A woman is a river. A man can wash himself in her, stand back, and see a new version of himself. Calm waters offer the clearest reflection, but moving waters, they wash the dirt off better. -H.S.
Any way you could go at all, an alley, a driveway, the isles of a grocery store, any hall, any path, any general direction or choice is a road. It’s as good as a road. It takes you somewhere, to do something. It’s a road. You can take this road, or that road, or the high road. That’s supposed to be a respectable choice. There’s the road to glory, and the road to destruction. And so often roads have one name on one end, and turn into another at some point, maybe several times, without actually making any turns off the damn road at all. Someone might say something like: “This road will lead you to another, and take a left on that one, skip the next two rights, take the third right, the next left and you’re there.” And then they say “Ya can’t miss it!”… Which is hilarious, because we all miss the biggest things, all the time, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. No one should say that. It’s useless. It makes me think of those billboards that say “Turn around! You just missed us!” by outlet malls, truck stops, produce stands or apartment communities. I think what I mean to say here is: I’m here for the traveling, not the destination. I didn’t always know that though, and I often forget. So, if you want, come with me, there’s a road I know, that I remember. I’ll remember it for you. I’ll paint it with words as I remembered it once in a dream. If you want you can come, but not to a place we can touch with our feet.
It was morning, and this particular morning was one of those in which my subconsciousness wakes me by sending to the surface of my mind little pieces of truth among random mixed up phrases and images. But I couldn’t completely remember what pulled the thread loose that brought all the pieces up to link together and shape this particular place, this particular destination. It seemed so familiar. Subconsciousness must have just started me down that long path when I felt the pull of recognition and let myself be swallowed up by the scene coming into focus now.
The field to the right was covered in dew that blew a foggy haze into the light beaming from the barely risen sun, and it seemed to wrap the entire memory-scape. There is gravel at our feet. I didn’t need the visual affirmation of turning around to look, the dirt road stretched out behind me to either side. Slowly raising my eyes from my feet– the spread gravel lays atop the sandy ground. Patches of red Georgia clay shine brilliantly and defiantly through spots washed away by rain. Here and there are bits of mica or “fool’s gold” glint through the matte rust colored earth and wink a greeting back to us.
I look over the large yard to my left– bare except for a few tall pines. I raise my eyes a little more. There are the familiar wide stairs. The sidewalk runs along the front length of a large white house with dark green trim. It leads up to the long porch that runs the same length. Complete with rocking chairs, the porch wraps around the front portion of the house in true southern fashion. The front sidewalk leads down to the entrance of the lower level, on the left side of the house. It was a home separate from the home above. Further left than that was the small pond behind the neighbor’s pale yellow stucco house, the house with curiously few windows. In this memory, though I didn’t know why any more than I knew how, this house was tagged, or marked. It results in a kind of hiccup in the part of my mind that bridges curiosity and certainty, but that won’t be mapped or named. This is a memory, a dream of one perspective, at one time, and so the hiccup is a faint invocation, a disconnected memory inside a memory. Other angles of this house came back to me, ones from what will be the future. A small barely detectable series of hiccups ensue. First, the image my mind had collected and cataloged of a lingering look out of a window of the big white house on the hill, down the slope at one of the only two back windows without shutters or trim. Just stucco waves back. Another angle; standing in a back room of this house next to a woman talking to a man. The air is green tinted and seems vaporous. My head, which barely rose above their knees, was turned looking up the hill at the big white house and wanting to be out of the green murky air of the house with not enough windows. The hiccups become subdued, I press them aside within the cage of my ribs.
We’re still standing in the driveway. The sun is bright and it’s just above the horizon shining harshly on the field. I move my feet now and wonder briefly if the vines that grew along the fence line further down by the field still blossomed in those hardy orange trumpet shaped flowers; so ordinary and still so beautiful. I want to pick one for you, as souvenir, but it will die. All souvenirs die. This small trip we’re taking, sharing it with you, that will give it another life. And for that you can take what you want as a souvenir from it. But, we have to start first.
