Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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It’s a steaming summer afternoon in New York City. I’m walking up Seventh Avenue in the Village. In an instant, I see a yellow car coming down the street with a pig-tailed black girl leaning out the back window. She’s peering through an instamatic camera and grinning with the biggest teeth I’ve ever seen. Gleefully she snaps a photo as her car races by an abundant sidewalk nursery I’m just passing.
We’re in two worlds. In her world, she’s thinking she just took a fab photograph.
In my world, I’m thinking: “What an idiot! That was a wasted shot.”
New York, New York
When I was getting married, everyone warned me that I was leaving behind a familiar world for a new and difficult one. “You’ll have to consider another person,” they said. “There will always be two, not one. You’re such a free spirit. Do you know what you’re doing?” When I was considering having a baby, the warnings were just as clear. “Oh, you’ll be giving up your freedom,” they said. “You’ll always have to consider the baby. Aren’t you too old, too set in your ways?”
Now I am married and have a six-month-old daughter. I know more than ever that there is only one world, and one choice — to enjoy or to complain about one’s life. I am the same; I breathe in and out, love the seasons, laugh and cry. If there is a new world, it asks only that I be less divided and more at home here.
Karya Sabaroff Taylor
Jim’s ranch is tucked into the southeast corner of Utah. Gatehouse, bunkhouse, and stables, all connected by a winding dirt road, look like a doll village under towering red buttes and mesas. The place seems dreamlike as we drive through the front gates. From my Eastern perspective, it looks unreal, like a Wild West stage set.
We have a picnic up on a bluff, then bounce in the truck down to the corral where the horses are saddled and waiting. Jim says that Fourth Indian, the prettiest horse, is difficult. I can handle Fourth Indian, I say. We ride over dry, rocky terrain, up into gulches and across streams. About an hour into the ride, Fourth Indian begins to act crabby, wagging his head at the slightest suggestion from the reins.
We ride on, lunge up a hill in a pack, head for the road home — a long stretch, flat, even, layered with soft dirt. A fence runs alongside the path, rail posts with barbed wire in between. Something inspires the horses — maybe the long, unbroken stretch of the path, maybe the lowering sun in the western sky, maybe the knowledge that this is the way back to the corral. A wave of energy springs up and the horses begin to pound home. Fourth Indian catches the wave and goes crazy. He becomes a streak in the wind, a blur of color across a canvas, an unleashed fury. My alarm dissolves into fear and then into pure awareness: I’m out of control and there’s no way in the world I’m going to stop this horse. Horrified and hypnotized, I give in and let go, as if I were on a raft lunging over a waterfall. I have no choice.
My body is flung into the air, way up in a slow, easy arc. It bounces off something, and I hear a crack — is that me or the fence post? I hit the ground. The air leaves my lungs and I’m sinking. I know not to move, though oddly there’s no pain. My body is as light as a spring coat, gentle and weightless. I feel calm, clear: I am all right. I am not this body, and I am all right.
In the ambulance a man sits steadily on his haunches in front of me, holding me up under the armpits, keeping the pressure off my broken torso. A woman continually takes my blood pressure and reads dials on a machine. What is there for me to do but meditate and float in this calm? This upsets the woman. She starts tapping frantically on my cheeks, calling my name, flashing her fingers under my nostrils. What’s she doing? Can’t she see that I’m fine, floating calmly and gently along? I ignore her, moving deeper into the meditation. Now my road divides and I’m at a crossroads. It’s no big deal, but a choice, I know, between dying or staying in this world. There’s no fear at all. The decision feels almost insignificant, like choosing between vanilla and chocolate. I can go on straight where the road is wide and clear, or I can turn left down a narrow side road, which would mean staying and working through some of the pain that’s here for me to resolve. Quietly, I feel myself choose to stay, and I make the left-hand turn.
New York, New York
I struggle on my roller skates, legs heavy, arms wobbling. The music beats loud. I watch where I’m going, careful, knowing the pain of a fall. Children splat to the ground, cry, whine, hobble to their feet. I roll past them, reminding myself they are not mine. The voices calling “Mom” are not for me.
