Thursday, October 11, 2012
My Own Divine Comedy
I’ve lived my own divine comedy, or maybe it was a dream. Dante imagined his underworld all those years ago with a poet as his guide, now I imagine mine. I am under the protection, such that it is, of tortured playwright and a wry prophetess. Let me take you on a brief journey through my own personal hell, then if wish, you can show me yours.
My reoccurring vision of hell often involves being trapped in a world that is not real. I don’t recognize anything and can’t find my way home. I once had a nightmare some might call the American Dream. The location was suburbia. In my dream, circumstances forced me from my urban 1920s cottage to a newly constructed house in a pseudo utopian village.
My distress at this move might be considered comedic due to the fact my former home was plagued with numerous pesky imperfections. Some of the more obvious flaws were: an earthen basement with spiders, crickets and flooding issues, cracks in the plaster walls, and bathroom faucets that, when turned clockwise to encourage the flow of water, then required repeated blows with a hammer to turn the faucets back to the “off” position. There were other annoyances that I seemed constitutionally suited to tolerate, except for the cold winds creeping through the kitchen walls each winter.
Back to my night terror…there were no monsters, rapists or terrorists, just an immaculate house with granite countertops, gleaming stainless steel appliances, an artfully open floor plan and a perfectly controlled climate. The décor was tasteful. A well-intentioned home stager must have scoured Pottery Barn warehouses, returning with every item I’d ever admired in quarterly catalogues mailed to my old address. Had I been more astute with cardinal directions, I might have noticed the feng shui of the furniture. All incidentals were strewn about with studied haphazardness.
My former home had been scattered with eccentric treasures from far-flung travels, as well as gifts from lovers, friends and artwork created by my children. My hands had whimsically placed each sacred object into the litany of my life. But here, in my dream house, not one knick-knack held a trace of my fingertips. And where was my family?
I needed fresh air. Each window was sealed shut to ensure an exact temperature of 72 degrees, so I opened the front door and stepped outside thinking I’d explore my new neighborhood. Bradford pear trees bursting with startling white blossoms lined miles of newly paved streets. My walk was pleasant, but after a few miles I wanted to go home. I turned around thinking to easily retrace my steps. Each house looked the same. I hadn’t thought to remember the name of my street (had I ever known it?), or the numbers by my front door. After what seemed like a few miles, I stood staring at a row of identical structures. One of them had to be mine. Right?
After days and days of pacing up and down expertly edged sidewalks, I entered a taupe house with white trim. A family of four was lined up at the kitchen island eating dinner. As they glanced up at me, I mumbled an embarrassed apology, escaping before one word crossed their lips. I repeated this odious exercise, entering and exiting strangely familiar houses again and again. Soon I was madly crashing through identical front doors and slamming out similar back doors, working myself into a high-pitched panic. I jerked away, barely able to breathe.
The crack in the ceiling above my bed was a blessed relief. I was home. Planting my feet carefully on the hardwood floor, I walked slowly to the bathroom, relishing each familiar step. The old clawfoot tub awaited me, stoic and stained with rust. Turning the tarnished faucets clockwise, I stood back as steaming water rose to the rim, then picked up the hammer from the floor and banged away gleefully until the water stopped spewing. Sinking deep into the bliss of a hot bath, I laughed away my nightmare of absurd disorientation.
Some years later I awoke in a world that was unreal to me. It was not a dream, it was my life. I didn’t recognize myself. I, once sent home by Mother Superior for violating dress code with a mini skirt and fishnet stockings, was swathed head to toe in a flowing floral dress designed by Laura Ashley. I had an entire closet filled with such frocks. Every Sunday I sat in church beside a man who loved me, when what I really wanted was to romp outside the church walls with my children or write pagan poems as ocean waves kissed my toes.
In my Laura Ashley life I could not sleep, I could not dream, I had no appetite. People and places that once gave me joy seemed dim and out of reach. I had wandered into to Dante’s ninth circle of Hell where Satan was eager for conversation. He did all of the talking, informing me that my beautiful dream of a perfect life was as empty as Cinderella’s Disney World castle. Judas was there, making it clear I was in the betrayers club. Who was it I’d betrayed - my husband, my children, myself? Christ! Yes, Judas answered, looking pleased to have company, you might as well get it over with now.
The fragile thread connecting me to every vow I’d ever made snapped under the weight of my ambivalence. I was sucked into an abyss with the destructive power of a Texas cyclone. Everything familiar was destroyed in the spinning. Swirling helplessly in the cavern of a dark funnel, pinned to a wall of sorrow, I was suddenly aware of a face swirling with me. Ebony eyes blazed through a tangle of untamed hair. I locked into this piercing gaze with the total fragility of my being, surrendering to the alchemy of this shaman, this savior, this Madonna. All went black.
I survived the destruction of my dream and the breaking of my vows, but I did not survive the memory of the beautiful, wild face of the abyss. This gaze of perfect love broke my heart. I was cracked wide open and sucked inside out. What’s funny as hell is that the cyclone spat me out in the middle of Tennessee, some level of limbo Dante forgot to mention.
A man calling himself Tennessee helped me to my feet, dusted me off, asked if I had a cigarette and told me I would often depend on the kindness of strangers. His traveling companion, a woman with peacock feathers in her hair, wryly tossed off some comment about a good man being hard to find. I traveled on with these two as my guides – Southern souls with a sense of the sacred and the profane, an eye for the misfit and at least a little sympathy for the devil.
Perhaps like me, like me you are making your way through this divine comedy called life, never quite knowing what you are looking for but finding some`good company as you tunnel your way toward the light. I highly suggest depending on the kindness of strangers, laughing often and choosing your guides wisely.
If you’re lucky, they will choose you.
by Merrill F.
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