Picture it–(Sicily, 1947)–just kidding, it was probably around 1980-1981. I was roughly three or four years old. I lived in a tiny place in the frozen tundras of Alberta, a province in the great forested wilds of a country named Canada. The town was called Tin Town. Tin town was basically rows upon rows, huddled up to the street, of small mobile homes with some geniuses idea to use metal sheets on the roof and outside. Metal sheets, guys–I don’t know if any of you have stuck your head inside an oil drum while someone cranks out a drum-beat from Pantera upon it, but it’s pretty much what it sounds like whenever it rained, sleeted or hailed.
These were the “lower ranked” military housing, set below the much more majestic actual houses on a far off hill where I assume the higher ranking Canadian military families all drank expensive water and had expensive parties or something.
It is night. (Remember: you’re picturing this with me.) Our tiny little tin coffin is darkened and silent as the night cloaks all in stillness. My father–a long time sufferer of a horrible back and gout-ridden feet, often slept on the couch at night as it was more solid and more supportive than the bed. In our tiny little metal box, my room was at the very end of a short hallway that looked right out through the kitchen and into the living room; facing the living room’s large picture window. Below the picture window was the couch. And on that couch was my father, arms crossed over his chest, feet crossed at the ankles and grey-wool sock covered feet peeking out from under a blanket. I knew he was fast a sleep because it seemed as if he were sawing the winter’s worth of aspen trees for kindling. AKA: Holy mother of Odin, my father could out-snore a drunk bear.
And so, like most three-to-four year olds, I had gone through my list of Things I Could Do To Avoid Going To Sleep such as the number one hit: I Have To Pee, and, I Have to Pee Again, as well as, Read Me Another Story! and my favorite, I’m Hungry! as well as the other not-as-well-known usual night time favorites. Having annoyed the living fuck out of my parental units so much that they fell asleep, exhausted, obviously ignoring my needs–I felt rather betrayed. And upset. And so, I began:
This battle was not a grand thing. There were no towering men and women in shimmering suits of armor; silver, gold or painted rainbows on a field of honor. There were no trumpets or galloping, no glory or majestic verses sung of my bravery as I fought because the battle sometimes happened between me and the bed. You don’t get stirring ballads when you struggle to put clothes on every morning. When you think: I don’t want to wake up, I want to go back to sleep and dream. I want to pull the blankets over my head and lay in the dark. I would battle to open my eyes and stare at my ceiling, listening to the sound of cats chasing each other through the house or the birds jabbering away at one another. Five minutes, ten minutes, sometimes an hour or three would pass as I drifted between a skittery sleep that skimmed the surface of deeper rest.
After the war to wake up then get out of bed came the fight to take care of myself. Putting one foot in front of the other felt like walking on the bottom of the ocean being crushed by the waves. My feet were in lead boots keeping me below the waves, too far where no sunlight reached.
Then came the skirmish on my apartment, the messes of every day life. A kitchen that needed sweeping. Clothes to be put away. Dishes to be done. Carpets to be vacuumed, bird cages cleaned, garden to weed, wash to be done, shower–day in day out the little things which everyone does was a knock-down-dragged-out-bloodless battle to perform. Inside my head I had to bark at myself. I had to yell and cajole and bribe. I would roll out of bed every day as tired as the next, whether I slept fifteen hours or eight. Tired when I woke up, tired when I went to sleep. Tired of being tired.
And when I made myself do the things people do day in and day out, it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t perfect enough. Something in my head would crouch down low and whisper like old scratchy mix-tapes that had been used over and over again until static hissing could be heard behind everything–never good enough, The Thing would say. It would back itself into a corner high above every achievement I would ever do: a painting, a clean house, a piece of sculpted clay, a bite from a bird, a mess that needed cleaning, a piece of writing–awful–The Thing hissed. It’s horrible, just like you. It would begin. And I’d do my best not to pay attention to it but there’s no running from your own head, there’s no safety on the battlefield when it’s inside your body with a part of you that never goes away.
You’re disgusting looking, fat and ugly, The Thing would cackle at me when I tried on new clothes or dress up a little and put some make up one.
This is garbage, it would announce when I was finished with drawing a picture. No matter what anyone says or tells you, you’ll never be good enough whenever someone complimented me. You can’t it would say when I tried to convince myself I could. You won’t when I fought to tell people I would. And when I didn’t, it would laugh gleefully and point out that I didn’t–just like it said I would. You are completely worthless, it would tell me day in and day out. Until I lost any arrows to fire back at it to silence it. All of your mistakes all of your life–every one of them we can remember–let us play them in your head every night on loop, dissect them, point out your flaws and your imperfections until you cannot sleep and you cannot stand yourself–The Thing would do, every night when I tried to go to bed. And it did. And I would watch the things I did in the past with growing shame until I tore myself up inside.
I lived with this thing for so many years that it became part of me.
Cut an onion incorrectly: you’re an idiot it would hiss.
