Sunday, June 23, 2013
A couple of Saturdays ago I was at Jackson’s third birthday party. More unbelievable than the fact that he is already three years old is the fact that I am the great-aunt of a three-year-old. I had a lot of great-aunts growing up and my memories of them are consistent: they all had gray or white hair and they all wore plain cotton shirtwaist dresses during the week and lace-collared shirtwaist dresses on Sunday and to funerals. Not one of them would have been found going down an inflatable slide on my third birthday. Which is what I was doing shortly after Jackson blew out his candles and opened his presents.
Later in the afternoon, after a number of slippery descents punctuated by splashes and squeals and the realization that I really should have taken the time to put on some sunscreen, I noticed a slight burning sensation on my left elbow. I had, in all the flinging and flailing, managed to get the water slide equivalent of a rug burn, not a big one, just a small scrape. The next morning, though, I had the beginning of a scab. And by Monday, it was a genuine, irritatingly noticeable scab.
I am a careful person, some might say cautious. A few might even say overly cautious. The last time I had a scab was probably 14 years ago when Ginny, unaccustomed to the leash I had to put on her to walk her into the vet’s office, jerked hard and sent me tumbling over a wheel stop at the end of a parking space. For a couple of weeks my knee looked like I’d made a hard slide into home. I was particularly conscious of that scab, like the new, much smaller one on my elbow, because it was located on a joint and every time I moved it I was reminded of the pain.
About a week after the birthday party, when the edges of the scab had started to peel up a little and get caught on the bath sponge in the shower, I started thinking about the other kind of scab, the kind that forms on the wounds that nobody sees. Those hurts, the emotional ones, are so much worse and the amount of flesh torn off so much greater. The “wound healing reconstruction process” requires more than just time and the replication of cells when what is damaged is a heart and the painful reminder comes with every beat.
Yet, so often we are encouraged to treat the disappointment, the disillusionment, the loss of the dream, as just another rug burn. “Give it time,” we are told. “You’ll get over it,” we are assured. “It’ll scab over,” we hear and are meant to understand that the scab, hard and brittle, will miraculously numb the pain. Anyone who has ever felt the emptiness of disappointment or the loneliness of disillusionment, anyone who has ever watched a dream evaporate like a shallow puddle on a hot day knows that platitudes are worse than useless. They are infuriating.
They are also ignorant. Because platitudes ignore the last step: When the scab is gone, what is left is the scar.
Interesting thing about scars: They are made of the same protein as normal skin, but the composition is different. Instead of collagen fibers woven together in a random basket-weave formation, the fibers in scar tissue show an articulated alignment in a single direction. Scar tissue doesn’t forget.
Which some of those platitude-people might see as a negative thing. The reason it’s not is this: Scar tissue, that which doesn’t forget, tells stories. The scar that runs up the back of my leg tells the story of the afternoon I led my brother and my cousins on a tromp through the woods and fell on the barbed wire fence. The tiny scar on my knee tells the story of the four-year-old Kathy that daringly (and uncharacteristically) jumped off the front porch imitating some cartoon character. And the scars on my heart tell me the story every single day that I am braver and stronger for having survived the disappointments and disillusionments and dream-deaths.
The scars are prima facie evidence that what I am is alive. And waiting for the next chance to go down the water slide.
Sunday, June 09, 2013
The morning after a rain, no matter how sparse, is always startling. It isn’t just that every sprout and blade and leaf of green is greener. It isn’t just that the vista has been swiped by a giant squeegee and everything is in clearer focus. And it’s not even that the birdsong is deeper, as though the entire genus has overnight become a choir of contraltos. It’s that some of the pall of dust that the rain has washed away wasn’t that clinging to the landscape, but to you.
I’d gone to bed with my head spinning. Not like Linda Blair’s, but it might as well have been. And the spinning had no center. Like a lump of clay misplaced on a potter’s wheel, snatches of conversation flew off in small clumps and landed on the floor. Unexpected memories sprang up and splattered my face. Futile attempts to separate lies from truth left my hands covered in slick mud. And my foot just kept pumping and pumping and pumping the pedal of the wheel.
As exhausted people do, I eventually fell asleep, though the spinning continued in my dreams. When the radio alarm went off at 6 a.m. with NPR alerting me to the fact that the NSA is collecting Verizon phone records of private citizens, it seemed obvious that neither my subconscious nor my unconscious nor any fairy sprinkling magic dust had intervened overnight to bring about anything like détente between the warring factions of my overloaded brain.
I showered, dressed in lawyer clothes, gathered up briefcase and purse, and headed out. Halfway down the back steps I stopped. Startled into stillness.
Every spring I am a little anxious as I wait to see if the hostas show back up, a little excited when they do. I watch their knife-blade buds slice up out of the ground, all tight and hard, and over the following days unfold into varied patterns of green and yellow and white banded leaves. I stop and look at them every morning to remind myself that resurrection is always a possibility.
What stunned me so this time was one hosta in particular, one of the smaller ones. I could see that in its thick spade-shaped leaves it was still holding some of the night’s raindrops, big and bulbous. They glittered in the morning light, looked like diamonds, polished and ready to be set into rings. In their smallness they reflected the light of the entire universe.
I could feel the spinning in my brain beginning to slow. I could feel the center beginning to take hold.
Last week the sweet and talented woman who wrangles my hair had a little extra time between appointments and suggested that we (meaning she wielding the flat iron and I doing my best to sit patiently for an extra 40 minutes) straighten my mane. For the next few days I got a lot of attention for not looking like myself. No one said anything negative, but only Kate, like the child in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” was brave enough to state the truth: “You don't look like Kap...not okay.”
The most frequently asked question by those who recognized me was, “How long will it last?” And the answer was, “Until it gets wet.”
That’s what I thought of as I looked at the hosta, its leaves trembling just slightly under the weight of their precious stones. How long does dullness hide brilliance? How long can selfishness masquerade as need? How long does deception prevail over truth?
The ground stays parched and barren until it gets wet. Clay is hard and useless until it gets wet. People can pretend to be something they aren’t until they get wet. It is only after the rain has fallen, only after the tears have been shed, only after the tide has washed the shore that the sun has something in which to reflect its light.