Thursday, November 1, 2012
"...the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference"
The voices wash over me, surround me and wrap me up in their cosy warmth. I want to hold onto this moment, this togetherness. Nightlights burn gently all around and on the sacred space, a child rests peacefully on the palm of a big, open hand. Autumn leaves are scattered randomly here, their warm colours lulling us into the cold sparseness of winter.
At tonight's meeting, we each choose a leaf. From the pile strewn on the carpet, this might take some time; but in fact everyone seems to know, with deciciveness and resolve 'their' leaf. Holding this leaf as we recount the past week to ourselves and each other, we come to know it intimately. I hold a sycamore leaf, yellow and soft, a piece missing from one of its palmate tips. It has brown spots, like liver marks and thin delicate veins, only just perceptible to the touch. It is light, and later, with my eyes closed, I struggle to even feel it as it lays flat upon my open palm.
As I recall my moments of hurt, anger, humiliation, rage, self-pity, loathing and cowardice over the past week, I bring myself back to the moment. Around me, in the circle, all these other people, whom I admire, respect and have come to deeply trust, are doing just the same. As I recall my fractured past, the suffering I caused, my numerous falls from grace...'oh God, will it ever leave me?!', I bring myself back to the moment. Around me, in the circle, my friends are doing just the same.
I look at my leaf: broken, delicate, laid bare. Suddenly I feel like crying at its heart-breaking beauty. A sense of hope engulfs me...acceptance.
In a symbolic gesture, we are encouraged to drop our leaves to the floor, like the tree preparing for new life. Somehow, I cannot let go.
The tree with unwavering faith, is constantly renewed. I know, the moment I leave, I will live out another week, in the same predictable manner like last week, and before and on...
As the meeting draws to a close, I feel soft and free; safe although I'm exposed. I see that like the tree, with leaves of different colours, shapes and sizes, I have all these components...bad and good. It's what makes me who I am. But unlike the tree, I can't seem to let go.
I walk out into the dusky autumn evening, wrap my scarf about me protectively, and crunch along the leafy path towards the gate. Leaves trickle down like autumn tears. Before I go back out into the world, I pick up an old, crumpled leaf. Holding it softly by its stem, I whisper the prayer to myself: "Grant me the courage to change the things I can", and I leave it fall softly to the ground.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
She downed the brandy in one neat gulp, and immediately felt its effects course through her body, making her warm, tingly and a little more alive. She continued to stare ahead of her like a zombie, aware of all the concerned expressions gazing upon her, hands awkward on laps, wanting to reach out, but helpless.
'Another?', came the low voice of Mark beside her, already pouring another measure with grave concentration.
She left him awkwardly holding the glass beside her, too lost in her own world to acknowledge him.
'Go on, Ellie, a little drop won't hurt' came her mother's voice, for once condoning drink.
She took the drink proffered by Mark, and glaring hatefully at her mother, took the glass and placed it firmly on the table beside her.
'I need a walk', she mumbled to no-one in particular.
She moved to leave, to get out of this hot, badly air-conditioned room, to escape into the open, to be alone, and as she stood up, struggling with the folded layers of taffeta skirt, she was met with the opposing, authoritative voice of her father.
'Ellie, where are you going? Sit down, you're in no fit state to be walking around by yourself'.
Feeling winded, more by her automatic childish submission than by the scolding tone of the demand, she found herself as she was for the past hour or more, slunk unmoving in her chair. Music floated up from the bar downstairs and bizarrely from the back of the room, she could hear the tap-tap-tap of deft fingers sending a text message. 'No doubt filling them all in at home of the scandal', she thought scornfully.
She snatched up the heavy glass, and with an angry 'For you, mother', swallowed the shot back. Carelessly putting the glass back on the table, it teetered on the edge and dropped over, landing heavily on the wooden dance floor. Mark quickly picked it up, unbroken, but now bearing a thick, dark crack down its middle.
He turned to her father with a let-me-handle-this expression, and taking Ellie gently by the elbow said,
'Come with me, we'll get some air'.
