Ghosts

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How many ghosts loom out of our past and stand over our beds at night ready, willing, and waiting to enter our dreams and haunt us? I guess we all have them. But, like the animals in Animal Farm, where some are more equal than others, I guess some of us are more haunted by our childhood past than other people are.

What haunts me most from my childhood? Loneliness, rejection, and abandonment, I think. An only surviving child, I was sent to boarding school at a very early age. This initiated the sense of rejection. In my own mind, I was clearly being thrown out and equally obviously, nobody wanted me around. This reinforced my sense of abandonment. Rejection and abandonment were complicated by loneliness. When I came home for the holidays and talked about ‘school’, nobody in the family knew what I was talking about, because nobody in my family had ever been to a boarding school. My school experiences were foreign to the rest of the family.

We lived in a working class area of Wales. It didn’t take long for my ‘posh accent’ to further single me out and this led to even more torment inside and outside the family. I will not repeat some of the things that were said, but I have never forgotten them. Only recently have I begun to understand what many of those words and snide comments actually meant.

“Sticks and stones can break my bones,
but words will never hurt me.”

The old Welsh proverb seems to ring true. I certainly got the sticks and stones, above all the sticks, daily beatings and canings in school. Back home, the words swarmed like black-fly and yes, they stung, hurt, and did a great deal of damage, much of which still clings around me.

Loneliness: how important was that? Both my parents worked, so when I was home from school for the holidays, I was either at home all day during the working week, alone from early morning until late afternoon when my parents came home, or fostered out to family members, not all of whom wanted me around. Many, many days I spent at home, on my own, face pressed against window panes, waiting, watching the eternal rain.

There were some blessings: I learned very early how to cook and I have carried the love of cooking with me always and everywhere. For me, cooking is a joy, a filler of space and time, a beloved occupation that dispels loneliness, and abandonment, and fear. Cooking: the thinking, the planning, the creativity, the activity … I hated cleaning up afterwards, always have. But, it’s amazing how many people love you, and love to hang around you, when you know how to cook, and how to cook differently and well.

Why do I write about this now? Well, I read this article on trauma and addiction a few minutes ago and it moved me greatly. Clearly it’s time for me to face some of those past ghosts and to banish them from my life. Can I do this? I don’t know. But I’ll give it a WIGAN, a jolly good try.

Crow

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“What is this life, if full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare,” W. H. Davies wrote, expressing our need for solitude and silence. Sometimes we must just walk in the woods and be alone with our spirits. Too much excitement, too much Brexit, too much mid-terms, too much suspense, too much controversy, too much shallow thinking, too much knee-jerk reaction, too much emotion = too little time to be alone, to sit and think, to work things out for oneself … so, let the snow fall, let the drifts deepen, let the snowflakes accumulate.

There are so many things I want to do that I am not doing any of them. I must take some, make some, time to sit back and relax, I guess. The well is empty. It’s time to be on my own, to meditate, and to allow those inner springs to fill up and flow again. That may not take long. Woods, crows, cardinals, and the hushed whisper of falling snow will do the trick.

It’s been a long time since I last posted. I guess life gets in the way. A beautiful cardinal sat on my feeder this morning, but by the time I had found the camera, our family of crows had frightened him away. Here’s the last (of five) just arriving in the tree. He’s not as pretty as the cardinal, but he’s very stark against the falling snow, speckled too, in places. Vade mecum. I will be back.

 

 

Insomnia

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Insomnia

Mine was at its worst in Moncton in 2015. I was committed to eight weeks of radiation treatment, and after two weeks, I slept restlessly, if at all. Some of the other residents of the hospice were worse off than me. They got up at all hours of the night and paced the floors downstairs, nursing their wounds, both mental and physical, searching for the peace and the sleep that eluded them. I never went down to join them. My case was different. All cases are slightly different. In spite of this society’s attempts at social engineering, each of us is an individual and we deal with our own problems in our own way.

In my case, the need to pee during the night dominated my sleep. I would sleep in ninety minute cycles, then get up and visit the bathroom, then return to bed for another ninety minutes. Sometimes, I was lucky and the cycles went for two hours, or two and a half hours. I rarely got more than three hours sleep. Upon returning to bed, I would often just lie there, remembering, thinking, musing, hoping, waiting for sleep to come. Often my cycle would reject the sleep I needed, and I just lay there waiting until I was ready to pee again. These were not great times. Luckily I never fell asleep so deeply that I wet the bed. Some did, but I was one of the lucky ones and managed to keep my bedding clean.

