by Rita Leydon ©1999

With the dawn comes a powerful desire to leave the night behind. I pull thick wooly socks onto my feet and stuff them into well worn slippers. I grope my way down the stairs where I find my now very old Father in bright red long underwear—uppers and lowers—staring out the window at a fat rabbit in what used to be the vegetable garden before Mother died last year. The house is full of things that used to have purpose when Mother lived here too. Dad moves about and lives in the spaces in between. I don’t think he sees Mother’s things any more, just knows how many steps to take to get to his own. His house sits like a lonely speck on a great sprawling plain of sage brush, eight thousand feet above sea level, two thousand miles from my home. Majestic snow covered peaks surround him. Mother’s ashes are up on the slopes of Mt. Lindsey to the north—just above tree line—and from there she keeps an eye on him. He scattered her ashes himself from the belly of an old World War II bomber piloted by his friend Vern. The sky is big and blue. It’s achingly beautiful in all directions. Everything and everyplace other is far away.

I am forty eight years old. I have two sons on the brink of adulthood and have led a charmed life. I have a supportive partner and life is good. It truly is. I’m a fortunate woman and I know this. The outside looks like cream and roses, but the outside is only a polite facade. I bear a pleasing garment, effectively hiding that which is too painful to display. Festering sadness wants out. Wants voice. Wants release. My sentiments are neither unusual nor isolated. I know this for I observe wounded, lifeless couples all around me. The individual long gone, the spark of life and passion a thing of the long distant past. My partner and I were like that too, both of us desperately lonely, navigating among the living dead.

Old ghosts are crowding me here in my Father’s house. I’ve been expecting them. Bitter pills don’t go down well, and the one my Father so insidiously forced upon me as a young woman has irritated my lining ever since. Purposeful paternal intervention dismembered my first serious brush with Love. Lacking the courage to follow the call of my youthful heart, instead I resigned myself to uphold parental expectations and be a dutiful daughter. Such foolish nonsense. For what gain? The resulting pain has never gone away. It rises to the surface when the weather is right—sometimes just a tiny flurry brings it on.

I’ve been here a week now, getting in gear to tackle some hard stuff on paper. I’m a bit afraid, so I’ve given myself permission to warm up gradually. Write a couple of essays on lighter subjects. Grease my skids. Procrastinate a moderate amount. I know I can’t leave until my work is done. This morning I am sorely agitated, the night having glaringly illumined my turbulence. I am neither rejuvenated nor rested. The metronome in my mind ticks hard and fast, insistent and loud, running ahead, beseeching me to keep up. I’m a caboose on the Crack the-Whip Line. I run harder, breathe deeper and stretch my limbs farther than the others. Who are the others and what are they doing in my Train of Thought?

The others are familiar ethereal manifestations of those I have known during various open hearted travails. My mind drags me through a condensed version of difficult passages to illustrate its readiness for the task ahead. This makes sense. I pay close attention and mutely agree to come along.

I lie cocooned within the electric blanket’s erie glow. Glazed eyes wide open—the better to pierce my dark voids. Darting to and fro, the eyes pursue the ghostly vapors. My body is tense, fixed and focused on inner images discernible only to me. The thoughts are my thread, and the ghosts are beads I’ve collected and strung, one after the other. I desire to savor each bead for a moment before I move on to the next. Roll it around on my tongue and remember. Watching. Listening. Recalling. The others step on and off my thoughts according to their own travel plans. Everyone, it seems, has different destinations. The comings and goings intrigue me. I keep returning to the same ones, like a scratched LP that can’t get on with the next song.

During the night I hit them all in screeching succession—a feminine Scrooge encountering her Ghosts of Seasons Past. I’m not ready. I’m never ready. It starts with a little thought. A little question. A little wondering. Before I know it, I’m cranked up and descending, at great speed, the ever tightening curves of my spiral—a well worn circuitous rut lacking markers or destination. Resigned to exhaust myself in pointless exercise once again. I hold on and ride it out, knuckles shimmering in dusky lunar light. Sentimental sediment swirls about as the silent storm sweeps over my unleashed psyche. Garishly painted scenes replay inside my head, covering all angles ad nauseam. Many miles of footage fast forwarding and rewinding simultaneously. My task is to edit and assemble a plausible narrative from the pieces. To make sense of my story. Tame it so I can move on to the next song.

I stifle the noises that come from crying. I don’t want to be found out. Don’t want my Father asking intrusive questions in the morning. My natural wellspring of emotions and feelings, loves and passions is my greatest resource. It defines who I am and who I will become. I don’t mind if it periodically needs to overflow and find a new level. It’s not so different from the menses we women suffer in order to bring forth the species. Women are used to blood, pain and weeping.

The night affords me a numbing assortment of reruns. Engrossing material that consumes me, leaving me spent and unresolved. Same as always. I suppose most relationships end because interest or passion is diverted. That never happened to me. I never lost love, only contact. Four times. One is dead. One is my husband.

Second Love was sliced up and burned to a crisp one sunny December day when I was twenty two. The night bestows me one more flight in his red and white starburst painted biplane—for old times sake. Goggles askew, leather helmet flapping, tears licked off by the breeze. Gone with the wind.

Two years ago I hit bottom. Third Love and I were beset by multiple maladies. The night remembers everything and spares me nothing. The pretty facade that defined us crumbled. Chilled to the bone and blinded by desperation, I stepped over the debris and moved toward the heat and illusion of strong arms. Fourth Love was a melodious seventy five year old, a simple man who grabbed hold of me because I was going under. A many colored chameleon intuitively serving as child, lover, and parent, depending on what I needed at any given moment. One year later I was back with the father of my children. The octogenarian felt my need to go home. My spouse is understanding and reassuring. “You will always be in love with this man, don’t fight it.” He’s right. My partner is a secure man. His relationship with me doesn’t involve another, and my relationship with another doesn’t concern him.

Traditional spousal roles suck up too much oxygen. True friendship is the only bond I want. Not ownership. Not subjugation. Not fear. Rather trust, respect and loving encouragement. Each savoring the blossom and fruit of the other. That is soil in which I can thrive. Christopher holds me by releasing me. I come back because he lets me go.

Hallucinating slumber, I drag myself to the bathroom in an effort to break into the careening loop that has hold of my mind. A miserable, rumpled lady in crinkled silk pajamas looks back at me from the murky mirror, ashen face streaked and swollen, long hair hopelessly tangled from hours of labor.

The night isn’t over yet, but my wind changes. Sleep arrives, tardy and bearing a small token gift. A dream. A cease-fire between darkness and morning’s light. First Love tip-toes cautiously into my head, older and vaguely smelling of mothballs, he peers around, smiles with nervous uncertainty and offers a carefully worded statement of encouragement for the work he understands I have yet to do. He then evaporates on cue. I’m flabbergasted! Such courage to appear in my Father’s house!

Morning comes. My eyes linger on the silver and turquoise ring Christopher gave me recently. I’m so blessedly thankful for the friendship of this man who has no expectation of me other than I fully be myself—for that’s all I can be.