In the center whirl of the rink, my daughter, lithe and breathless in jeans and a midriff shirt, folds her arms across her chest and effortlessly skates backward. She speeds past the stumbling children, breezes past my awkward progress. She doesn’t look behind her; she doesn’t worry about bumping into someone or falling. She is the center of the rink, and everyone gets out of her way.
It is late afternoon of just another day. The refrigerator hums. Somewhere, in another room, a faucet drips. I am alone in the house, sitting at the small oak table in the living room, writing in my journal.
Willow-Cat lies on the couch. Cody is stretched by the door. The refrigerator hums. The faucet drips. I write.
But then, without warning, I feel a turning, a shifting, a slipping, as though along some fault line in the universe. Very slowly, I lift my head, barely breathing, knowing that the moment has come again — and that it is delicate as a dew-laced web.
Outwardly, the room might look the same to someone else — but for me it is now alive, suffused with a soft, flowing energy, startling in its newness.
Willow-Cat is curled on her back in perfect, thoughtless grace, one delicate paw across her eyes. Cody’s gray and black wolf-body is a breathing memory of forest and snow and mountain stream. Outside, the late afternoon sun has gone gold and soft, and the world is melting. A ray of light has bounced off glass and is streaming into the living room. Shadows of ivy leaves are dancing on the wall.
I breathe very softly, trying to blend with the moment, knowing that it cannot be grasped, only joined. For a tiny while, I am able to let go. I feel my own lines melting. For just a moment, I am not I.
I am the dancing leaves upon the wall. I am just-born, wet and crying. I arch and turn in Willow-Cat’s sleep. I am with my mother in the operating room, holding her hand. I stretch and sigh in Cody’s dream. I lie old and dying in a nursing home.
And then the wind gusts and the web tears. The fault line shifts back again. The world freezes.
The refrigerator hums. The faucet drips.
G. Lynn Nelson
I have decided on my purple silk dress, a strand of pearls, sheer stockings, and pumps. I decorate my face, highlighting my cheeks, my eyes, my lips. A final dab of perfume, and I’m off to the cocktail party. With miniature stilts on my shoes, it feels awkward to negotiate the steps leading away from my cottage.
The party is Southern upper-middle-class at its finest, a celebration of an upcoming marriage. There are bare, tanned backs, Dixieland music, oil portraits, steady high- then low-pitched laughter — and, of course, lots of alcohol. Black servants in lightly starched white tuxedos carry trays of sterling silver laden with cheese toast, sausage twists, and chicken salad in miniature pastry puffs. I screen the contents quickly, accepting the cheese toast. I want to start conversations about factory farming and tortured animals, but I decide not to. Instead, I mingle and smile and imitate gaiety. I seek out people who have had some role in my earlier life — a cousin, a sister’s best friend, somebody who held me when I was a baby. History can be salvation at a cocktail party.
My party spirit has not been aroused. Pretending has made me tired, and I decide to go home. The attendant pulls up to the curb as I wait on a wrought-iron bench. My car is eight years old, has a hole in the muffler and save-the-world stickers across the back. I am very proud of my car.
On my dark, quiet road, the moon is brilliant — just recently full. It is so wonderful to be back in my cottage. I take off my clothes and jewelry and pull on my worn-out T-shirt. I drink a cup of peppermint tea while I sit in a “moonpatch” on the living room floor. Judging it too lovely to sleep inside, I slip on my sandals, fetch a flashlight, and head for my tent — now a permanent fixture in my back yard. I bid the hiding critters good night, gaze at the moon for a few moments, then crawl into my soft sleeping bag. I can feel sweet happiness rocking through my veins.
Squatting to pee under the moon in the middle of the night, I remember where I’ve been only hours ago, and laugh.
Debbie W. Hill
I have schizophrenia. I have learned much and suffered much in the world that does not exist, surrounded by the voices of the dead — listening to the death rattle of the devil in the back seat of a Dodge Colt, as my husband patiently drove me through Armageddon. I have lived through the real death of the real soul, human no more, looked at my once-beloved children, and have seen only white pallor, have heard only gibberish.
I learned that if I stretch out my hand and pat those little heads, they have the power to blow on the ember of my burned-out soul. I have one message with which I have been entrusted, and am desperate to share: “Every little boy is Jesus Christ, and every little girl is Mary.”