A sea of eyes followed them as they left, and as soon as they were out the door, Ellie could hear the urgent whispers, the sibilant gushing forth. like waves, building, building, then breaking on rocks.
Once outside the door of the hotel, she took one of the lanterns from the outdoor seating area, where a few bemused guests lounged. She really didn't care how she must look. Of course they would assume that Mark was her new husband and already on their wedding day, subject to a 'lovers tiff'.
She strided across the road towards the sea, two paces at least ahead of Mark. Her heels sunk into the sand, and not wanting to be slowed up, she slipped out of her shoes, their diamonte bows winking up at her like fallen stars.
Once she reached the water's edge, she stopped short, the rough waves breaking at her ankles, making the dress heavy and plundersome. The shock of the cold water hit her like a slap, and the tears gushed forth. Bawling loudly, she backed away from the edge of the water. The heavy clouds seemed to bear down on her and she fell to the ground, burying her head in her knees, layers of skirt forming a circle around her.
Mark stood a little distance behind her. He let her cry, her shoulders jerking up and down. Whatever he might say could not fix things.
After what seemed like an age, Ellie pulled herself to her feet, and red, wet and shivering, she stumbled back to where he stood. Gently he put his jacket over her shoulders, and she pulled it tightly around her. Her expression was hard to read, probably a mixture of anger and hurt. She just looked dazed and exhausted, as if awoken from a strange dream.
Slowly they trudged back towards the hotel, step-for-step in silence. Their wide, blurry shadows spread along the sand as they moved. In the distance, the sparkle of two fallen stars grew dimmer until they could no longer be seen.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
'A few pints. A few friggin' pints...and on my birthday weekend. Jesus Christ!' He shook his head, affronted, as a child who is the target of a teacher's constant reprimands. His hands. which were aggressively held out as if to show what was perfectly obvious, dropped lifelessly between his legs, set widely apart on the small park bench. He sighed heavily and slumped further into the bench. She looked away, breathing deeply through her nostrils. She was angry. The anger was just under the surface, and there it would remain.
An old couple passed slowly by huddled tightly together, she linking his left arm. Apart from that the park was isolated.
She noticed his knee start to bounce up and down, an involuntary spasmic-like motion that usually suggests his anxiety over something. She recognises things like this. She ignored it, continuing to look away.
'I think you're being unfair, Clau. I mean...am I not allowed to have friends?'
She edged further away, leaning slightly over the arm of the bench.
'I know you're stressed out lately...what can I do to help?' He turned to face her.
She blinked slowly, wondering how she was back here again. Was it her? Was she being too harsh?
How could he help? Did she need to be helped? Could her feelings be solved? Did he see her as one of his engines that could be fixed quickly and easily?
She didn't answer. She sensed his impatience, and knew she had to respond soon.
He shook his head again, and got up, as if to leave, but after a short pause, he sat back down again. He took her hand in his. Quickly, she pulled away.
'Come on Clau. I don't get what I did wrong! Please tell me what I'm supposed to have done wrong.' He was facing her again.
'I...I...nothing. You did nothing wrong.' She continued to look away as she said it, not trusting herself to face him. Tears were smarting her eyes. She would not let them fall this time.
She could feel his gaze, waiting for her to go on. She felt paralyzed: she couldn't move and she couldn't talk. She could do what she always does and flow along the river, letting herself be gently pushed by the current, even if the course is wrong for her.
This was one of those crossroad moments. She could feel it but she did not trust her strength. Could she stand her ground?
He reached out again and took her hand. Warm, familiar. This time she did not pull away. Her heart felt heavy.
'I guess I have been stressed lately'.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
'She's off again, and with the child'. Aggie tutted as she peered out the pane of square glass, letting the net curtain fall back into place.
'When will it end?' she sighed, wiping the crumbs on the table carefully into her palm and then flinging them carelessly in the direction of the fire.
'Are you listening to me, Pat? I'm asking you when will we have our daughter back?' She stands to face him, hands on hips.
