[Image Credit: Carol Rama, “Teletta”]
Today, somewhere in February
The only thing I’m sure of right now is that I have to write. Writing has always been my rope, the one thing I can count on. It orients me the way a guide rope orients a spelunker exploring a deep, dark cave. The rope is what leads her out and eventually home.
I am in a dark cave. There is no home.
A few days later
There have been snowstorms here—there are still high mounds of snow (I’ve shoveled) pushed up against the log walls of the cabin—but now it’s mostly rain. The drifts are pockmarked, graying, soft in the middle and crusty at the edges. The way I remember my aunt Maude’s face when I last spent time with her.
The first weeks I was here in the cabin were the worst. It was very cold since the place is heated only by a woodstove. I’ve had to keep the fire going, day and night, had to be more on top of things than I’ve been able to be in a while. But it’s been good for me, to keep busy with solid things, the fire, the snow shoveling. There’s not a whole lot else to do here, other than household work.
The work is my vessel; without it I’d never reach tomorrow.
Next day after the last one
Coming here was not something I thought a lot about before doing it. Like the writing, I simply knew I had to go. Something in me said, “Run,” with such authority that there was no questioning it. You come across a grizzly bear in the woods, something twice your size that wants to chew you open and eat you. You don’t stop to think; you just run.
It had been a difficult month and I was torn.
Speaking of torn, I suppose I need to be clearer. Mostly I don’t want to think about it, the actual tear in my belly. But there it is. I mean to say—as much as I don’t want to reify it by putting down the words—I have to name it if I’m going to deal with it. It does not bleed. It aches at times, but mostly not. It is merely just there.
How will I deal with it? Open question.
Enough said about it today.
The darkness I dwell in
I woke before dawn today and went for a walk. The snow, thinned and dirty, lingered in the shadows, but I sensed—or imagined—the quiverings of life buried deep under. There was a smell too: green and moist, fresh with a hint of rotting leaves. The smell of something ending, something barely begun. The sun rose just as I returned to the cabin; the wet spots on the bare trees, on the melting ice, on the front stoop, caught the light and threw it into my face.
I went inside and wrote this down: It was January when my family died. (I think it might be March now.) In the weeks immediately following, I did all I had to do in a haze of semi-consciousness. Numb to the bone. When, late at night, I slid into the vast ocean of my king-size bed and the pain began to grip my chest, I’d swallow another Klonopin and let it tug me down under.
Once the funeral services—and the luncheons that followed them like armed robbers—were all over, the Klonopin was no longer enough. There were nights when I almost called 911 to report a heart attack, the physical pain in my chest was so bad. It was after one of those nights I woke up knowing I had to leave home. It was the morning after I’d attended a grief support group.
I packed one small bag. I sent a package to my lawyer, my checkbook and online banking passwords, telling him to pay my bills while I was gone. I did a forwarding order for my mail, rerouted it to the lawyer. I sent a key to him and to my next-door neighbor so they could check on the house from time to time. I thought I’d be going back one day. Now I’m not so sure.
In hindsight, I’m surprised I managed to close things up like that, given the panic I felt. But that’s me, I guess, the ever responsible, the detail person. My late husband, Mike, had ADD. I’d always done the business of our household.
It was on the train that I first noticed the opening in my skin, just under the lowest rib on the right side. It started, if I remember right, a couple days after the accident. When the water hit it in the shower, it stung a bit, as if I had a bug bite there and scratched it raw. I tuned it out—it seemed so minor—until the rocking motion of the train set off an ache in that same spot. There was no one seated beside me on the train, so I slid my fingers under my sweater to rub where the ache was. I was surprised to feel an opening there, a small, dry slash. The edges of it were firm, and they hurt when I touched them. Looking at it later in the rippled mirror of the cabin, I saw that there was an actual cut there, no blood, no more redness or itch, and no sign of healing at its ends, either. A clean, matter-of-fact sort of opening in the integrity of my skin.
Because of everything else, I tried to ignore it. I was already full of layer upon layer of anxiety. I picture my internal landscape striated like an ancient canyon, each loss laying down its own pink or tan or red layer. One more layer was barely noticeable.
