by: Heather Fawn
Hiding from the truth, struggling to survive, in the glare of the lights….
It’s in the middle of the night, in your island of a bed, in the middle of your hardwood floor ocean, that the truth crawls ashore.
Sometimes, I leave the comfort, the crimson blanket-beach, to go swim on the cold ocean floor. I can’t see anything and it hurts my hips and my vertebrae. I forget how important, how there my bones are until the only thing between them and the smooth chill of the tide, is my skin.
I lie there, adrift, and wait for them to come. I can sense their approach. Like the fairy penguins on the shores of Philip Island, Australia, they materialize in their nightly pilgrimage from the silky surf to the wet sand. They hunker down along the boardwalk and ignore me, the gawker. I wish I could take a picture, but I’m frightened that the light will turn a Mogwai into a Gremlin (since the water didn’t).
On my island, I dream. I rub elbows with angels and demons of equal measure. I learn and accept the things that I can’t stomach in the warm, unfaltering light of afternoon or early evening. My inability to see what’s around me makes my introspection the primary mode of operation. I have no choice but to acquiesce to the process. This is not the generosity of morning. Nor is it the humbling caress of 2pm.
I used to hide from the truth with lights. Night lights, black lights, disco ball color strobes, desk lamps and full-on ceiling fixtures. I couldn’t keep up with the bombardment, the ambiguity and discomfort. I didn’t have the courage to listen and to let the feelings pass. I would spin them around and send them on their way long before they ever reached my downy haven. My most pressing matter was survival.
When I lived alone in Japan, the penguins wobbled in in droves. The waves lapped up to my quilts and covers and I was paralyzed, frozen and suspended in the magnetic current of constant thought. Alone in a country that didn’t know how to pronounce my name, alone in a house with a room out of a Japanese horror movie, I tried the lights for as long as possible. I lived with the unfamiliar noises of night in my temporary fortress of solitude- a neighbor on one side whose clomp-clomp of boots seemed to fill every space in my empty upstairs rooms. A neighbor on the other side of me whose loud counting during daily exercises, and the hoarse bleating of his lonely cat, became routine and comfortable.
The steady chirrup of frogs in the rice paddies surrounding my neighborhood is something I remember about forcing myself to sleep in the darkness that felt inexplicably familiar, and comforting. It was the only thing that got me to calm down enough to consider an alternative to jamming my body into the tiny wicker daybed in the living room/kitchen with the main light blazing overhead, playing movies on repeat until I could see the beginnings of a sunrise.
I chose the scariest room in the house. But I locked the door. I heard a noise or two outside my room for awhile. I’d put a movie on sometimes before lights-out to keep it together. The unsavory glow of subtitled anime lulled me to jittery slumber. I went from sleeping on a futon on a bed frame to sleeping on the floor without a blanket. I’d sweat a lot and washed my sheets every night. I eventually played the same anime every night before accepting the darkness. I gave up my pillow and full nights of sleep.
During this time, I fostered cats. Their occasional noisy play during wee morning hours kept me from being swept away, though I knew this was such a real possibility that I sometimes couldn’t sleep til morning. I was fighting something like it was an illness, and as I became more and more isolated from everything, I, splashing around blindly, also became resolute about previous ambiguities.
I crawled back to the U.S. on brittle, water-logged bones with seaweed in my teeth and starfish clutching to my belly. Like a sponge, once I came to rest, seawater sloshed out of my pores. Once I dried out, I felt fluffy.
I don’t know what happened to me. I’d been running so long from the dark night of the soul, experiencing it in large doses but never sustained. Then came solitude in Japan, with no more distractions, and I finally felt the depth of this darkness. My feet never did touch the bottom.
There is a reason for night, other than staring at blue washes of computer screens, which, along with the previously constant need for night lights, has completely destroyed my night vision. I’d tried for so long to live with the only side of me I wanted to understand – the light. I was terrified of my dark side and what it was capable of. But you have to make friends with the monster inside you. Once I stopped trying to ignore the terrible, it was really just an enormous, albeit hideous and frightening, kitten.
It was in the dark, with the tears I didn’t understand and the brutal loneliness that swallowed my appetite (and, consequently, 35 pounds), that I shed many layers. I went from chameleon to human. I found myself again and dusted her off. This was all without trying. I found just the right things to watch and think about to change the way I used to think about anxiety. Over a year of counseling but it was Maria Bamford writing jokes about obsessive compulsive disorder that helped me destroy the sick grip of debilitating anxiety and obsessive thoughts. This alone probably weighed 35 pounds. I wriggled free from the suffocation of not knowing myself as well as I wanted to. Most importantly, I learned that I am much stronger than I could have ever imagined, though I do need others to keep me from floating away.