The gift of used knitting needles, is gratefully received; many offered but I take only the wooden ones and a pair of size 0 lace needles. I offer to make a sweater for my sister and check my gauge. But I cannot bear the odor of another person on the needles. I have to put it down before the swatch is done. I have hankies from an estate sale I cannot use because they carry some residue (in my mind) of another. I suds up the needles in Dr. Bronners peppermint soap, and contemplate why I stopped. Knitting, that is.
I stopped painting again, feeling like a hack, it all comes down to self esteem right? A normal person would carry on, I suffer instead, with why bother syndrome.
Disdain then is what stops me, whether from myself or another.
I leave myself open like a sweater that has not been bound off. Unraveled by the slightest tug. Stitches getting dropped, or twisted.
Confession of your deepest feelings, met with combative response. A frond of hair touched in an off hand manner, I have met this knot before.
I used to dream that when I tried to ride the elevator, the doors would not work, either too fast and dangerous, or it drops out or it doesn’t go to the right floor. And then I realized in a dream that this elevator is not under my control. And it is dangerous. And I am just a passenger.
I pick up my knitting and as the needles click together and my tossed line stitching moves rapidly, even, clean stitches. Of my own design.
In the dream I had, I was trying to cross a river which was now raging where before it was barely a trickle, and I am immediately swept away, I give in to it as the rush of the water picks up speed, I am throw over a raging and deep water fall and pulled from the water. The man who pulls me out is like a fairy, only human sized, and he has a magical fire burning bright but smokeless. He tells me he does not know how to build the kind of fire I need to warm me from the shivering hypothermia of the icy cold river, I tell him to collect wood and we begin to build up a warm cozy fire. I wake with her body against mine like a lover warm and snuggled, she kisses my hand as I gently stroke her, and then gentle becomes playful. After a bathroom break for all of us, I get back into the warm bed with my kindle, and then knowing the day promises to be hot and sunny, I offer a walk.
They are a bit off their guard, where exactly is breakfast their faces ask, while they enthusiastically line up for the leashes.
There is a small park near my home, and this is where we wander sometimes, still exploring, still a new place, but a favorite. I never go to Clark Reservation anymore, it was once a sanctuary, now spoiled by a person who has every right to walk there, but who has smashed my peace in that place, in so many places. This new park, filled with the people of the city, but in the hush of the early morning, a solitary woman, a neighbor and her two dogs, and I. The best part is, I can step out my door and be there.
Yesterday I met an old friend at the Oriskany Herb and Flower Show, sponsored by the Cornell Cooperative Extension. And when I came home, I planted my rose campion, which will reseed itself ten fold, my two white yarrows, “they will spread”, “I know, I want them for their medicinal properties”, my lavender, and a pack of strawberries in the strawberry pot. I also talked with my landlord and placed the sedum and hollies as he wanted in the front. Then I mowed the lawns. “The house looks great” he tells me, “we both love how you have it set up”. “Well I guess I am done here, since you did most of the jobs I had on my list”. I feel proud.
The pirate comes to bring me a Polish lunch, which of course I have to pay for. He is here not more than twenty minutes, he spends half of it communing with Marley. I cannot help but wonder what he thinks, when he sees the made bed, the tidiness of the house and the work done in the yard. Does he self reflect and ask himself, what the hell was I thinking by knocking this woman down? And I find I do not care. I like him like this, at a distance, I chastise him for yelling at the dogs, and model the correct way to speak to them. When they respond, he makes a noise of surprise. When he leaves I take a book and quiet now, read about Elizabeth Warren in my big comfy chair while the dogs nap nearby.
I am standing in the middle of this steam now, but no longer am I waiting for stepping stones to appear, the flood has receded and I am too far from the shore to take the step. I am in a deep chasm, the water too far below me to fall safely into the water, even though I do not care if I might get wet. A being hovers in the air nearby, and she offers to help, she pushes the slab so it teeters mostly off the high spire it rests upon, I take a step, a person on shore reaches for my hand and the rock tips and I am plunging.
I am standing in a terminal, waiting for a flight to South America, all I have to do is step somehow from one platform to another, the problem is between the two platforms there is a corner jutting out and it is too far to step. There are people milling about on both platforms, clearly they have made this step. But I cannot. And I am asking myself, why do I even want to go there? I don’t understand.
I want to fly across the distance, but my wings are clipped. I am caged. I want to get a new tattoo one of a condor at the zoo. Clipped. Caged.