If each separate loss is a geological layer, what should I call this new development? A crevasse, perhaps? The word appeals to me. Every day since my family died, I am less and less a woman and more and more a terrestrial rupture. If I were a geologist, studying me, I would take daily field notes. So be it. I can’t ignore the crevasse and instead will say something about it every time I write in this notebook. Maybe that was the real reason I decided to write in the first place. I didn’t realize it at the start, but now I think writing might be the only proactive thing I can do about the crevasse.
The first days in the cabin
When I first got here, I was mostly unconscious. Blankness interspersed with moments of clarity, horrible moments of clarity. While blank, I’d done the necessary work of relocating. Bought the train ticket, packed my backpack.
I took several clothing changes and some food with me, cans mostly, and oatmeal, a loaf of bread and some cheese. I knew from having spent some summer vacations in Aunt Maude’s cabin that there was a 7-Eleven, the kind that anchors a gas station, a few miles away, where I could buy essentials like toilet paper and eggs. I didn’t need to stock up ahead. Truth is I couldn’t have tolerated the time it would have taken to put together a supply list, nor could I have carried much more than I did. I had no car; I went by train and on foot. Our van had been totally destroyed, and anyway, I couldn’t bear to get into any kind of a car again. So I wore a warm parka, wool hat and thick mittens, fleece-lined boots, the backpack over one shoulder. I got off at Allensville Station and walked the final several miles to the dirt road leading through thick woods to Maude’s cabin.
The key was still hidden beneath a large rock beside the front door, but I had to dig through a foot of snow to find it. The cabin was dusty, cobwebs in the corners, and dead Japanese beetles strewn across the rag rugs and along windowsills. It was almost pleasant, cleaning everything. As close to pleasant as I am likely to get anytime soon.
There was bedding in the closet and soap. The hot water heater worked well once I figured out how to light it. I am hoping the water is okay to drink. I’m sure. Maude didn’t often have her well tested. She hasn’t been here in at least three years, after she took sick and couldn’t drive anymore.
Once I had the place clean, the single bed made, a kerosene lamp filled and lit, a fire in the stove, I felt something settle down in me. As if I were a big pillow someone had just finished shaking into a tight pillowcase. A clean and right sort of feeling that didn’t last but allowed me some good, deep breaths, before it dissolved.
Now I can’t imagine being anywhere other than here. With Maude’s blessings. And alone.
I have promised to mention the crevasse every time I write. So here it is: I am afraid to put my fingers into the widening hole. Is it dry or moist in there? How deep does it go?
Should I be cleaning it?
I have questions but no answers.
Writing this has made me nauseous.
More on Maude’s cabin
Me and this place, we’re like an arranged marriage. We barely knew each other at first but now have come to loving. Mike and I didknow each other when we got married, but after the first year, we never again came back to loving. We were an arrangement that worked, though, mostly for our daughters. They were our fulcrum. No wonder I’ve fallen so hard without them. Without him.
Come back to the cabin.
It’s simple but adequate. Two rooms; the kitchen and the living area with two alcoves, one with a double bed and one with a single. A large picture window on the west wall, views of the woods where the sun spectacularly sets every late afternoon, bands of red and purple and gold. I imagine a flash of green as the sun drops beneath the horizon. I’ve heard it does that sometimes, but I’ve never seen it myself.
It has been the best thing for me, being here. No one asks me how I’m feeling, how I’m “bearing up,” or advises me that grief takes time, or suggests a support group.
The day before I left home, I went to one of those groups. Lord save me. What a mistake. A woman told her story and broke down, struggled to get the words out of her body and into the neutralizing air. At least, I guess people think the air has that power, to drain the shock out of their words. I don’t see any evidence that it works. I doubt it worked for that sobbing woman.
Someone passed her a box of Kleenex, and the platitudes started. “God never gives us more than we can bear.” “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” Most of us joined in her weeping, our stories similar enough that we couldn’t help but hurt all over again. I don’t know about the people who like these groups—maybe it really does help them to rip those wounds wide open once a week. Like slashing your wrists and bleeding out while a huddle of strangers pull out their own razor blades and go after their own catharses.
