Befriend Your Fears

I have been avoiding this topic for sixteen days. I’m afraid of my own fears — a silly statement, unless you’re a Roosevelt; then it becomes profound.

The last time I saw my therapist, we began to talk about my nightmares (or should I say dreams? I sleep, and there’s nothing there but fear.). When I was younger there were monsters behind my eyes, and now there are men, three men, who shift in and out night by night.

There is the downstairs neighbor who holds raucous parties on occasion, parties where people end up screaming at each other, and girls cry. I hear it all through the heating vent, and it colors my dreams. The man’s voice is the voice of a drug king; he is fighting with a friend who comes undone when he drinks or does drugs, and the man has a girlfriend whose screaming drowns out what the fight is about. In my dreams, the man, the drug king has taken some interest in me. He finds me amusing, pursues me, but not romantically. His girlfriend’s eyes and ears see and hear, yet she interacts with me in the building’s elevator as if we are to one day become friends.

I come home from work one day, and there are twenty or so people waiting. I know they wait for me. I fight them, shrugging off the first two, but I realize it won’t stop until I am battered black and blue. I stand still and silent as they rush toward me, awaiting the pain — and I wake, hearing the sounds of the man, the girl, and the friend echoing up the heat shaft; they won’t stop until the sun begins to rise.

There is another man, more boy than man, skinny thing, all elbows and nose, and his presence is sinister, but in the dream, I don’t suspect a thing. I talk with him, drink with him, lie in bed with him, re-establish intimacy that is never consummated because I wake first in protest. I have awoken punching walls. I have awoken about to scream.

The dream is a film of the past, of misdeeds done in the name of confusion and loneliness, and I watch myself ruin my life again and again, unable to intervene, only able to wake up with a wrenching will, panting with the effort. I settle myself into my husband’s arms, and stare off into the darkness for a time, blank-faced, hoping the memories will clear.

There is one last man, a powerful hunter, a repetitive abuser — he seeks me out in my sleep more than the others, mainly for sex. I do not like to talk about him. He exists in the real world, has hunted me, has hit me, has raped women I know — he has a history of hiring detectives to track down the people who attempt to elude him.

He is out of his prime now, would have arthritis, maybe his skin cancer has returned. He will be 65 on Sunday. I fear him most of all.

How does a woman befriend these fears that return her to shrinking girlhood? How does she remain strong in the face of three men who play upon her most vulnerable weaknesses? That is a thing that eludes me upon waking, every time.

#500WED: Morning

The still of the waning darkness tiptoes across the wooden floor amidst the living room church lights and the little yowlings of the cats. So do I.

One by one, the lamps are switched, and, lazy things, yawn their light out into the space, giving shadows no shelter. I wander each of their glowing perimeters with uncertain feet dressed in slippers that shuffle and hush a mother’s lullaby: shh, shh, shh — a finger to the lips, a gentle quieting wind through crisp leaves that have long ago fallen.

The light of the street-lamps echoes against the wet rooftops, and smears across the darkened windows of the abandoned factories turned chic lofts, or, in some instances, the windows behind which there is nothing but dust and ghosts of industry.

Cars lope by like lone wolves in the night, turning back to their caves before morning. Some figures stroll or stand about in the shadows, waiting.

My next door neighbor is the city bus terminal, and it emanates a florescent glare to stave off the dark before the morn. You can see brisk legs there, if you look down — passengers with their coffee mugs and budgets; students, mothers, fathers, homeless in their precarious poverty.

Slowly the light comes and the noise, and the leisure goes. A sense of purpose billows out through the air and I feel disheveled, unready — a pulley has been clipped to my ribs and gently tugs: come now, there are things to be done.

The hour is judged by the color of the sky: black, deepest blue, lightening navy that swiftly becomes sky-colored, and the clouds show themselves once more. The passage of time is reflected in swallows of coffee: how empty the cup, what temperature the liquid.

Bells toll in their small belfry down the street; I once told you they stood for my love, every chime a call: I love ____. I love ____. You who still sleep at this time, who welcomes the coming of the dark, while I await its going, and together we take dominion over the day. You who I leave safe to wake with coffee and kisses — I will bring you bundles of new sun like fireflies, and you take in the morning this way, in my handfuls.

I take mine as it would show itself: one singular burst over the rooftops, an overblown explosion popping sparklers through the clouds, and then fading too fast, as the grey blinds come down over the sun and shield the city from golden excess. The splash of warmth roils over the brick where it will rest for a moment, reminiscent of fireplace hearths, and swims speedily on eastward, to comfort other early-wakened souls.

The smokestacks close curtain over the departure and the fading crackles of applause give way to silence. My face is primed and painted, lacquered walls ready for company. The delicious moments of night into morning have passed, and the lamps are left without work, packing their briefcases and totes until the dusk comes, and another shift begins. They rest, darkened things, and unwind their burdens.

And I pick up mine, finessed at last into accepting that the fresh fleeting seconds are gone. I arrange myself, flowers in a crystal vase, open the door, and join my fellow wanderers in daylight.

#500WED: Digestion

There is not much of a consensus on the average total time of human digestion; figures vary from 17 hours to 72, which makes for a large margin of error, especially when digesting a day. I have a feeling yesterday is still with me, sorting itself into categories to be filed away within me:

  • Things learned
  • Things unlearned
  • Things made
  • Things unmade
  • Things improved
  • Things unimproved

and so on, until they have been tucked away into manila folders, positioned within sliding cabinet drawers, and shut away for later reference.