I take a dream step, and anything can happen in a dream step. You might create a whole universe by kicking over a rock. In one step you might lightly tap the earth and bound up into the sky and eventually get lost in the Milky Way. In another step you might feel immeasurable weight press through the ball of your foot and find yourself grinding through the crust of the Earth lead by a foot that became a drill by just realizing that it could, if it wanted to. You have to be mindful when walking in a dream. And I am. Carefully, and with intent, I place one foot solidly upon the ground. I don’t want to fly away right now. I want to get where we’re going, up that driveway. We are traveling. With that truth being acknowledged internally, and another breathless hiccup of sorts, I am suddenly standing on that big porch, hand hovering above the brass doorknob. Other images play across my mind’s eye like a screen between where I am now and the space my thoughts occupy. I realize I am turning the pages of my mind around for you to see them too as you read the words of my dream, of my road, of my path. Every thought, prefaced with “Look:”. It doesn’t happen in order of typical progression you expect in the physical world because this is a dream-scape. As such, of course, it is not subject to these kinds of limitations.
Look: we are inside the home. Look: the three brightly painted wooden tulips on wood stems that sit on the windowsill above the sink, looking out at the edge of temperate forests of pine trees who’s paths are padded with sun toasted pine straw. Look: the cerulean blue tiled bathroom, wall to wall like an aquarium. There when you look in the mirror, you are the life on display. Look: the the living room; ornate ashtrays, cans of corn chips keeping the T.V. remote company, countless big cat figurines, leopards and cheetahs and lions. Some with heads that bob and sway at us. Look: the two foot tall wood carved likeness of a Native American. He holds a spear and has a loincloth made of dusty, brick colored fabric. Look: the beautiful and precious spotted sea shells lay on shelves. I had often been allowed to adore the shells in the palms of my hands. I would show them to those seated in the dim smoky living room expecting that they’d never noticed them before. Occasionally, they humored me and acted as if they were just noticing their beauty for the first time. I smile. My eyes burn. I clench them tightly closed and rub them with my fists. Spots of colored light flash and swim across the inside of my eyelids. Look: in the kitchen again, plastic butterflies and assorted fruit magnets adorn the fridge. Look; The wooden trash bin adjacent to the matching wooden cubbies carved “Onions” and “Potatoes”. And as if brought on by the rapid procession of these various images I am pulled into the memory, into a previous version of my body, as a small child. I am sitting at the round table that is comes to mid chest on my distantly familiar body. I am in the kitchen, in front of a bowl of Rice Crispies, next to my grandmother. She is Mamaw. Mamaw is intriguing me with what the cereal might be saying in her raspy smoker’s voice. Child self puts an ear down toward the bowl that rests on the quilted place-mat. I turn my child’s face back up towards the grandmother’s face which is smiling down at us, having momentarily forgotten the cards she had laid out in front of her for her ritualistic morning game of what should be solitaire, but may not be exactly that.
Listen now: the sound of them, the cards against the table, the shuffling. Let me save that as a favorite thing. “Let me leave and not have forgotten it. The seashells on the shelf, and the sound of the cards. I need to keep those.” I internally whisper the silent prayer to my highest self.
Look: her face, Mamaw’s face. It was years after this memory happened before I understood why the skin of my grandmother’s face and neck were so tight in places, and her skin seemed to have been frozen in a fluid movement in others. She’d been burned, it was once, and finally explained. The story had been turned into a lesson, the moral of which was “don’t play too close to the fire”. Details were largely and disappointingly left out. Child self just looks up at our Mamaw and smiles back. She doesn’t seem to be affected by the knowledge of her scars so it is decided that we won’t be either, and we forget to notice them at all. Mamaw returns to her cards. I watch her arms and the way they move and how the movements make less noticeable quivers down the gentle looking flesh. They seem so soft, but I fight the urge to lay my spoon down and touch them, and instead fondly note it as one of the ways a woman’s body ages. Soft round arms, that’s not so bad.
