“The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms.”
Once I drain a story from my soul, I feel refreshed, even if weary. Fire Drill was a traumatic memory to shake loose, but I rose to the challenge, knowing that I would be the better for it.
And yet, when finished, I felt the same: Tense, contracted, frightened.
“What’s wrong?” I ask my husband, “Why didn’t it work?”
He doesn’t answer because he is too moved by the post.
I’m honored when my writing moves others, but I depend on it to move me first. When it doesn’t, I wonder if I’ve lost my touch; which then leads me to question all of my “work”: Maybe my effort at healing is in vain, and I’m simply dishing up more drama.
These are the questions I share with my therapist when we examine the ancient fear lodged in my body. She encourages me to return to the cellar and to write my way out–this time, from the inside.
And so here I am…
The place that I feel in my bones is a crawl space under the stairs of our house. Although it is completely unfinished, my neighborhood “club” holds its first meeting there, momentarily delighting in the cave-like secrecy.
It isn’t wet, but it is damp. The concrete floors and walls are rough and cold. Though we are children, we can’t stand, and even seated, we have to duck to keep the ceiling from scraping our sculls.
On the night of the fire that takes the lives of a family in our town, I retreat to my cave. I bring my sleeping bag and pillow, but I sit alert, trembling with terror until the sun comes up.
I came to the cave with the innocence of a child, but in the course of this single night, both the world and I darken with age.
Returning there in my therapist’s chair, I hear her say, “You might have numbed yourself to avoid further fragmentation.”
At ten years old, I am certain that the reality of death will shatter me into pieces. Even numbed, I encounter every fear that I have ever known: Nuclear Holocaust. Murderers. Hansel and Gretel’s forest. My own mortality. Hell.
I freeze them all into place, in my belly, so that I will never feel them again. But their poison makes unexpected appearances at times of crisis so that I find myself inexplicably shaking as if frozen cold.
I hadn’t known then that I could let them go. I hadn’t known that I could face their terror and survive.
I thought I had to hide myself.
If only there had been someone’s kind arms around me. If only I hadn’t felt so abandoned and alone.
Despite the horror, I head down the stairs to the cellar of my childhood and find myself trembling in the crawl space.
I wrap myself in a warm blanket and gather myself into my arms.
I don’t try to hush the anguish away because there is no hushing about a boy whose whole family perishes in flames.
I stay there with me, holding vigil with the pain, until the light of day.
And then I take my hand, and together we head out of the cave to search for the beauty that always manages to recreate itself in the most unexpected places.