It seems to me the better thing is not to open any veins; I mean, in particular, not to cry.
Crying erodes endurance, so that at the end of, say, an hour of full-out crying, you’ve no more chance of stopping yourself than a colicky infant. Plus it’s exhausting. You could sleep for a week. That is, assuming you are somehow able to sleep at night when the emptiness is so very present.
And, damn it, that’s when that weird hole under my ribs throbs. Throbs more like a heartbeat than a pain. The ache is actually mild. The beating is more and more noticeable, almost audible.
Crevasseno longer seems the right name. Furrow? Incision? Neither metaphor is precisely the right one.
That is all I’m willing to say about it today.
I walked into town yesterday. To stock up on canned tuna and frozen peas.
I almost stopped myself here and didn’t go on to say what else I went to the store for: gauze and tape to cover up my hole. And Neosporin ointment to keep it from getting infected. I wonder why it isn’t infected. I don’t think it is. It’s not puffy or hot.
I don’t like putting this on paper because then it’s hard to ignore. And if anyone ever reads this, they’ll think I’m hallucinating. I wish I were. I am not. I measured the thing a few weeks ago, with a butter knife, and it was almost exactly the length of the handle. I marked it on the knife, with my pen. Yesterday morning, the cut was as long as the handle plus about an inch of the blade. It’s definitely growing. When I move, its edges rub against my shirt, in a way reminiscent of nothing I’ve ever felt before in my entire life. I’d say it makes my skin crawl, but in a way, it ismy skin crawling. What the fuck.
Stigmata? That’s the word that came to me just now. Wounds that spontaneously appear and bleed. Stigmata always bleed. Like Christ’s wounds. He was sliced in the side, I think. I am too. But there isn’t any blood. Modern-day stigmata—I’ve heard stories—happen to Catholic women, mostly, don’t they? Hysterical Catholic women. Quite a weird phenomenon, that. I wonder if the fact that I’m an atheist precludes hysterical symptoms. I am female, of course, and thus, prone.
I don’t feel hysterical. No pulling of hair or screaming or fainting. I’m not that sort of a woman. I do feel…assaulted, abandoned, afraid, numb, nauseated, frozen. But not hysterical.
What sort of person grows an opening in her body but doesn’t bleed? An introverted hysteric? Contradiction in terms. So then, am I rotting from the inside out? Maybe this is some kind of cancer I’ve never heard of. It has occurred to me to see a doctor, but what if he doesn’t see what I see? Would that mean it isn’t real? Or that I’m the only one who can see it? I can’t imagine anything good coming from a doctor visit.
By the time I’d reached the store, collected my purchases, and laid them on the counter, my stigmata felt wet, for the first time. I zipped my hooded sweatshirt tight shut over it so if there was visual seepage, no one could see.
The gum-chewing teenage boy who generally mans the cash register actually spoke to me yesterday. “How ya doin’, ma’am?” Without meeting my eyes. I am sure it was my imagination that he was looking at the lower right edge of my rib cage, where my wound lies hidden beneath my clothes.
“Fine,” I said, which, of course, was a lie. Or maybe at that moment not quite a lie.
When I keep my mind fastened on things like cans of tuna and bags of frozen peas—not thinking about my family, and also ignoring the wound—I really am fine. In a way. There’s nothing in that landscape of preserved edibles that reminds me of what I’ve lost. There’s nothing in that store—or along the road to it—that opens doors I want closed. So I suppose I usually do feel some relief in that store, after I’ve walked the long way there, with cars zooming past me, a cool breeze in my face, the smell of pine trees warming in the winter sun.
“Have a good day,” the boy said as he handed me the thin plastic sack.
“You too,” I managed to say. A good day. I don’t hold out for a good day. I don’t expect one; don’t want one because a good day would make the bad ones so much worse.
I am more conscious now of the passage of time, although I’m not using anything to mark it. No hatch marks on the wall or stones piled up. The changes in the weather are what I go by. And my period, that vibrant sign of life, so out of place now in this deadened body, this emptied self.
