Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Scars and seeds

This is an entry that has taken seven years to write, and I have written it so many different ways.  I actually wrote one version of it last week, after a striking comment someone made to me about scars, and the remarkable impression they make on both body and soul.  And I woke up to proofread my entry, and it was gone. Gathered up by the blog deities. Sometimes you have to sacrifice things, and give up one version of the story to make room for another altar, another Novena, another candle lit in prayer.

A friend recently remarked that scars can serve as compasses of a sort (I'm paraphrasing here); they remind us to use oven mitts when removing a casserole from the oven, not to run with scissors, or wrestle near televisions. Scars are embedded with instructions.  And so many are beautiful to behold.  They tell stories that become mythologies. They decorate our bodies. They guide us. They still hurt, or in the case of a spider bite I received in infancy, they have no feeling at all. Completely numb, but still there to remind me, as I was moving wood over the weekend, to check for brown recluse spiders in the stacks.

Scars are also triggers for emotions; "soul archaeology," my student calls it.  I was speaking with a colleague about this today. Someone I love is hurting, and it is that particular brand of pain and feeling violated with which I can identify.  And this is where the subject of scars gets tricky.  Emotional scars, or those that require a trowel, a steady grip, and some good gloves, may also be embedded with instructions and they may also guide us.  That said, one may as well throw away the compass and the astrolabe because the human heart, with all of its arteries and pathways and miracles, cannot forget certain things. Sometimes it decides to desert the head, and stray wildly off course. And seven years later, I can still find myself sobbing in fear for someone else, only to realize later that I weep for myself as much as I do for my loved one.  The healing will be slow.  I know this, and I know I can't help her beyond just knowing that one fact.

I left when I was told that I couldn't survive on my own - to me, a sure sign that I wouldn't survive if I stayed.  I left with all the neat precision of a scalpel.  We fight, and I am hurt. Again.  I sleep on the couch.  Again. I think of where I could run to at this time of night. Again.  In the morning, he leaves for work without a word in that cold, sterile way that makes me think of formaldehyde and disposable lab gloves. I call two friends, who arrive within minutes.  They have boxes, packing tape, cashews, and music.  I say goodbye to my beautiful garden, my sanctuary of butterflies, hummingbirds, and rabbits. Books, clothes, my cat all packed in 5 hours and gone. I haven't seen him since.

We eat Mexican food, my friends and I.  They exchange looks across the table, and I stare at my taco. Later, they give me vodka lemonade with mint to stop the shaking. Later, one friend tucks me into bed, kisses my forehead, and tells me I can stay as long as I need to. I think of how I can thank someone who has helped me save my life. I think of how I will explain this to those I love.  I wonder if I will ever be able to love or be loved again.

Tell me what it is like to go to sleep without worrying that he will be there.  I don't know what that is like.  I sleep deeply at times, and wake up in a heat - afraid that I am not in this place.  I have dreamed of being dunked in formaldehyde, of being trapped in a bedroom, of jumping from heights too far for me to climb now.  Tell me what it is like not to feel fear. I don't know what that is like. Tell me how to plant a garden and watch it grow so that it obscures all of the truth.  I have done that.

The poet who lived above my garden loved my cleome, my love-in-a-mist, and my columbine, and he poked his head out of his studio window, chatting with me as I collected seeds and stored them in baggies with their Latin names and dates.  I didn't get to say good-bye before I left, though in his prophetic poetic way, he noted one summer afternoon, "I feel as though you will be gone from here, and what will I be left with if your garden goes?"  I didn't know how to tell him that already, there was nothing remaining. 

I am surprised I remember him.  For all of my scars, and for all that has bloomed since, I remember little of that period.  People who lived in the building say hello to me, and I don't recall having met them.  Scars that one chooses not to see because the digging requires tools I do not have.

Love, though.  Love is generative.  Love can be born of scars and also exist because of them. Love can self-seed, and even if I cannot always believe that its scars work wonders, others know better than I. At present, I hurt for my loved one, for knowing how this hurt can cause one to indeed, "see the world more clearly than before."  And I am also thankful for these scars and seeds, things of beauty all.


In Late November
Of the butterfly-bush, whose purple flowers
The monarch and the swallowtail
Sipped in August, near my windowpane
(Such a wealth of wings and flower clusters
I could hardly see the grass, the trees)
Only stalks and branches remain,
And panicles tipped with russet berries.
Now I see everything so vividly:
The young woman on her hands and knees,
Planting the meek shrubs three years ago --
Three short years and thirteen feet below --
Told me the light was perfect here and so
The plants would thrive, just wait and see
How gracefully the flowers would bear wings.
I would see her when she was not there,
Then go blind, standing right beside her.
How could I begin to explain such things?
Soon enough the blossoms reached my sill,
A floor above her terrace flat. Too late
For her to see the wonder she had wrought
Or for me to tell her. She'd moved out.
I never dreamed these branches in full bloom
Would all but block the summer view below:
Garden, gardener and terrace door,
Casting a dappled shadow across my room.
I never knew that when November came
I would miss the butterflies so much
And see the world more clearly than before.

-Daniel Mark Epstein


  1. Beautifully written, Paige... beautifully written. But this loved one of yours... may I ask who? Because if she's a loved one of yours, then she's a loved one of mine, and I wanna give her a hug. That is after I give you a hug and tell you that right now I am so glad that you are in a happy place and have found the truest of love!! You more than deserve it my dear one! <3

    Love, TR

  2. It breaks my heart to remember the fear, and the trembling, fragile person that I saw when I came to you the day after you left. You were broken, almost in two, by this person who tried to break you. But somehow your spirit and strength came through, and you were able to find yourself. You knew instinctively that, to survive, you had to leave. It took everything you had, even ounce of your being, to muster up that strength.

    I am so proud of you, my daughter, and so blessed to have you in my life. Your laughter lights up a room, and I thank God that you have found your laughter again.

  3. I am in awe and wonder of my 3 amazing sisters - you define courage and beauty. Strong hearts, strong bones, unbroken by the malevolence that could not steal your light. You shine, sisters, you shine.