She makes her way slowly along the bluff, eyes adjusting to the early morning depths. As she walks, just the beginnings of outlines appear, above and below the horizon. Muted warm light reflects off shining footbridge handrails, revealing deep green and yellow mosses that feast on ancient redwood. Sand crunches under her soles. It’s the only sound that cuddles up to waves kissing the shore.
Standing on the little bridge, watching the sunrise in this place brings her to tears. It’s taken months for her body to believe she’s safe, for her mind to relax and accept, for her spirit to allow itself to be lifted. Every single day the universe lets her know she’s in the right place doing the right work. This morning, the rising sun warmed its way through the defenses her mind’s been slow to relinquish. (Sometimes a soul’s been parched for so long that the salve runs right off at first. It takes a little while to be able to absorb the good.)
She realizes she will never hear the sound of gunfire on this bluff, never hear high-powered, rapid-fire weapons in her neighborhood, never across the street from home. Here, she will never agonize for hours, rehearsing violent scenarios where she tries to defend her kittens and herself against an angry white guy with a gun. Hiking in this world, she will never come upon a sow whose gut has been blown out with small explosives. She will never stumble upon acres of naked, clear cut land. She won’t regularly terrify other animals just because she’s a human animal. She will never, ever say goodbye again to the sun for nearly half the year.
She reaches deep, but she can’t feel the bottom of her gratitude.
I came to the party a little late. I was buried alive for 8 months while the earth shifted on its axis after November 6th, 2016. I fell into another world, very far away. My lifelines were imagined–only in my head–and they snapped at the first sign of pressure. When I dug out and came up for air in June 2017, this world was gone. So was everyone I knew. I’m still processing.
I missed the group reckoning process, the one that started most people’s normalizing. I can actually feel the normalization process happening in real time now. I feel my emotions—stirred up by everything wrong in the world–want to relax, rest, just be. I feel the outside edge of rage dip into anger, cool, and trickle to a lower plane: sad acceptance. All my new, lively, squirming emotions have been on high alert since the world disappeared. They still haven’t settled down.
My emotions want to lose their hypersensitivity, want to be calm. They just want to try and enjoy what they can. And my mind colludes. It keeps looking for ways to live with the cognitive dissonance between a body and emotions justifiably hyper-vigilant and a deep exhaustion and desire to stop feeling every fucking thing. To just live, accept what is.
If I let myself normalize, I give myself permission to stop thinking about the carnage, stop feeling the chaos, stop trying to solve this new world’s ocean of problems. If I normalize, I let myself relax into this new normal, figure out how to maneuver in this new environment. Normalizing, I wall off my view of the destruction, creating a garden behind it, making room for peace in the midst of war.
I wonder: “How much harder will it be for me to push back when I’m normalized?”
She converted her privilege to tools. Her education saved her. All those abstract ideas she’d read, written about, and made her own–they saved her mind. They protected her sanity in a place that worked to annihilate both it and her.
An ability to bracket experience, to be an observer, to acknowledge when her efforts made no difference—helped her learn how to sidestep the passive aggressive power projections relentlessly fired at her. She learned how to unfix herself from the poisonous top-down pressure around her whose force ceaselessly pushed her to bend to its will. Trauma surrounded her, the kind that people there don’t have tools to repair. The knowledge and belief that people are more important than institutions or rules or authority helped her find places to intervene.
Her body is starting to adjust since being home, since she’s learned to stay in her own lane. She sleeps in a little later now, goes out into the night again. Her body has stopped clenching every time she hears something that sounds like gunfire. She saw a whale the other day. It was surreal. Right there, in front of her–swimming and blowing and being magical–while she walked on the bluff. Like most things in her life, she didn’t share it. No reflection. She soaks in healthy experience and continues to heal.
She reads what she writes about herself, over and over. To remember where she is, how she got here. Who she is. Settling in to her new space has thrown her off balance, like when blocking is added to being off book. She forgets her lines, stumbles. Forgets who she is. Where she is. What she’s doing here. Where she’s going next. This story’s ending is only in her imagination, and when she remembers she’s writing toward it, she’s instantly airborne, stomach dropping out, like when you’re at the top of the roller coaster, right before you fall. (In the end, she’ll make falling into flying.)
Reclining in the chaise lounge in front of the giant picture window, she wraps her arms around herself, holding tight while a sailboat glides neatly through three quarters of her living room.