The first thing I felt, before my eyes opened, was the coolness of the bathroom tile against my cheek, as calm, placid, and cool as a forest lake—as though I’d never felt coolness before, as a baby might feel it, as someone without memory files.
The first thing I saw was a roll of toilet paper above me. How odd, and why were the walls at strange angles, like a white-on-cream cubist painting or quirky stage set—like flat surfaces that did not know they were walls, that were not yet tamed into being straight up.
It was the middle of the night. I was alone. I was flat on the bathroom floor.
Ill and light-headed, I had thought I might faint so took a pillow with me, but I missed it. I have scrapes on my forehead, a bruise above my right eyebrow, and small gash across my nose. Also a junior-size bump above my left ear and two splits inside my left upper lip. It is a Rorschach test to figure how I landed, though clearly my face led the way.
In the few days since I have rested, gardened, and questioned. What really matters? Who am I? Are politics or art more important? How many people will die without health care? Have I overcome or neutralized or morphed through the pains and betrayals of my life, or not?
That last question is one I’ve focused on for several weeks. My therapist on the afternoon before the night of fainting reminded me that trauma is cumulative. I recently opened the lid to the anteroom of my losses. One can go on, gain strength and even love through loss—including loss through betrayal and harm—but pain and loss don’t go away, they just become more companionable. Mine had become dark overstuffed upholstered chairs mildewing in the corner badly in need of cleaning and new stuffing.
This blog is not specifically about my traumas, but about the twining of love, loss, and grief. That someone arbitrarily harmed you, that they turned into a monster, does not mean you can retract your love without feeling loss. In fact, you can find your way to detach from the person, even to stop loving them, even to forgetting them over time, but you cannot cancel out the sense of loss. You loved. Love, too, is cumulative, and it remains.
No, this blog is not specifically about my trauma, but to give you a sense of my creds. I lost my child in a custody suit, suffered physical and emotional domestic violence, my “soul mate” third husband had a separate secret life complete with apartments in San Francisco and Beijing, and my childhood was an exercise in emotional stoicism.
I now live three blocks from my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren and our lives are filled with love. I got out of the abusive marriage 40 years ago, and that husband died after 20 years living in a banana grove. The “soul mate” married someone as fraudulent as he is and lives far away. I feel no need for vengeance.
And my parents became sweet and loving the last years of their lives. I tended them both into peaceful deaths. I also was there when my only sibling, my brother, died suddenly, a loss felt deeply.
But let us return to exploring how feeling loss proves you know how to love.
Loss is loss is loss and feeling or re-feeling losses can be disorienting. It can make walls go slant. It scales away your self-definition, and tries to strip away your persona, leaving you with the choice to let that persona go and find your way in the land of no self-definition and confusion, or to try to tamp down your painful losses and lock them in an anteroom, clinging to your persona as though you think it is who you are.
We all, in fact, always exist in the state where self-definitions are constructed trappings, attempts to not be frightened by the magnitude of being alive. When was the last time you tried to perceive the cosmos? When did you meditate into bliss? When did you last see the world as a baby before you decided walls go straight up?
Besides musing these past days, I watched two episodes of “Xena: Warrior Princess” and two episodes of “Star Trek.” Both firsts for me. The acting in Xena is hilariously bad and Star Trek is, so to speak, a world of its own.
What is of most interest is that the ads are about life insurance or things needed to breath right, i.e. equipment to clean your nose, and equipment to clean your sleep time breathing equipment, and things to do so you don’t feel guilty for dying. That is, the ads are for declining baby boomers who want re-runs of vicarious thrills rather than getting off the sofa—or facing up to that they spend too much time on the sofa.
We Americans are not good at looking at our lives. It can be painful. Not one of us with any age has not at some time been in a morass of lost love. It can dissolve a persona so thoroughly that the actual person is not sure which way is up, where her feet are, or what is ahead. The walls slant.
But I prefer loss of self-definition, as least for awhile. I prefer its freedom. I prefer finding my way through the loss to the love that had, and has, its home in my cells. The love did not go away when the lover, or parent, or friend, or betrayer died or left.
As trauma is cumulative, so is love.
I prefer beauty, and touch, and taste, and colors, and music, and the twining growth of wisteria up my house, and the cool nose of my dog, and the glint of rose off the sides of wet fish, and the whiff of sage, and my grandson’s smile when he spies a joke in the air, and making love in a soft bed with linen sheets and someone who goes there with me.
I prefer not to feel the bruises on my face but the cool smooth tile on my cheek. I love the hydrangea bush I planted yesterday, and that I could help its shocked branches by staking them upright. I love tending plants.
I want to be here, alive, mucking around in the sensations of being alive, even if I lose people and things. The hydrangea flowers will die but the plant bloomed.
I prefer to have the door to the anteroom of losses open so I can explore it for forgotten gems, find what was good and what was bad and say “I am here,” even if I do not know who I am or how large the cosmos is or when my body will die.
We endure the losses in order to become love experiencing life.
Love is cumulative and it is tough, and will tend us as surely as I tend the hydrangea.