Recently thinking on secrets...things known only by a few. Dark cabinets in the back of the attic draped with webs and dust, hinges rusted. There is something I've never put to print. Something that my mind skitters away from with frantic heaves every time my thoughts even stumble into the periphery of it. Sitting here, I can feel my pulse accelerate; stunning, the power of the mind. As I type, I'm not sure this will ever post. But perhaps it's time that at least here, within the safety of an October afternoon...sunshine and the smell of warm bread and the sanctuary that is today and a flat screen...I can write about what happened eleven years ago.
First, I ask that you take me seriously when I say this may not be for you to read. Sometimes a story can be a seed. Roots entangle and invade and suddenly there is a previously unknown fear germinating in the back of our thoughts. What happened to me is unbelievably rare. I cannot actually guarantee that it will not happen to you, but the chances are smaller than the dot of the period after the words `next to none.` However, if you or a loved one are anticipating surgery soon or there is a pregnancy currently in your world, you may want to click off and find something else to read.
In our world of medical miracles, there are moments of catastrophe.
I was pregnant....but this was so much more than that. I went to deliver my darling Brennan. (he was quite the baby, eventually to weigh in over 10lbs) Needless to say, things didn't progress well. The alarm sounded and I was rushed in to receive a Spinal (a regional anesthesia that numbs from the chest down) and wheeled off for one of those c-sections where the mother is awake, immediate bonding made possible by marvelous modernity. When I mentioned I could still feel the contractions, the darling doc reassured me it was only in my mind as he reached out and unobtrusively pinched my belly--I yelped and he jumped nearly a foot. The look of panic on his face terrified me....this wasn't supposed to happen.
Brennan's heart rate began to drop and the room exploded in activity as I was prepped for general anesthesia. There are two parts to anesthesia; the paralytic--which, as its name implies, paralyzes your body; and the amnesia drugs--the ones which put your mind to sleep. There are no actual pain blockers--they just put you out so that you are not conscious during the procedure and therefore, remember nothing.
No one knew...could have possibly known, my tremendous resistance to amnesia drugs.
I knew nothing about anesthesia. Nothing about surgical procedures in general as I had never needed such before...
There was something in my throat, I couldn't swallow. I tried to tell the nurse at my side....but I couldn't move. Not a muscle, nothing. And then slowly I became aware I wasn't breathing. Can you imagine such a realization? My chest wasn't moving, I couldn't inhale as hard as I tried, and yet....yet I could still hear everything? At this point my logical, rational mind added up the numbers--there is no way I can not be breathing and still thinking unless... It was at that moment, that I knew I was dying. It is immensely difficult to explain the difference between the words "think" and "know." If you are in the midst of a car crash, you might gasp, "Oh no, I think I'm going to die!" It's a possibility. But when it's a knowing....the weight of such is staggering. (I had been intubated and a machine was breathing for me--I had no idea) All I had left was to pray the Lord would bring a good mother to take care of my boys.
And then the scalpel slipped inside of my flesh.
I will never watch a horror movie that shows these types of things. Lying there while they pushed organs aside, peeled back tissue to slice through the muscle beneath to save my child. There was only screaming in my mind.
The average section takes 4-7 minutes to actually remove the baby. Mine took eleven.
Later, when I discovered that the doctors had actually known--I could hardly handle that thought. The moment the knife pierced my skin, my heart rate went through the roof--and horror washed over everyone in that room. They had to save my baby....and they knew I could feel it. As a doctor who's very life and breath was spent healing and fixing and preserving---can you imagine proceeding? They couldn't give me any more drugs as they would have gone straight to my son, but as soon as the cord was cut, they dosed me with the most powerful stuff they had.
I woke screaming.
Brennan was just fine. I was not. I was discharged within thirty-six hours regardless of my physical condition because the trauma of remaining inside the hospital was absolutely overwhelming. I had to escape the white metal bed and the narrow room that smelled of antiseptic and whispered of hope as small as the windows. I had to have the lights on all of the time. I resisted sleep to the point of madness.
