Four days....it’s been four days Isiah tells me, since I’ve been fully present, coming up for air through the foamy churn. After a self-induced break from psychotropics he had surreptitiously reintroduced my medication slowly, gently, by coming in at regular intervals and handing me tablets and water before leaving me to sleep away the grubbiness and dead feeling inside me. I arch hesitantly, flexing the sinews, creating space between muscle and bone. Looking for points of pain like running a tongue around a gritty cavity. Usually I can maintain some degree of functionality. Get up, go to work, come home, chuck some washing on, feed the dog, drink more coffee, wine, whatever, smoke, crash. Rinse and repeat. All conducted through a heavy, aching fog. A cotton wool, asbestos fibered glaze.
This time I was out for the count, my body heavy with loathing, eyes soldered shut against the never ceasing enormity of life. It didn’t stop and I needed it to. Fortunately, my ‘glitch’ lined up with my non ‘corporate’ days where Ben and I worked in the marketing team for a national youth service. I was afforded a wide degree of flexibility as to when and how I did the work, ostensibly to accommodate my ‘art’ but lately it flexed more around my mental gymnastics. I worked fast and hard so they didn’t ask too many questions but still....I should have been working. I had photographs to edit, sketches lay half finished, their muse drying up along with the accidental coffee stains, drifting away to spark intrigue in another poet.
I heard voices and water, laughter coming from our open, earthy kitchen. I watched my long, brown feet lay their first tentative kiss against the floor, feeling for the surety of the wood and cool sting beneath them. Sometimes anchoring myself against the solid, the tangible realness was my first step back into the now. Describe the chair. What color is the rug? You’re doing so well. Just keep moving forward and don’t look down. I’ve got you kid.
I threw on a singlet and wrapped a bronze flecked sarong around my waist, looking at myself in the mirror for the first time in days. Have you ever been a stranger to yourself, watching yourself with detached interest? To experience that moment of looking at your own face without recognition is astounding. I run my middle finger across my jaw, above to my freckles, so jarring on dark skin. There you are lady, my spirit sighs. I know you. I’m here now.
I walk slowly, arm slung protectively across my eyes, into our kitchen filled with a stunning golden sheen of mid-morning light drawing out the folksy, terrene smell of herbs lining the windowsill. I smell coffee and see the bulk of my friend Teak leaning against a bench, laughing at our five year old’s latest moves. “Frig me, you guys are noisy”, I croak. “Well hellloooo to you, shiny girl”, Teak plays fondly, picking me up with one arm. I’m not sure how Teak got his name but to me it has always been a perfect fit for this beautiful giant. A Samoan block of granite, he encapsulates the color and strength of wood grain with the classic nobility of a gentleman.
I felt Isiah’s eyes on me. Fuck I hate those first refrains of shame that wash over me before I can grasp normality again. Not enough, too much, too little. Always too late. Some buried part of me knew it was more concern than judgment clouding his hazel eyes. He’d told me so over a thousand miles. But regret? Was there a touch a color there? I just don’t know. Don’t want to know maybe. “What day is it”? I ask softly, rubbing my eyes. Just a breath. Breathe. One after the other. Slowly, slowly. Teak laughs low and lovely, pushing himself away from the bench. “It’s Sunday Mumma. Time for God and Church and the day’s nearly over”, his voice like an Appalachian rhythm. “Might be good to blow some wind through your sails maybe?” Isaiah floated. Ah, so it becomes clear. Too long gone so we’ve called in the troops. No point in declining. I’ve definitely run out of passes today.
I slip on thongs and call Bear, my pale-ale beagle love. She, of the softest blonde, dark ears and nose, had been just the right weight across my chest when the undulating world became more than too much, for at least the last nine years. My loving shadow of few expectations and even fewer judgments took me exactly as I was, each day as it came. We jumped in Teak’s Jeep heading out of town. The sun was aching across the land on this day. Green, undulating moisture hanging in the shadowy trees. Warmth cresting my skin. Driving, with the gentle bounce of the dirt track beneath me, embodied an almost medicinal quality. Something I can’t quite describe but close to being held, cradled in God’s steady hand.
