Friday, January 23, 2009

feeding the goddess

I’ve known Christine for nearly a quarter century, and she’s always been extraordinary. You could tell by looking at her that she didn’t merely walk on the wild side; she practically invented it. People say I’m creative. But that’s what you say about people who can cut and paste. Christine is an alchemist. She a transmitter and a transducer. She harnesses energy from things you can’t see, scoops it like some flocculent mass, then molds it into a tight little invisible ball. Best of all, she puts it inside other people.

She has put it inside me.

Some people have lucky charms—jewelry, amulets, smooth stones, even clothing. (My brother-in-law wore the same shirt every day under his work clothes during the Baltimore Ravens’ last winning streak; alas, a shirt is only so powerful.)

But Christine is more than a lucky charm. She’s a magic spell. She’s who I call when things get serious.

Think of anything you know about power—powerful medicine, powerful weaponry, powerful machines—and you’ll understand why I save her for last. You don’t want lead anchor to squash a spider. You don’t need a power washer to rinse your veggies. And you don’t take narcotics for a sore throat. Calling Chris is like taking out the big guns.

About fifteen years ago, she began coursework at the Baltimore School of Massage, and Marty and I were her pampered lab rats. We endured hours of free massage while she perfected her strokes and tried out new moves. When she started energy work, Marty took a pass. We both like touching better. This stuff is like a promise unfulfilled. Her strong hands hovered over the sore spots on my back, beating their wings but never touching down. She was a tease.

She went on to pass her tests and build her client list and make a slew of new, odd associates who were all introduced as “my friend” [Esmerelda]. When they stood together, I could feel them like a force field, an invisible shield. But Christine didn’t exclude me. In fact, she was there at 5:00 a.m., in the hospital, while I was in labor with Serena. She put me in stillpoint, which is a craniosacral method of harnessing the energy coursing through your body and gently forcing it into a steady and peaceful rhythm. Though it isn’t physical kneading, it’s a hypnotic. You can’t help but stop.

When I suffered with insomnia, Chris went from big gun to atomic bomb. On my first visit after my first week of no sleep, she took my ankles in her hands, closed her eyes, and asked me a question. “What does it mean—‘I’m not there yet’?”

I scrunched my face in befuddlement.

“That’s what I’m getting. That’s my read on you,” she said. When had she begun talking that way? I had barely accepted the waving crystal over my belly, and now I was forced to come to terms with Chris “reading” me. So I made something up—that I’m not famous, I’m not a famous poet, I don’t have a book published. I truly didn’t know what she was talking about.

When I got home that evening, an email waited for me. Subject: you’re not there yet. At the time, I was working on a job for a marketing company, and our tag line was “Are we there yet?” How did she know that? How did she know that while I wasn’t even thinking about it? The moment I saw that subject line, I cried. It was as if my best friend had become a—a psychic! I called her, hysterical. “What are you?” I asked her, accusing her. While I wasn’t looking, she had become a full-fledged healer. She’d found a way to train all the random odd bits of her to do this stuff. “Are you a witch?” I demanded.

So Christine has treated me during my worst, most painful times. Sometimes it’s too late. And sometimes it’s by accident. She called last week, and I begged her to visit. Her schedule has her working long hours with autistic children at Kennedy Krieger, as well as treating her regular clients. She was finally able to get here Monday, and it was like letting out held breath. She always makes me laugh, even when I’m imperious to joy. I showed off my daughter, got indignant with her over a loved one’s behavior, listened to her mangled jokes and stories about becoming queen of yet another kind of massage, and shared my own good accomplishments.

And then, before she left, she put her hands on the spot. She felt around the incision and marveled at its neatness and good healing. And then, with her hands on the surface of my skin, skimming it like a bug on a summer pond, she went inside me with her mind. She tiptoed a route through my tissue and muscles. She fiddled and faddled and hocused and pocused. Suddenly I got a little dizzy and nauseated, but I said nothing, thinking it was standing or the meds. Then she asked whether I was nauseated or dizzy, and I was almost relieved, even though this stuff still scares the piss out of me. She talked about draining my lymph nodes or whatever—I never understand half of what she tells me. I just know that, whether I believe it in or not, she’s doing it.

