Sunday, April 27, 2008

Marking Time


Wednesday will be thirty-two years to the day I was abducted and raped. The day I was hurt, life split into before and after. It is still the way I mark time. I long for the day when my birthday or New Year's Eve serves as my time touchstone.

I used to spend April 30 working hard and then working out, also hard. I focused so much on not focusing on it, I could not help but focus on it. I tried to schedule meetings that required intensive preparation for that day. That would take care of the week leading up to it. Any anxiety I experienced was attributed to the meeting rather than the vivid memories, breathless and sweaty moments when I woke up from nightmares I could not remember or the anicient lurking curiosity about what he was up to. And whether the children within his sphere were safe.

The last few years, I have taken the day to myself. I still make sure I spend some time at the gym that day; it is important for me to feel like I am strong. I am careful now not to overdo it.

I typically do something that connects me with nature. It is not uncommon for me to plant a special tree or bush or some flowers. If I can see and contribute to their growth, I can absorb some of it for me.

This year, I plan to go back and plant some flowers right there. I thought for awhile about planting some bulbs in the grassy spots between the sidewalk and street right beside the place I was abducted. But there is also a neglected space beside the place where he parked his car up the street. A friend recommended morning glories because I am working at opening my heart. She explained that at dawn, they open and then close when the sun gets too bright. I have some work to do when it comes to being seen and do my best to get small when too much attention is focused on me. Morning glories that shy from the light -- that sounds about right for now. Someday it will be sunflowers that open wide to the light. Also, I am told, morning glories provide terrific ground cover -- a good choice for a neglected space. And so morning glories it is.

It will not be my first time back. I made the trip last year and my therapist came along. There are a few things I wanted to do there, the most important of which was to make a declaration.

I decided to write my declaration with yellow chalk on the sidewalk as close to the place I was abducted as I could remember.

This is what I wrote:

I did not come here
so you could tear off a piece of my life
beat the warmth from the smile on my face
still, then silence my voice

I came back to find and embrace
the beauty, strength and grace
that is all my own
And to declare:

That I can warm the world
when I smile with my whole body
And I am learning to speak from my heart
without saying a word

I did not come here
so you could tear off a piece of my life
I came to sample the taste of Freedom
and know how it feels to be whole

I had no idea how long or how hard it would be to actually write it on the concrete. I nearly ran out of chalk and scraped my knuckles on the ground.

I wanted to write with chalk on the sidewalk so it would always be there. When the rain or a garden hose washed it away, it would penetrate the ground and be there forever. Forever.

As I began to write, the children who lived in the house the sidewalk fronts came out to watch. Soon their parents and even a woman who appeared to be a grandparent came out. I got a little anxious and if my therapist was not there with me, I am certain I would not have completed it.

It knocked me out that the family seemed to know something important was happening. I am astonished that one of them did not even inquire as to what the hell I was doing scribbling on the sidewalk fronting their home. Somehow they knew.

Before we left, I also wanted to stand there, in Warrior II yoga pose. When I practiced yoga, that pose always filled me with a powerful feeling. I stood on the corner absorbing the strength and power of the moment on a stunning spring day. And wouldn't you know, my therapist jumped right beside me and held the pose with me.

When we left, we went to look for the church where I was let go. When we found it, I knew. I could feel in my body we were at the right place. My body shook. And the tears spilled. And as we stood surveying the church, out spilled dozens of little boys and girls who were making their first communion. It was a sign, my therapist told me -- to see how small I was. And how innocent. And undeserving of my hurt. And the tears spilled more. Maybe she was right.

It was an amazing day. As it happens the street where I was abducted is hardly a street at all. It is more like a bend in the road. And truth be told, it is now one of the most charming, even stunning urban streets I have seen in a long time.

In the spaces between the sidewalks and streets, the city has planted a dozen or more kwanzan cherry trees. They were in full bloom, brilliant carnation like flowers at the end of each branch, so pale a pink as to appear white. And they grew toward the center of the street, creating a canopy of these brilliant flowering branches.

It is astonishing to me that the same place where something I cannot seem to think of as anything but dark and ugly can now be so truly beautiful. Maybe it is a metaphor to personalize. That is the kind of transformation I long to experience.

So I am going back on Wednesday. To see this tranformed place and absorb some of what I gathered there last year. To contribute to making it more beautiful still. I am not yet done there. It is still for now the place where time stopped for me. And I will keep going back until I, too, can get past that day and create my own blooming canopy. And until the time when January 1 or July 31 are the days when I choose to measure my life rather than April 30.

1 comment:

Cate said...

That was very powerful and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing what happened to you.