When Teak says ‘Church’ it should be noted that he was indeed a proud Christian man of the Islands but that’s not quite what he was referring to. I’ve got nothing against organized religion, being a recovered catholic of sorts, and known as something of a self-starting dabbler in theology. What Teak was referring to though, was great Gaia. Mother Earth and all her obscene beauty. No matter how far away from tradition I strayed there is some type of cultural muscle-memory steeped through ancestry that draws me back to Country as if to salve a wound. I don’t really understand it to be honest but I have felt it. The hum of feet on Country. I’ve heard the Old Ones throw the grab ‘it’s in ya blood’ and claims it ‘calms our spirit’ but to me it felt deeper than the physicality of blood and more guttural than the wind. I felt it in the very vibration of my essence and truth. A connection to ground, grounding down, grounding me down. It was the physical, outward manifestation of mind, heart, and breath rooting my ego deep into the earth. For want of a better explanation it was where I could glimpse peace, not yet contentment, but definitely a touch of ease. I let my hand surf the contouring stream of air being generated outside of the car letting my thoughts fade.
The downside of this worship was Teak’s belief that you had to walk to anywhere worth getting to. A little pain to make the gain so much sweeter. My body was already screaming in protest at being upright and awake but I was willing to atone for my sins. To a point. We parked on the edge of dense, clean, rain forest, filled with fat, saturated, moisture and started down the narrow, rocky hollow. We passed a small, trickling, warm waterfall dancing staccato over rocks and I heard the echoing resonance of the earth’s songs. Being expert at keeping dual states of play alive I simultaneously breathed in delicate wonder whilst starting up a gripe about the journey. “Just how long do you think this adventure might take”? I snarled breathing a little harder from the effort. Teak’s big wide smile swung over his shoulder at me, no obvious effort on his part I note. Fit bastard. “Aren’t you a little ray of sunshine today hey”? He cackled. I am an absolute, fucking-heaven sent delight, I thought. He laughed again as if reading my mind and then, at that very moment, the world opened up, almost ripped apart to reveal the most devastatingly beautiful scene. A sheltered cove, waves rolling in clean and bold, the sand an untouched purity like a Botticellian prayer. I soaked in the precise, clear beauty of the moment. Just for this second. Here on this day.
I realized I had nothing on under my shirt so I knotted the end of my tank and unwrapped my skirt. The forgetting of various items of essential clothing was indeed an almost daily event for me but it was more the result of a loose mind rather than loose morales or sensual postering. I raised a proverbial glass in gratitude that, even though I had not washed in way too long to have any clean underwear at hand, I had somehow got my shit together enough to substituted with one of the many pairs of black bikini briefs lining the bottom of my cupboard. Praise be. Look at me doing the adulting.
We swarm in the water, salt drying in my hair and I walked the shore line with Bear clicking at my heels. I sat in a deep rock pool, Bear resting against my back and watched Teak wander towards us. We sat in harmony for a time, letting love in, breathing out light, releasing the dark.
And then the spell was broken. “I don’t understand how you can be sad when life is this grand” he stated plainly. After a pause, not knowing how to go on I faltered “I really don’t know either Teaky Toc. I have no answers for you man”. He tried again “Isa goes through it when your gone you know. It’s hard for him. Hard on him to see you like this hey. And he does so much for you all” He does, he is, he was, he feels. Always the fucking saint to my villainess. I feel the familiar hackles rise as I get up to my feet. Push..up, out, away. “He knows what he signed up for Teak” I state to the bur under my skin. I look at his sad eyes and feel the perpetual regret broiling. I pull down the mask for another round “I know Teak. I know he does. You all do. I’m trying brother”. I see doubt linger ever so lightly within the mirrors of his soul. I take the story down a different road “It’ll get easier I’m sure, now that I’ve been out of the house. The magic is unfolding fast today my friend”. I punch him lightly on the arm before he slings it casually over my shoulder as we walked back to the car. Lies, lies, lies. All those little lies that break us open but fill the void in another. It’s a kindness. The only one I have to give to those I love.
We sing together on the way home and he kisses my head before waving me inside. It was a good, grand day wasn’t it? So why do I feel so wrecked? Smashed up driftwood flailing on shore. No more purpose. No direction. Junk to be stepped over or cast into the deep. Yet for that brief moment in time, feeling the ocean swell around my soul, the world thrilled me. Laid me bare. That’s it baby. Be rough with me. It’s what I deserve. It’s all I know. I feel my shoulders drop as I walk back into the house.