Sunday, July 04, 2010

Chapter Two: Writing is How I Free Myself -- or make myself CRAZY!

By Gina Morrison

I sit here on an old gold and white striped sofa in a coffee shop called Dottie’s, writing down the slop that my shrink thinks I’ve got to write down in order to heal. In order to kick the PTSD.

“Try it, Gina. Just get it all out there, and put it down on paper,” she advised. She being the woman I will call Elizabeth. “The research shows that if you write three or four times a week, and if you write about both the events that are troubling you, and the emotions connected to those traumatic events, well, then your health is very likely to improve.”

My eyes narrow. “But will I feel better? Less depressed? Less…crazy? And will I be able to write the nun story?”

She lifts her shoulders slightly, and then lets them drop. “I can’t promise anything, Gina,” she says, “but I suspect you will find that releasing your feelings on paper will end up making you more calm.”

That’s what I like about Elizabeth. She doesn’t lie or even try to skirt the truth.

That’s why I am sitting here on this gold and white striped couch, following her advice. I am hoping Elizabeth is right, I am hoping the writing will help me with the PTSD.

I liked Elizabeth that first day I met her. The day I came to her some months ago I was contemplating swallowing the whole bottle of Ativan that I was carrying in my purse. Elizabeth listened very patiently, while taking a few notes on a legal pad. Finally, she looked up. Her face was as peaceful as the sea on a quiet day. Her eyes were the same bright blue as the sky.

“Well, Gina,” she began, and here she gently tapped her pencil eraser against the legal pad. “You can do that, swallow all of those pills. But you can also realize that you have other choices. And that’s my job, to make you see that you have options.”

That was a good thing to say. That was an important thing to hear.

That was the day I stopped thinking about swallowing the Ativan, or at least, swallowing all of it.

And somehow, I felt a kind of switch go on. I’m still not sure exactly how or why. Just like, I’m not exactly sure how or why

I'm suddenly in the courtyard with dear Teresa, the blue and white tiles snaked with black cracks, the green luminescent hummingbirds soaring back and forth overhead, and me sitting there, dreading her questions about what happened last night with Antonie. She knows something is wrong, she is gazing at me with those giant crystal blue eyes of hers, and she is gazing too at the leather diary lying in my lap, the diary with the R chiselled on the cover, the diary I have come to love writing in so much.

Finally the silence is overwhelming and I get up and say to Teresa that I have to feed the chickens. I cross the courtyard and disappear into the convent and

I sit down here on the orange, gold and white striped couch at Dottie's and it is 4:30 on a Tuesday afternoon in March 2010 and I have come here to do exactly what Elizabeth suggested.

I take out my pad and pen and I begin to write. I write and I write and I write and I write and I write about what’s bothering me. I write about things in the past too, like my mother's asthma and how much it scared me. And then I write about David, and him having the affair and that makes me so damn anxious I am starting to tremble so I stop.

And when I look up and glance out the window I notice, of all things, my dentist crossing the street right in front of me. How odd, to see my dentist. He actually smiles and waves.

I wave back to him and then I return to the writing and this thought occurs to me: I might never stop writing. OR worse, the writing might not cure me. And that makes me feel like I might start crying. And that makes me scared that perhaps if I do start crying, I might never stop.

Then I begin to wonder this: maybe I am just not right in the head. Maybe no amount of writing or anything else will help me deal with the troubling events of the last year or so.

And maybe writing is making everything worse: maybe I am doing exactly what Antonie is doing,

just telling all kinds of lies, seeing things that don't exist, turning me, Renata,

into the Spanish dancer,, a devout nun,

slowly peeling off my heavy black stockings and my white cotton underclothes and finally, unpinning my short black veil and lifting off the starched white headpiece that binds my forehead. The skin beneath the white headpiece is moist. I rub the creased line above my eyebrows and shake my hair loose, gathering it through my fingertips and then

I lift my latte to my lips and fingering my pen, I think,

clearly I'm crazy, I mean, why in God's name do I think I'm a nun named Renata, living in 1883? Why do I keep flipping back in time with no warning

I look up and see the rusty bars, I look down and see

my ankle crusted in blood, Oh God, I feel my leg actually getting hotter and hotter from the infection that is snaking up toward my knee!

Dear GOD, what is WRONG with me, why would I write this? Why would I be me, Gina, and me Renata, a nun in 1883 in prison?

Maybe I'm just as crazy as Antonie. He's writing stories about Renata, and I am writing about her too.