Christine hugged me goodbye, and there is magic even in her hug. Her arms squeeze the demons from you, and I would swear to that in a court of law as well as a nonfiction essay, and I would not be taken down by Oprah or Goucher’s Creative Nonfiction program because it’s true.

Before she left, I reached around my mountain of leftover scarves and grabbed the one she’d admired when she came in—a red, black, and white one with balls and fluff and poofs and glitter. She said it matched her new hat. I don’t know whether she told me that because she wanted it or just as a matter of fact, but I knew she needed the scarf. I made her wait while I hobbled around my maze of boxes of yarn and put it around her.

This was more than a gift to a friend. It was a sacrifice to the goddess.

Christine is the belly of the Buddha. She is the Shroud of Turin. She’s the Virgin Mary on Toast. She’s the dozens of four-leaf clovers she’s found (several in my presence—just looked down, and there they were). She holds more magic than a sky full of crows.

The next day, I stood straighter. I had less pain. I moved more. I can’t wait for another dose of her friendship.

Friday, January 16, 2009

lunatic fringe

This old poem about knitting and unknitting, pulling together and coming undone, seems to suit me right now. I'm whipping yarns into a frenzy while I'm stuck in a chair and using the knitting to keep me sane. Of course, it's an expensive hobby, and I'm not working, so I'm selling all the scarves at my etsy shop, if you are interested. I'm not exactly a charity case, but when you buy one, you get a fabulous scarf that will last forever (and people will point and stare—in a good way—so be prepared) and you keep me from, well, unraveling.

It's not as easy as you think
to unravel the half-done coat—
the mohair enmeshed with wool,
the intertwined tweed and Wintuck
(in colors so promising you use it
though you know it pills).

It's not as easy as you think
to unravel a foot of coat
with so much time invested,
so much counting of rows
and place holding,
so many plastic rings slipping
from needle to needle,
the saved-for-later stitches
held gingerly on a spare rod,
the book buckled
with folded graph paper
from the chart you made.

Even when you make a mistake,
it's not as easy as you think
to unravel without dropping
or twisting the tiny knit or purl
(though my Grammy,
the first multi-tasker,
could do it blindfolded
playing bridge).

But it's been years
since you've picked up stitches,
added a row, tied on a color.
And each time you take those
good intentions from their pouch,
it takes an afternoon
just to find your place.

It takes days
to get the rhythm back.
And the rows are long.

So the unfinished coat sits in a bag,
spools neatly coiled
and instructions preserved.
It's mostly nostalgia now,
like the time you got into beading
or yoga
and bought the accouterments,
which now sit in bins and boxes
because you might pick it up again.
That's what you say each time
you climb the attic stairs
to poke around for an ornament,
nose around for a pair of jeans
that might fit you now.
That's what you say each time
you look at the textures—
watch it flow from flat to fuzzy,
go from silky to nubby.
That's what you say today
while you look for an old photograph.

And then it happens:
a few stitches fall from the needle
while your foot rests on the last spool.
And each time you move,
you pull them tighter and tighter
until they become the stitches
from the row before and then
the row before and the
row before.

And now you just want to tear at it,
just want to rip the whole thing out—
annihilate its order,
erase the time spent,
destroy its memory.
So you pull that string,
your arms, long and flailing;
the yarn, a mass of tangles,
miles of lunatic fringe;
and you, the star of this
hysterical knitting drama.

But it's not as easy as it looks
to unravel the half-unraveled coat,
as the knots of each tied on color
catch on the permanent waves
of seven years in stockinette stitch captivity,
seven years of almost-coat-ness,
seven years of the broken promises
of a button placket,
a lining,
a cool fall day.

No, it's not as easy as it looks
to unravel.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

scar tissue

The other morning, I called my mother to tell her something. Her voice sounded shaky, like she was about to cry. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m having a meltdown today,” she said, quivering. “I have all these year end taxes, and my printer says the cartridge is damaged, and it’s brand new, and—“

“Tell me about it,” I say. I launch into my litany. When I hang up, I throw a painful temper tantrum. I sound like a siren, a long, low bellowing moan like a thing dying. My voice quivers at the end from the muscle spasm I’ve given myself.

