Wednesday, November 11, 2009
How do you explain to anyone the experience of shipwreck – call it great exaggeration to use that metaphor for the effect of a fire in my old apartment building in an apartment above and one apartment over, leading to smoke and water damage (water sloshing the deck on the sinking ship) that forced me to move. You think first of survival. Find something to cling to and stay afloat.
The surviving parts of my cabin are transferred piece by piece. I am a strong bird constructing a nest from the detritus of my previous nest. In a few weeks my cabin looks much the same as my cabin in the ship that sank. I recreate the illusion of stability that I had before, but now it feels like a preparation for an Egyptian tomb. Death is imminent now, and I have gathered all I will need in my afterlife.
But this is my afterlife, the life after I, whose sole and most urgent longing all my life has been to have a stable habitude where my inner life might thrive, may briefly be free of the constant fear of merely floating on an ever melting ice floe, waiting to be forced into the next dislocation.
The cabin looks a great deal as it looked in the old ship, but inwardly the shipwreck lives on – the broken beams and floorboards, and the sinking into the cold ocean waters. And you know it is just a matter of time, too short a time, when you will be forced to move on, not even into death, just another laborious, mundane Judgement Day, an0ther grim reckoning, while comedians make jokes about how old people “seem to move into smaller and smaller spaces.” We who are growing older are not supposed to mention what it is like.
I feel like the man in Galway Kinnell’s verse “The Man on the Hotel Room Bed”:
“a man lying alone to avoid being abandoned,
who wants to die to escape the meeting with death.”
Meanwhile my numb self looks whole, polished to smoothness like a stone on the shore (that wishes to be that stone that skips merrily on the surface of moving water), and that is better than for anyone to see that inside you are all sticks thrusting out in all directions and wires impossibly entangled. After this time while you still lack the strength for the distraction of the common everyday lies, you will find the old awareness-deadening routine? Or be a changed man?
Of course, I can only write this because I have finally stepped out of packing, moving, unpacking, arranging, and played the idle man, spending an hour in a coffee shop – in my old neighborhood.
I told friends how, during the transition, I awoke one night to find the hose of my apnea C-PAC machine wrapped twice around my neck –
In that twisted time of the move, sleeping first on a mattress on a floor, then, amid debris, in my old bed, I awoke in the middle of the night and wrote,
“The lonely animal awakened again, having slept only briefly, and, using one hand as a grip, slide it down the length of his other arm as if removing an invisible sleeve. He froze there for a moment, his long thin arms hanging away from his bed like the two crossed legs of a sleeping deer.
“What vigil must his body make each night, waking to know-not-what. Wander out of bed – bathroom, kitchen – nothing needed there, but he takes a drink of cold water.
“Soon sleep will cushion him again, take him back into its arms, an invitation to return to some dark place in the foliage, nest of the soul.”
It reminded me of another time when I felt displaced and became a sleepwalker. At about age 8, after returning to my family from the year when they left me with an Italian family, the first clue that I was having a nervous breakdown was when an aunt discovered that I was a sleepwalker. Was I looking for a way to return to my Italian family? They, of course, could not accept my living with them forever while that was precisely what I was looking for, trying to find my way back to the Marantos, although there, too, I would feel displaced, on loan, borrowed. Am I always longing for “the place” (I know I am, but I never know for sure what that is), and never finding it? Is that true for everyone? Does everyone have a sense that anyone’s life is an exile? Maybe this newly reconstructed nest will become, albeit briefly, my “place.”
It feels important to find my “present life” again, but, with this move, even more than previous ones, I am looking through every storage box – This will be a slow process -- and each box releases some number of ghosts, dragging me back into the past to reconcile why I have kept these mementos, like old bones. A couple packets of letters – not many, but saved, clearly, because they were the most intense and meaningful. On my blog, I may have a series of “REDISCOVERIES.”