Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The wolves are back

The wolves came back a couple nights ago, but so far we are fending off the worst of the night, and my son is cheerful and only scared from moment to moment.

The wolves, it should be added, exist in my son's mind, not rampaging our sleeping room. But when they are there and my son decides it is time to join the pack, when he removes his clothing and goes to all fours and vocalizes chilling growls and moans and scrambles through the early morning thus, it can be hard.

It can be fascinating as well; I follow my son as far as I am able into his world. These nights are better by far than the nights of January and December, when I terrified him as well and he cried out so heartbreakingly. Gabe meets my eyes, he comes back to our consensual reality, we sit and talk. Or I talk, and watch his expressions very closely; I give him drawing paper and pens; I let him select toys, and we talk about them. Or, as I said, I talk.

On into the dawn, trying to be centered, fighting my exhaustion, trying to think of it all as fantasy.

I am a poet; why would my 20 year old with Down Syndrome and other labels not also walk the paths of the imagination in his own way?

We've had two nights now, and maybe that's it; I kind of hope so. My partner said yesterday he'd take the night shift if need be, but when the wolves came he was sleeping too soundly. You can't wait around much in the world of the wolves; the energy changes pretty quickly, you want to be there.

So, without much sleep, my mind wanders. I've been thinking of the subterranean life of the mind, of things that flow on beneath the surface, like creeks encased beneath the roads.

Now and then they break through.

Last weekend was one of those times for me, in which I found myself inexplicably crying, and still went on with my busy life. A meeting, sales at the shop, interactions with friends and strangers.

And moments of heartwrenching weeping.

Usually when this sort of thing happens I check the calendar. I seem to have an internal ritual life as solid as any pattern of saint's days, in which sometimes some long ago event comes out and stands in the center of my heart.

And I say, oh, yes, I recognize you. Been a long time. I see the pain is still here, funny thing.

I checked the calendar and my heart and realized, oh yes, of course, it was the time of the accident and the 3 days waiting and the death at the end. It was the anniversary of a time that sent me into a dark time in which if there were wolves to join I would have, gladly, tearing off my clothes and my civility and gone raging into a chaotic night. It was the anniversary of a death that divided my life's path.

There have been other deaths, many before that one, many more after that. This one, however, claims me still, three decades and more later.

So, I was in the midst of keeping my social face and selling books and not sobbing when Vern wandered in.

"Kin I take an apple?" said Vern, and I said yes, and he did. Now, Vern is...well, Vern ranges the streets and does a lot of things that aren't very good for him, including large amounts of vodka and large amounts of less legal substances. Vern used to be a chain setter for a logging company, till the chain slipped and a tree hit him and he suffered brain damage.
Vern howls at the night pretty regularly, and Vern talks to me in rifts that go something like "Did you get the stars that are worth a lot? I think the telephone wants them now"

I say, "no, don't have any stars, have another apple".

We have our interesting conversations. More sedate customers are often a bit stunned. Talking with people like Vern helps me a bit in the wolf time conversations with my son; I'll follow you anywhere.

This day Vern looked at a photo on my desk. "Your daddy, right?" said Vern. I checked it out--I do have family photos scattered about. "Um, no, not that one".

Vern stared at me "He's your real daddy!" he said, though I said no--here, that's my dad, in uniform, so young.

Vern shook his head. "Might be. But this guy here, he's your daddy too. Most your daddy."

And off he went, munching his apple. The photo is of William Butler Yeats. Well, I didn't much like his poem to his lovely daughter---but, hey, I'll claim him, father to my subterranean heart and the times of wolves.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It wasn't Thoreau's birthday

I thought it was though, that hot summer afternoon as the Greyhound bus wound its way up over precarious mountain roads and at the edge of sheer cliffs. I waited for the redwoods, and was surprised that they were--brown, really. But so huge, so tall. The driver pointed out osprey nests. I ate a little container of yogurt and conversed with my boyfriend. Or whined. Or fought. My memory, actually, is that our nerves were strained, I was tired, and the start of a migraine beat at my left temple.

We stopped in a small town, about an hour from our destination. The hills around were dry, golden, dusty. Some sad looking children poked at a dead bat they'd found. Where on earth was I going? I thought, staring at the children, at the leathery, beautiful, sad wings of the little bat.

The bus pulled into the town we'd found, at last, on a map of the state back when we were considering journeys and we were closing up the house outside London and I was destroying the start of a novel I'd written and wondering where the year, the wonderful year of writing and freedom had gone.

The streets were bare, dust blew from the north. The friend who was supposed to meet us wasn't there. Well, the bus was, after all, over an hour late. And she did eventually show up.

But what stunned me as I stepped out onto the sidewalk, head hurting, mouth dry, was the message.

I suppose I should backtrack here and assure my readers that I am usually sane. But now and again through my life I have heard voices--internal and external. And I have seen things that apparently other people do not. So, at this moment, as I stepped onto the sidewalk of the ugly and dry and uninteresting little town, as I looked at boarded up buildings, as I wondered how long my head would ache...a voice within said "This is where you are supposed to be".

Of course I figured I was indeed not as sane as I've just assured you I was. What I thought was "great, fighting with the boyfriend, migraine, bus late...and now I am going into a major mental breakdown or something. Great".

And the quiet, patient, still voice within just said again "This is where you are supposed to be".

I took it on advisement.

We were supposed to be traveling further north after a weekend with the friend. I would work at a library, my boyfriend would write a thesis, we would live happily ever after.

So my friend arrived, and we went to the place she'd bought by the river, where there were two little extra cabins, and she kindly showed us to the one nearest the river. It being July the river was a tiny trickle over a lot of grey rock, and my friend apologized, assuring me that when she'd moved there, in November, the river had been right up to the fence. Hard to believe.

And within three days I knew I had to stay.

I've fallen in love a number of times in my life, and hope to continue to do so. I've fallen in love with men and women, with dead poets, with buildings, with dogs and cats, and with the color of the sky on a summer night. That year--indeed, that day, some three days after my arrival and two after Thoreau's real birthday (my friend the librarian was good at fact checking)--I fell in love with a landscape. I fell in love with the scent of river water running over mossy stones and with the dust that covered my sandals. I fell in love with the plants I didn't recognize, and with the white egrets. I fell in love with the way the light hits the hills, the way the sunlight filters through evergreens, the way poison oak gleams. I fell in love with the gnarled hands of lumbermill workers and the crazy stories the old timers shared with me.

This love is ever renewing. So I got a job as a motel maid, and I broke up with my boyfriend, and I fell in love, and I fell in love, and I fell in love. Sometimes with people. And my children were born, and there were as many twists and turns to my life story as you can imagine. Someday I might share a few.

But every year, on the 11th of July, at around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, I pause and think about the day I stood on the pavement with my head pounding and a voice in my mind and a sense of craziness.

There is no way I could even begin to say how glad I am, how thankful, how purely delighted, how lucky.

Thoreau would have approved.

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