I call my mother back to apologize, and she doesn’t know what I’ve done, so I remind her that I didn’t hear the complete list of her things gone wrong, the ingredients of her meltdown pot. She lets it out, and I offer some possible solutions—like the person I used to be would do.

My husband is back to work. He wakes up every morning at 4:30 and tiptoes past the rented electric recliner—where I wind up sleeping the second half of every night—squeezing himself silently in the twelve inches between my laptop table and the fireplace. He makes two cups of coffee and plans his classes. He gives six different lessons a day (fifth through eighth grade social studies, fifth and sixth grade math) and spends two and a half hours every morning doing his preps. Then he makes Serena and himself lunch (it used to be my job), drops off a cup of coffee, just the way I like it, beside my sleeping body, and goes up to shower, sending Serena down to make her own breakfast. When he comes home, exhausted from a combination of kids and the bureaucratic nonsense that adds pointless tasks to his overcrowded schedule (he eats lunch with the kids in the classroom), he walks the dogs, makes dinner or a portion of it for us all, then attends to his various tasks—school meetings, Serena’s basketball, Serena’s rock practice. (He used to be able to nap. One night a week, he could almost get out to basketball. Not now.) Then he goes to bed. Rinse and repeat.

Since school started, the almost-constant delightful and delighted guitar playing has stopped. Everyone is tense. The other day, Marty put his car keys in his pocket and promptly lost them. He patted himself down, checked every pocket, every room. He stood in the dining room and screamed the way I haven’t heard him scream since his father died.

I sat in this stupid, stupid chair crying and loving him and wishing that I could help him or even stand up and hug him—if only he had the time and it didn’t take five minutes to raise the chair and stand. If only it didn’t hurt me so much.

About an hour later, he came home to get something Serena forgot and apologized for his outburst. They keys were in his jacket pocket, under his coat, over his pants. “You ought to talk to someone,” I said. He hissed through his teeth. He doesn’t believe in therapy, he’s lost touch with most of his friends, and his brother up the street—well, let’s just say that he’s only signed as a wide receiver.

Last Thursday, I got a reply email from my sister, yelling at me for what she thought was a tone or an implication in my email to her. She called me a bitch and told me she knows I’m in pain, but I’ve been a bitch since the day I complained that my house had too many people in it (right after surgery). We went rounds, finally owning our faults and making up.

My friends have their migraines and their depression and their miserable days. They fall and hurt themselves. They lose their jobs. And because they are good friends, they have to ask how I am. I feel insensitive telling them. Sometimes I say "ugh" and change the subject or write "ok" in lower-case letters, which I haven't done since I started reading Ann Lamott. I want to lie and say I’m great. I am afraid my pain has crowded them out, and they will stop coming.

My dogs just look at me from the floor. I know that spending quality time stroking their fur is good for my heart and my mind. But I can't reach down to pet them, and it hurts us both when they jump up. I slip them some cheese now and again so they know I still love them.

Serena had a stomachache and headache on Wednesday and wanted to stay home from school. She was disappointed that her birthday (on the epiphany) was not met with the usual fanfare. She wanted to have her movie date and sleepover in the attic. But I can’t have strangers in my house right now. I can barely pull my pants up by myself, and someone has to stand by when I shower and help me dry my legs. I can’t suffer any more indignities.

I think Serena is anxious about me. She peeks around the corner to find me wincing while trying to stand. She sees my frustration with the things I drop and the things that lie along my path and the things that clutter my table, and she wonders how much longer it will be this way.

I finger the lumps around the incision in my back. It’s a thick, tough patch, like my life right now. Like the life of everyone in mine. All of us have this scar tissue. I don't have any salve or balm I can rub on the people I love to make them feel better. I can only sit here and wait.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

happy new year!

Thank you all for a year filled with support, encouragement, and friendship. May we all have a happy, peaceful, and healthy 2009.