'Ah for God's sake, why do I bother?' She gathers the cups and plates in a lazy pile and shuffles out to the kitchen.
Pat puts down his paper, sighs wearily and resumes his position before his wife re-enters.
'Pat, will you please listen to me?' Her voice is shrill now, shrill in the same way she laughs: high-pitched, all on the same note, punctuating the silence like gunshots. It hurts his ears.
He gets up, noisily crumples the paper under his arm, and walks out.
'Will you leave it alone, woman?' He says it under his breath, not wanting to hurt her further.
'What's that, Pat?' she calls after him, but he is out the door now, closing it gently behind him.
Half an hour later, he's sitting in Herlihy's contemplating the last of his pint.
'Same again?' the barman sweeps across from the other side, wiping down the counter in an effort to stay busy.
'Ah no, this'll do me now'.
He is alone in the bar, and not at home with drinking in the middle of the day. He's found himelf down here or else Brady's nearly everyday since Gracie's back in the house.His paper's in front of him, but his focus is elsewhere.
Two ladies enter the bar, sitting discreetly in the far corner. He recognises one of them as Cliodhna, Grace's school friend. Though sitting at a distance, he is sure they must see him too, and he can only imagine what they must be saying.
Without finishing his pint, he flips his cap on, and sends a general salute out with his left hand, to include whoever chooses to see it as he pushes open the door, relieved to be out in the open.
Back in the sitting room, he finds Aggie looking forlornly into the fire. If he had given it another half an hour, he thought, she'd be off doing something else.
'Fine and fresh out there', he says.
Nothing but the flames crackling.
'Cup of tea?'he says, leaning against the side of the door.
'Pat, will you please sit down?'
She continues to stare into the fire, her voice low and controlled.
'What is it, Ag?' He sits on the edge of the chair, leaning forward to her.
He sees the liver spots that have started on the side of her face, the faint wobble of skin on her jowel as she shakes her head, the tape that is holding her new glasses together. Seeing his wife like this unsettles him. A tear rolls down her nose, and she turns, quickly flicking it off.
'Come on, Ag. She just needs time. Things will work themselves out.' He wished he could believe the words he spoke so assuredly.
'It's been fourteen months now!' she turned accusingly.
'And five days', he thought, but didn't say it.
Instead, he touched her arm and said,
'These things take time.' He paused for a moment, squeezing her arm. 'Now, you could do with a cup of tea'
As he went into the kitchen, he spotted Billie's pink elephant on its side on the counter, and as he stood it up, it brushed against the boxes of pills. The valium, he could understand, to get through the funeral. But there must have been seven different boxes of tablets here. The elephant's smiling eyes suddenly caught him off-guard. He swallowed hard, and closed his eyes to let the moment pass.
Picking up the kettle, he resolved to sort this out. He could no longer turn a blind eye. Enough is enough.
'Aggie, the kettle's on. I'm going out. I've something to do'.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Someone once said 'You've got to rumble around in the ground for the walk beneath it'.
The public notice had been up for well over a month now announcing the proposed building of a hotel and holiday homes along the fringe of Coal Strand. A vast beach ecompassing miles of sand, it lay just under a mile from Cludell, a thriving fishing town. While the little beach at Cludell was very popular, it was often overcrowded. It was hoped to bring some of its market to Coal Strand, and to develop this area as a holiday destination.
Kate continues on from Harty's Wood, arranging the wild flowers she has picked according to colour and size into a pleasing bouquet. She had a 'good eye', she had often been told, and wondered at the expression. Why A good eye? Was one bad? She clutched her bouquet tightly as she made her weekly tramp to Scott's place.
There's a footbridge there now, where the body was found. It traverses that forbidden patch of ground, that forsaken spot forever tarnished with the memory of Scott.
Kate wades through the long thick grass, relishing the sensation on her bare legs. She hitches up her skirt allowing her to take longer steps, closes her eyes, stung by the wind, and walks on, arms outstretched, embracing the vastness, the wildness, relinquishing herself to the force.
