a year ago today the floodlights came on: buzzing overly bright, harsh, blue toned. a year ago today i walked to the mailbox, in wool socks acting as slippers. flipping through as i walked i saw your letter. decades of practice kept me serene: “why is he sending me a christmas card?” pause, open.
it was not a card.
it was a piece of paper folded like we’re taught: in thirds and then across so it’s just a bit smaller than the envelope. i unfolded it enough to see that it was typed. my heart took turns stopping and racing. i sped read even though i already knew what it said.
a year ago today you told me my story. a year ago today you wrote the details of moments that i’ve never told. a year ago today you exposed something i had spent decades hiding. a year ago today you named your actions, calling them something so much worse than i ever allowed myself to think. you put me in a category i didn’t think i deserved. a year ago today you redefined my past, jesting my years of dismissal and rationalization. and on that sidewalk, in that instant, memories before you and after you were reassigned to this new category.
i told my husband the story he’d already heard but never knew. i told a friend, sitting in her van watching our kids slip on a frozen pond. i told two more, my words falling like a boulder on the table set with birthday cake and soup. i told people who I just met. I told people who knew us both. i told my children. i told my parents. i told and concentrated to stay standing in the light.
every day for the past year has been a simultaneous descent back and march forward. every day i’ve held a steel eyed focus on something i can’t see. candles, pills, meditation, eye squinting realizations, deep laughter, second guessing, exercise, mothering, responding, relationship shifts, accepting responsibility for too much and not enough, breathing, pleas for the fear to leave, waiting, learning. every week therapy with free flowing language and fierce advocacy and soul shifting questions. every week the opportunity to teach and learn the existence of an apparently all powerful, all knowing, all loving god. every week moving me through the alphabet with 40 young ones in a space that i’ve built as a temple for their dignity.
every moment a three pronged attack: stay in the present, allow the old wounds, actively make choices. breathe in light, breathe out pain, keep on. repeat.
you turned on the floodlights. and i kept them on.
trembling in the light. not sure where to look. shame surfacing and leaking from every pore. betrayed again. revictimized again. the numb places zinging. watching others’ anger while i got used to my story coming from someone else. i listened: stay on path. and i walked. lit up. going places. pausing to purge and growl. leaving grief in a vile mound on the road. bringing more to light. and more. and more. and more. stay on path. lift and repeat.
when i was little i would go to bed and imagine myself as a baby carried along through all the same moments of the day i’d just had. at the same time i was my current self taking care of the baby me. it always worked out. it was always perfect. that baby was always safe and happy and no one even knew she was there. win-win.
a couple of years ago i took care of a baby for an afternoon. he clinged to me while pushing away, a frantic calm. he was dressed in layers, buttons not matching up, leaving a tail in the front. his eyes were unfocused but darting. and he smelled horrible. vomit on his shirt could be cleaned. food in his hair could be brushed out. sticky candy on his shoes could be pounded off. heavy diaper could be changed. he still stank. hidden filth i couldn’t find. i imagine it was in the crevices, the tender folds of baby skin. the places that can’t be seen no matter how many lights are on. the places that will stay hidden until pushed back, or held open, or lifted up, or pressed in, or pulled out, or cleansed by fingertips covered with a warm milk and honey soaked washcloth carefully running the length of the crease. rinse and repeat.
i would have cleaned every corner of his body. i would have nodded at his cries, my head tilted to the side. i would have crooned at his whimpers, “i know. i know. i know. i’m sorry. i know.” i would have watched his eyes, noticing a split second of eye contact, where he recognized my intention. i would have noticed a squint of pain and adjusted my movement. i would have watched his eyebrows for crinkling. i would have watched his forehead for moments when it grew in relaxation. i would have watched his hands, how his fingers straightened and flexed in response to touch. i would have watched the dip between his chin and collar bone to determine his breathing. i would have checked his legs, tickled the dirty knee caps that proved time outside. i would have made sure the room was warm, the light was soothing, the curtains open. i would have given him a drink of water from a clear glass cup that he would bite down on with his baby teeth and when he smiled at his little trick, water would escape his face. i would have noticed his disregard for the plastic toys danced in front of his face and offered him a metal teaspoon. i would have picked him up, wrapped in a towel, and walked him to the window so we could look for a birdie or the clouds or moving tree limbs. i would have asked him what he saw. i would have waited for his eyes to track the movement of nature and then I would have said, “yes.” i would have cuddled him even while he stank. the crustiness of his hair not stopping my strokes. the layers of everywhere he’d been under his nails not keeping his hands from exploring my face. breathing in the sweet sour stale pungent foulness only increasing my love for him. i would have taken as long as needed to get him back to himself. to rid him of the evidence. to relax his senses. to wake up the places that have numbed. to love the places unknown.
it’s one thing to shine a light. it’s another thing to keep it on. and another thing yet to work with it.
-december 29, 2013