any of my e-mails this weekend,” I told him.

“Yeah, we should talk about that,” he said. “Let’s just say you shouldn’t expect that I will answer them.”

I’ve never been able to adequately describe what heartbreak feels like. I know it as a tearing of what is already so fine to begin with inside; like a shredding of some protective mechanism each of us needs here.

You stop and you wait with some respect for the perfect embodiment of the hurt — the odd ecstasy of it. The fibers falling in metallic reams until they finally settle somewhere out of harmony.

Write to me as often as you’d like, he’d always said. I won’t always respond, but I’ll always read your messages.

This has always been true until I cross that line I cannot see; the line where I hurt him with my words and he withdraws to protect himself and his sense of honor. I’ve always felt that I cannot live up to his goodness, his self-respect and his dignity.

I don’t have to imagine how many people love him.

Since earlier this year, as you know, I’ve struggled with the drastic change in our schedule. Where once I could rely on his presence if I took some great risk in my life, now I am far more careful, always trying to keep myself safe until I make it to him again. There isn’t any net left. I can fall and I can shatter and still face all those days between us.

And I do think of his heart. Of his father’s heart. Of the very real possibility that he could be hurt beyond repair if he works too hard, takes on too much. In my selfishness, I’ve continued to reach for him, and worse yet, I’ve continued to tell him in limitless ways how disappointed I am like some awful, critical father. When all I really want to say is that I’m frightened. That I’m so, so frightened.

In my fear, in my need, I say such things:

You are never, ever there when I need you, P. Something happened on Tuesday when I acknowledged that I wasn’t getting better, that I wasn’t ever going to, and I’ve since realized that I need time away to figure out what to do. I’ve been in bed all morning, and I hate myself for thinking you might see me and help make things just a little bit easier.

“I’m telling you that I can no longer absorb this, LB. You’ve remained critical of me, telling me that I’m never there for you, and I really think this just isn’t helpful anymore.

“For the time being, I don’t want to talk about our relationship in here. It isn’t helpful for you and your care. We can talk about your pain and your life and your work, but not us.”

Listening to him I thought of silence. Of being silenced. I thought of my mother and the soothing words she needed for her guilt. I thought of my father and the warning in his eyes if I came anywhere close to getting at his soul.

I thought of my voice that has been trampled and ripped to shreds and stuffed back down, hard into me.

“No,” I said. “I won’t work that way, P. I won’t let anyone do that to my voice ever again.”

“Either I have the freedom to say what I feel here, or I don’t.”

And then I left some fifteen minutes early. Of course I’ve cried.

Do Not Ask for More

When I was a little girl I’d fall in love with certain trees and birds. There was one Blue jay when I was five or six who’d return to the yard over and over again, and he became very special to me. I used to stand stock still in the shade of a large oak or sycamore and imagine that I was calling him to me. It was my silence, my propensity for stillness, that made the bird feel safe. I needed to believe this. That I could be anyone’s home.

There is a peace in me, I was saying even then. There is something in me that transcends this place. This is my nature, my soundings.

My father noticed me in the yard. He noticed my patience and my need for solitude and he watched me through the kitchen’s garden window or at brief pauses from his own projects that protected him from the worst of his madness. Then he’d go back to his work.

Look at your sister, he’d sometimes say. Do you see how still she can be. Leave her alone there. Do not chase her bird away because you cannot find one for yourselves.

At such times, after such words, I’d quake inside with tender little hurts. Hurts he’d made that I could feel all at once with great confusion, and sometimes pain that moved me and made me curious about him where before we’d been separated by an impossible distance.

Look at the light changing, the shadows. Do not turn to him. Do not ask for more.

Sometimes that bird would land right in front of me and peck at the earth and turn and go his own kind of still. He’d fly to the branches above me that blocked the sky and disappear so that I could only hear him and not see him. It seems, now, that I spent years in that spot, on that earth, watching him, wanting to be close.

It must have been only a manner of weeks.

Often he wasn’t there. I could sit at the base of the tree there and wait for him and go completely empty in my mind. These were rare, special times when I was a child at my own work.

My brother and sister did chase him off, and made quite a show of it, and my father rebuked them for doing it. But I knew that you couldn’t chase a bird away so easily; I knew he’d gone for other reasons that would always be mysterious to me.

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.”

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.