She sits on the wooden planks of the bridge, bends her knees up under the warm tent of her skirt and wraps her arms tightly around them. This is the place where she feels most at home with herself, where she feels like she knows who she is. Her mind is muddled these days: sometimes she finds herself in the supermarket wondering why she had set out in the first place, the people swimming past her like fish in a tank. Only the other day she was on the bus home and she went right past her stop, and when she walked her way back, she found herself lost and disorientated, gazing in wonder at the identical pebble-dashed houses, which seemed at the same time familiar and alien.
A loud noise approaching reminds her that today is the day the building is due to start. How could she have forgotten when it's been the talk of the town? 'Isn't it great for the area?' people say. Or 'The hotel'll be up in time for Mike to get a job!' She is vaguely aware of what's happening, but remains peripheral to any talk about it. She's peripheral to everything and everyone in any case, so why should this be different?
Far off to her right, she sees the area marked out. She suddenly feels opposed to the idea of a hotel here. This is her spot, her and Scottie's! Who gave the right to some rich businessman to have his way with the place? She ploughs resolutely in the direction of the JCB, punching the air with her swinging arms.
'Hello, excuse me Mister...' she shouts up to the driver of the stalled JCB. She waves her arms, doubting she can be heard against the noise.
The machine comes to an abrupt silence and a strong middle aged man wearing a hard hat alights.
'Jesus, lady...I might not have seen you there. Don't come up so close!'
He looks vaguely familiar, she thinks. She wonders about this for a moment, but seeing him shift awkwardly, remembers it is up to her to speak. Suddenly she does not know what to say.
'When is the work due to start?' is all she can think of.
'Why, now!' he replies, stating the obvious. 'Just getting started on the foundations'.
A lorry approaches noisily, and the driver salutes them.
'Have a good day', he bids her cheerfully, indicating an end to a conversation that hadn't even properly begun.
As she trudges back towards the bridge, she feels diminished. This is where she comes to recover, to remember, to feels alive, not to be rendered invisible!
Returning to her position on the bridge, she looks on at the proceedings. She watches their movements: their pointing arms, their bending knees, their beckoning waves as the JCB trundles onto the demarcated area.
The arm of the JCB noisily rises skyward and coarsely scrapes into the earth, like the claws of an eagle closing in on its prey.
She sees Scott digging up sand with his beloved blue shovel, clumsily filling it into his bucket, his chubby wrists still lacking co-ordination. She guides his movements, talking him through the process, 'nearly there...that's it...now tap it gently...' Their laughter as the castle collapses seems so immediate, and her lips curl into a weak smile as she stares into the past.
The 'beep-beep-beep' sound of the truck as it moves back brings her on to Scott's sixth birthday, the 'AWee-Awee-Awee' of the feathered Indians running around the tepee from the cowboys, with plastic bows and arrows. How he loved his Indian suit-the crown of spiked plumes around his head, streaks of sand on each cheek.
'Excuse me' a voice loudly interrupts her daydream. 'Is this yours?'
She turns around, surprised she hadn't heard anybody approach.
'Scott!' she gasps, alarmed by the presence before her. Quickly the realises her mistake. Why, he doesn't really look anything like Scott, she notes.
'No. It's Tommy' corrects the little boy. 'Is this yours?' he repeats, holding out a worn leather wallet, with the iconic 'Spiderman' web on one corner. Scott's wallet, his only personal effect that was recovered with his naked body, must have fallen from her bag along the bridge. She carried this with her everywhere, like a rosary in her pocket, the soft feel of the leather providing something of a comfort, a reminder of the good times.
'Yes. Thank you. It is.'
'Here you go', says the boy cheerfully and turns to run back along the bridge. He is soon out of sight.
Kate struggles to her feet, holding on to the railings to balance herself. She shuffles along the bridge, and makes for home.
A place can mean so many things for so many different people, she thinks. And time plays its usual game of hide and seek, of which, it is always a winner.
'You've got to rumble in the ground for the walk beneath it' someone once said.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
An angry woman, she says.