*

Yesterdays always seem to vanish as soon as they stop being todays. There is a smoky haze for a while, but that gradually disperses until only the smell remains, like extinguished fire. And soon that even is gone and all that remains is a memory of a smell — perhaps a vague outline of the sublimation process.

I can recall the fatigue, folding my arms into a sheltering pillow for my head that kept the sun at bay. My back stretched in its tight places. The marble counter was cool against my forehead. I remember the uncomforted feeling, the yearning for rest that was never fulfilled, but instead mollified with caffeine until it too was made small and almost invisible, only persisting in my joints where it released in doses when I moved. It was the lacquer over my eyes.

*

Restlessness always gets caught in my throat, a too large bite that was chewed too few times. It travels painfully toward my stomach, scraping against the walls of my esophagus. I imagine them red. I imagine them as watering eyes.

The stomach receives the mass regretfully, thrusting it up against the diaphragm, putting strain on the lungs. Then the breath comes quickly; the edifices for air cannot fully fill and the cycle of inhalations and exhalations is shortened; the snake eating its tail has lost some of its length.

An impatient finger has sped up the tape. Movements quicken with speeding need. Exhaustion swiftly lumbars in, but isn’t permitted to have its reign. There is pacing. There is panting. There is a consistent refrain of need.

*

The problem with these yesterdays is that so many of them look the same. They are not individuals, but purposeless clones that stack, one on top of the other, so that once one has made it through, is processed and gone, another is there to take up its mantle.

The monotonous conveyer belt churns silently. It is the long-sought perpetual motion machine, and it contains neither fantastic demon nor incredible ratchet. It is mundane.

*

What I mean to say is that the interest arises from the present, do you see? It is in the smelling, the careful cutting with knife and fork, the opening of the mouth, and the chewing (hardly part of digestion at all). The rest is instinctive, happening even in sleep; without control, without choice, where lies the value? There is little to pay, after all, for waste.

The valuable machine is active, operated with the strength of your hands. You must first will it to make, to do, and then compel it to be so. Live with it, within it, impart now your desires upon it.

Automation is inhuman. The valuable machine is not.

It’s now.

#500WED: Why?

Why write? Why breathe?

I will be moving through my life and encounter a sentence like a bubble floating up from the bottom of a lake. It will pop in front of my face, and I will see it with utter clarity; I will know where it wants to be taken. Like a small child, it will grab my hand and I will feel the warmth of it, the solid form of its structure and intent, and we will walk together as it grows. Soon there is not a child holding my hand, but a grown person, and it releases me, waving good-bye as it walks onward by itself, fully formed.

*

I have aspirations to become something, someone of worth and weight, whose name is not known globally, but in certain circles is taken quite seriously. I want to surprise those people, the understanding sort of people, with my desire to speak with them, to learn about them, and maybe later, to write about them.

*

I carry a moleskine with me everywhere. It is blue, and the pages roll like Pacific Ocean waves due to some accident of humidity or of my own. Some of the pages are filled with practical lines – places to be, things to remember, notes taken during meetings I would rather not have attended – but there are ideas there, concepts that have not yet taken a form. They are simple amoebas, gelatinously evolving over the course of words or pages, and I let them sleep for a while until they are ready to evolve. In the meantime they grow, and I chart their progress mentally, trying not to disturb them or let them know I’m watching.

They find me, you see. I don’t go searching for them.

*

I am a detective. I have the trench coat and magnifying glass, see? I can snoop things out. I will dust for fingerprints, and track footprints and trail markers, and solve any mystery because I have crafted myself such that it is so.

I have scrimped and saved for the clothes. The attire of a detective is not given, but earned, through small cases, and pennies found between cushions, and advances given (“half now, and half later”) until you don the coat, or the hat, or the shined up black shoes, and people look at you and think, “That must be a detective!”

In reality, these things only provide the necessary image. People expect a certain look, and if you don’t deliver, you aren’t worth your snuff. Anyway, money is not difficult to find, and it only occasionally takes much time. What you need, what makes your insides worthy, is the forging of the metal for the handle, the blowing of the glass. There will be many attempts, and many castaways, many failures smashed in shame upon the floor or melted down again and again until unusable.

Finally, though, there will be a magnifying glass, and it is yours. It is a thing of beauty because it is a thing of usefulness, and it is yours. If someone stole it, it would be useless; they don’t know it like you do: where to grasp, where to look, which angle can use the sun to etch burning into things (you admit, you’ve practiced).

It is yours. You have made it. It is yours.

*

Why breathe? Why bring in the air only to let it out again, a repetition bothersome with its triviality, its automated mindlessness – what use?

Have the air or eschew it. You tease yourself with fullness and with the lack of it, and all the while changing, moving – even in sleep you do not let go of it, this security blanket of constant momentum.

Stasis is death, you say, pointing to the ones who have ceased to breathe, and then you walk on toward another destination, moleskine in the breast pocket of the trench coat, magnifying glass at ready in hand, and the other waves as the child, now grown, turns toward its new horizon.

Why? Breathe. Write.