Tuesday, 2 January 2018

I am 17 - I am 27.

by Catherine Haynes


“The doors to the world of the wild self are few but precious.
If you have a deep scar, that is a door. 
If you have an old story, that is a door.” 
                                     Clarissa Pinkola Estes


Part 1.  At Seventeen I Approach the Stepmother One Last Time.
The Stepmother is in her orange caftan in her corner of the sofa, legs folded under her, crocheted blanket around her, tucked up under the light, the only light on in the house, except for in my room, where I live like Pluto, the smallest planet, least known, unvisited. Her cigarette, with its red end glowing, never stops burning and is the only sign of life on her planet, one of the ice giants. The curtains are closed now against the cold of winter as they were against the heat of summer, though Mt. Baker stands magnificent outside the living room window, and each spring the weeping birch trees offer their lacy green dance. The walls are dark wood, and the fireplace stands black and empty. I’ve been cold for seven years. She turns the heat up when dad comes home.

I read her books though, walls of them, as she does.  Sometimes they are a bridge on which we linger, however briefly: The Wedding Bargain, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, The Listener. “Hope springs eternal in the heart of a child”… or is it a fool? What is that old saying anyway?

“Do you know Virginia Woolf?” I broach without committing myself, though in reading this author I have felt twinned, and less alone. This is a book in which I have found myself, and now lay before her like the cat that leaves the mouse’s heart on the doorstep, an offering, the best part.

“There’s something about a sick mind,” Bettie scoffs without looking up, “that just doesn’t interest me.” 

She does not notice that I stop breathing; that the grandfather clock stops ticking; that the mirror on the wall behind her, in which I can see myself, breaks into a dozen dangerous shards. For once I am glad the curtains are closed so there are no witnesses.

Sometimes when they criticize you how do you hold your wings?
I hold mine out and down, descend a little, then more.
Cool air comes. Nobody cares how low I descend,
and the way my eyes close makes me disappear.   William Stafford


Part 2. At Twenty-seven I Approach the Poet, May Sarton.

I write to May Sarton, having been consoled by her words:

We have seen how dignity can be torn
from the naked dying or the newly born,
by a loud voice or an ungentle presence.

My children are like the cool scent of cedar and moss wafting up from the gully in summer, of the sound of the dawn chorus in early spring, of the first hint of flamingo in the early east, but my life rings in my ears, throbs from deep in my bones. My husband - whom I married at eighteen to escape my parents, and to have someone all my own - is a War Planet and the strife never ceases.

May Sarton’s reply to my letter comes to me like the delicate and gentle rays of the spring sun, and warms the seeds of life that have lain dormant and full of longing within me.  She writes to me:
I was awfully touched by your letter, by your search for some way
to be your authentic self, and to communicate with others like you.
In some way you have to come out of your closet and affirm your self.
            Do you read Virginia Woolf? 
            We are all looking for affinities aren’t we?