I thought of you today when I read Mary Oliver. She wrote, “LISTEN, ARE YOU BREATHING JUST A LITTLE, AND CALLING IT A LIFE? ”
I immediately remember gasping as I woke in someone’s arms. I had to be two years old. I don’t know if I told you all about this, and with time, all of the horrors of my child-war have emerged, leaving me feeling hopeless, helpless to change the stains that remain, ashamed of who I am. I held my breath at the ages of two, three, probably four, just with the quiet wish that I’d go away. I wanted to be out of there and had no other method to escape but my mind and my mind wanted me to cease to exist, to stop breathing. Memory has been an unreliable source of information as to why…what would make a small child want to go away from life….to leave. Somehow I chose purgatory, neither staying nor going but dissociating throughout my life, living as a numb observer. I tried to wake up by going back to the hurt, to see if I could re-know what I knew once by associating with hurtful people, with people who actually enjoyed my pain. I didn’t consciously choose to do this, of course, I just did it.
At some point I really came to understand deep within that it didn’t matter what had happened, but it mattered that I was so threatened and unsafe that I wanted to go away from life. And I was continually going away from Life by putting myself in same situations, different life eras.
My grief today is strong and welcome. I have been breathing just a little, making myself small again. I live as a rivulet but my heart bears a flood. I place gentle words on my anger but it has no tolerance for that kind of self betrayal. I make myself the smallest whisper but my mind constantly screams. My hands grasp the concept of rhythm but my dance is frenetic and uncoordinated. I am worried and uncertain of my future. I am disappointed and not angry, just so very sad. I am told my mind is sharp and fast but it works against me. I find myself attracted to the places where I am not loved, or the purgatory places where I float in numbness. My childhood echoes down every hall and I have to listen. No choice in the matter. I feel utterly alone in those rooms and halls. Not many people in my life have sought to understand, to withhold judgement, to witness my pain.
But you have.
Who else could know these things but you? Who else could I tell it to?
When the world says to me, “you’re too intense. You’re intimidating. Your words are too quick. You think too much. You feel too much. Why are you with THAT guy? Why don’t you do this do that change now?”, it is trying to fix something it doesn’t understand. It is trying to use its biases and platitudes to change something it is completely ignorant of.
The world-the world of “they”- doesn’t know how many times I have died and gasped for breath. They don’t know anything about that so they should let me stumble my way across the unknown geographies of my grief, they should let me try to wake up and have my lovers who won’t love me and my feelings and my love for my children and my heart of compassion and my anger at injustice and my frustration with forced poverty and good Lord, some sense of agency over my own life. They should let me leave behind all the times I’ve died and they should not, under any circumstances, ask me to willingly die again. They should let me have the flesh of my own life, and allow me to hungrily devour it and suck the pit and let the sweet juice drip down my chin.
To know such depths of love and pain, sometimes at the same time…I wonder, do others feel this too? Am I the only one? To search for a solid landing place only to become a fly on someone’s coldhearted wall….do others see that, too? The parts of me that scream out that I’m not good enough, that believe I’m empty and can’t be valuable…I hold my breath…then, I am seen, heard, and welcomed into life….I sigh. You love.
I remember waking up in this way in your arms, feeling so alive I could be a pitcher and pour myself on to the floor and walls if I so willed myself. Or I could be the stars come down to light the room. I fall apart easily in your arms, soft and malleable, utterly safe. I can be the most vulnerable, sad, broken version of myself and you will take me in and love all that pain and hurt and brokenness until I am just me, beloved of you, and you are you, beloved of me.
I wake up again, and again I will gasp for breath, for you to fill my lungs.
for all the homecomings, I thank you, me