I know she sees the truth.
But me? So meek, I am not angry.
She feels it in the silence.
But silence is my shield
Against the anger of the world.
Alone and mute, I am delivered
From fearful confrontation.
And red-faced, screaming, raging passion
An insane spew of violence.
Uncontrolled fist-biting, fighting,
A monstrous transformation.
Exploding, crazy words unleashed.
Blind chase to unknown target.
Tears and drama, hateful emotion
Out of all proprtion.
An unknown child, I'm scared, afraid-
I had not seen this coming.
And just as quick and unexpected
I wet my pants, I hate myself!
And now an adult, armed, defended,
I keep it all within.
The hurtful, guilt-inducing consequences,
Too exposing to endure.
Instead the screaming claustophobia
Trapped inside the forced smiles,
Clenched fists and grinding teeth,
Blood-bubbling, quickening heartbeat.
The seething, burning, buried rage,
The building bitterness.
Why me, this lonely, silent hate?
Breathe in and out. It will abate.
It does, but does not go away,
Inside me still it lingers.
And manifests itself in sadness,
Or confused, angry silence.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
She used to be so happy. Her life was full of dreams, of promise. She came alive on stage. It was the only place where she felt truly herself, the only place where she felt free. She loved the rigour of her daily practice sessions. Never did she mind sacrificing a social life for her practice. Ballet was her social life.
When did she stop being happy? Her life was still the same. So what changed?
She couldn't answer that herself. She didn't even accept it herself until now, standing at the edge of the world alone, separated from it all. If she jumped off this wall, she thought, would she float back to safety. Or would it all just end with a crash? She could not float back to safety; that much she knew. She was beginning to see, to understand, to question.
Auditions for 'Sleeping Beauty' were coming up in a few weeks. All she felt like doing now was sleeping. She knew she could get the part. But she didn't care.
They say silence is golden. But silence isn't golden. It's just silence. It doesn't have a colour. And if silence did have a colour, it wouldn't be golden, like the warm sun, like melting butterscotch. like the plush, cotton wool clouds as night begins to fall. No. Silence would be red, like fire, like a matador's cloak luring the innocent bull to fatality, like blood.
Silence, to her, had become dangerous. She began to feel her aloneness in the world. And that felt scary. Silence is what happened in her sessions with Claire. She didn't want to be there, so she would sit sullenly, arms folded, as Claire awaited some response to a question:
'You've not been showing up for ballet practice after school for the last few weeks. Would you like to tell me about that?'
'Are you nervous about the rehearsals coming up? Or is there something else?'
Silence. Awkward shuffle to try to squirm further into the leather armchair.
'What made you stop loving ballet, Sarah?' leaning forward in her seat, urging her to answer.
Tears. Unexpected. Rubs her cheeks with the back of her hand.
'What are the tears about, Sarah?'. Gentle voice, barely audible.
'I don't know'. A whisper.
Claire just sat there, let her cry. But would then follow the silence with another difficult question. And more silence would ensue, during which Sarah's dark heart would speak, either making her feel empty and sad. Or making her burn with rage. But these feelings were vague and elusive. Not precise and defined like the steps she used to practice so committedly at the barre. And so Sarah would continue to sit,in silence, alone with herself and this other, who in turn was alone with herself. And who eventually would ask another question or make another observation. And so on.
Standing here, above the city, she could see things more clearly. She could see that none of it really mattered. She felt like an angel, an observer from on high. She knew that Shane would have moved onto the next girl by now. And that Lisa would have moved away to the other part of the world. And that she was a little lost right now. And that a hundred years from now they would all be dead. And a hundred years ago, three kids had problems, no less important. But time ravaged them, as time tends to do.
Up here, in the silence of her heart, she feels her nothingness. She wonders at the point of life. She doesn't feel happy, safe or free. She doubts she will ever feel for ballet what she so strongly felt in the past. She feels anger towards Shane, who can now tick her off his list of exploits. She feels tired.
But she feels. She is real.