Emma is on her knees digging in the garden as he sleeps, and she can feel when he dreams about her. Their hands press together, palms open. The bottoms of her feet burn with an intensity of feeling that suffuses her body. A world away he is loving her, and she barely breathes, allowing him to linger. It is exquisite and maddening.
How like the pain it is, she thinks. For over a year she felt pain ebb and flow through her body—tides and undertows in an ocean of tears. As despair deepened, so did this pain. She felt it in her palms, the insides of her arms, her chest, her forehead, the bottoms of her feet. It led her to assume mental, and sometimes actual, postures of supplication—bare knees on naked earth, head bowed, palms up, arms held out toward…what? She didn’t know. She only knew that her life had fallen away and nothing was left except this fluid pain and the supplication it demanded.
Over the dark months she learned to siphon it off into drawings, desperation pressing her back to the familiar processes long ago abandoned in favor of practicalities. Pencil to paper, concentration on form, seeing. These grounded her and drained some of the pain away when it was unbearable; when she did not think her body would survive otherwise. It was how she limped through winter, and as light returned to the world she realized the pain had led her back to her life.
Now, here, in the garden, Emma is not surprised to discover that this delight is the twin of that pain. It is indistinguishable, in fact, except in its effect upon her emotions, and the knowledge of whom she kneels to in supplication. For although the air appears empty between her outstretched arms he is there, meeting her gesture with his own. Time and space cannot bind this.
∞ ∞ ∞
I wrote this little picture a few months after I had gone through an experience of pain like this–after loss upon loss, both in my personal life and in the outer world, finally acted to break me open. Emma siphoned the pain off in her drawings, I siphoned my pain off in writing. But it is very much the same–the quality of attention that goes into seeing what is there and accurately rendering it on paper….
I was caught by my need to please people, to live the life I thought everyone expected me to. I thought if I gave people what they wanted they would finally leave me alone so I could do what I wanted. But it doesn’t work that way. The fact that writing was the only thing that got me through that dark winter, that it took me until I truly felt I would die if I didn’t write…well, it is something that makes the tears well up inside my chest with tenderness for my young self and gratitude for that pain.
You see, my young heart and hot head made a vow never to write again, after my writing was instrumental in taking me away from my friends and my freedom when I was sixteen. I threw everything into a hospital trash can and vowed never again. Then I took up drawing, which is a second language to me. Not as fluent.
So twenty years later–twenty years of trying to fit what was or what I imagined was expected of me–I broke open and couldn’t do it anymore. I stopped believing I could ever in a million years give everyone what they want. And then I started writing again, and I started to come to life again.
And twelve years after that, it’s still hard to get myself to write regularly, the way I know I should.
Vows are potent forces in the psyche. But some vows must be broken.