On my screen is Baba Yaga, going off on an adventure in her cup, hair flying wild, broom in hand. Her house stands up on chicken legs. It’s just right for this day that I’m getting for my own adventure.
This morning, though, I am sick and scared, and even though I’m exited, there’s part of me that just wants to stay home, not do something new, stay where I know, with what I love and what’s familiar and good, stay with my pup and the view of the water and the trees and the bay. It’s like a wall inside me, this fear, something stubborn and seemingly immovable.
It’s scary, going to new places, doing new things, trusting: so much trusting. Let that be ok, I try and remember to whisper to the inside parts. Let yourself be the person you are: worried, careful, wanting to take care. Let yourself take care. Scrub the places that are breaking out. Scrub the safe zones. Uncover what’s ready to be risked now.
When you run up against the wall, you have options. you can sing,you can bleed, you can pound, you can cry, you can try and climb. sometimes the wall feels like it’s going to be there forever, sometimes you can’t imagine yourself not sitting up against it every morning, every day, every night. sometimes you look up to watch the birds build their nests on top. Sometimes you turn back, walk away. You forget about climbing. This is and is not a metaphor. You know the walls I mean.
This morning as I was doing my stretches, waiting for the teakettle to boil, I stood in a dark room and looked out at the thick morning fog. The lights twinkled on, off, on again as the clouds moved over the city. Then I caught a glimpse of something behind me, froze inside, turned to look in spite of myself — but it wasn’t him. He wasn’t there. It’s just and old wall, a memory, a forgetfulness and a remembering, a fear. I watch for him sitting on the couch, waiting in the dark for me. He probably didn’t imagine, all those years ago in New Hampshire — when he sat in my apartment in the dark waiting for me to come back home — that, more than twenty years later now, I’d still catch glimpses of how afraid I was that day, glimpses of his ghost, his threats.
How to explain an old fear like this that lingers in the peripheral vision, that isn’t even him anymore, but some embedded bit in my psyche that says keep to what you know, don’t go out there galavanting. Stay here. Be where you’re supposed to be. Be what we know, what we’re familiar with. Be safe. Don’t risk, don’t change.
It would be interesting to pay a different kind of attention to this, to learn whether there are times that I’m more likely to see him sitting there in the dark, waiting for me. Times I am more afraid, times my psyche sends up more flares in the flavor, in the shape, of his shadow, his echo, there on the couch, waiting for me in the dark. it’s an old message: You have something to be afraid of. You aren’t safe. You should stay vigilant, you should not relax. When I come home at night, alone, and catch that fear, I have to check all the closets, slam open the shower curtain (quickly — so it startles him if he’s hiding there), turn on the lights in every room. Still, he’s not there. He’s not there, Jen. He’s not there.
And he wasn’t there this morning. It’s a presence in me, though.
Sometimes the wall seems like it’s still there, in the body, in the heart. sometimes it feels like a forever thing. The wall obstructing your view, obstructing the future, obstructing your possibilities. Other times the wall is gone, and you are free.
It has its uses, the wall. It can be a friend, if I let it. If I look into the fear and ask it what it wants to tell me, if I don’t just berate myself for being stupid and afraid, or steep into self pity. I don’t mean never doing any of these other things — but not only doing them. If I let myself notice that fear, hold it in my hands, maybe even comfort it, comfort the parts that are afraid, the me that is afraid, the me that wants what’s known, that is tired of risking. Why do we have to do the scary thing? it asks. Don’t you know our show is on, and there’s popcorn you can make, and we can pull the curtains and make a safe cave and be here all day until all the bad things go away outside?
I do know that, I tell it, me, her, that scared self, the old just wanting things to be ok. And another day we’re going to do that. But today we;’re going to get on an airplane and go to a new place.
She wants to stay home cuddled with the dog. I tell her the dog is gong to be with a good friend and is safe and in good hands and will get to play a lot and even have her ball in the house like she doesn’t get to do when we’re home. We know she’s going to be ok. We both still cry a little, though, me and that girl inside, the scared one.
Underneath the scared one is the adventurer, the fearless curiosity, the place that ignores the wall, or just sees it as something to get to figure out how to get over. Come on, it’s time to go, she says to us. She’s tired of our weeping. She has backpack, hiking shoes, a walking stick, her hair in long braids down her back. She has her hand out for me to take. She wants to go out with Baba Yaga. She’s not afraid of the chicken legs, and wants to know how the old mother can get that cup to fly.
So we’re doing something different today, all the old places and times and selves that live in me, all the trauma history and memory and the adventurous girl and the tomboy and the girl in the twirly skirt who just wanted to be pretty. We carry our fear with us and our curiosity, the thing that has kept us alive all these years (maybe both have kept us alive, and finding a balance between them) — what is going to come next? The old stories can help carry us through, if we let them, show us all the ways we know how to be safe, to survive, and to risk everything we have for change. We’re off to see the Wizard, with our brains and our heart and our courage and our home always with us, always already inside, and out there for us to discover, too, over and over again.
Thank you for the ways you are easy with the walls you’re still living with, and easy with yourself when they flare up before you. Thank you for the ways you let yourself move around them, over, through, and the ways you lean against them sometimes, too, resting your head against concrete or brick, tears on your cheeks. Thank you for all the ways you use to get over. Thank you for your words.
(A note! While I’m away I probably won’t blog much, but I’ve scheduled a handful of posts to share excepts from the book (coming next month!) — I’m excited to hear your thoughts.)