onbruisedknees

"Tell your story. Tell it on your bruised knees if you must, tell it at the risk of madness, scream it at the top of your lungs." –Andrew Lam

Month: June, 2013

Safe

You know that people do things differently in the South. They even die differently. Still, love strikes you. You work in a floral shop up north where the names aren’t familiar and the addresses are foreign. But when you walk in the flower shop at home to pick out the casket spray, you watch your mama get a good forty-five second hug. Because she lost her mama.

You ruin your vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, clean-eating, low-carb diet because people bring you casseroles. And cupcakes. And coffeecake. Southern love is always shown through food.

You discretely throw away dirty underwear and wash the sheets she died in and cups she drank from. You find her eyeglasses on the table. You water flowers because you don’t want them to die, too. You clean the toilet. The washrags crusted with blood. “Bless her heart,” your mom says as her face crumples. “She was in more pain than she ever let on.”

And the collection agencies and bill collectors continue to call. The phone rings. It does not stop. The abrasive cadence to your cleaning as you scrub sinks, pull sheets tight.  Mom holds the telephone to her ear. Listens for five seconds. Throws the phone back onto the receiver. Mimics their fake professional voices, “No Ms. Fewkes is not available. Ms. Fewkes is dead.”

Her house, which used to have tiny walkways through trash she hoarded, is sterile clean. No pictures or Bible verses or notes on the refrigerator. No purses with mildewed receipts in the pockets. No clothes of all styles and sizes spilling out of closets. No termites, no spiders. A toilet that functions. A shower that’s sturdy. Shiny appliances. Attention to detail. A brand new foundation, un-sunk.  It’s nice. And clean. You’re in awe of the work and the cleanliness should be comforting, but it is not. The house is empty. Gone is every little scrap that frustrated and annoyed you and boiled your blood.

I do not cry during the funeral song. “Mama Liked the Roses” only reminded me of grandma impersonating Elvis. The way she bent her knees and posed, stunningly like Marilyn Monroe, grooved to bluesy melodies, called the king a ‘hunky hunk.’ And I heard floating memories of the song that was ours: “I love you. A bushel and a peck. A bushel and a peck and a hug around your neck.”

Silly, beautiful, loving woman. A barrel and a heap of crazy and kind and crazy-kind. And you are your mother’s mother’s granddaughter.

“You’re special,” she said two months ago on the last day you saw her. She tucked it between, “You look just like your mom” and “I like Ashley’s fiancé” and “I’m so glad Kaci didn’t get hurt in that wreck” and “You tell your sister to be careful goin’ to Evansville.” But you heard it—the thing you most needed to hear that day. And remember the rest of your life. You knew somewhere deep that those would be her last words to you. She validates you, still, just as she did after every awkward day of junior high school.

You do not cry until you feel the weight of her gray casket. Until the graveyard part of the service abruptly ends. The end? This wasn’t supposed to be the end. She was supposed to get more life to live. Better life. Better. You look back.  You glance back again, again. Gray casket. Red rose petals in your hand.

“Be careful,” you hear her voice. The tears roll. Finally. The relief. Because you realize she’s the one who is finally free from fear. She’s not merely pain-free.  She is worry-free.  She is safe. Safe and filled. With better life.

Nowhere and Somewhere

The best part of the book I just finished reading? The first page. The first page captures something I’ve felt since moving north and hadn’t been able to put into words. The author of A Wild Ride up the Cupboards describes the Nowhere Place, a spot coined by her autistic son, which is actually the distance between the Minnesota sign and the Welcome to Iowa sign. “We’re nowhere now,” she writes. “We aren’t anywhere in the world.”

Author Ann Baur continues, “Because even then Edward knew, as I did, that a human being can be knocked off the continuum of this ordinary, sweaty, oxygen-filled existence into the locked stillness of nowhere….I came to believe it was our momentum, traveling sixty or even sixty-five miles an hour, that anchored us and kept us safe. And that if we were to stop between the signs, all three of us might just tumble out of the car and out of our lives, into a nameless expanse of space.”

No other passage could more appropriately describe the odd little village in northern Illinois. It’s meaning holds more than just the space between Chicago and Dubuque or the expanse between Wisconsin and Iowa and Illinois. This time is also the “nowhere” time in our lives. The waiting area. The holding cell. We landed in a dystopia. A twilight zone. Limbo. The nowhere place. I had lost the momentum which propelled me, kept me exhausted and productive and smiling. Like Alice, I fell down a rabbit hole. I somersaulted into weirdness. I crashed into the wonderland of Woodbine.

I spent many days wishing to disappear. And the people I love most told me to disappear, hide, cover up the scars and the reasons for the scars. They even told me to stop writing. But burns are different from other ailments. In order for a burn to heal, it should not be covered. Burns need air for cell division and regeneration. Burns must breathe in order for new skin to grow.

Several weeks ago, I went in for some blood tests. I collapsed. The needle left a bruise that stretched from my armpit to my inner wrist. I lost control of my body, a helpless feeling I do not want to relive. While dabbing my neck with cold compresses, nurses encouraged me to open my eyes, to take a sip. I didn’t want to. I was lost in unconsciousness and echoes—a nowhere place.

Upon awakening, I examined the damage. The bluish-purple-green bruise paired with the pink-gray burn scars reminded me of the arms of a drug addict. In that moment, I realized the world would hurt me enough as it is without the added pain of harming myself, and I vowed to never hurt myself again. I also vowed to eat food and nourish my body.

I am a stubborn, stubborn girl. I must get to those points myself. Must feel the lowest low and wallow in it for a moment. Must decide, then, what to do next. Move on. Finally, I hit the low that would allow me to move on.

I decided I do not like the mental distress and despair of “inside.” More claustrophobic than normal, I am restless. Inside feels like caged confinement. I do not like the itch and crawl of sedentary, stationary, artificial light and plastic plants. Suddenly, outside is safe and free. In summer, inside is cruel and dark and dangerous like waiting rooms and cancer wards, windowless classrooms and coffins and prison and the last week of school.

I decide that, like a burn, I need air. I get a free sunrise and sunset every single day. I need them. I need the space between the sunrises and the sunsets, too.  I don’t even want to go inside for meals. I’ll partake of food in open air, the burst of sun-ripened tomato on my tongue. Skin kissed by this sweet tingle of sun. Do enough trails exist? Because once I start walking, moving this body, I don’t know if I’ll ever get my fill. I wander in the Nowhere Place. I take a step and breathe. And breathe. And inhale. Exhale. I learn how to breathe in the Nowhere Place.

And when we are home, eventually, I’ll look back at the Nowhere Place and see that it was actually….somewhere.