As an aside, I mentioned the little toe on my right foot to Amy, my ND, at our appointment two weeks ago. She was about to do cranial sacral work on me, and I’d shared what seemed pertinent within my body, mind, and heart. It didn’t actually seem like much, which is funny to me now.
When Amy asked if there was anything else I wanted her to know about, I paused, almost didn’t say it, but then did: “Well, there’s my toe.”
A weekend of camping and walking on uneven terrain had left it aching a little. I’d broken it nine months before, and since then, after the acute pain had gone away, these aches would pop up now and then. “You should get it looked at,” Mike said to me more than once.
My reply was pretty consistently: “It’s a broken little toe. It just needs to heal on its own.” Maybe that was true. And, for the last nine months there’d been so many other parts of me aching or hurting or in distress that honestly, the toe seemed like low priority.
At my appointment, other aches had graciously receded, and my toe had been pulsing with especially vibrant pain. So I mentioned it.
I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen in this healing session. Or the clear message I would get. Or maybe I was prepared, ready somehow, and didn’t know it. Anyway, on the table in Amy’s office, what happened gave me my way forward. But I had to go back first, because that’s where it took me and where I needed to go.
For a while now, I’ve been here, but not here. Living half of my life. You might not have known this from my attempts at graceful facebook posts or my newsletters or even conversations in which I sometimes share humor or flashes of insight or anger or the ache of grief. You might not have known the excruciating effort it’s taken to rally myself to do life in a way that looks like I’m here, to simply get halfway there. But in private, in solitude, and sometimes in front of only my beloved, I stare off at a place in the distance, one that I can’t even see, and part of me is there.
“Are you here?” Mike will ask.
Sometimes I try to explain the wordless ache, the sadness without a clear anchor. Sometimes I try to anchor it with an oh, I’m thinking about this particular loss or horror, but most often I don’t because it feels like letting out all of those motherfucking snakes on that motherfucking plane, and this isn’t a movie and I don’t have Sam Jackson to help me. Most often, when he asks, I turn my head back to Mike, willing the spirit of me back into my body, and get it yanked about halfway in. I force the memory of a smile onto my lips and say, “Yes.” Which is only partly true. Part of me is here, and part of me is there.
Although I can’t see it, it feels lighter there, a mild blend of breeze and sunshine, and I can hear the rhythm of waves. Sometimes I’m laughing. Sometimes holding hands with someone I love. Sometimes I raise something sweet to my lips and taste orchards and vines. There, I dance a lot. There, I don’t feel bound and gagged, weary and worn. It’s just…better. So, I’ve been here, but not here.
Here, I find occasional bright spots. I have gift moments of connection with Mike and other humans I love, with fir trees and hummingbirds who don’t care if I’m smiling or not. I still love editing and mentoring, and spending time focusing on someone else and their story can offer such sweetness.
But I’d be lying if I said that was true most of the time.
Here I’m just often trying to get to there, on the hunt for escape hatches. Scroll mindlessly through Facebook. Netflix. Watch, read, stare. Watch, read, stare. Except for Criminal Minds. Not watching that or anything like it anymore. Can’t take in the glamorization of what happens to women in real life. What happens to us. What happened to her. I need fantasy, comedy, often familiar things so I don’t really have to pay attention. Like rewatching all seven seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer for maybe the tenth time.
Last fall, Tricia was watching Buffy for the first time. She was on Season 5 and disgruntled, as I was the first time I saw it, that Buffy suddenly had a sister, Dawn. A human but not human, formed from mystical energy, Dawn was also a key to a portal between worlds. I meant to chime in on Tricia’s Facebook post about it, to assure her that ultimately it felt right for Buffy to have a sister, that it all worked out in a beautiful story arc, that she’d see if she just kept watching. But I hadn’t gotten around to mentioning it.
Last fall was also when my half-life began.
I think it started when I broke that little toe on my right foot. Or maybe the break in a tiny bone I never had treated, a crack in my foundation, the reverberation through the bone down the side of my foot, allowed for something that was already lurking to slip in and fester and form.
Either way, I broke my little toe and jammed the bone on the side of my right foot on November 11, 2016. Ironically, Mike and I were having people over that Friday night, just after the election, encouraging friends to come together, not to isolate, even though something terrible had just happened in our country, a long string in something terribles, one that stretches back to another place I can’t see but sometimes feel. One that has continued to unravel forward.
Anyway, I was rushing to get something ready I didn’t need to be rushing to get ready in the living room before our guests arrived, and I cracked my little toe on the corner of the wooden leg of the couch. It wasn’t an oh shit it’s stubbed and then better a half hour later event. It was a throb and swell situation. Angela, who got there first, generously sat and gave me reiki, but a bruise bloomed in regal purple and my foot swelled to queen-sized before the night was out.
The next week my birthday came and went. It didn’t seem all that relevant given that the night before, a writer I love had a hate crime perpetrated against her and her family. I struggled to find the right response – words, money, love?
