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Refuge

November 14, 2018

My eyes slowly drifted open and struggled to focus. Had I been dreaming?  Where was I? I looked up and saw a ceiling that appeared to be thatched with large feathers.

Wait—a ceiling of feathers? I blinked and the room swam a little before my vision began to clear. Why was I so groggy? Were those really feathers? My eyes scanned the ceiling and moved to the wall. Those still looked like feathers. Very large ones.

I tried to push myself up on an elbow for a better look and was instantly overwhelmed with pain. I gasped sharply before an involuntary groan escaped my lips and I collapsed onto my back once again.

Immediately a face appeared over me. “Shh. Just be still. It will hurt less if you remain quiet.”  The face belonged to a young man I’d never seen before. I saw him glance toward the wall. I turned my head slightly to see what he was looking at. Another young man dressed in similar clothing was peering through a very slight separation between the two largest feathers I’d ever seen, intently watching something outside. Even though I’d barely moved, the motion made my head pound.

A large hand gently covered my forehead. “Really,” the young man said sternly, “you must be very still.” I glanced back at him. He had kind eyes. He also looked very fierce, like someone you really didn’t want to make angry.

I suddenly became aware of a terrible noise outside. It seemed to be getting louder and coming closer. My heart began to pound; I wanted to get far away as fast as I could. I began to squirm, panic overtaking pain. The hand on my forehead increased in pressure.

“Shh. You are safe. They cannot get to you in here.” He locked eyes with me as the sounds grew louder and took the form of words whizzing through the atmosphere like spears. Tears welled up in my eyes. “Focus here,” he said. “It’s all outside. You’re safe in here. And we’re not going to leave you.”

The sound began fading a bit. The other young man let out a low whistle as he threw a glance at me.

“Wow, you really got them riled up. Good job!”

I blinked. What was he talking about? “I did that?” I croaked out, my voice raspy and dry. “How did I do that? I didn’t mean to do anything!”

The young man turned toward me with a chuckle. “Oh, I can guarantee you most certainly meant to do that. Just as you will do it again, once you get rested and healed.”

Why did I need to rest and heal? Why was I in so much pain? It felt like every cell in my body was broken and bruised. And it wasn’t just my body. Somehow the pain went deeper than that, as if every fiber of my being was shrink-wrapped and squeezed by a membrane of agony.  Suddenly I began to have flashes of memories that quickly became full pictures. Violent sights and sounds, the subterfuge of hand-to-mind combat, the intensity of the onslaught that seemed to go on forever. But how did I get in here?

The young man beside me answered my question as if I’d asked it out loud. “We were watching you. We saw you holding your position, but reinforcements were coming in against you and you didn’t have enough backup or rest for what was being launched. We let you hold out as long as we could, but when you were showing signs of exhaustion and taking too many hits we had to bring you in. That was our assignment, to let you fight but to protect you if things got out of hand.”

“Thank you,” I whispered hoarsely. And then in spite of the screaming of every cell in my body, I pushed over onto my side away from the young man and curled up as the hot tears began to flow. I fought a wave of nausea from the pain.  The young man beside me started to chide me again for moving, but the one near the wall cleared his throat, and nothing more was said.

I had failed. My tears were bitter with disappointment and grief. I had failed and I had disqualified myself and I had to be pulled from the field. I knew my dad wouldn’t be angry, but I was sad that I had just demonstrated to him and everyone else that I could not be trusted. I had failed the true test of my training: actual battle. I was supposed to handle this better. I was supposed to overcome. I was supposed to—

“Victoria…”

The young man beside me sat down and wedged himself up against my back to support me as I laid there.  My own name mocked me as he spoke it again.

“Victoria, you are very tired and you are not seeing this rightly. It is time to be still and rest. What you have just experienced is significant, and you did a phenomenal job. You were pulled according to your father’s rules of engagement, not your performance. You will rest now, and our friends will take care of that noise outside. Everything will be clearer when you wake up, and we will talk more then, I promise. Will you trust me?”

I sniffled. I had no idea how I was going to rest with this much pain running roughshod over me. But the kindness and the fierceness of the one who had my back as I laid there somehow drew me. “Yes,” I whispered.

I felt his hand on my head once again, and he began to gently stroke my hair. Every pass of his hand felt like it was pulling something out of my mind, like briars, or maybe more like tugging on knots. As my eyes began to close, I noticed smoke beginning to rise from a low bowl on the floor a few feet in front of me. Incense. As the fragrance reached me, someone began to sing, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to see who it was.

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Going low

September 11, 2018

I’ve often heard it said

that you are up high

and you sit on the clouds

to oversee the affairs

of mice and men

But it is on the days I go low

that I find you most near

Slipping into the space

between my chest and the floor

Hovering over the waterfalls

in my eyes

and making rainbows in the mist

When I have no words

to stitch up the jagged edges

you breathe into my lungs

until I exhale hope

Wonder and glory

mark many kinds of days

and some of them do feel like flying

but if I am honest

they more often mark the days

of lower still.

Mixed media

August 26, 2018

You came looking for color.

Many do, and who could fault you? I’ve given you reason to expect it.

