Busy day today. Two job interviews, and both look promising. I am looking forward to getting back out there.
My doctor's appointment today was excellent. My blue-eyed shrink sat me down and looked at me appraisingly while I chattered about getting a job, moving to Portland, going back to school. I like that he doesn't write stuff down while I talk. He listened, rubbed his beard stubble, blinked his sleepy blue eyes. Leaned back in his chair. Ashley he said, I'm always cautious about saying this sort of thing, but I'll say it anyway. You look....really healthy.
We talked about the importance of keeping to a relatively solid schedule. How sleep and routine (and of course the right medicinal cocktail) combine to create good mental health. He mentioned a study done on the campus of West Point that showed military cadets to be significantly more mentally fit than typical college students. "Mentally scrubbed", the study concluded.
I remembered that I had a lot of friends who went to The Citadel in Charleston, and I concurred that every single one of the guys I knew who went to that military academy seemed to benefit from the discipline, the scheduling, the high expectations. That's when he asked me about Charleston.
I hear it's beautiful there, said my blue-eyed shrink. I nodded. You have no idea, I said. He gave me a questioning look.
Well, it's strange. I lived there for the majority of my adult life, so I sometimes forgot. Forgot how charming it is. But every single person I ever knew who visited me in Charleston - friends, boyfriends, internet acquaintances who were just passing through - really fell hard for that city. It's almost as though she's a woman, not a city.
He nodded. Yeah. It has to do with plasticity, he said. I didn't quite follow him, but I was intrigued. Que? I said, and he laughed at me.
Well, what I mean is that when you live in one place long enough, you lose sight of what made it so beautiful to you in the beginning. It's as though the brain has only so much plasticity - elasticity. As though you can comprehend beauty for finite periods of time until you sort of become numb to it.
I got it. Ah, you mean like Ethan Hawke, I said, and it was his turn to look puzzled. I explained: Yeah. So, here's Ethan Hawke. He's married to Uma Thurman. I mean, Uma Thurman.
My doc nods. He's following.
So here he is, married to this insanely gorgeous creature. She's his by choice. She's had his babies. He gets to wake up to that face every single morning.
My shrink interrupts. She always reminded me of a Modigliani he says swoonily.
I know, right? Anyway, so he has this perfect woman, she's freakishly beautiful, devoted to him, how could you ask for more. But then he goes to Canada to make a movie and winds up in bed with some Foley artist or script girl or whatever. Some random chick.
He nods again. Yep. Plasticity. Something in him forgot the most important stuff.
I think about this for a minute. Because these days when I remember Charleston, I don't tend to dwell on the fact that I was miserable there, that the traffic and population have swelled to Brobdingnagian proportions, that she's polluted by an air of snobbery and pretention that's as thick as the stink of pluff mud. I (almost) forget that she's home to my personal Judas.
All I can remember is her haughty elegance, how bridal she is in the Springtime when her frothy azaleas are blooming, how she's surrounded and embraced and celebrated by rivers. The way she's dressed in iron filigree, draped in metallic lace. How she's heavy with oaks and dripping with tendrils of spanish moss. Her spires. Her coyness. Her flirty charm. How she's perched on the mouth of the Atlantic like a droplet of honey on cupid's bow lips.
Yeah I agree. It's easy to lose sight of something when it fills your eyes all the time.
My shrink smiled. You're gonna love Portland he said, and I knew he was right.
Near sunset I bought a turkey bacon guacamole sub and it was an inspired choice, because bacon is good and guacamole is good but together they are a juggernaut of yummy. And then I went to the cemetery to sit and watch the mountains.
From where I like to sit you can see the first rise of the Blue Mountains, which compared to the Rockies are puny. To me, though - Lowcountry bred and raised - they are exotic, ravishing as a sloe-eyed dancer drenched in sandalwood perfume. They are fascinating all day long, but at sunset they pull out the stops. Their snowcaps gather the light, fling it upward and outward, scatter it into a million exuberant shades of rose and purple and (of course) blue.
I thought about what my blue-eyed shrink said about plasticity, about that peculiar form of amnesia. I thought about Charleston, and I held her up to the light like a pink sapphire. She is still beautiful. (You are still beautiful, I tell her, and I know she hears me. But you aren't mine anymore, and I know she understands. I set her down gently and turn back toward my mountains.)
I thought about other things that don't belong to me anymore. My marriage, for instance. And I tried to remember exactly when I knew that was over.
It was April 1, 2005 - April Fools! - when I packed up everything I owned and walked out of my old apartment. I knew that Oregon was my new home, that was a given. My insurance and health care and family were all there. I needed my things, but I didn't pack up with the intention of leaving Sam. The last thing he said to me was I will talk to you in a couple of days. I will see you soon. That was the last time I heard his voice.
And I wonder, was he lying? Or was he trying to be kind?
I was stubborn. I held on for months after that. I left a hundred voice messages, sent dozens of emails trying to get a response from Sam. Something. Anything. And what I got was silence.
It wasn't until August that I finally believed his silence. I badgered one of our mutual friends for information until finally he felt sorry enough for me to tell me the truth: Sam was seeing someone else. No, I don't know how serious it is. No, I don't know for how long. Yes, she is pretty. And for days I was numb. I did all the expected things: I pictured the two of them in bed together. I re-read old letters. I cried some.
But then I began to thaw. The sure knowledge that Sam Had Officially Moved On acted like a blade. It cut through the tangle of emotions and anger and pain. It severed the terrible noose of hope. And suddenly I could breathe again.
And so I faced the holidays with steel in my spine. I began to recognize that abandonment - grim and cold though it is - carries an offering of freedom in its frozen fist. I began to walk in that freedom. I started to toss tentative glances toward my future, and what I glimpsed there was warm, inviting. And after Christmas I received an even greater gift: a firm reminder that I had a past before Sam and that I will have a life after him.
I am not looking backward.
Do not ask of a vision in a dream more than a vision in a dream can give. C.S. Lewis said that, and he was right. But sometimes a vision in a dream can give you exactly what you need.
And William Blake, sweet William, knew this:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy:
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sun rise.
I am not binding myself to anything, to anyone. But I will not live a kissless life. I will always kiss my joys, because they are rare and they are lovely and they deserve no less.
I thought about William Blake, that grizzled old bard of the apocalypse. How he understood this: death always dovetails with beginnings. That all change - every shade of change - involves loss. I thought of Emily: First Chill - then Stupor - then the Letting Go. And I thought about my week with an old friend, an old love, and I released that joy with a bright kiss.
I watched the exhausted sun sink behind the Blues. I finished my sandwich. I drove home, smiling.