I limped around for the rest of November and into December. I led a retreat called “Rebirth the Heroine” in my living room, and that was actually a bright spot. Inspired by a feminist crafting book gift from my friend Arin, we took those tall churchy candles and some mod podge and declared some new saints. For mine, I glued the head of Buffy onto an angel’s body and declared her Saint Buffy.
As Christmas approached, I didn’t feel like doing anything. I got sick and couldn’t go out on Christmas eve, but rallied for Christmas day with Mike’s family and Boxing Day with friends. We almost spent the night, but I had the urge to get home. Back in our apartment, I found a strange message notification in my email, which prompted me to look on Facebook and discover that Tricia, my vibrant friend in the middle of season five of Buffy, was missing. She’d left her apartment the night before to go join friends for Christmas dinner and never arrived. She’d missed her flight that morning to see her family across the country, in Oregon, where I live.
I knew that missing women don’t often turn up with happy stories to tell and felt my insides twist. My friend who was such a light. Who drew people close with her shining warmth and compassion and playfulness.
Mike watched me crouched into the screen of my laptop and didn’t want me to get sucked into more bad news on Facebook, staring at a screen as though it would make things better. I didn’t either. I had been doing so much of that.
I shared the information about Tricia, clinging to the hope that someone would see her car and find her, that some harmless kooky story would be revealed.
I got off Facebook and went to work, doing what I could do from far away. I lit my Buffy candle and made an altar. I drew animal medicine cards and centered my thoughts on protection for my friend. I reached into my bones and prayed hard, as hard as I had the night my dad was rushed to the hospital, which was with all my might. I hadn’t changed his death when I was fourteen, and I hadn’t changed Tricia’s either.
By that time, although I didn’t know it, she was already gone. Someone took her life in the most brutal of ways.
For the next day, the next week, for all through January, I found it hard to stop crying. The grief and shock were in my body, everywhere. Having sex, I felt constantly triggered. Watching the news, I felt triggered. Walking around, I felt triggered. I struggled to be.
In January, I went to a writing workshop in San Miguel de Allende, and with the compassionate guidance of our workshop facilitator Gigi and the support of new writer friends, I started an essay about enduring in the wake of such grief. While I was there, Lisa, one of the beautiful writers I was in the midst of working with, also died suddenly. Not brutal, like Tricia’s death, but shocking. She was working on a book about women and home. We’d only talked via phone but dreamed of having coffee in person one day to talk about all the things we had in common. Even though I wanted to crawl into the bed inside my heart, I made myself participate in the rest of the workshop, for Tricia and for Lisa.
After January, I don’t know. I did things. I worked. I made things – salads, jokes, and sometimes the bed. I even went out in public. I did an exercise routine for three weeks in a row. I accomplished things, even though I felt like I was on a slow treadmill to nowhere. As I said, I had moments of connection, and I don’t mean to say that none of it counted or wasn’t real. It did and it was. I mean to say, I wasn’t all there. I’ve been here and not here.
Last month, an old friend and lover died suddenly and tragically, too. The next day, the trees in our backyard were chopped at and shaven like Aslan’s fur in that terrible scene in Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Death at the stone table. Desolation. How long can a person stand at the stone table and survive?
And everywhere, it seems, bigotry, misogyny, cruelty and hatred on parade, marching, marching.
This year has been marked by such pain and loss. At times the loss I’ve experienced feels big, and at times it feels miniscule when I consider the suffering around me. Still, it’s there. I’ve been so low and off in my body and heart that I’ve felt like something was seriously wrong with me.
So last month, I went to see my Naturopath. I had full panels of bloodwork. I had my annual exam. All of it came back mostly normal. We talked about some hormonal things I could do, but mostly, she said, what I had was a lack of vitality. She thought some cranial sacral work might be helpful. I scheduled a few appointments out, ready to be helped.
The first few appointments were so nourishing. They helped my belly and my head. They helped my nervous system. When it came to that last appointment I had scheduled, I almost felt like I didn’t need it. I thought I was doing pretty well.
Well enough that I finally mentioned my toe.
During the session, Amy worked on the right side of my right foot and I noticed some pop-my-eyes-open pain as she pressed down and away from my little toe.
“You have some scar tissue stored here,” she said.
“Probably some emotional scar tissue too.” I laughed, then knew it wasn’t funny.
“Tell me more about that. What does it feel like? Does it have a texture or…?” One of the things I love about my ND is that she knows I speak poetry medicine. Metaphor healing.
I had a flash of a web, like one from a big spider, like that monstrous spider in Lord of the Rings, the scenes brought to life in the movie that are hardest for me to watch. “It feels sticky and white,” I said, “like that spider’s web in Lord of the Rings.”
All I could see behind my closed eyes was that image of Frodo, mummified in spider webbing, half of the life drained from him. So alone. Doomed. Frodo was me.
