Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Stunting of the Heart: An Agony in Three Fits

Fit the First: Colossal Cave

Right foot wedged against vertical rock, left foot on ground as solid as rock can be beneath silk coverlet of cave dust, gaping chasm ahead. Left foot takes leap of faith, falls into space, lands in crevice. Straddling space. Hands find stone. There is advice offered, light from headlamps, quickened pulse a tom-tom counting fractions of a second, but nothing, really, but the next crevice, and the next. The cave shrinks in comparison to this single crack.

The open yaw below churns up the retardant of fear, stirs the breath loud and fast. Lean to the left and push away. Trust in the cave to catch the right foot as it skitters ahead. Looking into the abyss is a mistake, hungry darkness where ground is expected. Floating above takes all the taut, tensile strength of every muscle. Flying is hard work.

Two steps taken, an eternity remain. An impossible journey

Returning to the starting point, floating backward into the dark, a more impossible journey.

Breath. Trust. Step. Fall into the reality of wall, again and again. Make impossible reaches with the legs, noting nothing but the next step and the next and the next.

The terror hovers at chin level, not high enough to drown. The knowledge pushes forward, the knowledge that fear will only dissipate when the gap is conquered. Never start, fear remains. Turn back, fear remains. Reach the end, terror will drain away.

And then, the points become apparent. The advice is unnecessary. Fear is gone and the path is clear. There, and there, and there. Just bounce over the endless gap, and there is ground again. Throw one leg over. The hip pops. Pain with an internal vertigo. Here is where control is lost and the body falls backward into endless space.

But, no. Here is where the brain overrides the body, forces it forward again. Two feet on solid ground, the cave completed. Elation.

Fit the Second: The Key to Your Dreams

I’m going to try on wedding gowns with Lisa and Heather and Jack, because I am getting married in the spring. Between the back gate and the car, something the color of a quarter glitters in the dirt, and I bend over to pluck it up between my fingers. It is a key. Or rather, it is part of a key, the less useful part. The toothy business end has snapped off. This is just the bit with the hole, the part you grasp to turn or thread into a ring to attach to a fob.

There is a word molded into the metal. “Dreams,” the key taunts. It is the key to your dreams. And it is broken.

How? Why? This is my backyard. Who dropped this thing here, this broken dream half hidden in caliche? It haunts me all day as I slip in and out of my clothes, in and out of confections of lace and satin, things I never dreamed of, but need, now, in some way that never haunted my dreams. It was in my pocket, the broken key of dreams, but by the end of the day, it’s gone. While I was trying on fifty dresses in four boutiques, it must have slipped out.

Fit the Third: The Ghost of Relationships Past

They dated in college, and it ended badly, and you wouldn’t believe half the truth if you heard it, but people grow up, keep in touch sporadically. Ten years later she stood up on the bride’s side at his wedding, thinking about how she had really dodged a bullet. You wouldn’t believe any of it, the things he did, the things he said. He called her three years after that, manic, to tell her that he’d only just realized, years later, that she had loved him.

He wasn’t stable.

Something was wrong. You could tell, because his wife was vaguebooking, and there was something about a hospital, and something about needing prayers, and a few weeks later he started texting her, over and over, “Call me, please call me,” even though they hadn’t spoken in five years, since he realized she had loved him once. She gave in. “What’s wrong?” she asked, before small talk could smooth over the reentry.

He had tried to kill himself. Again. He had opened himself. He had always cut, long before anyone had even heard of cutting, he had cut. This time, he had cut deep and gotten lucky and he was not dead.

But he was dead, he said. He had died that night, he told her, his voice flat as a Kansas prairie and far off as the horizon. She asked questions she knew the answers to. He was home again, but it would be a long walk back into the light. He was reaching, searching. He had a wife, a child. The part of him that had lived remembered reasons for living, but he was dead. He had died. He needed others to pull him up from the well.

“Listen,” she said. “I want to tell you a story. Two stories. I went spelunking.”