She was sitting on the rock, wearing a few pieces of bandana material for a bikini. The rock lifted her up to the sun, while I gazed in envy at her image. Beyond the envy was anger. The rock was my refuge, and I needed it now.
Too hot in my black cotton draw-string shorts and T-shirt, I ambled toward my goal, wishing the woman would leave. My unshaven legs seemed starkly rude to me as I saw her glance my way. Both books in my knapsack competed to be read, and I looked up at the woman, silently pleading for the end of her turn on the rock.
Beyond us, the ocean’s sheen attracted me. I moved to the water’s edge, slipped off my sandals, and laid down my sack. I slid my toes into the water. As I pattered around in the shallow tide, I felt, rather than saw, her retreat. The shadow of my overweight body played on the waves and I waited, feeling her movements. When I turned back, the rock was empty.
Finally occupying the summit, I rested, panting, uneasy. I noticed a piece of blue paper, folded once, lying securely in a hollow — saved from the wind by a small row of stones. I scanned the beach, looking for the approaching sun god whose communiqué I had just decided to read. I saw only a retired salesman in trousers, sailing shirt, and mesh oxfords. He was expertly running a metal detector over the sand.
With apprehension I unfolded the paper and began to read:
“Woman in the Water”
So solid, even on sand,
You play before me
In the cool laps
That wash your feet.
I sit and gaze in awe
At your completeness:
The perfect female complement
To this rock beneath me.
I watch and see and finally,
I know what “woman” means.
August 4, 1987
I read the poem a third, fourth, and fifth time. Finally I climbed down from the rock and left. To my knowledge, I never saw that woman again. She looked like any perfect twenty-year-old blond beacher, and I knew I could never distinguish her from the others.
Since that day, I often go down to the shoreline before climbing the rock. Sometimes, when the beach is almost empty, I dance, making my shadow glide across the wave crests. I think of S.L.B. and write poems to her in the sand for the ocean.
When I was a small child, I would journey from Norfolk, Virginia, to Boston to spend time with my grandmother Maudie. I would be teased about my Southern accent and my (to them) hilariously automatic use of “Sir” and “Ma’am.” A natural mimic, I would have a thick Boston accent by the time I came home. It sounded pretentious to Southern ears and was quickly teased back out of me. When I was twelve, my grandmother and mother had a quarrel, and I never saw my Boston relatives again.
When I was twenty, I moved to Washington, D.C. — a Southern town to some, but the North to me. I remember blinking back tears when a server in a cafeteria couldn’t understand me. “Some snap beans, please,” I repeated. “Whaddaya want?” she said, loudly. “People are waiting.” A man behind me said, “String beans. She wants string beans.”
George Washington University chose for my roommates six Jewish girls from Great Neck, New York. They ironed out my Southern accent in only a few months. As a result, Northerners make disparaging comments about the South and Southerners right in front of me. When I speak up, they reply, “But you don’t have a Southern accent,” or “Norfolk isn’t the South,” pronouncing it like the “folk” in “folk music,” which people from Norfolk never do.
The ancient Celts were fascinated with the idea of two worlds and of the boundary region between them — the delicate, tense place between life and death, sea and air, night and dawn, dew and rain. In this neither-nor state, they believed, lies power. The trick is just to be there; to squirm there; to know you don’t have to make an impulsive choice.
In the summer before I entered fifth grade, my mom went back to work and my dad spent most of his time on the farm. I lived in town with my mom and played with Vanessa as much as I could.
“Just leave me alone!” I shouted at Mom when she told me I couldn’t visit Vanessa.
“She’s very confused and she doesn’t tell you the truth. Besides, Vanessa’s too old for you,” Mom said.
I played with Vanessa anyway because she was my best friend. I didn’t care if she was two years older than I; I thought she knew everything.
She told me a lot. If you dream you’re falling and don’t wake up before the dream ends, you’ll die. Bats are miniature vampires, and if you don’t cover your neck at night they’ll suck your blood. If you bury a piece of glass and dig it up exactly one year later, it’ll be a lucky charm.
I believed everything she said. I could tell that she knew things ordinary people didn’t know. I thought she would show me how to grow up if I stayed around her long enough.
