Bearings

Bearings

“I’ve lost my bearings,” she said to me, perplexed. She was sitting alone in her room, surrounded by piles of clothing on the bed and floor around her—the collapsed small tents of abandoned full skirts, the shards of scarves and small mismatched clutterings of shoes.

She had been abandoned in a daydream world that only she lived in, but that she seemed as confused by as she was by those of us who tried to visit her there. For her, even changing clothes had become an insurmountable obstacle—a challenge that rivaled childbirth, an unfaithful husband, an addicted son, an autistic grandson. It rivaled the war she’d staged against her much-younger sister—the power she held over that sister by her rejection of her. It rivaled her efforts to enter the world again as a single woman and to try to win the world over to the fact that it was all his fault. It rivaled her insistence that it was the world that was confused in refusing to go along with all her beliefs and justifications.

She had barely if ever left a word unspoken when it came to an argument. It was so simple, really. She was always right. That everyone in the world, and more particularly her younger sister, refused to believe this was a thorn in her side. The skin on her cheek itched with the irritation over the unfairness of the world. She had worn a path in it, carving out a small trench so that the skin even now was scaly with that road traversed over and over again by one chewed-off fingernail. “Are you she?” She asked me, and when I admitted I was, she added, “Oh, you were always so irritating. Even as a little girl. Why could you never be what anyone else wanted you to be? You were always so, so—yourself!”

It was my chance, finally, for an honest conversation with this sister 11 years older—more a crabby mother always, than a sister. A chance if she could keep on track long enough to remember both who I am and who we both once were.

“So what was wrong with how I was, Betty? With how I am?”

“Oh, you were always so . . . . “ She stopped here, as though struggling for a word or for a memory. I saw her eyes stray to the floor between the door and the dresser. “There’s that little fuzzy thing there,” she said. I could see her eyes chart the progress of this creature invisible to me across the room.

I hung on to the thought she had so recently abandoned. “But me, Betty. What do you find wrong with me?”

Her eyes came back to me and connected, suddenly, with a sort of snap that made me think we were back in the same world again as she contemplated by last question. I tried to keep judgment out of my own gaze—to keep her here with me for long enough to connect on at least this one question.

“You were,” she said, and it was with that dismissive disgusted tone she had so often used with me since I was a very small child. “You were just so mystical!”

I was confused, not sure that the word she had used was the one she meant to use.

“What do you mean by mystical, Betty?” I sat on the bed beside her and reached out for the static wisps of hair that formed a cowlick at the back of her head—evidence of the long naps which had once again taken over her life, after a long interim period of raising kids, running charities and church prayer circles, and patrolling second-hand-stores, traveling to PEO conventions and staying on the good side of a number of eccentric grandchildren.

“Oh, you know. All those mystical experiences! The E.S.P. and all those other stories you told my kids. And Mother. Even Mother believed you.”

Then a haze like a layer of smoke once more seemed to pass over her eyes, dulling her connection to this time and reality and to me.

Her chin trembled and a tear ran down her cheek. She ran one fingernail-chewed index finger over and over the dome of her thumb and her face broke into the crumpled ruin of a child’s face who has just had its heart broken, the entire world of sadness expressed in this one face. I put my arms around her, and for the first time in our lives, she did not pull away. We rocked in comfort to each other, both of us mourning something different, I think. Me mourning a sister who now would never be mine in the way that sisters are meant to be. Her mourning a self that she had not been able to find for a very long time.

“Oh, the names I have been called in my life,” I was thinking.

“Oh, the moon shadows on the table in the corner. What do they mean?” She was thinking.

The last time I gave my sister a fortune cookie, she went to the bathroom and washed it off under the faucet, chuckling as though it was the most clever thing in the world to do. She then hung it on a spare nail on the wall.

When I asked her if she needed to go to the bathroom, she nodded yes, and moved in the direction of the kitchen. Then she looked at the news scroll on the television and asked if those were directions for her. If there was something she was supposed to be doing. And that picture on the wall. What was it telling her she was supposed to do?

In the end, I rubbed her head until she fell asleep, covered her and stole away. I’d fly away the next morning, leaving her to her new world as she had left me to mine from the very beginning.

Prompt words today are hang on, contemplate, daydream, bearing and surround.

23 thoughts on “Bearings

  1. lifelessons Post author

    Thanks, Sadje. The illustration is a detail from a retablo I made a few years ago. The woman’s face was reflected in a glass tabletop with the material from the laps of the other women sitting around the table reflected around her. It was such a stunning image that I had to use it for the background of a mixed media piece.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Thanks, Judy. Don’t you wish we were all isolated together, writing and talking and eating? Although we’d probably need to do our own cooking and wash our own dishes this time.

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      1. Judy Reeves

        that would be so fine. I’m not so great at cooking, but I can wash dishes like the pro I am. I’m still hoping for a June retreat there, but not looking so good. Still, ever the optimist.

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          1. Judy Reeves

            So strange that I never received those emails. I wrote to you and said I hadn’t received them. Went online and looked at the DH Lawrence house (Fabulous!!!) and wrote again after that. What did you have in mind?

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            1. lifelessons Post author

              I asked if they would be interested in having writing retreats there and they are very interested. She asked me to come see the hotel but I’m sequestering right now so I asked her to send photos or videos.. I’ll get back to you. It’s a great location just by the Chapala pier and close to tons of restaurants, the malecon and stores.. I think it would be perfect for a small retreat as I think they just have 8 rooms..I’ll put you in touch with the owner, who is also a massage therapist!! And they have another retreat location that her brother owns where they do tennis retreats, but this one I like because it is where DH lived when he wrote The Plumed Serpent.. which is the name of the house/hotel. I must not have your correct email address.

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            2. JUDY REEVES

              Hi Judy, Now I can’t seem to reply anymore to our feed re: the DH Lawrence House. Keep me posted with what you discover. Love to retreat there with you and other writers.

              Stay safe, stay well, love, Judy

              Visit me at: www.judyreeveswriter.com Find me on Facebook: judyreeveswriter

              Get your daily writing prompt from A Writer’s Book of Days

              Here’s where I talk about: Wild Women, Wild Voices

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Mine, too. I’ve kept notes every time I’ve gone to see my sister, She’s in Minnesota, I’m in Mexico. This is the first year I haven’t gone to see her, I think..I’m sure now no one is allowed.

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  2. Eilene Lyon

    Very moving piece, Judy. It reminded me much of my mother, who now has severe dementia. And the difficult relationships she’s had, including her sister, my father (divorced long, long ago), and me, the willful, independent child she could never control to her satisfaction. It’s strange to visit her now.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      I feel so tender toward her now, in spite of past resentments. She did so many wonderful things for me in my life yet I never felt she liked me. Strange. And, the only reason I have photos of my years growing up of my other sister and me is because of photos my oldest sister took. For this I am also so grateful.

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