Thursday, January 19, 2017

#SOL17: Only, Say, A Gesture

Winter Tree (M.A. Reilly, 2014)

In the winter I am writing about, there was much darkness. Darkness of nature, darkness of event, darkness of the spirit. The sprawling darkness of not knowing. We speak of the light of reason. I would speak here of the darkness of the world, and the light of _______. But I don’t know what to call it. Maybe hope. Maybe faith, but not a shaped faith— only, say, a gesture, or a continuum of gestures. But probably it is closer to hope, that is more active, and far messier than faith must be. Faith, as I imagine it, is tensile, and cool, and has no need of words. Hope, I know, is a fighter and a screamer. - Mary Oliver, p 147, Upstream: Selected Essays 


The last week or two I have felt out of sorts. Restless in my own skin. Unsettled. Sad as definition. I have been waiting find out if the chest x-ray the ENT required shows illness and this afternoon I learned that it does not. It is these tense times that I feel Rob's absence all the more.  My confidant, gone. The intimacy we knew so well, no more. 

But it isn't only the anxiousness of test results and steroids that find me off-kilter. I look back at the calendar to see what exactly was happening a year ago--to see if my body remembers what my mind seems to have forgotten. 

What I mostly recall is darkness. 


Most mornings I entered the hospital so early--daylight was more memory than fact. And it was cold, dark night by the time I stepped out--so late that even the parking attendants had long left for home and the remaining silence was so acute that the coldness was its own sound. In a matter of days, Rob would be returned to the hospital from the Kessler Rehab center. He would be transported the night after a blizzard dumped more than two feet of snow because he was too sick to be cared for at the facility. We would learn in the matter of hours in the curtained-off ER room that another staph infection--the third in four months--was undermining Rob's health. Hospitals with all of their human neglect are hell on the body. Seven weeks later someone who had stolen Rob's debit card number from him while he was a patient at Kessler would buy $800 of musical equipment from a store in Nashville, Tennessee, but by that time--Rob would be dead.

It's strange how memory works, fails to work, and how distance allows for new ways of naming what I want to tie up neatly and call the past. If only. And yet, these days, I think of the past more as folded space-time than linear chronology. Invention, like heart ache, is more Möbius strip than orientable line. 


One evening a friend tweets a link to a video of John Berger in conversation with Susan Sontag. It's an exchange about story telling.  And I tune in carefully when I hear him say: 

"Somebody dies. It's not just a question of tact that one then says, well, perhaps it is possible to tell that story. It's because, after that death, one can read that life. The life becomes readable.”   

At first I think, Yes. Yes. And there is comfort in these words. The readable life offers a neatness--a slight gesture that might help to situate pain and grief and possibility. If only Rob's life could be held in the palm of my hands--carefully--then I might be able to know the whole of it--the extent of what I feel. 

But such knowing is not possible. It's similar to what Mary Oliver says about winter, "The sprawling darkness of not knowing." That's what living is largely about. We are so extraordinarily vested in knowing, in naming, in codifying that not knowing remains unrevealed.


In some ways, it is comforting to think of Rob's life as a familiar narrative structure that has a beginning, middle and end. But that is more story than not. What I fail to first account is how longing folds space-time like a worn linen handkerchief unexpectedly found at the bottom of a drawer he always used. There it is. 

No, not waiting

It simply is like any number of other unexceptional things that will be found and lost and recalled as the days refold, come round again. Now that there are moveable borders, the stories seem to have more weight, seem to have less weight.  Each memory is so often (in)formed by the context that gives rise and permission for that recollection to have formed.  Make no mistake here, though: I am not an author in these accounts--at least not yet. 

I am a gap finder. 
A gap filler.
A framer of light.
A bear-witness to what forms when breath is lost.


The first year after Rob's death finds me well acquainted with the incompleteness of gesture. With widowhood there is more suggestion, than codification. It is as it must be. 

What is hard to name reveals a partial language. It is what I cannot seem to tell here--at least to story-tell with any clarity that gesture best connotes. Bearing the loss of my husband is eclipsed only by bearing this new life I am composing. It is this claiming that disrupts the narrative. 


And so we beat on.  

Nick believed in that orgiastic green light, a beacon of hope.

It is this heartache that forms me. 
It is this courage that rises alongside the pain that forms its own alphabet.
And I want to read what is being made.

Everything I have forgotten burns like cold, hot fire against a too-dark January night.  

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