Vanessa, Michelle, Brian, and Keith were foster kids at the Klooses. Ness was eleven; Michelle was nine, like me; Brian was six. Keith was retarded, and I never knew how old he was. I never asked him because he couldn’t talk much. He just made a high-pitched screaming sound and hit his head with his hands. Once, Vanessa told me that when he was little he had to live in the streets and eat out of garbage cans; that was what made him retarded. It horrified me to think that he had been made retarded — as if someone had erased away part of his brain. I kept waiting for him to snap out of it. I figured that one day he’d start talking and playing with the rest of us. He never did.
When Ness and I were alone, she showed me how to smoke by pretending a twig was a cigarette. She also taught me how to lie by crossing my fingers when I made a promise, and how to find ghosts by looking through my ring at twilight.
At the end of that summer, Ness started the seventh grade. She rode a different bus to school and had classes with five different teachers. Worst of all, she had to take showers after gym class.
I felt her slip away from me when she made friends with girls her own age and talked to boys who hung out at the Little Store, smoking real cigarettes. I felt left out because she wouldn’t talk to me anymore. I wanted to be in her world with her cool girlfriends, but I could tell she was going to grow up without me, and I’d never be able to catch up with her.
Last year I dreamt about Vanessa. I hadn’t thought about her for almost fifteen years when this dream opened inside me like an invisible letter.
I dreamt that she had written to Mrs. Kloos and asked about everyone in the neighborhood. Then she told of her life. This part of the letter moved through me slowly, dragging me down. She said that she was going to have her sixth child but didn’t want it. I remember her saying, “Why don’t they just leave me alone?”
The letter was enclosed in a card that had a picture of a cow on it. When I looked at the cow, I could see Vanessa locked in a closet and crying about having her sixth child. When I opened the card, I could see an embryo in the cow’s outline.
I don’t know what has actually become of Vanessa. She must have told me something in that dream. She must have told me something one last time.
St. Paul, Minnesota
There’s the real world of concrete, flesh, maple syrup, oxygen. There are jobs, homes, bills, families, friends. Then, too, there’s the REAL world of ever-changing patterns of energy and form and formlessness; the remembrance that this whole life is just a motel-stop on the eternal road of learning and growing in consciousness.
If I lost my job and my home and my husband, I would be upset — very upset. Yet from the very start, I would know this was a test that I needed to pass. I would know that the test was useful, even necessary. Remembering not to be too attached to anything in this world is a wise, and ultimately secure, state of being.
I once heard a story, which moved me deeply, of a couple very much in love and very devoted to God. After several years, the woman died. Everyone expected the husband to be totally devastated by the loss of his beloved wife. Instead he said, “I loved her before God, I married her before God, now I give her to God.” Both the wife and the husband were liberated by these words.
Guru Nam Kaur Khalsa
When it is time to be ordinary, be ordinary in a heroic way. When it is time to be heroic, be heroic in an ordinary way. This is the secret of the heroic and the ordinary.
Richard A. Stewart
I’ve heard it said there are two kinds of people in the world — those who think there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.
C.P. Snow thought there were two cultures — the artistic community and the scientific community. He thought there should be more communication between the two groups.
I did my part. All through college I dated a geology student. He classified people according to what kind of rock they were. We broke up when he told me I was sedimentary. I wanted to be igneous.
At an aunt’s funeral, the Church of Christ preacher said there were two kinds of people — good and bad. He should have known better than that.
Recently, I’ve started to think there are two kinds of people — those who smoke and those who fly into a blind rage when they see someone smoking.
I was in boarding school for four years and got out when I was eleven. I moved in with my newly married mother and stepfather, feeling like an intruder. After a few months in the hot attic apartment in Jersey City, we moved into a big house in the suburbs, fresh with the promise of a new life, the chalky smell of white, newly painted walls, doors that slid into walls, huge rooms.
Instead of expanding into this new space, I felt an awkwardness with my stepfather and our “family” that grew into estrangement. I thought I was to blame whenever there was strain between my mother and her husband. I squirmed with vague feelings of guilt and shame. As their relationship grew more troubled, I unconsciously tried to make myself more invisible. I was quiet, read a lot, withdrew into my own fantasy world.