The cereal has almost lost all of its “voice” or the women’s voices have drowned it out. Mother is in the kitchen too. A version of myself is hesitant to acknowledge this, and also unsure of which version that hesitation comes from. Is it current/real time self, or as I am in the memory, child self, or higher self, or maybe ego? But she is there, The Mother. She’s moving between the fridge that’s covered in those brightly colored butterfly wings and pineapples, and orange slice magnets, and the gas stove. Listen: They’re speaking, the women are. If you weren’t familiar with these women’s voices they would sound completely identical. These are the voices of my mother and aunts. Smokers, all. They carried on in that southern ostentatious way for the benefit of the other. Good-natured, even if conspicuous. All of them seemed like the kind of women that would only take so much. After the tears were shed, if they were at all, there’d be nothing left to stop them from leaving. It was probably best to assume that they were right and just take their advice. Except that of the the mother. That thought from the same source of previous hesitation to acknowledge her at all, which is odd because now the aunts and grandmother are blurred muted figures of faintly colored static. The Mother gains focus to the point that she’s unbearably lifelike. Maybe my heart will realize it wants to try being a drill and bore away a hole, a passage, another path out of this memory and drag me with it, because she’s beautiful, and it will hurt to see her face when she turns toward us. It won’t hurt because she’s beautiful. It will hurt because of the beauty of what her face meant, or should have meant, was supposed to mean. How many selves does she get to hurt? Child self, young woman self, mother self, artist self, lover self? Selves align and snap together like magnets suddenly charged, and highest self protects us. Higher self gently reminds us all, over the roar of fear and pain, that mother role is wholesome, mother role is vital and good. This woman, our biological mother, she didn’t get to find or know well enough her own selves to be able to fulfill that role. The roar gradually subsides, selves are re-centered. The charge is replaced by paced breathing.
The mother stands in front of the stove. In her right hand she holds the spatula and minds the contents of a cast iron skillet. Her left hand is propped on the back of her hip, bent upwards at the wrist. She balances a cigarette between her first two fingers in that effortless way that seduces the smoker upon each brief moment of recognition, like a beckoning kiss. The lit cigarette’s presence is acknowledged, the hand moves to make fingers kiss lips, and the cigarette butt is the firm tongue parting those lips. The draw is pulled, the hand falls…..she shifts and turns. A single copper curl falls into the fame of a beautiful face. Clear olive toned skin, still fair in shade, is stretched over high cheekbones and a sharp but feminine nose. Eyelids delicately hood deep set yellow-green irises. And there is pain, much pain. I feel it for her. But it is hers, it is certainly hers. The dream images drop like billions of pixels turned to glowing sands and fall back into their waiting place to be made into other things, at other times, on other paths.
I turn away, and you are there, watching me in this place, in this memory, because you have followed me on this road. I am no longer child self, I am the self you perceive. I acknowledge you with words that I hope feel like holding your gaze, open, vulnerable, unassuming, having offered the truth of one road. I am comforted that you watched, and I sense you holding my gaze back. You didn’t have to come with me. I couldn’t have even told you why you should, but you did. There will be more places to go, there are always places to go. Most of the time, I can easily find my way to places I have already been. But I need to map the places I have yet to go. In each place I find myself I am able to draw in a bit more of the path ahead of me. In some cases I will want to know a totally new place, and I’ll seek my bearings. I’ll set my compass by the charge of my selves, all the ones that make the whole, aligned. And I’ll do better about asking for directions when I need to.
My heart doesn’t really want to be a drill. My heart wants to wonder. And I can move my feet in any realm I want. They become less distinguishable over time anyway, feet and realms both. I have many roads to travel. Some I know, some I have yet to imagine.
I turn and walk away. My footsteps, they sound like cards slapping against a the kitchen table. The road ahead of me is paved with beautiful spotted seashells. My eyes burn, but I force them open.