I think it’s late March by now.
Some days I collect wood, read one of Maude’s Reader’s Digest Condensed Book collections, make my bed. Walk, for miles, on the road or in the woods.
But other days all I do is sit on the bed and stare at the wall, until my eyes create tadpoles—floaters, I guess they are—and I watch them squirm and slither all across the white wall as if on the surface of a stagnant pond.
Does anyone look for me? Maude no longer knows who or where she is. She can’t think about her own self, much less about me. Does anyone wonder where I’ve gone? Who is left to wonder? My lawyer. My neighbor. Who else?
Next day, sunrise
I couldn’t put this on paper yesterday. I am braver in the early mornings.
As I was walking home yesterday with my wispy plastic sack rustling in the breeze, my mind went to the phone call. I tried to pull it back, but there was no way. So I gave into it. I remembered how I’d been making dinner, peeling potatoes, carrots, slicing a slab of beef, making a stew. They weren’t due home for another hour, so I wasn’t worried. Until the phone rang.
“May I speak to Mrs. Murphy, please?” I should have said I wasn’t her. She wasn’t home and I didn’t expect her back anytime soon. But the reflex is strong, the polite response, automatic.
“Yes? I’m Annabelle Murphy.”
I don’t remember the rest of the words, except bad accident, a truck, come to Mercy General. Why couldn’t that voice tell me right away that they were all already gone? That there was no need to hurry, nothing I could possibly do to help them. As it was, I knew it. I knew and at the same time refused to know. It works that way. You hold out your hands to receive the news, and it burns like a hot frying pan; you hold it for a split second while it scars you. Then the pain registers, and everything in you scrambles to protect; you drop the thing, but it’s too late, too late.
I told myself, It might be someone else’s family.Or, just as possible, Mike and Virgie and Dawn, with bandaged hands and bruised faces, are at the ER waiting for me to come and take them home. Where’s the dog? Why didn’t the voice on the phone mention a dog? Maybe it’s not my people then, since mine included a dog.
A few days later
The stigmata-crevasse-wound-gap has not grown in length but now seems wider and deeper. And it seeps a clear liquid, thicker than water, thinner than mucous and not viscous. I ran my fingers along an edge (which gave me a chill) to smell the moisture that clung. My hand trembled as I raised it to my nose. It had that same green smell I smelled in the woods the other day. I licked the tip of one finger; it was salty, like tears.
Am I making the opening larger by letting myself remember? Or by refusing to remember? Is this some kind of Dorian Gray thing? Is my belly the canvas? I don’t recall selling my soul for eternal youth. In fact, I’m getting nothing in return for this invasion of my body. The more it changes, the more it troubles me. The more it aches and seeps.
Yesterday’s recollections did not take me in any helpful direction. I don’t care who wonders where I am. It’s irrelevant. I don’t want anyone here, disturbing what I’ve worked so hard to build: the rhythm of getting up and going to bed when my body tells me to, of eating lightly and sometimes not eating at all, of reading, napping, writing, staring at the wall or into the woods for hours; yes, for hours. Two chipmunks who live in the woodpile join me for breakfast every morning.
When will I have the courage to think more about all I’ve lost?
Experiment in courage
There is no one left that I love. It helps to put words to that. Like poking a needle into a blister. They were there, Mike and the girls, for years, and then suddenly, not. I couldn’t stay there in our house, once it was emptied of them. One of the church ladies asked if she could help me clean out their things, their clothes and toys and books. Her words burned me like hydrochloric acid. Not that I’ve ever been burned by hydrochloric acid but I can imagine. I couldn’t imagine taking all their things and putting them in boxes, like pulling off their limbs one by one, closing the lids, and watching the blood soak through the cardboard.
Did they lose limbs in the accident? I read the report. I seem to have blocked out most of it and thank god I did. But I remember about Virginia. Her leg was severed at the hip, but it didn’t matter to her because she also flew through the sunroof, leaving her leg behind. She was brain-dead immediately. So they said. I suppose that’s meant to be comforting. “They never knew what hit them.” We don’t want our beloveds to suffer fear and pain. Leave that job to the survivors.