When I was fourteen, they sent me to Switzerland for six weeks to “learn French.” This was a tradition in my mother’s family, a requisite of the proper education of young ladies. I was already used to traveling across the Atlantic, because I had spent most of my summers with my grandparents in Germany. For the first time, I was alone. My mother chose my “boarding school” from a catalog, basing her final decision on price. She chose the cheapest.
My hopes rose when a handsome young man (the proprietor’s son) picked me up at the Geneva airport in a shiny red convertible sports car. This looked promising. We arrived at the school after a long, winding, romantic drive through beautiful mountains and valleys.
I was fed a farmer’s meal in the cellar dining room on a bare wooden table with long, ancient, carved benches. I still remember the smell of the green pea soup with bacon, and the crusty black bread. The afternoon sun shone in one long beam through the small, high window covered with dust. I sat alone in the silence after the most perfunctory of welcomes, my heart sinking.
Whatever fantasies and expectations I had of “the French boarding school for young ladies” were cruelly thwarted. The handsome young prince was engaged to the young Parisian woman who worked there.
I was the oldest of several boarders. In my aloneness, anger, and frustration, I found no one who was sympathetic. My French was laughable, and French lessons were non-existent at the boarding school. But I learned quickly, motivated by my utter loneliness. At night I slept on my cot, radio to my ear, listening to German, American, and English radio stations, which provided a meager connection with home and intimations of a larger world. My long letters home were not acknowledged.
The stars at night were the most brilliant I had ever seen. Looking out from the bathroom window at night, I was given moments of what “God” means. I danced on my balcony in the starlit darkness in shorty pajamas. The headmistress put an end to that when a neighbor complained.
I was allowed to walk anywhere in town and outside of it, because it was safe. I was sent to the bakery for cookies and bread, to the grocery for vegetables, envelopes, and other necessities. I also went to pick up milk fresh from the cows that walked through the town twice a day, their bells ringing. My loneliness faded as my focus shifted to my surroundings.
I went on long daily walks, past wheat fields spread on rolling hills, and into the woods. Sometimes to supervise the smaller children, sometimes to be alone, I wandered for hours, exploring distant nooks, lonely paths that wound under cool, shady canopies. Once I went to the next town and walked into the small, unadorned, rustic medieval church, where I sat on a bare, hand-stained creaky bench to pray. Once, during a summer festival, I was swept up in a crowd at night, feeling anonymous in the darkness, but still a part of the group. We walked to a big field I often passed. In the center of the circle of people, a huge bonfire blazed, shooting sparks into the sky, which was so clear that you could see the individual stars in what is usually the haze of the Milky Way.
Without realizing it, I was connecting to everything around me, no longer conscious of myself as a personality. Looking back, I would call it meditating, but I didn’t know the meaning of that at the time — or the value.
I did not realize how happy I was until my mother, six months pregnant, walked in the door. I remember that I was sitting at the table eating lunch when she appeared. I looked up at her nervous, frantic figure and realized in an instant the worlds that had opened up inside me. My whole being suddenly felt threatened by her. I realized for the first time in my life a sense of self so strong, clear, and unique that it was infinitely precious. Guarding myself from her needy, intrusive attitude, I vowed never to lose this sense of myself. A sinking feeling told me that I would, in the course of time, be redefined by family terms. My mother, grandmother, stepfather, and I left to travel through France. We stopped at a restaurant where my mother took a picture of me eating fondue. I still have it. It is one of my favorite pictures. It recorded, in my eyes, the sweet feeling of knowing myself. That feeling has not always been with me, but, years later, I still find it now and then.
World Number One is darkness, life feeding on itself, forms eating other forms until they are eaten themselves. In this world, everything born is fated to be eaten by something — wild animals, vultures, insects, worms. microscopic bacteria, cancer cells. Every living thing, from the most “noble” king to the lowliest maggot, will disappear into the mouth (or roots) of some other living thing, thereby vanishing.
Common sense tells us there is no afterlife. Sure, we might become part of the shark if we are eaten by a shark, or part of the worms if we are eaten by worms. But that is not an afterlife worth mentioning.
