by Janet Mattingly

"Rouqh Sea at Naruto" by Koshimuraya Heisuke

(Janet lives by the ocean in California, has been living with chronic, progressive pain for 29 years, but still manages frequent bouts of explosive laughter.)

      Last night was another one of those endless torture deals.  They keep getting worse.  Thing is, thereís no position left for sleep.   One side has more spasm and more grinding, gnawing, and pulsing pain.  The other has more tearing, aching, and tugging pain.  Lying on my back is hopeless.  Feels okay for a minute or two, before it catches on.  Then, uh oh.  Spasm and gritty stabs from the hips, then throbbing.  Stomach sleeping?  Hah!  Suspended in air would be nice.  Sigh.  So I could not find an even bearable launching pad for sleep.  Could barely move, yet needed to move constantly as restless leg crap set in.  Youíve all been there.  A long, grainy, black hole of a night.

      I wake from too little sleep and too much pain into - you guessed it - more pain.  But then, it begins to rain.  A wonder in August in coastal California.  Ahhhh.  Then, a tremendous clap of thunder; my loft shakes.  OOOWEEE!  The kitties all trot trot trot in with wide eyes, slightly damp, smelling like wet wool sweaters.  Cute would be putting it mildly.   My heart says hello again to living.

      Gotta go on my weekly trek to the post office and store; no sherpa guides available.  Sitting sucks bigtime, so driving is a chore.  Itís only 5 minutes to downtown.  I put on an REM tape.  I got this tape right after I split up with my husband and found my own little home by the ocean.  Years ago.  A time of new beginnings and adventure; still able to dance awhile, to hang out with other people and play music.  Now, in another life, I sing along with michael stipe, feeling cool, rocking out with my upper body.  Light rain flirts with my car.  Michael and I sing, "I think I thought I saw you try."

      And suddenly, I am crying.  And, almost at once, screaming.  Screaming out loud, "Oh, my god."  Over and over.  This is real.  This is really happening to me.  I pull over briefly.  Through the fear and the pain, I look across the stormy green sea.  Down the misty coastline.  Across to the barely real San Francisco.  The sky is layered with mauve and lavender and gray-blue clouds.  Nature reaches out her arms to me and lifts me from despair.  I drive to the post office.  I sit in the car.  Now, michael and I are singing "Shining Happy People".  But, thinking of all of you and other friends in pain, I sing "Whining, crabby people holding hands" which makes me start to smile.  Then, "Shining, hurting people holding hands"; our tenor and alto blend with the rain.  I get my mail and go on.

      At our local organic food coop, a man and woman my age stand discussing how art and education can save the planet.  They are in front of the produce.  "Excuse me," I say.  Nuthiní.  Iím invisible.  I reach around the man; my arm wrapped around him, touching him, as I try to fondle lemons from afar.  He doesnít move.  Too busy saving the world to notice me at all.  As I struggle to the counter with heavy baskets, then carry my groceries to my car in three separate trips, my sort-of friends at the checkout stand are busy reading the back of a CD; Iím invisible again.

      On to the regular store.  This big-bellied, loud Lebanese guy spots me; Manny.  If you look in the dictionary under "macho pig", you will see: "Manny."  No saving the planet for Manny.  He swaggers as he tells of his pitbullís latest achievements torturing other animals.  But when I approach the counter, he says "Hi, buddy!"  Then, much more quietly, and with eye contact "How are you feeling today??"  Then, he lifts all three of my heavy bags onto his big guy shoulders and carries the stuff to my car.  Saving the planet for me, for awhile.  You really canít tell about peopleÖ

      At home, I must lug all the packages into the house.  My little flock of kitties greets me as if Iíve been gone for days.  Soft heads pushing their pleasure into my hands, into my heart.  The rain is very gentle now.  I put the super perishables away quickly.  Undress.  Hurry outside.

      Through the sweet smelling grasses, onto the tiny deck; into my hot tub.  Water, tender, warm, enfolds me as gravity gives me a breather.  In the last light of day, tiny silver drops glimmer on the wild radishes; rain plups off a shiny apple, and lands, plish, on the round belly of my grinning garden buddha.  The rain falls softly on my head, my shoulders.  I gaze at the red perfection of an asian pear; bite in, and swoon a little.

      I lie back, floating now.  The rain gets harder.  Now, it is really coming down.  Onto my breasts, my face; water into water.  And I, too, am mostly water.  My blood, my tears, water.  Every now and then, in the background, I can hear the sea rolling in, like a soft blanket for my soul; then out, ceaseless.  A fog horn moans sleepily.  I am never alone.  Now, it is pouring.  I can hardly tell where I end and the rain begins.  I am chuckling softly.  Then, giggling.  Now, as the rain pelts me in the face and splashes all around me, I shriek and squeal like a child.  Shining happy janet.

      Horror, wonder, fear, pain, sorrow, pleasure, glory.  There with the pain lies grace.  I have made it through another night and day.

Copyright © 1997-2010 - Janet Mattingly

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