There’s a place in my life, which gives my stomach a little twist of anxiety when I think of it; a definite mental tug, trying to suck me back in. I need a sharp intake of breath and a deliberate effort to focus – to shake the mental dust from my metaphorical heels, and stay away. A place which has become slightly legendary, a little bit mythical, and probably a lot out of proportion within the context of the rest of everything.
If I imagine it, it’s as a closed door in my home. A room, deliberately left alone. A shrine unseen and left until I can bear to open the door, let some air in, and move things around; reinstate some purpose.
I can stand in front of it, fingers resting on the well-worn handle, forehead against the wood, the grain an inch in front of my eyes too close to see, even if my eyes weren’t closed as my breathing struggles to stay calm against the insistent thudding of my heart. I can teeter for long minutes, muscles clenching, nerves afire, wondering whether or not I will have the courage to go in. Some days I get as far as turning the handle and feeling its distinctive click. Some days I will stay there, deflated and afraid, trying myself several times, testing my mettle and finding it wanting again and again and again.
Sometimes I will ignore it for months on end, barely registering its presence.
On the occasions I make it through the door, the room is unassuming.
Knowing this, I take a steadying breath and all at once, go in.
The air is cool, flat, stale – unbreathed for so long it has forgotten how to nourish properly. The walls, once a glorious riot of colour and shape, now seem to have withdrawn into pale, unremarkable surfaces, reflecting the nothingness. Drawn curtains let through a chink of light in which dust motes swirl like galaxies, speeding into a frenzied chaos as I trail a finger experimentally through their orbits. A single table stands sentinel with an old chair tucked neatly under it. The hub of the room lies silently on that table; still, cold, brooding. Even powerless it emits an aura I still know to respect.
I run a finger across it, knowing it will only wake to my command, and even though I have gotten this far, have breached the doorway and entered the room, I know there’s no real danger of that.
The problem was the window, which I think got installed somewhere along the merry way of Before. Even with the curtains, I couldn’t deny its presence. Even with them closed, I couldn’t unsee, and having seen, could not continue.
I decide to peek, to see if anything has changed.
The fabric of the curtains feels warm and soft in my fingers as I lift sideways, widening the chink into a gap big enough to see through. Blinking my eyes against the light, the world outside comes into focus, and seeing it, I wonder if things are worse than ever:
Hurricane destruction; child abduction; earthquake devastation; divided nations; kids self-harming; factory farming; sea temps higher; 45’s a liar; people getting sick, getting high, getting killed; another oil slick; creatures die; landfill; media gone mad; quick! follow this fad; white supremacy; what’s the remedy; hashtag this, hashtag that; whole world in your lap; stick it in your pocket; tweet this; forgot it; try to keep up, catch up, get up; gotta wise up, get fucked, unstuck…
But things are never worse than ever. Probably. Because history works in cycles, and the world has been through these things before…though perhaps not so much has been known by each individual. They say ignorance is bliss, and truly these days I think half the problem is knowledge, because how can life just go on as normal, knowing that there’s genocide in Myanmar, utter destruction in Puerto Rico, homelessness crises everywhere in the West, despots going off the deep end in the East, an ever-present threat of war and famine in Africa, gay men being slaughtered into non-existence in Chechnya…not to mention global warming, the oceans filling with trash, and the rising concerns about our data being gathered, collated, used nefariously to help social-engineer us into some advertiser’s ideal of a consumer society – it just isn’t possible. Life cannot go on as normal, and yet it must go on – outside that window, and within.
I could spend hours transfixed with horror. I could spend hours with my back turned, plugged into my hub, pretending it wasn’t out there. Time was, I could almost do both in the same day, but no longer.
Palms to the glass and tears in my eyes, I can’t work out whether the space inside me has shrunk, with the stuff on the outside crowding in…or whether the my inner space has grown and enveloped the stuff on the outside and now it’s all in the same place, but *something* has fundamentally changed. My life was thrown up in the air to see which bits snapped off on the way down, and I find myself reconfigured. A little restructured, definitely repurposed, and hoping not to recycle the rhetoric of old, which suggests that life is life is life, and even though it happens as it will, a lot of it is what we make it.
At my core, I am the same: a deep thinker; a believer in love; a seeker of good things and silver linings. I hope that my character is set, somehow pointed towards vague optimism, in spite of the evidence of, well *gestures vaguely at everything*.
I’m still a writer, but you’d never convict me of it.
So before I close the door to that room, and leave it be for another however long, I pause long enough to write my name in the dust. Gently, with just one fingertip.
It might be a promise, or it might just…be.