Which leg? I’ve wondered. The left with the scar on the knee or the right one, with the small bluebird tattooed on the ankle?
Did they see the truck’s headlights as its driver slumped over the wheel with his heart attack and sent his load across the median and straight into my family? They must have. Did they stare back at those blazing, twin lit-up eyes racing at them? Or did they turn away?
Things like this I won’t ever know. And as strange as it is, I need to know. I need to be there with them in that worst of all moments. Something that important in a family’s life shouldn’t leave the mom out of it. I was so lucky, my neighbor Sybil said to me, that I had a bad cold and chose to stay home that day.
I don’t feel lucky. Lots of other feelings, but not lucky.
I’ve had no other experience this big, so big it could, I swear, swallow up the solar system. How am I supposed to handle it? See, nobody knows. Nobody wants to think about being in my shoes. We walk around—all of us, including me until the accident—in these bubbles, as if we’re safe, as if everyone we love is safe too, inside their own bubbles. We do not anticipate. Until a truck crosses a median and plows right into everything that matters.
I check my wound every night before bed. Today it was a bit longer again, and its lips, although still not swollen, had turned red, as if colored by my mother’s long-ago favorite lipstick, Frankly Scarlet. (I make light of this because there is so little light anywhere else.) The edges were scarlet, and I could feel the hole growing deeper. Hard to describe. Not erosion, not drilling nor cracking. More like a deep stretching inward. Some pain.
It has been spring for a while now. I love how much it’s been raining, the way the rain hammers on Maude’s tin roof. The convulsions of thunder. A cleansing tumult that feels real and right and full of fury. Nothing else is real and right, and I am only just now feeling the edge of my own fury. I open all the doors, in the cabin and in myself, for the battering rain and the muscular wind, when it comes; let it blast me clear through.
What arises in its wake isn’t the police report or the phone call, no, but Mike. Mike’s lies. When you’ve slept beside a man for twenty years, you read him without intending to; your skin knows the scent and the texture of his skin, the angle of his shoulders, the rhythms of his speech. I knew when someone else had been close against that familiar skin.
We never had a chance to talk about it. Like the threat of a tornado, the siren went off but nothing touched down. We grew further apart, Mike and I, as we lived our separate, choreographed days, together and alone. Very alone, now that I look back at it. And before I figured out how to bridge the distance, he was gone. So much that still needs to be said.
I’ve been thinking that maybe the redness and the itching started before the gash appeared. Maybe even months ago; I can’t say just when. Now I’m wondering if the earliest signs began with Mike’s infidelity. Or did they start way earlier, with the births of my daughters?
I remember back in high school when we were all reading books by Carlos Castaneda.The Teachings of Don Juan.I remember that Don Juan, the shaman, claimed that if a person had had a child, there would be a hole in her aura, at the side of her belly, a dark shadowy spot, immediately visible to one who knew how to see. Did Virgie and Dawn blast permanent holes in me when they were born? In my luminous body? In my actual flesh?
I talk nonsense. Because of the nonsense of the evolving gap in my abdomen.
Today, the skunk cabbage came up all over the nearby wetlands. Such a bestial plant, with its sharp purple nose poking up through the muck, as if sniffing the air for enemies, timing its emergence. There are buds on all the trees now, and some of them have opened. Somehow this worries me. How will I handle the intrusion of spring when everything in me is hibernating? Everything in stasis, hunkered down for the duration, except for my crevasse,my gap, my gash, my slash, wound, stigmata, incision, malfunction, eruption, blossom, breach, shame.
A few days later
Of course, looking at the fleshiness of the early skunk cabbage reminded me of the fleshy lips of my wound. It doesn’t take much these days to make me focus there; I’ve taped gauze over the opening, but the slight pressure makes me even more aware.
