Shadow Boxing

In all of the therapy I’m proud that I do, one of the hardest undertakings is Shadow Work. It sounds new age and strange but I promise you it is an absolute necessity to truly explore oneself. You aren’t just acknowledging the darkest parts of your personality, you’re accepting them so that you can manage, transform, and I suppose in rare cases and in the strongest individuals, exorcise some of them.

As a teenager and twenty-something, arrogance was always my darkest shadow. The fact that I was generally more intelligent, astute, and contemplative than my peers and even my elders was a source of pride that metastasized into aloofness and snobbery. I’ve been lucky though, as far as this particular shadow goes. Nearly, five years working multiple jobs (at least one always in retail) will humble anyone with an ego and a six figure education. My shadow’s appetite for superiority dwindled as I fell in love with the complexity of humanity and the understanding that behind our jobs and educations and familial/civic responsibilities, we’re all rich and complex beings seeking validation and witness.

That dark part of me, “Bitch Tara,” as my best friend refers to her, was excruciatingly honest and unforgiving. It was a defense and an outlet to show off the uncanny way I just seemed to understand people, their motivations, and their weaknesses without trying. By shedding this unnecessarily cruel utilization of such knowledge, I had in my mind, become a better person. Bitch Tara was banished because Shadow Work, as I understood it until recently, was black or white; there was no grey.

This past year has been one of the darkest in my life. Someone I trusted implicitly, from the very beginning, turned out to be toxic. There is no explanation for such uninhibited trust from day one, except to compliment the performance artist’s mastery in manipulation. That trust was eventually and relentlessly violated both in the way I was treated and the fact that I’ve come to learn that there was little truth in anything spoken to me. Instead, a narrative was created–complete with villains and martyrdom–that hid the duplicitous, dishonest, and dark true nature of a sick human being.

As a result of this dynamic, I spent a lot of this year suffering in secret. I began to doubt my own sanity and to believe that I lacked ego strength and that I was overly sensitive and that pleading to be treated, at the very least, in a civil and neutral way was selfish. I almost believed that yelling and pointing and insulting was acceptable and that my sensitivity to it was abhorrent. The key here is: almost. Along the way, I fought—in tears—to be heard. I called out the behavior at every twist and turn. I knew that ultimately my attempts at adult conversation would be futile and turn me into the bad guy and yet I persisted. Of this, I’m proud; my integrity and adherence to my own personal code of conduct was honored. Compulsive lying, emotional abuse and narcissism were confronted with their antitheses. This was black and white.

Until I had a moment of grey and “Bitch Tara,” nearly dormant and believed to be diminished, stepped into the light. She crossed the threshold and stared the sick one in his empty eyes. I told myself, in those long, drawn out seconds of fortitude that I stood before this person having done nothing more than adhere to my principles—a foundation of which he knows nothing as he lacks truth on a fundamental level. But remember, it was Bitch Tara who led the charge and I would be remiss to omit that she stood before the offender with an obvious and aggressive superiority; the same sense of superiority I wielded as a kid. He had confirmed for me what I’d chronicled all along and I was satisfied.

There, fueled by darkness, I set a new precedent in the relationship. There was no fear, no shame. I stood there clear-headed, with my healthy ego and my sensitivity intact. This time it was about me and the fact that I am no longer intimidated by the hollow and sullied.

I’ll admit that it’s a struggle now to put Bitch Tara away. Her appearance proved to be a seminal moment that rooted on many plateaus. She was useful in overtaking the darkness cast by someone else. But, attempting to quell her lust for devastating revelation has proved futile and will only happen retroactively. In that sense my integrity is taking a hit and it is clear there is still much hard work to be done. Thankfully, I do a lot of therapy.

My Inner Child is Now an Angsty Teenager…

I awoke this morning with a

stillness.

The result of

that

diaphanous way

hope

leaves

the body

and sadness pours in,

inundating the rhizomatous cracks,

and every

bottomless

void—

Inflaming long forgotten wounds

with new traumas.

The quiet,

this silence.

It settled in with such an

indignant fortitude,

it told me I betrayed myself.

Now,

as my stillness turns to ice,

and I retreat to the fortress from which I survey,

I thank you for

the spark and kindling of the sun,

but it was

our potential for a

supernova

that lured me out

and

the stillness

it

brings.

W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Moving

I awoke to find my mother had gone already to the home you’ve just left behind.  She had a list of things she intended to fetch before the home is dismantled, parceled and relegated to memories.  I took the lima bean green tea pot from the windowsill, that night I was there and I couldn’t sleep.  I wrapped it in my night shirt and tucked it in my bag.  By that time, though, I’d noticed things had already been rifled through, boxed, and lost to the world.  What was it like to spend your last days in a home that had already begun to breakdown?  Did you really need a literal reminder that you were moving on?

I called my mom and asked for a piece of your jewelry I’d admired since I was a child.  It was nothing special, nothing expensive, just smart:  a string of black and white micro-beads in a candy cane pattern.  I breathed a sigh of relief when she called to tell me it was there.  When she returned and handed it to me, I was overwhelmed by the scent of roses and I shivered.  I understand ghosts smell like roses.  But I know you were fond of having little parfum packages tucked in your dresser drawers.

I’m sad now.  I claim we were never close and yet I begin to recall the minutest of details, your subtlest idiosyncrasies and every home you’ve lived in that I’ve ever known.  I remember in great detail the floor plans, the décor, and the smells distinct to each.  I remember the constants:  the bread machines, the afghans, the stockings hung to dry in the bathroom, the blaring televisions playing murder mysteries and you.  And now, as I sit weeping, I can’t think of single thing more finite than death, an event lonelier than dying, or an emblem more poignant than an empty home.

Surrender

With a quick flourish, my mother pulls away the blankets resting atop your lap and with them come approximately fifty pounds from your frame.  Your limbs are skeletal and skin hangs from them in surrender.  In this instant I come to understand the fragility of the body.  When she pulls your catheter bag from beneath your robe and additional coverlet I pretend I didn’t cringe but you saw me and you looked the other way.  I wasn’t expecting it, I’m sorry.

I do my best not to gag as she empties the tea colored liquid into the toilet in the next room.  You can’t hear the contents fall but you can smell the pungent odor of your voids emanating from the bathroom.  You smile at me and assuage the discomfort.

I jump up to free your walker from the recliner attempting to eat it and mom helps you slowly to your feet.  You clench your eyes shut and your hands around your new legs as you struggle, hunched over, to catch your breath.  “This is your grandmother learning to use her walker,” you say with what appears to be a tired blush flushing your translucent and paper thin skin.

I lay in the corner adjacent your hospital bed atop an old but cozy mattress on the floor.  The coral pink walls are softened by the darkness and the light washing in from the hallway.  Your breathing is rapid and labored and I begin to panic as I contemplate my course of action should the panting altogether stop.

My mind wanders back to some night in my childhood when we shared a bed.  I couldn’t sleep and so I lay examining your beautifully wrinkled ivory face.  I remember relating the story to my favorite of all your daughters the next morning and proclaiming, some twenty years premature, that you looked dead.

You call out in your sleep, moaning about the pain.  I wonder what keeps you here.  What keeps your still sharp and lucid mind trapped in this dying body?  And then, from the other room, I hear your invalid daughter stir–the only daughter who has never questioned you, never resented you, never abandoned you, and can never understand you.