The universe brutally smacks the back of my head. I know he is here without having to search for it. It just hits me hard, while I am looking for something utterly unrelated. Thank you. I say with my middle fingers raised both hands. Thanks so much. Can this be any more painful? Really? Stop teaching me, I need time to not be taught a blessed thing.
I wake to the cold. Shivering.
I reluctantly go to work. The light is right, the birds are singing the right song, but it drags so, this winter. How it drags. The car is covered with snow. I brush it off. I take one step after another. I know how to make myself feel better, I dig in instead. Settle into my haunches, waiting for it all to pass.
I fall asleep to the sound of water, napping on the sunporch in the afternoon, in the dark cool bedroom at night, waking to the sound as the sun shines in the window by my head at dawn. There is something soothing about this constant sound, something quite unlike the constant hum of traffic, and electricity and sirens and the exclamation of the occasional gunshot that is city living. Creek water lullaby, better than the hum of my own mind, the noise it makes inside my head.
And there is something else here, in this vacation designed as a way to make art, but instead I see the light of other things entering into my consciousness. Things I am afraid to speak of, for fear of the corruption of corporate education latching on to my intellectual rebellion, and finding salvo in my words. I am quietly absorbing words like Waldorf School, Coyote Education, Unschooling, Homeschooling, Earth Arts, Creative Pursuits, and a distinct absence of dependence on the trappings of modern culture, things like commercials, television, DEET, Twinkies, Common Core and Facebook sound foreign coming from my mouth, and my mind is tonguing the taste of something of my youthful idealism; how exactly did I move away from food cooperatives, medicinal herbs, naturalism, and environmentalism? Where did I turn wrong, and now that I see it like an anti billboard how can I look away from it. This hellacious year did its number on my psyche, and I am rebelling in the only way I know how, trying to find a five year plan that gets me out of it, because I suspect it will otherwise eject me from it, vomiting me out or tossing me in the trash with my archaic notion of learning for the joy rather than the pedagogy, of making art for the pleasure instead of some measurable objective tethered mercilessly to the common core. Teaching children to think for themselves is an expense that cannot be afforded in the era of consumer capitalism, people who think for themselves will not buy into eat this and you will be thin, buy this and you will be rich, wear this and you will be beautiful, play this and you will be popular, the sponsors of our cultural solicitude cannot bear the outsider.
My friend grows herbs and makes medicinal salves and ointments, and today, I gathered blue starred borage flowers, lemon yellow mullein flowers and fragrant lavender flowers for her, and laid them on a screen in the upstairs bedroom to dry. We took the mullein flowers and put them in a double boiler with olive oil to make an ear ache medicine. Then we put pre-prepared calendula oil, sitting on the shelf for 2 months and shaved beeswax stirring frequently until the beeswax melted and then added a few drops of lavender essential oil and poured it into small jars. I took notes and enjoyed the exploration of the garden and learning about various uses of these specific herbs.
We apply the finished salve, A. to her post surgical foot, me to bug bites and an odd abrasion on my ankle that is not healing particularly well, specifically because it seems to be a magnet for the toe of my other shoe to kick, regularly, and quite unexpectedly, for no apparent reason. I have removed band aids which only seem to keep the wound open further, salve on. Tomorrow morning I shall report the results!
My Mom has made her annual visit this week, and we decided to take a trip to the place she was born, her father was born, where relatives once lived in house after house, where I lived as a child and where my sister spent the months and years after my father passed away. I dream of that place, at night, my visual memory a powerful gift that reminds me in the often broken and disturbed sleep, of places I have seen long ago, but do not remember with my verbal brain. I could not tell you of these places, I only see them in my sleep.
The hill we once sledded down, flattened for a new house. The area where we once lived, nearly unrecognizable, but between my mom, my sister and then me, the memory of passages and ways returns. My Mom tells me to turn around, but I remember this other way. We argue over trout streams I fished with my grandfather, and confused about the turns in the road that were forgotten.
There it is, I tell her, nope, its not its up ahead, but I am right and we turn around and park on the sandy bank. We walk up a rocky, grassy driveway that is trickling with water. She finds a wild strawberry, I am jealous, remember the taste like it was from my breakfast.
And there is the home my grandfather was born in, just a half mile or so from the now renovated old school house he, and then my uncles attended. My mom born in a lumber camp back in the woods behind this house, whose owners clearly use it, love it.