The skunk cabbage also made me think about our dog, Elsie. Elsie wasn’t in the report. I know she went with them that day and I never saw her again, so I can only suppose that she died too, probably followed Virgie through the sunroof and landed somewhere along the road, deflated like common roadkill. Did someone pick her up and bury her? I can’t think too long about Elsie, her silken ears and patent leather nose, or I’ll lose this whole day. What is it about a hurt dog that hurts just as much as thinking about a hurt human? It’s their utter and misguided faith, their innocence, their inability to blame.
I am able to blame and have no such faith or innocence.
Continuing into April
I’m running an experiment. I got the idea while taking a walk yesterday. It was so hot the edges of the road were shiny, melting. The sun heating the top of my head, releasing the smell of my unwashed hair as it spilled down around my shoulders. I didn’t think to bring sunglasses when I left home. It was winter then. Next time I’m at the 7-Eleven, I’ll buy a pair, cheap. Maybe a sun hat too.
It is no wonder I need to digress.
Yesterday, while I was walking, my mind traveled back to that indelible phone call. Remembering how I drove to Mercy General in a borrowed car. Remembering being taken into a room there and told (in some way—I can’t remember the exact words) that everyone was gone, dead at the scene or in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Hearing those words again in my head as I walked caused my heart to race, and I had to stop to catch my breath. I didn’t want to be back in that night, that room.
I tried to locate myself in the present moment, away from the dizzying pain, by focusing on my senses: the feel of my feet inside my hiking boots, the smell of the woods, the sound of car tires in the distance.
It started to work, but then it occurred to me that maybe there was a direct correlation—a literal connection—between my memories and my wound. Maybe instead of shutting the memories out, I should invite them onto center stage. Let them strut around. Show me their worst. Their most horrifying. I could do this on purpose, on a schedule maybe, and the next day examine my wound for changes. Was it the remembering or the forgetting that was causing and controlling the hole in me? Or did it have nothing to do with remembering or forgetting? If I could figure out what was causing the hole, maybe I could figure out a way to make it go away.
I can never go back to my house, back to my old life, with this weird thing going on. I need to seize control of it.
So, as I walked on that shiny black road, I let my mind return to the room with the three gurneys, where Virgie, Dawn, and Mike lay under sheets, their faces covered; the fabric that should have been puffing from their breathing up and down was still. A stillness that was worse than seeing their broken bodies. A stillness that told me the unthinkable, intolerable truth.
I signed papers. I called the funeral parlor. I drove myself home from the hospital in an open-eyed coma. Then I sat on the sofa and stared out at the darkness the whole rest of that night.
I remember that night’s suffocating inertia, how hard I had to push against it to move forward.
Then, as I walked, the remembering became so large, so present, so unbearable, that I had to stop and cry hard into my hands. I thought I might lose my lunch if not my mind. After some minutes I was able to collect myself, to calm my stomach and start walking again. I was still half aware of that first endless night and only half aware of the road and the woods. Every now and then a car would rush past me. I’d feel the tail of wind that it left behind.
Everyone in every one of those cars believed they would arrive at their destinations, alive.
When I got back home and looked at the wound, I saw no change. But maybe that just means I need to do more remembering. Or less.
The grass around this small cabin is greening. I want to tell it to stop. “Stop, grass. Don’t you realize where you’re headed? It ends in death. It always ends in death.”
I ate my breakfast outside on the deck. The chipmunks came again, and I tossed them bits of cornflakes. One of them came quite close to my feet. I could have reached down and stroked his brown head, his soft ears. But I left him alone. My touch would have frightened him. A touch these days would frighten me too. I know where that kind of pleasure leads.
Every day more leaves appear on the trees, their colors maturing into depth and shine. Maude’s old lilac bush is on the verge of blooming. She always loved the smell; I used to too.
I’m going to have to learn to tolerate all this greening, all this resurrection.
Must I also tolerate this wound that threatens to cut me clear through? Longer again this morning, as long as the full length of the butter knife. If the wound thing had hands, I’d swear it was reaching for my spine.
The same evening
This afternoon I let other parts of the police report come into focus. Now I have the words, and soon the feelings will rise up and toss me like a grand mal seizure. I’m ready. Lying here in bed, I am going to linger on what exactly killed Mike and Virgie and Dawn. And Elsie. I may write about it. Or I may not.