Accidentally drop and break something: See how worthless you are? You can’t keep anything.
I tormented myself over things that should never have tormented me. I lost sleep over the things we all do, the mistakes me make as children and adults. I agonized over my weight and sabotaged every single thing in my life that I had to be happy about. I started listening and believing to that Thing in my head until it did begin to ruin everything I did.
I stopped drawing.
I stopped making things out of clay.
I stopped writing.
I stopped playing the games I loved to play.
I stopped reading the books I loved to read.
I stopped doing things around the house until it piled up and took hours to do them instead of a few minutes.
I stopped caring about myself and, I stopped caring about it.
I argued and said things to Shawn over things that were so ridiculously stupid I am ashamed I argued over them.
And then my mother died.
I lost something so important to me that I could not put into words what had happened. A part of my life that had always been there (and a part that you know some day will go–but you never want to admit it, because she’s your mother. And she’s forever. Always.) was no longer. I was thousands of miles away and I hadn’t the chance to say good bye.
The Thing in my head reared up from its corner and spilled as ink across my mind. It took over everything inside of me. The words and the things that it said to me bombarded me day in and day out. I did nothing. I wanted nothing. I grieved but I hated myself. I let my mind rip myself apart as it never had before. I could do nothing to stop it. Over the decades I used to be able to fight back: This will pass, I would tell The Thing when it hissed. Tomorrow all will be better. You’ll see. I am a good person. I really am. I have nothing to be sad or angry about. Everything’s okay and I will be fine, I always am. But this time I couldn’t reach for those words. I couldn’t convince myself that things would be all right anymore. I couldn’t find it in myself to believe and I couldn’t stop crying. I felt as if I were always on the bottom of the ocean and that I hadn’t seen the surface in years.
Then one day, The Thing in my head in a voice as clear as ringing metal: You would be better off dead.
The cacophony inside my head fell to silence and even I felt myself stop moving and go still. What The Thing had said had frightened me so much that all the little voices that toss about in my head–leaves in a pile stirred by the wind–dropped out of the air. I felt afraid. The Thing had said something that it had never said before and I knew with a clarity and a sharpness that it wasn’t just grief for my mother. It wasn’t just the loss of someone I had loved. That the years of The Thing living in my head, ruining everything I had taken joy from was not how it was supposed to be.
I knew that I could no longer do it alone. I knew that I needed to stop waging a silent war and tell someone. I needed help. So I told my husband–I told him everything I had never told him over the years. I talked and I talked and I made myself say things that The Thing in my head fought with me tooth and nail not to say. I talked, and then I spoke to a doctor and spoke with friends. Anyone who would listen.
April 2nd, huh. You missed out on the really fun shenanigans that often happen during April fools by only a day. That means that, depending on how you felt and how dad felt, April fools jokes were still going to be played whether you wanted them or not. I don’t remember all the April’s Fools the two of you played with me and with each other. The only one that really stuck out in my mind was when, in my early teens, my mother pulled me aside with stillness in her features. She bade me sit down and said, “I have something important to tell you,” with low words. I couldn’t read her face. I couldn’t figure out if I had gotten into trouble of it I’d done something–all I knew is that burbling, wordless fear started crawling around in my brain trying to find anything that I’d done wrong recently.
“Uh. Okay,” I said.
She was in her favorite rocking chair. She leaned in close and put her hand over mine. And then the stoic mask she’s worn earlier slipped with her one-corner-of-mouth smile as she said: “You’re going to have a little brother or sister!”
And of course I start flapping my arms around lik they were made of two week old celery that’s not dried out enough to be bad, but certainly rubbery. “REALLY?” I asked, in that sub-sonic woman’s voice reserved for newborns, puppies, kittens, and those moments that happen in your favorite move. It’s at this point that I notice my mother’s smile turning to smirk. It happened slow; along the left hand side of her mouth it would begin to curl a little downward, showing laugh-line creases. Then her eyes, once steady, became glittering with the laughter she withheld .
She came clean to me and reminded me of the date: April 1st. I was disappointed, but not mad. It was, for me and for her, a trifling little April fools between us that meant no hard.
April is coming.
April fools and then
My mother’s birthday.
You are my little planet, my earth. Hard packed from the way my feet pace back and forth in your heart–worrying about the things you’d never think of. Because really, they aren’t things that were meant to be worried about. Do you think I will die first? What will happen if you do? You know, I cannot live without you. I would have to go right after. You watch as I say these things and wring my hands as old women in markets haggling over the price of life. Your earth is soft and cool; never too hot or baked from Floridian sunrises. I like to bury my toes deep into you, because I know that through you…I will grow.
You are not a rock. I hope you will never be a rock. Rocks are too hard, too tough. They feel stress fractures and before you know it they’ve split and grown harsh edges to cut with.
You are the grass covered hill waiting in the shadow of a sunny day to cool me. So I can lay down in long plants, watch the clouds of your mind take the shapes and forms of love for me. And I feel nothing but peace. If it rains, I’ll just roll down the hill a little bit, until the worst of it hits the side.