Later I met with the anesthesiologist. She was Romanian. She was unbelievably beautiful. She wept. Her shoulders shaking, she told me it was the worst day of her life--her entire job was to prevent pain and she had failed me. I told her I held nothing against her. No one could have known, there was no fault. I cried the whole way home at the thought of her anguish.
I requested my medical file. It's in a box upstairs right now...when I got to the doctor's notes on the second page, I stopped reading. It's there in case I ever need surgery. I pray not.
Although I did meet with a counselor for a time, the real healing I found with chubby arms wrapped around my neck and blue eyes wide that looked into mine....how would that little boy's life have been different if I hadn't been there? I had an infant and a toddler, both of whom needed a mother; there was no time for me to curl up in a ball. Sometimes I truly believe the best cure to be the ritual and routine of simply living. Morning light led to breakfast which led to dishes and baths and walks in the park and learning how to hum again. Slowly my mind healed. I still slept with the light on. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder made a strange and difficult companion to motherhood. It changed me. Sometimes I wonder at who I might have been without this....for now I knew such things existed. I held longer, closer, tighter to my loved ones. Fruit was sweeter....the sunset deeper....the stars brighter.
Every trauma leaves it's mark upon us. But in the end, it's our choices that define us. Not the marks.
Like the way your fingers tingle upon the touch of a new lover's flesh...so my hands feel. Taunt with excitement, slightly terrified and more than a shade awkward. It's been nearly five months...
If you don't know the story of the red paintbrush, read the beginning of this tale here.
I was devastated. Even now my heart pounds as I think about that day. My hands curl slightly...that feeling in your stomach like you've fallen a great distance. One hundred and forty-nine days since. One hundred forty-nine days without unscrewing a tube of paint. A summer packed full of children and trips to the pool and long evenings spent reading on the front porch. Every so often I would wander into my studio...and breathe. Liquid sunshine, the smell of charcoal and paint and wooden canvas frames would roll over me like warm ocean waves. I would run my fingers over the soft brushes that waited patiently in the empty teapot....and quietly leave.
Truly it's unlike me to be so...cowardly.
But there it is. I was afraid. Oh, so robust of me to use the past tense there--because I am still afraid. It's difficult to explain the uncertainty that has taken root in my heart. Even with hundreds of canvases behind me....they were all painted with that brush.
School commenced and I found myself preparing for our annual bash, the Soup. (should you care, you can read about it here.) This is quite the undertaking as we open the entire house to guests--every bedroom, bathrooms, the mancave in the basement as well as the third floor library and my studio. You know how when you have friends over there's always a room you shove crap in and shut the door? We can't do that when expecting so many--which forces me to de-clutter and clean every scrap and nano-meter we live in. A tad overwhelming, but hell--I'm done cleaning till after the holidays!
The Soup was on the 13th....and a part of me cringed the entire evening as I was faced with the same inquiry over and over, "So what have you painted lately?" Ummmm.....nothing? Everything from early spring has sold so what was left on the walls was older; ones I don't like enough to hang or cannot part with for some reason or other. And mixing the chocolate chips into the pancake batter the next morning, (while sipping a delicious chocolate wine, I might add) I came face to face with the apprehensive artist now living in my home. She gazed at me from the reflection in the kitchen window.
Sunday and Monday were party-recovery. (dear Lord above, I am not twenty anymore) Tuesday and Wednesday I cleaned and cooked. And this morning I sent the boys off to school, tidied up....and pulled on my gear. Clothes ancient, covered in paint and ink. Dabs of olive green and ocher, cobalt blue and crimson; the rip in the right leg gaps a bit, framing the skin of my knee in a strange motley way.
It took eleven brushes...they felt wrong in my hands. I kept switching them, one into the teapot after another, the splash of water a harsh reminder of my neglect.
Later I sat, this painting staring back. It's not large, only 10 x 12 or so, and this is just the first stage. The part where I force my mind back into my dreams and attempt to pull them out and make them tangible. Sometimes I love my work best at this stage, for here they appear much more like real dreams...blurry, the edges undefined. From here though, my waking mind clarifies, delineates and eventually finishes the work. If I like it, it lives. If I don't....my, how I do love the magic that is gesso.
I feel almost as if I'm dating again. The alieness of these brushes....it's rather like taking a stranger home for the first time. Incorporating the foreign into the most intimate aspect of my life.