The next morning
Last night, while lying in bed, I closed my eyes and let myself picture their deaths, each one, in detail. I let my mind fill in the parts I didn’t know. It was as terrible as I’d expected. I screamed; I shredded a blanket with my hands. My nose ran all over my lips and chin, and I cried so hard I almost couldn’t breathe. I won’t do that again. I suppose it was masochistic…but it was useful. I’m not afraid now in the way I was before. Not afraid that losing them—or remembering them—will kill me. I now know neither is true. And no, it isn’t worse to go on, alive, without them. Except for the bad days, but there are fewer of those now. There will always be some.
I do not hold lightly the continuation of my life. Today, at least, I’m grateful for it.
I examined my wound again a few minutes ago, after I drank my coffee and before my cereal. It was perhaps deeper, slightly, but no longer. There has been another change though; it both troubles and fascinates me. When I pulled the gauze off this morning, there was a tiny bit of green stuck to one corner of the gauze, a very bright green. I touched it, cautiously; it was soft and moist. Then I noticed a tiny strip of the same green along one edge of the wound. I could see it was soft with a texture kind of like terry cloth. Or like moss.
Is there moss growing on—or in—my wound? Could that be true? All I can say is maybe. If so, then if I continue to cover it up, it will go brown and die, won’t it? If I leave it uncovered, how can I ever return to normal life? I certainly could never let anyone see my midriff ever again. Not a doctor or a best friend and certainly not some future (currently unimaginable) lover.
What if tiny moss flowers appear on those edges? What then?
I have to admit the thought of tiny purple moss flowers pleases me.
I had not thought about this until today, but I have never, not once, put my fingers inside the gash below my ribs. It is big enough to invite probing, but it simply never occurred to me. It kind of gives me the creeps to consider it. I have no idea what’s in there, except that it’s not flesh or nerves or veins. If it were, I’d be bleeding and in agony, like maybe Dawn was or Mike, before they were beyond hurting.
Maybe there’s nothing at all in my wound, just emptiness. Maybe that’s the whole point.
A week later
It has happened. My opening is growing something. Yesterday the green edges seemed rougher, bumpy. This morning, there are unmistakable stems poking out of the mossiness.
I can’t keep calling it a wound. What is it then? A gift? A manifestation? A souvenir?
Last day at Maude’s
I’m writing now at Maude’s kitchen table with the red gingham vinyl tablecloth. I picture Maude here, as she was when I was a teenager and she a middle-aged woman. The only adult in my life who took me seriously, who listened when I told her I was lost or lonely or bored with school or wanted to have sex with my boyfriend. She listened and never said anything stupid like, “Cheer up; these are the best years of your life.” Instead, she said the opposite. “Your teen years are some of the hardest. Hang in there; it’ll get better.”
If she were here now, she would say, “Honey, remember when I said your teen years were hardest? Well, this time, right now, is way harder.”
I don’t know what she’d say about this opening under my ribs. About its greening. She wouldn’t pretend it wasn’t strange. It’s stranger every day. The stems have stretched into slender vines that curl gracefully, like scrollwork, all around the mossy edges. There seem to be tiny buds at the end of each tendril. I hope they’ll be purple.
I don’t cover them with gauze anymore, just a light, loose shirt so as not to crush them.
This morning I packed my backpack and tidied up the cabin. Turned off the water, locked the windows. I’m going to go talk to Maude. She’s old and doesn’t know her address or what day it is, but I’m certain she’ll remember me. After we hug and sit down with cups of tea, I’ll say, “Hey, Maude, what do you think of this?” and I’ll lift up my shirt, and she’ll say, “Honey, I don’t know, but those sure are pretty purple flowers. Make sure you don’t give ’em too much water. I betcha they’re succulents.”
Judith Ford, a retired psychotherapist, has published fiction, nonfiction and poetry in many literary journals including Connecticut Review, Quarter After Eight, Southern Humanities, Sulphur River Literary Review, and Willow Review. Ms. Ford lives half time in Wisconsin and half time in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her husband and dog.