Nor do we live on in our children. We may look like them a bit. We may emotionally identify with them while we are alive. We may even have something to do with the shapes their lives take. But we don’t live on in them in any significant way.
World Number One exists only as an eternal present. There is no actual past. Remembering is always in the present. There is no future, either. Whatever comes to pass will do so in the present. Imagined futures are already present.
The central activity of this eternal present is eating other forms of life, and being eaten by them. People live this out symbolically as well as literally — in the battle of the sexes, for example, or in the dog-eat-dog competition of the business world.
World Number Two is another kind of darkness, exclusively human. It is the world of human illusion, of unconscious pretending. Some of the pretending is very crude and obvious (except to those absorbed in it, of course). For example, some pretend there is literally a human soul, which we cannot see or touch or taste or smell or hear, but which is supposed to be more us, more real, than our actual bodies. And this soul is supposed to live on apart from our bodies after our bodies have been eaten.
There is also the more subtle illusion in World Number Two that individual lives are important. This importance is usually described in terms of another illusion, which conceives of the universe as going in some particular direction and suggests that each individual (if she or he doesn’t want to be left behind and forsaken — i.e., eaten) must help it along. The tools for this movement are called love, truth, justice, compassion, generosity, sacrifice, and so on.
World Number Two generally hates World Number One — hates even the thought of it — and spends its whole existence denying it, making up all kinds of fancy theories and rituals based on nothing but the fear of being eaten. World Number Two is willing enough to eat — a process dressed up and disguised with rituals and manners — but not to be eaten.
Occasionally, someone from World Number Two wakes up from this dream of eating without being eaten and re-enters the reality of World Number One. Because those who are awake always have greater power than those sleeping, this person then seems to get an extra measure of living, as he or she comes to peace with the world of eating and being eaten, and as the past and the future drop away. Since there is no direction in World Number One, this person lives without hurry or ambition, without claim on any virtue.
One who awoke, Jesus, said that release from the grip of World Number Two made earthly existence feel as light as air, which he called heaven, its darkness bathed in glorious mystery, which he called light. And another, Buddha, had compassion for those who found the sleep of World Number Two restless and uncomfortable, and said that he could help them come out of their suffering if they wanted to wake up.
But World Number Two doesn’t generally want help from those who have escaped its illusions. Indeed, the very nature of illusion is the psychological need to believe in it. For Jesus’ help, they crucified him. And to quiet his disturbing ripples, they encased him in a church and made drowsy monotones of his sayings to abet them in their sleeping.
Petersburg, West Virginia
Watching him struggle with a washcloth, I wondered whether I should offer to scrub his back. But he seemed to be managing and wasn’t asking for help, so I let it pass. Then, just as I finished dressing and was heading for the door, he held out a single sock and grunted in my direction.
“Want me to help you with that?”
“Ng-hnn,” came the reply.
Our eyes had met several times in the shower, and I had been surprised to see how clear his were. Usually, I avoided the glance of disabled people, not wanting to embarrass them or myself. But I felt no discomfiture with him; and after an hour’s swim, it was nothing for me to meet his gaze.
Once I got that first sock on, he made it clear he wanted help with the other, too. I was hired. What did he do when no one was around? Anyway, I was happy to help. But when I reached for his T-shirt, he stopped me, pointing instead to the long johns in his pack. We pulled them on, limb by twisted limb. He sometimes used his teeth. He actually had some muscle; it was just that his range of motion was greatly constrained.
The trickiest part was his insulated jacket. When I remarked that the lining was a bit of a bother, he said, “Nyeah, bud id keebs me warm.” I smiled and pulled each knotty hand through. He would drool a little from time to time, but that seemed all right with him. I tugged the brown corduroys up next. Then, once I’d gotten his boots on, he motioned for me to fasten him in. The belt had three loops; when I slipped the Velcro end through only two, he insisted I put it through the other as well. I stuffed his wet suit and towels into the gym bag on the bench and gave him his portable radio, whose shoelace strap went around his neck and under his left arm. What a trooper! Holding the locker room door open for his motorized chair, I couldn’t help grinning at the words on his green T-shirt: “Kiss me — I’m Irish.”