Suddenly, coming over the sound system in the coffee shop I hear an old Beatles’ tune: “Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be, whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”

I start writing again, “Oh Dear God, that’s what I need to do, LET IT BE. LET IT Be. Let it be GONE. Let it GO. All of it.”

And then I feel like yelling out in the coffee shop. “But I can’t!!!! I can’t let it go. All of it is driving me crazy. All I want to know is why did David have to hurt me so badly? Why did he have to betray me? And why did it – the suffering, the sadness—have to go on for such a long time? Why is it still going on?”

That’s when the song switches, I SWEAR THIS IS PART IS TRUE, and the next song to come over the speakers is “Only love can break your heart….”

At that moment I begin to shake. My arms and legs go bananas, and I sit there on the gold and white striped couch just…shaking.

I pick up my cell phone and dial my friend Xandra out in California on her direct line at Ibex, the company she runs in San Jose. By the grace of God, she is there. I start to cry, and she listens. She tries to talk me down. She asks me to read some of what I’ve written out loud to her over the phone. And I do that, and it feels good, I need to say the words out loud. And then, I reach into my purse and yes, I pop an Ativan beneath my tongue. But I pop just one.

As the pill starts to give me a bit of relief, I think to myself, if I could, I would make all of this go away. I would do that by going back in time, by rewriting history. I would rewrite Renata's story, to set her free from prison, by telling the world that she isn't guilty of Antonie's murder.

And I would also rewrite this story about me and my husband. I would revise it drastically, so that nothing awful ever came to pass between us.

While I was at it, I would rewrite a whole bunch of my personal history; I would erase the cancer I had in 2002 and maybe I'd take away those three horrible cases of pneumonia that almost killed me as a child.

Oh, and I would take away my mom's asthma too, because it was so damn scary when I was four or five years old and she would be sitting up in bed wheezing, hunched over her pillows. I was petrified standing there watching her because I didn't know whether or not she would take her next breath.

In this new and revised story, my mom would be healthy, and she would never be depressed, and neither would I, and I would never end up sitting in this coffee shop writing all the slop that I have been writing for the past hour or so. And I wouldn’t sit in this goddamn prison chained by the leg, staring out at the gallows where I'm going to hang for a murder I didn't commit. I wouldn’t be accused of killing my cousin Antonie, and I wouldn’t have this festering sore crawling up my leg, the skin more red and puffy every day, the pain slowly rising, threatening now to overtake my kneecap.

No. Instead, I would switch SWITCH

back to that courtyard I love behind the convent. The courtyard with all the hummingbirds, the courtyardtiled blue and white, the tiles cracked in so many places. The cracks are black and they snake all around the fountain, which at this time of year, is dry.

This is long before the day when I sat with the diary in my lap, trembling, and I told Teresa the ghastly thing that had happened a few hours before, how I'd had to bury my blood-stained habit after...

No, on this day at the convent, the sun beats down on me and Sister Teresa and we are enjoying a pleasant day. We are out here surrounded by roses. We are here to snap beans for dinner and when we finish the beans, we don't go back inside. Instead, se sit here scattering some stale bread crumbs for the birds. We sit in silence, with Teresa occasionally humming or whistling. We just let ourselves feel the sun on our faces, bound as they are in our tight white wimples. We feel a gentle dry wind on our cheeks. We stare up to the hillside behind the convent. The hillside is the color of a golden lion, and on top sits the sprawling live oak where Teresa and I often take a blanket and some fruit for late afternoon “picnics.”

Later, we have hiked the hillside and we are resting on the blanket and I talk to her about Antonie and how, now and then, he acts strangely. But this is way before the illness turned his mind inside out. Teresa tries to give me advice. She raises herself up on one elbow.

"Be nice to him, Renata, but be careful that you are not... too nice." She pats my hand and we lie side by side and I wonder if maybe I have already been too nice to my cousin.

I close my eyes and try to put the disturbing images of him out of my head, and then we get up and fold the blanket and I inhale and smell the sage as we descend the hillside. The California sun is warm and so reassuring. When we enter the courtyard again, there are bees swarming the hummingbird feeder.

A couple of grey and white cats (one is Jonah, and the other, honest to God, is called Catechism) are asleep by the door.

Teresa lets loose with a sharp whistle to attract the hens, and soon they are bobbling over to her side, cackling their hearts out. She reaches into the pocket of her habit and pulls out some hard corn and scatters it for the pecking chickens.

Despite the heat, Teresa and I are dressed in black, our wool habits going head to toe.

And yes, if I could, I would go back

There. Right now. And then, I stop writing.

I leave Dottie's, and

I go.

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