But some days my pen is my paintbrush, and the flow of black and white bleeds across the page. The sun rises, the sun sets, and in between are parties and storms and rainbows and sunny patches of flowers left by some previous gardener. In between are death and life, sometimes keeping company in the same room, trading gulps of oxygen.

On the canvas behind your eyes I paint laughter and tears, rage and sleep.  My ink never changes; it is carbon on ivory, rather like the bones tucked neatly inside your earth suit.

I paint blindly, really. I cannot see your canvas. I can only see my own and hope that my brush is accurate enough to provoke you to adjust your glasses, or at least squint a little as you take note of the pictures that dance by—some in delicate pointe shoes, and some in half-laced clodhopper boots that smell like the dead cow they’re made from.

You aren’t likely to understand my ink stains perfectly, although I applaud you when you try. Parties and storms and rainbows and sunny patches of flowers are simply patterns and symbols on a page, and it is you and I who give them meaning…and color.

The pen is my paintbrush, my thermometer, my spear, my lasso, my key ring, my fork, my knife, my prison warden, my instrument, my canister of tear gas, my bowl of incense. Once you receive its fruit, a piece of me lives on your canvas.

You can always paint over it if you like.

But it will still be there.

 

 

 

Vertical hold

July 23, 2018

I can’t tell if the earth is quaking

or if I’m standing in some sort of whirlwind

My feet are planted as if buried in cement

but my teeth are rattling in my head

and I’m fighting to keep from bending

breaking

Invisible forces press in

An uppercut here

a sucker punch there

but the worst is the kind that threatens

to blow out my ears

I don’t like this war

I never have

It is the violent ambush of malevolence

no holds barred guerrilla warfare

Yet here I am

front row seat at the rock opera

But those stones will not be singing today

I may hum along through sobs

but that’s ok because

I may be holding onto you with a death grip

But you are holding onto me with a life grip

 

 

 

Open up your lungs

July 22, 2018

When I was a kid I used to have these recurring dreams where I would somehow get knocked into a body of water—a pool, a pond, whatever— and couldn’t swim. I’d sink, unable to get myself to the surface. I would hold my breath…and hold my breath…and hold my breath…and just when I thought I couldn’t hold it any longer, a thought would begin creeping into my mind:

Maybe I can breathe underwater.

And so slowly, gingerly, just to test it out, I would allow myself to take a tiny inhale, bracing for water to come rushing into my lungs and drowning to begin in earnest.

But every time, I would tentatively begin to breathe and find I could. It never felt like water. It never felt like drowning.

It just felt like breathing.

I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those dreams as an adult. But I had them often enough as a kid that I can still remember what it was like. I can still feel the fall, because I often fell from a small height. I can recall what it sounded like to plunge from air into the water, what it looked and felt like to become submerged in the dark depths…and unable to save myself.

I can also recall the relief of not needing to.

Maybe it’s an inaccurate assumption that when we’re sure we’re drowning in life, the only way to be saved is to get out of the water.

Maybe…we just need to start breathing.

Uncivil rest

July 19, 2018

This is the room for people

who know which fork is which

and never use bad grammar

or say cuss words

Don’t worry

the man juggling glasses of red wine

won’t spill a drop

The ivory sofas and cream-colored rugs

are safe here

because blood let from razor-tongues

is invisible and

won’t stain the furnishings

And here I am

pressed against the wall

white-knuckled and wild-eyed

heart pounding in dub-step

I want to make a break for the door

but I know there is mud on my shoes

They will track me down

and insist I come back for punch and cookies

I made a mistake and

wore a white shirt one day and

they assumed I knew the secret password

I don’t have the heart to tell them

Nor do I have the heart to tell them

that I could draw them a map

of where the landmines

are buried in this room

It is impolite to speak of landmines after all

just as it is impolite to notice

that everyone in this joint

only needs one shoe.

 

 

 

Sitting on the lid

July 17, 2018

The hardest part of creating a painting is that moment I am in front of a blank canvas, trying to break through the barrier of simply beginning.

“Just get something on it, I urge myself, “just make a start.”

But there’s something paralyzing about that blank canvas.

Most of the time that paralysis is a lump of wordless emotion, trying to pull itself off as indifference or a lack of inspiration. I wonder if that’s ever actually been true, though. The more time I spend in this earth suit on this whirling ball of dirt, the more I doubt it.

Write.

I can’t.

Write.

I don’t have anything to say.

That’s not true.

But it feels true. Why does it feel so true? Why do I feel so stuck, so paralyzed, by the blank page?

Maybe because I feel the pull of things I can’t explain…and can’t defend. Maybe because I know there is a whirlwind of words, pictures, and ideas that many find frightening and disturbing because they don’t understand them. And I’m acutely aware that I live in a world that is quick to judge what it doesn’t understand.

Maybe…maybe I just have an honesty problem, and I’ve been able to dance around that because I haven’t told lies, so therefore, I’ve been honest, right?

That’s been my story up until now, and I’ve stuck to it.

But it seems that approach is a sure way to get marooned with a blank white canvas and dried up paint.