April heralds daffodils, asparagus, soft rains, and daily poems. Yup. It IS National Poetry Month. I'll pen a poem every day, and post it here. Today I took the ferry to Ocracoke. The sun warmed my face, the birds followed in our wake, and a poem, one of loneliness, took root, reminding me as well of a scene in my first novel. My #fridayflash and NaPoWriMo offerings...
Into the Fire
I escape to my room, lost without my laptop. A new wooden chair, legs intact, sits under the desk. The feet scrape against the floor. I pull forward an empty notebook, uncap the red felt tip, try to focus.
Why won’t I take this goddamn pill?
I stare at the blank page. Thin blue lines blend with the white expanse, transmogrify to a clear, solid blue that reminds me of summer, the day Phoebe and I escaped the hellish Cambridge heat and drove to the ocean. I’d never been to the Cape, which surprised Phoebe; she thought everyone went to Cape Cod when they wanted to go the beach.
“New Englanders are so funny, so provincial about things like Cape Cod,” I remember telling her, laughing. “We New Yorkers go to Long Island, the Hamptons.”
We drove two hours south to Falmouth, U2 blaring from the metallic-sounding tape deck, wind blasting through rolled-down windows. Phoebe chattered with excitement. We cleared the bridge easily; it was Tuesday, the weekend trippers had already come and gone. Our intent was to cool off, eat steamers and lobsters, drive home that night to get to work the next day, but on a whim we boarded the mid-afternoon ferry to Nantucket.
I remember a singular instant: Phoebe standing at the front of the boat, face turned toward the sun, hair swirling in the wind. Seagulls squawked, dive-bombing for fish churned up by the boat’s engine. The perfect cerulean sky framed her golden splendor, her happiness, and in that second which seemed to last so long at the time but now is lost forever, I was overcome with love. She didn’t see me, but I went to her, wrapped my arms around her, kissed the back of her neck. Whispered my love to her. She smiled and said she loved me, too. It was the first time we said it: we loved each other.
The page pales, the memory slithers away. Why won’t I take this pill? I try to remember discussions with Bruce, in group, but my mind scatters, a million thoughts flying swirly-whirly like maple seedlings in a spring breeze, ephemeral and elusive.
It occurs to me being crazy is kind of like being high. In both, I’m out of control, unable to make decisions. To fully function. I use when I’m in pain, when denial doesn’t work, when I want to relinquish responsibility. Which makes me wonder: am I wallowing in this particular bout of insanity to avoid the crap I need to address in my current reality?
My problems feel insurmountable, but what are they? Exactly? When I try to itemize them in my head, they overwhelm me with their number and their magnitude. I scratch them out: the man I’ve called Dad all my life tried to kill me; I don’t know who my real father is; my mother had a stroke and might never talk again, she might even die; Phoebe left, but I still love her, though I don’t know why. Oh, and I want to kill myself. These are the biggies, but others add to my growing manifest: my body and mind are shot to hell; I’m unlikely to graduate this spring, most assuredly not summa cum laude; I’m in tremendous debt; I fantasize about getting high; how do I live with this insanity lurking like the boogey man, waiting to jump me without warning?
A long, daunting list. Makes my head pound. Where do I even begin? Oh Jesus. Panic blooms from the constant speck festering in my heart. My hands tremble, the words not legible. I drop the pen. The frying pan or the fire: this is my choice.
(Excerpted from Brighter than Bright, a scene where a suicidal Ben agonizes whether to take medication that robs him of feeling but which might save him from himself.)
Crossing Ocracoke Sound
skimming up blues and other
chum churned in the ferry’s wake.
Ahead, the island where
we slept amidst sea oats
singing at higher pitch
than the gulls’ keen,
were we licked butter
and more from the others’
fingers, sweet crab claws.
One hunger sated we
walked into sky coral
colored, sure of night
and the next... now,
though, the engine thrums
deep through my soles,
constant with the sea,
your pulse, a memory.