Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Absolute Zero

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
- Emily Dickinson

This happens all the time now.

I'm standing in a house, which I somehow recognize as my own although it looks nothing like any house I've ever lived in. I'm standing in the living room of sorts, and everything is upside down. Furniture tossed and landed sideways, broken, pieces of it everywhere.

Suddenly, the walls begin to bloom. Circles of mold, near the intersection of wall and ceiling, begin to bleed across the wall in dusty, gray-green patterns that look wet to the touch. The mold begins to overtake the house.

And then there's a creaking, moaning sound, and it happens. The water: it's coming. I can hear it, like a freight train, barrelling forth with its terrible velocity. The windows shatter, and it comes pouring in. Great brown waves, bubbling with toxic fury. The water is pouring in, and I am standing in the middle of the room, and I am alone in a house that is filling up with water.

It picks me up, and I reach for anything. My hands touch wall and go straight through, the plaster crumbling between my fingers, the mold oozing out. This house is already in a state of advanced decay. I know that I will not get out and, in my dream, it doesn't seem to matter. Everything in my life is in this house, and everything is destroyed, so what's the point?

I wake up with my hands clenched in fists held so tightly against me that they are asleep. Pins and needles in my forearms and hands and fingers. I've awoken with one of those audible gasps that you hear yourself make and have to wonder, for a moment, if you're still dreaming.

It's come to this: I'm dreaming about Hurricane Katrina.

I've always had the same recurring stress dream: tornadoes. Always the same scenario: black sky, wind whipping, giant tube of anger and electricity bearing down on me. I am always trying to get away. Sometimes I'm in a car, sometimes I'm on foot, but always, always it's going to get me and suck me up and pull the air out of my lungs and kill me. I almost always wake up just as my feet leave the ground. I've had this dream for as long as I can remember.

And now? A moldy, ruined house with water rushing in. Everything is gone. And the worst part- I don't even try to get away.

Because that's the bigger fear, isn't it? The fear of losing everything? The fear of aloneness and loss of family, friends, house, and any little tiny thread of security that binds us to this sometimes terrible and inexplicable world. And there are moments when we see how painfully thin those ties are, like spiderwebs slick with dew. We accumulate more possessions and ideas and experiences in the hope that these things will weigh us down, give us heavier footing. But there are moments when the water rushes in, and we see how dangerously close we can come to losing everything.

But everything isn't lost, it never is, there are always more webs reaching out and as our hands flail around in this world there is always something to grab onto, even just momentarily. And if we let go, just open our hands and let the water come and admit defeat, something will reach out for us. Because life isn't like nightmares. Thankfully.

I am petrified of absolute zero. Like those burn victims who live but whose faces are marred beyond recognition: how do they go on? Loss of sense of self, loss of all ego, loss of any solid footing on this earth. Or people who lose entire communities and family members to natural disasters. How would you even begin to pick through the mourning process? Losing a house, and all that is contained within. The grief would be overwhelming.

Even more than all that, I am afraid of losing the core essence of myself. Mental illness, some neurological misfire...sometimes the damage is invisible; there is no flood, no fire, but everything is gone just the same. A wind snuffing out a candle, poof, nothing but a thread of smoke remains.

But it's like that moment in Mean Girls (Whatever, totally one of my favorite movies.) when Lindsay Lohan's character, Cady, is participating in the Mathletes contest and suddenly gets it. The line is approaching zero, it's getting closer and closer, but "The limit does not exist! The limit does not exist!"

The limit does not exist. If you do not allow it to.

There will always be something. Some thread. Some lifeline, some gossamer strand of hope. Because we're humans, and we look for meaning in fricking everything. You can lose everything, you can scrape your feet on rock bottom and feel the horrible weight of failure and loss bearing down on you like 80 metric tons of debris-infected water, but you will still hope.

"Hope is the thing with feathers," Emily Dickinson wrote. Perched on the soul, singing it's little heart out even if no one is listening.

I'm thinking maybe it's time to take a little break from reading 1 Dead in Attic and working on this presentation that has me reviewing slide after slide of water, mold, and ruin. I have the luxury of taking a step back and disengaging and, if this is working it's way into my dreams and waking me up again and again through the night, then I'm thinking I need a bit of a break.

If I'm lucky, maybe I'll go back to nightmaring about tornadoes. Or the naked dream. That's another classic.

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