Some Rights Reserved by xip at Flickr
I wrote recently here about masking emotions from myself as I grew up through my college years. Here’s what happened to change that, or at least start me on a different path. As often happens with me, it started in a dream:
For so long, I lived in a beautiful fortress made of defiant walls. It stood remote in sheltered hills, safe from attack at any angle, approached only over steep rugged trails that few could manage. I often flew over it in dreams, its great length and height visible in every detail, almost touchable in my smoothly gliding passes. I would sail higher to see more clearly the narrow isthmus between great continents in which it lay hidden. But always I would wake in stillness within it.
Daily I strummed inside its intricate corridors. They never grew familiar, no matter how many times I walked them, mentally mapping each turn and door. The picture never stayed in my mind for long. In a vast structure of dark rooms I could be lost for days, looking for light in windowless corners, testing each door for new discoveries. At times, its night-like shadows would envelope me in comforting invisibility. I could see nothing, nothing could see me.
At times, though, baffling to me, I would become tense with a fear of moving from where I stood. Yet I could not resist opening each heavy door to find whatever it contained. There were so many in this vastness I had never visited. I could not stop moving and searching, but I always dreaded what I might find. What terrible thing was I searching for?
In a hallway of the topmost floor, I found a ceiling panel with a long cord dangling to within easy reach of my hand. I knew there would be a spring-hinged stairway dropping toward me as I pulled open the panel. I would have to catch and guide it down smoothly to rest on the floor. This was the only entrance to a long attic room I had never entered. I had no idea what was there, but I had till then always avoided going up those rickety fold-down steps into the darkness of that space. The thought of it sent me into a panic, but that day I had come upon the attic door without thinking, while searching for another room that I had never seen.
Surprised by the sight of the cord, I simply pulled at it without stopping to think, without giving myself time to be afraid. At once the creaking stairs fell toward me, and I caught the bottom, pulled it all the way down and pushed at its middle hinge to link the two sections of steps. I started up, grasping the flimsy railings on either side of the narrow stairs, as I caught that musty smell of stale air, dust and old boxes untouched for years. But I got no higher than the third step when I froze.
Suddenly leaping into view was a compact man, his face distorted with rage and hate. I no sooner saw him that he just dove at me, his eyes insanely white, fury burning his mind and his fists as his full weight struck me in the chest, shoving me backwards to fall hard on the floor, taking the impact full on my back, feeling the breath knocked out of me, struggling then to breathe, to get out a single gasp. me to ground and begins to strangle me and gnaw deliriously at my skull. I am desperate to wake up, kick him away, fly back to safety high above this alluring fortress.
In a moment, I’ve done it, terrified, awake, my wide open eyes staring into the dark of my bedroom. My mind is telling me I’m free of that nightmare, safe in my West Village apartment, but I still shake as I shove out of bed and reach for the locked bars on the fire-escape window. I grab them and pull to test their strength. All in order, all safe, no one outside. Suddenly, I see so plainly that the madman killer coming at me is pushing through from inside. He’s the roiling pain and anger I’ve so long held back, he’s the kid from my family I suddenly own up to. And flaring through my memory come fiery, unforgettable family scenes that I can’t make light of anymore. I feel them at last as the shaping moments of my life, and such relief pours through me at this obvious fact that I’ve managed to forget for years.
My mother, father, brother can no longer be the emotional strangers I ignore. I’m screaming at each one, loving each one, but seeing myself in the past silent and suppressed in the midst of those struggles. Finally, my life with them breaks free in my feelings, and I sweat sudden knowledge of what I am doing to myself, what I have hidden from for so long. I’m drained, happy, pained at once. I see my family tearing up my insides, and see the symbols I have made of them, the anger, the loss, the love I have always felt. The love I could never own or express, the chances I could never take to give out that feeling and ask for its safe return.
I was crying in relief that night. I could feel who I was and who I had long feared becoming. I could only think – what have I been afraid of? No sudden light, no answer, but a long struggle for recovery had finally begun.