Sunday, September 11, 2016

#SOL16: Hold Back Time

From my art journal (September 11, 2016 - gesso, acrylic paint, Stabilo pencil, digital text)


I have been trying to hold back time--to stop the 14th of September from arriving. I was unaware I was thinking this. Some ideas rest well beneath conscious thought and this apparently is one. Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking writes that after the death of her husband, she was
"... in no way prepared to accept this news as final: there was a level on which I believed that what had happened remained reversible. That was why I needed to be alone...I needed to be alone so that he could come back. This was the beginning of my year of magical thinking" (pp. 32-33).

And like Didion's thinking then, I have been believing that if this year's September 14th did not arrive, then there would be the possibility to fix that Monday, a year ago. I could say to Rob, Don't get that port put in. Don't let that surgeon ever touch you again. Bad things are going to happen. Things we won't be able to fix. Let's sleep in. Don't set the alarm. Don't do it. Stay home. We'll go to a different hospital. Trust me. Trust me.

I think, I could save my husband. I could.
This is magical thinking.


Late March, I read Didion's book. At that time, I was stuck in a too-thick fog and I did not think about the title, nor consider the idea of magical thinking. I was more caught up in her narration of events. Tragedy was so familiar.  I knew daily trauma more than I remembered life before Rob's illness and death. And so Didion's series of events that felt so relentless, made sense. A friend recently asked if I had read the book and I said, Yes, thinking it had no effect. A week ago I returned to it and was quite surprised to find it so new, so unread.

Early this morning I was out walking when I went to record an idea on my phone. I recorded, I want to hold back time. Then I looked to see what other things I had recorded working down a list until I clicked an untitled recording from last March and literally stumbled when Rob's phone greeting began. "This is Rob..." I remembered that before I turned his phone in, I recorded the greeting. This morning I hardly recognized the sound of it.  It simply was not as I remembered.

Grief and time shade memory, shape what we know.


Didion tells us, "Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life" (p. 27).  After six months, I feel I should be further along, but I know those waves--they burst over me, pulling me from this life I am trying to make and I remember Rob is dead.

Sometimes there is no wave, no fit. Rather my stomach suddenly free falls and fear clenches and I just know something terrible will happen and then, then I remember: it has.


Magical thinking is largely reserved for the bereaved, for the lost, for those of us whose grasp on the present is less certain. We look so normal, so courageous and in many ways we are neither and both.

Magical thinking distances us from grief, like a mental barrier between the terror grief signifies and the desperate wanting we know like skin.  It insulates us from heart break.

At some point each week I make a brief inventory, noting how well I have gotten on. I don't mean to do this, I just do. I note that I am putting one foot in front of the other and that I am living. Sometimes I am surprised to find myself trying to strike a bargain with God, offering up my goodness, my small slice of normalcy for the return of my husband.

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