Starting over. Something the human race is renowned for. Our ability to adapt and accept transitions, to forge on after overwhelming loss. Relationships, marriages, parenting...new jobs, new challenges. Life after abandonment, disease and graveyards. I suppose my fear is really founded in my own selfish aversion to change. My comfort in how it was. Pathetic, really.
Some roads we find ourselves upon are not our choice. But each leads someplace from where we are. Here's to knowing I don't want to stay where I am....so one foot in front of the other.
As the years have ticked by, I've become rather shocked at the accumulation of secrets I have stashed away. Somehow I once believed that grown-ups were much more unconstrained. As a child, I suppose I had so many rules--endless, they seemed--that the fantasy of one day living in my own house, buying my own food, and staying up until dawn shredded the night with her glorious golden fingers....how beautifully liberating this would be! Ahhh, at last as adulthood enveloped my world, I became well versed in the tango between freedom and responsibility. These two dance partners swing you from one set of arms to another, back and forth. One's embrace light and fragranced with violets and spring rain; the other's fevered touch makes your heart pound with possible discovery, the bouquet darker...a musk of surreptitiousness and clandestine thoughts.
That which we hide. The silly and the desperate. What you really think or feel, what you wish....though my mother's voice echoes in my mind, "if wishes were fishes, we'd walk upon the sea." Expectations and predilections and longing. Appearances and impressions and the battle for authenticity in an increasingly two dimensional world filled with photoshop and spell check. Yet--I've found several friends who do indeed share all, tell all, reveal all. There is a certain...missing. These are the ones addicted to soap operas and talkshows well-stocked with melodrama and theatricals. Perhaps lacking in their own closet space they seek out other's.....then again, perhaps I am merely unaware of how deep their closet goes.
I've recently acquired a nightgown that I love so much I abhor taking it off in the morning. Some day there will be a knock at the door at noon and I'll pay for this.
I have gotten up after the house slept, crept downstairs and warmed a slice of brie....and ate it with a knife and fork. Cheese enslaves me.
I fantasize about making love in an elevator.
I paint to Damien Rice's "O" all the time.
I often eat ice-cream in the shower. Something about the icy treat while under a scalding waterfall is a sizzling contradiction. (I've also been known to take a Guiness in--the perfect ending to an exhausting day)
I have extreme nail-envy of several of my close friends who have lovely, long fingernails....with no work at all. *sigh*
I was once mistaken as a boy in my young teens when I had short hair. This has led to decades of long tresses, clogged drains, and wayward strands baked into cakes. I no longer bake cakes. And I will DIE with long, tangled grey hair.
Sometimes I think the most terrible things....they should make bleach for the brain.
I flip off my coffee maker when it's empty.
The sunless sky mocks me this morning. Whispering that it isn't nearly as late as the clock proclaims....that I don't have to get dressed quite yet. (mind you, it's not as if I'm lounging--I've stripped the bedsheets, done two loads of laundry, cleaned the kitchen, shooed children out the door with lunches packed and the appropriate paperwork signed and tucked into pockets, swept the steps, fed the dog, and set out the bread dough to rise...all while wearing my Marilyn Monroe nightgown.)
Of fairies and hobbits I am unsure, but I wholeheartedly believe in the alchemy of the kitchen. That wonderland of taste and scent, the kitchen is where I long to be. I cannot turn water into wine, but if you give me six hours, I can turn it into gold.
The simplicity of filling a pot with water, the slight slosh as you place it on the stove. The click of the burner and the whoosh as the gas catches--a few of my favorite things, these are. For they are the beginning. And sometimes, beginnings are magic.
My fingers slide along the bones of the roasted chicken, peeling flesh from their ivory lengths, separating tendons and sinews and skin. The naked carcass sinks beneath the water's surface, somehow reminding me of a grand ship in a rather warm ocean. Onions and celery and salt, bay leaves, plump cloves of garlic and inky black peppercorns swirl along the surface as steam begins to fog the kitchen window. With a soft smile I pause in the doorway. I'm leaving a simmering pot of water, but will return in a few hours...
And there will be gold.