I would have marked you a Knight. But there are problems with Knights, too. So bound up in rigid codes or behaviors. So wrapped up in their armor that sometimes they forget there’s more to see of the world outside the slit of a visor.
You are my little planet. My cool grass. My soft hill. My reason. My husband.
There’s a little sand-golden house down a quiet road. Across from it, the wilds of Florida spike palm-shaped toward the sky, cardinals and their mates wheel over light gray shingled roof and perhaps three, four times a day a car will bumble along the road. Mostly mini-vans that remind the onlooker of chubby honey bees.
The front yard is small but not-too small. There are tall trees with the essence of willow in the way they grow and bow, but decorated with bright red flowers. The lawn is just grass. The drive way is just a drive way. There is a large window in the front beside a screened in door that has flowering honey suckle nested well grown beneath it. Here, real fat-honey bees trundle along; flower to flower searching. The Florida sun is forgiving rarely, harsh often. Stucco, stuffing, wood and air conditioning keep it livable inside.
In the living room there is a cat sprawled out on the back of a brown micro-fiber couch recently cleaned, in the den near a slumbering computer is a black cat resting comfortably. In the dark of the living room with her bare feet on cold tile is a girl inside a woman who walks this new house with the eyes of a child. This is her castle. This is her castle which her knight-turned-King made her, all for her. (And the cats too. But still….mostly here.)
The King sleeps while she travels through her home-castle, a whisper of skin on tile, checking and re-checking every room as if afraid tomorrow it will all disappear and become but a dream. She touched the back of a couch, the ears of her cat, trails her fingertips along a counter top and stops to watch the glow from the microwave light on her glass-top stove surface. The fridge hums and she swears it’s a happy tune. She cannot sleep, but it is the good kind of cannot-sleep. The kind where the excitement for tomorrow and the next day and the next keep your eyes awake.
Then, she sees it.
First, it is a portrait of a woman that looks just like here. She is thinner in face, thinner in hair, but her smile is the same and her eyes are blue.
Then, she sees another thing.
A sweater several sizes too big for even the girl, that used to belong to the woman smiling in the picture.
The girl feels her eyebrows bunch together in swift emotion. Her eyes wrinkle and a pain ticks behind them that begins a wavering in her sight. The air in her lungs pushes forcefully out as the tears well and she fights them. She touches the sweater. It’s white and it is soft and warm and it was once hers. But it will never be like touching her ever again.
“Mom,” she says quietly in her house. The King snores, a cat meows, a fridge hums. “Mom–can you see? Can you see what’s happened and where I am? Do you know how loved I am? Did you know that everything was going to be all right and okay?” She needs a moment as she looks up to her ceiling fan. It’s turned off for the night. “Mom…I wish you’d made it. I wish you were here. I wish you could see how I truly ended up. How proud you would have been of me and of Shawn. And I wish you could have seen my friends. The love in my life right now.
She picks up the sweater and folds it neatly. Reverently. A garment of memories from a little child’s legend long past. She lays it against the side-corner of the couch in a way that seems as if the owner of the sweater just set it down on her way through. That perhaps she forgot it and would come back for it.
Once upon a time there were two phat geeks. They met and fell in love in a magical way over a series of ensorcelled tubes before meeting face to face. Their life was filled with cats, birds and the Land of Internet. They lived humbly for a long time with their parents and dreamed simple dreams. When they were able to, they rented a small space away from their parents in a hot and treacherous jungle named BugLandia, occasionally called Florida. The space was fine at first, but then they found three little green and blue feathered souls that needed rescuing and then the space wasn’t so much space as it was living in a giant bird cage with bird cages within it.
They dreamed of a place of their own with just a little more space. Not much. Just a bit. They never ever in their wildest dreams thought they could afford anything really nice, like some of the other castles and fortresses in BugLandia, so when they began looking the looked at rustic little cottages that needed much roof-thatching and rebuilding.
They had an awfully hard time of it. Every choice was either too much expense to fix or missing important things like…toilets…entire kitchens. Walls.
It was a long journey on Sundays Untold for what seemed like forever–three–months and they kept saying, “Maybe,” to the magical lady who showed them these places but ultimately it turned into no.
And then one day the planets aligned an a unicorn came down from the misty heavens leaving a trail of sparkles and those little marshmallows from that cereal with the leprechaun that has a lot of issues with his charms. The sun parted and harps played and they found The One.
They found a place to call home. Something far beyond their wildest dreams and perfect for them.
With the enchantment of their own pudgy feet they moved from their tiny place to the castle.
And they called this land, “The Phat Cave.” There were no sudden or inevitable betrayals.
They lived weirdly and phatly ever after.
On April 25th 2013 we finalized an offer on a home and moved out of our apartment. I am so happy and tired and tirappy I could explode into glitter bombs.