“Is there an ally here for you?” When we’d done visualization before, we’d talked about being open to whatever beings showed up to offer support. Sometimes I had whales, sometimes trees, sometimes wise old women. This day, my mind conjured up a lion, Aslan style, but his mane quickly blurred out of the picture. It was a lioness, standing close to me, watching.
As Amy pressed into the spot on my foot, loosening scar tissue, I thought of Frodo so alone, but then suddenly Sam not having given up on him, coming in and cutting him out of it. I wanted someone to come in and cut me out of the webbing.
Amy held a tender spot. “There’s a fear here. What is it?”
The lioness put her paw on my leg. “Of not being rescued,” I said, tears in my throat. “Of not having a brave friend show up to save you.”
As I realized Frodo wasn’t just me, I felt a tidal wave rise up from my gut. This was about something bigger. The wave rolled through me and arched my back off the table. The words spilled out of my mouth with a sob, “I wish I could have saved her.”
Vibrant pain. Vibrant friend.
I clamped one hand over my eyes and the other over my mouth. This truth was too big. This grief was too big. I wanted to run. I wanted to run all the way back to that night across the country. I wanted to storm into the past with a sword, with all of my bravery to save my friend. I wanted to do something I couldn’t do. The impossibility felt like it would drown me.
Amy encouraged me to let my grief flow. I sobbed. I shook. I couldn’t believe I had more tears in me.
I hated all of it.
She held my foot and shared the words that came to her, something about the need to be clear and present to move forward. Something about being present to reality, to what is here, so I could go on. I don’t remember the words exactly, but the truth of it rang loud and clear in my heart.
I’d been here but not here for almost nine months, long enough to give birth to something, and maybe long enough to now look death in the face.
The lioness put her paw on my foot and then breathed into my face. Warm. Not mouth to mouth, but maybe female to female.
In that moment, to heal, I knew I needed let myself gently wake to the reality of what is, to turn away from all of the escape hatches and be here. All the way here. To feel all of it, every bit.
“We need you here,” Amy said.
I needed to hear that. It helps to hear that it might matter for me to be here. I’ve been wanting to run all the way back into the past to change all the awful. Or leap into an imaginary future, past the caverns of shit and struggle. But the past and the future have been holding parts of me hostage for too long.
Here’s the truth: for what feels like too much of the time, I still don’t want to be here. But right now I am, and one day it will be otherwise. And if I’m going to be here, damn it, I’m going to be all the way here.
Being all the way here is a choice. One I will probably have to keep making. I can’t live in half a reality so that half of me can pretend everything is different than it is. Or at least I don’t want to. I know it’s not what I’m called to, and it’s not how Tricia lived.
After our session, Amy told me that the intensity of my grief showed the intensity of my love, for my friend and for the world. I believe that to be true. I love this world so hard that some might find it foolish, that even I find it overwhelming. But under the overwhelm is a me, rooted in the present, willing to choose it, knowing I can ride a tidal wave of grief and not lose myself. And so, I will be all the way here.
All the way here means living in a country where Charlottesville happens, where white supremacy has made a horrible violent mess of everything. Where I choose to be part of the clean up, the reframing, the renewal.
All the way here means standing in the rain after fifty-seven days of dry, heat, and smoke in Portland and crying with the sky, in my pajamas on our porch. Open to the water as hope and blessing. Grateful to and mindful of the water protectors who were shot by rubber bullets in the cold last winter.
All the way here means having a panic attack after breakfast without knowing exactly why, as well as having one on a dusky walk home as a woman alone, and knowing exactly why.
All the way here means getting up at four a.m. to go experience the totality of the solar eclipse, like I did this week, to travel with friends to witness the moon pass over the sun. It means knowing the solar eclipse was paired with a new moon, all of it happening in the sign of Leo, the lion. It means bearing witness to the dark being held by the light, and the light being balanced by the dark. It means understanding that light has more than one face. It means knowing in that moment that I am not separate, that I am whole.
All the way here means Buffy suddenly has a sister when she didn’t before, and friends are not here when they were before. It means living with what I can and can’t do, who I can and can’t save. It means that sometimes villains are obvious and sometimes there is no villain. And sometimes even people who make beautiful things, like beloved TV series about strong women, can behave in terrible ways.
All the way here means being present to the biggest pain in the smallest part, the tiniest sliver of delight in the grand canyon of despair. Recognizing insight in the ache, love in the grief, and myself in the universe.
All the way here means standing at the stone table long enough both to witness the massacre and to hear the roar of the lioness already risen and standing close, to know that maybe she is me. It means feeling the rhythm of the earth under my feet and tapping into my instinct for survival, for life, for joy. Hunting for it with all my might, all my me, however broken and broken hearted, for as long as I’m here.
Thank you so much for reading. You might notice that I don’t have a space for comments, but I’m certainly open to conversation about what’s written here. If you’re so inspired, feel free to start a conversation with me via the contact form on the homepage of this site.
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