Liquid amber succulence. The limp remains of the vegetables removed, their essence bled into that which will delight. The bones have given up their marrow, their soul...perhaps this is magic indeed, for how else does water become so nourishing, so heartening? Now with piles of chopped onions and celery, ribbons of carrots and rosemary pulled fresh from the porch, leaving it's mouth-watering scent on my fingers as I watch it fall into the pot. Twenty minutes and in with the mountain of chicken, a cupful of corn and cream.
The house is filled. Not just with things...but with promise. With music and herbs and the delicious heat escaping from the oven where the crust of the bread is slowly darkening. And this...this is the magic that began with a cold pot of water and a dark kitchen.
I love soup. I've quite literally lived off soup at one point. When your body is weak, it craves the liquid meal; when your wallet is empty, you can fill bellies with the odds and bits found in the back of the fridge after they've been souped. (yes, that's a word...well, at least now it is) With imagination--there is no end to the soups one can make. You take what you have....and add love.
Isn't this life? The odds and bits that are here sometimes by choice and sometimes by chance, they may not add up to the designer menu we intended. There was a shortage of lobster. But with time and heat and a handful of spice, a dash of salt...and love. There is soup. Sustenance and provision. Nourishment for the soul as well as the heart.
I burned myself last week. I've had a lot on my mind lately and gazing out the kitchen window, I got a bit lost watching the leaves fall like amber snow upon the lawn. There is something slightly bewitching about the sizzle of a roast; searing before it will be nestled into the pot, draped with onions and herbs, and left immersed in broth to simmer. Something snapped me out of my reverie and turning I reached for the metal tongs now left for long minutes in the flame...
Two inches of the flesh on my palm--the kind of burn that you almost hear before you feel. I must of made a sound as my son was quickly in the doorway. I stood quietly with my hand submerged in the dishtub. "Are you alright, mum?" he asked.
I smiled, "I will be."
For that is the secret, isn't it. No matter how deep the pain, how unbearable it seems as it scrapes and tears and breaks our bodies, our dreams....our souls. No matter the wound, there is the balm of time. The bandage of memory, the antiseptic of grace.
Funny how the physical pain fades so much more quickly than that of the heart. I've come to possess such a tolerance for corporeal injury as to constantly wear a smattering of bruises I've no idea how were acquired, scrapes and cuts that I'm amazed to discover when pointed out by the boys. These are merely the companions to a life of labor; refinishing furniture, installing floors, sanding ceilings precariously perched atop a ladder I'm certain holds a personal dislike of me. And then there is the treacherous land of the kitchen--knives and fire do not mix well with hurry and distraction.
I didn't want to look at my hand. To see it somehow makes it hurt more, doesn't it? Kind of like mulling over an insult or argument. I sprayed on the Bactine (I believe we own four bottles of this magic mist--even keep one in the car...this probably says something about our family), covered it with gauze, and returned to finish getting dinner started. Oh, how it burned. Seemed about to ignite the bandage, did it rage so. I bit my lip...tears in my eyes, though perhaps it was due to the onions I sliced.
Life goes on.
There would be hungry children lingering about in three hours and there was still potatoes to mash and laundry to fold and floors to sweep and.....
That second hand ticks....and the clock turns.
I wish there was a Bactine for the heart. Sometimes a single sentence uttered in anger lingers so long as to tattoo itself on the walls of my mind. I wish I was better at dismissing, banishing these things to the woods where they would be lost amongst the ferns and trees, so much mulch.
Then again, if I were, perhaps I wouldn't be as careful at guarding my own tongue. I am conscientious to an extreme, painstakingly so, of the agony unscrupulous words can induce. We all must live with the tragedy we cause....some learn from the past, some do not. I have made mistakes I care never to repeat. This tapestry of life is woven of a million threads.
We choose the colors.
It's raining today. The green of summer is fading, relinquishing life to give birth again in spring. As I type I can feel the pull of the new skin on my hand. The damaged tissue cracked and peeled, now replaced by soft pink flesh. Unlined still, its tenderness is a constant reminder for me. Not only to be more prudent where I choose to daydream, but that I am stronger than I sometimes feel. That healing is innate as much as of will....that new flesh, new hopes, new mornings await.