During this time, I learned to divide the night into segments. I thought of the segment that ran from 10:00 pm to 3:00 am as an uphill climb with the initial joy of dropping off to sleep tempered by the knowledge that the urge to urinate would soon be upon me. The segment from 3 am to 4 am was the plateau at the top of the hill: I rarely slept during this period and would look frequently at my clock while the minutes ticked by. Sometimes I would turn on the light and just watch the second hand throbbing slowly round. It was like watching sand sift through an hour glass, or water sift through the fingers: uncontrollable, unstoppable, life just slipping away. I had plenty of time to think and much to think about. I relived my life during those eight weeks and a lot of it was unpleasant as I blamed myself for the situation I was in.

At 4 am, the universe shifted, and I was able to relax and slide downhill into the Land of Winking, Blinking, and Nod. With the urges of the earlier segments fading, I would often get two sound sleeps at this stage, one from 4 to 6 and the other from 6-8. If I was lucky, I would sleep from 4-7, or even 4-7:30 am. These were bonus nights and I awoke after a three hour sleep session to find myself greatly refreshed.

Three years after my treatment, many things have returned to normal However, those sleep patterns have not changed that much. I no longer feel the need to urinate at such regular intervals, but I still dip in and out of those same sleep cycles. They have become a part of my system. The easy part, tired, sleeping from bed-time to about 2:30-3:00. The lying awake, anywhere between 2:30 – 4:30, then the relaxing slip into dreamland, for the last part of the night.

The good thing is that my dreams have changed. I am no longer chased by the ghosts of times past who pace through my night, awake and asleep, to prove that my suffering is due to past moments of childhood iniquities discovered in soulful daily examinations  induced by a consciousness of minute sins demanded by the weekly confessional. Now, I dream of many things, of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and if the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings. This is much more fun: I find I can now control my dreams, re-think them, and re-write the endings. In my waking periods I do just this, and my dreams adapt and change and become more pleasant as I fall back into sleep. This has turned into a time of great creativity: but that is a tale for another day.

Shadows

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Shadows

My front door stood open,
but I thought I’d left it
closed.

I tip-toed in and called:
“Is anybody there?”

Echo answered
‘… there, there, there …”
then silence.

I walked
from room to room,
startled by shadows.

I opened doors,
looked under the table,
searched behind chairs.

Nothing. No one.
The house stood
still and empty,

save for the fear,
the silent fear,
that lurked
like a remembered cancer
and occupied each room.

First published on this blog, Shadows, 27 April 2017. Here now with some minor changes and a voice recording.

 

 

 

Life

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Life

A champagne glass
bubbling to the brim,
your voice over the phone,
sparking and sparkling.
“I’ve got a new job,” you say,
and fresh horizons
open before my eyes.
I see your ship sailing
towards undiscovered lands.
A better life beckons:
more responsibility,
higher pay, a move away
from the routines, once fresh,
now boring, that hold you back.
“Well done. Congratulations!”
I hear you start the car.
“Take care. Drive safely.”
You accelerate away
driving into the  unknown
dimensions of a newer life
beyond this life,
a life I will never know.

Rain

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Rain

Parched, the dry brown grass,
taut the earth, tighter than a drum.
Footsteps echo a rhythmic, hollow sound:
marimba music with death tones.
No joy in the barefoot beat of heel and toe.

For months now, no rain has fallen.
The fire crackle is feared in the forest.
Elsewhere, trees catch and the woodlots blaze.
What good are showers, dry thunder clouds,
building, always building, but never releasing
the surging tide that this commonwealth needs?

We yearn for a thick blanket of cloud to gift us
with the long, slow soak of an English spring.
The grass speaks out with its many tongues,
each as sharp as a blade, and calls for rain,
for liquid to pour down from the sky and end
the dryness of drought. We need to fill the wells,
to let the streams overflow with the bounty of water.
We need the green, green grass: not this baked,
bare, arid crunch and crumble of taut brown earth.

Diagnosis

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Diagnosis
(sonnet)

Diagnosed with a terminal illness
called life, I know it will end in death.
For more than seventy years, that end
has lived within me, walked beside me,
sat at my bedside, and shared my sheets.

We have shared so many things: laughter,
joy, victory, defeat, the soul’s dark night,
the winding ways of fortune’s labyrinth.
When cancer called, we faced it together,
and life won out for a little while longer.

Hand in hand, we are together again,
our ménage à trois, engaged in a three
-legged race, blindfolded, unsure of who,
what, why, where, and especially when.