The dogs romp in the damp grass and roll in the watery lawn. Indian Paintbrush simple, beautiful dots the tall grass with daisies, and foxglove which could be a hundred years old or more. We do not stay long but take many photos.
We drive on and after passing a house which was once my great Aunt Lucy’s house we drive up the hill to an old house above the small town and stop. My Mom goes to the door and an old man steps out I hear him from the car. I know you. You are Vel. He kisses her and hugs her pleased as punch to see her. I get out and as I walk up he points at me and says, You are a C. (my mother’s maiden name). I see in this man’s face, son of my Aunt Lucy, her eyes, my grandfather’s chin, all of our noses match and above his eyes, the double lines that have marked my forehead for most of my life, a perfect match, how I have cursed those lines as a scowl, but in his smiling face I see they are just a part of my family lineage, just lines on a forehead.
We had not planned it, had planned against, but later as we drive up the hill, I see the house of a woman my mom has known for most of her life, childhood to now. A falling out split them apart. My sister and I want to stop and she says okay. We chat for only a few minutes but then her husband comes home, he hobbles, old, up the hill to say hello. And a few minutes later, her grandson, and grand nephew drive up in a tractor. The minute the grandson starts to walk up the bank to us, my mom gets tears in her eyes, and I am astounded, he is the picture of his father, even in the way he walks, and for a moment I am 12 again, we played together, hours and hours, and lived like cousins, had Thanksgiving and Easter together, our dad’s hunted together, my brother and the boys hunted together, sleep overs and farting contests, and days picking berries in the hot summer sun, and swimming in the rocky reservoir that now hides the house my other cousin once lived in, as a boy, and riding bikes on the same roads we traveled today, hiding in old houses in the pouring rain, while this now old woman beside me, drove out looking for us.
As we get ready to leave, we are saying our goodbyes. I shake hands with the boys, and am pleased that this 14 year old’s shake is that of a man’s strong, firm, calloused hands, and his blue eyes straight into mine. And then the husband, my dad’s best friend of many many years hugs me. Sometime last year he told my sister that he missed my dad, and she started to cry, and there in his yard, he kisses my cheek and says quietly “love you” and I feel teary eyed and for a moment as though my own father has said this to me.
This day has been good for me, there is something about this place, it is home, still. There is something about family, you can see yourself in their faces, though you have not seen them in decades, there is something in the old friendships that makes you know you are loved even from a place where the ghosts walk. And suddenly in this day, I realize that I was always loved here, the place I wasn’t loved, was in my own heart, and in the place I settled in because of whom I was with. I tell my sister, I thought they did not care for me, but now I see that they did. They always wondered why you never visited, she says. And the sparkle in my cousin’s eye, as he looked at my mom, made me see she too was loved in this place this place where all feels right.
I do not hide that I am a teacher, although in this climate, I am sure that there are people who are gritting their teeth, as they read this, and thinking lazy useless child hater, and unions, with a vile hatred. I love kids. I love learning so I love teaching, and the union has saved my ass a couple times, from some shit that should really not have happened, but they do an important job. Union haters forget 16 hour days, 6 days a week, with poor compensation, and no benefits other than money.
But I digress, I am an art teacher. I am a creative type. And I despise testing. I never tested well. I scored poorly on my SATs, significantly better on my ACT’s. And I was a high 80’s low 90’s student, basically because I am lazy, not in the sense you imagine, I would rather spend my time following my bliss, than working for a paycheck, or a good grade. My grades improved significantly when I changed my major to art, and I suspect, that they would have done the same if I had changed my major to creative writing, or even landscape design, or homestead cooking. Or knitting.
I went through a stage where I was reading alot of feel good stuff, wiccan handbooks, gemstone rituals and magic, Oprah. But I became sick on Oprah, I think it was the day I watched her carry on and on about this fabulous cable knit sweater she had found, so fabulous she bought one in every color. I felt horrified by this as I watched a woman in my school, a new refugee, walking down the hall in flip flops, during a snow storm. As I watched a student, who had two shirts, wear one day after day, because his other one was in the laundry, watched as the kids teased him for his filthy clothes. And I utter lost interest in her when she started her school for south african girls. Awesome. What about your own country? I know, she is a saint. Saint Oprah, I praise thee.