He was ready for the world.
Grosse Pointe, Michigan
In the fall of 1936, my then-fiancé and I emerged from a theater in Philadelphia where we had just seen an Alfred Lunt-Lynn Fontanne show. (I believe it was “Watch on the Rhine.”) I said, “What a wonderful play,” and he said, “I didn’t like it at all. I really don’t like plays.” I told him then that I sometimes thought we lived in different worlds.
It is as true now, more than fifty years later, as it was then, but we are still together. There have been some wonderful times and some very difficult times. We are both glad our marriage has lasted.
Our potentially (and often actually) explosive differences in viewpoints and values have provided problems we wouldn’t have had with mates more nearly echoing us in interests and attitudes. But we do enjoy being together; and although each never truly enters the other’s sphere of interests and activities, much is learned on both sides: the need to listen, to share, to compromise. And after our many unsuccessful attempts to change each other, I think we are learning, reluctantly perhaps, the true meaning of love: unconditional acceptance.
On my twenty-fifth birthday, my mother had the good sense to have me committed to an institution. The events that led up to that day consisted of sleepless nights, unintelligible conversations with the radio, long and languid walks (usually in the middle of the night), and overall unacceptable, inappropriate behavior.
During that time, I was experiencing two totally different, incompatible worlds — love and fear. I would walk for hours, listening to sounds of love’s melodious voice. I would speak to strangers of love and friendship. Most of them instantly drew a barrier between us; a few cautiously countered my offering with a strained response. I remember the feeling of compassion that would come over me for all the lonely, isolated people in the world who thought they could deny love’s presence. But mostly I remember, in the world of love, a total absence of fear, a complete and perfect peace. There was no doubt, no anxiety, no confusion.
Then, one night, I began to allow fear to command my thoughts. The fear arose from the idea that pure love — all the time — was not normal! My state was causing a lot of people much distress. I began to wonder whether the love I was experiencing was real or imagined. Thus, I embarked on a different journey, with apprehension as my companion. I walked through the various horrors, an unforgettable excursion that ended in a “holding cell” of the local police department, where I was sexually assaulted and beaten by two female inmates.
The county hospital’s psycho ward was a haven of rest — the final resting place for some in my condition. I was checked in, analyzed, diagnosed, and treated. What would happen to me, ultimately, was to be my decision. At the time, insanity seemed much more to my liking than the so-called real world, the world of fear.
Fortunately, I still believed in love. That’s difficult when there is no evidence of it anywhere. I certainly didn’t see it in the eyes of the hospital staff. Even my mother could not hide her fear when she came to see me. And, although they were kind, my ex-husband and his family came only because they wanted custody of my son. Without the love of one dear friend, I probably would have chosen to stay in the refuge of insanity.
My friend gave me something synonymous with love — honesty. With nothing to gain or lose, he came to me and said, “Karen, I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but you don’t belong here. If you don’t straighten up and play by the rules, they’re going to put you away forever.”
Do you know how long forever is? I had time to think about it. I couldn’t imagine spending it in a hospital where people, doctors and patients alike, were hiding from a world that didn’t exist.
I was released six weeks later. I learned how to play by the rules, and a great deal more than that — I learned that my life is my choice. The doctors gave me a prescription and told me I would be back within six months if I didn’t take their medication. I threw the prescription away as I left the hospital.
That was seventeen years ago. I have undergone a slow metamorphosis, learning how to let love be the motivating factor in all that I say and do, while my fears play hide and seek with each other. I no longer have a “split mind.” Today I know there is only one Mind, and anything else is child’s play.
Karen Holmes Taylor
In the Astor Place subway stop, there are two worlds, doubtless: the men on the floor who slept here last night, and the women in mauve riding to work.
What’s the difference? Color is one. The women are the color of the paper in paperbacks (which they also read); the men who slept are the color of soil.
Also, the men are more weary — they slept on tile and wood, the women on futons. (This is a hip neighborhood.)
And the women know where to go: to work. The men don’t seem to have any ideas.
Later, when they get hungry, they’ll need ideas.
On the train, the conductor announces: “Please be aware of chain snatchers and pickpockets who are on this train.”
Did someone get an idea?
The 6 Train