“But we cannot simply sit and stare at our wounds forever.” – Haruki Murakami
There’s light at the top of the stairs.
(It was never light before. His door was closed, his window shut, his blinds drawn against people, sun, wind and stars.
It was always dark at the top of the stairs.)
So we opened the blinds, opened the window, painted the wall facing it firefly yellow.
There’s a great blue heron in a frame by the front door.
(Before there was a photo, enlarged, of us at the helm of our wedding boat.)
The heron bends her slender neck into an S, one talon in mid-air, about to step, strike, but not impatient, peering out with one yellow eye.
The front door is now a cool deep forest green, like pine needles.
(It used to be a color I can’t even name, like dust.)
I think the heron likes it.
But you still can’t unlock the deadbolt from the outside.
I kept the coyote skull.
(It was a present I brought back to him from up north, a wild piece of my mother’s land.)
He didn’t argue.
It sits on the shelf with our first dog’s ashes.
The basement is pink.
(Man cave no more.)
The rug I put there is absurd, impractical: soft, fluffy and white as bone.
At least for now.
We can worry about later, later.
Foxes squawk day and night on the other side of the fence.
(His name means ‘fox’ in another language.)
There are snakes and skinks in the garden, in the roses, in the stones, as always.
But this year, the cicadas have come, awkward and noisy as any seventeen-year-old ever has been.
(We’d been together seven years the last time this brood surfaced.)
They’ve been waiting, and now it’s time.
The ground is warming, and they’re crawling up through the roots to the air.
They’re breaking out of their husks: first ghostly white, inky black within hours. A delightful inversion of the human aging process.
(They’ve been waiting roughly 20 million times longer than it takes to read this paragraph.)
And then they sing.
There must be an inherent soft spot in that husk. They all break open there, just at the midpoint of the thorax. They climb, attach, shove, push, break, unfold, bend backwards until they’re free, and their red eyes see the world.
Their purpose is fixed.
I was opened, a strange surrogacy and c-section.
Do I have an inherent soft spot?
(Does the man who made the cut, who folded me open, who saw my insides, who held my organs, know something about me that nobody else does?)
The opening has healed, becoming harder to see but easier to feel.
Narrowing, diminishing to the eye,
And easier, day by day, to step through entirely,
Inverting myself out into the world:
A door through which I can finally pass,
This is a whole house I carry,
In and out.
No one else will walk its halls.
I always liked to pick scabs.
I took pictures of bottles
From under the bed,
Arrayed like a family portrait.
I took screenshots
Of terrible things he wouldn’t say out loud,
And kept the words close.
Shit is fertilizer.
Roses grow out of dirt.
Roots feed the patient nymphs
Who know their own time.
The ultrasound wand is going the wrong way across my belly, to the left to the left to the left. Looking for liver.
It’s grown back:
Not in the right place,
But in the left place.
The door is open.
There’s light at the top of the stairs.
Welcome to the house we’re building out of our own scars.
This is what happens when I’m asked to set the scene for my own healing. I’ve never been what you’d call an outdoorsy kind of girl; my favorite place for stargazing is from a hot tub. But I do walk the dog in the park, about three miles every day. I say hello to the snakes when I find them in my garden, and I escort all manner of insects and spiders out of the house if they’re too large to share it with me. (Stinkbugs are allowed to stay. I don’t even know why.) And when I look around at my house, that I tried to make a home with my alcoholic ex-husband, that I’m now re-creating for myself, the things that speak to me most loudly are all inspirations from nature.
The great blue heron we are sometimes lucky enough to see on our walks. I adopted her as my familiar during the worst of the strife, grief and uncertainty. The remarkable thing about her is that she appears to be motionless. You could mistake her for a statue, she’s so still. You wait and you wait and you wait, and she’ll barely shift a single feather. Until she strikes, unfurling like a lightning bolt at the water. And she never comes up without a fish.
Quite some time had passed since the coyote had curled up like she was sleeping, at the foot of a big old pine. When we found her, her flesh was gone, her fur puddled around her bones like a soft blanket. No scavengers had scattered her. We marveled at each bleached segment of her resting skeleton. I picked up her skull, and then I couldn’t put it down. Mom covered the rest of her with pine boughs. I later had a dream in which I was very old, and was living on that spot where we’d found her dormant bones: it was called Coyote’s Rest. I told Mom about the dream, and she promptly made a sign from weathered boards, and nailed the dream name up on a tree for all to see.
My dog is a big fan of the cicada swell; he’s never seen anything like this, and won’t again. For him, it’s an all-day, all-you-can-eat, crunch-squish buffet. I believe he’s actually gaining weight. I’ve taken to walking around the yard with him and rescuing the visible adults. They’re absurdly gentle, barely moving, almost sleepy. But when I pluck them from the leaves and branches, and toss them gently over the fence, they fly.
I had elaborate plans to cover my scar with a tattoo, a great thorny rose blooming at the base of my sternum, springing from a leafy green vine winding over and up from my right side. But it’s two-and-a-half years old now, and beautifully healed. (It was a plastic surgeon who closed me. I suspect that the medical profession wants living liver donors to advertise, and for that they shouldn’t look like they’ve been to a chop shop.) I massage it daily, kneading deeply along the fissure to keep adhesions at bay. It is as familiar to me as my face. So now not only am I not covering it with ink, I’m buying bathing suits in two pieces. I want people to see it, and to wonder what they think they know about me, from where I was opened.
We know our own time, too. We get distracted by the bruising crush of living the lives that are expected of us, but we have the knowledge that lives in a quieter place, that we can reach when we slow down, step away, breathe.
I remember being told so often, in the middle of the chaos: you’ll know when you’re ready. (To leave him, that is.) This would drive me absolutely bonkers. No one could say how I would know. So how could I know how I would know? Yes, this does start to sound stupid after a while, but I think the most profound things are like that. They’re tricksters, like old coyote. They’re hiding deeply in simplicity.
I did know when I was ready. (I can tell you what happened, but I don’t think it’s the same thing as telling you how. I know, frustrating, isn’t it?) It’s been almost a year since I found that final bottle that I didn’t want to be there, that I was sure was there. And I was right. I was so right, it was in the first hiding place I looked: I went straight to it, like I held a dowser’s wand for booze instead of water. And in that sick sense of falling for the last time, the phase change was complete. I was no longer the same person who’d stayed. I was now someone else.
I knew my own time.
If you could use some help knowing when you are ready, and how and what to do…we invite you to join us in our Echoes of Recovery program for the loved ones of alcoholics.