One day I was reading Oprah magazine, and Suze Orzmann was talking about money. She is like a standardized test though, its all about the end result. She said in the article she only had one pair of earrings. That NO ONE should own more than one pair of earrings. I went to my jewelry box and looked inside, which pair would I find a new home for? Or in the vein of Oprah send to some child in South Africa? Of course here she is on the Oprah show, and in the Oprah magazine, talking about one pair of earrings, I imagine Oprah has one in every color. Fabulous. Would I lose the fake diamonds? The real pearls I splurged on as a graduation gift from graduate school? Would I lose the tiny squares of abalone? The steam-punk disks? The earrings I made that look like doves falling? The tiny copper skulls dangling from a copper chain? The copper hoops I bought in Arizona? Hers were silver hoops, if I remember correctly, I don’t have any, maybe I should go out and buy some? Or settle on the copper ones?
I wear alot of black, it is a habit of artists, that I embrace, it hides coffee stains, and paint stains, and chalk rubs in easily on black, so does clay dust, and glue particles. I am an art teacher, not an office worker. My mother in law (de facto) wants to buy me striped shirts and paisley sweaters, and flowered blouses. No thanks I say, I prefer plain. Later I tell the pirate, I would rather accessorize, wear something that is a pop of color or is funky, as a necklace, a bracelet, a handful of rings. But even in that regard I fall short, because I also like to fly under the radar. I don’t want people to notice me, because I am not flashy, or sparkly, or fabulous. I am just me. And I like it that way. But as I stare down at my jewelry box full of memories, and bits and detritus of nature, and collections, and a life lived, I realize that Suze Orzmann is boring. My bills are paid, I am saving money, and I have a few things that I would consider to be of some quality, but the best quality of all, are the tiny beads and baubles that make me feel comfortable, happy, content. Not to say I couldn’t live without them, like hair, I could LIVE without it, but I would rather have it. Not to say I have to have one in every freaking color. But if I had to throw out all but one pair, I think it would be an ugly thing. Because without the bits of my life that are, cheap, classy, raw, earthy, ugly, stupid, and beautiful, I would not be the full person that I am.
And what the hell? One pair of earrings? Even my refugee kids pull bits of colored string through the holes in their ears. Maybe I should just do that.
In the morning hours, as I lay in a place of not yet awake, I thought of a friend who had triplets in the midst of the end of the marriage. I dreamed of three baby boys in a bathtub. Who knows what this means?
One day, the last day ever I saw her, she told me how much she loved the man who had left me, at that moment I could no longer be friends with her, it was too painful.
Why would I throw aside a friendship, for a woman that I threw a baby shower for, that I knit sweaters for her babies not yet born, though I loved her dearly?
How can you love a man who would park his car, with his family inside, on train tracks, take out the keys, get out of the car, lock it and leave his family to be crushed by the oncoming train? We had no time to get out, no warning. He walked away unharmed. Saying some time later, I am happy now. Of course you are happy, you walked away without the body cast, the internal injuries, there was no recovery for you, you moved on immediately, hopped into another woman’s car and drove off, leaving us to die on the rails.
I have this other friend, we have grown apart, she was another friend who came with the failed marriage. I feel badly to think we have grown apart, but she has not really initiated any contact with me in ages, and she is cold when I try to. I think of her as the sun rises in my mind, she was one who said, while we lay shattered on the tracks, get up and walk already, the crash is over. It is hard to love people like this, isn’t it?
And I know. Now I have been walking for a while, and the external injuries have healed, and the internal injuries have healed, but scars still remain, the broken pieces of our shattered lives have been glued back together and life goes on for us. As it always has, as it always will. But still it is on my mind, even in my unconscious mind, even when I wish it would disappear forever. Just like he did. His callous disregard for the people who loved him for 11 years is not deserving of my regard for him still after 4 1/4 years of his absence; and yet, and yet, my mind goes back to those moments just before we came to the tracks, when he said he loved me, when he said everything he did he did for his girls, when I believed, how could I have been so stupid?
How could I have been so unaware?
How can I not have moved on all the way yet? What is wrong with me? Why can I not just stop? It’s as though somehow I am tethered to the wreckage. As though I died and my ghost, unresolved cannot fly up to heaven. As though I lived but a vital piece of me was left there on the tracks. Its as though I lived, but a huge piece of the train is forever embedded in my rib cage.
The weight of it is exhausting.
But I cannot put it down, no matter how hard I try.
Someone, please tell me, what must I do to be rid of this?